Thursday, October 4, 2007

Thoughts on a Quiet Revolution

Wired magazine today covers Interbike 2007, the bicycle industry's annual big hoopla trade show, and refers to a "quiet revolution" away from the high-end, high-performance road bikes and mountain bikes that were so popular during the 1990s and early 2000s. People have realized that getting about in the city is easier on a simpler, more comfortable ride rather than a mountain bike with fourteen kinds of suspension or a road bike that practically forces you to ride like you're in The Tour. The article cites the recent rise of fixed-gear bikes especially, with narrow handlebars for zipping through traffic, and even (gasp) fenders to keep you dry.

But who's fueling (ha!) the trend in fixed-gears? It's hipsters with iLives and no discernible source of income with which to buy these increasingly expensive bikes. Soon (if not already) the yuppies or yippies, or whatever, will turn in their mountain bikes they never take to the mountains and their racing bikes they never race with and buy a fixed-gear, some cropped bike pants, and a messenger bag and think they're the bee's knees. And bike manufacturers will be happy to jack up the prices on these simple machines as the demand skyrockets, making the fixed gear or urban commuter just as expensive and exclusive as the mountain bikes and racing bikes. It's already happening. It is a bicycle industry after all, and there's money to be made.

My humble suggestion: if people want a comfortable, reliable bike that's good in the city (and reasonably priced), go old. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of old bikes out there in barns and garages, just waiting to be fixed up and put back on the road for fairly minimal cost and effort. In the process, people can learn something, accomplish something, and get a truly personalized and unique bicycle in the end. I applaud the idea of a "quiet revolution", but if it's really going to be a revolution, it should be guided by people in their own garages with wrenches in their hands, not by the bicycle industry.

PS--The logo above is adapted from Revolution Cycles in Madison, WI, which hosts We Are All Mechanics, a group devoted to demystifying bicycle repair, particularly for women. I am not affiliated with either.

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