Saturday, September 22, 2007

Getting back on the bike

Yesterday I organised a beginners bike training course for my local BUG group. The experience gave me some real insights into what its like to be starting out on the bike as a new cyclist. I met one middle aged lady who had bought a new cruiser bike with the Shimano 3 speed nexus hub gear. The bike had a low step through frame and was clearly designed for most leisurely cyclist and it meet her desires to improve her fitness. I was pleased to see that both the bike and rider managed the 15km ride with no problems. The only real issue was that the step through frame had encouraged a ridiculously low saddle height that needed to be corrected.
The next lady in her early 30s had bought a cheep BigW 21 speed mountain bike. The components on the bike were junk and the gear shifters were hopelessly inaccurately indexed in the “grip shift” style. The rear deraileur had been wrongly installed so that she could not shift to the two largest cogs on the cassette. Despite probably being a lot fitter that the first lady, she had a lot problems with her bike and needed a lot of motivation to finish. What annoyed me was that her bike was even for sale. These junk bikes put people off cycling and end up as rusted waste at Council clean ups. However, for the novice, they looks just like any other bike.
Finally there was one older lady who was fit and had a Giant hybrid with deore level components and all the extra bells and whistles. No doubt, she was part of the wealthy retiree bike riding market. The bike was great but the 17 inch frame was too large making her fall to the side when she stopped. The bike had been sold to her by a respected local bike dealer, so how could they make such an obvious mistake? She’d probably spent $1000 but she’d got the wrong bike. Where are the ethics in such transactions?

Running the course made me realise just how easy it is to get in wrong when buying a bike. Not only is it easy to fall in the trap of getting the crappy Department store bike, but its easy to get a quality bike that is inappropriately sized or one reduces ones abilities to grow as a cyclist. Clearly, there is a fine balance between meeting the bike buyer’s desires and producing the types of everyday bikes that we need to develop a cycling society. However, my sense is that the cycling industry often aims too low at the ‘entry level’ providing consumers with the semblances of “style” and “comfort” over simple quality and practicality. More so, the industry doesn’t seem to provide people with the skills or knowledge that can help them develop as a confident cyclist. Perhaps they don’t see it as their responsibility? I think there is a big case for the promoting of cycling training as key activity of cycling advocacy and the cycling industry promotion. While we often focus on things such as the built infrastructure (bike lanes etc), we seem to forget the human infrastructure that comes from developing one’s skills and knowledge as a cyclist. For cycling advocates, there should be nothing more exciting than seeing other people develop their skills and confidence on the road.

Happy bike week!

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