Ride a Fucking Road Bike

fixed-gear04

I think fixed gear bikes are really cool.  Whenever I see someone riding a bike, i check the gears to see if it’s a fixie.  Fixed gears are a lot of fun to ride, they’re a little stupid, and they’re minimalist.  You’re a lot more connected to your bike when your motions are directly linked to its motions, not just in one direction of revolution.  The bike feels like a part of you, and you can manipulate it with utmost precision and balance.  Taking the brakes off, though a death wish in hill country (Seattle), simplifies the bike even more.  You don’t stop by using your hands to pull a lever, you stop by physically arresting the revolution with your legs.  It’s purer, and in flat areas, like Claremont, only slightly harder than brakes, and a lot more fun.

I like road bikes quite a bit too, because they’re the most practical.  Real bike riders ride road bikes.  In many instances, perhaps most, road bikes are better than fixies, I believe and freely admit that.  Hybrids are kind of neat, since they let people sit more upright, and they’re more versatile while still being suited to the road.  Even beach cruisers have their place.  They certainly aren’t my thing, but they’re an aesthetic choice, and function fine for getting to class.

But mountain bikes should only be used on mountains.  In extreme circumstances (i.e. my dad commuting to work in Seattle in the middle of winter) they make sense in the city, but by in large, they are just impractical!  They’re explicitly made for trails, climbing, and bumps.  Why would you ever ride one in an exclusively flat, paved landscape?!  Again, if you mountain bike, and can only afford or only want one bike, fine – mountain biking is awesome.  But if you don’t mountain bike, you shouldn’t have one.

I realize that this sounds like bike snobbery.  For a while I would have agreed, and to a certain extent (mainly regarding fixed gears) I still do.  But lately, reading about suburban sprawl and the growth of automobile infrastructure and industry, I’ve started seeing it in a different way.  Before the turn of the last century, bicycles were colossally popular in the United States.  The first influential road building movement was organized by the League of American Wheelmen – a bicycle organization.  The rise of the automobile marginalized bike commuting, at least in the US, but recently more and more people have begun to get back on the bike.  This is partly because of the environmental movement, and partly because of the terribly congestion and pollution caused by automobiles.

bike_commuting

But while the hardcore commuters spring for beautiful, light, expensive road bikes, and obsess over weight and gear, the college population just doesn’t care.  People get mountain bikes because they don’t know that road bikes make more sense.  They get mountain bikes because they don’t commute far enough for it to matter.  They get mountain bikes because they don’t care enough about biking to choose a bike based on aesthetics.  Clearly this isn’t entirely true, but by in large the people with mountain bikes are the ones who just don’t care about biking.  What kind of bike someone has is a reflection of their interest and commitment to biking (and although fixed gear riders are sometimes just hipster conformists, they often go fixed gear because they’re into biking).

In this modern age, even if you don’t commute by bike exclusively, you should be familiar with biking and the basics of getting around by bike (or by mass transit, if you just can’t do bikes).  So, college mountain biker, next time I pass you on my fixie and internally wince or sneer at your ride, know that it isn’t (mostly) because I’m a douchebag hipster bike snob, it’s because I’m an environmentally conscious bike advocate who thinks you should sack up and learn a thing or two about bike commuting.

Update – 11/11:  After writing this I began to wonder if I was being to harsh or blind to the economic realities of the situation.  I did a quick search on google shopping and found that Walmart sells a mountain bike for about $90, the cheapest hybrid is (strangely) around $200, and Target sells a road bike for about $150.  So there if your goal is to go as cheap as possible, it looks like a mountain bike is the way to go.  Although I maintain that any serious (i.e. non-college campus) commuting is ridiculous on a mountain bike, and for $70 more, almost everyone should be able to upgrade and take on automobile culture one trip to the store at a time.

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5 responses to “Ride a Fucking Road Bike

  1. Mountain bikes can be cool and aesthetically pleasing and with 2sets of tires one without knobs fir city riding and knobby for dirt are more versatile and economical than owning multiple bikes for separate purposes. The front shocks can be locked out for street use. With new materials they can be as light as good road bike altho without the aerodynamic quality. For all around flexibity they are a winner. At the high end the all carbon ones with disc brakes are high performing and look awesome. So get off your snobby fixed gear and try a bike made for all of us not just flatlander college boyz. 😉

  2. I have to confess that while riding my road bike or fixie, I often realize a secret passion: a longing for a mountain bike of my own to ride in the city.
    As I pedal lightly and quickly in streets, down
    ramps, and in bike lanes, I gaze longingly at stairs, planter boxes, and loading docks.
    When riding a road bike, my world becomes about paths, speed, strength, time, and wind. I visualize a line through traffic and then glide, executing with my wheels what I might have just as easily done with a pen on paper. Reveling in the feel of air rushing against my face, I make judgments and decisions, asserting myself in a world otherwise indifferent. In this way, we create our existence, and with much practice, we do it artfully.
    But the world as experienced on tall and lean bikes is largely confined to one dimension. We are limited to where we have been allowed by civic planners and pavers. If we dare step outside the lines, we risk damaging our precious steeds.
    On a stronger bicycle, built for withstanding heavy-handed love, these boundaries disappear. Suddenly, the world opens up, and where there was once a ramp, there is a gap to fly over; where there was a wall, there is now merely a step, and if we can muster the strength, we can take it.
    The urban world becomes a jungle when it is seen from behind thick and heavy tubing. What was a ride to the store is now closer to a pummeling hurdle down a ski slope.
    While road bikes are certainly the way to go for those who want to commute effortlessly, mountain bikes have a different, though nonetheless seductive and transformative appeal to the spirit. And as far as the commute goes, riding fifteen miles to work on knobby tires will make you tougher.

  3. Pingback: Biking is Fun! « The Wasteland

  4. A bicycle is a bicycle no matter what. What matters more is the one pushing the pedals. Real riders understand hype and run circles around it. Respect anyone on two wheels, and if they can’t hang long enough after all is gone then what is lost from them is for you to gain.

    • You’re right, Ed, which is why I drew a parallel between the people who ride bikes and the bikes they choose to ride. Most people on the campuses I’m located on ride mountain bikes, which I take to mean they all drive cars. If they actually commuted by bike, or actually cared about biking, they would ride a road bike. That was sort of the point of the post.

      And if they can’t “hang,” as you put it, it really is all of our loss, because it constitutes a loss for bike culture and the bicycle movement. I don’t yearn for an elitist biker paradise where the roads are clear and everyone rides titanium; I want a world where everyone bikes everywhere, and cars are frowned upon (take mass transit to get long distances). I don’t care what kind of bikes people are riding in this world, but I’m willing to bet they won’t be mountain.

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