Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Love and Bicycles

A couple of years ago, a friend who was in her late 30s was preparing for her wedding day. It was the first time she would be married, and having lived many years as a single woman, she was having some anxiety.
*Image found here
As we spoke the day before her nuptials, she suddenly inquired, "How do I know that I'm making the right decision? How can I know he is the right one?"

Finding myself a little perplexed by this inquiry just 24 hours before she was to wed, I asked if something had gone wrong or if she was having second thoughts. She assured me that nothing was wrong, but just wondered how she could be sure. She then went on to share a few stories that, at least to me, were indicators that perhaps she already knew this marriage was doomed to fail.

Having been in a relationship for many years myself, I had to take a moment to think back. Was I afraid to get married? Did I have concerns? When I looked back, I remembered being excited that I would have my best friend with me until the day one of us died. We had already been through some pretty rough stuff for a young couple and even though we had nothing, I wasn't concerned about it not working out. I was very aware that many unions don't end up as life-long ventures (my own parents and Sam's included), but I also wasn't anxious about the possibility of our marriage not working out. Who wants to start off with the idea that it won't be all that we hope and believe it will?

Still, I could sense her trepidation and concern. Perhaps it was more life experience than when I got married, or that she's always been a far more cautious individual, but I wasn't entirely sure how to direct or comfort her. My reply was simply that we can never truly know that something will work, but we have to have faith based on experience. We trust that we have enough of a foundation with the other person that whatever issues come up, we will have the strength to get through. "No marriage is perfect," I recall saying. "There will be days when you feel at the end of your rope and likely vice versa, but when you have a solid foundation, it's a little easier to weather the difficult moments."

The saying, "Love is all you need," is an idea shared by those of us who like to live in our own blissful world where everything will work itself out. Maybe things aren't always sunshine and roses, but it can be nice to think that it's possible for love to bridge all the gaps. It's a beautiful thought to believe that love can see us through anything, but the reality is that we require more than love to have a lasting, meaningful relationship.

When I receive e-mails from individuals about a bicycle they'd like to purchase, I sometimes get similar feelings to the day my friend and I had this discussion. When a person has reasonable doubts and/or many concerns about a particular choice, I have to think that there is perhaps good reason. Which is not to say that using caution and asking for others input means that a choice is automatically the wrong one, but simply that it so often seems that if the person has experience and facts and is still questioning the decision, there may be good reason to proceed with caution, or perhaps not at all.

As an example, I have received numerous emails that sound nearly identical to this:
I have ridden 'X' bicycle, have researched it for months/years, and I have the funds to purchase, but I'm concerned that it won't work out. I absolutely LOVE 'X' bicycle! I can't imagine my life without it, but I don't know about A, B, and C issues that aren't working well. My shop guy says everything is fixable and I really do love 'X' bike. I think I'm going to buy it, but wondered what you thought?

Often when I reply, I never hear from the individual again, which is of little consequence on a personal level, but I always wonder if I've upset the asker with my response, which frequently (depending on the circumstances) goes something like this:
It sounds like you've had an opportunity to experience 'X' bicycle. Your A, B, and C issues, however, are entirely valid, and I would advise you to visit another bike shop and ask if they believe each of these is easily resolved. Find out the costs involved before making your purchase as well. I would highly recommend going in for another visit to test ride 'X' again and see how you feel. Wear clothes like those you'll wear when riding too, as this can sometimes alter the way a bike feels. I would also inquire with the shop to see if they will allow you to test the bike for an afternoon if you leave a deposit or credit card, or if the shop will allow you to take it home for a longer experiment. 

The problem, much like my friends unsurety or insecurity, is that we are usually, at least on some level, aware that loving a bicycle does not mean it's the right bicycle for us. Something may look beautiful and please us visually or on a superficial level, but when there are underlying issues that we refuse to address, it is less likely that it's the choice we should be making.

Speaking from experience, I have loved many a bicycle - both from near and afar - and when that love is based purely on my excitement when gazing upon it, I cannot think of one circumstance in which our time together was more than fleeting. True love requires more than superficial appreciation. There must be substance behind the fluff.

