Aug 15, 2010

A Whole New Kind of Ride

We uncorked the second of two 3-speed rides this morning and it was a success, metaphysically speaking.

I was talked into organizing my first-ever group ride a few weeks ago by another Bike Lover who had seen a previous post about the Raleigh 3-speed acquisition earlier this season. She has a beautiful Raleigh Sport and it must be some sort of deluxe edition, because it's got a funky dyno hub and a working electric horn, otherwise it's quite similar to my bike, but in a little better shape. She was interested in doing a 3-speed ride, so I posted up and got one going.

Unfortunately it was HOT for that first ride, but for today's second 3-speed ride the weather was far more clement and favorable to pedal-powered exploration. Our route took us just under 14 miles or so along the Mississippi River (with a side trip to experience Milwaukee Ave. in Seward).

The 3-speed has been interesting because it's unlike any bike I have ridden previously. It's a heavy utility bike and it's impossible to go fast on it. It clatters going over bumps, dose not have "nice" components and you sit too upright on it to feel really efficient in the saddle. And it's got a chain guard, for Pete's sake. I got this bike because 1.) it was dirt cheap, 2.) I have never tinkered with a 3-speed internal hub and am curious about them, and 3.) I figured this would be a fine bike for riding around with my bride in the evenings. Honestly, I did not expect to "like" this bike much.

Having fixed this bike up to the point where it's rideable, and reliable enough to not worry about taking some longer trips, I find there's more to it than that.

There is something kind of zen-like about riding a bike like this, because if you want to go fast, that's really not an option. If you are turned on by fancy components and indexed shifting, well it's indexed but it looks more like an artifact than a high-tech dream machine. Finally, I would dare to say that to most people, this is not a "cool bike".

All of my usual "wants" from a bike don't really exist with this one. I have never been a high end bike gearhead, but I am definitely a sucker for cool bikes, and I have a pretty low tolerance for components that don't work exactly like they are supposed to every time.

Yet this bike is fun to ride, somehow. It's quirky, which I like. What's more, any pressure to go fast or look cool seems to disappear when I get on this thing, which is very liberating ("relax - we'll get there when we get there; in the meantime sit up and look around").

This bike has also taught me that there is such a thing as "good enough" when it comes to component performance. The brakes are a little sketchy, the AW hub works well but the rims are crap, and that's okay right now, because that's what this bike offers.

Stripping away the seductive trappings of nice bikes has helped to reveal the experience of the ride itself. This seems more pure than riding to appreciate the bike. I think I was aware of this problem previously, but had mis-diagnosed it. Loyal readers will recall that one of my cycling goals this year was to simply slow down and enjoy the ride more. I am coming to see that this is not a function of simply slowing down. Rather, the trick lies in experiencing the ride in itself more fully, rather than experiencing aspects of the ride (such as how your legs feel, how good or bad you just did on that hill, and how the bike behaved or misbehaved on the last descent).

It seems that this 1974 Raleigh has taught me a valuable lesson that I hope sticks with me.


  1. A bike that changes your outlook on biking counts as a "cool bike."

  2. True.

    I composed most this mess on my ride today, and during the ride, I was reminded of your soliloquy about the Dumvee at Sea Salt, and the parallels between my experience with the old Raleigh and your Big Dummy. I this post has actually been brewing since that evening.