Friday, October 16, 2009
The One, True Bicycle
I hate bicycles. Not per se - I just hate all the designs now. Somehow, they just ain't...right.
Bikes all cost a fortune now, and have a million gears, and they have wires all over the place, and strangely-angled bars and freaky grips, and weird little tiny seats, and because there are so many parts, they're always breaking. Mountain bikes are fine for mountain biking, I admit; but what do you do if you just want a normal, straight-ahead bike?
Most people would say, "get a cruiser". Yes, they are somewhat close to a normal bike; the problem is that they are actually more like caricatures of a normal bike. They're usually painted some weird bright colour, often sport weird designs, they have overly large mud guards and handlebars, and a giant seat...So the whole cruiser package just screams, "Ooo, look at me, I'm doing the whole retro-cutesy thing! Woo-hoo! Here I am! Isn't this funny?!". For more modest cyclists, this just won't do. Moreover, if you buy one of those cruisers at Wal-Mart or K-Mart, they fall apart within weeks.
So what does the guy do - a guy like, say, me - who just wants a normal bike, nothing overstated, just a rock-solid, easy to use, durable bike? Well...what you do is, you look for a vintage Raleigh, and then, you get lucky.
That's what I did. I walked into the bike shop a couple of months ago to drop off, yet again, one of my kids's broken pieces of garbage, and...there it was...up on a display shelf about eight feet off the ground: a 1950's, single-speed, black Raleigh, made in England, with the original leather Brooks Brothers seat, in great condition.
Oh my God...! I was mesmerized. I felt like Jodie Foster at the end of Contact: "It's....so.....beau-ti-ful...."
I'd inquired in this shop before about buying display bikes, just in case one ever came in that I wanted. The answer had always been, "they're not for sale". So I wondered to myself what I could do to make this happen...
I actually couldn't think of anything other than to shift my question from, "Are those for sale?" to "How much for that Raleigh?". So that's what I did.
And, perhaps miraculously, it worked. The guy said, "Hm, I don't know. Let me go ask".
He came back a few minutes later and said, "They'd let it go for $200".
I couldn't believe it. Two hundred bucks is only a bit more than the locks cost these days.
"Can I see it?", I said.
The guy got it down. And then, if you can believe it, he said, "It's heavy" (duh). "I can get you into one of these Fishers here for around eighteen hundred bucks. These are awesome! They're made using a new composite blah blah blah...".
I looked at the bike he was describing. Absolutely ridiculous, I thought. No challenge. No character. No vibe. No mojo. Just a weird little piece of nothing, for some weird little dude wearing a weird little spandex butt-wrap and a weird little helmet to use for his weird little fitness cycling. And way too much money.
"This thing here", he said, pointing back at the Raleigh, "you know...it's, uh, it's old...you can get into something way better here...that Trek over there is on sale. It's only $3599 now...".
I didn't want to blow the deal by popping off, so I just asked if I could take the Raleigh out for a spin.
If you have never ridden a vintage Raleigh, it is hard to describe the feeling. For one thing, the front forks are positioned at a different, more out-front angle, than on bikes nowadays, so the steering, and the whole feel of the bike, are quite different. The weight of the bike (it's pure steel) seems to quickly give it a kind of momentum; and the relatively low height of the handlebars, combined with the seat, make it feel almost like you are reclining, though of course you are not.
And the brakes...they have no wires; they're all connected with rods of steel. Rad.
It took me four seconds out on the street, and I was sold.
"I'll take it", I said, coming back into the shop. The guy looked shocked. These punks have no clue, I thought.
I had them put a little leather pouch on the back of the seat, plus a trap, and a little back light; and now, riding this bad boy around Cadboro Bay has become one of the great little thrills of my life. We live close to a school, and the kids and I will sometimes just go ride around it just for the sheer joy of it, or ride down to Pepper's, the grocery store, or to the beach. It's just so much fun to ride, that it almost doesn't matter where we go...so often, we don't go anywhere in particular at all.
We just ride.