Sunday, August 3, 2008

Adopt a Big Box.

Class consciousness is alive and well in America. One manifestation of this that many bicycle commuters are familiar with is some one shouting out the window of their car “get that thing on the side walk”. There are class divides within the bicycling community as well. It seems to me that the biggest gap is between those that view a sixty dollar bike from a big box store as “just as good” as one costing much more, and those of us willing to pay more. I have lately been trying to bridge that gap.

I admit that I was one such snob, who looked down on the guys on the Big Box Bikes. You could tell them from a distance because the bike always seems to be ill fitting. The reason for this, as many know, is that Wal-Mart and Target sell bikes . . . period. The seat height is “adjusted” during assembly by sliding it all the way down, and tightening the nut. There is no attempt to fit the bike, as there would be at a good bike shop.

Last Monday on my ride to the trolley I passed a guy that I had seen on the trolley before. He is about my age, (fiftyish) but not fat like me. I passed him like he was standing still. When he got to the station he approached me and asked me if I could explain to him how the gears worked. It was then that I got the idea of adopt a Big Boxer. Over the last week I have explained cadence to him, and how to select the correct gear. I also recommended that he keep the tires fully pumped, and to raise the seat. I explained how to determine the correct height. By Wednesday he was so appreciative, and I made another friend.

His story seems to be pretty typical. He hadn’t owned a bike since he was a kid, and gas prices made him to decide to try bicycle commuting. Put off by the prices at specialty bike shops, he goes to the big box and gets a dual shock bike, mistakenly equating a full suspension with overall quality. This is an intuitive conclusion that the marketing people at the big boxes count on.

For commuting, I prefer a hybrid, and think that full suspension adds weight, and absorbs energy that I desperately need. I am still faster that my new found friend, but he tells me his speed has improved, and he is working less hard thanks to my suggestions. The biggest difference, I have told him, is that my hybrid, with it’s 720mm, 90psi tires, has less rolling resistance than his fat, 65psi tires do. But, the bottom line is that it gets him to the train on time.

There are many good sites that deal with bike setup, including this one.

On another note.

I met a couple of British tourists on the train last week. Thomas and Mel were vacationing from their small town near Cornwall, and had ridden a tandem all the way from Vancouver B.C. to San Diego. We had boarded the trolley together at old town. I had introduced myself to them with a piece of cyclist-train rider etiquette that is becoming common place; we exchanged destinations. With this information the bikes could be loaded in a first on, last off sequence.

I was impressed with the ease that they had loading their behemoth. They obviously had practice. They were taking the train all the way to the end of the line in Santee, and from there were planning to ride to the mountain village of Julian (close to a four thousand foot climb in 50 miles) to spend the last days of their vacation.