I have an imaginary audience in my head whenever I write posts – do you? The audience consists of my mom and blogfriends and real life friends; they’re all clearly pictured in my mind’s eye and are sitting right at the front of the crowd. My imaginary audience also consists of people who drop by occasionally (hi! welcome!) or get here by searching for “pink cowboy boots” or “snickerdoodles”. I can’t picture them as clearly, so in my mind they sit at the back of the audience, friendly but rather abstract. (Oh and then there are the pervs milling around in the back. SECURITY!)
When I write a garden update or a knitting post I envision myself sitting down and chatting with readers who share that particular interest. It’s nice, feeling like I have someone(s) who I’m talking directly to. However, I also have posts that no one would ever “ask” for. And at those times, I imagine the abstract strangers coming forward, clamoring for me to share my extensive wit and limitless wisdom. Idealized representations of hypothetical readers, who are utterly adoring and hang upon my every word (hey! Sorta like Pioneer Woman’s audience!), no matter the topic.
So this is my way of saying, “Nobody asked, but this is what I’m gonna talk about today.”
Here’s what’s going on with Penny – dollars and cents, no foolin’ around, no romanticizing it.
As you may recall, I bought her from a guy on Craigslist. I paid $65 (an amount I would soon learn was way too high). Soon after that, I had to invest another ~$90 in materials and supplies, just to get her in rideable condition:
$30 for two new tires
$15 for new tubes and tapes
$20 to have both rims trued
$25 for a little basket and a happy bell
My $65 bike became a $155 bike, just like that.
Now, I’m not about to argue that I should’ve bought a $99.99 Wal-Mart piece of shit – put away your pitchforks! I’m also not going to argue that I didn’t have any fun working on her, or that I didn’t learn a BUNCH in the process.
I will argue, though, that I’m – sadly – no longer sure that Penny is the right bike for me. She’s been my first adult venture into cycling, so I really approached it having no idea of my own needs. After just a few short weeks of riding her, though, I’m developing a better grasp on a few key factors:
- Why I ride
- What I hope to accomplish from it
- What I need in a bicycle – features and capabilities
- (can’t discount this one) Aesthetics
Let’s address each one individually, ok? (If not ok, just click that little X in the top-right corner of your browser:-P)
Why do I ride? I ride for easy transportation, first and foremost. I’ve started riding my bike to and from the train on my daily commute, instead of driving that same distance (~1 1/2 miles each way). Eventually I might even ride all the way to work (8 miles each way) but I admit that’s currently outside my capabilities. I also ride for fun – Jeff and I love exploring University City and Forest Park on our bikes, and it’s ridiculously easy to run to the grocery store, garden center, or down to the Loop. I’m quickly realizing the advantages and benefits of a car-reduced lifestyle, especially in our densely-populated inner ring suburb.
What do I hope to accomplish? I’d like to become healthier and more fit, and as I so often remind myself, the only way to ride more is to ride more – I won’t make any progress if I just drive! I also hope to reduce my carbon footprint even more; eventually relegating car usage to longer trips, severely inclement weather, or transporting bulky or cumbersome items/purchases. I also love how biking enables me to literally slow down and enjoy life a bit; something you can miss out on when you’re just whizzing down the road in a internal-combustion-powered box.
What do I need in a bicycle? This is the part where I’m really still learning – I know things now which I didn’t know two months ago, and I’m sure there are worlds of information that I’ve yet to learn. But there are a few things which I already realize I need, many of which Penny has. I need storage/carrying capacity. My basket is invaluable for holding groceries or my lunchbag or yard sale finds, and I think that a pannier or two would greatly expand/improve that capability. I need comfort. I love Penny’s cruiser shape, and how I can comfortably sit upright, and how the loop frame allows me to cycle in my favorite skirts, and how the chain guard (minimal as hers may be) protects my legs and shoes from grease or muck. I need simplicity. I think I may have gone too far in the wrong direction with Penny; the single speed just isn’t quite cutting it for me – I had no idea how hilly St. Louis was ’till I saw it from a bike! But at the same time, I have no desire for a 21- or even a 10-speed – 5, 7, or 8 speeds would be ideal, I think. I need reliability. Even though I’ve been learning as much as I can, as fast as I can, there’s still lots that’s outside my current capability; problems I don’t know how to solve. I asked for it, buying a used and poorly-maintained bike, I guess. But now I’m paying for that mistake – literally. Finally, I need quality. There are certain things that I love getting to buy over and over (yarn, anyone? :-D), but there are other things which I would ideally never replace (boots, china, jewelry). A bike falls into that latter category – I want my bike to feel like a natural extension of my body; I don’t want to have to think about it constantly and worry about it and coddle it. I just want it to do its job, and do it well, with care and routine maintenance.
What do I like, aesthetically? This is what I love about Penny – she’s so pretty! I love her comfortable styling and whitewall tires and bright, cheerful frame. I love her shiny (well, now they’re shiny :-P) chrome fenders. Form and function are so closely intertwined for commuter/city bikes, I think – is it the Dutch influence? Or just vehicular vanity? But so many of the ways I’d define a “pretty” bike have already been outlined above – practical accouterments and careful details and signs of craftsmanship and longevity. So let me just list them: Chain guard. Fenders. Skirt guard. Pannier(s). Handsome, comfortable saddle. Strong grips. Basket. Quality. Penny’s got some of these things, but she’s lacking some as well.
