Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Steering Your Loved Ones' Bicycle Purchase Decisions


I did not meet my spouse through cycling. He was a pilot instructor at a small airfield I happened to be photographing one day (a meeting I unwittingly documented here!). It was only some time after, perhaps as an attempt at wooing, that he mentioned he too rode a bike. Turned out he had been a rather strong club cyclist some years ago ("back before everyone was doing it"). But by the time we met he'd been off the bike for nearly a decade, focusing instead on running and weight training. His machine, circa the early 2000's, had since been wilting in a shed: a battered aluminium road frame with a worn Ultegra drivetrain, 21mm tyres, a thin wedge of a racing saddle, and decomposing Look pedals. He remembered the bike as being fast, albeit uncomfortable - which he saw as a logical, and tolerable, trade-off. When he tried it after the long absence, however, the discomfort proved too much while the speed he remembered was no longer there to compensate. He rode with me a few times, but it clearly did not feel nice. I proposed he buy a more comfortable bike and made some suggestions. But he was skeptical a new bike would make a difference. It was him that needed work, he said, not the bike. Well, these things are not mutually exclusive, I ventured - but decided not to push the subject further. Perhaps this was for the best, as cycling as a couple is not always a good idea!

To Ardara
Fast forward to the following year. We were now sharing a household, and that household soon began to fill with all manner of bicycles. One of the bikes I eventually brought over from Boston was my Honey Cyclocross: an aggressive racing bike, with an ultra-lightweight steel frame, carbon fork and clearance for wide tyres. I had already lent this bike to a few male friends in Ireland - who had enjoyed it tremendously and commented on how comfortable and fast it was. So when I noticed Gary eying me wistfully when I would set off on road rides, I suggested he take the Honey and join me.

The lilac Honey CX is pretty small, and the gentleman in question is 4" taller than I am. But after fiddling with the saddle height and setback, and replacing the stem, he was able to get the fit surprisingly close to his ideal. Although most of the components and accessories on this bike were alien to him, he immediately loved the SRAM brake levers, the 50/34 by 11-32 gearing, the Crankbrothers pedals and the Selle Anatomica saddle - preferring them to the components he had hitherto used, and declaring after the first ride than any bike he buys himself in future will be fitted with same.

The bicycle itself he found "extremely comfortable" and "eager to accelerate." However, being steel, he speculated, was certainly a handicap compared to a carbon fibre or even an aluminium bike from the same era. "Not necessarily," I said, trying to stay calm and not go into Preacher Mode, instead gently pointing him toward information on contemporary lightweight steels, oversized tubing, custom builders, et cetera. He was interested, but remained skeptical. He would ride my comfy bike to get himself back into shape, then shop for a "proper" road racer once ready. Sounds good, I said. On request, I described my impressions of a dozen or so carbon fibre bicycles I've tested over the years (Parlee still being my favourite). Truth be told, I actually began to look forward to having a full-on carbon fibre bike from a mainstream manufacturer in the house. It was not something I would ever get for myself, but variety is a good thing. I was not uncurious about the Pinarellos and Scotts he was eying up.

Glenveagh Mountain Trail
Fast forward another year. It took my now-husband some time to get back to his former cycling shape, but eventually he did it - maintaining a 20mph pace on flats with ease and scaling 20% grades nonchalantly. In the process, we rode together a lot and got on surprisingly well despite our radically different approaches to cycling - but that is a topic for another time! More to the point, he began shopping for a bicycle of his own.

As planned, he started off looking at carbon fibre frames. Happily, I accompanied him to local bike shops, spending hours browsing rows of Giants, Kuotas, Focus bikes, Cervelos. At one point I fully expected us to come home with a Pinarello Dogma, but that too was dismissed. Generally he was not wowed by any of the bikes he looked at, compared to the bike he was borrowing from me. After spending some time on internet forums and talking to some local club cyclists, he also grew alarmed at reports of the carbon bikes being easily damaged in crashes (during one infamous Sunday morning club ride a few months ago, a crash resulted in something like 6 riders snapping their frames in half!). Finally, having done some research on pricing, he was perplexed to find that custom and semi-custom bikes made by builders specialising in lightweight steel performance frames were not more (in fact, often less!) expensive than the mass-produced options. Did I think a steel bike might suit him better after all? It's possible, I said, but reiterated that there are different kinds of steel, and different kinds of carbon, so it's not as simple as a linear hierarchy of materials - adding that, moreover, geometry matters a great deal as well. So which bikes did I think might suit him? I then gently pointed him toward the likes of Dario Pegoretti, to the Velocipede Salon, and waited for the magic to take effect.

