A co-worker of mine recently started to ask me miscellaneous questions pertaining to bikes and let me know he was catching the bike bug. A little light went on in my head after a few of our conversations and I thought his experience of getting into riding in New York City might make for an interesting series.
He agreed and Bike Hacks is going to feature a series of entries on his experience of being reintroduced to cycling after a long absence. His experience will be particularly interesting for me as my attitude toward my bikes radically changed after spending most of my life living in suburbs and engaging mostly in recreational riding. For example, all of the bikes I owned prior to moving to NYC continued to look exactly like they did when they rolled off of the assembly line. Now this is DEFINITELY not the case =)
I found it interesting that as I was reading his first entry I smiled a few times because as it turns out, if he saw me on the road he might confuse me with a divorced soccer mom. I wear what many would jokingly refer to as Capri pants to ride in, commute daily on a bike with flat bars, and if I had the chance to easily change my frame color to pink I would do so in a second. How awesome would a pink bike with orange fenders be!? =)
He also remained silent when he showed me his brand new shiny whip and I told him the first thing I did when I got my brand new bike was put a healthy scratch in the paint. This was my way of getting over the anxiety of trying to keep my bike "perfect."
One of my first comments upon seeing my co-workers new whip was that it had a pie plate. He did not know what a pie plate was so I introduced him to it, however I found myself at a loss for words when asked to explain why it would possibly benefit him to remove it. It will be interesting to me to see if the pie plate survives this series =)
Enjoy the first entry in the series and feel free to offer your own reactions in comments. Also, if you are a reader that is interested in collaborating with Bike Hacks on a series of your own, feel free to contact us. Take it away "J."
- - - - - - - -
As a young boy in the hilly suburbs of Pittsburgh, I always enjoyed riding on my top-of-the-line steed from Toys “R” Us. Boys grow up, however, and I don’t remember doing any biking by the time I reached high school. After college I moved to New York City, where I currently reside, and I didn’t think of biking at all. I love exploring the city and the outlying areas, but this was always done on foot - sometimes I would walk 30 miles. It never occurred to me to get a bike.
A year ago, after being in New York for 6 years, a couple of things got my wheels turning about bikes. The first thing was that a friend of mine got really into bikes and ended up biking from New York to Oregon. Second, a roommate purchased a bike on Craigslist, and I ended up borrowing her bike to go on some rides (yes, I was using a female bike, but at least it wasn’t pink). Riding on the streets of New York felt weird and alien at first, but I got used to it and found that I enjoyed it. I went on some rides to Brooklyn and Queens, maybe 15 miles or so round trip.
Still, I never decided to purchase a bike and for whatever reason didn’t get that into it.
Fast forward to about 2 months ago. After getting a decent-enough tax refund, I started thinking BIKE. All of the coverage on bike lanes, Bloomberg’s push to encourage cycling, my love (and need) for adventure, etc., all converged into a perfect storm of me deciding it was time. I knew nothing about bikes. Road bikes, touring bikes, cyclocross bikes, hybrids, fixed gears - all of this meant nothing to me as of about a month ago.
I thought that maybe I could get a good bike for $500. I told my friend - the one who rode cross-country - that I was definitely going to get a bike and he e-mailed me a link to a road bike by Jamis, the Ventura Sport, with a suggested retail price of $650. I enjoyed the aesthetic of the bike as judged from the website, but saw the drop bars and thought to myself, what? This looks too professional. I don’t need something like this.
My friend e-mailed me links to more road bikes, and he e-mailed a manager at a store he knows well, saying I was interested in getting a bike and if she would be so kind as to help me out. I went to her store, which was filled with arrogant salespeople, but the manager was nice and she let me test out my first road bike, a Specialized, although I do not recall the model.
I hated the experience. I wasn’t used to being that high up (the Toys "R" Us bikes tend to be a bit lower to the ground). I hated the drop bars. It seemed way too much for me. I had trouble controlling it. It felt uncomfortable. I almost fell off it. People were staring at me. I returned to the store, thanked the manager for letting me try out the bike, and went on my way, thinking to myself there was no way I wanted something like that. All the while, my friend was saying "you’ll get used to it, you’re a young guy in good shape, you want something fast, etc."
