A couple of years ago, before the midsummer days hit when the heat index reaches 112 degrees, I decided I wanted to buy a bike.
I hadn’t gotten on a bike since approximately the dawn of time, or about 1988, if you prefer. My Mom bought me a bike back then, my only first real grown-up bike. This bike, to be exact:
It’s an English style, 3-speed Wilson Nimble. Mom thinks that it came from Sears. I think it came forth from the deepest pit of Hell, appearing upon this world for the purpose of assuring my utter destruction. The saddle is a medieval torture device. Even with it all the way down, it is too tall for me. Dismounting the bike involved wobbling to a stop in a grassy spot where I’d launch myself over the side. Not. Optimal.
Sensibly, I stuck the bike in the utility room and adjourned to the house where I read Target novelizations of old Doctor Who episodes for about 25 years. You know, as you do. Mom was mad at me for not riding it, but then she tried it out and quietly put it back in the utility room and shut up about it. She’s my height. Once atop it, she sensed the evil emanating from the thing.
Fast forward to Spring 2012, which was one of the least humid here in living memory. Seems like every day I’d see dozens of blond college students wearing sun dresses, pedaling around downtown on their fat tire beach cruisers, with baguettes and flowers and shit sticking out of their genuine wicker bike basket. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I dammit, I wanted a piece of that. It looked like a lot of fun!
So I put down the Target novelization and began to research bikes like a good librarian. Turns out that bikes, drumroll please, come in different sizes. Doh! They also have different geometries because not everyone has the same relative leg, arm, and torso lengths. And hooray, companies have made things that are more comfortable and accessible for people who haven’t gotten on a bike in years or who have mobility issues that might prevent them from using a standard English bike like my old one.
I had a severe inner ear infection about four years ago and now I have a permanently altered sense of balance. It’s a pretty common side effect, and it’s usually not a big deal. However, losing your balance at random times suddenly becomes a big deal if you are riding a bicycle in traffic when it happens.
Bikes are designed so that if they are adjusted properly, you won’t be able to sit on the seat and put both feet down on the ground at the same time. But if the world starts to tilt on its side and spin to your right with no warning, you’re going to wipe out before you have a chance to stop a standard bike safely.
For safety reasons, I narrowed my search to comfort bikes that let you put your feet on the ground while on the saddle. I test rode a Specialized Expedition Sport Low Entry. It wasn’t a bad ride by any means, but it was a tad bit, well, boring. It probably didn’t help that the only place that carried them was situated by a huge highway so your test ride was on a tiny sidewalk with eighteen-wheelers blowing by you five feet away. Yikes.
The second bike I test rode was a Trek. I think it was a Pure or a Shift. It’s been a while, so I can’t quite remember. It was fine, but they didn’t have any in stock at the time and I was burning with the heat of a thousand suns to buy a bike right away.
So I moved on to test ride two Electras. The first one was a beach cruiser, because of course you test ride a beach cruiser in Charleston. It prompted me to commit the same stop-hop of death that I was trying to avoid. Cute bikes, but I am too old to fall off of my damn bike to stop it.
That left me with the Electra Townie. They must sell a lot of Townies to wimps like me, because they come in a huge range of colors and options. I tried another 3-speed internally geared bike. It was a super cute Caribbean blue aluminum frame bike with lime green rims. On the 3- speed Townie, though, you can’t push the pedal backwards while the rear wheel is touching the ground like you might do in order to position yourself for a strong downstroke to get the bike moving. Bummer, because that internal gear will probably last forever and it already has fenders and everything. Can you tell that I still love that bike?
My last option was a 7-speed Townie with a rear derailleur. Without getting technical on you (I mean, why start now?) this means that the gearing is not enclosed so gunk can get on it and it’ll probably need a good cleaning and servicing every so often. It also has way more gears than you need if you live somewhere with no absolutely no hills like Charleston. However, you can push the pedal backwards with the wheel on the ground. The test ride felt great and the variety of color choices appealed to my inner child. I had found my bike!
Let the record show that I’m not the kind of woman who gravitates to pink. Naturally, the only bike they had in stock and ready to go was Fuchsia (!) with the same lime green rims that the Caribbean blue 3i had. So I got in touch with my inner Peach and bought it.
I can’t exactly call her the Pink Panther, because I actually HAD a Pink Panther stingray bike when I was a kid. But she is my bike, and I love her even if she looks like she came out of the Barbie aisle in the toy store.
I still have that appalling Wilson Nimble, though. We banished it to the shed in the back yard. I can still feel it in there. Sometimes in the middle of the night I can hear it moaning “Braaains” like a zombie. If you’d like a bike that has an indestructible Sturmey-Archer rear hub but really wants to kill you, please let me know.