bike buyer’s guide

Being an insular, private person (blog not withstanding), I am sometimes astounded at my luck in having an amazing group of far-flung friends I can tap for advice and sympathetic ears. Is anything more revolutionary than having complete confidence in your friend circle and knowing you can depend on them more than any silly capitalist structure? I think not.

Last week I found myself truffleizing on Friday night and unable to swallow the stupid antibiotics I had to take because of my tooth extraction. I’m not a pill swallower, and have never taken antibiotics before. In a mild panic over not being able to contact my dentist until Monday and knowing these pills were not going to go down my throat no matter what, with my sweetheart in Chile and my mother…well, a wonderful woman but not exactly the kind of mother who holds hands through things like this (though she is a great person with whom to talk to about, say, Obama’s recent slide towards the center), I called one of the calmest and smartest people I know – Katy.

Katy makes birthday cakes for her son (a son so ridiculously cute that even I, an infamous disliker of children and boys of any age – find myself literally gnashing my teeth at his intense cuteness and how badly it makes me want to pinch his cheeks) depicting dinosaurs dying in a molten sugary volcano. Everyone needs someone like that in their life.

Although we don’t talk all that often, she’s the kind of friend you can call up in a bit of a panic on a Friday night who will immediately say, “OK. No problem – first of all, don’t feel bad. You have a real thing where you just can’t swallow those pills – it’s called esophageal pill dysphagia (oops!). It’s not your fault. Now, why don’t you call the pharmacy, and ask them to give you smaller pills? But the thing is – you need to take those, I know, I know antibiotics…but you don’t want to get a nasty infection.”

Is it because she’s a southerner? Because she’s a single mom? Or just because she’s Katy? She has that instantly calming air of capability.

Look at that tidy name – she’s not a Katie. Not a Kathryn or a Katherine or even a Kate – she’s a Katy through and through. No wasted letters, but with a friendly “y” at the end letting you know that her efficiency doesn’t come from snobbishness. Isn’t it amazing how people always fit their names?

You get the feeling that if you were at her place she would sit you down on the couch with a good magazine and a glass of sweet tea, with her adorable hound dog Henry at your feet, and you would just work everything out. Women like Katy could solve the Middle East crisis, just by sitting everyone down to a table and saying “OK, so listen. We’re going to work this out, y’all.” And so it would go.

So we talked about it for a while, and I felt all better. She went out for a rare Friday night outing, and I finished truffles. I called the pharmacy and they recommended the ridiculously simple step of cutting the pills in half. This worked – who knew?

Life continued. I would have never thought to call the pharmacy, or to cut the pills in half. I just would have kept shoving them down my throat and retching them back up again until they were all wasted. Happily I know the limitations of my own brain, and know that before I do silly things I should call someone and ask their advice. Even more happily, I have a great friend circle that can actually give me advice.


A few days later, I put my sous chef pal Veronica in touch with my bike-obsessed pal Randy, because she’s looking to buy a bike. His email to her is SO AMAZING, so perfect and useful and wonderful, that he edited it for the general reader and I’m reprinting it here.

Community, people. I has it.

Your handy dandy bike-buyer’s guide, by Randy Putnam

Randy in action

Want a new to you bicycle? Please consider a used bicycle. Used bicycles can be in many ways better than new bikes costing four times as much. Nicer eco-wise, too! Sometimes folks just want something new. I understand that, too.

If you want to buy new, I would discourage purchasing one for less than $500. It simply won’t be enjoyable long-term. Most end up in the land fill. The majority of new bicycles I recommend cost around $1,000. That’s a lot of dough, right? Many folks can’t or don’t want to spend so much. For this reason (and because I believe in preserving these well made machines), I try to steer most folks in the direction of used road bicycles made in Japan in the 80s and 90s. Other than a few which have developed a rabid fan base, most are really great bargains while still being well made, useful and durable. I have purchased many off eBay for under $200. With a few parts and an overhaul, a wonderful restored bicycle can be obtained for under $400. The resulting bicycle is as good as new bikes costing around $1,500. Crazy, isn’t it? The $1,000 new bicycles I would recommend would in most ways be inferior to these restored used Japanese bicycles.

The following is a short list of new bikes I like. Even if you want a used bike, looking at these might help you decide what you are after. Each of these bikes have certain design characteristics that make sense for transportation riders and road riders in general. You can add fenders. Having fenders, or at least room for fenders, makes the bike so much more flexible and, thus, useful long term. If you are going to commute you will sometimes get caught in the rain. Fenders turn a rainy ride into a pleasure. Also, room for fenders means you have room for fatter tires. Fatter tires are more comfortable. Good if you travel on sometimes rough roads. Some of the bikes have racks or provisions for easily attaching racks. Good if you ever want to commute, because you will enjoy being able to carry extra clothes or things. Finally, some have generator hubs for front lights. A wonderful addition to any bike. Not very common in the US, so its noteworthy when you find it. You’ll still need a battery powered blinky for the rear, but those are cheap and run for ever before batteries need to be recharged.

Lacey with a sweet bike decked out for BIKE POLO. Oh Randy and Lacey, you are the cutest couple ever. Bike polo. I just died.

