Seven years ago, my ancient and wrecked bike was stolen. I loved that bike, but couldn’t ride it more than 10 miles from my uni room because it was just so heavy and old. It weighed about 30 kilos (60lbs) and I couldn’t lift it off both its wheels at the same time – one was hard enough – but I bought it for £17 in the University bike auction and I stripped it down and resprayed it pink and fixed its brakes and transmission (pull lever gear changer between the handlebars, no Shimano SIS here). Then one night while I was sitting late in Borders drinking coffee and reading a good novel, some chavvy fucker stole it. They were kind enough to leave the basket. I walked around the city until 5am then I turned up at my friend’s house, crying my eyes out, absolutely devastated, and she made me coffee and shared her cigarettes with me.
The next morning, I did what I always want to do when I feel wronged by the universe (and what I’m trying to get out of the habit of): I threw money at the problem and made it go away. I walked into Halford’s and bought an icy pale blue, aluminium framed cycle which I’ve always affectionately thought of as my very own pony.
No, it’s definitely more of a horse.
Together, we charted new territory and planned to take on the world. I rode 30 miles to avoid a house party and caught a train home. No-one said anything – it was the last train home and there was no-one else on there. We cycled all over the north of England and parts of Scotland and the midlands. Over the summer between second and third year of university, I considered the day wasted when I didn’t get up at 3pm and cycle at least 10 miles.
My new bike seemed so unbelievably light and aerodynamic compared to my old one – I could actually lift it (it was heavy, but it was ok) and while it’s always had problems, I never really cared to fix them because I knew most of it was design flaws. The bike cost £89 in 2008 money. The cheapest aluminium bike on the market now is at least £130.
I modified it by putting on a luggage rack at the back and a basket on the front, so that I could carry camping equipment on it.
And it was pronounced “probably unsalvageable” on Thursday by the mechanics at my local bike repair place. In the last 3 months I’ve had to get the brakes fixed twice, the seat needed replacing, all 4 brake pads have been replaced and a new brake cable, the chain and both inner tubes needed replacing, and now, all the spokes on the wheels are rusting and the front wheel rim is dented where I hit a pothole lately.
The front brakes haven’t really worked since I got it, and a quick adjustment always fixed that, but now they don’t fix, so I have to disconnect the front brake because it just gets stuck on, slowing my progress so I’m fighting my brakes to actually move forwards all the time. On top of that, the gear chain cogs have worn the teeth down so much that on the most useful gears (in both sets of ratios), the chain slips so much that it’s dangerous to stop at traffic lights (but I still stop).
I asked how much new wheels, gears and a brake system would cost.
For lightweight wheels alone, they’re about the same money as it would cost to just get another bike.
It seems that this, too, shall pass. My bike, my trusty steed, needs to be put out to pasture so a new one can take its place as my workhorse, because I could do these repairs, but what, of my old bike, would actually be left? The handlebars need replacing really as well because the rubber has flaked away and really that just leaves the metal frame, the aluminium that never corrodes. What a pity the rest of the components weren’t made to last the same length of time.
I’ve been looking at perhaps getting a folding bike, a lightweight one, but I don’t know right now (my grandma had one of the earliest ones and I used to LOVE it as a concept). If I buy a new bike, I really should upgrade from the old one, otherwise what’s the point? My bike gets me from A to B at the moment, it’s just if I want to go to C or D that there’s a problem. An ultra lightweight folding bike would mean I could use it more, although my knees are protesting right now that the bike should be large with huge gears.
Advantages of folders:
1. They store really small so they’re less likely to rust because you can probably fit them somewhere indoors.
2. They travel on most public transport for free, especially if you put them in a specially made bag.
3. They don’t usually need locking away – normally you can take them inside with you.
1. They’re lighter than they used to be but they’re still not light enough. As a rule, 12% of your weight should be the maximum weight of your bike. As I weigh 50kg, that gives me a pathetic 6kg limit. Nowhere sells a bike for that light, which explains why I get so tired cycling. The lightest folding bike is 8 point something kilograms. There are many arguments about whether riding a lighter bike makes a difference, with people referring to a comparison someone did between a 13kg and 9.5kg bike, but these are BOTH light bikes, barely any difference in the weights, and the experiment had far too many variables to be a REMOTELY fair test so I don’t think the conclusion is valid (also my experience with my heavy bike before and my less heavy but still heavy bike now both contradict the conclusion).
2. They’re more expensive than non-folding bikes.
3. The wheels are usually tiny, which
a) looks ridiculous,
b) means potholes are a bitch and
c) means you can’t get them to go as fast so easily, also coasting is slower.
3. There’s much less choice of styles, colors etc because there are less manufacturers.
More to the point, I don’t know what to do with my old bike. It seems a shame to scrap it, but it’s virtually useless (and pretty dangerous with the gear and brakes problems) on my 10 minute commute to work let alone further afield.