Friday, December 9, 2011

{Part 4} How I Ruined Myself on Upright Bicycles: The Conclusion?

*If you are just beginning to read, please see Parts 1, 2, and 3.
For all the failure I seemed to be experiencing with the upright bicycles, I just could not give up on them. If anything, the failures seemed to spur me on to find the right one. I test rode, I researched, and I asked for others' thoughts. I wanted desperately to keep the price of the next upright bike in the sub-$800 category. It's not as though I have money to throw around, and I believed that it was possible to find this bike because I had done so in the very beginning. I made a list of possible bikes and went to test ride as many as possible. I even considered finding a vintage bicycle to rebuild and restore. Despite my best efforts, I could not find what I wanted and ultimately had to raise the price range.
I believed Linus bikes would be a good contender, but they just didn't satisfy.
*Image from Linus
And then I heard it. It was quiet and almost inaudible, but it was definitely there: a little voice. It was a very small angelic whisper telling me to wait, telling me that there are options, trying to convince me that the much louder and larger horned beast inside was wrong. Ultimately, the larger horned beast pummeled that poor small voice into submission, which resulted in my purchase of the Bella Ciao. I tried to find one to test ride locally before the purchase, but was unsuccessful. Our city bike shop, The Mindful Bike in Denver is supposed to carry this brand (per the Bella Ciao distributor site), but when I paid them a visit, no Bella Ciao's could be found. It's apparently a brand they intend to carry, but there was no plan for an exact arrival date. I made the leap and purchased one of the Superba bikes from Harris Cyclery in Massachusetts. Because it is a sportier ride made to handle the hills a bit better, it seemed a logical choice to me (and believe me, I was actually trying to be logical at that juncture). The Bella Ciao is a perfectly fine upright bicycle, and pretty to boot. While I'm not certain it is the upright bike for me, that remains to be seen, and is a tale for another time.
This Bella Ciao is so gorgeous, it hurts.
To date, I believe there are a variety of factors that have "ruined" me on upright bicycles. I still believe it is possible to find one that will work (and perhaps it is currently in my possession), but I know now that I have to attempt to filter through others' opinions (as best I can), my past experiences (both with city bikes and road bikes), as well as (at least somewhat) my aesthetic choices in order to find something that will work long-term. While I can only shut down my visual perceptions of what is attractive to a minor extent, I believe on some level this trait has skewed what I am willing to ride, or caused me to want to modify a perfectly working bicycle for no good reason other than looks (but still I wonder, what is wrong with that?). I have learned that I should do my best to be happy with the bike I have, because the next one might be worse (though it can also be better), and perhaps even more importantly that more money spent doesn't necessarily equate to a happier, more pleasant riding experience. If I have a bike I like, I must refrain from always looking for the next best thing, because maybe what I have is what's best for me. Listening to others' opinions is a wonderful way to learn more about bikes, but those others don't live my life, or have my body, nor do they know my budget constraints or any number of other factors that can play in to a decision.
*Image found here
I have learned (or at least become more aware of the fact) that I truly love change as well as the experience of being able to try out different styles of bicycles. Perhaps this is something I shouldn't attempt to shut down, but rather should encourage? While it's not necessarily a trait I can afford to have, I have relished the process of trying to find the perfect upright bicycle, asking questions and attempting to find acceptable explanations. I certainly don't have all the answers, even for myself, but the process is really a good portion of the fun, as well as, unfortunately, the frustration.

Currently, I have two city bikes in my possession which I will be using for comparison purposes (the Bella Ciao, and a long-term borrowed bike). Despite my best efforts, I can't seem to stop the need to compare. Maybe this curiosity will turn into something positive, or maybe it's just a huge waste of time and energy. I can't help but think that I still haven't found the right bike though if I continue to have the need to look. After all, even though there were many, many changes to him, the Hillborne has remained as the stable, long-term, all around, comfortable bike (of course, the Hillborne and road bikes in general could be yet another reason I've found the upright bikes so challenging, adding yet another layer to the puzzle).  But, I honestly don't think the problem rests on my inability to find satisfaction in a bike, and even with all I've said, I still believe it is possible to find long term happiness in an upright bike.

And so, I press on - ruined or not. Have I reached any dramatic conclusions? Probably not. Are there others who identify with this mess? Maybe. But, if nothing else, perhaps my (mis)adventures are simply turning into a source of amusement for others, who can shake their heads and wonder what this nut will do next... and, I suppose, in some ways it is a way to keep me amused as well.


  1. After reading this fascinating series of articles the reader cannot but conclude that a bicycle is somewhat like a pair of shoes or like a fountain pen: it's an extension of our body. Of course a bicycle is a vehicle and most people I know (my neighbors, my friends, etc.) are satisfied with a bicycle (or shoes, or a pen) that "does the job" or at least they declare that they are satisfied; maybe they are right from an utilitarian point of view. On the other hand some people give more consideration to the aesthetic side of our environment and our tools and that's where the problems arise. All things are not equal and I'd rather try to solve "the bicycle problem" (as you are doing in this series of articles) than accept "the way things are". That is the necessary condition to progress and happiness.

