walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

In Which I Grasp A Few Basics About Bicycles

When I was a child, there were some Schwinns. I think even the (1) tricycle shared by the 4 of us girls was a Schwinn, but it has been a long time so please don't hold me to it. In any event, after the Schwinns came some 3-speeds, possibly also Schwinns, except my mother had the Good Bike, which was a Raleigh.

I recently learned there's been a bit of a Renaissance of 3 speed English Bikes, including the (or possibly primarily the) Raleigh. My mother's Raleigh did not, IIRC, have a leather saddle or anything that cool. It was dark green. It had fenders. You know the drill. It was transportation in suburbia when the car was being driven by the provider. In any event, P. never had a driver's license in my lifetime and likely never will again. She did once learn, but something happened involving a dog and then my father came along and that was pretty much that.

After I turned 15 1/2 years old, I was required by my parents to take driver's ed and, at 16, get a license. I was not enthused about this; I thought driving was a somewhat daunting proposition and pretty risk (hey -- people don't usually call me stupid, and it takes someone who is paying pretty close attention to notice the thrill seeker streak since I keep it mostly under control). Note that my mother does not and did not drive. My older sisters were aging out of the house and/or unreliable. Thus, my bicycling days ended when I started driving. Which is a little odd in retrospect. My mother only let us bicycle under very limited circumstances, but I _had_ to get a license and I was heavily leaned on to get a job, and the jobs I had involved working until midnight or 1 a.m., which means I went from barely being allowed off a dead end street to driving around town in the drunks-driving-home-from-the-bar hours. You really have to wonder about that kind of risk calculation.

When I ditched my first husband and my church at age 25 (and the 'rents abandoned me at the same time), I bought a used 10 speed because I remembered enjoying biking and I liked walking and I was kinda hoping to get back into the biking thing. The used 10 speed however, was a lot more aggressive riding position than those 3 speeds from way back when. I could manage it -- barely. It pretty much sat and got flat tires and at some point I got rid of it.

When I retired, I once again made an effort to get back on a bike. I went to a bike shop, I got "fitted" on a bike. It was (still is) a Trek commuter bike. I had it all kitted out with lights and crap. I could get it around Green Lake, and did indeed ride it a few more times, but the last time I took it out was with R. and we were cycling down the northeast corner of Capitol Hill to get to the bike trail and I wiped out attempting a curb transition. That was on our honeymoon. A few months before that, we had gone to the Netherlands and visited my family there. They sent us up to Ameland where we road a tandem into a severe headwind while I was feeling tired and ill. Despite that combination, I at least didn't have any panicky anxiety about the bike I was on. Furthermore, I kept noticing that "girly bikes" were really common in the Netherlands. In fact, they weren't being ridden exclusively by women.

So I got mad, and I started doing some research. In between the Dutch biking experience and the wipeout in Seattle, I discovered the comfort/cruiser bike category. I was looking for a couple of things in particular. First, I wanted a "girly bike". Second, I wanted the kind of gears I remembered from my youth (NO DERAILLEURS!). R. had a lot of doubts, but I found three candidates: the Bianchi Milano, a Breezer or a Townie Electra. The Bianchi Milano won, but probably not for good reasons. Bianchi was a name R. really trusted (unlike the other two), it has a "normal" frame. I figured as long as I could raise the handle bars, I didn't really care. Turns out that was a mistake.

The Bianchi is a _fun_ bike. It's highly recognizable as a "good name" among people who go to local bike shops and Spend Lots of Money, wear spandex and know what a peloton is (well, knew it five years ago; presumably just about everyone knows now). So those folk look at me on a girly bike with the seat low and the handlebars high (I eventually had a new stem put on it, because they didn't go high enough for my preferences), but they see the color and the name and who could fail to love the tires with the red sidewall matching the red seat and _can you think of dumber reasons to like a bike_.

