Bikes were made to be ridden. The bike as it leaves it’s point of sale is something of a canvas. It will become something to the person that owns it that is hard to explain. It’s like a friend- with benefits. Like that friend that will give you a piggyback wherever you want to go. We can dress it up or dress it down depending on what we’re looking for. Maybe we’ll change the grips, the saddle, the stem, the bars, all to suit the bike to our body and our style. This customization is one of my favorite aspects of cycling. It is very prevalent in fixed gear culture, sometimes to such a degree that people have been known to change their front wheel out to match their messenger bag. To each their own.
Last weekend we traveled to Portland for the annual Filmed by Bike film festival, which has become something of a tradition for Go Means Go and many other Seattle bike folks. It’s a great way to break into spring. Except for a freak 20 minute downpour, the weather was what we have come to expect when we visit- sunny and 70 degrees. The Friday kickoff party was especially raucous this year, with the street party attended by over 1000 people. Professor Dave and Webster Crowell represented Seattle with their films and all had a good time. At a campfire by the river after the movies, it got “real Portland”- real fast, when a guy found his pants and underwear to be too stifling, and proceeded to walk around in his shirt and shoes (I believe this is called “shirt-cocking”, a decidedly Portland tradition)
After a long night of bikes and beers, my lady and I got to explore the city and check out a few bike shops. I enjoy riding around Portland’s bike routes as well as the Esplanade and appreciate their bike planning- planning as though it was put in place by people that actually ride bikes. In comparison, Seattle planning seems to work from two rooms- one filled with people that only ride bikes, one filled with drivers having never ridden a bike. They don’t talk to each other. Each camp submits their proposals to a big brain that is floating in a tank hooked up to computers. Then the brain does some calculations and equations pooping out an idea that it feels is the best theory for bike planning- this is what is put in place. Portland’s planning seems to revolve around the safety of vulnerable users, where Seattle’s seems to revolve around those with the most money. I feel that this will change, it does take time and input from the users of the roadways (that means drivers and bicyclists)
We stopped in to Clever Cycles, which is a great shop for the “Dutch minded” cyclist. Brompton, Linus, Electra, Breezer, Retrovelo… A beautiful shop with not a drop bar in sight. Bikes and fashion dedicated to comfort and practicality. I got to take my lady for a ride in a Bakfiet. I would love to get a Bakfiet- though living on Phinney Ridge might make it difficult. The thought of riding a 100lb (empty) bike around Seattle is daunting, though I look forward to the opportunity. We tried a few other bikes, Melissa gave one of the new Electra Ticino mixte bikes a shot. I fell in love with a Brompton and would LOVE to get my hands on one. Folding bikes are the new fixed gear, or so I’ve heard. Clever didn’t carry them, but Lane at Cetma Cargo, who is involved with the Porteur to the People photo contest is now making cargo bikes. I want to give one of these low boys a test ride. They at least appear to be more agile and lightweight than the typical box bike.
Electra, a name that I typically associate with beach cruisers, has brought out their Ticino line- designed to offer a more relaxed geometry than the typical, more race oriented layout of a modern hybrid bike. I think that one of the biggest flaws in the design of the modern bicycle is their opinion of the user, or they might not see that there are a lot of people out there that haven’t found a bike that they find useful. A bike that works well for racing is not necessarily going to be comfortable for the average Joe, especially if they are carrying around some extra weight (which most of us are.) The popularity of beach cruisers should be proof enough. Sure, a beach cruiser is comfortable, so people buy them. The problem is- at least in Seattle- to leave the beach- you must climb mountains. If you look at a standard Dutch bike, it is vastly different than most of what has been available in the US until recently. There are a couple companies that are finding their niche in this large and still growing market of “non-athlete” cyclists. More of an upright riding position, larger diameter wheels with narrower tires, fenders, a few gears maybe, the ability to carry a bag of groceries. In the early 90’s, it seems that hybrid bikes were starting to lean that way, but for whatever reason bikes seem to have jumped back onto the competitor train.
Gas prices rising, climate change, traffic congestion, poor health, economic downturn, all reasons that are getting more people on bikes than ever. People that want to use their bikes as a tool and a toy. It seems that US companies have started to embrace this market, offering a wide range of commuters for various rider types. Unfortunately, in an effort to keep the price low, the materials and components used on many of these bikes are generally of a lesser quality and a higher weight.
Back to the Electra. Melissa liked it, though the handlebars were a little too wide for her. I can’t remember the price, but it was something in the $450-550 range. Alloy frame, fenders and rack standard. Derailleur as opposed to internal gearing (not a deal breaker for me, though I do love some internal gears) A clean package at a good price.
Linus offers bikes that have simple lines and are made with less performance minded materials, but at their price point- would be great for people getting into practical cycling. Many people would agree that a comfortable riding position is far more important to search for in a bike than the weight savings of a few grams or even a couple pounds. That said, the 32+lb. weight of their mixte bike might be a little on the heavy side.
I really like the Roadster Classic. Super clean- it looks similar to my rain bike (sans fenders.) At $389 Retail, if you are looking for a simple bike to get you around, this is a pretty sweet deal. I will still argue on behalf of the coaster brake hub, even though my Shimano coaster brake isn’t my favorite (The Roadster Classic comes with a Shimano as well.) I do wish that fenders were standard- you can pick up a set of full fenders starting at $30. In my humble opinion, any utility bike worth it’s salt will have full fenders.
If you are looking to spend some more money on a bike that seems to be going down the right path (or Alley, as it were), you can step over to your local Raleigh dealer and check out the Raleigh Alleyway. This bike calls out to me on a couple levels: Internal gearing, fenders, disc brakes, I like the touch of the one piece stem/bar combo- but the biggest thing: Belt drive. I’ve had a love for belt drive since I’ve seen it on bikes. It’s the perfect example at technology that will help make the bike gain a hold as something that is performance driven while being comfort oriented. Belt drives do have some drawbacks, but in my opinion the benefits are worth far more. Sitting, in the $1200-1500 range, it’s a bike with quality components and built to last.