A month later: "You know the wee Honey bike I'm riding?"
Yes, I think I recall the one.
"They do a road racing model like."
Yup.
"What size do you think I should get?..."


Oh victory, victory, sweet ideological victory!

Erm... I mean, it's nice he came to his own conclusions. Heck, when the flooding and hurricane winds subside, he might even actually get to ride his brand-new beauty and let me know how he likes it!

Lady Huck Under New Ownership
This is not to say that all my gentle steerings have been successful. The beautiful BSA roadster we "inherited" from my friend Clive, which I thought would suit him perfectly as a "dress in regular clothing" beater, was categorically rejected after several tries ("too heavy, too slow, and uncomfortable" - what!). On the other hand, the long and low Dawes I'd thought would be too decrepit for his liking, was embraced with enthusiasm (minus the PowerGrips and front rack).


To my initial delight, but subsequent regret, he loves my Mercian single speed - to the point I had to pry it away before he modified it so much I wasn't able to ride it myself! On the other hand, I am trying not to be offended that he dislikes my DIY 650B bike. For what it's worth, he dislikes any low trail bicycle he tries, with surprising consistency, and without knowing they are low trail.

Rather mystifyingly, he loves racing my loopiest, frilliest "ladies bikes" to the shop, yet finds the unisex Brompton embarrassingly "girly" to be seen astride. And, despite many attempts to show him The Light, he hates, and I mean hates any sort of rack or bag attached to a bike other than the teensiest saddle wedge, preferring instead to carry a backpack (can you imagine?) if needed.

Being passionate about bicycles can make it difficult to remain neutral as we watch our friends or family make their own choices. But while we can certainly make suggestions and offer advice when asked, ultimately we cannot control other persons' preferences, tastes or desires. It is good to know when to lay off. Better, I find, to sit back and let them enjoy their own journey - including making their own mistakes, if it comes to that. In the end, they will accumulate their own experiences, good and bad - which will make their decision better informed than any advice we can offer.

52 comments:

  1. Dare I suggest, a tandem!

    The Oldcyclist

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    1. At the risk of offending anyone (ahem), his bike handling style is a bit too risk-takey/aggressive for me not to have a heart attack as a stoker at the moment. But some day, that would be wonderful.

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    2. When we bought ours from JD Tandems, in Yorkshire, John said to my Stoker that if I misbehaved he would take me out with me as stoker and make sure I never, ever did that again.

      To be honest although as the pilot I have control I have to pilot the bike as the stoker wants (as long as I think it's ok). There have been a couple of instances where I haven't and some involuntary movement from my Stoker in high speed bends have demonstrated the need to make sure they are ok first.

      They also once stopped pedalling just to show what it would be like. As we don't have the technology so that we can both freewheel independently it was very enlightening. I should add that this demonstration was done just for fun as we were chatting about it.


      I would wholeheartedly support the tandem idea but if you are both cyclists the one who goes on the back (it doesn't have to be you, you know) has to give up control which might be hard. It also might be hard if you are used to cycling side by side; it's a very different communication scenario if you are never seeing your partner. On the other hand it is easier to pass bottles, food and the like. I did a sportive once where the rules expressly forbid the passing of food or water to another rider whilst on the move, unless you happened to be doing it as part of a tandem team!

      Just go for it!

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  2. You can lead a horse to Waterford (WI)...

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  3. A month later: "You know the wee Honey bike I'm riding?"
    Yes, I think I recall the one.
    "They do a road racing model like."
    Yup.
    "What size do you think I should get?…"

    (dabs at coffee on screen)

    Well played, Missus, well played.

    His bike looks like it is really comfortable. A good understated color, too.
    Which model is this?

    Poor lady Huck. She can get no respect. Maybe Clive will relent and send for her.

