Sunday, June 12, 2011

An Epic Tale of a Girl and Her Bikes

Since I've known Jessie, she and I have been searching for her perfect bicycle. Her bicycle would the ideal marriage of style and utility, but unfortunately the beauty was always more important than the utility to Jessie.

Kim posing on Jessie's 3-speed Raleigh, 2006

Way back in 2006, Jessie had a beautiful old green Raleigh 3-speed cruiser. The size was right, the brakes worked (mostly) and the three speed hub worked like it was supposed to. Jessie loved this bike so much that she used it as a prop for elaborate photo shoots to hone her craft. This beautiful bike was not long for the mean streets of Boston though, and the cable lock was the only thing left in front of her apartment one morning.

After the green Raleigh, Jessie had a succession of old Schwinn, Raleigh, and Columbia cruisers. The first replacement was a blue Schwinn cruiser. This bike had a three speed hub, but only one speed worked reliably. I replaced the brake pads and cables, but rebuilding a three speed hub was outside of my skillset. This bike ended up sitting in Central Square (Cambridge) until we decided to move down to Durham and had to sell it.

The next bike Jessie bought was a bright red Columbia three speed cruiser with a great basket. This bike suffered from another broken hub, and wheels so warped that the brakes were ineffectual and the wheels made an ungodly noise when they rubbed up against the fenders. This bike sat locked together with the blue Schwinn.

Jessie was determined to have a bike in Cambridge, though, and so bought a third bike she had managed to find for cheap on Craigslist. This was a maroon ten-speed with wheels in pretty good condition, a basket, and fenders! It wasn't nearly as beautiful as Jessie's old Raleigh, but after a few hours of replacing brakes, cables, and tuning the gears it was a passable bike for local errands, and it was built like a tank. One morning we woke to find some hooligans had knocked over all the bikes on the street the previous night, and Jessie's bike had sustained a pretty vicious attack to push it to the ground. But in spite of the dings and bruises, everything was in working order. This Schwinn was the only bike of Jessie's to make the journey south with us.

Once we got to Durham, though, the bike sat unused. It was heavy and not designed for climbing Durham's hills. This bike was soon sold to a neighbor, only to be replaced by beautiful matching his-and-hers Columbia 3 speed cruisers. Jessie had grand visions of the two of us cycling to the farmer's market and around town with all of Durham whispering about what a stylish couple we were. These bikes were beautiful, but again only two speeds worked on each hub and it made the hills more difficult than they had to be.

About two years ago, Jessie decided she was finally willing to spend the money on a new bicycle, and with a little encouragement from me she started down the rabbit hole of bike blogs. She looked at Globe Cycles, and Treks, Electras, Publics, and Linuses. I pushed for Linus cycles because the reviews I read said they were the best value and I thought they got the design just right. Jessie was partial to Public cycles, though. Public also gets the design mostly right, but they charge a pretty significant premium for the design.

The past two months reached a climax of discussions and turmoil about color, fenders, 3 speed vs. 8 speed, style vs. utility, etc. etc. The decision finally came down to two basic styles of Linus bikes but the only stores to sell Linus were in Richmond, so naturally Jessie got to be on a first name basis with Chip from Pibby's Cycles. Chip is awesome. He took a ton of time answering all of Jessie's questions, including difficult technical questions about swapping out hubs and gear ratios for hill climbing, and important questions about just how beautiful the sky blue Linus Mixte is. For the record, "it's the most beautiful color I've ever seen," according to Chip.

Naturally, however, Jessie could only make these decisions in person, so this past Friday we headed up to Richmond to check out the Dutchi, and the Mixte.

The black Dutchi was at Carytown Bikes in Richmond, and is the type of simple and beautiful bike we saw all over Copenhagen this past summer, but the bike's relaxed geometry make it ideal for flatter terrain. After a week of reading the Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog, Jessie wanted this bike but I pushed to go see the blue Mixte at Pibby's.

As soon as we walked in the door Jessie let out a sound similar to a squeal of delight after seeing the powder blue mixte in the afternoon light. Chip was in the shop, and was just as friendly in person as he was on the phone. Chip adjusted the bike for Jessie's test ride, and advised her on a hilly route that she could put the three speed hub to the test. While Jessie was riding, Chip and I geeked out about ways to swap out chain rings to give Jessie an easier time on the hills, but before we were done talking Jessie was back from her ride and had no problems with the hills. She's much fitter than she gives herself credit for.

We chatted with Chip a bit longer, but Jessie still wasn't sure what she wanted so we went across the street for a cup of iced coffee and a chance to look at the photos of the bikes and to chat about the pros and cons. And just like how we came to the decision to move in together, after 5 minutes of discussion, we had decided the mixte was more practical for the hills and it was also the bike that really grabbed Jessie. We finally found the ideal marriage of beauty and utility!

I'm looking forward to Saturday morning bike rides to the farmer's market, and other adventures we're sure to have with each other and other two-wheeled friends (I'm looking at you, Craig & Nellie).

[If you are in or near Richmond and you're looking for a bike, you really should go check out Pibby's. And if you're in the Durham area, Seven Star Cycles will start carrying Linuses once they get up and running, and Adrian is a great guy too.]


jedudek said...

What an adventure! I think you included just enough geek-speak to keep it lively.

Craig Clement said...

now we just have to get nellie a hip bike that she can show off at the farmers market as well. our dreams of a hipster bike crew are finally coming together!

Freddie said...

I really like those Linus bikes...The black on is almost identical to the custom Trek commuter I built for myself (except for the mixte frame). I can't wait to move so that I can get my bike area setup and build Heather her new mixte...I have an old school Motobecane mixte frame in pink, all original, that I plan on building for her as an everyday bike. I think I';m going with internal gearing on hers as well...

Did that thing come with Nexus components? Is the frame steel? How light is it?