Friday, February 01, 2013

13 reasons why you shouldn't ride a bicycle

I like riding my bike. Heck, I rode about 8000 miles last year. But I do lots of things that aren't really good ideas. I keep reading stories about why one should ride a bike, and I'm not convinced that they offer really good arguments. I'm going to offer an alternate viewpoint, a "Do as I say, not as I do." argument. I am certain I'm on solid ground here, but feel free to post a reply if I've gotten anything wrong, or left anything out. 

1 It's expensive to own a bike

Let's start with being a commuter or utility cyclist.
I know, you keep reading about how cycling is so very much cheaper than driving. For a very few people that may be true. If you live in a big city with great public transport you ride to, or you want to plan your life around the bike and have it be the thing you base every decision on, it might work. But in the real world you likely have to drive to, so adding a bike is an additional expense. It's not a little one either. To get a bike you won't hate will cost $700-800 (actual likable bikes run $1000-6000 before you buy pedals and a saddle that fits your buns.) Sure, you could quibble, find a cheaper one, buy used. It might work. But forget those $200 Walmart bikes. They are uncomfortable, and the brakes rarely actually stop you. You'll hate it.

Then you'll need lights, front and rear. If you go cheap, but still spend enough to get a headlight that actually illuminates the road rather than just indicates your presence, you'll spend at least $120, and easily more. And don't forget a pack, or a rack with panniers ($100)

You'll need a helmet. Yes, there are crazed anti-helmet people out there. My guess is they'll have a different belief system if they'd been wearing a helmet when they were dropped on their heads. Helmet. Really.  I'm guessing $30 for a cheap, but useable one. Of course you can easily spend $200.

You'll need a pump on the bike, spare tube, patch kit if you're actually going out to ride in the world and a bag too. Another $40. Add $10-20 for a seat bag to keep it in. Add $40-50 for a home floor pump because those on-bike pumps are OK for emergencies, but you don't want to use it unless you have to.

Unless you keep your bike in your bedroom when you don't ride it, and in your own office at work, you'll need to lock it up (yes, even in the garage.) Add $50. Unless you want a really good lock, then it's more.

You could spend no money for clothes, but seriously, you won't. Bike specific clothes and shoes are just so much more comfortable than street clothes you won't even try to resist. Even if you don't get "bike stuff" you're sure to start acquiring things because you ride. Chances are you'll get gloves, rain pants, a rain jacket, a base layer and other stuff. But just to be fair, I'll pretend you have all of it already.

I've been writing as if you are replacing driving, but maybe you want to ride for fun or exercise. Now we've moved into hobby land. It may not be car racing expensive, but it adds up. Ask any cyclist how much bike clothing they own, and what they guess they spent on it. You will be shocked. Shocked. For example, if you ride a recreational ride you'll see Sidi shoes on many riders. They cost over $200-$400, before you add the special cleats. Road riders always wear pricy jerseys and shorts and gloves too. And no real road rider goes without a computer or a GPS unit ($30-800) and a Strava subscription. ($59 a year)

Whichever kind of riding you do, you still aren't finished. If you ride much you'll find you are forever buying new tires ($20 is cheap, $45+ common) tubes ($6) and even need a new chain every year or so ($20-60) You'll need chain lube too, and brake pads. It's constant. You better get at least a few basic tools too.

Mountain biker? You are doomed. You will break everything a lot. Factor in regular replacement costs for most all of your equipment.

Sure, you can argue about my price guesses, and insist that you personally had the stuff you needed already, but in your heart you know I'm right. Heck, even if your a Grant Peterson Petersen Rivendale Bikes believer in almost no accessories, you've spent a fortune on your steel frame already, so I'm still right.

It's too hot most of time

It's 100 degrees. You know you don't really enjoy riding in 100 degree heat for fun, and commuting in that heat leaves you soggy and beat. You'll need a long time to cool off, and who has that sort of time? If you don't have a work shower you'll go through more baby wipes than an OctaMom. I will not address aroma here, but, well: aroma.

It's too cold most of the time

Do you enjoy having feeling in your hands and toes? Even if it isn't that cold the wind chill will hurt you, and that feeling you like? Gone.  It's amazing how cold you can get on a day that isn't that cold. If it is cold you will also be amazed how long it takes to get dressed, how many layers you'll need, and how you still won't be warm. The most you can hope for is not-too-cold. And that's in California. In other states people use studded snow tires. I'm not making that up.

Rain is wet

You will be wet. There is no way to stay really dry. Even the best rain pants and jacket won't help. Even if they are genuinely waterproof, then they won't breath and you'll sweat to a soggy mess. Your feet, even with fenders, will end up soaked if you ride any distance. I'm still looking for gloves that will keep my hands dry and not just soak up water. And remember that wind chill thing I mentioned earlier? Imagine you're covered with water too and imagine it now.

Hills go up, then down

Rolling along a flat path is one thing, but going uphill is another. If you thought you'd be a hip person on a single-speed beach cruiser, forget it of you have any elevation gain in your day. If it's hot or cold or wet, hills just make it worse. You could melt going up in the heat, or really freeze coming down in the cold. Wet roads on steep downhills? Use your imagination.

