Friday, March 18, 2016

Pedal and Purl

Lisa's Wooltastic Commute
I met Lisa shortly after she opened her knitting shop in the small market town of Limavady. Despite the clever name Row by Roe (the river Roe runs through the town centre), I didn't realise at first that the shop sold yarn and knitting supplies. It was purely by chance that I stopped in. But once I did, the rest was history. The shop itself is knitter's paradise. But moreover, Lisa turned out to be one of those people with whom I had instant rapport. I told her of my plans to open an online handknits shop, and soon we were taking trips to South Donegal together to research local wool production.


When visiting Lisa's shop I would leave my bike leaning against the glass storefront, so that I could keep an eye on it from within. And seeing it there, on occasion she would ask me about cycling - mentioning that it looked like fun and she'd like to give it a try. So I gave her some feedback, but, to be honest did not expect her to actually start bicycle commuting: Lots of people ask me about cycling, but in the end most decide it isn't practical and never manage to give it a try. So it came as a delightful  surprise when one morning, Lisa sent me a text announcing she had cycled to work that morning. As it happened, I was in the area that day and so I hurried to pay her a visit.

Lisa's Wooltastic Commute
"I inherited it with the house," said Lisa by way of a greeting, seeing me kneeling in front of the gray and purple machine that now graced her storefront.

A Huffy Valencia Trekking model this was. Aluminium step-through frame, upright handlebars, v-brakes, wide tyres, mudguards, a low-geared drivetrain with a triple chainring, and a touring-style rear rack. It looked like a suitable bike for plain-clothed commutes over hilly terrain - and considering what she'd paid for it... well, how could she go wrong!

Lisa's Wooltastic Commute
This had actually been her third attempt to cycle to work, explained Lisa. On the first try, she discovered a flat tyre - and not an ordinary flat, but something gone wrong with the valve. Happily, Limavady boasts an excellent bike shop (Roe Valley Cycles), where, despite its mainly racing-oriented culture, the staff are happy to work on utility bikes. They replaced the damaged tubes and the following day Lisa set off again. Alas, this time the chain came off and wouldn't stay on. So it was off to the shop again, where the bicycle got a full fledged tune-up and also a new mesh basket - equipped with which both rider and bicycle made it to work without further incident.

Lisa's Wooltastic Commute
Although Lisa lives about a mile and a half from her shop, bicycle commuting is not an altogether easy-breezy affair in Limavady. It is the only town around for miles and it is packed with businesses, which means the narrow streets are often dense with car, lorry and tractor traffic. And it's completely lacking in cycling infrastructure. A certain degree of competence and courage is required to brave such conditions. As it turns out, this lady is not lacking in either, and upon her first successful work commute she is radiant with good cheer.

Lisa's Wooltastic Commute
To be fair though, Lisa is nearly always radiant with good cheer - which, no doubt, is one reason Row by Roe has grown so popular over the past year and a half, despite its remote location. People come from Derry, Belfast, Donegal, and even points further South, not only for her well-stocked shelves but also for the experience of merely being in the shop.

Generally knitting shops tend to occupy cramped and cavernous spaces. But Row by Roe is airy and awash in natural light. The glass storefront offers open views of the heart of Limavady's business centre, making it one of the best places in town for people-watching. In good weather, the little square out front is peppered with outdoor seating from the cafe next door, making the atmosphere downright Parisian (well, almost!).


Nearly every day of the week at the shop there are classes and knitting circles. There are also private lessons, free advice galore, and in general a club house atmosphere that just makes you want to stay and hang out - which many do, for hours.

It is one thing to run a shop selling such niche goods as yarn and knitting supplies. It is another thing to turn that shop into what is essentially a community centre, at one's own expense. For both of these things, Lisa has my admiration.

Lisa's Wooltastic Commute
But getting back to the topic at hand, what does Lisa think of her "inherited" bicycle? Well, frankly she is not entirely in love with it. For one thing, she finds the gearing unnecessarily confusing for the kind of cycling she wants to do. "Can't there be just one, NORMAL, gear? This is nuts!"

"Actually yeeeessss, yes there can be just one gear," I say, stroking my own single speed bike. Although in Lisa's case, I think a hub-geared 3-speed would be ideal. Something from Bobbin would be up her alley I should think - especially since another complaint about the Huffy is that the fit is not quite right (the ultra-compact "comfort bike" geometry is both cramped and overly-upright, with a high bottom bracket to boot, which makes it tricky to adjust seat height for beginners).

The one thing I'll say in this Huffy's favour though, is that it is surprisingly light. When it comes to lower-end aluminium hybrid/comfort bikes, it's been my experience that once all the components and accessories are fitted they are not even remotely lightweight. This bike, however, kind of is! If Huffy could manage to retain the construction methods they used to make this bike while revamping its geometry, I really think such a bicycle could be a hit. Sadly, judging by the fact that the Valencia Trekking model is no longer available and that very little evidence of it ever having been available exists, I surmise it was never wildly popular.

Lisa's Wooltastic Commute
No matter, for I think the Huffy is serving its purpose nicely - that purpose being, to give Lisa a taste of what bicycle commuting is all about. And, if she keeps at it, she can eventually buy a bike that suits her better. The question is, will she keep at it? Maybe! But maybe not. There is no way to tell.

