I’ve been without a car for over two years and I haven’t really looked back. The public transportation here is good enough to get around town, and the trains and buses are capable of getting me to other cities for a reasonable price. Plus, I get to avoid the fuel costs ($8.48 per gallon!), insurance, MOT services, finding a place to park, and so on. Although the buses here in town are pretty good, I prefer to be able to go places without depending on their schedule or having to pay for them, so I have instead opted to cycle.
The narrow and old roads here in Oxford aren’t especially friendly to the average bike rider, but there are more than enough of us around anyway. During peak travel times you will see people of all sorts and abilities cycling to and from their destinations. And even the most unobservant person would notice bikes of all makes and models littered around town, seemingly chained to every surface possible. Unfortunately, hand in hand with the excess of bikes around town is a high rate of bike theft. It is so bad, that when I was looking to buy a bike everyone I talked to that had a bike also had at least one bike stolen or vandalized. This managed to scare me off, so I decided to buy a cheap bike on the craigslist equivalent. My main reasoning being that if my bike got stolen or broken, it wouldn’t be a big loss and I’d just buy another. Well, my bike got stolen.
While I was upset that someone would steal my bike, it wasn’t very nice and I didn’t really miss it that much. In fact, I bought another bike that looked almost identical a few days later (pictured above). Just like it’s cousin, this “new” bike wasn’t very nice but got the job done. But after about six months of riding on this bad boy I was starting to grow tired of it. The tires were dangerously thin, I had already fixed 3 flats, the brakes didn’t work very well and let out a horrendous squeak, the seat had tears in it and was like sitting on a wet sponge, neither of my derailleurs worked and the head tube was missing bearings and starting to fall apart. In short, I was riding around on a POS. Well, once I got yet another flat I decided that enough was enough and instead of always patching things together it was time to buy a new bike, and this time I might spend a little more on it.
I searched online for second hand bikes all around the UK, but mostly cities that are within an hour by train. After spending a couple of weeks sifting through bogus ads and scams, I never managed to find the right combination of bike and price. So I headed out to the local bike shops here in town not really knowing what to expect or what I wanted. It was at my fourth store that I found the right bike.
Here is my brand new Specialized Sirrus Elite. I’m pretty sure that this is considered a hybrid bike, but I don’t really think of it that way. After trying a few bikes at different shops I realized that while I miss a proper road bike, I don’t really want drop handlebars on a bike that I will use mostly for commuting and the occasional weekend ride. I was looking for a fast commuter or really sporty hybrid, and that is exactly what I found. Plus this is an old model so I saved a couple hundred pounds to boot. This bike is aluminium alloy with a carbon front fork, so it is plenty light but won’t fall apart on the daily trip to work. The tires are just a few mm larger in diameter than a pure road bike, so it really does look and feel like a flat bar road bike. Plus I have side bars installed on my handlebars for a change of grip (or for hanging grocery bags), and there is room and eyelets should I want to install a rack on the back.
Naturally, I already have it all fitted with accessories like lights, rear mud guard, water bottle holder, computer and an expensive lock and cable. I also pay for insurance on this bike and all it’s accessories to the tune of four pounds per month. A small price to pay for the peace of mind that I will be covered in the case of theft or extreme damage.
So what is my favorite part about my new bike? IT IS FAST. I had forgotten what it is like to ride on a finely tuned machine. It is easier to ride, and easier to ride quickly. I probably cut a minute or two each way from my daily commute, plus I use less energy doing so. And I managed to get up to 36 miles per hour coming down Headington hill this afternoon pacifying my need for speed.
It was sunny and 60 degrees today here in Oxford, perfect bike riding conditions. This map is the route I took on my ride today essentially circling Oxford riding along side what is called the “ring road”. I got a little sidetracked twice, but almost two hours and 21 miles later I arrived at home completely satisfied with my first real weekend ride.
So what have I learned from my new bike? Well, first I learned that sometimes it is worth paying a little extra to get nicer stuff. In two years would you rather have four 50 pound bikes or one 2oo pound bike? Had you asked me this question a year ago I would have said the former, but now I am convinced that my answer will always be the latter. I would rather be out a little more money up front and have a much nicer ride than suffer with a POS for the illusion of saving a few bucks. Secondly I have learned that my body was built for riding a bike. It always feels comfortable, and I can hop on a bike and just go. Who knows, I might even get into cycling enough to buy a real road bike in a few years and use this new one strictly as a commuter. Lastly, I have figured out that retail therapy and natural endorphins are right up with single malt whisky and good music as the best cures for the blues. I love my new bike.