Bike procurement: Which ride is right for you?

The most difficult part of purchasing a bike is deciding its purpose and the best fit for you. And by fit, I mean how you can visualize yourself on a bike. Good questions to ask include:

  • What is a bike worth to you? 
  • Where would you go? 
  • How how many miles per ride? 
  • How often do would you ride? 
  • What’s the weather? 
  • What will you wear? 
  • What is the terrain - Pothole roads, pedestrian bike trail, cracked sidewalks, bike signals, scenic roads, Thoroughfare shoulder, bus bike rack, gravel, grass, ducks, mud, raccoons, snow, ice, puddles, dogs, sun?
  • Where are you going to put it  once you arrive at your destination? 

Whether you are new to riding or just in the market for a new ride, I hope this post will help you navigate your way to  the bike that’s best for you. I’m happy to I’ll share my experience in bike procurement, including poor purchases and the resulting recommendations. 

In my bike procurement journey, figuring out what I wanted was tough. As I shopped and learned about bikes, everyone I interacted with had an opinion on what I should want including friends, family, and bike sales folks. I’m continuously shocked by how many peeps feel liberated to share their views on what I ride between my legs, particularly the folks that don’t ride bikes. 

Livestrong

When I was in the market for my first Seattle commute bike, I told my Lance Armstrong-wanna-be-boyfriend at the time that I was interested in getting a steel bike, and he accused me of being a hipster. “Carbon fiber!” he exclaimed, “this is an investment.” While I have nothing against carbon fiber bikes in principle, the fact that my boyfriend did not support my exploration in this venture was frustrating and it distracted me from finding the ride that’s right for me. Blinded by love, I did not see this red flag in our relationship or the process of bike procurement. Since he was a more experienced cyclist, I trusted his opinion that resulted in my first poor bike purchase, an aluminum Cannondale hybrid.

I gave this bike a valiant effort, got clips, shammies, and fingerless padded gloves for my five-mile ride on the Burke. I was a mess; that hybrid drove me nuts. Again, I have nothing against hybrids, in principle.  It just wasn’t the right ride for me. 

I landed on the hybrid because of a work benefit at the campus bike shop and the guys in the shop sold it as “comfortable,” which, in retrospect, doesn’t make any sense. Comfortable for whom? I guess this perceived comfort is the less aggressive, upright position of a hybrid, but I don’t like sitting upright in any other aspect of my life so why would I think that it would be comfortable on a bike? Also, every bike should be comfortable for you; if it’s uncomfortable, you risk injury and are less likely to want to ride.

After six months of a sore back, tense shoulders, and falling at stoplights, I dumped the hybrid and the Livestrong boyfriend, and got the steel bike I wanted.

Mr Pink

I call him Steve because I assume the All-City Mr. Pink is a movie reference from Reservoir Dogs where Steve Buscemi expresses his distaste for his code name Mr. Pink. Steve is a steel road bike, and he has served me well for five years and counting. At the time, I wanted a ride for my daily commute and long weekend rides. so Steve was the perfect fit for me. Before I settled on Steve, I rode  dozens of bikes from several bike shops around town, asked all of the questions, and carefully reviewed my bike budget. 

The budget piece was tricky because I could spend tens of thousands of dollars on the perfect ride, but bikes get stolen and beat up. I could also have taken the cheap route and bought  a Schwinn from Walmart, but a cheap bike is likely going to be uncomfortable, and I am less motivated to ride if the experience is not enjoyable. I needed something in between, a ride that is inexpensive enough so that I don’t have to worry about it in public spaces and nice enough so that I could have an enjoyable ride.

Steve and I have been besties for years, but after years of bike commuting my situation has changed a bit. I’m not so inclined to take  those scenic weekend group rides and Steve doesn’t navigate cracked sidewalks or potholes very well.

The Green Machine II

After Steve and I took a good sidewalk spill, I finally decided that it was time for a new bike that can better navigate the rough city terrain. The Green Machine II, named after my beloved Green Machine from my childhood, is the single speed crosscycle bike with disc brakes and fat tires, and I love it! I’ll keep Steve around in case I feel urge for a scenic weekend ride this summer, but the Green Machine II is my go-to for the bike commute.

I’ve been yearning for a single speed for years, but they are not widely available in Seattle bike shops, and when I would inquire about one I would get discouraged and intimidated. “Because hills” the well-meaning sales folks would say as I walk my business right out the door. I like a single speed for urban areas because it’s simple. It’s one less decision I need to make when facing unexpected obstacles such as potholes, run clubs, cracks, children, roller blades, dogs, road warriors, tourists, Lime bikes, and the like. I find the sidewalks and busy bike trails overwhelming with so many varying types of transport. So, it’s nice to have a bike that requires the fewest decisions possible so that I can focus on the ride.

