Monday, May 13, 2013

The Beauty of The Beast

If you are reading this, chances are you own at least one bike, and it’s probably a pretty nice ride.  Full suspension, 29er, 650B, SRAM, DuraAce, compact drivetrain, 1 or 2 by 10, Carbon, Aero, Italian, XTR, light, stiff, etc.  There is no doubt that the simple bicycle has evolved to become a dizzying amalgam of extraordinary technology designed to propel us along roads and trails at extraordinary speeds.  However, since many of us see our bikes as simply tools to create fitness, it is sometimes easy to lose track of the concept of the bicycle as a transportation and/or utilitarian device for hauling ourselves and our gear around town.  With gas at $3.50/gallon and many cities – including SLC – taking many steps to accommodate bicycles, there’s lots of opportunities to get around town under your own power.  Which brings us to….the beauty of “The Beast”.

Steel, biopace, 7 speed, fixie, retro, rigid, single speed, tall bike, cruiser, trailer, toe clips….these are the keywords for the old/new genre of urban assault bikes.  No matter if you are a racer or a weekend warrior, there’s no reason to not pick up one of these simple Beasts to be your loyal steed to weave you and your groceries/gear efficiently through neighborhood streets, and it’s never been easier to find appropriate bikes.  The DI, garage sales, Craig’s List, and even your neighbors’ garages are full of 80’s-90’s bikes that are eager for another life as “townie”, and the prices are extraordinarily low.  A few years ago – after giving away my former steed while on a developing-country bike tour – I was able to buy a biopace-equipped, steel Raleigh “mountain bike” for $90 that already had slicks, and I think even $90 was possibly too much relative to what I could have found with a bit more diligent and patient shopping.  I ended up giving that bike away as well, and then found a pretty sweet beast: 

a 15 year old Fisher Gitchee Gumee.  I paid $250 for it, which seemed like a lot/too much, but it literally still had the little hairy things on the tires (ie it was unridden) and with a spare set of tires I was sold.  Ash’s bike was a fixy that we converted to a commuter/tourer:

that has proved itself to be amazingly versatile and impervious to a lot of abuse and too-little upkeep! 

A couple of years ago I had an opportunity to unnecessarily add to our fleet of bikes with this one:

which technically doesn't fall into my category of Beasts, but rattling around Sugarhouse sitting pretty much straight up on this thing with it's "full suspension" seat (it's most definitely not a "saddle!") ringing the bell, and throwing down the kickstand is pretty much happiness on two wheels, and I love it.

Ironically, it can be the accessories – rack, panniers, trailer, etc – that end up being more expensive than the Craigslisted bike itself, but after adding those key ingredients, you’ll have a bike that you:
a) Are ok leaving outside the store unlocked
b) Can ride in the winter without paranoia of ruining your expensive components,
c) Can use to comfortably carry anything from your laptop and your lunch to hauling loads/gear you wouldn’t believe are possible
d) Can use to keep your saddle sore callouses nicely tuned throughout the winter

I keep seeing roadies who are clearly commuting to work  - only in nice weather - wearing their kits and with backpacks on, and I am tempted to tell those folks: “It’s ok to let it go:  riding a Beast with normal clothes and shoes is ok; your roady friends won’t recognize you without your kit and Oakleys anyway, and you’ll be able to ride more because you won’t have any excuses – like inclement weather that might soil your $7000 speed demon – to keep you from additional riding.    In fact, Ash found an awesome website talking about bike commuting that is way more clever than I could ever hope to be: (our favorite line:  “Also a fact: Human sweat is comprised of more than 90% fecal particles, which is why you smell like a hog confinement instantly after you start exercising.”)

We’ve all seen those crazy pictures on the internet of the extraordinary loads that industrious people in Asia have managed to put on their bikes, but in our convenience-oriented society, we don’t require that level of ingenuity; simple panniers can carry much of what we need, and a Bob, Burley, or Chariot trailer are amazing at what they can hold.  Even if you have a Chariot for your kids, think about what you could put in that if you just took it empty to the grocery store!   

As cyclists, we all hate auto traffic; imagine what our lives would be like if there were no cars?  While this is an unrealistic goal – even as gas prices get even higher – we can enlist the help of neglected bikes throughout the valley to simply “ride more and drive less”.  Investing a couple of hundred dollars to buy and create a “Beast” will be that much more incentive for the city and the state to maintain their momentum on making the Salt Lake Valley a more bike-friendly area.  I was in Portland recently, and the concept of a “critical mass” of cyclists is there on such a large-scale basis because there are so many cyclists of all shapes and sizes riding their Beasts on a daily basis that the city was pretty much forced to accommodate them, and motorists are forced to be that much more attentive to the presence of bikes on the streets due to the large numbers.   

As I’ve started trail running more over the last couple of years I’ve also learned to appreciate the concept of riding to the trailhead to run; with a Beast you can be ok with  locking it to something at the trailhead (or not! Odds are quite good that a Beast won’t be too appealing to all the potential bike thieves who lurk so ominously at all trailheads), you get a good warmup and cool down to your run, and “driving to go exercise” is sorta silly, at least in SLC when so many good trailheads are well-within riding distance. 

So the next time you go out to your garage to admire your fleet of sleek, shimmering, technologically-perfect, two-wheeled beauties, yet still ponder getting in your car to go to the store, to a barbeque, or even to work, consider the concept of getting yourself a Beast to do that instead; it’ll be well worth the $90. 

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