The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: Playing With Your Test-Cycle

I'm not what you'd call a "social butterfly." If anything, I'm more of a "social locust" in that I come out roughly once every 17 years, and when I do nobody's particularly pleased to see me. Nevertheless, slimy things with legs do like to crawl upon the slimy sea occasionally, and so it was that I headed into the Manhattan yesterday evening in order to share my unctuousness with the rest of the world.

Now, you may recall that I am in the process of "testing" a so-called "Base Urban RD 1.0" belt-driven bicycle, which looks like this when it's not on some flashy website and some sarcastic bike blogger half-assedly points his "smarting phone" at it instead:

You may also recall that my first impression was less than favorable, owing at least in part to the fact that the ostensibly quiet belt drive instead made a disconcertingly loud and rhythmic "womp womp" sound that evoked, among other things, swamp life and humping.

Also, I find the bike to be more than a little bit ugly.

Well, it would seem that word of my tribulations made it all the way to Gates, the people who make the belt drives, and they were very eager to help me diagnose the problem so that I might, like Pootie Tang, become a believer in the belt. And so it was that I found myself communicating with--on the phone and with my voice no less!--one of the Gates people, who asked me a question that would require me to muster every tool and bit of technical know-how I had at my disposal. The question was:

"Have you checked the chainring bolts?"

No. No I hadn't.

So I checked the chainring bolts. Naturally, one of them was loose, and once I tightened it the noise was diminished considerably--not completely, mind you, but enough so that it is audible only in relative quiet and is not especially bothersome. (Though it might be if I'd actually paid for the bike.) In the spirit of good faith I will continue to examine the problem with the help of the good people at Gates, and I have no doubt the system can be made to operate totally quietly, though I am also compelled to note that whatever out-of-whackness still exists in the drivetrain would be a complete non-issue on a chain-drive bicycle. (In the final analysis, chasing down alignment issues is a lot more time-consuming than lubing your chain.)

It's also kinda noisy when I'm climbing. Maybe the bottom bracket on the Base Urban is not "beefy" enough.

Anyway, with my drivetrain now 75-80% quieter, I decided to use the Base Urban for my jaunt into the city. I know it's going to be a good ride when I spot both a recumbent rider and a rider in bib shorts with no jersey, neither of whom can be bothered to stop at the light or even use the bike lane for that matter:

Eventually I made it to the city, where I secured the Techno Express to a street sign:

I happen to believe that one of the most interesting aspects of cycling is what it can teach you about yourself, and this extends to testing bicycles. In the case of this bicycle, what it's teaching me is that my tastes apparently differ from most people's. As I said earlier, I find this bicycle aesthetically objectionable. If it were a person, it would wear Axe body spray and put its Yankees cap on sideways, and would carry an iPod full of music with Auto-Tune vocals. In fact, the company didn't send me an owner's manual, but I'm reasonably sure that while the belt drive doesn't require lubrication the rider is obliged to wear cologne. I don't wear cologne, and maybe that's why the bike is still creaking.

But while I find this bicycle's circa 2007 "tarck chic" appearance to be tremendously objectionable, apparently nobody else does, and in the short time I've had it strangers have been kvelling over it constantly. At first the compliments seemed to come mostly from recently-arrived Eastern Europeans wearing copious amounts of fragrance, so this was hardly surprising--I'm pretty sure Vladimir Karpets and Dmitry Fofonov would be all over this baby. However, last night as I loitered near it I watched in amazement as people of both genders with no discernible accent went out of their way to look at it and remark to one another how nice it was. Yes, this:

It made me feel exactly the way I used to in middle school when Bon Jovi was popular, and I just assumed there was something wrong with my ears because there's no way they could be hearing what I was hearing and like it.

But looks are looks, and what evokes a mid-aughts urban cycling fad to me is simply a shiny, matching, speedy looking bicycle to your average non-"bike culture"-immersed person. This in itself was something of a revelation to me, since it explains how year after year new cyclists continue to buy impractical and uncomfortable race-inspired (or now messenger-inspired) bikes instead of practical bikes. The simple fact is that a bicycle like this draws the eye, whereas a more utilitarian one doesn't, since people don't have the experience that tends to make utility appear attractive. Consequently, this is what they think a city bike should be. And there's your "Thruster Fixie" at Walmart.

In any case, more important than looks is how it rides. So how does it ride? Well, not all that well. The handling and fit are good, but there's a harsh quality that could maybe have something to do with the wheels and tires, but is definitely enhanced by this saddle:

I realize that saddles are highly subjective, but this is one of the most uncomfortable saddles upon which I've ever perched myself. Have you ever encountered one of those office building plaza ledges in Manhattan that have metal spiky things on them to discourage loiterers, but you're really tired from walking all day so you sit on it anyway? That's what sitting on this feels like. But then again, maybe my posterior is as out of step with the world as the rest of me apparently is, and everyone else will like it.

Obviously it's easy to try a different saddle, and I intend to do so. I'd also like to try a different set of wheels to see if that would improve things, but like most people I don't have too many disc brake internally-geared road wheels laying around. I suppose I could just change the tires and maybe put one of my mountain bike wheels on the front, and I very well may do that. I also have a perverse desire to use the bicycle in a cyclocross race, but that depends on whether knobbies will clear the sublimely unnecessary and brilliantly un-drilled rear brake bridge, which is already pretty close to the tire:

For that matter there's not much clearance up front either:

But I guess there's only one way to find out.

Anyway, here's an obligatory shot of the belt drive:

And one of the Alfine hub:

And one of the guy wearing an accordion who totally blew by me on the way back to the Manhattan Bridge:

Accordions, I should not have to remind you, are now the new messenger bags, which is why you can expect to see a lot of this at the Interbike "Urban Yard" this year.

Still, I enjoyed riding the bike last night. This is partly because it's pretty hard not to enjoy riding a bike, and also because the bike dork in me cannot help nerding out over the drivetrain. It's also nice to not have to worry about getting schmutz on your pants or about your hands getting filthy if you have to change a tube on the way to work, and I think something like this has the potential to be a good all-weather commuter if only the frame weren't so poorly designed. I also still think the $1,750 price is absurd given that this is basically a novelty bike, though you could have had it for free if you took it while I ran into the store on the way home for some eggs:

I was quite surprised when I returned to find that I had missed the top tube completely, and insofar as I was not even remotely intoxicated, I can only blame the frame's vexing design.

automotive ,automotive news ,automotive magazine,automotive industry outlook 2012,automotif,automotive magazine automotive ,automotive news ,automotive magazine,automotive industry outlook 2012,automotif,automotive magazine