What happens when a road bike marries his mountain bike cousin and they have a child? You get some kind of deformed hybrid, a device designed to fill a niche that never existed.
This week I had the great pleasure of taking a friend bike shopping. Any chance to look at, shop for and test ride bikes without parting with my own money is a welcome opportunity. Problem is you have to deal with some really annoying bike store shitheads. More on that later.
|My wife with her Bianchi.|
|Not my wife.|
- Step-through frame : even I love this feature when I ride my wife’s bike…however, doesn’t stop me swinging my leg over the back wheel and smashing my shin against the pack rack when I get off
- Muguards: no woman I know wants to arrive at work with a dirty great stripe of mud running from her bum to the nape of her neck, looking like she shit herself while hanging upside down
- Chain guard: why not keep the grease on the chain instead of on your trousers
- Gears that don’t scare the hell of of them: many woman are confused and afraid of the 10,000-odd gear variations that come on modern bikes and rarely if ever change the front derailleur unless by mistake
He then recited the list of benefits particular to each strange bike-like contraption (the front suspension, the front suspension with lock-out, the rear suspension, the tyres) and then asked my poor friend which of these “quantifiables” (his word) were taking her fancy. By now she had that, “Which language are we using now?” looks on her face.
|A beautiful bike from Papillionaire with a deficit of quantifiables|
It’s very hard to sell intangibles or things are prosaic as fenders and guards. And very often your uninformed shopper would look at you like you’re a moron if you tried to sell them on the benefits of simplicity or the idea that they might enjoy riding their bike if that bike rode beautifully. Bikes are for buying, not riding. Bikes are like Christmas puppies. They’re left neglected in the pound (read: garage) by February. The uninformed shopper wants “quantifiables”. The fact that the bike rides like a sausage is never considered.
|Trek Belleville WSD. Not available on any shop floor on the Gold Coast.|
According to my salesman the bike above does almost everything wrong. For starters it’s made of steel. And it has no front suspension. No-one has quantified the mudguards and who knows where the lock-out is? It’s just a well designed bike that no doubt rides smoother and better than all the hybrids put together. (We test ride one Sunday. Found one in Brisbane.)
Once upon a time bike builders put a bend on the front fork and this was considered a comfortable and efficient way of soaking up the bumps. Worked wonderfully too. Good frame design will always give a more comfortable ride than suspsension. Suspension is a panacea to bad design. (But it’s great for mountain biking where 140mm has become my new minimum.)
This new niche, for elegant and effective cycling transport, is being filled by bit players and online retailers. The handmade bicycle movement continues to grow and the online players are giving us some good bikes to choose from. I mentioned the Papillionaire above and now of course the fixie guys Mojo have a Dutch bike.
|Dutchie from Mojo|
The fixed bike movement and the vintage bike (if that terms actually describes it) are moving hand in hand. The same company that sells this bike:
Also sells this:
The next time a friend of yours goes bike buying go along with them. When the salesman starts spruiking the benefits of multiple gears and suspension you’ll be there to assure them that biking is not just possible without these things but in fact is more enjoyable without them. But good luck finding anything that looks like this on the Gold Coast: