Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Bicycle Built for Six Billion

In my past life I used to be a runner. Not a stick-thin-like-on-the-cover-of-Runner's-World runner, but a pudgy-but-running-so-as-not-to-be-pudgier runner. My tendency has always been to be heavy, and so exercise, always vital, is even moreso for me. I eventually worked my way up to running 7-9 miles a day, five or so days per week. That I did not look like a concentration camp victim at that mileage gives one a sense of my interface with food.

As I got into my 40s my running faded away, and my weight increased in predictable fashion. I've always done a lot of walking, but this spring I decided that walking was probably not enough, and I decided to concentrate on something a bit more strenuous. I've tried gym memberships before, and I have a NordicTrack in the basement, but both bore me to tears (I think the NordicTrack is the most brilliant exercise machine ever made--highly taxing, non-impact, inexpensive, compact--but the monotony is excruciating). Thus, my weapon of choice: the bicycle. I started doing a bit of riding this spring, and realized the overall wisdom of the endeavor: pedaling up the hill just down the street had me puffing as though I'd run the Boston marathon.

One of the perks of living in a small-ish town is that nothing is very far from anything else, and it strikes me that an awful lot of what I use the car and motorcycle for could very happily be accomplished on bicycle. Errands, eating out, joyrides, library trips, renting & returning movies, etc. So my mission began to take shape. And it seems like the perfect opportunity to get a new toy! I've had the same bike now for over 25 years, and haven't ridden it much for a decade or more. While it works OK, it's showing its age. There have been improvements in mechanical things (shifting and brakes) and frame materials over the years, and I figured it makes sense to get something new that's tailored for what I'm planning to do, and something that fits me and is comfortable.

Turns out there is a huge proliferation of bikes available from numerous manufacturers, and quite a few in the urban / commuting / comfort / utility category. And one can spend an absurd amount of money if one pursues, say, carbon fiber. Given that my last bike logged most of its time on hooks in the garage, I figured there was no reason to be silly; just focus on something efficient and comfortable. So I settled on a commuter: basically mountain bike geometry but designed for the street--high pressure but slightly larger street tires, street gearing and brakes, but upright riding position and the ability to mount bags, etc. And my bike of choice is the Globe Sport from Specialized (I wanted disc brakes, but they are no longer available as Specialized breaks the Globe line into three new lines for 2009). Aluminum frame, 24 speeds, comfy ride and ergonomics. Add fenders and a rack in back and a speedometer and we're good to go (I remember thinking in my youth that fenders were hopelessly uncool. Funny how age changes a fella).

So here we are. I managed a number of 8-10 mile rides over the spring on the old bike (which my dealer happily took in trade), and now a good 16 mile ride yesterday on the new bike--half of it in what became a stiff headwind--and am feeling the effects today. With gas prices soaring, it does seem like bicycles, at least in some settings, are a great solution. In big cities especially, where things are concentrated, bikes seem a great way to get exercise, reduce pollution and fuel costs, and solve parking hassles in a swoop. I remember thinking how remarkable Amsterdam was for its bike proliferation. People there do everything from commuting to shopping to errands with the kids on their bikes. Brilliant.

We'll see how long my enthusiasm lasts.


Dzesika said...

Go you! Seriously, biking can get really addictive, and you're lucky to live in a town small enough to be reasonably bike-friendly. I only live three-odd miles away from work, but the car traffic here - while not particularly dense - is so hostile that riding to work would be a Bad Idea. Boo hiss.

Though I daresay that a rowing machine is far more motonously evil than a NordicTrack ...

Jeffy said...

Nice-looking ride. Welcome to the old-fart's club!

I 'upgraded' to a commuter-style bike last year, and I like it quite a bit. It has shock-absorbers in the seat post as well as the forks, and a nice big wide-load seat with plenty of padding - the sorts of things that would make a racer cringe.

I do think I might need to get me some fenders, though. There is still a bit of room at the bottom of the cool scale for me to move to.

