Thursday, September 3, 2009

MFM Day 4: Cycling in Fast-Forward

September 2nd, 2009, MFM Day 4

Nothing says biking like Kraftwerk!

Song of the Day: Kraftwerk, Tour de France, Étape 1.mp3

Apparently these techno-freaks are or were avid cyclists, go figure. Could the bike be the perfect man-machine?

I had to meet my crazy running friends for a group run across town after work, so I busted out my road bike for the day. Until now the Motor Free Month had been done solely on my single-speed cruiser. I figured this would be a good opportunity to point out the pros and cons of living motor free on one speed vs. several.

First let me introduce the single speed. This old warhorse I bought in 1994. In fact it was one of the first things I bought when I returned to the States from the Peace Corps. This and new stereo speakers. The bike is an old Trek 930 mountain bike, rigid frame (pretty much all of them were rigid frame back then), steel tubing, made in the USA. It was the cheapest Trek I could get that was actually built in the USA, baby. I think it cost me about $500 at the time, but I can't remember really. I never did much actual "Mountain biking" on the thing, but I did get a lot of use out of it over the years. Recently as I started biking to work more frequently, the 930 started to fall apart a bit, to the point where it wasn't shifting and the front hub was pretty much shot. About this time single-speed bikes started becoming all the rage here in the Fort, so I got my friend Dan to help me out and strip off all the gears save one, and convert it into a rockin' single speed bike. Not a fixed-gear bike, mind you. I can coast on this puppy.

It's great for around town riding, very comfortable. I put a pannier on the back to carry groceries and other supplies. It's cruising speed is about 12 mph. Fort Collins is pretty flat in town so it's not necessary to have low gears with which to climb hills. But unless you're coasting downhill, you can't go very fast on this bike. Hey it's a cruiser, what do you expect?

Which brings me to my other bike, the road bike. I purchased a road bike about 6 years ago as a means to improve my fitness. I ended up buying a Novara road bike, which is REI's generic brand bike. I don't think this bike was built in the USA. But I like it nonetheless. Compared to the cruiser, the road bike is much faster around town. I could really tell the difference yesterday when I took it to work and then across town to the group run after work. My cruising speed on the road bike is closer to 17 mph. And more importantly unlike the cruiser, on the road bike I have the option to push the pace and go much faster if desired. This is helpful around town when one is attempting to make that light at Stuart and Lemay, for example.

So why not ride the road bike all the time if it's faster? I don't know, maybe it's not all about speed all the time. The cruiser has a coolness factor that the road bike lacks. And I need all the cool I can get. Also the road bike requires cycling shoes with the little clips, and the cruiser doesn't. And the cruiser is a bit more comfortable. So mostly I'll stick with the cruiser unless I have to go more than 5 miles. Then the time savings on the road bike becomes too great to ignore.

Why is this relevant to you, good reader? If you were thinking about going completely motorless, and only could afford one bicycle, you'd probably need to get a road bike with many gears. You'd be sunk without it. If, however, you just want to ride a bike around town more frequently, and you don't have so far to go or don't have to get there all that quickly, then a cruiser might be right for you. You probably have an old mountain bike in your garage right now! Consider converting it into a sweet single speed cruiser, and breathe new life into that tired old bike. I've seen a lot of "old school" cruisers for sale at the bike shops, and while I admire their style, to a bike they are all quite heavy. Perhaps it's a question of form over function, and I suppose I'm an engineer at heart, but bike weight is an important consideration, so I'd recommend at least considering converting an old bike with a good light frame before purchasing a new cruiser that weighs 10 pounds more.

So anyway, it was a fairly uneventful motor free day on day 4. However on Day 5 we'll be biking over to our CSA produce distribution location to pick up a cornucopia of vegetables after work. I'm hoping the pumpkins have not come in yet.

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