Thursday, July 24, 2008

Some observations on this cycling-lifestyle thing

Via the Bike Commute Tips Blog comes a story noting a correlation between the upsurge in cycling as an alternative transportation and an upsurge in cycling-related injuries. Well, yes: I've noted in, and linked to, various places which sound various cautionary notes regarding cycling safety on the streets. This is advice that I personally have been careful to heed--advice, I might add, that has already spared me from a couple of close calls with cars, if not actual accidents. (In particular, a most grateful tip of the bike helmet to BicycleSafe for #s 4 and 5.)

But safety isn't the subject of this particular post. It's this passage from the story:
Mike Schatz figured it was the right thing to do. Horrified by his first $70 trip to the gas station, Schatz drove to a bike shop last month, plunked down $2,500 on a new touring bicycle and began two-wheel commuting from his Grant Park home to his office in West Midtown.
(italics mine)

I obviously don't know Mr. Schatz, and I sincerely wish him a speedy recovery from his injuries. Nor am I the sort of person who gets all soapbox-y about how people should/shouldn't spend their money. But, like, wow: Even if I had $2500 to spend on a bicycle (full disclosure--that's a bit less than two months' salary for me, and I pay rent and enjoy, you know, eating, so you can do the math), I'm not the sort of person that would spend that kind of money to get some exercise and save money on gas--the reasons Mr. Schatz gives as his reasons for buying his bicycle. So, as I read that I thought, All other things being equal (I don't know the distance he commutes or the terrain of that commute, so maybe such a bike really would be useful for him), does a bicycle that costs that much really better accomplish what my humble Fuji does?

Well, no. So, even as I wish Mr. Schatz well, I found myself wondering as well just what he had bought--or, perhaps better-phrased, bought into--when he bought his bike.

All this is on my mind for a couple of reasons. First up is the blog Bikes for the Rest of Us, which has this as part of its manifesto:
Sometimes I wish Greg Lemond never won the Tour de France in 1986.

At the time, in the excitement surrounding the first American win at Le Tour, there was talk of a “renewed interest” in bicycling. As it turns out, there was a renewed interest in the sport of cycling, but not in building a real, pervasive bike culture here in the United States.

In fact, bike shops across the country began putting aside their single speeds, 3-speeds and cruisers to make room for expensive, lightweight, “high-end” racing bikes. In other words, bike shops lost interest in selling regular bikes to regular people.


My hope is that higher gas prices will not only change the way Americans think about bicycles but also the way the bicycle industry thinks as well, so that we can finally have bike shops selling bicycles designed for regular folks who just want to ride from point A to point B and aren’t interested in paying a fortune.

Or winning the Tour de France.
Exhibit A of the sort of audience Bikes for the Rest of us is targeting is a fellow Wichitan named Todd. Over at his appropriately-named The Todd Blog, he recently posted this query, with questions, about the possibility of his bike-commuting. Go and read--it won't take long. As you can see, he doesn't want, or need, much; nor can he afford much. He just wants to Do Something, some little Something. Todd's thinking is very much in the spirit of this recent post of mine.

I'd just say, by way of winding all this up, that I'd hope that those of us without (or even those of us with) Mr. Schatz's means not let that get in the way of trying to achieve the sorts of ends Todd hopes to achieve.


Cordelia said...

I'll chime in on that one: if the story on Mike Schatz was accurately reported (did he really just hop in his car and buy a $2,500 dollar bike ?), I had to laugh: "The pluses included conservation and fitness as well as frugality" ? Frugality ? Did he compute how many miles he would have to do to break even on his money ? Not only was the bike expensive, but as you point out in the rest of your post, it was most likely the wrong bike for him to commute on. He bought a touring bicycle, most likely a very light weight and extremely responsive--- too responsive--- bit of machinery, making his ability to control it well iffy at best if he was just getting back to riding. The situation reminds me of when I learned to sail: boats that are extremely responsive and heel to the wind more and quickly are called "tender." You don't learn on a very tender boat unless your reflexes are quicker than most humans. They are pretty, they are fast, and the first time I took one out, I ended up in the water a good deal of the time. It was, as you conclude, more power than I needed. When I bought a new bike after years of riding the same Schwinn Worldsport, I did upgrade, in the $800.00 range, for an aluminum framed, 27 speed bike, with "comfort features" wuch as upright handlebars, click shifting, wider seat, that I could outfit for commuting but would provide me with the option of fun and ability for serious hills for non commuting adventures. I look at the beautiful Dutch and Danish city bikes with a good deal of envy. However, since I have a steep three story climb to my apartment and limited upper body strength, a heavy bike was out of the question. I also had tried a number of bikes (something our double broken elbowed protagonist also did not do). The guy is head of an ad agency, so his expense may be the same percentage, or less, of his income than mine was for me. As you write, that may not be the point at all: could his bike do what your Fuji can do ? Less. It is specialized for a purpose he did not have in mind. I love my bike. I'll bet we both are happy that we can finally afford what feels to us like a really nice bike.Better still is the fact that a really nice bike is one that suits its purpose well.

John B. said...

Thanks for the visit--and for this "chime" that's more like a carillon.

As you make clear, and as I thought about as well when I imagined the size of vehicle that would require $70 worth of gas, a subtext to Mr. Schatz's story is worth giving some thought to: How should one go about shopping for a bike? In some ways, it's more complicated than buying a car--as your own circumstances make clear, one rarely has to carry one's car up 3 flights of stairs. Yet, so long as the default setting for thinking about cycling is "sport/recreation" rather than "transportation," the flashy bikes that the cool kids are riding will the ones more likely to turn our heads.

When I get some time, I'll have a look around for (and link to) some substantive articles/posts on bike-shopping.

Cordelia said...

I hope it was a carillon and not an ungracious clang. After I wrote that, I caught up on my blog reading of NY City Bike Snob, who, of course, has said it all and better here:

One of the commenters remarked that using a fancy bike for everyday purposes is like "taking an F1 car for a trip to the convenience store." Indeed. I also learned the phrase "ironic coffee bike," which delights me. Not actually having one, but the phrase.