Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Let It Ride 

Pirelli Catalog
Pirelli Milioni di Cicliste, 1957, Designer: Bob Noorda (1927-2010)

Saturday, I finally made time to remove the rear wheel of my old Raleigh hub-gear 3-speed and decided to find a replacement nut that essentially keeps the rear wheel in the forks. I set out to Urbane Cyclist, a bike shop with mechanics as rough and tattooed as any bike courier but as friendly and cordial as if they were serving up donuts at Tim's. Finding an eccentrically sized Imperial thread is trickier than it sounds, but luckily, after some careful consideration, they found one. A $4 part saved that bike from the junk heap. Not to mention how much it saved me if I'd wanted to replace the wheel. Four bucks well spent, I think.

bw_Raleigh profile
My 1970s model, 3-speed, internal hub-gear, step through frame, British Raleigh

While I had the wheel off I noticed how loose some of the spokes were, so of course, I tightened them and then I had a little trouble remembering how to re-attach the shifter cable. The end result was I had warped the rim by over tightening the spokes and I couldn't shift the gears. I managed to fix the shifter cable but I still had a tire with all of the trueness of a pretzel, so the rear tire was rubbing against both the fender and the frame. In the end I gave up and brought the bike into another nearby shop for a quick adjustment.

Why go to this kind of trouble for a heavy, obsolete, rusting clunker when I have another, much lighter, faster, better designed bike (that has gotten me a handful of compliments)? Because this crap bike really means something to me. Maybe not even this physical bike as much as this style of bike. The more I ride, the more I feel as though you need different bikes for different uses ("need" might be a tad strong; nice-to-have might be a better way of saying it). I ride a bike for transport. I ride for sport. They are such different things that it's taken me a while to really shape an idea of the kind of bike I like to ride every day. I used to think a commuting bike needed fenders, a chain guard and a rack to be really useful but now I think the most important feature is to be sitting upright (rather than leaning forward).

Here's why:
  • It gives you a great sight line. You can see over most cars.
  • It makes you more visible. Just like how goalies try to make themselves look big, cyclists need to look big too. Sitting upright you seem to tower above small cars and your head is at the same height as a driver in a truck.
  • Riding this way slows things down. There's only so fast you can ride a bike that way. When you're moving slower, it just seems safer and less chaotic.

Which brings me to my next point. The one thing I can't really square is wearing a helmet while riding that bike. Maybe the fastest I could ride would be 20km/hour but my guess is that I'm typically riding around 15km/hr. To give you some perspective, rolling along speed is about 15km/hr. When I ride my road bike, I typically ride around 20km/hr and if I'm exerting myself, more like 30km/hr (tour riders go that speed uphill and average somewhere around 45-50km/hr in the peloton). My comfortable jogging pace is around 6 mins/km (roughly 10 km/hr?). So should I wear a helmet when I'm only moving at the pace of a fast runner? I know the answer should be yes, but it just feels wrong. Usually if I ride a bike without a helmet it's the same sensation as driving without a seatbelt on. You feel so vulnerable. Yet, when I wear a helmet on my 3-speed, it's like walking around with a hockey helmet on. It just seems crazy. In any event, I'm keen to start riding my old junker again, but I'm definitely setting aside some monies for my dream commuter bike. It should be lighter than this Raleigh, have front and rear fenders, have a chain guard, a rack (hell, maybe even a basket), wide soft tires, a wide soft seat, and will probably only need three speeds (or maybe even a single gear), and it should look sharp.

I guess I still have this image in my head of Timothy Bottoms in 1973's The Paper Chase, riding his 10-speed wearing a corduroy blazer and blue jeans, with a leather satchel over his shoulder stopping to catch a glimpse of Lindsay Wagner waiting on her stoop. Man, he looked good (of course, no helmet).

The Paper Chase
Timothy Bottoms rockin' the corduroy in The Paper Chase. It's extremely hard to find an image of Timothy Bottoms on a bike. Maybe I dreamed it, which admittedly would be a tad strange and slightly homoerotic. I really hope I didn't dream it.

Compare that with the cycling Steve Carrell in the 40-year-old Virgin playing the over grown man-child sporting a very dorky helmet. In that film, Carrell has a climatic crash and the helmet saves him. Maybe I should budget some money for a second helmet while I'm at it. One that goes with denim, a corduroy blazer and a leather briefcase. Suggestions welcome.

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