Who Am I? In the Market

("Holy shit, the British are coming?!?")

"What bike should I get?" It's a question as old as the bicycle itself. Actually, that's not entirely true, since back in the "olden days" if you wanted to ride you got a pennyfarthing and that was that. Maybe--maybe--the LBS gave you the option to upgrade to one of those newfangled "saddles" instead of keeping the stock iron spike that people used to sit on before the bicycle seat was invented, but otherwise it was p-far or nothing.

Now, though, there is a bewildering array of bicycles out there, and as we saw from the comments on yesterday's post, which one you choose and why is one of the most contentious debates in all of cycling. In fact, it's right up there with the "helment debate," the "tubular vs. clincher debate," and of course the "saddle vs. iron spike debate." (I've been a saddle man ever since my surgery, but as they say on the Internet, "YMMV"--as will the diameter of the hole in your perineum and the time it takes it to heal.)

In any case, every so often "new bike time" rolls along. For some "new bike time" comes once a year, for others once a decade, and for still others once in a lifetime. Regardless of the interval though, "new bike time" is a lot like having a gaping hole in your perineum, since after a certain point you can't ignore it and the problem simply must be addressed. As it happens, it was recently "new bike time" for me, though unfortunately by the time I saw this "Tweet" from Bicycling magazine I already had my new bikes and it was too late for me to heed its expert advice:

Nevertheless, I clicked on the link anyway to see if I had made the right choice:

The article began with a simple exercise:

Sketch yourself. Grab a pencil, paper and some brutal honesty. Now make two lists. The first is an inventory of your current status as a cyclist or, for first-timers, your fitness level: how competitive you are, how much time you spend riding (or working out) each week, your highest achievements on a bike. The second is your ultimate vision of yourself as a cyclist: completing multiple charity rides each year, kicking butt on the local race circuit, riding to work every day, and so on.

Oooh, fun! I grabbed a pencil and I grabbed some paper, but I didn't have any brutal honesty so instead I grabbed my "pants yabbies." Then, with my free hand, I got to work. However, instead of simply making lists I thought a graphical representation might be more helpful, and here's what I came up with:

(Click to enlarge, unless horrible drawings make you nauseous.)

As you can see, the cyclist that I am is a fairly unfit rider who sucks. The cyclist I wish to be, however, is Philippe Gilbert with the head of Justin Bieber. This is because I think it would be fun to win a Classic and then get mobbed at the finish line by a bunch of screaming teenagers. However, if hybrids are off the fantasy cycling table, then I would of course opt to be the time-traveling t-shirt-wearing-retro-Fred from the planet Tridork Bret:

No Bieber head necessary--Bret is cycling perfection incarnate.

Once I had my picture in hand, I moved on to the next step:

Then, imagine a rider who fits between the two—the bike that's right for that middle-ground you is the minimum you should purchase.

Ah-ha! So I did get the wrong bike! According to this, my new "middle ground" bike should have been the rear end of my Scattante grafted onto the front end of my Ritte:

(Who I am, and who I wish to be.)

At least that's how I interpret it. Therefore, immediately following this post, I plan to get to work with a hacksaw and some S&S couplers. Once I'm done, I'll report back with a lengthy post on BikeForums.

Most importantly though, your bike should give you "room to grow:"

Buy below that level, and you won't have enough room to grow.

I'm not sure what this means, but I suspect it's warning you of that moment in every Fred's life when you look at your bike and say this:

"I'm really sorry. It's not you, it's me. I'm just in a different place right now, and that place requires that I ride crabon instead of aluminum."

At which point the poor spurned bicycle must make way for a gleaming new Cervélo with Zipp wheels and over 15 centimeters of headset spacers and a glamorous new life of "kicking butt" and completing "multiple charity rides each year."

Speaking of new bikes, this past weekend a panel of judges at the Oregon Manifest selected the "ultimate utility bicycle," and it was Tony Pereira's this thing:

(This thing. It has a box.)

Of course, if you ask a hundred Portlanders what the ideal utility bike is, you'll not only get a thousand answers, but you'll also get about a million unsolicited lists of all the stuff they carried by bike that day, since "portaging" is their primary means of self-expression. This is precisely why the comments section on the Bike Portland coverage of the event is so entertaining (as was brought to my attention to a reader):

Here's one reader who was not impressed by the box, or really by any of the contestants:

If I designed the field test criteria for the show based on the needs of my family then a bike would have to carry our every day needs which are:

1. 15 month old baby

2. 10 pound dog
3. 2 bags of groceries
4. Diaper bag
5. rain cover or rain clothes for rider/baby
6. tools, spares, pump
7. water, travel mug
8. lights, lock

Fortunately there were a few bikes there that met that test. As more of the Constructors find themselves parents I am sure that these capabilities will enter into their bike designs. It would be fun to see a year in which the bikes would have to carry all of the above. Obviously you would have to substitute weighted dummies for the baby/dog due to obvious reasons on the Saturday test day.

What, no kitchen sink? Must be a minimalist. Also, you might be tempted to suggest that it's no big deal to leave the dog at home for a few hours, but in Portland leaving your dog unattended for longer than five minutes can get you arrested for animal cruelty. (Feeding it non-organic food is merely a misdemeanor.) Therefore, in Portland, no dog-portaging ability = dealbreaker. By the way, by next year's Oregon Manifest you can be sure someone in Portland will have started a business making artisanal hand-crafted weighted dummies that look like babies and dogs, and by the Manifest after that there will be a spin-off weighted dummy show and Sacha White will have a 15-year wait list for his take on those clown-shaped punching bags:

Of course, some of the Manifest bikes are more practical than others, but practicality is also subjective, and it differs from city to city rider to rider. For example, pretty much all of these bikes are wildly impractical in New York City, where they'd be stolen in seconds. The important part is the ideas each builder implemented. Sure, some of these ideas were more interesting or useful than others, but as far as I can tell none of them were remotely as useless as this one, which was forwarded to me by another reader:

Yes, it's a sensor that tells you when you get too close to stuff on your bike. If you have 900 years to spare you can also watch the video, which features a stupid skit in which someone with a marshmallow on her head pretends she just got "doored:"

And then Stellan Skarsgård's cousin who works at Radio Shack makes her a device that lights up when something gets three feet from her:

That's just brilliant, because a tiny red light is a lot easier to see than a car door. Also, everybody knows that car doors open very slowly, which is why you've got plenty of time to monitor a device, then spot the car door, and then take evasive action. I'm not sure what his next project will be, but maybe he can come up with something that lights up when you're lying underneath a truck.

Not that it matters, mind you, since yet another reader tells me we should all stop riding because it's bad for our lungs:

Logically then we should all drive to work while eating Big Macs. The health benefits are debatable, but our lungs will be as pink as that Tony Pereira bike. It's time to get off the Black Lung Express.

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