Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Familiar

Lately, I have had a really tough time falling asleep. There is much swirling through my head (which is not at all unusual) and I just cannot seem to find a comfortable spot to plant myself to actually go to sleep. I've pretty well given up on even trying to force myself until well after midnight, so it gives me lots of time in the quiet with my thoughts.

Sometimes I read, attempt to watch an old television show I could act out myself from the sheer quantity of views to date, or research some bit or part we need to continue our house project renovations. More often than not though, I have used this time to simply let my mind wander to whatever it needs to work through, which frequently leans toward projects in need of completion or attempts to figure out how/why a situation has gone wrong.
In my lifetime, I have exchanged homes far too many times. I have often wished that the moves were to some exotic place or a location simply different from what I have known, but usually they have been transitions within a relatively short distance of the place previously called home. I have to admit though that there is a sense of comfort in choosing paths and destinations that are already well-known.

Don't get me wrong, nothing can replace the sensations and rush of new or unknown possibilities. Change absolutely has its place, and certainly comes with its benefits too.

With these moves though, sometimes a new space feels immediately comfortable and as though it always has been while others have taken much time to feel "right," and in the case of a few, never reached that point at all. It's not belongings or knickknacks that make it home to me - there tends to simply be a feeling of rightness or not. It's a bit of the intangible or unspoken. There is something that connects me to the place on another level, and it either exists or it doesn't. Sometimes, the this-is-my-home-feeling comes in time, but, at least generally speaking, there is usually some sense of that from the start or it never quite develops at all.

If you've ever moved into a new-to-you home and found yourself performing actions without thought, such as walking into a room and flipping on the light switch as a reflex rather than out of cognizant intention, or easily maneuvering from one side to another in the dark, these are the sort of happenings that seem to take place almost immediately in a house that feels like home. There is something - for lack of a better adjective at the moment - familiar, even in a not-so-well-known space.

As I lay thinking in bed one evening, with an exhausted dog snoring and stretched out across my legs, I realized that I have had similar findings in regard to bicycles. Now, granted it's not quite the same because a bicycle has to fit properly to begin with or it can become a nightmare to resolve any issues, but for me there is usually a sense from the start as to whether it has potential to work appropriately over the long term, or not.

I have had occasion to be lulled into bicycles that are pretty on the surface but are entirely wrong in practice. I've ignored the little voice telling me that something didn't fit in favor of looks on more than one occasion as well.

How is it then that I should decide if a bike will come to be one that is long standing and true or one that I simply have found favor with for a time? I believe sometimes changes in feel can be attributed to our bodies adapting and morphing a bit over time. From season to season, year to year, and sometimes even day to day, a bike that once seemed to fit like a glove can turn and become this beast I don't know at all. I find myself uncomfortable and fidgety, body parts feeling pain or aches that are not normally present, and it's as though a bike demon arrived in the night to foul up a perfectly good ride.

This, however, is often how I'm able to weed through those that are keepers and those that can move on. If, over time, that feeling of discomfort does not diminish and pain remains, I can fairly well say that the bicycle is not right for me. If the feeling is temporary though, I am able to chalk it up to those minor changes that happen in a body from day to day and resume the blissful relationship with my two-wheeled companion.

Of course, there are times when adaptations are needed to make a bicycle work, so please do not believe I am speaking in some mystical way or believing that a bicycle should arrive perfectly suited to my individual particularities. We are talking about a man-made item after all.

I do think in any bicycle I am always looking for that familiar sensation though. By no means would I want every bicycle to ride exactly the same (what would be the point in multiple bicycles then?), but I think there is a certain level of comfort and understanding when there is some (often intangible) quality that just feels right, intuitive really. Then, over time, I come to better understand whether it's the right fit for my body and needs.

As someone who actually enjoys change and experiencing the new, it's an odd realization to discover that some form of familiarity is very often how I've determined whether a bicycle works for my needs.

How do you decide if a bicycle is right for you? Do you depend on others' research? Do you look for that familiar quality as well? Do you go by some other sensation? Perhaps you perform adjustments and modifications until it's good enough or perhaps perfect? Do you work with what you have, even if the fit isn't quite right?  Perhaps there is some other method you use to know when a bike works and when it doesn't.

10 comments:

  1. Thank you for this thought- provoking post, GE. The question of how well a bicycle fits a given rider is one I find really interesting. I think it really depends on the individual body ... For example, I am very petite and many bikes simply do not fit me, making them easy to eliminate. In your case, I know your hand problems limit your choices somewhat too. Some bikes fit me but only just, and in 2 out of the 4 bikes I own/ have owned in adulthood were sort of borderline. I could ride them, but never felt quite safe which compromised my enjoyment of them. I have learnt to be very fussy about fit thanks to these experiences. I also know, however, that I personally need s good amount of time to decide whether a bike is a keeper or not - at least 18 months. I am rather timid when it comes to these things, and it takes me time to get used to and get comfortable on a bike. I need to really ride and ride before I am even in a position to judge how right the bikes is for me, and what is right for me is obviously very different to what is right for others. I need to feel safe and comfortable, and that is more important than speed or weight for me. That is why I loved my pashleys :) I also have a stong preference for IGH hubs and hub or disc brakes ... Again, reliability is what I am after, since neither my husband nor I know how to tinker with bikes. So while I do read reviews of bikes and follow a couple of bike blogs I have learnt not to automatically assume that what suits other people will necessarily suit me. We are all different, with different bodies and different skill levels and different aspirations. I don't like road bikes, for example, but I do like city and touring bikes and I am at peace with this now. There was a time when I gazed at the gods in Lycra with envy and longing as they zipped past me on the road, all sleek and pure motion, almost at one with their bikes ... I so wanted to be like them and I still admire them enormously but alas I have neither the body nor the aptitude to be one of them!

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    1. An excellent point that often is passed over quickly because we hear it fairly often - that what works for one, may not work for another. It's partially why I'm always hesitant to review a bike because I have read glowing reviews of a bicycle, then taken it for a spin myself and found that I did not like it at all. Which is why reading can only take us so far in a bicycle search, I think. There's not a universally comfortable bicycle for everyone, so I think we have to realize that research is a jumping off point and then we can move on to personal experience from there.

      It's great that you know for yourself that you need time with a bicycle, too. I think being aware of our own needs, comforts, and such is invaluable!

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  2. These are timely questions for me, since I am having some fit issues with my Bianchi Volpe. I do think there is a sense of getting on some bikes and feeling like riding is the most natural thing in the world, like the is an extension of my own body. In other cases, the bike may be perfectly serviceable, but it will never be my bike. I recently rode an Xtracycle and was stunned at how every natural it felt, even though I had never ridden one before and was hauling a full-grown woman on the back of it. It just fit.

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    1. I completely understand what you're describing, Kendra. Sometimes a bike will "work," but it's not something that feels as though it's just part of you.

      I'm sorry that you're having fit issues with the Bianchi! I hope that they are easily-resolvable. Sometimes fit really does seem fixable with a stem switch or seatpost setback change, but other times it is really rough to force it to be "right."

      Side note: Is an Xtracycle in your future?!? :) Can't wait to hear about that. I've been pondering the possibility of some sort of box bike (I suppose, really for years, but more seriously recently with talk of giving up the second car). I need to be able to fit both dogs into it though, which seems to limit options somewhat. We've talked about even building something for ourselves (getting the frame and then building a suitable "box" for the bike too. I had spotted one riding by a pawn shop somewhat recently, but upon closer inspection, it was very cheaply made and not worth even the pawn shop price. Xtracycles have always seemed like a brilliant idea to me. My only hiccup with them is the dogs and figuring out how to carry them. Maybe we could build a removable box on the front of an Xtracycle? :)

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    2. 1. I think the Bianchi is a little too big for me, so I'm trying to figure out what to do about that. I've already shortened the stem (from 100mm with a 5% drop to 70mm with a 17% rise!). I'm also finding that the STIs take more hand strength to operate than it seems like they should. I may try tilting the handlebars up or swapping them out and going with bar-end shifters.

      2. I am fascinated by cargo bikes and really loved the long-tail one I rode, but I don't think one is in my future. I just wouldn't get enough use out of own. A cargo trailer to attach to my regular bike, on the other hand, might be a good option. Have you thought about a trailer for the dogs? We have some box bikes at the co-op, but I haven't had a chance to try one out yet. I've heard the steering is a little hard to adjust to. One thing you'd have to think about with a box bike is an easy way to get the dogs in and out of it.

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    3. Fit can be such a challenging aspect to riding a bike - especially when doing longer distance riding. For so many years, I've been trying to get handlebars closer to me, believing that a bike was too large and then I start to wonder if perhaps having them a bit farther away is perhaps a good thing. I guess some of this references my prior statements in that I believe our bodies are always changing or adapting. Even with that though, I find, particularly with drop bars that having too much of a stretch is definitely not a good thing for me either. Way back in my early months with the Hillborne, I had drop bars on it. I ended up moving the brake levers up so that I could reach a bit better - but then I could not use them in the drops very well. It still didn't solve my issues completely (which is how I ended up experimenting with different handlebars). For me, there is a happy point, I think, but it can be challenging to figure out on a new bike (or maybe that's just me). I had to put a 50mm stem on the Hillborne to get it even remotely close to working (you can see in the linked photo how short the stem was - and still is - on that bike).

      Anyway, none of that matters because your fit is of course for you... I suppose I was kind of commiserating because I definitely recall the frustration of trying to get the Hillborne to work (which is why it is no longer my "road bike" and rather some combination of use, for which it is much better suited).

      I think cargo bikes are fantastic. It is definitely difficult for me to justify the purchase as well, which is why it has yet to happen. We are actually in the midst of attempting to modify our current bike trailer to see if we can get it set up so that I could carry the pups as needed. It would be a rare occurrence that I'd need to carry both of them simultaneously, but it would be nice if I were able to do so in a pinch. I have images of the three of us riding around town on a warm day, wind in our hair, tongues hanging out (all of us - because if I'm hauling 140 lbs of dog, I can be assured I will be panting), but I'm not sure how realistic it is. I believe the weight capacity for the axle on the trailer is something around 100 lbs, so I doubt I'd really be able to take both of them along regardless of what we come up with.

      Box bikes do present their own set of challenges. In some respect, I think it would be easier, but lifting them in and out could be challenging... or, I'd need some sort of ramp for them, which could also be doable.

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  3. This is an interesting post and an issue that I've been thinking about for many years. Why is it that my first bike, the Miyata touring bike fit like a glove, though this is hindsight because now it is still quite comfortable, though I no longer want to lift my leg over a tall top tube. I've gone the old style mountain bike route also and toured extensively on a Trek Antelope which I adapted to well enough. I tend to think that these first two bikes were just that: bikes. I don't think I ever thought about fit. Their pricing fit my wallet and I tweaked each bike over the years until they worked. You see, they were functional. And then body changes happen and suddenly what was adequate has now become two bikes that I rarely ride because of fit and gearing. I honestly think our physical bodies have a lot to do with what works and what doesn't and that's also a moving target. So now I've moved onto a step-through bicycle as my current choice. And this bike is adequate for short mileage, but I'm hunting for one that will work for touring. I've become very picky about fit these days, especially trying out new bikes, which I haven't done for 30 years! I also think that bike education affects what each of perceive as the perfect fit. How do we know what fits if we haven't experienced what doesn't? Anyways, I'd still hunting. I'm not expecting a golden machine, just one that has potential. For a tall woman, I'm searching for something that gives me an extended reach, then I plan to adapt with handlebars, seat height, etc.

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    1. Uh oh, did I miss a post? What kind of step through did you get, Annie? Maybe I did read it and I've forgotten since?

      I think you are so correct in that our bodies do change and it affects the way a bicycle fits. Sometimes, I have found that riding one bicycle exclusively can change my fit-perception of another bike as well, and then I start to wonder if my body has adapted to a different bike or if my body has actually changed what it finds suitable and comfortable. And, I have found the same to be true. Sometimes our bodies changes seem to take place overnight.

      Finding a step-through touring bike should be interesting. I will stay tuned to see what you find for yourself. I have, for several years, wanted to find a more functional step-through model that would work for longer rides and that will also hold a load of whatever goods I happen to be carrying. Anything I've ridden seems to sit me in a position far too upright. I suppose the bicycle market is always changing and finding something that works could be just around the corner. I would think that most people would want to consider some sort of loop frame type model as we age, making it easier to mount and dismount, but most of those currently available seem usable for a few miles around town, in my experience.

      I think your manner of adapting a bicycle over time makes sense, and since our bodies are pretty well always changing, it makes far more sense to change what we have than to constantly be starting over (this is kind of a lecture to myself in a way - though sometimes it just simply doesn't work).

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  4. This is a timely post when I am selling bikes and being lured by bikes. I am changing. My ideal bike would probably be a double-butted or Reynolds chromoly steel frame with rims for 700x28c tires, a mega granny ring, quill stem and slightly swept back upright handlebars. And it would have to get up most of the hills I'd encounter and look good. I have an urban geometry [long legs, short reach] and can no longer get into drops without getting my back out of whack. So I keep looking and tweaking what I have and selling those that don't work for me any longer. Meanwhile I find beautiful mixtes and stuff I want but don't need and it lures me.

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    1. I think it's wonderful that you're able to make the decision to sell off the bikes that are not working for you. For some, I think there is a struggle with letting go, even if we know it isn't working. Good for you for making the decision and realizing that there are proper fitting options for you out in the world. I'm sure you'll find your way to the bike(s) that will fit you well. It can definitely be tough to resist the lure of beautiful, but hopefully holding out will get you to your ultimate goal.

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