With a bicycle, the most important aspect is fit/comfort. I am not able to tell another person what will fit him/her or be comfortable, much like I cannot tell another person who to choose as a partner in life. This is an entirely personal discovery. Some riders are less particular while others will have a more difficult time finding the right combinations. The way in which we learn is simply to ride and unearth the areas that fit our needs and those that could be improved.

The more experience we get, the bigger our knowledge base becomes which helps when it comes time to make a choice. Others can offer thoughts and opinion, and this may help with final decisions, but we have to know ourselves well enough to differentiate fact from fiction, to know what works and what does not. Sometimes we just know that something is right from the start, while in other circumstances we may need more time to figure things out.

I would not be so bold as to state that marriage and bicycle choices are the same, but on some level they have similarities that could or maybe even should be considered, particularly if we are seeking a long-term companion.

As for my friend, perhaps I should have been more direct with her as she ended up in the midst of a divorce not more than a year following the wedding. She had all of the information she needed and knew what she was doing, but it was difficult to let go of the idea of a perfect life or the picture she had imagined.

Love can do strange things to us - whether that emotion is tied to a person or a bicycle. It can take away our ability to look at things clearly, to use reason and sound judgment. When we idealize someone or something, it can end in disappointment, disillusionment, or even devastation. Love may be all that we need, but only when it is based on more than the ephemeral. Nothing is perfect, and when we use discernment and experience, hopefully we make the best decision possible.


  1. This would make a good David Letterman list: "Ten Ways Your Bicycle is Like Your Wife/Husband" :)

    As always, an interesting post!

  2. I had an experience with lurking doubts about a bike recently and ultimately decided not to get it. It was a Liv Avail, and I desperately wanted it to be the right bike for me. I loved the colors and the fact that it was available *right now*, but just couldn't get past some basic issues about limited tire width and a few other matters. I kept thinking, "Oh for crying out loud, Kendra, for once in your life just do the easy thing and buy the d*$@ bike!" I couldn't get past my doubts even thought the bike fit me well and ended up ordering a bike the bike I have now, a Bianchi Volpe. Even though I was super impatient to get on a road bike, I'm glad I waited. This bike fits me beautifully and takes the wider tires that let me handle rough city roads and crushed limestone rail-trails (eventually) with no trouble.

    1. Sometimes, having patience is just what is needed. I'm glad you're enjoying your Volpe so far and that it fits well.

      On a related note, I've watched a Liv bike in a shop for about a year now. I keep thinking one of these days I'll actually ask to test it, but I haven't thus far. I think I'm happier with steel and a bit wider tires myself, but I have to admit I've glanced over and thought it might be worth a test run -- just to see. :O)

    2. If I could get to miles and miles of smooth country roads without having to first cover several miles of rough city roads and if I never needed to carry anything other than a flat fix kit, the Liv might have been the bike for me. But since that is not the case, I chose to get a bike that fits my actual life. It turns out my actual life is pretty darn good.

    3. I think I'm starting to find that I prefer the stouter tubing, wider tires, and ability to carry things, even having open roads to ride. Don't get me wrong, a light, fast bike can be completely awesome, but I think I just enjoy it more when I'm loaded up for some reason. Maybe I feel tougher or I don't worry about speed? I haven't entirely figured it out.

    4. My sole bike is a 1990 Bianchi Volpe, and I couldn't agree more with Kendra and G.E. I bought mine on eBay, five years ago this month, when living in Fairbanks, AK -- I was almost a hundred pounds heavier, and the roads were awful. I'd hoped it would take 40mm or 42mm tires, but 38mm remain the largest that fit.

      I admit to yearning for (lusting after?) a Rivendell Rodeo, but the cost of the frameset, alone, is sobering. Fortunately, the Volpe *is* lugged steel, and *does* have a CX geometry. PS, it *does* have seat-stay braze-ons, which I finally took advantage of by buying (from Rivendell) a Pletscher "Clem" rack and a pair of grocery-bag panniers (Novara 'Round Town, from REI) -- I so very much wanted to keep "sport" separate from "transport", but again, the cost...

      Do you ride, Kendra, with drop bars, or uprights? G.E. recently blogged about handlebars, and I've been itching to try with a pair of Nitto Albatross bars. WRT wanting a road bike, perhaps experimenting with a different combination of rear sprockets, and/or chainrings, might do the trick -- I found the former worked for me.


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