I’m not advocating that everyone in the city start riding single speeds because they’re are not for everyone. I share my journey because a common thread with each  bike purchase was self doubt. The bike sales folks are passionate, educated, and well meaning, but only you  know your life and how you would use the bike. So use the sales folks to answer your questions and get the information you need to find the ride that fits your life. If the bike shop sews self-doubt,  take your business elsewhere.

Finally, while bike shopping I was often told that I should choose a bike based on function and not looks. That goes against my sensibilities.  I like to look good and my bike is an extension of my style. I like looking good while flossing past the coffee houses, breweries, and record stores. That hybrid was hideous!

 Me rollin' through my hood

Me rollin' through my hood

You do you

So that’s me and my bike procurement journey, what will your journey bring? Here are my recommendations to get started:

  • Answer all of those questions from the beginning of this post: answering these questions will help you discover your bike purpose.
  • Visit bike shops, ride hella bikes, and ask too many questions: I cannot emphasize this enough. It’s work to visit bike shops and ride a bunch of bikes, but it’s worth it. No amount of online reviews or recommendations can tell you if you will enjoy the ride. 
  • Know your budget: because you will come across that super sexy bike that rides like butter. So know your budget before you get sold. I’m still lusting over a Gunnar from Montlake Bike!
  • Search the Internet for what you want: once you have discovered your bike purpose, pop that purpose into the search bar and see what comes up. While I don’t recommend buying a bike online, the search results can give you an idea of the type of bike you are looking for such as road, cross, or mountain. If you are dead set on a bike you found online, then have the bike shop order it for you because the shop will build it for you. Although the bike is in one piece on the website, they’re really selling you a bike kit that needs assembly.
  • Be patient: this is tough this time of the year because the sun is out and the thirst to ride is imminent. Give yourself time, and if you live in Seattle, there are a variety of bike shops that can meet your needs.
  • Here are some of my favorite shops: Counterbalance, 20/20 Cycle, FreeRange (I’m hoping someone buys this shop and keeps the doors open).

What is your bike purpose?
 

Thank you LimeBike

When the City of Seattle first permitted a dockless shared bike pilot program to descend upon the city last July, I was delighted at the potential it offered Seattleites and tourist to experience the city from the saddle. During the year this convenient low-cost option to cycling has taken the city by storm. Although reports on usership have yet to come out, anyone in the city can see the shared bikes littering our sidewalks, streets, and even trees.

While I try to remain optimistic about the benefits these bikes can offer (increased mobility, decreased traffic, and a happier planet), it can be difficult when I see these bikes abused by humans (mostly adults) and novice riders wavering down the sidewalks and trails. 

The other day, I left work late and looked forward to a congestion-free ride. Even though I missed the work rush-hour, I ran straight into the holy-shit-it’s-sunny-in-Seattle-rush. The trail was mobbed with smiling faces gleefully wandering all over the trail. As I cautiously pedaled past the bike-newbies, I tried to remain patient. I took a breath and said to myself “at least they’re on a bike!”

I am also discouraged when I see the bikes being vandalized by full-grown tax-paying adults, more a symptom of a toxic culture than the program. We’ve all seen these bikes thrown in bushes, artfully balanced in trees, or (my favorite) the intentionally constructed bike tower.

There is hope

 Bike party

Bike party

While I was in my studio last week, I heard an unusual sound for my neighborhood. It was the laughter of radiant joy. Since my studio is in an industrial neighborhood, more common sounds are of chatty adults, determined partiers, or young children being dragged around by their parents. But on this day a group of about a dozen or so cheerful unchaperoned teenagers descended onto my block at the very same location that the lovely bike tower once stood.

I have no idea how these kids made their way to this block, but it appears as though the only purpose of their visit was to ride bikes. Between the twelve of them, they rented three bikes and took turns riding up and down the block. While the smiling riders cruised by, the spectators gazed eagerly as they waited for their turn to ride. No destination, bike towers or trees, just the joy of riding bikes.

For all of the potential socioeconomic and environmental benefits that this bike pilot hopes to bring, to me the real benefit is the joy and happiness that easy access to bikes can bring to our community. A public good, if you will. So thank you LimeBike (and the like) for attempting this social experiment in my city.

While I’m happy to see the growth of human-bike interaction that this program has enabled, I look forward to a respectful and responsible symbiotic relationship between the city, humans, and bikes the future can bring. 

But this future will not happen on it’s own and I think there’s a lot that we can do to ensure this optimistic eventuality.  Here are my thoughts

  • Outfit the bikes with spy like cameras to shame any middle class bachelor(ette) party vandals

  • Install bike alarms that go off anytime the bike is greater than 3 ft from the earth

  • Give kids school class credits for free bike rides so that they can grow up to be bike responsible adults

What do you think?