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    1. I am hoping the BSA's owner will return actually - with his own Missus, and now new baby, in tow!

      The bike is a Honey Race Day. The colour looks way more gorgeous and dynamic than the shabby photo suggests, but we need friggin daylight to photograph it properly and that is in seriously short supply as of late!

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    2. Cool! I must admit I haven't kept up with CS's adventures of late, so I clearly missed it.

      Race Day, eh? That is more upright geometry than I expected from the model description. I bet it's a rocket. Is it a stock color scheme for Honey?
      I am sure you'll delight us with photos when the light gets better. Daylight is a bit sparse here, too.
      Now, snow and ice, that we have...

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  4. Did he consider a Mercian?

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    1. He did, and still wants one hypothetically for a long distance/touring befendered bike some time in future. (Nice to see the N+1 already kicking in as well!)

      Worth mentioning also is that one reason he chose Honey is because they have a comparatively short waiting list (I believe 1-2 months at the moment), whereas Mercian's is currently 8 months.

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    2. Now 10 month's. Enough time for me to just order one and pray for a windfall to cover the Visa charge before it arrives and the probing questions begin...

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    3. Wait... are we talking about a 2nd Mercian here? (not that there's anything wrong with that)

      FWIW I still have my rare/impossible 650B low trail Mercian frameset trapped in Boston, in need of smuggling...

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    4. The 2nd Mercian(or the first Ellis Briggs, could be either)is THIS close(holds thumb and forefinger just barely apart)to being ordered. I just have to sell 3 bikes, some rifles and a vintage Plymouth to raise 4x the cost of the frame so I can put enough in the general fund to earn an indulgence.

      96% sure it's going to happen.

      I'd have like a zillion cool bikes if it weren't for the starving children and the saintly, long suffering Wife...

      Spindizzy

      If I raise enough for the "Grand Tour Of The British Isle's(and Ireland) in all this burst of frenzied commerce I'll smuggle your 'Murican to you...

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    5. This here might help with said tour!
      (no affiliation)

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  5. Such a lovely post; the new Honey looks beauuutiful. Congrats on getting hitched as well!

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  6. He sounds like a guy.

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    1. Well, the photos helped :) Plus, he likes to make up his own mind, perhaps a little stubborn and he likes to go fast. Not that speed is exclusive to males. And it's not only loved ones you can't control it's everyone. I'll bet that he only listens to advice when he asks for it too. That said, I would say you know all that and handled the situation skillfully. And it looks like he made a good choice.

      Then again, there is this making the rounds today:

      http://www.active.com/cycling/Articles/How-To-Tell-If-You-Need-A-New-Bike.htm?cmp=276&memberid=%5Bmemberid%5D&lyrisid=%5Boutmail.messageid%5D

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  7. The baskets and racks are a hard sell and I speak for myself. I know how handy they are and I delight in using them, but they can make the bike look . . . well. . . not dorky, but definitely less sexy! It takes time to really appreciate a well made bike with intelligently installed baskets and whatnot.
    My friend at work as been giving me doubtful sideways glances as he sees my new Rivendell Clementine, But he's also noticing a rapid increase in bikes with racks and baskets around town, Just last week somebody parked a beautiful brand new SOMA mixte in the bike rack at our office building with a rack and fenders! We went down to the parking garage to admire it and I can tell his resolve was weakening. I am working on one of his bikes now and constantly threatening to send it home to him with a basket! :-)
    He is less repulsed by the suggestion each time so maybe I should shut up before he says OK!! - masmojo

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    1. Oh, Well, for me it's hard to quantify, coming form more of a mountain bike background then a roadie one, I have a slightly different take on things then most Riv'ers do. The bike to me fails to fall into any specific category, on one hand it reminds me a lot of the tricked out cruisers I used to ride, but a bit more gentile. Then it has certain elements of mountain bikeyness, but it's definitely not a mountain bike. You won't win any races with it, but it moves with a pace that is deceptively quick! An enigma wrapped in a conundrum.
      I guess the best thing I could say is that I got it for specific set of reasons that none of my other bikes really can duplicate. I wanted something very practical for running errands, carrying parcels, groceries, etc. I also wanted a step through frame that was nice and had Canti's; this for a couple reasons; First, because I wanted to pull a trailer with it and second because I envision in a few years age will catch up with me and swinging my leg over might become a bit much! I call it my old man bike and I think when I get there it will suit me to a T!
      It's an interesting bike with a lot going for it, I am hoping that Grant will fine tune future iterations to be even better!
      I have to think that it rides a lot like your big European bikes! A bit different to me, but I imagine you'd feel right at home, perched on the brooks saddle.
      Another owner described the Clementine as "Stately" . . . works for me!
      - masmojo

