I guess I’m a bike snob.
As I write this, I’m on vacation with extended family in New Hampshire. There’s lots of great mountain biking trails in the area, and I stopped by the local sport shop to see what they had in the way of bicycle rentals.
The shop is a perfectly fine small-town shop, but it seems they specialize in kayaks and stand-up paddle boards, and bicycle rentals are a bit of an afterthought. They had a couple of mountain bikes and a couple of hybrid bicycles, but when the shop owner started pull one out for me (it was stored outside on the lawn beside the shop), I tried to make a graceful exit: “Um, thanks, I was thinking later this week; I’ll check back with you.”
I’ve long been a gear hound, but I think this might have been the first time I’ve felt a bicycle isn’t up to my standards. There wasn’t anything in particular wrong with it, it was just that it was an older, lower-end model, and if I’m going to pay $45 to use it for a day, it should be more fun to ride than any of the bicycles I own.
I hope my nose wasn’t stuck too high up as I left the shop.
The thing is, I like to think of myself as the last person who would look down his nose at someone else’s bicycle. When I resumed cycling for fitness and fun a few years ago, I was using bikes that were older than some of the people I was riding with. I’ve upgraded over the past few years, and the bikes I’m riding now are very nice, but nowhere near the top of the line. There are folks out there who have bicycles worth more than most people’s cars; if I’m ever in that situation, it’s going to because I’ve totaled my truck and sold it for parts.
I’ve witnessed the bicycle put-down — sometimes it’s just a look that implies “oh, you’re going to ride that?”, and sometimes they’ll actually have the gall say it out loud.
I think the best bike is the one you’re actually using. The same can be said of many things: golf clubs, skis, fishing tackle, hiking boots — the gear that’s being used is much better than the stuff collecting dust in the shed. Whether you’re on a cruiser bike for a leisurely Sunday ride, entering your first triathlon on a basic fitness bike, or you’ve got a full carbon steed that would make a Tour de France rider drool, if you’re out enjoying it, who is anyone else to judge?
Back to my vacation, I ended up borrowing my brother’s mountain bike to sneak in a couple of trail rides. His bike isn’t necessarily what I would’ve picked, either — it’s an old downhill bike in need of a little TLC. Things weren’t adjusted quite the way I would do it, and there were a few sections of trail where I was wishing for some of the features on my bike at home. Heck, even that rental bike might’ve done a little better in spots.
But getting in a couple of rides on a less-than-perfect bike was way better than the alternative of not riding at all while on vacation.
Of course, for next year’s vacation, I might try to get one of those travel cases and bring my own bicycle with me.
Because my brother’s bike is fine, but mine really is much better …
Reach Clarion editor Will Morrow at will.morrow@peninsulaclarion. com.