When God cobbled together my DNA, he conveniently left out the shopping gene. It is a handy omission, since I don’t particularly care for collecting the stuff of the material world. I can stroll through Urban Outfitters or Brookstone and enjoy looking at the objects with the same detachment I view sculptures at the MFA. Cool stuff, but I have no interest in actually owning any of it.
I manage to do very little shopping in this material world. An unanticipated upside of being divorced is that every month I pay Abby and Andy’s mom money and she is responsible for buying all the stuff they need. It is not a good deal financially, but it has eliminated hundreds of Target runs. My housemate loves to shop and cook. His rent is ridiculously low, our refrigerator is ridiculously full, and I rarely have to go to the supermarket. Another win-win. I have found terrific dress
shirts on-line, I buy all my extended family gifts through Amazon, my children have learned that I am the only Dad in the world who actually welcomes a new tie on Father’s Day; as a color-blind man buying ties is torture. Abby and Andy have great taste that allow me to maintain at least a modicum of the cool factor that architects are supposed to have. Without their input, my wardrobe would be IBM circa 1963.
But there are times when I cannot avoid buying things, and taking a cross country bike trip requires a certain amount of specialized ‘stuff’. For a few weeks I considered riding my current bike – a Giant Hybrid that is a bulldog in Boston weather. But it is not built for hills and is already worn past prime. I would have gladly paid Andy a few hundred to be my personal outfitter; he loves to rummage around EMS and REI, but he in Florida this summer and at some level a touring bike is like suit – you’ve got to try it on in person.
Logistics entered the picture. I live in Boston and was starting my ride in Denver. Do I buy in Boston, get used to the bike, and ship it out there, or do I fly to Denver cold turkey, buy a bike out there and start pedaling? Being The Awkward Poser, I found a middle way. I test drove bikes in Boston, found the
one I liked, and ordered it in advance from a shop in Denver.
Lesson One in test driving bikes – I needed one. Bikes designed for touring are smooth and their gear ratios are wide.
I have enough years on my aging frame that I cannot scoff at the enhanced technology that a good bike offers in creating an easy ride.
Lesson Two in test driving bikes – when you move beyond buying the basic $500 bike off the showroom floor, the bike
itself is only step one of a multi-layered purchase. Lights, racks, brakes, pumps, tires, panniers, seats, fenders, pedals, they are all add-ons. My $1200 bike is no more useful than that sculpture at the MFA; without the accessories you can’t even roll it out the door.
Lesson Three in test driving bikes – this bike is not a thing, it is my new BFF. As I pedaled the Surly Long Haul Trucker up the hills of West Newton, floating up the hill at a low gear, my
hands firm on the bars, the seat a good fit, I realized this is the one. The ten minute spins I had taken with the Trek, the Specialized, and the Raleigh were speed dates gone bust, this was the babe I was going to clamp my butt to for 3,000 miles, the machine I would get to know and trust, and in turn she would conform in time to suit only me. It is the 21st century sustainable version of that eternal buddyship; a man and his horse, a man and his car, a man and his bike.
I called Surly bike dealers in Denver near my sister’s house and ordered the bike from Cycle Analyst, a small store that specializes in touring bikes. The fact that they did not accept credit cards for over the phone confirmed to me they were the right choice, a place of bike geeks with scant business sense.
When I actually arrived at Cycle Analyst on the afternoon I flew into Denver, my preconceptions were confirmed; a half dozen guys in board shorts with allen wrenches humming away assembling, repairing, adoring bicycles. Ryan, a rail thin chap in a motor cap with a handle bar moustache showed me my bike and escorted me through the array of accessory options. Within ten minutes I was numb from too many choices and more or less caved to all his suggestions. Two hours later, Ryan had put together an awesome collection of components and after a bit of help from me on how to tabulate the various prices, discounts and taxes, he rang me up. The final tally made me appreciate more than ever that shopping is not a regular
occurrence in my life.
I left the shop with nothing but a receipt slip, to return the next day to pick up the fully assembled merchandise. Good things are worth waiting for.
Terrific post, Paul!
…a bikerider’s guide to the galaxy. thanks