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    2. Sounds intriguing. For some reason I am particularly drawn to this Riv model and have a feeling I would really, really like it.

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    3. I am certain you would, your taste in bikes mirrors my own pretty closely: [URL=http://smg.photobucket.com/user/masmojo/media/20151220_114846_zpsfhgwmnjs.jpg.html][IMG]http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v207/masmojo/20151220_114846_zpsfhgwmnjs.jpg[/IMG][/URL]

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    4. love the colour combination of bike with garage door : )

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  8. I like his style, attitude and priorities. A good man. One might even say a Lovely Man.

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    1. He doesn't dress like a tool either, keep him away from the close-out rack at the bike shop though. A racy new bike sometimes leads to stretchy Superman gear that would spoil the effect...

      Spindizzy

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    2. Oh he dresses in woolcra Superman gear on no-nonsense road rides.
      But we have a no-paparazzi agreement on those.

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    3. Woman Be Wise ...

      Plus the local fly-boy lads won't be teasing him that way.

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    4. The look he's modeling in the top picture is truly fabulous. Someday someone will invent a helmet that looks as cool as a stocking cap.

      Walter

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    5. Oh the no-paparazzi agreement is on his initiative.

      Stocking caps are DIY 100% wool.

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  9. Funny how I find your posts so relatable and well-timed to events in my own life ... late last year, two of my semi-bike-interested friends borrowed my Raleigh Sports and immediately fell in love, commissioning me to build vintage English 3-speeds for them. I didn't even have to try to convince!

    On a related note, I suppose old 3-speeds aren't for everyone, as demonstrated by your significant other. Oh how I love Clive's ol' girl ... Wish I could offer to purchase if by chance you found no use for her around the house, but alas I am on the wrong side of the Atlantic and a few hundred miles inland at that. Sad face.

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    1. I have a strange relationship with this bike; it almost has a living quality, representing the owner. Don't think I could ever sell it - though I'd love to find a local friend who'd take it on perma-loan. A happy bike is a ridden bike.

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    2. Love to hear that it has a soul. That is something I feel about my bikes (vehicles in general) as well. And agreed that a happy bike is a ridden bike - every time I let my old faithful almost-daily-commuter Sports sit for over a week, she seems a bit unhappy. currently because of the salty roads, I have been riding other bikes for almost a month ... Lord knows what'll happen next time I get on haha

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  10. Sweetly unfolding, satisfying account, a courtship within a courtship. This beguiling Honey Bike looks the business. Congrats! Thanks as always for sharing this lovely story. Jim Duncan

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  11. Corey K! I hardly keep up with my own (non)adventures. But when I saw Mr. McLovely-Bicycle leering disdainfully at Lady Huck, I too thought I should relent and send for her. Said new-baby is learning the ropes, then we'll both be bicycle adventurers at large.

    (Clive)

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    1. If it's any consolation, I sometimes take it out for a spin myself - I can *almost* safely straddle the top tube, so perfectly safe as long as I don't try to stop suddenly.

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  12. Well your spouse has chosen a great looking bike, I am with the small saddle wedge and back pack if needed, but I do appreciate the look of a well set up bike with racks and bags, such as you have posted here many times - I also appreciate those less well done - such bikes often have 'character' where they lack beauty. Lovely photos notwithstanding the lack of sunlight - I hope the weather improves so you can both enjoy your rides in such a beautiful area of the world.

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  13. One can read the undertones, but I will say it directly. You are very happy.

    Warm congratulations

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  14. "For what it's worth, he dislikes any low trail bicycle he tries, with surprising consistency, and without knowing they are low trail. "

    Have many of those have you got for him to try?!

