What’s in a Bicycle?

I recently purchased my first-ever Brand New Bike. This is a really big deal for me!

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The Surly PackRat.  A modern bicycle inspired by the practice of Randonneuring. “Designed to get you where you need to go with your belongings on a front rack.”
[Click image to read blog post]

Despite always choosing The Bicycle as my primary mode of transportation, I had also been very frugal (cheap) and preferred to tinker with the frames and components I had in my parents’ garage. Over those years — with a few tools I bought and inherited along the way, as well as the invaluable writings on SheldonBrown.com — I taught myself how to adjust derailleurs, remove cranks, adapt the length of chains, etc.  And I thought I would be forever happy buying inexpensive bikes from Craigslist and adapting them to my liking — typically fixed-gear/single-speed conversions, back when it was cool.


Current conditions in author’s basement: Some things never change.
I was never good at homework, but at least I had a healthy hobby!

At a certain age, I decided to buy a track bike, a “real fixie,” if you will. After very little research — hype is one hell of a drug — I bought a Surly Steamroller from Craigslist. I thought it was pretty pricey for being used and having only one gear, but I wanted it so I could fit in, and it was a game changer. It has turned into my year-round, all-weather workhorse:

  • It got me from south Minneapolis to Mounds View and back when I worked there.
  • It got me countless miles in and around Chicago when I lived there.
  • And it has never let me down (though literally the day before writing this post, I broke a spoke, and the wheel is now in repair).

Why get a new bike?

Upon recognizing I wasn’t getting younger, I figured my knees could use some variation every once in a while. During a conversation with a co-worker I mentioned possibly, maybe, perhaps shelling out for a new ride, and he informed me that our health insurance plan offers a discount at Erik’s Bike Shop and an additional discount from the Raleigh and DiamondBack brands. (You may have these perks too; it takes only a quick internet search).

Surly Creamrolla 4656 1

Source: https://www.pedalroom.com/bike/surly-creamrolla-4656

Learning this really got the gears turning in my head. I browsed online catalogs and remembered a bike that had been on my radar for a number of years: the Surly CrossCheck. I had frequently heard it referred to as “the most versatile, least expensive steel-frame bike on the market,” so I rode to my Local Bike Shop/Surly Dealer to try it out.

Spoiler: It felt like I was driving a bus. I didn’t like it, not at all! I know quite a few people who swear by the CrossCheck, just as I swear by my Steamroller. This experience reinforced that not all bikes are the same. It was a great learning experience.

Dreams shattered, I needed a pick-me-up, so I returned to the store and let my magnificent salesperson (thanks, Jody!) run their spiel about the PackRat. They encouraged me to take it for a spin, no strings attached, and I am so glad I did.

That test ride took me to places of happiness I didn’t know were still possible as an Adult Millennial. My spouse (and riding partner) kept commenting how natural and comfortable I looked while riding — and how I was wearing my “high beams” (our household term for bliss).

I wasn’t expecting a bike I had never heard of to sweep me off my feet, especially if I was going to pay full price. (Full disclosure: It was last year’s model, and I was offered 10 percent off.) But there I was, grinning from ear to ear, trying to figure out if this was an impulse buy or if I was actually feeling the jitters of a purchase worth making.

I decided to think about it for a week. After all, I hadn’t made it to the shop that offers the insurance discount.
Turns out, Erik’s didn’t have anything in stock that was my size, and I didn’t want to go through the hassle of ordering a bike online just to take a test ride.

I knew what I was getting, and I couldn’t be happier.

Now we’re one month in. I have carried many loads of groceries, made a few runs to the liquor store (heaviest load, about 25 pounds), and I have ridden over 100 miles. I still have zero buyer’s regret, and I don’t miss my backpack (and corresponding wet back) one bit.

So, what’s in a bicycle?

Taken literally, it is mostly steel, some rubber, grease and a little bit of oil.

But, when taken in abstract, as a vehicle that weighs 29 pounds and (god forbid) can be disassembled to fit in the backseat of a car, the bicycle is an extremely versatile instrument of freedom, recreation, independence and joy.

Ride on.

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2 Responses to What’s in a Bicycle?

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke May 6, 2019 at 10:06 am #

    Lovely essay Fred. New bike day is a wonderful feeling and I wish you a thousand happy miles on your new ride.

  2. Jeffrey Klein May 6, 2019 at 7:21 pm #

    I know not everyone can afford a nice bike, but in a world where the average new car is $35k, and people think of bicycles as toys… the difference between a $1000 bike and a $300 bike is vast. It can be what makes it work for a person, and that will pay back in the long run.

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