Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dreaming about Bike Builds

There's a saying among the bike-addicted that the best number of bikes is (n+1), where "n" is the number of bikes currently owned.  In my "stable" (garage) there are currently a total of 6 bikes.  There's the TARDIS and the Trek (mountain bike, comments on this are forthcoming).  There's Prometheus the Grey Bike, my sister's urban bike, my boyfriend's hybrid (Trek FX 7.1) and mountain bike (Cannondale).  There's my mom's Townie in Dallas.  There's a probably-58 cm 1978 Schwinn LeTour III that's more or less in pieces, available for a price to anyone who wants it.  And yet, I still stare and ogle and dream.

My next bike is going to be probably a Mixte, due to the fact I live in a sprawling American city but want a feminine, step-through framed bike tricked out as a commuter (this was the original idea behind the Townie until it was claimed).  But then I look at the Bella Ciao Neorealista Veloce and my Italian genetics tell me I would look fabulous sailing down the road on such a refined, beautifully made little number.

Then I look at Dutch and Danish Oma bikes and am in love with their comfort, stability, and sheer tank-like ability to withstand anything.  But I'm so short!  What if it's like piloting an SUV?  But there's Pashley, making the beautiful Princess Sovereign which from everything I know is a bit less enormous in it's feel than a Dutch bike.  But then I consider that those types of bikes are known to not be terribly hill friendly, and let's face it, I live in a place called the "Hill Country".  The bike will have to go up hills.  Do I want to try that on these incredibly beautiful, but possibly impractical gigantic machines?  I've only ever stood next to a Gazelle Toer Populaire and the first thing that struck me about it was how bloody enormous the thing was.

The fact is, like any collector, it's hard for me to get bored with all the permutations of bike in the world, and even harder not to want to collect 'em all like they're Pokemon.  But finances and space constraints are very real considerations and I can't just have ALL the bikes.

Anyone want to buy a really cool, really big old Schwinn for a few bucks to finance my next project?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Funky fun - the Electra Townie 8i

A bike I ride fairly frequently, particularly when I visit home (i.e. the faraway land of north Texas) is the Electra Townie 8i, a bike that belonged to me for about 6 months until it swept my mom off her feet with it's beguiling lines, upright positioning, and internally geared hub.  The version of the bike I've consistently ridden is a 2010, in a beautiful muted gold shade.  Unfortunately, the bike lives in Dallas, and as such is unavailable for more detailed photographs.  EDIT: I finally went home to Dallas and took pictures of this bike!  They can be found here:

Hangin' out with the TARDIS
This bike comes standard with a hockey stick style pants guard, full fenders, and a kickstand - if you'd like to add a basket, bell, or rack, those are aftermarket accessories (Electra does also make the Amsterdam model, featuring these accessories stock, which I would love to someday extensively ride).  The geometry is insanely laid back and features Electra's Flat Foot Technology, which basically means they took standard comfy-hybrid positioning and rotated the whole thing backwards so when you ride the bike, your feet are well forward and your posture is bolt-upright.  If you're an American who is used to leaning forward a bit, the sensation of pushing down on the pedal and moving forward sitting up straight is actually pretty disconcerting.  But with a lap around the block, this becomes something like riding a couch with wheels.  Oddly, when the saddle is in the proper position so you get good leg extension, I had a few issues putting my foot down totally flat, but that being said it's remarkably easier to get a foot down than on with more standard bike positioning.  

Electra Townies are a one-size fits all bike, and as such, comes with an adjustable stem and a huge range of acceptable saddle heights.  I successfully rode this bike, as did friends of mine as tall as 6'1".  My mom falls somewhere in the middle of the height range at 5'4" and she finds it to be very friendly.  

One of the things that seems to consistently baffle new riders, in my experience, is the concept of shifting. Strangely, this even seems to extend to people who drive stick manual transmission cars who grasp shifting in other contexts, but can't generalize that experience over to bikes.  The "i" in "8i" stands for integrated - this bike features a Shimano Nexus 8-speed hub, the same found in many more expensive European city bikes.  My mom in particular had difficulty understanding what gear she needed and remembering to downshift before coming to a stop, which resulted in a lot of gears grinding and difficult starts.  With new riders in particular, my goal is for things to be fun and for an older rider like my mom, I felt no need to complicate things and the integrated hub allows her to shift while holding still, a huge benefit to this bike.  This hub is also astonishingly maintenance-free, and holds up pretty nicely in it's storage place in the shed - no derailleur to bang against a door or shelf.  

