July 13, 2008
There are all kinds of cyclists in the Bay Area, from the rich dude on his $10,000 racing rig to the little old lady taking her lapdogs for a plein-air outing down the bikepath in a child trailer. But I’ve always admired the utilitarian cyclists the most: the young Mexican guys in chefs’ whites on their way to work, the recent college grads braving the terrifying hills of San Francisco with their toe clips and messenger bags, even the leathery boozers with too many DUIs wobbling their way from the bar to the trailer park.
But for some reason, I could never quite see myself joining their ranks. I’d had a bicycle before, and it was frankly rather terrifying: a very light road bike with clipless pedals, skinny tires, no cargo capacity — and it was slightly too large for me to boot. I took it out two or three times, promptly fell over at each and every stop sign (no one ever said Troutgirl was coordinated!), and finally gave it away to a taller and more athletic woman.
But a wonderful thing has happened in the bicycle world in just the past few years. City bikes — simple, comfy, specifically designed for commuting shortish distances — have become the hottest segment of the market. As Stephan Schier of Seattle’s Dutch Bike Company aptly puts it: “Americans believe they need to cycle to work or participate in a weekend trek like Lance Armstrong, wearing spandex and, by ride’s end, a full sweat. But in Europe bikes are the vehicles of the common man. You climb on in your regular clothes and bike away.”
When I read this, I suddenly realized: the best bike is the bike you ride the most. It doesn’t matter if it looks goofy, if it’s heavy, if you won’t be able to break any land-speed records on it. I live in a dead-flat area of Silicon Valley, two miles or less away from from the train station, the library, the grocery store, and the farmer’s market. I want to be able to jump on in my skirt and flip-flops, before I’ve had my coffee in the morning, and just go to where I need to be. I want that feeling a bike gave you when you were a kid, when it represented freedom and adventure without any worries that somehow you weren’t doing something right.
So I went out and bought myself a simple bike (unfortunately Pepto-Bismol colored), and also applied for a locker at the Caltrain station. Look for me around Sunnyvale, hopefully not falling over at stop signs — proud to be a utilitarian cyclist at last.