Monday, August 4, 2008

The Commuter-Utiltiy Cyclists Manifesto: Or Why I think Grant Peterson of Rivendell Cycles might be right.

When I was younger cycling was a way of getting from point A to point B. I didn't worry about my shorts being made of some "miracle" fabric or my bike being the lightest and made of thre most state-of-the-art materials available. I basically, "run what I brung" and was happy with what I had. I only started to buy into the whole "unobtainanum" craze when I saw a Peugeot triathlon and saw how light it was compared to my bike at the time. This was also the era of Greg LeMond and all the tremendous excitement of the first American to win the pre-eminent road race, an event that basically changed the direction of the American bicycle industry. Instead of round-the-block bikes marketed for family cycling the majority of sales were directed towards road racing and mountain bike racing.

In this change a third segment was forgotten. The market of the people who were just trying to get from point A to point B. If these people were personified to specific vehicles in the context of the automobile industry they would be the station wagon, pickup truck, SUV and sedan drivers. or rather the core group of all the automobile drivers out there. The bicycling industry in contrast over the years has been marketing to two basic specialty groups. Road racers and mountain bike racers or more specifically people who bought into the fantasy that they too could be Greg LeMond. The American bicycle industry has pretty much been building bikes if put into an automobile context are Indy cars, Baja racers, Porches, Corvettes. Bikes useful for high-performance applications, but only marginally useful for day-to-day applications.

Although I don't blame Greg Peterson for setting up an exclusive boutique type of company (if I could be so fortunate to do so I would) but I do believe that he along with the folks at Surly are on the right track for the right type of designs for everyday riding. These designs are what the industry really needs to start pushing to create a larger more practical "middle-class" of cycling. People who are using bicycles to go from point A to point B on a regular basis and not "weekend warriors" which are the sort of rider that have been marketed to for the past 20 years.

The bike industry needs to refocus on making good practical bikes and de-emphasize the "racing fantasy" Not get rid of it completely for there will always be those who like to race, are good at it, and need to be marketed to, but the general public needs to know that bikes can be transportation and the "spandex diaper" is not mandatory.

What do I see as being a good practical bike? By far the best of the best I have seen for what would work in the Houston environment is the Surly Big Dummy (configured with wide range MTB gearing or an internally geared hub) as it would work favorably as a commuter bike and also have enough cargo capacity for a large load of groceries and carry it fast enough in traffic so that you're not
as much of a liability compared to trying to do the same thing on a an adult trike like a Schwinn Town & Country. The next best would be a touring bike may be one specifically designed as one or adapted from a rigid MTB or a 700C hybrid like a Specialized Sirrus with very large rear Panniers . I would also go to say that something like Harris Cyclery's San Joes8 is also among the contenders. one of the things I like about the San Jose8 is the ability to change gears in a hurry at a stop light without having to turn the crank's. I feel that such a design would work very well in stop and go traffic like the upper parts of Elgin or going down West Alabama.


1 comment:

d2mini said...

I agree... if I couldn't afford my Rivendell (had an Atlantis, now have an A Homer Hilsen), I'd definitely have a Surly. Same basic kind of bike... room for big tires, takes fenders and racks, steel frames, comfortable geometry... great do-all bikes. I tried to ride my road bike on my first 2 days of commuting as a test to see if it was something I wanted to continue with. I wanted to continue but not on that bike (a cro-mo specialized allez comp). The in-town houston roads were beating the piss out of that bike. My clothing has also changed since then. I dress for comfort using some of what I learned from road cycling (like padded shorts and gloves) and common sense. My shorts are baggy with pockets. My shirts are light weight Merino wool. The wool drys at least as quick and doesn't smell even after repeated wearing without washing. I now pedal in sandals, Vans, or anything I want with my feet on studded platform pedals. I also have a kickstand. This all makes so much more sense (to me) for commuting around Houston.