Bianchi Castro Valley. Note the bars are a bit below the seat in the picture. That’s because the seat is way too high. The bike in the photo is set up for a tall person. The imaginary rider should have bought a bigger bike and lowered the seat. Then the bars would have been higher in relation to the seat. I think they photographed the bike this way so that it looks like a racer. The bike industry (and many buyers) can’t seem to get over the need for perceived speed. Even though most of us are really slow. Slow is ok. More time on a goo bike can be really enjoyable! Note also that the bike has mountain bike flat bars. These are fine for short rides. If you wanted to do a long ride, these don’t offer many places to hold on to. More places to grip is a good thing, so that you can stave off fatigue. If you are only going short distances, though, no biggie. So long as your bars are at least as high as your seat.

Cannondale T-800. Touring bikes, like this one, often make great bikes generally. Room for fenders, comfortable position (note bars as high as seat) and they have provisions for racks. This one comes with a rack. Nice drop bars with lots of hand positions. You’d enjoy this bike on short rides and really long rides. Aluminum won’t rust (so I’d recommend it for people who ride in rain all time), but you can coat the inside of steel frames and achieve the same thing.

Trek 520. Another tourer, like the Cannondale T-800. With rack and room for fenders. Steel frame (as opposed to the aluminum frame in the Cannondales above). Some people, myself included, prefer steel to aluminum for frames and forks. Perception is that the ride is better. Less harsh. One material isn’t lighter than the other. The weight off the frame and fork (and the way it rides) depends on which steel or aluminum tubes you choose. You can make an aluminum bike more comfortable by using thin walled tubing and thin walled tubing made of steel can be very light. If you aren’t interested in this kind of detail, no worries. Both materials are fine. Also a note on weight. People care about weight way too much. The weight of a bike isn’t that big of a deal. Anything under 30 pounds will be fine.

Specialized Globe City 3.1. Nice thing here is the internal gears. Like the three speed you knew as a kid, but with 8 gears. Now with 8 speeds, these set ups are perfect for commuters. Clean, easy, low maintenance and bomb proof. Makers often spec internal gears on comfort bikes, but less often on commuters. That is starting to change. Still, it is rare to find a somewhat racy looking bike with internal gears. You really need to ride a bike with internal gears before you buy. These are really fun. This one also has fenders, rack and generator hub for front light. Cool! Please do check this one out. Specialized makes cheaper ones without internal gears and all the nice accessories, but the Globe City 3.1 would make you happy straight away.

If you would be comfortable spending more than $1,000, that opens a whole new world. One in which bikes can be made by individuals who are paid a fair wage (or own the company!). Fair Trade Bikes, if you will. The bikes listed above are all mass produced overseas utilizing low wage employees. New bikes are expensive so opting for fair trade isn’t an option for most folks (but used bikes are!). It is a vicious cycle (no pun intended), right?

This is (probably more than) enough to get you started thinking about what you want.

Randy Putnam

10 Responses to “bike buyer’s guide”

  1. Carrie

    What awesome bike advice! Thanks for posting it. And thank goodness for the grounding influence of lady friends – so necessary when one is up late, feeling funny, and multitasking. Also, that cake is killing me.

  2. tonie

    obama hasnt moved to the center..hes just trying to win the election..something other dems didnt have the smarts or guts to do. hes a guy that met with edward saiid (sp?) and has openly be sympathetic with palestine in the past……hes a black person in america…how can he not be in tune with the truth….hes doing this to win…the guys that ran al gores and john kerrys campaigns are probably realizing what idiots they are.

  3. lagusta

    Hello Tonie!
    Well, I’m not sure that being “a black person in America” automatically means someone is in tune with the truth. I’m not sure Louis Farrakhan is in tune with the truth.

    And I truly believe that a good candidate does not need to get all mealy-mouthed and slippery about what he believes in (as he has done with, say, abortion) to get elected. I agree that most Democrats lack gumption, but I fear that Obama is actually taking a page from the idiotic John Kerry playbook sometimes in that he’s trying to make his positions as one-size-fits all as possible in order to “get elected” when I think what our country wants is someone who is strong about their own positions and explains where they might have disagreements with some people, instead of just always dumbing themselves down to their level.

    That said: I have a lot of disagreements with Obama, but I will be very proud to live in America if/when he gets elected. I still won’t be a Democrat, though.

  4. Katy

    aaawwww, shucks – *blushes* – go on with ya’… :D

    But actually, it’s pill dysphagia. Not getting your upper esophageal sphincter open enough to ram the sucker through. There is certainly psychosomatic difficulties people can have swallowing pills, but if you’re getting them in and them retching them back up because you can’t get them to clear, that’s probably the real deal. I could go on and on about this, but I have a feeling it would be interesting only to me….so we’ll leave it at that.

    And how nice to have been paired with such a marvelously useful bit of bike education. I’ve been looking at getting a bike and now I am totally getting a Japanese bike off eBay! Well, eventually – really I’m adding it to the list of things I will get when I have an income, but I make a point of meaning what I say, or meaning what I put in a list ,or whatnot…

  5. Katy

    Oh yes, and thanks for taking the antibiotics. I didn’t want to freak you out at the time, but I had just seen a guy that same week who had had a tracheotomy due to Ludwig’s Angina following a dental procedure – google it. Be sure to look at the images. It’s not the grossest thing going, but if untreated, it will totally kill you. :D


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