It’s warm again! Finally! I feel like I’ve been waiting all winter for it to get warm outside!
With the warmer weather comes my switch to bike commuting. I’m not a hardcore winter bicyclist. I won’t deal with the frozen fingers and toes, shortness of breath and stinging eyes. What’s the point? Especially when there’s a cheap bus that will take me the 11 miles to the office in warm comfort, letting me watch tv shows along the way. If I get six months of bike commuting in, I’ve got everyone in my building already beat.
More than saving money, I love biking to work because it puts me in a good mood on the way to work and back. I’m lucky enough that there is an off-road bike path that basically goes all the way to my office. My dirty secret is that I drive to the bike path, which picks up halfway to work, so I actually bike 5.5 miles. But once I get there, it is a peaceful 20-25 minute ride along the Hudson River.
I like to post the above picture on Facebook and complain about how terrible the traffic was during my commute, that there was a squirrel right in the middle of the path, or maybe I had to stop because some geese and goslings were crossing. That I got delayed a whole two seconds in this “traffic.”
It’s a pretty stupendous way to begin and end a day, especially when I compare it to the highway, which runs parallel to the bike path, but is typically clogged with traffic and lately has been partially closed due to construction. It’s a miracle more people don’t wake up, breath the fresh air and take the bike path. Being in a car and driving in commuter traffic has a way of making me hate myself. Still, I see very, very few people biking to work on the path.
So… let me introduce you to my bikes!
I used to commute on a Forge Saranac CM. Forge is a company that exclusively sells through Target. Their bikes are affordable and made with good components, and this one worked well for years. I went minimal with the bags, as you can see, and only had a handlebar bag to bring my lunch in and a tiny seat bag for tools. Also, in the water bottle holder you can see my all-important daily newspaper.
Eventually I bought a rear rack and that upped my baggage capacity greatly. But I realized the bike was too small for me. I’m 6 feet tall and I was getting jealous of people with bigger bikes since they looked like they fit so much better. I simultaneously started getting more and more into the idea of the Citizen Cyclist. I subscribed to a few bicycle blogs and took a lot of inspiration from the anonymous writer of The Upright Cyclist and Dottie at Let’s Go Ride A Bike, both of who ride upright seated bicycles.
While the Forge hybrid bike may work well, the Citizen Cyclist wouldn’t ride it. The seat position is too hunched over. Citizen Cyclist rides a bicycle with a comfortable upright seating posture. He also wears normal clothes, not specialized bicycle clothing, and definitely no spandex. Speed is not a concern for Citizen Cyclist. Comfort, ease-of-use, low maintenance, and style are the paramount attributes Citizen Cyclist looks for in a bike.
The problem is, most American bicycle companies don’t make many serious upright seated bicycles. When you do find a good upright bicycle, they are very expensive. In the US, the most common bicycle styles I see are hunched, face-to-the-floor road bikes, mountain bikes, and laughably small BMX bike with tiny little tires. I don’t know how adults ride them, but I see them. Serious upright bicycles are common in Europe, but not the US. At least, they’re not common right now…
If you go back to the 1970s and 80s, many Schwinn bicycles are in this style! All you have to do is find a used one, and you’re good to go.
This is Tad. You might recognize him from our masthead!
I went on a used Schwinn bicycle buying spree and named each of the bikes after their former owners, so there is Herb, Skip, and Tad. Can you tell that most Schwinn owners are older men? Tad is a 1978 Schwinn Suburban with a 24” frame and 27” wheels. I can’t tell you how long I kept an eye out for this exact model! Eventually I found it by putting up a Wanted ad on Craigslist. I got it for a cool $140.
The Schwinn Suburban meets all of Citizen Cyclist’s needs.
1. Comfort. I’m a tall guy, and this is the best size for me. I extend my legs just enough. The seat is at my Butt Level standing up, so my head is always at standing height, if that makes any sense. I am high up, so very visible in traffic, plus I can easily see what’s around me. The seat is nice, wide and springy. And the bike is heavy as hell. The steel construction means this must weigh 40 pounds. But that makes for a more well-balanced ride.
2. Ease of use. There are only 10 gears, which makes for less of a chance of something breaking. I honestly only use 3 or 4 gears. If you live somewhere mostly flat, that’s all you need. The chain is guarded on one side. I would’ve liked a full guard, but what are you gonna do. Also, there are fenders to keep the puddles off you. It also came with a rear rack for bags. There’s even a super useful kickstand! How many modern bikes have that?
3. Style. Look at that blue! I just think this is a super handsome bike, with the blue all over, fine white lines along the fenders, and gumwall tires.
And it holds up well. I calculated that I biked over 500 miles last year on it and had no problems whatsoever.
It’s now gotten to the point where if it’s a nice, sunny day out, and I’m driving home from work, I feel like a complete and utter punk. Driving home on the highway on a beautiful day actually makes me angry! I start to feel the minutes of wasted life ticking away in my dumb, metal box.
You want to be stuck inside on a day like this? Like some kind of zoo animal?
To make biking to work convenient, though, you need good bags. I bring clothes to change into every day. Originally, I didn’t have much of anything for bike panniers (bags). I didn’t want to make any big investments into bike panniers. So I ended up keeping clothes at the office and bringing them home every so often to wash them.
Eventually, I figured out a messenger bag I already had worked perfectly as a bike bag! All I needed to do was attach a clip to each side to attach it to my rack.
This bag is from an accounting conference I went to while still in college. It’s still probably the greatest giveaway merch I’ve ever received. It is a solidly built bag, with one big compartment, and extra pockets on the outside. Once I got this together, I started bringing my clothes to work and back each day.
I can put my clothes in the big compartment, bike tools in the outside compartment, and my coffee thermos miraculously fits in the old-school “cell phone pocket.” Then a Christmas ago I got a second bag as a gift from Marge’s sister. It is a Swiss Army bread bag!
Yes, the Swiss army had bicycles, and they used these handsome bags with leather straps on their handlebars. I hang mine from the back rack. It’s the perfect size for my lunch, so I can keep my clothes and food in separate bags. And I guess if they called it a “bread bag,” it must’ve been used to carry food, so I am keeping with that tradition!
And check out the inscription on the leather strap. The bag was made in 1963. That’s over 50 years ago! An old solidly made bag on an old solidly made bike. Who needs a new car that’s just gonna break?