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.
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.
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!
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?