Sunshowers

 Sunshowers

Sunshowers

Sunshowers, if you are not familiar, are typically when a dark grey cloud is fixed squarely just above your head blessing you with a brisk shower while crisp blue skies are ahead with the sun peering into your eyes just over yonder. The great thing about a sunshower is that it can make you feel special, as if this cloud is just for you. At the same time, you can see the hope of sunshine off in the distance. Things can only improve from here.

The other day I forgot to bring my raincape on my commute. I didn’t think much of it because the forecast called for clear skies. This was a mistake. Never leave home without some rain gear during a tumultuous Northwest spring. It was a bit windy sending the the clouds whizzing by high in the sky. So I thought I would be good for my ride home. Second mistake. As I committed to the beginning of my bike commute, an invasive cloud parked itself along the Burke-Gilman Trail and proceeded to shower cold prickly raindrops that penetrated through my jeans, gloves, and puffy coat. By the time I got home, I was drenched. The worst part was that I could see the yellowish sunbeams and blue skies in my periphery for the duration of my ride. A sunshower at its best.

While a Northwest spring can pose unexpected challenges, spring is a great time to think and plan for a summer of riding if you are dreaming of getting back into the saddle. You’re already on the couch with your soft pants, blanket, snacks, and laptop. Why not do a little research to prepare for the height of cycling season before it’s in full swing? If breathing in the summer air from your bike is circling through your mind then don’t wait until July when the bike shops are packed, and you don’t have a thing to wear or any idea of where to go.

Before you run out to REI for all of the bike things, a good place to start is to imagine what your cycling fantasy is for the summer. And you can do this from the comfort of your own couch. What sort of cycling interests you?

  1. Work commute,
  2. Scenic countryside holiday,
  3. Wednesday night brewery crawl,
  4. Beach cruising,
  5. Adventure camping,
  6. Crosscyling,
  7. Ego boosting STP,
  8. Leisurely family ride along the boardwalk,
  9. Tandem twinsies with the Bae,
  10. Pellaton team building with the partners,
  11. BMX the mountain, or
  12. The just-say-fuck-it: sell all of your shit, load up the bike, and travel the world!

Whatever your bike fancy, find your bike purpose and this will drive any bike purchase/updates, apparel, and trip planning required for your cycling excursion.

What is your summer cycling dream?

Head gear

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When I first started to ride one of my biggest challenges was my hair, notice that my self-portrait has a voluminous gravity-defying curly crown that definitely does not fit under a bike cap. I’ve already shared my experience on my cycling hair journey for Seattle Bike Blog. The posts are chock-full of hair care advice for cycling. For this post I will focus on alternatives to bike caps and maintaining a luscious mane while cycling.

My first solution was a short Halle Berry style haircut that fit neatly under the helmet, no cap necessary. But last year I took on the daunting task of growing out my hair. While I love my fro, it is considerably more work than a visit to the barbershop once a month. Even though I depict myself with a full pick-out while riding, I always ride with a helmet and a head wrap. In fact, I only express my full fro glory for special occasions like engagement parties, holiday shindigs, and kick-ass bands. Most days I’m sporting a bandana, headband or wrap, especially at work because I’m not flossing my royal crown for any old office rat sporting khakis and a PowerPoint.

Bandanas are an urban cyclist staple, great for catching sweat and wrapping helmet ready hair. I fold mine along the diagonal so that it forms a triangle then wrap around my hair (so that all of the hair is inside the bandana) and tie it at the top of my forehead.  It’s similar to the way you would wrap your hair at night. This keeps my hair intact all day long, while maintaining a colorful hipster flare.

Headbands are great for work days, but since typical headbands don’t hold my hair back, I use neck warmers. I know it sounds strange, but this headband challenge was a blessing because I discovered that neck warmers can double as both a headband and cycling cap alternative. My favorite is the Smartwool Neck Gaiter which is made from a nice stretch wool that’s breathable, warm, flexible, and firm enough to hold my hair back as a headband and in place as a cycling cap. While the neck warmers are a great functional solution, they don’t come in a variety of colors or any fun or fashionable patterns.

Headwraps for cycling is my latest experiment. I’m fortunate to have acquired some decent sewing skills, so I’m testing out a few more fashionable ideas. My first design is a stretch cotton twist wrap that can also fold into a headband. So far it’s working pretty well and I like the look. I’ll keep you posted on future headgear designs and developments. Maybe an Afro-friendly cycling cap with a bill (brim) perhaps?