Now I’d like to look at Penny’s own specific list of features, and how that meshes with my needs. Penny has:
- Fenders (original) – fine. Rusted on the inside but not too bad on the outside.
- Chain guard (original) – small, but adequate.
- Basket (by me) – adequate (I bought the cheapest I could afford; there are much nicer ones out there)
- Bell (by me) – great!
- Flashing reflector (by me) – Good; serves its purpose.
- Loop/step-through frame (original) – great!
- Aesthetic appeal – LOTS! I love her frame’s color, and the whitewall tires, and her cute shape.
- Comfort – pretty good, I think. I don’t have a lot to compare it to. I don’t really like the super-padded saddle, but the frame size seems to fit me pretty well and she’s so heavy that I don’t feel every little crack in the road that I roll over.
And here’s a list of my needs, which Penny is lacking:
- Multiple speeds – I have no idea if this is something I could change, or if it’s worthwhile, but I think St. Louis is just a bit too hilly for one speed – at least with my weak legs (though they’re getting stronger every day!)
- Generalized “carrying capacity” – because of her age/styling, Penny can’t easily take a rear rack/pannier, nor could she take most commercial trailers/kid-haulers. This alone limits her effectiveness as a commuter bike; unless I’m only buying a 1/2 gallon of milk and some grapefruit or something (similarly small that fits in the basket), I have to walk or drive.
- Skirt guard – I don’t know if I could fit one on, even, but I don’t think it would look very nice on her, aesthetically – she’s a leisure bike, and skirt guards are very utilitarian, I think.
- Comfortable saddle, stylish grips, solid pedals – I lumped these three together because for me, none of the three are really essential right now, for me. But if I were looking for a new bike, I’d get one with better/not-worn-out versions of all three.
- Reliability – This is the big one. Despite my own best efforts and those of the awesome techs at Big Shark, Penny’s rear wheel squeaks when she rolls, the coaster brake shifts and clicks before engaging, and the seat squeaks. Obviously these issues aren’t all equal, but they do all have the same effect – a noisy, annoying, and eventually maybe even unsafe, ride. No good.
So what does this all mean? I think what it really boils down to is that Penny is not the right bike for my purposes right now.
She’s lovely and cheerful and I’m so happy that I’ve had the chance to restore her, and I enjoyed (almost) every minute of it. But when I found out last week that I’ll need to buy a whole new rear wheel/coaster brake (cost est: $50-$75, and I have maybe 5 or 6 months’ of squeaky, squealy use left in the current one), and that the way she’s built she can’t easily take a typical pannier (something about how the frame is made and how I have my seatpost so low), I started thinking about my other options.
I’ve got to admit, I feel rather very let down by all of this. From the beginning when super-amateur me bought a bike with so many hidden problems, to here in the middle where I’m realizing the extent of the problems, to the inevitable end to come, I’m disappointed. I was more than willing to put work – even a lot of work – into a bike, if the end result would be a great vehicle to meet my needs. But it’s starting to seem that even if I go ahead with the new wheel, and strip the frame and repaint it to get rid of the rust, and add new grips and pedals, I’ll still be left with a gussied-up entry level bike without a rear rack, and with only one speed – and I’ll have spent another $200-ish in the process, which is that much less money I’d be able to spend on a future upgrade anyway. It’s just not good economics, is it?
That said, I haven’t yet made any sort of a decision at all. I’m certainly not running out to buy a lovely Pashley or anything (here is where Jeff breathes a sigh of relief). I’m just…thinking.
I guess I need to lay out my options then, huh? The way I see it, they are:
- Option 1: I keep riding Penny indefinitely, fixing her up as I can along the way and hoping that I’m not *too* limited in the process. When it’s all said and done I’ll have spent over $300 on her, to have what’s essentially the same (ish) bike I started with. (It’s the single-speed thing, and the pannier thing, that really get me)
- Option 2: I keep riding Penny as-is, meanwhile trying to save up money for a new bike. Whenever the brake finally dies (hopefully petering out gradually rather than sending me wildly flying down a hill), I take however much money I have and buy the best new bike I can afford – one that will have multiple gears and can take a pannier. Maybe in this scenario, someone would be willing to buy Penny from me and I’d have a few extra bucks to toss into a new bike.
- Option 3: I give up on the whole thing and chalk it up to a “would’ve been nice but oh well” event.
- Option 4: I go spend all of Monday’s paycheck on a pretty new beauty and relegate Penny to a lifetime stabled in the basement.
Option 3 isn’t really viable, knowing myself as well as I do. And Option 4 won’t work if I want to stay married. Soo…Option 1 or Option 2 it is?
Though admittedly I’ve only done it a few times so far, I really enjoy bicycle commuting – it’s fantastic. It’s the bees knees. It’s better than fresh-baked cookies on a winter evening. And I’ve got a pretty good idea that I have at least two more years of bicycle commuting opportunities ahead of me. I cannot know beyond that, however – where will we live after law school? What type of neighborhood will we find? Will I immediately have a tiny Hoopling to cart around? Any of these factors could be potential obstacles in continued daily riding. So I can’t really justify spending a *ton* of money on a bike.
Whatever I end up doing, I don’t want to stop biking – I love it too much, already!
What’s your opinion? No. Really. What do you think? Talk to me, please 🙂