I was 18 years old the last time I bought a bicycle. It was a neon green and blue Nishiki with a Chromoly Steel frame that weighed a tonne, and I must have paid about $800 for it. I loved that bike and even rode the Red Cross Relay on it…once. For the last decade the bike was in various states of disrepair and had rusted to its grave in my back yard. I finally chucked it last month, and thought that I might buy a new bike if I could get back in shape by losing 10 pounds. This week I came in 10 pounds lighter than when I started 3 weeks ago, so I began the search.
Bicycles have changed in twenty years. I went to a myriad of stores and was mesmerized by frame materials, disc brakes, fluid trainers, “pro-fitting”, and various component packages I had never heard of before. I tested out two completely different bicycles [ the 2012 Cannondale Bad Boy 5 and the 2011 Argon 18 Krypton] at two different shops. Given that the cost of a good bike ranges from $1100 to $3000, I wanted to make absolutely certain that I felt great on whatever I bought. Bicycles are like cars, and buyers need to realize that they are being sold stuff that they may or may not need. It can be a tricky endeavour and it does require the fortitude to not just go with your urges.
I really liked the blacked out, single forked Bad Boy 5. It was a hybrid that Cannondale pitches to the same people who like Dark Custom Harley Davidsons. There is a grit and edge to the bike, but I am afraid that was all veneer and shine. The actual components felt cheap, and they even admitted that I should switch out the sub-par chain, but it was less possible to upgrade the other components as I grow as a a cyclist. I took it out for a spin in two sizes; it felt awful in terms of handling and rider geometry. I wanted to love that bike, but I just couldn’t. The store salesman spent a lot of time going through the store’s inventory with me, and I really liked how I was treated.
The second store had last year’s Krypton in a small frame for $400 less than usual, and that brought the Krypton in just above what I wanted to pay for a bicycle, but the Argon 18 had so many features going for it that I decided to try it out anyway. One feature that I liked was that the bikes are at least designed in Canada. It is so hard to find anything that is made here, but when I do, I try to buy Canadian so as to support this country. I am sure that the bike was not built here, but I did the best I could on that end. The sales team at the second store felt less friendly and I was kind of put off that they would not waive the “pro-fitting” fee. I took the bike for ride though, and it felt like a machine of beauty. I had never imagined being able to transfer so much power to the pedals, and the new Shimano 105 shifters were miles beyond my Nishiki on-tube shifters. The frame is full carbon fibre, so it is super-light, which is important as I try to get it into the elevator after a long ride. But in the end, the cost was just too high once I added on the Look pedals, a Kurt Kinetic trainer and other “needs”. Plus, I just felt like the salesman was not as nice. I felt like I was being sold extras, but getting little in return. So I left it, and I came home to think it over and then ask V. what she thought.
This morning I decided to give it another go. With a good night’s sleep, I decided to go back to the second store to see how I felt about the sales team today, and if I felt off then I was just going to buy the Cannondale. Strangely enough, things went well enough. I told them that I was only buying the bike and not any frills, and they threw in a cheap pair of clip pedals for free, which is great because I wanted to ride outside today, and I no longer have bicycle shoes. Right after I paid the bill, the salesman seemed like a different guy – his curmudgeon ways became less grumpy and more concerned that he fit the bicycle to me as well as he possible could. He measured my inseam, forearm length, shin and a bunch of other things, then he suggested that I come back later so they could set the bike up to my measurements before the fitting. A few hours later I returned and he spent over half an hour adjusting the bicycle until my body matched the frame. The fit and feel of the bike completely changed. I was very impressed, and felt less grumpy about the $75 cost of fitting the bike, as it really did make a difference.
Ironically enough, I returned to the first store to pick up new bar tape, a water bottle and cage. I felt like I should give them some business because I had really appreciated the effort they had put in. Their vibe had totally changed. Since I was not buying a bike there, I was no longer a “good enough” customer and it was a little awkward. Anyway, I ended up getting the bicycle of my dreams and I think I made the right choice, which is not the choice I would have made unless I had given myself the time to reflect on what I was being sold.
I took the Krypton out for a 20km sunset ride along Lake Ontario where there is a nice bicycle path. Riding along I felt great and was ever more certain that this was the right bicycle for what I wanted to do, because it cornered, shifted and rode flawlessly. I also did not feel out of place as other “hardcore” cyclists blew by me on their Cervelo masterpieces. I may not have paid $5000 for my ride, but like my Ducati Monster, it looks and feels like I did.
Dinner on Friday night was arctic char. I bought a gorgeous whole char and decided that I would learn to filet my own fish. Using the sashimi knives I bought in Japan, I did not a bad job. The fish tastes a lot like salmon, but had a nicer overall flavour. It was also caught wild, and that is a plus over farmed fish. I have been trying to catch up with friends that I never seem to have time to see, and that has been good. Making the time is not always easy, but friends are more important than we often realize.