Sunday, November 8, 2009


When I was growing up, I had a Huffy (made in the USA) with a banana seat.  It probably was cheap and it lasted me for something like 8 years.  After that my little sister had to use it for a couple years.  My parents put streamers on it, put those fun little spoke things that made cool clinking noises on and finished it with a basket.  My sister was not impressed but that bike just wouldn’t die.

 I then graduated to my first bike with speeds.  It was this sparkly, glittery thing with shiny fabric encasing the handlebars.  I wouldn’t be caught dead on it today.  By that time Walmart had invaded our area so that’s where the bike was from because you could get a “good” bike for around $100.  It was of course in the mountain bike vein and I loved that bike.  I could finally keep up with my brother on his 12 speed.  At some point in high school, he upgraded to an extravagant $500 Schwinn mountain bike. My whole family thought he had lost his damn mind.  We were sure of it when his handlebars bent after a 4 day weekend camping trip where we found the best jump ever and spent nearly the whole weekend riding up the hill and flying back down over that jump.  One just didn’t spend that kind of money on a bike.  It was frivolous. A bike was a bike was a bike. 

I rode my bike on long looping routes around my parents’ house.  My route included tar and chip pavement, dirt roads, old logging roads and the busy blacktopped road that ran past our house.   I would take these long rides and spend the time thinking and sorting through my crazy adolescent brain.  It was an escape, a therapy, a relaxation, and an adventure. 

When I went to college I left my bike at home.  It never crossed my mind to use it as “transportation”.  Where I was from a bike could take you to the fishing hole, but town was 10 miles in one direction or 12 in the other.  People didn’t ride bikes for transportation.  I would occasionally ride my bike on summer breaks, mostly when my family went on camping trips.  Then a bike was a great way to get to the swimming area or down to the camp store for ice cream. 

After I graduated college I moved to North Carolina.  At that point a bike was the stationary kind in the fitness center.  I liked using that better than the treadmill because I could read while pedaling.  My ass always hurt after 45 minutes of chafing against the seat, but I could really plow through a book that way. 

My entire perspective on bikes changed beginning this year in January.  I found the old 3 speed and started venturing out on paved trails.  Anytime I become interested in something new I read every book I can get my hands on about the subject.  I spend hours on the internet reading blogs, magazine sites, forums, newspaper articles, etc.  I search through secondhand bookstores for old books on the subject for a sort of historical perspective.  I absorb every bit of information I can.   I like to know the culture surrounding my topic, the way it has developed over the years. So that’s what I did with bikes.  I got maintenance manuals that are new, and some from the 80’s some from the 90’s.  I found old articles written when bicycling was in its infancy.    I probably spent as much time reading as riding. 

I learned a lot.  I learned that seat adjustment matters and adjusted my seat.  That persistent pain in my thighs disappeared.  I read all about assembling a little bike first aid kit and starting plotting my own.  I read about training and time trials and intervals and decided I liked the joy of riding too much to ever go down that path.  It wasn’t and isn’t for me.  I learned how to pop a chain back on after Becca threw hers in the middle of our ride.  I learned tips for cleaning up my little antique bike and soon had it shining.  I read about bike touring and bike camping and spent hours dreaming of when one day I could do those things.  I am still a beginner, still in my own biking infancy, but I now understand the vast amount that there is to learn. 

I bought old bikes for myself and for Becca because I like old shit.  It fascinates and intrigues me.  I didn’t think about the availability of parts or whether the bikes were compatible or anything that really matters.  I thought about price and whether it was a mixte and how old it was.  Those were my criteria.  Not weight, or material, or personalization.  Mostly, it was just about money. So now we have two great looking, beautifully classic bikes.  They don’t really suit us in a lot of ways, but as seemed to be true in my childhood, a bike is a bike is a bike.  They are still useful because they are functional.  Maybe my ignorance has been bliss.  Either way they have helped to get us through the last several months.  They have provided entertainment, and escape, and release and adventure and have been wonderful to ride.  I guess the difference now is that I see the limits that they inherently have.  When I want to ride on the unpaved trails in the park, I stop and think about whether our old warriors are up to that challenge. (They aren’t, methinks). 