The frame is aluminum, which is not typically my favorite frame material, but any vibration issues are soaked up by the big, happy tires and the suspension fork in the front.  While adding a suspension does up the weight a tad, the Townie is overall shockingly light, especially when you consider the magnitude of the wheel base - and believe me, getting this bike around in a tight space is like parallel parking a limousine in an alley.  The geometry also makes the step through version of this bike a royal pain to get on a bike rack without some accessories from whoever makes your bike rack.

Where the Townies really snag me (and a lot of people) is their looks - Electra seems to be one of the few companies based in the United States who gets design.  They don't plaster their name all over their bikes, in fact, the labeling is minimal at most.  But the beautiful pearlescent paint options available and swan-like curves of the frame are unmistakable, even from a distance.  

This is a bike you ride in your Sunday best, and it never fails to get a comment.  For short (10 miles or less), relatively flat commutes (no GIGANTIC hills), this would be a perfectly practical bike.  I wouldn't want to ride it for 25 miles at a go, but that's not what this bike is for.  This is purely for fun, and that's the beauty of it!

Friday, May 18, 2012

National Bike To Work Day 2012

Today being National Bike to Work Day, I decided to bike to work, rather than attend to my responsibilities.  My company had been promoting Bike to Work day all month, with promises of continental breakfast and possibly prizes, so this morning my boyfriend and I got our stuff together a tad earlier than usual and hopped on our bikes to head to work.

I was a tad nervous, as I haven't ridden to work regularly in a couple months, but have not changed my eating habits AT ALL.  So yeah, I've gained a bit of weight since March.  But once I shook some of the cobwebs out of my legs, getting to work was (pardon the idiom) like riding a bike - it just came back to me.

We arrived at work to find a delightful spread - there were bagels and lox, parfaits, homemade granola bars, OJ, infused water, free socks.....basically, the works.  A delightful array of bikes were in attendance,  including commuters, touring bikes, hybrids, single speeds - every stripe of common American commuter bike came out for the occasion.  While in my mind I often criticize the "Bike To Work Day Commuter" as Amateur hour, this year I got to try it from that side of the fence - I haven't commuted in a couple months and pulled my bike out just for the day.  I freely admit the cockles of my heart may have even warmed a few degrees.

At lunch today I took a walk with my phone and took pictures of some of the bike racks on our campus - this morning, the rack by the door was a fight for parking this morning!

There were some Packed Racks (as opposed to Rat Packs!):

There were bikes of many stripes, some of which shed the elitist need for a rack at all:

There was a flock of fancy road bikes locked up together, front wheels chained to the back

And, proving that people are always people, the inconveniently located racks (like crappy parking spaces) were mostly abandoned.

Happy National Bike to Work day, one and all!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Yay Bikes! - a 1 year update!

Hurray!  It's bike to work month, which also means this blog is a year old!  This Friday is Bike To Work Day, and for once in my life, I'll be participating despite not having bike commuted since Shiner came to live with me.  As he's getting older, my ability to go for rides has returned, and Sunday found me casually cruising around a path a couple miles from my house enjoying the sensation of getting my legs back.

So here we are once again in Bike to Work Month, and on a personal level, I've noticed even more cyclists than usual this spring!  This has included a fabulously fashionable lady riding a beach cruiser, a chap in a cap moseying down Burnet, and multiple run-ins with the same Gazelle Toer Populaire in downtown Austin.

In my own cycling universe, I've sold the Cannondale, acquired a 58-or-so cm 1978 Schwinn Le Tour III as a rebuild project, a 2001 Trek Fuel full suspension, and have started learning the basics of riding off road, though not with nearly enough frequency to yet merit a post.  Once the Schwinn is rebuilt, I'm going to be offering it as a gift to a tall person who needs a bike and doesn't have the scratch for a new one, but will appreciate a true American classic.

In less happy news, my trunk rack (which was a Yakima King Joe 3 that saw me through moving home from California, moving from Dallas to Austin, and many less epic adventures in between), was stolen while I was washing my car about a month ago!  Super-lame.

In the last year, I've gained a boyfriend, taught him, his cousin, and my sister to ride, given my mom an Electra Townie 8i, and generally kept it real and two-wheeled.  I've also managed to more or less keep up with this blog.  So happy birthday, little blog!