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  15. Great article, and I'm sure it rings true with many of us from both sides as both the old-hand and the newcomer.

    It is so very difficult sometimes to not impose your own preferences upon someone when asked for advice, especially in some areas where many years or decades of experience have lead you to a particular approach or conclusion that you *know* works for you, even when logic would dictate that it should also work for others there is a lot to be said for both personal preferences and also letting people reach those same conclusions through their own experiences.

    Even hard I find sometimes when the person is not at all interested in the technicalities of *why* your recommend or suggest something, but merely wants to know what is best, this can be an epic minefield of frustration when advice comes from different sources, and is conflicting as the normal discussions about the details and the why, get simply reduced to who is trusted most.

    A case in point; my wife is exceptionally good at knowing when something is 'right' and when something is 'wrong' (for her) with the setup or handling of a bike but is rarely able to articulate exactly why, and often uses terms in opposite meaning to convention, such is the peculiarity of how she views a bike frame, that when discussing head or seat angles in her mind she measures from the vertical so a head angle most people would describe as steep, to her is far too shallow and leads to all sorts of confusing discussions about what we should change!

    We are fortunate enough to have quite a spread of bikes between us, crossing MTB, Road and Utility, various geometry ideologies, and made in Carbon, Steel, and Aluminium so variety keeps things interesting for us, even if the bulk of our bikes are made from steel, as any proper bike should be ;-)

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  16. (I am not sexist BUT...) It occurs to me I have not read this sort of thing from a woman's perspective before. Great stuff. And your guy looks like a pretty secure dude.

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    1. That he is. I also think it helps to not have a Beginner vs Experienced Cyclist dynamic.

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  17. Your spouse is fortunate to have a partner who is experienced, knowledgeable, supportive and a tad obsessed with bicycles. I'm not afraid to admit that I have BOCD (Bicyle Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.) But if you're perfectly happy with the way you are, it's really not a disorder, is it?

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  18. I wonder if this lucky fellow fully realizes with whom he has hitched up?

    She probably just seemed like a quirky woman on a bike from God-knows-where. How could he have known that in fact was a star among legions of bike-obsessed readers, a renowned two-wheeled journalist, a weigher of bicycle minutia, an affable and accessible interpreter of the modern world of non-racing cycling? She embodies a rolling compendium of bicyclia. Why should he have even guessed?

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    1. It was actually the other way around. I believe he was told I was some crazy American woman who wrote about bicycles on the internet. Later he was relieved to learn this was not entirely correct.

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    2. What part of it is " not entirely correct "? ! :)
      I love your blog ! Been following you for years. Very refreshing !
      Wishing you the best ,
      George

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    3. As you have said (quietly, in passing, as is your style) you have lived or spent time in a number of places, including Austria and England, I'm wondering how you would describe your accent? One reads things and inserts a kind of accent to the writer's voice without really noticing that it is there.

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  19. You never seemed to get into the bicycling thing with your former husband so i'm wondering, this time around, how things might change with a different set of sensibilities. Less stainless steel and twine and more modern, aggressive, and shared sense of riding….Or so it seems….Couples sharing experiences and passions and hobbies is always an interesting dynamic. You make yours public….I guess you're learning, too.

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    1. I think cycling as a couple is generally tricky, and also difficult to discuss publicly without either withholding a lot of information or infringing on the privacy of the other person you are writing about. I make my experience public in a limited way, as I do with anything personal that pertains to cycling.

      As far as my ex-husband... it's kind of an impossible comparison, as my level of cycling competence when we were together was very far from what it is today. From personal experience, I know that it can be just as stressful for confident cyclists to ride with people who are nervous or have poor handling skills, as the other way around. Interestingly enough, we've gone cycling together on a couple of my visits back to Boston and it was great.

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  20. Great read. I've been down the same path with my OH too and have finally found the sweet spot. Working at Woodrup Cycles, we often have couples coming in asking for a bike for the other half, something special so that they can feel, well, special too i guess. The recent highlight was a beautiful pair of 650b light tourers for a couple who planned to tour leisurely around Western France. Both quite different but really quite similar too. You should check out or Flickr page.

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