Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Bike Backslides

I've had my new bike for long enough now that it doesn't really qualify as "new" any more, but when it was new unquestionably, I made a vow to myself that this time, I would do things differently. The things to which I was referring were 1) ongoing maintenance and cleaning, and 2) weight reduction.
Ongoing maintenance and cleaning are concepts that even a non-biker can appreciate. Normally people who live in houses clean their houses regularly. People who drive in cars wash their cars once in a while (or do they? Neither my boyfriend nor I have washed our cars in all the time we've been living together, and we are the only point of reference I have). People who ride bikes should probably, reasonably, expect to keep their bikes clean too. Except that I never did. My old bike, Greenie, though ostensibly one of the loves of my life and certainly worthy of a little TLC in return, got ridden every day in all sorts of weather, but only got unceremoniously hosed down once in a blue moon when I absolutely couldn't stand the dirt any more. I always felt ashamed when I had to take him (yes, he's a he) into the bike shop, and every moving part was positively caked with dried mud and grime.

With my new bike, Snowflake, I promised that this time I would do things differently, and clean her more often (she's a she!), keeping her lovely white frame lovely and white, and saving myself the embarrassment of dragging a filthy heap of rust into the shop when it came time for repairs. At first, like all kinds of "New ___ Resolutions," it went great. During the splashy rainy weather of early spring, I religiously wiped down my bike almost every morning when I arrived at the office, carefully removing splatters of mud from the frame, sides of the wheels, and as much of the gear assembly as I could reach. I left a hideously blackened rag in a corner of my office just for this purpose (I have to wonder what the cleaning staff thinks of that, since they never actually see the object it's there to clean!)

But then I took her down to Georgia, and nothing was ever the same again! The bike rack which conveyed her to my destination ended up viciously scraping her frame, leaving black smudges of rubber which I couldn't seem to buff off, and even more permanent gouges in the paint. After that damage was done, I lost interest in cleaning my bike every day. Getting up close and personal with all those scars had just become too painful.

Now my bike is lucky if it gets a cursory wipe-down after a downpour. Sorry, Snowflake. Pretty soon I'll probably have to call you "Ucky Old Pile of Snow That's Been in the Corner of the Parking Lot for 2 Months."

So, I failed on the cleaning front. Maybe I did better with my other resolution, weight reduction. Let's check it out.

First, a little explanation. Greenie was what you'd call a behemoth of a bike. Too old to find the specs on, and too cumbersome to place on a scale, his exact weight may never be determined, but you can rest assured that between his steel frame and the mountain of accessories I piled on it, he was quite a load to pedal around. Part of my reason for buying a new bike was the utter inadequacy I felt whenever my boyfriend and I had to pick up our bikes. He could lift his fancy racing-hybrid bike with one finger, while I, meanwhile, would be using all my strength just to awkwardly keep mine a few inches off the ground—or me! I still have the scar from when I dropped it, gears first, onto my calf while I was offloading it from a Metro bus 4 years ago.

My number-one goal for a new bike was to get one that I could transport without causing myself permanent harm—and that meant aiming for a bike weighing less than 30 pounds—the lighter the better!

At 26.75 pounds (advertised by Fuji) Snowflake fit the bill. The only challenge was to keep her under 30 pounds. As soon as I went to pick up my newly arrived bike from the shop, I failed in my objective by adding a (to my credit, totally necessary for any commuter) rear cargo rack before I'd even left the store. From then on, it's been a steady downslide into the biking behemoth-hood again. Obviously a rear rack is worthless if you don't have anything attached to it, so I ordered a folding basket. Then I got a lock (again, to my credit, another necessity) that I affix to the bike frame when it's not in use. Additional gear that has somehow made its way onto my poor overloaded steed is: a couple of bungee cords for unplanned hauling, a pair of lights, a couple of reflective slap bracelets for holding my pant legs away from the chain, a bell, and, most recently, a digital wristwatch which I've been using to help me determine the fastest routes from Point A to Point B.

That's a lot of stuff, but seeing as most of the items weigh less than an ounce each, I'm having trouble feeling too guilty. And thus far, I've done myself proud by refraining from attaching a water bottle cage (I've never had a bike without a water bottle before, but I figured since I do most of my biking in a 16-minute spurt between home and the office, there's not a whole lot of need to be carrying around that much hydration) or fenders (the bike shop attendant was nice enough to mention that my rear rack could double as a fender, and, while it doesn't keep as much water off me as my old real fenders did, good enough is good enough). I've also been tempted to put some kind of small carrying container on the handlebars (for when I suddenly realize I need to take my earrings off mid-ride, and don't want to have to stop to dump them in the back), but I haven't yet given in.

Overall, I give myself a 6/10 on the weight-reduction front, but I don't really see how I could have scored any better. Since, as I mentioned, it's rather hard to get a bike onto a scale and have it stay there (also, I don't recommend trying to suspend it from a luggage scale, which I also tried and regretted), I'll probably never know whether my bike is as light as its namesake or just another, slightly smoother-riding version of my old clunker. It doesn't really matter that much. Thanks to my attached stopwatch, I know that regardless of Snowflake's weight, I can get from home to the office in an average of 16.83 minutes, which is 2 minutes less than Google Maps estimates. My bike might not be as light as I would have liked, but it's as fast as I can reasonably expect it to be.