Regular readers might be shocked to find out that I am very regularly asked for my advice, vis a vis, cycling products. To say that my opinions don’t necessarily reflect those of TCI, or even reasonably human persons, is probably fair. And yet, the non-cycling people in my life have this idea that I know what I’m talking about. These are the same folks who refer to cyclists as “bikers,” a group, in my mind, who wears leather vests and maybe, thrillingly, belongs to a gang (that may or may not distribute methamphetamine), rather than a gaggle of leotard clad try-hards.
I represent the latter, not the former, disappointingly.
Requests for input take forms such as: “I want to get my boyfriend some biker shorts,” or “What’s a good jersey?” or “I need one of those things that lets you ride your bike inside.” Almost all such queries are accompanied by a disclaimer like this: “I don’t know the best thing. I’m not a serious cyclist like you.”
Yes. So serious. So very, very serious.
And so I become engaged in internet searches (Did I mention that none of these people wants to go to a bike shop, although it’s always the first thing I recommend they do (which should serve as foreshadowing really for the most common outcome from all this careful consideration of my expert advice)), for the best, adequate, cheap stuff that might possibly fit their particular bill. I am dedicated to helping them find the best stuff in their price range, whatever that is.
I know that cycling can be an expensive and thereby exclusionary sport, and I am firmly of the view that the very best equipment is an unnecessary luxury. Those of us who are out on two wheels every day might be able to justify what we spend, but not everyone who wants to ride, desires or is able to plonk down a pile of their hard-earned, just for the privilege. If you need to buy $18 jerseys factory-direct from Myanmar, brokered by Jeff Bezos and delivered to your door by unmarked van, then that’s what you need to do. I support you.
But it sorta removes the point of asking for my “expert” advice. I have not road-tested any of these things, because, as we established at the beginning, I am a very, extremely serious cyclist.
My friend Shawn once asked me what bike he should get for commuting to work in London. If you’ve ever ridden in that very fine city, you will know that it’s insane. Traffic is rampant and vitriolic. The roads follow no discernible pattern, and they’re narrow. I told him that, as a guy who hadn’t been on a bike in more than a decade, he’d be best off on a light hybrid. Having an upright position would improve his vision, and since his ride was only going to be a few miles, and theft was a distinct likelihood, an economical investment in a bike like that would serve him best.
He said, “What about a dual-suspension mountain bike?” In his mind, this commute would lead to adventures outside the city, perhaps with his young son.
I said, “Well, you’re not a regular rider, and you’ve never owned a mountain bike. I’d suggest you get the commuter schtick down, convince yourself you’re actually going to ride, and then think about mountain biking later.”
He bought the mountain bike. He rode to work on it a handful of times, and then it got stolen.
This encapsulates my experience with giving people cycling advice. What they really want is for me to validate what they already think. They want me to tell them that the cheap thing is the best thing, or to confirm that their crazy-ass notions of themselves as future outdoorspeople are 100% accurate.
“Why ask,” I always think, “if you’re not going to follow my advice?” I continue to try to help, but my attitude about it is somewhat fatalistic at this point.
With the holidays nigh, I suspect this is a topic many of you are embroiled in. This week’s TCIF asks, what percentage of the time would you guess the people who ask you for bike advice actually take it? Do you think I’m just bad at recommending things? Or does your experience mirror mine?
Interesting piece Robot.
I ran my own shop for many years so when people asked for my advice I’d give them the options I could provide and if I couldn’t meet their need I’d refer them to the local LBS. I did love building up bikes for people based on what I’d recommended to them which was very satisfying.
Now without my shop I steer them all to my local LBS. Sometimes they listen and I’ll see whatever I recommended on the next ride, but I’ll also see people who got what they wanted from Amazon or eBay. Regardless of what they do, I’m always happy to see them out enjoying their bikes and time outside.
To be honest, I’ve never tracked that data. I’ve given out enough advice but I would estimate that more than half the time the folks asking for advice never follow through.
Most recently, a friend did sorta follow my advice. He was looking for a nice bicycle to ride paved trails. I offered to sell him my Long Haul Trucker, but he wanted a flat bar bike with platform pedals. I located a really nice used hybrid in like new condition and he did buy and does enjoy it. He also looked at a rather tired mountain bike at the same shop. I suggested he ride the hybrid first and then think about a double boinger while looking for a better example. He bought both.
On the other hand, I wrote most of Los Alamos’s first bike plan back in around 2005 and did a lot of the sausage making for its complete streets policy in 2010 and both were adopted, so I guess some folks take my advice.
I don’t get asked that often. Maybe I’m just not projecting my expertise well enough?
I imagine that there are four outcomes to my giving of advice, in roughly equal amounts:
1. Acceptance and purchase
2. Acceptance and not purchase
3. Disagreement and purchase something else
4. After-the-fact laughter and purchase nothing/something else