Wednesday, April 1, 2015

in praise of cheapness: a few recommendations

My Bicycle Quarterly magazine arrived last week. I have enjoyed reading it a little at a time, light bedtime reading. But the more time passes, the less interested I am in buying the most expensive, cool, efficient or whatever-else bike components. If a part works, I am open to using it on one of my bikes.

I think this goes hand in hand with my penchant for what Grant Peterson calls beausage, shorthand for beauty-through-usage. A component or accessory that ages over time and with regular use takes on a patina of fading, scraping, and honest use that has a certain beauty in it.

A part needn't be fancy or expensive to have the potential for attaining beausage.

My Sekai rough-stuff bike has a mish-mash of parts on it, including a rather low-level Shimano rear derailleur that includes its own hanger (because the frame doesn't have a hanger as part of the dropout -- a hallmark of a cheap frame). The derailleur isn't fancy, and I had to bend it back to realign it when I installed it; but it works, reliably and simply. That derailleur probably sold new for less than ten dollars thirty years ago. Today, you might still find one in a bin at a shop that sell used bikes and parts. Mine works with the friction shifters I installed and I am happy.

I've read lots of articles -- particularly in BQ but elsewhere, too -- about how quality tires make the difference. And so far, the only time that has really borne out for me was the time I test-road a vintage road bike with sewups. Okay, yes, riding on sewups was sort of like sex on satin sheets -- smooth and buttery and some kind of heaven in terms of road feel. But sewups are also notorious for getting flats -- lots of them -- and being a bear to replace on the fly, which is why they fell out of favor with the advent of higher quality clincher tires in the 1990s.

For me, a tire that rides well and is flat resistant is a tire I will use on my bike. My current tire of choice is the Rubena Flash. Made in the Czech Republic, they are marketed as an affordable alternative to Schwalbe's Marathon tire. The Marathon is a great tire for commuting but it's heavy and pricey. The Flash rides perfectly fine for a commuting tire, weighs less than the Marathon and costs a little more than half as much. And I've had a total of ONE flat on the rear tire that's been on my bike for the last year.

I also replaced my rear fender-mounted taillight this spring. The PDW Fenderbot was a huge disappointment, not providing nearly enough light for its $26.00 retail price. After checking around, I swapped in the more affordable -- and considerably brighter -- Pixeo tallight by Spaninga. At around $15 retail, the light comes in either a dynamo version or a battery-powered version. The battery-powered version comes either with an automatic mode (where it will turn off after awhile, which tends to be too soon for my commutes), or a manual on-off switch. I bought the latter (the one at far right in this photo) and have been pleased by its brightness and performance so far.

I have enjoyed stripping dead bike frames for useable parts, some of which end up on my nicer bike (which these days remains the All-Rounder). I love installing old, scraped up parts on nicer frames as a contrarian way of insisting on squeezing all the usefulness from a component. My Sekai has recycled bar tape; my All-Rounder has a fender repaired with a piece of plastic from a saddle hang-tag.

I enjoy looking at bikes that show their age, and the miles ridden. Those bikes tell something about where they and their riders have been and there's a kind of beauty in that I find irresistible.

Wherever your bike takes you this spring, may the miles be filled with delight!

No comments: