The Art of Purchasing a Bike
Over the past month or so I’ve been on the prowl for a new bike because my current bike was starting to make my commute miserable, which is never a good thing. There are a ton of adjustments to be made and parts to be replaced in order to get it back into good condition – more money than it’s worth for this specific bike, in my opinion. I’ve also had chronic shoulder problems for the past few years, which I’ve mostly attributed to my slightly hunched forward position on the bike. So my logical brain figures if I get a new bike with a more upright position, it would take a lot of strain off my shoulders and ultimately improve my condition. Problem solved! So I made the decision to buy a shiny, brand spanking new bike. The search began. It started with me looking online, as one does, at the different inventories that bike shops in the area carry. I knew what I wanted and I had a budget, so it kept me on track. I felt good. In just a couple days I’d be cruising to work with a smooth ride and no shoulder pain.
Then I consulted with colleagues and friends about my big upgrade and all of a sudden I was bombarded with a host of variables I didn’t even consider and this once simple task became daunting. Still, I kept the check list of what I wanted on the bike: trigger shifters, swept back handle bars, and at least 8 speeds. If the bike didn’t have all of these things, I moved on. Mind you, every day that went by during this search was another day of cursing my non-working brakes and maladjusted gears that refused to align properly on my once trusty steed. I wanted a solution and I wanted it now, actually I wanted it yesterday, a week ago, two months ago. So I didn’t want to waste any more time and I finally settled on a bike that checked off all the boxes. But once again, I was set back when I was reminded by a few people that the most important part of purchasing a new bike is test riding – the one thing I had neglected to fit into my plans. Acknowledging that this was in fact a mandatory step in the process, I picked a few bikes that fit my criteria and scheduled in a few days that I could go ride them.
Now if you’re a veteran bike rider, commuter or just a bike lover, a few red flags probably went up while reading this post. If they didn’t, then you’re in the same boat as me and could learn something from my mistakes (which luckily didn’t get too far). Red flag number one: I didn’t maintain my bike well enough to keep it in good condition, hence the necessary upgrade. Red flag number two: because I was so frustrated with my bike, I wanted a quick fix and decided I needed a new bike, not even considering buying a used bike for the sole reason that it usually takes more time to find the right one. Red flag number three: I disregarded the wonderful versatility of bikes by nixing any bike that didn’t fit my criteria.
So what did I learn from this saga? First, take care of your bike as much as possible. It might be annoying and messy, but it will save you stress and frustration (and money) in the future by staying in good condition. Second, a new bike isn’t always the best option (especially if you’re on a budget). New bikes will be in great condition, of course, but there are plenty of used and refurbished bikes that will fit the bill. Third, bikes were made to be customized. The only thing you can’t change is the material of the frame, but once you have that, you can literally pick and choose any component you want on the bike to your liking. So don’t limit your options by only considering ready-made bikes that "check the boxes". Make a list of what you want and see how you can tailor the bike to fit your needs. This can be time consuming but is well worth it if it means your bike ride is fun and enjoyable.
So although I am still riding my somewhat beat up Mongoose, I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for bikes. I learned a lot through this process – in just 10 minutes of chatting with my good buddy Larry at The Old Bike Shop, I learned more than I ever dreamed of knowing about the mechanics of a bike, things I had previously deemed as unimportant to someone who really only rides a bike for transportation. But the truth is, the bicycle is whatever you want it to be. For me, it’s mainly transportation. But I’ve discovered, the bicycle is also a piece of art. Every part of the bike was built for a specific purpose. Each component works together in a synergistic and beautiful production. Every used bike out there has a story. Your bike has a story, so does mine. It’s important to remember that bikes are not a means to an end; they are a vehicle that transports us to a happier and healthier life…only if we let them.
“It is so easy to get sucked in to the consumerist culture of spending money on bikes, and equipping the bike with fancy gadgets. Many web forums and bikes shops stand ready to help you squander cash. It takes some conscious effort to fight against that urge, keep the worship of the bike to the minimum, and focus more on the travel and the experience. Keep being a traveler, not a traveling consumer.” – Words from Zilong Wang.
Zanna is the Events & Outreach Coordinator for BikeArlington. She’s owned her pesky yet faithful Mongoose for 3 years. She’s ready for an upgrade but is willing to take her time because she has finally learned the art of purchasing a bike.