At the time I got the Bianchi, I wanted the Shimano Nexus in a 7 or 8 speed. I didn't much care, and I really didn't give a rat's ass how much I had to pay for it. I would have bought something with a Rohloff if I could have figured out how to do so with a step-thru frame. If you work in the bicycle industry and are reading this, this should give you pause. Yes, there is at least one woman wandering around out there who would pay for a Rohloff if she could get it on a bike that you have to work not to display open contempt for. The Nexus is an internal hub, aka planetary gear, but really, it's just like those 3 speeds from the 1970s. _Those_ gears were made by Sturmey-Archer -- and Sturmey-Archer (albeit corporately reconfigured somewhat) is making them again. Depending on which bike snob you have interacted with, the Sturmey-Archer 3 speeds were gears to either loooooovvve (low maintenance, super reliable) or haaaaaaate (impossible to maintain pieces of shit with irrational gear ratios). The Nexus, by contrast, is widely recognized by people who have interacted with it as really reliable, with a very wide range of irregular but not totally screwy gears. I picked the right gear, just like a step-thru was the right call.

Recently, it has finally penetrated my slow-to-apprehend brain that the Townie's "flat foot technology" is "crank forward". So, think about a stationary bike that you sit back slightly on, or a really not very aggressively recumbent recumbent and you're thinking about "crank forward". There are a couple of key aspects to this choice (whether step through or not) that make it really wonderful. (1) You have a reasonable configuration for pedaling, but when you are not pedaling, your feet can touch the ground without getting up off the seat and (2) rather than sizing the _frame_ to the rider, you just adjust the seat. Which means if you trade a bike between a couple of people with different leg lengths, it might work (subject to reaching the handlebars).

I really screwed by not picking the Townie, in other words. I have since corrected the errors by ordering one from Belmont Wheelworks. While I was at it, I ordered Bobikes Mini and Maxi from CleverCycles in Portland (because _you_ try to find either one anywhere else). And then, because I _vividly_ remembered what happened when R. installed the Bike Tutor on the Bianchi, I called Wheelworks and asked them if they'd be willing to install a couple of kid seats and these are the ones I have. Interestingly enough, they apparently have a policy of not installing kid seats that you bought elsewhere, but somehow that policy is not applying in this case. I will note, however, that it's being done on a time-it-takes charge, instead of their usual flat fee. Fine by me.

When we stopped into Wheelworks a few weeks ago to research Trail-a-Bikes for R. and T., we were disappointed that T. was too small for the Adams which is the one brand they carry. There are cheaper ones out there, some of which may or may not be a workable size, but I am not overly impressed with the reviews on a lot of them. At the time, I also asked if anyone there knew anything about the build quality on the Zigo Leader. I got zippo in response -- the guy I asked, at least, had never heard about it. He didn't show any response to the word "bakfiets" either, which made me wonder. On today's outing (to drop off the Bobikes, and discuss making sure a center stand got put on the Townie if it didn't come with one, and would it be possible to wedge a luggage rack on there somehow), I noticed they had the Trek Pure Trike on display. This was a little bit of a shock, altho maybe it shouldn't be -- they have a lot of recumbents on display. I asked if they had the regular Trek Pure or the Trek Pure Deluxe. The guy just looked at me, and asked what that was. I said, that's Trek's crank forward bike. Oh.

And I'm going, ah, shit. Come on. Belmont Wheelworks is a bunch of really nice guys and the shop wins awards and they have mondo huge traffic and Trek owns their ass the same way Trek owns all the old school bicycle shops asses (Really! This was Today's Big Discovery! Bicycles have taken off in a big way in the last year due to the whole gas price thing -- and old school bicycle shops didn't get to enjoy it because everyone was out there buying Breezers and Townies and Trek and a few other makers Own all the floor space at the shops). And they don't know about the Trek option that would actually sell to the crowd that they are missing out on. The people who would love to be able to put their feet on the ground without tipping the bike over, and have a gearing system that allowed them to completely screw up and yet still get started again from a full stop. The lapse is particularly amazing because of what happened on the phone on Sunday when I ordered my Townie 8, which I knew perfectly well they would not have in stock.

