Bike culture, through its subcultures, dictates the meaning of bicycling. Cultural insiders strictly adhere to a set of beliefs. Too often, they mock others for their choices. Many avid cyclists exist outside the formal self-styled bike culture. And, their views on bicycles and bicycling are as unique as their personalities.
With this in mind, I set out to buy a bike. It wasn’t my first. I owned two. So why not ride one of those? As anyone who has ridden for many years knows, bikes have different purposes. Yet, according to bike cultural standards, the reasons for purchasing bikes are fairly standard: commuting, living a healthy lifestyle, or athletic competition.
Outside the sphere of bike culture, atypical reasons for bike purchases exist. In my own case, I had been riding a road bike for many years. Although I owned two road bikes, one was, by far, my favorite. The other had become a conversation piece.
It hung on a wall, dangling from the arms of a wall-to-ceiling bike rack. It was a classic Italian road bike, handmade in Italy. Such bikes were virtually impossible to find. I had one. I loved it. And I could not part with it. So there it hung, a reminder of a time past when it was a state-of-the-art racing bike.
Occasionally I had raced with it; but mostly I trained on it. For a decade, I rode it five hundred miles per week, year round. Then, it became obsolete. I was lured by the call of new technology. Lightness, stronger rust-resistant materials, smooth, precise components. A nascent frame material, titanium, had become available. I had to have it.
Time passed. My attachment to the titanium bike drove me to ride it daily, despite its age. At that time, something happened: I was no longer racing or training. Riding was second nature to me and I could not give it up. A different purpose for riding had to be devised. Cycling would become an integral part of my daily life. To that end, I needed a practical bike.
Typically, I rode thirty miles a day. After joint deterioration from a prior athletic injury made one of my knees sensitive to freezing temperatures and prone to soreness, I had to ride earlier in the day (when it was warmer) and closer to home (to avoid a long trip home if I ran into difficulties). Therefore, I was looking for a way to continue riding without aggravating my knee.
That was my first reason for wanting to buy a new bike. But, that wasn’t enough. Our country was in the middle of a recession. I was faring no better than the average American and had little money to spend on nonessential items. A bad knee alone could not induce me to spend a significant sum of money on something I could live without.
I contemplated my predicament. It occurred to me that if I made numerous short bike trips each day, I could retain my level of fitness without much wear on my knee. This thought consoled me. And, again I leaned toward purchasing a new bike.
Something stopped me. I couldn’t justify spending a lot of money. It occurred to me to buy a used bike. I convinced myself that I could find something suitable at low cost.
For months, I read Bikes For Sale ads. Nothing worthwhile came along. I worried about the condition of the bikes advertised. Most of the sellers claimed to have kept the bikes indoors. They also claimed to have ridden them very few miles. Call me a cynic, but I had trouble imagining so many bikes sitting in a basement or garage, unridden, for so many years.
In some cases, this could have been true. But I became suspicious. How would I know whether the bikes had been cared for properly? What if they had been crashed or abused? A visual inspection only revealed so much. And I was not an expert.
Reasoning along these lines, a new bike seemed better for fit, safety and the longevity of my bad knee. Still, I hesitated. Parting with money during a recession was proving harder than I had imagined.
I vacillated between desperately needing a new bike and fear of spending money on a nonessential item only to need it later for a necessity of life. If only I could come up with another reason to buy a bike. Carefully, I thought the problem through. There had to be another reason. After searching my memory, I found it.
Earlier in the year, I had been sick with a severe episode of a rare illness. This bout had caused a major setback for me. Despite having recovered, I was destined to take treatment for the near future. That meant another round of the “medication from hell.” This medication had serious side-effects. The idea of having to ingest a toxic substance disgusted me. But, the choice lay in either taking the drug or living with an out-of-control debilitating illness.
The frequency with which this medication caused weight gain was troubling. Gaining fifty pounds or more was not unheard of. In the seven months since I had started taking it, I had gained ten pounds – a traumatic event for someone who had been athletic and thin for their entire life.
To keep the weight gain at bay, I had to increase my physical activity level. Joining a gym was one possibility. But on my schedule, and with my predilection for working out alone, the idea was unappealing. In addition, the closest gym had steep initiation and monthly membership fees. A less expensive gym was too far away for regular workouts. Then it occurred to me: I could use the money I would have spent on gym membership fees to buy a bike.
Unlike membership fees, which only bought something temporarily, a bike was a permanent purchase. It was an investment. It could be used year after year without incurring additional fees. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that buying a bike was a better deal. With that thought, the decision was made: I was going to buy a practical bike as soon as possible.
Based on bike culture, my current bicycle use classified me as a competitive rider. And despite this designation, a new less expensive (and un-chic) bike would classify me as a utilitarian or recreational rider. None of these designations were accurate. Bike culture be damned.