    OK. Enough philosophy… I didn't ride a bicycle for the last thirty years but this past summer (for my birthday in April) a friend gave me a Dahon D7 folding bike; it's a very nice thing to look at and is well build but I didn't feel comfortable riding it. With my friend's permission I traded it for a Globe Roll 2 fixie made by Specialized. This one sits almost at the other end of the "bicycle spectrum" and of course it was too fast and too professional for me. My bicycle shop accepted an exchange for another Specialized model, the Daily 1. This was almost it! But… Eventually my aesthetic instinct rebelled (that's not to say that the Daily 1 is ugly) and I couldn't see myself using this "truck" every day. (I don't commute by bicycle because my office is within walking distance from my home and I'm only a recreational cyclist.) I traded in the Daily again, for a Linus Gaston.

    By this time I had started reading your blog (and a few others) and I realized that there are much superior bicycles than the Linus brand. Thanks to your experience and my experimentations, I took the step to test drive as many bicycles as possible before buying one! Conclusion: I ordered a Pashley Guv'nor (a 1930s style "path racer") that I'll use for Sunday rides and a Roadster 26 (it's a smaller and lighter Roadster Sovereign) for les courses to the local stores. I might add that at my age life seems shorter and shorter and there's no time left for dwelling on the "need" vs. "want" dilemma.

  2. I think that thanks to the internet we all have too much information. I used to visit design blogs and online magazines I was never satisfied with the interior design of my home. All the lovely pictures and the comments by designers made me endlessly dissatisfied. I'm much happier now that I don't do that anymore.

    Its now the same with bikes, I have been constantly searching for the perfect ride. Once again I've subjected myself to too much information and all that information is killing the joy. The things I like about riding a bike can be achieved on most any bike really. Feeling close to my surroundings, smelling the roses, feeling the breeze on my skin. For me, the perfect ride comes from the sense of freedom and joy I experience when I ride and it doesn't matter much what the bike.

    This realization came after I recently followed the link below. Its an old link but it freed my mind and allowed me to relax and enjoy cycling.

  3. I think we've all done a bit of "shopping around" at some point. I certainly have. And, I'm probably not through. How do you know if you've got the best one for you unless you try them all?

    Interestingly, and very much like Giles above, I currently have a Daily 3 and a Pashley Roadster Sovereign. I love them both, and the Daily is certainly the lighter bike of the two. I would still like to have a Pashley that weighs in much less than my 50 pounder. I know the Guv'nor might be this bike, but I'd really like to ride one first. I promised myself that I wouldn't buy any more bikes without trying them first. Also, my DL-1 is right up there with these two as well. I love how they all ride, but just wish they were a bit lighter. It's really hard to find friends to ride with, as almost everyone is on a road bike and wants to ride around 15 - 18 mph in my neck of the woods. Maybe I need to start a 3 speed club (or any speed as long as you're on a tank like me :).

  4. Lucky,

    I see by your avatar that you've made the Tweed Run?

    You mentioned that almost everyone in your neighborhood rides fast road bikes; this is the case in Montréal also (plus those who ride rusted 15-year old bikes in the hope that they won't be stolen). I guess it's an North-American misconception, where bicycles are still seen as either a sport or a fad.

    The Guv'nor is surprisingly light at 27 lbs. (I have the small 20-inch frame) for a steel bicycle with hub brakes and internal 3-speed rear axle and 28-inch steel wheels.

  5. Giles - I feel badly at times about my thoughts regarding Linus bikes (or more accurately, for expressing them here), particularly because I know that there are people who enjoy these bikes, and I would hate to be the reason for someone not to give them a try. It can be challenging to both express the truth for myself, and still relay the idea that the brand could be just what another party is looking for in a bicycle. Certainly, there are pricier/higher quality bikes on the market, and if they are an affordable option, I think trying anything a buyer can get his/her hands on is beneficial. I hope you're enjoying your Pashley's. I wish I was a bit taller because I'd love to try out the diamond frame models. From what I've heard and read, they actually ride much different than the loop frame versions. Darn these short legs of mine! :O)

    Anon - The internet is both a blessing and a curse, and I find that I mentally battle with it continuously. I fear for the generations coming up that have never known life without the internet, as some seem to not be able to function without constant access to it. In many ways, I miss the days in which if we wanted information we had to go to a library or ask someone who was experienced in the matter at hand. Of course, without the internet, we wouldn't be able to communicate with so many others across the globe, nor would I have so much information at my finger tips.

    Lucky - I think a 3-speed club could be a perfect option! I can certainly empathize with your plight, as I have a similar situation here. Personally, I enjoy riding a road bike (as well as the slower, upright bikes), but I still don't want to race through life on it. I'm happy to go my 11-14 mph even on that bike, but I realize that I'm likely alone (or at least in the minority) in this part of the country. Who knows who might join you? You might find new friends and others in your area could realize that they aren't alone in their want to ride a bit slower as well. I hope it's something you decide to pursue. :O)


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