Still, I wasn’t convinced.
Thus began an internal battle over road vs. hybrid, a battle which would devastate my soul and cause hours of anxiety. I don’t need a silly road bike, I thought. I just want to go on joy rides in the city. I like flat-bars! I want something a little thicker that can take the degradations of the pavement and so on and so forth. I don’t want to spend that much money. I’m not going to become one of those cycling dorks. Blah blah blah.
My friend let me borrow his Jamis Aurora, a touring bike. At first, I didn’t like it much better than the Specialized. I felt way too high up, didn’t like the drop bars, and the seat killed my rear end.
However, I thought it was a good idea to try it out while I continued my bike search. This also allowed me to become more immersed into the problems of bike riding. For instance, in a single day, the seat was stolen and I ran into a taxi door that was being opened just as I passed. I hurt my left leg pretty bad and ended up going to the ER.
Fortunately, my leg was just swollen and badly bruised, and I was back to almost full capacity in two weeks.
As I spent more time on the Jamis Aurora, I started feeling the thrill of going fast, and I started to think I was hot-shit using the drop bars so nimbly. I laughed at all those soccer moms who wore fanny packs and rode around on their Trek hybrids. Still, I was confused.
I felt like most of my riding would be done in the city, and I wanted something sturdy and easy and something cheaper than a road bike. For some god forsaken reason, I still felt uncomfortable about the idea of drop bars and the riding posture they lend themselves to. Even though I was enjoying a touring bike in reality, I was fighting a psychological war against the idea of what I was used to. Old habits die hard.
I tried out a Surly Crosscheck at someone’s recommendation and thought it was amazing, but again felt reluctant about the drop bars. Also, it cost about $1,100. I also tried out a Kona Honkey Tonk, similar in price, which I also liked, but again, drop bars and expensive. These experiences, however, opened me up to an interesting world: the world of road bikes that are fast and well-made but also more stylistically aligned with my preferences. Some of the fancy road bikes by, say, Cannondale, are very sleek and modern and do look a bit too professional for my taste. Bikes by Surly and Kona are great bikes but also more muted and urban.
Anyway, one day, I think out of frustration with the strange new world of biking and picking out the right type, I convinced myself (at least momentarily), that a flat-bar road bike by Jamis, the Coda, was a good compromise. It’s basically a hybrid, but it trends a little more to the road bike end of the spectrum. Aesthetically, it’s more vintage looking, which I enjoy. It was going for $530. As they didn’t have my size they needed to order it, so I put in a deposit and went back to my apartment to brood over my decision. I went on some more rides with the Jamis and again felt like a crackerjack with the drop bars, almost like Billy the Kid. I started to regret ordering a bike with flat bars.
Now, someone might say, did you try and cancel the order? Or just ask to look at the road bikes? This is an emotionally charged issue I would like to gloss over. Let’s just say I purchased the Jamis Coda in Sangria (apparently every black Jamis Coda in my size was sold out). I was worried the Sangria color might be a tad fruity, but it’s a rather solid red color.
I have now had the bike for several days and I do like it, but I feel ashamed that I am riding around with flatbars, like the fannypacked, divorced moms who tend to wear Capri pants. Indeed, after having my bike for only a few days, I decided I can’t take the humiliation. I have gone to a shop and will be having them take out the flats and put in drop bars, a process which is a tad expensive at $200. Also, so as to make it as cheap as possible, the shifters will be old-school bar-end shifters, but I tried those out on the Surly Crosscheck and kind of liked it. I think it will also amplify the Billy the Kid/Wild West feel I am going for.
Well, friends, this is the beginning of my bike saga. I am already thinking about locks and lights and other things that don’t begin with the letter "L" that I need to purchase for my bike. I’m already even thinking about my possible next bike. The world of biking is interesting, rich, rewarding and fun. I hope I am worthy to be a member of this cool club (that is, the one that doesn’t allow flat bar bikers and fanny packs). And also, I would like to dedicate this column to my friend "A" who has been so welcoming and helpful. I would probably have a Huffy with training wheels right now if it weren’t for him.
To be continued...