August 13, 2005

Zen and the Art of Bicycle Design

I was a pretty active bicyclist up until about four years ago. Certainly wouldn't have called myself an avid cyclist but I did complete two Arts AIDS Rides/Lifecycles (1998 and 2002) riding 600 miles over 7 days from SF to LA. The second ride sucked the love of biking out of my heart, soles and aching rear.

Stephen and I met about six months prior to my doing the second AIDS Lifecycle. It was a pivotal time in our young relationship and a critical emotional time for me cycling-wise. Prepping for the ride was hard work and being prone to anxiety (East-Coast Jewish, it's in my blood) I was not the friendliest chicklet when it came to my weekend training rides. Nonetheless Stephen purchased a bike to train along side me. Often we would show up at the training rides and I would have a Kweskin-style anxiety attack and back out at the last minute. The most memorable time resulted in us riding in the opposite direction of the group, departing Golden Gate Park's panhandle and instead of going to Marin we went up, up, up to Twin Peaks.

On that fated Twin Peaks ride my loyal Gary Fisher Marlin finally gave out. The poor hybrid, which had already survived the 1998 AIDS Ride, was pooped. As we were cranking like crazy to get up that unforgiving hill the chain pulled out of the sprockets. The fish had taken its last gulp of water.

Always loyal I thought that I could have my good friend fixed. After all, it was adorned with my favorite riding accessory an extra wide, extra cushy seat. I took the bike to a posh bike shop on Union Street and they told me, "it's dead, a junker, don't waste your money or your time." I lost it. Stephen had never seen a breakdown like this over a bike. He officially thought I was nutters as I acted out a full blown five-year-old hissy fit.

Being the loving boyfriend, and perhaps hoping to avoid future scenes of mind-numbing meltdowns, he bought me a new bike. We went to a women-owned bikeshop on another posh street in the Marina and got me a real beauty. I even went clipless, which is to say that I got the kind of pedals that you clip your shoes into (really they are clip-full, not clipless). We went out to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and I chucked another A+ hissy fit. DEATH was around me. I felt it on every peddle. My feet were attached to the frigging beast.

The anxiety turned into vertigo and even driving was becoming scary. Being one with the bike was not my idea of zen. We removed the clips which helped me get past the situation long enough to do the AIDS Lifecycle. Once it was over, so was my love for riding. But neither I, nor Stephen and my family could understand what was the cause of this lost love.

Flash forward to 2005 in Houston. Being frugal (synonym for stubborn) I have decided that I will not purchase a car but instead will ride my bike around town. The streets are flat, some are quiet and only a few are molten cement from the heat. Why not give it a try. I pulled out the Schwin, covered in four years of dirt, and decided to finally give it some love. I walked it over to the Houston Bicycle Company, just a block away from our new place for a tune-up. I really didn't want to get on it. The anxiety was still alive.

The amazing Guys at the bike shop noticed that the toe clips smashed into the wheel every time you tried to turn. WAIT, it was true, the pedals were too long for the bike's geometry. Maybe this was the source of my biking anxiety. The guys thought they could get me shorter toe-clips and perhaps that would work. But even the new toe clips smashed into the wheels. They removed them and even my TOES smashed into the wheels.

It was a design flaw. Schwin had decided to design a bike where performance outweighed safety and practicality. IT WASN'T MY FAULT THAT I COULDN'T RIDE HER, NO ONE COULD! Vindication! We could have saved thousands on individual and couples counseling if only the now-out-of-business bike shop that sold Stephen this machine had really evaluated the bike's design and my needs.

Jeff, the owner Houston Bicycle Company, who was self-admittedly buzzed from his two-beers-at-closing-time on a Saturday afternoon, offered me another bike, dropped the price by $100 and then subtracted the cost of my repairs, which I had already paid - as part of a trade-in deal on my dud bike. I rode away on a Flite 300 (shown in photo) with total toe clearance. Each time I pedaled I instinctively looked down awaiting the toe smash - but there was full clearance! Now this is Zen.