Shoot, once you start wearing a helmet you have no claim on cool anymore anyway.

Fusion said...

good luck and enjoy the ride...and with the price of fuel, think of all the money you save by not driving to a gym ;)

wunelle said...

Well, the defiant unfashionability of my helmet is not the most striking aspect of the figure I cut on my bike. Just be thankful I'm not attired in little short-thingies.

But the slightly larger tires give a much better ride, enough that I wonder if I'd miss the front fork. The rear shock just seems to suck up energy, at least the "sprung" bikes I sampled some years ago.

I guess I don't expect my gas savings to amount to much, but a good 30-60 minutes of elevated heart rate each day seems like a good thing.

dbackdad said...

Nice ride. I have a few years old Gary Fisher that I like but it's not as nice as yours. My buddy Eric is the bike nerd in our group. I tried his bike with disk brakes a few years back and launched myself over the handlebars. I was so used to the Flinstones approach of my bike that once I was on a bike with decent brakes, I didn't know what to do.

Malaise Inc said...

Excellent. I was a runner in high school, but never had a passion for it. I turned to cycling in college and have never looked back. I have fallen out of it the last few years because of time constraints, but everytime I go out in the garage and see my bikes, I tell myself to start up again.

An excellent choice in bikes. Specialized is a good name. And for a getting around town bike, you have made the right choice. Practicality is the key. Just don't be surprised if you end up enjoying cycling so much that you end up eventually getting something more impractical, but way cooler. You can never have too many bikes.

OldJoeClark said...

I've been an avid bike commuter now for the last six years or so. I started out with a generic Gary Fisher which has evolved into a grandpa bike with fenders, rear rack, and now a collapsible saddlebag which I wish I had gotten a lot sooner. You can just throw stuff in it - no strapping things on, and a bag of groceries fits it perfectly.

This is the commuter bike I lust after. It's got eight speeds, you can shift at a stand still, and the rear gears are all encased. It also has a generator built into the front wheel hub to power the lights. Maybe when I get my Bush incentive check ;-).

Paul J.

GreenCanary said...

I have a Specialized! It loves to sit in my garage and stare out the window.

wunelle said...

I love that Breezer! Having enclosed gearing and a hub generator seem excellent upgrades.

I'm still trying to sort out my index shifting. Everything is done with thumb and forefinger, but I notice that not all gear combinations want to stay put, especially with the chain at an angle. In some combinations the bike hunts itself up and down gears, back and forth. But I'm planning to ride for a while before seeking adjustment--everything is so new and needs to be run in, I expect.

Malaise Inc said...

[bike geek]

The rule of thumb on gear combinations is to avoid the front-rear combinations of large-large and small-small. As you guessed, the extreme angles make them less than smooth and, frankly, you can find a similar size gear elsewhere. But, I have to say that if the chain is hopping in and out of gears, it needs to be adjusted. It won't get better after a break in period.

[/bike geek]

Malaise Inc said...

[bike geek]

I am guessing the components are Shimano. It has been a while since I rode Shimano, but I think it is easy to fix that skipping problem without a return to the shop. It would be preferrable if you could get the bike up on a stand, but you can probably make due with someone holding the rear wheel off the ground.

What you do is shift through the gears, while turning the crank, until you replicate the skipping problem. Once you do, note which direction the chain is trying to skip towards. Now look at the rear derailleur where the cable goes into the housing. The cable should run through a tube like metal piece that screws into the derailleur body. That is the adjustment. Turn that slowly in the opposite direction of the skipping. For example, if the chain is trying to skip to a smaller cog, turn the adjusting mechanism counterclockwise. Do this while continuing to turn the crank. It should start to run better with only a small adjustment.

[/bike geek]

wunelle said...

Thanks for the good info. Next time I'm out for a ride, I'll just ride over to the shop and let them fiddle with it, tho it's good to know generally how to approach the problem.