Bike Quest 2004

Those who know me, know that I like to ride my bike. More than that, I really like to use my bike instead of my car, whenever I can. Lots of reasons it's fun, I need to get in better shape, great gas mileage.

I was using an electric bike for a while a couple years ago as I felt like I needed the help getting up my big hill (1 1/3 miles up and steep for a lot of it). And I figured I would get in shape eventually and then the full manual would work. So last summer I finally switched to a full manual a Trek 7500 hybrid.

The Trek was/is a good bike. But it's a little heavy (part of it's hybrid heritage) and I kind of wished I had broader gearing (it's got 24, but I might actually use 27, if I had them). So I started looking around. Finally, I decided if I was going to upgrade, the only real upgrade would be a fitted, custom bike. Because what I wanted wasn't really a hybrid. I wanted a road/touring bike that happened to have some form of suspension (for Seattle's crappy roads) and flat handlebars (for my aging back). Hybrids are basically mountain bike frames and handlebars married with some road bike wheels. Gearing is all over the map. So if you look at hybrids, you really have to dig to figure out what you're getting.

It turns out that the Trek I had was actually one of the better hybrid choices (when I got it, I just sort of got led to it by the sales guy). There is a slightly nicer model available, but I was already pretty close to the top of the line for hybrids. Bianchi seemed to have nice solution, but I was starting to get into pricing that made a custom bike seem in reach.

So I decided my Xmas present to myself this year would be a full custom bike. Not an over the top road bike that costs more than a Harley. But a nice, sensible custom with a road frame and good parts. I selected R+E Cycles because I'd seen some good reviews and their prices were significantly better than other shops. I went in between Xmas and New Year's and got fitted and measured up.

Actually, it's not quite that simple. They have the fit kit and everything they need to do a fitting right there, of course. But it's super helpful if you also bring in your current ride so they can see how you really use your bike and how you fit on it. So I had to make a return trip with my bike after the fitting. Of course, you can insist on skipping this, if you like, but then why go through the trouble of a custom bike if you're not going to give them every bit of data to make sure you're getting the right bike? I'm telling you this so if you go there, you'll bring your bike and only need to make one trip.

It takes time to make a custom bike. They make the frames right there and they use your budget limits and ride priorities to select parts. If you're more knowledgable than I was, you can really have a lot of fun with this. I was working with Scott and basically trusted his understanding of how I ride and his judgment and knowledge about parts. I wasn't disappointed.

I went over this past Thursday to get the bike as I was over in Seattle to pick up my film. I barged in around 10 and found out that they don't open till noon! Doh! But Dan (the owner, I think) let me in anyway and showed me the bike and we figured out what other stuff I needed to really finish it (I got a new rack and top bag rather than just moving my old one over). We picked out shoes and pedals (I'm going clipless this time). He even showed me a cool way to lace my shoes for my ultra-wide foot! And they weren't even open! Talk about service.

The thing is, what you have to love about small owner shops like this is that they are in the business because they have a genuine passion for it. That's why Dan let me in and dived in to help since Scott wouldn't be in till later. Of course they want the sale, but they already had the sale. Dan could have said, sorry, can't help you till later. I'm sure he had 5 bazillion other things he thought he as going to do that morning. But that never came up.

So anyway, it was good I came in like that because that gave them a chance to add those last couple of bits to the bike. I could have gotten it later that day, but decided to come back Friday. After noon. ;-0

I returned and Scott was in and there was the bike. One indulgence was getting a "fade" paint job. The bike starts off silver and does a slow fade into a deep, rich blue at the rear. My son Alex thought I should have asked for flames, but we'll save those for his bike. I liked the look of my new bike and was glad I popped for the fancier paint job.

I laced up the new shoes and strapped on my helmet (I was smart enough to bring my helmet and wear my cycling pants, but forgot my padded shorts). Then we put the bike and I on the "rack" to test seat height and suspension load. Seat height was dead on (not too surprising after the extensive fitting, but nice to see anyway). Scott tightened up the suspension a bit, then I went outside and took her for a spin.

What a revelation! She was much lighter and more agile than my Trek. The only analogy I can give you is this: last summer I drove an RV for a month. When I got home and got back in the BMW it was like a holy experience. My appreciation for a fine driving automobile grew immeasurably.

Well, that's how this felt. Wow! It's like the Trek was a Hyundai sedan and now I was driving a Boxter. It was just so nice.

Scott pointed out that half of that was probably the fitting - you get fitted to your bike properly and your weight distribution comes back over the seat and off the front handlebars and that will make the bike handle a lot better. And I'm sure that's part of it. But honestly, the entire bike just felt different. Light, agile, yet rock solid. Nimble, even with my wide load on it.

Another difference is slightly smaller wheels. Again, this is what the fitting said. And for my short legs and overall middling stature, the smaller wheels were the right thing. Which means virtually every off the rack bike out there would probably not work for me because they all have larger wheels. And despite what folks think, larger is not more efficient at the speeds a normal cyclist rides (it can make a difference from 35 mph and up).

Of course, now I'm going out of town again for most of the week, so I'll have to put off doing a big ride with her for a bit. But it really is wonderful to get a new, finely-crafted, custom-fitted bike. If you like bicycling and want to do it regularly, it's worth thinking about, even if it means getting a loan to pay for it.