All wind is a head wind

If you climb up a hill, at least you can look back and feel like you did something. But wind is invisible.
Imagine, you are 15 miles from home, riding 15 mph. You think "I'm home in an hour." But a head wind kicks up, and after 2 miles your speed drops to 13, so you think. "I'm home in an hour."But it blows even more, and after 2 more miles your speed is only 11 (it's really windy) and you think "I'm home in an hour." Face it, you'll be an hour away from home no matter how far you ride. Your soul is now sucked from your body and any positive spirit you started with is dead. Dead, I say.
And to make matters worse, because any wind other than an absolute tail wind feels like a head wind, you'll spend most of your life riding into a headwind.

Bikes aren't ready for prime time

If your dishwasher, coffee pot, or car took the amount of maintenance your bike does, you'd dump it. And the tragic thing is that the "better" a bike is, the more delicate it is. Road tires that pop if they see a photo of glass, chains that need to be replaced before the cardboard box they came in decomposes, and derailleur adjustments that require a surgeons delicate touch are just a few issues modern bikes have. Unlike cars, even the tires need to be topped off on a weekly, or even daily basis. Bikes just aren't ready for general release to the public. They may be fun for hobbyists; the kind of folks who enjoy constantly souping up their computers or puttering about the wood shop in their garage. But for a non-mechanical person who hopes to just ride, they are fragil collections of tubes, wires and parts that require constant vigilance to stay even partly functional. Shout all you want about the Gates Drive but who really owns one? Which leads to...

Bikes are messy

All this work you need to do? It all involves grease and dirt. It will get on your hands and clothes, and it won't wash out of your clothes, or off your hands, completely. Even if you can somehow avoid bike work (maybe you live with someone who does it for you) you will still get a flat or drop a chain someday while out in the world, and you will get filthy fixing the problem.

It's Dangerous

Everyone I know who rides a bike has been injured. From cars to road rash to having the bike break, they all have been hurt. Sometimes they aren't even on a road, but a mountain trail or a track. Sometimes it's their fault, sometimes not. But they've all had "incidents." Ask the next cyclist you see if they've ever had anything happen. Take a poll. Report back.

10 Sweat. Yech.

You will sweat, perspire  or as they used to say in the 1890s, "glow." You better be ready to deal with it. Will you stink, or take more time to shower? If you commute, you need a place to dry your clothes that won't bother your co-workers. You also need a home hamper out of smell distance. Plus, you'll be doing a lot more laundry than if you didn't ride.

11 Your hair will be a mess

Because you will be wearing a helmet, and your hair will look stupid when you take it off. If you don't wear a helmet, the blood in your hair will not make you look any better.

12 You can't haul enough stuff

If you have to carry much of anything a bike isn't going to work. Unless you buy one of those really heavy cargo bikes that weigh a ton (see Hills, above)  and then it will likely be a second (or third) bike as they aren't really practical as an "only bike." A trip to Costco? No way. Large picture frame? Christmas shopping? Home improvement? Nope. It would be possible to find people who do indeed take care of these things with their bikes, but they are the kind of people who have newspaper stories written about them; they are not regular folks with bikes. Now add in heat, rain, cold, snow and hills and see if you want to give it a shot.

13 Your bike will be stolen (if it hasn't been already)

Do you know anyone who owns a bike that hasn't had one stolen? Apparently it's such a low risk crime, and so common that no one cares except bike owners. Unless you never ever let go of it, and even sleep with it, it will eventually be "repurposed" by some low life. From what I can gather, there is no lock, or even combination of locks that will stop bike thieves.  In Oakland they've been known to saw through the bike racks themselves. I lock my bike even at home, but I'm sure someday my heart will be broken.

Thirteen reasons, all of them good ones. It's best to stop before you start, but even if you've already started, it's not too late to stop. Get help. Just say "No."

I myself have no plans to stop, even knowing what I know I will will carry on. But it's not to late for you and your loved ones. Pass this on. Write a letter to the editor of Bicycling magazine, or your local newspaper. Tweet. Link back. I'll check in soon. I'm going for a ride now.


  1. Anonymous12:41 PM

    Grant's last name is Petersen, not Peterson. He's very sensitive about getting that right.
    Rick / OCRR

  2. haha. great post. I can definitely concur with nearly all of these post. I have been hurt (ripped my leg open mountain biking, flipped over the bars on a jump and nearly squashed by a car when MY light was green) my dad has also had a bike stolen when it was locked to the top of his car, in brentwood, durning the day (a freaking carbon fiber beauty at that). yet, I still love getting out on my bike, although it doesn't happen nearly as often as I would like, considering you didn't mention, ITS TIME CONSUMING. I'm not talking about the time you actually spend riding, but if your like me, you usually drive somewhere to go ride, so you need to consider planning time, loading time, driving time, unloading time, riding time, eating time, driving back..there goes a saturday; flash!

    on another note, I hope that this semester is going great! I was really hoping to take one of your photography courses this semester, as its my last semester at LMC, but it wasn't being offered. oh well..

    happy spring semester and cheers to your bike adventures!

  3. I only have a bike, and it works great for me.

    Sweat = in shape, and are bikes free to own? Some are cheaper than others.

    But moreover, I love the freedom of cycling :)

  4. When I started running I then realized how cumbersome, expensive and time consuming biking can be. When I go for a run it's shoes and out the door. When I ride I have to get everything out and do an inventory of way too much stuff. I still love biking and always will but sometimes I'm very glad I have a second "go to" escape.
    Great post!

  5. Anonymous7:30 PM

    Very nice.

    I figure I'd spend more on green fees and still be f'd by the wind 66% of the time.-Pumpkincycle


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