Now I can see why one might want to own 10 bikes (or 30!).  I understand that a bike is not really like a car.  One doesn’t really fulfill all the basic requirements for different activities.  With a car, I can run to the grocery store, the library, downtown for a night out, to work, or even tackle the 12 hour drive to my parents all with the same vehicle.  Not so with bikes.  I don’t know why that wasn’t obvious before, but it wasn’t. 

I know that when I talk with people at work or with friends or family about bikes they seem to think that way as well.  Why would I need more than one bike?  Can’t I just use the bike I have to commute?  Not to mention how strange the variances of handlebars and gear ratios and tire widths seem to them (and me in some cases).  I think once you become interested in some aspect of biking it can turn into a whole bright and shiny new world with thousands of possibilities.  But to an average person a bike is a bike is a bike.  And all the talk comparing bikes to cars just makes it more confusing.  Most people have 1 car or maybe 2 per family.  Those people go to Walmart and by the prettiest bike they can for $125, ride it a couple dozen times and then put it up in the garage until it is unearthed 3 years later and posted on Craigslist. 

I think the frame of the conversation it was needs to change.  Maybe we could compare bikes to clothes, or shoes, or cooking pans, or even other sports equipment.   You can’t use a baseball to play volleyball and you can’t use a cruiser on a mountain bike trail.  You can’t use heels for hiking or sprinting unless you are the heroine on an ABC show.  You don’t wear your Brooks Brothers suit to the gym or the swimming pool.  Maybe that frame of reference would make more sense to people.  Maybe then it would matter more that you buy the right bike, not just a bike.  People will spend $300-$500 dollars on the newest Xbox or Playstation console and a few games.  But ordinary people do not go out and spend that much money on a bike even though it was many more uses than the Xbox and arguably can provide a lot better entertainment as well.

Additionally people who live in the suburbs will find it is simply not convenient to replace a car with a bike no matter how many other people have done so and written a book about it telling everyone else it is possible.  It may be possible for me to hop on my bike and run to the library, but getting groceries is out of the question.  There is no road that leads from my house to the grocery store except highways and interstates. The traffic renders the road in front of our apartment complex extremely dangerous for several hours each weeknight.  No bike ride is worth risking my life for, no matter who is preaching that gospel. 

I guess what I’m saying is that the conversation around bikes could be more friendly to “everyday” “average” people.  Sometimes it’s not simply about “making it happen”.  And if the conversation revolves around competitions and environmental causes and exercise, average everyday people are not going to be jumping on the bandwagon by the thousands.  There are thousands of approaches to talking about bikes, sharing the love of bikes with others and trying to get new people involved in bike culture.  My personal favorite is simply that it’s a hell of a lot of fun. 

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Anonymous said...

cool! very interesting -thanks for sharing with us!! =)

erika johnson said...

leave it to you brenda, to research so much, think so critically, and be able to write so eloquently about something . . . loved it.

These Crook's said...

Hey Brenn! I loved reading your post!! My brother in law recently on his trip out here bought a 1,300.00 bike and is going on tour from Alabama to Florida, Florida to Arizona, Arizona back to Cody, Wyoming!! I thinks he's crazy but awesome at the same time!! I am glad you have found something great to do!! Once the boys get a little older I want to get a bike and take them out!!

Nikki Lambert said...

B you know i love you...but im not reading all that. sorry man. If you wanna call me, and be like my personal audio book, that would be neat. i like hearing of your adventures. lol

Carrie Eichner said...

It's always fun to read your stories Brenda! I'm so glad you found a healthy lifestyle that you actually enjoy, I remember watching you struggle with that in college so I'm thrilled that you have found something that makes you so happy. Congrats on being a nonsmoker and also on losing 25 lbs! You def gave me some inspiration/motivation! Keep it up! :)

Loren Berdequez said...

As an "everyday" "average" person, I completely agree that the analogy to cars does not work. I love the idea of comparing bikes to clothes or other sports equipment . . . it's so true and makes so much sense!