My week of breaking the Fixie Gear rules, by riding around on a rusty 2nd hand Mountain Bike:
At the start of 2012, I challenged myself to go car free for a year and travel by Fixed Gear bicycle instead. I’ve always had one bike at a time, and I’d think of having more than one as a bit over the top. Many people don’t think this way. In fact, I read a website that stated that the correct number of bikes to own is S minus 1 (where S stands for “single” and is equivalent to the number of bikes that would cause your spouse to throw you out).
But more and more I’ve been needing a spare bike for times when my main one has a puncture and I don’t have time to fix it, or it’s off being repaired etc. Last week my main bike was off having it’s frame changed by Magic Mike, so I needed a spare bike.
BTW: this is not a post about my new bike frame. I’ll save that for later.
I thought to myself “Do I get a rubbish roadbike from gumtree, or a recycling center, or try to throw together another Fixie as cheaply as possible?” I certainly wouldn’t want a Mountain Bike. I’ve disliked them ever since I was 11 and went off to Halfords with my folks to get my first ever roadbike (it would also be my first ever brand new bike). Somehow, although we went in to get a roadbike, we came out with a MTB! How did this happen?
I always regretted it, especially when I realised over the years that everything that sales assistant had said wasn’t true. I think my mother, more than anything else was taken in by the notion that I could use cyclepaths with it and wouldn’t have to use the road. What a lie – I could have used cyclepaths with a roadbike. It also isn’t true that straight handlebars with bullhorns are a substitute for drop handlebars, or that cheap front-fork suspension is a good idea. Honestly I don’t understand why I was sold an off-road bike when I mainly wanted to ride on roads, cyclepaths and occasionally pretty tame grass.Cheap, rusty mountain bikes are the plague of devon cycle paths. If someone’s got one, pity them, but don’t get too close or you might catch one yourself.
I’d never buy a MTB for road use ever again…
So anyway, last week I acquired (guess what) a rusty 2nd hand mountain bike!
It was what I could get hold of at the Car Boot Sale for £20. When I first got the tires inflated and the chain oiled I thought to myself ‘this isn’t so bad’. The gears actually shift sometimes and it didn’t feel terrible when I rode it up the street and back.
Then I rode it to work, and remembered why I don’t ride cheap 2nd hand bikes anymore.
A while ago I wrote a post that contained a guide to getting up and cycling on a minimum budget. The idea was to show how it could be done; bike, helmet, waterproofs and all, for less than £100.
I take it back.
After last week, I really wouldn’t recommend the budget option. As a teenager I’d ride to school, then college on a cheap MTB that my dad and I picked up from the dump. I re-discovered how unpleasant it can be to scrape along on something all crunchy that doesn’t quite fit and that keeps going wrong. I’d forgotten how wet you can get without mudguards, even if it hasn’t rained for hours it it’s just that there’s still a thin film of water on the road. Then your bike becomes an upwards-rain-machine.
Ok, I was quite unlucky with my Car Boot Sale MTB. The front brakes didn’t work, and couldn’t be adjusted because they were too rusty. Likewise the saddle wouldn’t move, so it was too low and I had to ride like a frog (like a frog, riding a camel, riding a cactus). The back inner tube was punctured in several places. I’d got bored after I’d fixed 3 and decided that if it made it to work half inflated, I’d buy a new inner tube. I told The Bike Shed that I must have done something wrong in a previous life, and as a result I’ve got to ride this bike for a few days. I got the inner tube, changed it after work and then found out that my MTB-only hand pump didn’t actually pump at all.
Finally a helpful cycling stranger stopped and pumped up my tire. As I bid them farewell and set off home I pulled on the rear breaks and they locked shut, stopping the bike moving at all. Like the front brakes they were too rusty to be adjusted, so I unhooked them. Now I had no breaks. I’d just heard a story this week about a friend of a friend who tore his ear off on a wire fence in a crash which happened when the brakes on his bike failed (he subsequently also found out that his birthday was the same as that of Van Gogh). Fortunately I know how to push my shoe against the back tire to stop, and the journey home was fine.
So my point is this: every day people are having this horrible experience of riding a worn out, badly made mountain bike, and getting entirely put off cycling as a result. This is a great tragedy to me, because it’s putting people off a form of transport/leisure/fitness that’s they might otherwise enjoy and that’s good for the planet too.
My advice to everyone (whether you want it or not) is this: get a half decent bike if you want to start cycling, not the cheapest 2nd hand bike you can find. They are NOT enjoyable to ride and won’t make you feel motivated to keep on riding. Spending a bit more money if you have it will pay off in the end, as you feel more inclined to cycle instead of taking the bus/car. When I wake up in the morning, I look forward to riding my Fixie to work because I know it’s gonna feel like flying there, spending every minute of the journey thinking ‘hey, I’m floating on air!’