Have no fear your bicycle is here

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When I first told my sister that I had decided to ride a bike to work she accusingly inquired, “are you gonna be one of those crazy bicyclists riding on the street, in the middle of the night, wearing all black, with no lights or helmet?” Offended by the lack of confidence in my adulting skills I defensively responded “No! What makes you think I would be so irresponsible? And it’s cyclist, not bicyclist!” Expectedly our conversation went down from there, and while we’ve made up since this minor spat, we haven’t discussed this topic since that day. Hence, I continue to scoot around town on two wheels and zero doors, and she sneaks in snide bicyclist comments at family gatherings. You know, the usual sisterly love of avoidance‍.

While my sister’s frank comments still sting after five years of riding, the sentiment behind her accusation is understandable. That sentiment is fear; fear that I will run into a tree, slip on the ice, or fall into a puddle and crack my head on the sidewalk. And, most of all, fear that I will be fatally smacked down by a car when I suddenly appear in the driver’s line of sight.

The scariest part of this fear is that it’s complete perception and not grounded in fact or substantive proof that riding a bike is any more life-threatening than walking, driving, or sitting on the couch. I don’t mean to imply that my sister is unreasonable. She’s not; my sis is a perfectly rational human who lives in an American car culture. A car culture that exaggerates bike danger and fatalities while simultaneously normalizing and minimizing the number of car incidents and deaths. These days I ride bikes more than I drive (or ride in) cars and the only time I’ve been hit by a car was when I was in a car.

I know, bleak stuff for a cheery Afro-headed stick figure like me, but fear is the biggest hurdle in getting on a bike. At least once a day I hear “you’re braver than me.” They call me brave because of their fear, not mine. It’s ironic because it’s not bravery, it’s just lack of an unrealistic fear. Not that I am a fearless rider, not at all. I take to my bike ride with caution, care, and attentiveness; just as I do with any other activity in my life such as cooking, listening, walking, working, loving, talking, and breathing. No fear, just here.

Top five reasons to ride a bike

Great bike ideas

It’s no secret, my ulterior motive for this site is to get you all to ride bikes because I’m selfish, and I know that if everyone rode bikes rather than cruising around in misery tanks then we would all be better off.  So I present to you my top five reasons to ride bikes and why.

5. It’s good for planet Earth

Well, it might be good for other planets too, but let’s stick to this one for now. This should be the number one reason, but it’s the least persuasive because, let's face it, the planet's been here my entire life, and it's not going anywhere.  Bikes are good for the planet because more bikes mean fewer cars, fewer cars mean less pollution, and less pollution means a better environment for the planet where my lungs, skin and hair reside.  A healthier planet means a healthier me.

4. It’s good for my health

My doctor agrees with me and she knows many health things.  Riding a bike is good exercise where I get to breathe deeply and take in my surroundings every day.  Also, see reason number five.

3. It’s a non-drowsy solution to road rage

Driving in Seattle can be the most frustrating experience from bottlenecks at bridges that go up and down to the cluster fuck around freeway entrances, sitting in a car staring at stupid bumper stickers makes me want to scream.  While driving in traffic my mood often swings from seething rage to mind-numbing boredom; I can only listen to so many podcasts.  Seriously, there is no boredom, rage, texting or sleeping while riding a bike.

2. It’s super fun

It’s so gosh darn fun. Does anyone need any other reason to do something every day other than it’s fun?

1. It’s raining outside

Because when’s the last time you danced in the rain like in that old black and white movie with that white guy singing, what was it called?  Also, the rain is moist which is good for my hair and skin; I'm an old woman so I need all of the hydration I can get.

 

So here's why I ride bikes, why do you ride?

Blogging about bikes and rain

This blog is about rain and bikes, sort of, for the most part. I guess, like a painting, the purpose of this site will unfold as times goes on. But to start here’s my intent:

 Me on my bike in the dewy Pacific Northwest

Me on my bike in the dewy Pacific Northwest

I want everyone to ride bikes, or something analogous to bikes, like roller skates, skateboards, shoes on sidewalks, butts in public transport, unicycles, hover-boards, scooters, heelys, or the like.

I want every human to ride bikes because more bikes means less cars, car emissions, and road rage.  

I want every human to ride bikes because it makes for a happier, healthier, and safer society.  

However, I understand that there are significant hurdles to overcome so that we can incorporate a bikes in our everyday lives.

I’ve been pushing my bike pedals to work for the past five years and have overcome several of these hurdles that I will share with you in the coming days, weeks, months, and years. I ride my bike all year round in the dewy Pacific Northwest and every day I ride, I get at least one question on how I accomplished this sheroic feat.

The most common question being “but what about the rain?” I’ve already blogged on this rain bike conundrum for the Seattle Bike Blog, But it’s raining outside, and I have many more tidbits to share on the rain and other bike challenges.

I want to make this a conversation. I hope that these posts will encourage you to comment, question, and share your bike stories.  

aviva@bikingintherain.com