A Fork in the Road

I’m back once again, to discuss another issue I find near and dear to my heart quite often, the conversation about human-powered transport. Whether you cycle, or rollerblade (I dare not mention skateboarding, firstly because  I don’t do it, and second because it does not seem efficient or quiet enough to be a viable everyday transport option), for fun or for pleasure, finding a cheap, fun way to travel from point A to point B, or just do a loop from point A back to point A, is desirable for everyone.

People who drive have it made, it’s an incredibly powerful technology which has changed humanity over the last 150 years (or so, I did not look that up). But for me, having a car just isn’t worth the downsides. I live right in downtown Ottawa, and my walk to work is 7 minutes from my bedroom to my desk. 95% of things I do are within 15 minutes walk, and everything else I choose to bike or rollerblade depending on my needs when I get there.

There are two points to consider when looking for a bike (or any mode of transport, but for the sake of this discussion I will use bikes), either used or new. Some people refuse to buy used, whereas others will only buy it if they can haggle on price, which typically happens a little bit on used bikes but only in rare cases on new bikes. I think the discussion should boil down to a different factor: quality. I have found first hand that not all bikes are created equal. When searching for a bike, price should not be in your head. I made this mistake several years ago when searching for a bike, and came across a heavily discounted one at Sears. After the transaction was complete, I had saved about 75% its initial cost. I was so excited to have a bike that I took it for a two-hour ride the following day, and it was of acceptable quality, it wasn’t GREAT, but it was from Sears. I vowed that after this one ride, I would take it to a bike shop and make sure it was all in tune and ready to go. The morning I had planned to do this it was raining, but I was determined, so I set off happily when about 5 minutes into the second ride the pedal and arm fell off without warning. Needless to say I wasn’t happy, but I managed to stick it back on and continue, pausing every minute or so to make sure it was still on tight. I made it to Cyco’s on Hawthorne (where I still go for all my bike needs, they are great) and asked for a complete tuneup. I also showed them the pedal which had fallen off, and was told it would very likely need replacing, which was my fault for riding it in that condition. Once that work was done, I used the bike on a short ride and found that even when it was fully tuned, it was still a pretty terrible ride and couldn’t go nearly as fast as I would have liked it to. After all the problems I had had with it, I had decided that even at only $50, it still wasn’t worth the cost, and when the pedal itself actually broke off of the arm, I took it straight back and got my money from Sears. They were very understanding, though I did walk in with several pieces of bike. The lesson I took from this was that if I was going to get another bike, it would be sold to me by somebody who knew what they were talking about and who knew that the bike was in good working order. I spent $825 on a bike last fall, and it is a really spectacular ride. It’s upkeep and accessories to go with it do get expensive, but in my mind it is well worth the cost, I enjoy the ride, the bike weighs almost nothing and I can feel great riding it on paths or on streets.

As I mentioned before, this experience applies to many things in life. I have learned many times that spending a little money on something so that you have it tends to only lead to trouble and more expense. I had the same experience as mentioned above with cell phones, laptops, tablet computers and rollerblades, though not to as extreme a degree. After the cheap implement because useless or broken in some way, I was forced to (within 6 months to 1 year) replace said implement. I now have a higher-end laptop which works great and which I am using to write this, an iPhone which I have had for 7 months and is fantastic (replacing an older model iPhone which is still in use by my cousin when I upgraded), an iPad which I use every day and am extremely happy with as well, and a high-end pair of rollerblades which have lasted many times longer than the original pair I had gotten (the cheapest pair). I understand that not everybody can justify purchases such as these, but I implore you, if you plan to make an investment on something that isn’t inconsequential or which you intend to have an extended life-span, please do your research and make sure what you are planning to buy is worth the cost and will serve you well for a long time, rather than finding the cheapest thing you can and hoping it lasts.

The reason I chose to write about bikes today is that I went for a bike ride today and fell off of my bike at the very end of my ride, mashing my knee on something and leading to a crazy huge bump which I would like to share with you. It kinda hurts, and it looks like I have an extra kneecap…Ow.

-Robert

3 Replies to “A Fork in the Road”

  1. I think my grandfather felt the same way about bikes as you do. It is older than I am, and I had an enjoyable ride on it today.

  2. +1 for an awesome topic and an awesomely awesome shout-out!

    I've been thinking about this topic lately as well, and I agree with you on all your points. My biggest issue is that the rule "more expensive => better quality" isn't always the case. Not only are expensive things sometimes of poor quality, but high quality items can often be reasonably priced.

    I think the one thing I've found to prove true the rule you are illustrating is with electronics and shoes. I am inclined to believe that more expensive bikes are also of better quality (most of the time), however it is more the DEGREE to which they are improved that I am concerned about. Is the extra 500-700 dollars worth the improvement over a 200 dollar bike from Sport Chek? I wouldn't know, because I've never actually experienced the ride of a bike that costs a tenth of a used, good-condition compact car.

    In my experience with my bike (Nakamura Grinder 6000 series mountain bike, for those who care; a somewhat standard factory-made 200 dollar bike from Sport Chek), a good tune-up and some toe clips provide a "comfortable enough" ride to and from work on a daily basis (~11 km +/- 1 km, one way). Sure, it could be faster and the ride a little smoother, and it would be nice to have some road tires instead of mountain bike tires, but is it worth $900?

    In speaking to bike shop people, the high end bikes provide a lighter frame and tires with increased speed (due to better gear ratios and more aerodynamic/lighter frames), but to me that seems a little over-the-top when it comes to everyday commuting. I can understand the difference when it comes to competitive cycling, but I can't imagine it being worth the money for one hour of commuting per day for three months out of the year.

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