Bike commuting, The Prequel

Saturday, August 10th, 2013 @ %I:%M %p | Cycling

wpid-IMG_0982-2013-08-10-17-49.jpgThis was on my list to try and do when moving back to California: take the bike to work and back. I live in Santa Clara, the office is in Mountain View, it’s about 7 miles, so that seems most doable. But I didn’t want to use Barnaby, the road bike, for this effort. Thus, a new bike was called for. This became quite a soul-searching exercise. Which has amused me. As this article points out (thanks for the find, Dave) back home I would have gotten nice old secondhand bike and be done with it. But here it has to be just so!

The price point had to be such that I would be comfortable to leave it locked on the street for some periods – the bike would be inside the office at work but on the way home I might want to stop somewhere, or in the weekend ride to breakfast, lunch or dinner. Get a bike with drop bars, a commuter bike with straight bars like a Specialized Sirius, a cross-bike to take on the trails in the weekend, or what? It became a “or what”: a single-speed/fixie (a fixie is like a doortrapfiets, for the folks back home). I’ve been intrigued about these bikes for some time and this seemed an excellent excuse to get one. Plus they are cheap, have very little stuff on them that’s worth steeling, and often have very minimalistic paint jobs because they are made by non-brands. It is curious, isn’t it? Most of the frames of name-brand bikes like my Ridley are made in China just like my single-speed but cost way more and have the brand name printed in loud big letters on the frame. It’s like cable-tv: you pay $100/month for many channels you don’t want and you have to watch all the commercials.

wpid-IMG_0988-2013-08-10-17-49.jpgAnyways, so a single-speed was going to be it. Most local bike shops don’t have them, which is a pity because I prefer to buy from them. On-line, there are shops like A lot of choice! What to get? I liked the Merciers (if only for the name) but the model I really liked was sold out in my size and the other model had a really short wheelbase making it rather twisty. In itself fun but perhaps not for early morning sleepy rides in busy traffic. The sold-out part it turned out became a bit of a hurdle. The site often only shows on the checkout page that the particular model or the particular color is sold out. I tried one, sold out, tried another, sold out. Eventually the one I bought was the fourth choice but that doesn’t matter that much: most of these bikes are very similar in geometry and components. So a white Gravity Swift was ordered Wednesday evening a week ago. An aluminum frame with a carbon fork for just over $300. Not bad. That’s less than one-tenth of what Barnaby cost which I guess makes sense – a single-speed vs a 10-speed or roughly $400 per gear.

wpid-IMG_0978-2013-08-10-17-49.jpgThe next morning I get the confirmation email that the bike is shipped via UPS to my old address in Webster NY. Aiii!! Guess I didn’t yet update my address info on my PayPal account! Quickly grabbed the phone and dialed the shop. The customer service person wanted to look up my order by my email address rather than order number which would have been simpler for both of us. Amazing how much confusion one can have over “commerce at onno dot com”… (I use this email address rather than onno at onno dot com for buying stuff on-line in order to minimize spam to onno at onno dot com – which, looking at the amount of spam on that email address is a strategy of questionable success…). Her Texan ears and my accent didn’t add up to a lively conversational combination but eventually the exact spelling of the email address was successfully communicated. Anyways, the bike was not yet in the hands of UPS but still in their store. UPS promised to deliver the bike on Thursday the next week. And indeed just after 5 pm that day a UPS truck stopped outside my apartment. I walked out, the UPS guy gets the box out of the truck and proclaims with a smile: “Look what I have for you! A new bike!”

wpid-IMG_0979-2013-08-10-17-49.jpgTogether we carried the box up the stairs. I signed for receipt and closed the door. TickTock came over to look at it then decided he was hungry and moseyed over to his plate with cat nibbles. We all have our priorities I guess. The bike came 80% assembled as it is named meaning that mainly the front wheel, the pedals and the handlebars need to be attached. I put the bike together and then took it downstairs for a spin around the neighborhood. It had the handlebars it came with which were 44cm width. That felt terribly wide. The bars on Barnaby are 42 cm (I have no shoulders, my arms connect directly to my neck…) and so I bought a 42cm drop bar for this bike which is also nicely flat on top.

Friday evening I put this on the bike and I flipped the rear wheel around to the fixie cog. Tried it out in the parking lot. In the beginning it was very strange: how do you stop and put your foot down? After a few laps I started to get the hang of it but I don’t really get the point of it, I like not having to pedal when I don’t have to pedal. And I like to ride with my hands on the brake grips so those went back on as well. Plus, I like brakes. They have their uses.

wpid-IMG_0987-2013-08-10-17-49.jpgYesterday there was time to really try out the bike. First rode down Homestead to the Starbucks at Holenbeck for coffee and lunch. The gearing on the bike is 46×16 which when starting feels heavier than the gear I normally start in at traffic lights on Barnaby but once rolling it is a pretty nice flat road gear. The bike handles very nicely both on straights and cornering and is very quiet (due to the absence of derailleurs). Besides not having any gears – except that one, of course – I’m also not putting a cycle computer on it. That already is very liberating – no cares about average speeds and such folly, just ride. After the stop I pedaled around eventually passing through Castro in Mountain View and zigzagging further past Shoreline and Rengstorff.

I turned onto Shoreline just behind a spandex-clad cyclist on a very nice carbon Specialized road bike stopping next to him at the traffic light to cross Central Expressway. He kept his head straight but I could see that he was looking at my bike from the corner of his eye. We cyclists are so elitist and snobbish: roadies and mounties don’t wave at each other, and clearly someone in casual clothes on a single-speed is not one of us either but his bike is so shiny white and pretty! The light went green and we took off. A half a mile further he pointed down to the right to alert me to a pothole even while I was way back which he noticed when he looked over his shoulder. Nice guy though.

I decided it was time for another caffeine break. From there I did part of the commute picking up Central Expressway. Going down the two overpasses I pushed sideways on the brake handle to shift noticing the handle didn’t move (nothing to shift to) and then just coasted down until I could pedal again. Then onto Lawrence and El Camino to stop by my local bike shop, Calmar Bicycles, to get a drink cage and bottle – both white of course!

From there with a loop back home. The bike passed the test. The first commute is planned for Tuesday.

But before then we have unfinished business, my beloved reader!

The bike must have a name!

To help you out in making suggestions, the road bike is called Barnaby, the road bike that’s in storage in Webster is Maximilian, the folding bike is Charles. My mountain bike was called Boris. A few suggestions have been made:

– Harriet. I like this one: goes well with the road bike, Barnaby and Harriet.

– Spartacus. A good name but Sara rightly pointed out that we can’t claim Cancellara’s nickname.

– Jerommeke, from the Suske en Wiske cartoons. Another good possibility.

– Donkey. I like this one too: in my head I hear Mike Myers as Shrek: “Donkey!”



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