Here in Cool Breeze’s house, we’re shopping for a new bike, information that is largely irrelevant to this post, except it’s got me thinking about the various bikes I’ve owned, the various lives I’ve lived on my bikes, and how bicycling became so much more enjoyable when I finally attained both form and function on my rides.
I guess choosing both form and function is a symptom of being a utility cyclist, but I prefer to think it’s a decision for greater comfort, access and convenience on my preferred mode of transportation. I love to ride but I hate to be uncomfortable. That means, I had to find the right bike and figure out how to carry all the stuff that life requires on my set of two wheels. Finding what worked for me took some time, but like all bike trips, the fun was in the journey.
When I was at university, I lived in the great bike town of Davis, California. I rode a cheap, uncomfortable mountain bike that I painted from handlebar to tire a grumpy primer grey. Every morning, I’d load my books into a giant backpack, stoop over my military-ready bike and cross town to get to a 7 a.m. class. I balanced cold coffee in a Mason jar precariously against the gooseneck and hoped I wouldn’t have to stop suddenly. I hated that class. I hated that backpack. Most of all, I hated that bike. I was hunched over and humpbacked with books. I would gaze in envy at the more useful bikes around campus with their baskets and racks chock full of school’s paraphernalia. I wanted that. Finally, I saved up some coin for a killer wicker basket. It was cheap and easy to attach– my only requirements. The basket gave me a place to stick a notebook or two and my coffee jar. My rides became, at last, tolerable. I was poor in so many ways in that first year at college but I was learning.
As I got the hang of independence, I invested in a tool or two and managed to secure a rack to the back of my bike. I stole a plastic milk crate from behind the quickie mart and used copious amounts of ribbon to tie it to my rack. Later I became the charity case of a nice neighbor who spotted me a bungee cord. Good guy, that one. Finally, I was mostly free of my back-breaking backpack unless I was lugging around a djembe or some other university imperative in my crate: rolls of butcher paper to paint messages of protest; canvases that didn’t deserve the blight I caused them; beer.
A few years later, I started graduate school in the same bicycle-mad town. With age came some smarts. I bought a forest green, step-through, 3-speed internal hub Schwinn Cruiser and called her the Cadillac. Since I was older and wiser, the first thing I did to the Cadillac was install a rear back rack and folding metal baskets. For three years, I perched comfortably straight-backed on the Cadillac’s fat seat while lugging hefty tomes, an archaic laptop, more protest signs and a whole lot of beer. When my dog was still a pup, she was my frequent cargo, ears in the wind. The baskets were perfectly suited for grocery bags and could cradle a casserole dish en route to a potluck like nobody’s business. I never lost a load and I never needed more space. On the rare occasion when I wasn’t schooling, socializing or shopping, the baskets collapsed flat against the bike leaving the Cadillac looking like the sleek and ever-ready utility bike that she was. At the front of the Cadillac, of course, another wicker basket held my coffee mug and bike lock. The Cadillac was the perfect union of form and function.
Then came the professional days in San Francisco. I rigged my lighter, hill-ready Bianchi Milano, aka Cool Breeze, with the same collapsible baskets as the Cadillac. On my way to work, I carried my computer, my files, my purse. On my way home, I added groceries and anything else that I’d picked up during the day. So handy. These days, Cool Breeze sports a single Wald basket on the front. It safely holds a bag of groceries just fine, plus a jacket, a book, and definitely, beer. If I’m heading out for a bumpy ride, I’ll throw a bungy net over my gear to keep it secure.
If you’re just starting to ride, or interested in riding more comfortably, consider lightening your burden by transferring some of your load to your bike. If you’re looking for a bike, consider your preferred position on your ride. Would you rather sit up straight or do you prefer to lean forward? Finding your proper form to suit your function will make your world a better place. When you’re cruising comfortably with a decent set of baskets or paniers, you’ll find that every trip you take on your bike has the potential for so much more. You stop being a simple commuter or a psycho-cyclist and start being a living, breathing person who happens to love going places by bike. And you’ll be a happier rider because you won’t have to leave behind your coffee, clothes, groceries, protest signs, beer or whatever else strikes your fancy or serves your purpose as you roll around town.
Check out the Wald site for rack and basket options, or shop around for nice paniers. If you can’t afford to shell out or you’re inclined to build something yourself, check out this cool DIY option. Nothing wrong with a little recycling as you whip your bike into your dream form.