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Backpedal: The Unnamed Bicycle Column Shreds

Bike column moving to Thursdays, please enjoy this retro piece

(Editor's Note: The Unnamed Bicycle Column is moving from Mondays to Thursdays beginning this week. This column originally ran in November, 2011. We'll be back on Thursday with a new column. Thanks.)

Like putting on your favorite pair of jeans for the first time, you know when you’ve found the right bike. You know it right away.

You’re pretty sure the first time you see it, nearly positive the first time you sit on it and ready to give over a credit card regardless of the price after a short spin around the parking lot. And while there may be some tinkering here and there to make the perfect bike more perfecter, nothing changes that your machine just “feels right” immediately.

It’s not an easy task, either. Bicycle fit is something of a Black Art, what with angles and geometry and frame sizing and materials and colors and, let’s not forget, price. It can take weeks, if not a lifetime to find just the right one.

Tomorrow, for his 9th birthday, my son will get his new ride after such a weeks-long ordeal. It’s sitting in my basement now, a surprise. It’s a BMX bike, black, and super cool.

“Little dude’s going to be so stoked,’’ said the guy who sold me the bike last week. Apparently, he’s a close cousin of Jeff Spicoli. “He’s going to be shredding it up.’’

* * * * *

I started looking for a new bike for him more than a month ago, knowing he was in need of one and that his birthday was on the horizon.

I hit all the area bike shops. It’s important to me that my kids’ bikes come from bike shops, not big box stores.

It’s a point of pride and I’ll tell you why: Walmart, or its ilk, does not need my money. They’ll do just fine without it.

But the man, woman, or family that owns my local bike shop, does. And they’ll be quite appreciative of it. Likely, they’ll remember my name when I walk in next time, ask me about the bike and if there’s anything else I might need.

This is called a relationship. It used to be the norm when people bought goods or services. But now, sadly, it is the exception. Bike shops, once a flourishing business venture, are now fewer and farther between, due at least in some part to the Walmarts of the world.

When I was a kid 150 years ago, you went to a bike shop if you wanted a bike. You didn’t have to go far, likely, because there was at least one in your neighborhood, several more within a few miles. There was at least one used bike shop, too, where a mechanic (yes, an actual bike mechanic) tuned up, built, bought and sold bikes of all makes and sizes.

Today, people just as often think about going to a big box store for a kids’ bike. It’s easier, I get that. We’re all pressed for time, certainly. And while the quality of those big box bikes has improved over the years, buying one of those, to me, sends the message that I didn’t care enough to spend some time to find the right bike and I don’t care to whom my money goes.

I do. And I do. Just for the record.

* * * * *

I searched and I searched for the right bike. I took my son with me on trips to test ride all manner of velocipedes. Some were too large, some too small.  Some were too ugly, others too spendy.

Soon, we had narrowed the selection down to a BMX bike. He wasn’t a fan of cruisers, was not ready for a bike with gears and is too small for a 24’’ bike.

That took a couple of weeks, four bike shops and countless hours online comparing the geometry, frame material and other considerations.

I showed him several photos of bikes I found online. He was less than helpful. Pictures of bikes were not bikes, Dad.

The bike shop that does all my repair work — a mighty fine shop, for the record — had a couple of pretty nice bikes and I nearly bought one after the boy indicated he liked one. But he didn’t look quite right on it. Almost, but not quite. It turned out it was $100 more than I wanted to spend anyway, so that kinda sealed it.

Out of loyalty, I tried to find a bicycle online that I liked that my shop could order for me. I came pretty close with that, too. But buying a bike sight-unseen is dicey at best. And this was my son’s birthday present we’re talking about. I couldn’t chance it.

So, feeling disloyal, I went to yet another bike shop. They had a bike that was about the right size, maybe a little small. It was ugly as could be, though. Spicoli, too, had reservations.  But there was one in the basement, unbuilt, that might do the trick, he said.

Pretty good, it was. Tough to tell in the box, though, so he offered to build it up for me. I came back two days later. And saw it across the shop immediately.

Perfect size, subdued paint, right price, quality construction. I hope my regular bike shop forgives me, but wrap it up, Spicoli. That’s the one.

Little dude’s going to be so stoked.

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