Having said that, today I was in Limavady again and passed Lisa's shop. Unlike the glorious sunny day last week when I took these photos, today it was drizzling rain, the skies a yucky gray-brown. Yet, there was her bicycle, leaning against the storefront. Ladies and gentleman, I believe we have a resilient one here! Good luck to Lisa as she pedals and coasts, knits and purls.


26 comments:

  1. Knitting and bicycles, a woman after my own heart!

    Also I love the 3D effect in the first photo! It looks like her head is coming out of the frame.

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    1. Thanks : ) That had not occurred to me. The light was lovely and crisp that day.

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  2. Does Lisa, by any chance, have a dog named Preston?

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  3. Finally, something to do when you're riding no-hands.

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    1. Till a cop yells "PULLOVER!" and you get arrested because you were knitting a Cardigan and thought he meant someone else...

      Spindizzy

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    2. I'll be sure to use that excuse next time!

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  4. How lovely to read this. My first bicycle was a Huffy and I too "inherited it" only to have it stolen (believe it or not!) my first week of cycling to work. I now ride a far more comfortable old Dawes and have invested in a lock.

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  5. I'm now envisioning a bike shop/knitting shop called Pedal & Purl. If it had a pub in the back, I'd probably never leave (except to ride). Cheers!

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    1. In all seriousness, I think she could do very well diversifying with some classic upright bicycles; the area is lacking in dealers and the local bike shop is not interested. There is a coffee shop next door, too, so overall a perfect setup.

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  6. I love these stories about small towns and the small business owners. The unlocked bike parked outside does add charm and gives the appearance of safe , friendly , upscale shopping in the area.Not a high crime area.Of course we all know bikes are stolen everywhere.
    The Huffy decal should be enough of a theft deterrent . If not then that would open the door to an internal three speed model which I would store inside in the back of the shop.

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    1. The nice thing about most parts of Ireland is that safety is not limited to "upscale" areas. Limavady is a farming market town and I'm not even sure where I'd place it on the socioeconomic continuum. It is, however - like most places here - delightfully low in crime and fairly safe for bikes of all makes.

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  7. What a delightful enterprise - here there are no more small shops where one may purchase wool, there is just a large department store which sells sewing items,fabrics, curtains, various home wares and knotting supplies.
    I hope this lady's business continues to thrive and that she continues to enjoy cycling.

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    1. Limavady actually has multiple (either 2 or 3, not sure) wool/sewing shops. It's a cool little town!

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  8. But... does she knit in circles?
    ;)))))))

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  9. Nice knitting, and a pretty bike...la vie est belle. I suggest the ideal bike for Lisa would have an integral multispeed rear hub (she might even consider belt drive rather than chain for the cleanliness and low maintenance) a dynamo hub with good bright 24/24 lighting, and puncture proof tyres such as http://www.schwalbe.com/en/tour-reader/marathon-plus.html. Add a nicely tuned 2 tone bell and a rear view mirror...seventh heaven.

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    1. I agree, though suspect Lisa's budget for a new bicycle would be firmly in this price bracket!

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  10. Great content here as of late. And the local friends you feature remind us that transportation cycling is not just the realm of urbanites. The issues we face are universal. Keep it up.

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    1. I actually think that, for a beginner, and assuming distances are on the short side, it is often easier to start cycling in a rural environment. The farm lanes are practically traffic-free and the main roads often incorporate MUPs.

      {See also:
      There Goes the Neighbourhood
      The Rural Cycling Highway}

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    2. It's been my experience that Huffy's (at least here in the states) have frames made out of heavy steel, I do think they have started making aluminum bikes, but typically despite only OK components, the frame is probably their weak point. If she's got a decently light frame, the maybe she could work on fitment. Shove the seat back some if possible & Possibly fit a stem with longer reach!?

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    3. There are definitely aluminum Huffys around. But having read your comment and looked at their website I see they indeed only offer hi-ten steel models currently. And nothing as sophisticated as this "trekking" bike either. I deduce they must have ventured into lightweight/performance territory at some point and scrapped it when those bikes didn't sell. Who knows, Lisa's bike could be a rare collector's item!

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    4. When I started riding a bike in the city it seemed easy to get around on my less than perfect bike. The distances were short, maybe two to four miles, but were often interrupted with stops every few blocks. After moving to the country, however, I quickly concluded that my imperfect, ill-fitting, bike needed to be replaced. All of a sudden riding several uninterrupted miles at once exposed my poor riding position and lack of proper gears. There are lots of variables at play when it's all said and done what works for one may be problematic for others.

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  11. Oooh what about converting the present bike? Taking a night drinking tea (or red wine), ordering parts - a longer reach stem, Schwalbe Fat Franks and consider maybe this http://lovelybike.blogspot.dk/2010/05/5-speed-conversion.html to simplyfi the drivetrain?

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    1. Were it just a matter of the gears, that would be a great solution (except for the Fat Franks, which the frame lacks clearance for). But if the fit/geometry are not right, no sense in spending money on such adjustments (especially when a nice vintage 3-speed can be found for the same price!)

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