[image: "Dee" rides cargo trike]
Case Study: Dee and Her Search for "The Bike"
Dee lives in the suburbs. She rides an enormous cargo trike, in which she carts around two children, groceries, drycleaning, sleds, and whatever else the day might bring. Being young, fit and vivacious, Dee hungers for a personal bike - one she could ride on her own with joyful abandon. Her husband agrees that she must have such a bike, and a reasonable budget has been allocated. All seems rosy ...until Dee tries to decide what bike to get. Let's see, what are her criteria? She wears mainly dressy clothing, she plans to ride the bike in all seasons, and she always carries a bag when she is out and about. An upright sitting position, internal gear hub, enclosed hub brakes, a chaincase, and a good basket set-up would be ideal.
["Dee" completes triathalon]But wait. Dee also dreams of going on longer, zippier rides on this bike, in hilly areas. Perhaps try touring some time. She wants to keep up with her husband when he is on his carbon fiber road bike. She wants speed when she feels like it. And did I mention she has completed a triathalon? All this brings a different bike to mind: derailleur gearing, handlebars that allow for a variety of hand positions, lighter weight.
If you know about bikes, you can already see the problem here. The two "ideals" for the different styles of riding she plans to do, are in conflict with one another. The heavy loop frame, North Road handlebars and the internal gear hub that will protect Dee's ivory silk trousers as she pedals elegantly to her meeting in town, will not get her up hills alongside her husband's roadbike. Likewise, the sporty geometry and derailleur gearing that will allow her to glide uphill on those long rides, will not be kind to her dressy outfits once she is back to her town life. Not to mention that derailleur gearing is a pain to maintain in the winter season, and the caliper brakes that come with sporty bikes do not work as well in poor weather as enclosed hub brakes. As Dee shops around, goes on various test rides, and continues to weigh her criteria, she realises that she cannot have both sets of features on the same bike. What is she to do?
["Dee" wears elegant duds]Here is a list of what, in my view, are the options available to a person in Dee's position:
A. Recognise that you need two bicycles rather than one: you need a city bike and a sporty bike. Adjust your budget, your manufacturer(s) of choice, or your purchasing timeline accordingly.
B. Determine what kind of cycling you will be doing most: city or sporty? Based on this, buy a bicycle that is ideal for that type of cycling, recognising that whenever you will be doing the other type, you will be riding a less than ideal bike and it may be difficult.
C. Try to find a bicycle that you see as the best possible combination of some city features and some sporty features.
Based on anecdotal evidence, my impression is that many people in Dee's position are naturally drawn towards Option C. Option A seems financially prohibitive. Option B seems scary, because it involves accepting that you will not be able to do some of the things you want to do on the one bike you're getting. Option C appears to make sense: It seems like a sensible idea to get a bicycle that lets you do some of this and some of that.
However, I think that Option C is often a mistake, and that those who choose it may ultimately be unhappy. A bicycle that has some city features and some sporty features is not "the best of both worlds" as we wishfully think, but rather, a compromise. Let's say Dee finds a bicycle with upright geometry and derailleur gearing. A comfortable bicycle that can handle hills, right? Well, yes, that sounds reasonable. But what about riding it in the city wearing those flowing silk trousers? And what about caring for that derailleur in the winter? During times like these, Dee will be wishing she'd gotten a "real" city bike. And what about those long rides, when her hands will begin to go numb because of the North Roads' limited hand positions? Well, during times like those she'll be wishing that she'd gotten a "real" sporty bike.
Essentially, "kind of good for both" means ideal for neither. That is my main caveat against buying "compromise bikes", especially if you plan to spend a great deal of money on the bicycle and rest all of your hopes and dreams on it.
While at first glance it might not seem possible that you can afford Option A, there are most definitely ways to do it. One suggestion, is to buy the dominant bicycle (for the style of riding you will be doing most) new, and the supplementary bicycle (for the style of riding you will be doing less of) vintage. This is the route I went when I bought a new Pashley for the city (retail price: $1200) and a vintage Motobecane for sporty rides (typical C-List price: $150). The extra cost of the Motobecane was marginal, but my needs were pretty much satisfied between those two bikes. A year later, you can save up and upgrade by replacing that second vintage bike with a new bike, if you feel that's necessary.
The main point that I hope to bring across here, is that the idea of that one bike that is perfect for every kind of cycling is a fiction - a dream that's as futile to chase as our own shadow. There is no such thing as the perfect bicycle, only the perfect bicycle of its kind. Versatility is good, but there is a fine line between versatility and compromise. It is up to you to decide where that line lies.