What’s a Bicycle For?
Ask anyone who rides a bicycle what it’s for and they’ll give you a quick and confident answer. After all, they know what a bicycle is for because they’re reminded of it every time they sit on the saddle. Ask Danny Hart and he’ll tell you it’s for flirting with the absolute edge of adhesion, ask Fabian Cancellara and he’ll tell you it’s for blistering the tarmac, ask Danny MacAskill and he’ll tell you it’s a tool for ultra-precise acrobatic feats. However, these are people who ride task-specific tools of their respective professions. Their answers are varied because they ride within the extremely tight restrictions of their specialty. A bike to them is like a nailgun to a roofer, though they might find time to ride for pleasure every now and again (at least I hope they do). There are sponsors to please, fans to please, money to be made, all while operating at such a high level that the chances of injury are looming at every turn.
Ask the Everyday Cyclist and they’ve got a whole different story about what a bicycle does for them. Maybe it’s a beach cruiser with balloon tires that can transport a surfboard and has a six pack in a basket, maybe it’s a townie commuter with super tough tires, fenders, and panniers for going to the office, and maybe it’s even one of those huge Yubas for taking the kids to school. There’s a lot to be learned from people who make utilitarian choices in regard to their bicycles. They’re the ones who are totally able to live outside the world of sponsorship dollars, and are (slightly) more deaf to the all out assault of advertising. They also ride every day and won’t put up with crap that doesn’t work for them. They also get to “compete” in “events” such as Going to the Grocery Store, Not Getting a Flat Tire, Taking Lunch to Work, and the prestigious Not Getting Hit By a Car (an event I recently placed very low in, but that’s a story for another day).
Maybe the Everyday Cyclist doesn’t have all the answers; after all, a lot of them don’t know how to do basic maintenance on a bike, will ride around with flat tires and wheels that are dangerously out of true, have super goofy accessories, and ride bikes that are miles away from a correct size for them. Despite all the dumb stuff that goes on in the world of the Everyday Cyclist, and I bare witness to a lot of it in Seattle, they seem to do pretty much OK. More than that, the worst of them do OK on a daily basis. Obviously the majority has its shit together, despite the fascination with clipless pedals and shoes for commuting which I just can’t wrap my head around. While I’m at it, 20 spoke carbon wheels are not for commuting! Not that it really bugs me, but it’s pretty obviously silly. For the record, I ride with 36 spoke wheels (GASP!)
Before I get any more sidetracked, I’m just trying to say that there’s not just one right way to ride, and there’s just as much beauty in a versatile bike as there is in a super-specialty bike. It doesn’t seem that way if you listen to the big bike companies, but it’s what I think anyway. Except for “hybrids”, since those can just go ahead and rot in hell (kidding, kidding, totally kidding…mostly).
So what do I think a bicycle is for? Well, the photo above gets pretty close; a casual Sunday ride on Bainbridge Island for a late picnic lunch under a tree, with the Puget Sound just meters away. Throw in a tent, a campfire, and some friends, and you have yourself the makings of a legendary bicycle camping trip (once again, a story for another time). My bike can do this sort of thing because it fits fat tires, fenders, racks, and has a stout steel frame that will stand decades of use. To be clear, its not the right bike, since such a thing doesn’t exist, but it’s the right bike for me and my bicycling. Here’s a link to a map of my route. It doesn’t start exactly at my apartment because I don’t you to come knock on my door and tell me my article is stupid. Map of the picnic ride