Sunday, October 22, 2006

Bikes with jobs

Abandoned bikes, downtown Juneau
April 2006

I ogle shiny new bikes on a regular basis, but I also pay attention to the less-glamorous—and equally interesting—characteristics of bikes that see a lot of hard use.

I try to keep my bikes looking at least somewhat “cool.” So I’m always impressed by the lack of pretension when someone buys a $4,000 mountain bike and then slaps 40 bucks worth of plastic fenders on it, or mounts a battered old pump to the frame with the same ancient, nylon straps he used on three previous bikes.

Function over style. It’s something to respect.

That’s why I also love what I like to call "bikes with jobs”— the utilitarian machines that regularly carry people to school, work and on errands. They’re the most noble bikes in existence and are usually the most interesting to stare at for long periods of time.

They can be entry-level rides or titanium racers retired to duty as workhorses, but they all share the scars: chipped paint, dented tubes, torn stickers. And when you look closely, you can recognize the ones that are valued and respected. They bear the scars of hard use, but not neglect. The cables are fresh. The brake pads aren’t worn out. The drivetrain is clean. The tires are properly inflated and still have plenty of tread.

When you see something that looks like a clunker from across the street, then you get closer and see that it has a new name-brand headset, you know something about the priorities of the person who rides it.

And you know the bike is more than just a plaything.


Jim said...

This is an excellent post. My own bike has a number of "flaws": chipped or scratched paint, beat up fenders, a rusty gouge on the headtube, plenty of innocuous dirt, etc, etc. Since it is an expensive bike, others have expressed sympathy over the scratches, or offered advice on where to take the bike to have the scratches repaired. The truth is that I wouldn't trade this bike for a new one just like it.

Grant Petersen of Rivendell refers to this beauty that comes from usage as "beausage" (rhymes with usage), and a friend of mine sees beauty in utility, and calls it "beautility".

Jeff said...

I had an old Specialized Rock Hopper that was bought new in 1989. I finally parted with it this was hard to let it go, being my first mountain bike. I sold it to a co-worker as a commuter. I put some slicks and a rack on it for him too...stuff from my parts bin. I still get to see it most days parked out in front of the office. I never rode it, so it's good to see it getting used everyday. It's pretty battered, but still in great shape. I had many adventures on that bike!

Pete said...

You're making me feel guilty about the state of my winter bike's drivetrain!