Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Townie
Mountain Cat

The Folder

I just started biking again after many years off. While I doubt I'll ever be a serious rider, I am enjoying the power of pedal. I started out with the current-production Montague in the background. It's all aluminum (though not very light), and it folds in half, which I thought would be very handy but turned out to have drawbacks, which I'll talk about later. It's a bit odd-looking, but also sort of handsome, in my opinion. Unlike "normal" bikes, it starts conversations- sometimes rather intense ones- with people who aren't interested in bikes at all. People either love it or hate it, and I think I know why, but I'm still always a bit surprised by the strong opinions it inspires. The big "top" tube (due to the unusual design, there is no down tube) in bright yellow draws a lot of attention just because it is big and yellow- and I think that's what some people like about it. It's different, and it's cute, and it's highly visible. I like these aspects of the bike too. This big, hard-to-miss "top" tube is also what draws the negative reactions- people flip out over the Hummer logo. I'm not kidding! Many, many people shake their heads sadly when they see that word. More than a few openly sneer. Some have even asked me how I can ride such a thing, as though the name alone makes it the equivalent of driving a big truck. This amuses me. I tell the Hummer haters that I drive a Honda Civic, which is true, and that I would never consider owning a Hummer, which is also true; I respond this way not because I feel the need to defend my environmental footprint, but in the hope that people will rethink their silly assumptions, and maybe even recognize the utter incivility of abusing a stranger over the name on his bike. I wonder whether these people would dare to act this way to a real Hummer driver? I doubt it, though I'm not sure why. I think people may perceive cyclists as inherently mild-mannered, especially helmeted cyclists, and therefore safe targets for obnoxious harrassment. I also think that people might be afraid to challenge people who drive big trucks because they assume that big-truck drivers must be insecure people and therefore possibly dangerous. Anyway, back to the bike. In its original configuration, I liked the it very much, though it did have a couple of problems. First, I don't like flat and/or low bars, even on rough terrain, but that's how mountain bikes are built. Second, the bike was slightly too big for me, giving me a reach problem. I'm an awkward size for bikes and shoes and clothing, and come to think of it, for cars too. Nothing fits me quite right. I have to modify almost everything I use, and when no modifications are possible, I have to put up with a less-than-ideal fit. In this case I was able to solve both problems by changing to a very short stem and a back-tilted BMX handlebar, which helped "shorten" the bike, while also considerably raising the bar height. It worked out pretty well, so I mounted a bell and a cyclocomputer and was in business. I loved folding up the bike and tossing (well, stuffing) it in the back of my car. This allowed me to drive somewhere fun and ride around, no rack needed. Very cool. In the course of a few such excursions I noticed that it was very easy to knock my rear derailleur out of alignment during loading and unloading and not particularly easy to avoid doing so. Not cool. And I was tearing up my rear upholstery. Also not cool. Eventually, I found that I could solve both these problems by loading the bike upside down. Cool, except that this put a lot of wear and tear on my bell and computer. I flipped the bell so that it rode below the handlebar, and I moved the computer to the lower bar- it's a two-piece handlebar, with a crossmember near the top.

As I put more miles on the Hummer, mostly on paved roads and cycling paths, I began to resent the noise and drag of the knobby tires, and I considered switching to something smoother. When I priced new tires, I realized it wouldn't be much more expensive to buy another bike that already had street tires, and so I did that. I'm glad I did because I would have missed the knobbies off-road, and because I throughly enjoy the second bike, which is perfectly suited to what I use it for.

The Townie
While looking for my townbike, I bought and quickly resold an extremely-too-large Panasonic Mountain Cat 3500 (the blue/yellow seatless wonder in the pictures), keeping the fenders with which it had come. I knew I would need them, and the guy I sold the Panasonic to had his own fenders- or didn't want to run fenders, I can't remember which. Anyway, having these made my search easier since I didn't have to look for a pre-fendered bike. The Mountain Cat, a mid-80's lugged steel hybrid with considerable under-stated elegance and very comfortable upright geometry had helped me see that I didn't want a sloping top-tube, or a suspension fork; this enlightenment simultaneously expanded and contracted the field of eligible bikes- on the one hand, all old bikes were possibilities, on the other hand almost no newer bikes were.

I found a 1983 Diamondback Ridge Runner and fell in love with it right away. It had the lugged steel frame and classic lines I had so admired in the Panasonic, a set of good quality street tires, and it came with some accessories I very much wanted but couldn't really afford- things like a rear rack, a rear rack bag, a full-length pump, a seat-post bag, and it already had a computer. I was delighted. All it really needed was some fenders, and a change of handlebar. I tackled the handlebar problem first, because that was not going to be easy, whereas the fenders would practically install themselves, as Homer Simpson might say. I had recently bought a really nice aluminum one-piece BMX riser handlebar, knowing I would probably not find a bike with the kind of bar I liked, so the problem was already half-solved. But halfway isn't far enough. DBRR came with a "bull-moose" handlebar that had an integral stem, which meant that when the bar came off, so did the stem. Bummer. I would have to find a stem. Once again, it was cheaper and easier to buy a whole bike to get what I needed, so that's what I did. I found an affordable ($20) early 90's Bridgestone MB5 and took its stem for DBRR, giving the MB5 the bullmoose bar in return- and installing friction thumbshifters to replace the utterly non-functional grip-shifters while I was at it. That bike ended up at a friend's ski cabin, where I hoped it would get some use by someone other than me- because if I rode it much, it would need a new handlebar. Sadly, because the bike was so small, much too small even for me, it was very unlikely to be ridden at all, and I have since decided that it should be sold. Anyway, with the nice new (to me) handlebar and the pretty black fenders that went so well with the black-on-grey paint scheme DBRR was reborn as the Townie, and now gets far more miles than the Folder. The Jeep saddle was a hand-me-over from my Dad to replace the woman-specific saddle the Townie was wearing when it came to me.

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