I call. I go, I want a Townie with the 8 speed Nexus. I get the, we don't have one crap can we sell you something else because, you know, Electra. I said, sure, I recognize that people think the build quality isn't the best, here's the criteria: foot on ground while seated, 8 speed internal hub, step through configuration. How about the Trek Pure? Does it do all that? Let's see. Oh. No, I guess you can't get it with the 8 speed. At this point, there's some backing and filling about how it's not a build quality, it's just an it's heavy quality. I'll come back to the weight thing in a moment. The bike order is taken, I'm told they'll place the order on Monday, they take my credit card number, they can't tell me right then what it will cost and at this point, the Smart Guy on the phone realizes I don't really give a flying fuck what it costs. He did! He said, "I guess you don't really care, do you?" I said, no, I expect that bike to cost about $800, but if it costs more than $1000, I'll want to know why. He came back, surprised, saying it'll be about $600. We'll see whose right. And again, you folk in the bicycle industry? I'd pay a grand for that bike and be happy. See, you're really missing out on some spend when you focus on the idiots who lightweight out stuff that would let them park their bike and go _do something_ on their century.

About that weight issue. The resulting bikes is going to weigh on the order of 40 pounds or more, especially once I get done with it (those Bobikes don't come for free, in any sense). People who are trying to shave ounces off their carbon frame road bike hear 40 pounds (or 36, or whatever) and break out in hives. Here's my reaction:

Me, naked, in the morning: 207 pounds
My daughter, by the time she can ride in the Mini: 20 pounds
My son, riding in the maxi: 35-40 pounds.
Clothing on all of us, including extras squirreled away in case the weather changes: 10 lbs.
Helmets, all around: a couple pounds
Locks, snacks, water bottles: 5-10 pounds

We're getting perilously close to 300 pounds here. _What the fuck do I care about a 40 pound vs. a 20 pound bike_? If I'm worried about weight, I'll just lose some. I've got 40 pounds to lose (at least). That'll be more than the bike itself weighs in total. And believe me, if I'm pedaling around 300 pounds, there are good odds I'll lose a pound or two. Which is part of the point, here.

Which brings me back to that Trek Pure Trike. The guy at the shop, when I asked him if someone ordered it or if it was display, he said it was display and commented on how long it took Trek to put that design together. And I'm just trying to figure out what the hell the market for that thing is, and why there isn't a Big Dummy, or a Kona Ute or a sample Xtracycle next to it. Maybe with a Madsen Bucket in there, too. Because I _know_ what the market for those is.

Anyway. Once upon a time, the auto industry hit hard times, around the same time the Era of the English 3 speed was ending. Manufacturing in the US in general was going straight down the tubes for three reasons. (1) They had an effective monopoly, so they started building shit and expecting people to buy it, and then forgot how to make stuff people wanted. (2) When they finally got some meaningful competition from the Japanese + the oil embargo, they responded by feeding at the public trough and using the number of people involved in that monopoly to distort the American political process in their favor for far longer than their effective monopoly ever would have allowed on its own. (3) They hung onto a small and shrinking high-margin sector and sacrificed the growing low-margin sector that was gnawing at their gut. The bicycle industry has worked parts (1) and (3) of this awful hard. (2) is a little weird to make an analogy, because the industry has never had any meaningful influence on Presidential elections that I've been able to detect. But bike snobbery has definitely worked damn hard to keep bicycles for the spandex clad I can-do-more-miles-faster-and-more-efficiently-than-someone-else crowd. Reasonable, ride-able choices have been subjected to a wide range of mockery: too heavy, why do you need to put your foot down, why do you need to take your feet off the pedals, why do you need to sit upright, you can't go faster than 10 mph that way, that's too heavy to get up a hill (wait, I thought that's what low gears were for, right?), why can't you just swing your leg over the seat, why can't you just tilt the bike, why do you need to bring stuff with you, why do you need to leave your bike, you wouldn't actually ride in the rain (snow, etc.), would you? etc. etc. etc.

Honestly. I'm starting to understand the cult that is Xtracycle.
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