City biking

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.

5 Responses to “City biking”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Just wondering what your doing for a helmet? The casual bike definitely seems to be a better fit for getting to the train station, but helmet head still looks to be a problem to be solved.

  2. troutgirl Says:

    Heh. My hair isn’t all that awesome-looking anyway… but it’s long, so a ponytail is the path of least resistance. And remember, a lot of hair products are basically designed to replicated the feeling of slightly dirty hair! So you can just fluff it up when it’s a little sweaty, and it will look fine as it dries.

  3. Congratulations. Remember the first rule of utility biking – If you think your going to sweat, slow down. Cheers to you.

  4. vic Says:

    Clipless pedals are very dangerous.
    I’ve been riding bicycles continuously since I was 5. Have even commuted to work year-round in suburb north of NYC, Had been using Shimno clipless pedals for about 10 years and had several occasions when I couldn’t release from the pedal and dumped over. The last time, at age 58, caused my right hip to fracture. I needed 2 surgeries and 6 months of rehab. After the accident I found out about two other cyclists who suffered hip fractures because they couldn’t release from their pedals.
    Needless to say I took them off my Trek and will never use them again.
    The Pain was not worth the gain.

  5. Rob Byrd Says:

    Hey Vic,
    I can appreciate your problem as I to had to replace my right hip, simular to the same problem you had. And as well at 69 yrs young the darn thing took a long time to heal. (The miracle of being young) I still ride however I limit where I go and always ride with either my son or grandson at my side.
    Keep the faith,

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