Friday, March 16, 2012

The Bicycle Diaries of a Big Girl

Posted by on Fri, Mar 16, 2012 at 6:00 AM

click to enlarge Katelyn on her inaugural voyage along the Cultural Trail.
  • Mike Hosp
  • Katelyn on her inaugural voyage along the Cultural Trail.

If you're anything like me, and - no offense - you probably are, you've almost hit a cyclist with your car. In warm weather, cyclists swarm like bees or birds, moving together in what they call a "peloton." What the hell is a peloton? I'm no Lance Armstrong. I've never survived testicular cancer to go on to win seven consecutive Tour de Frances to go on to be accused of using performance enhancing drugs.

I don't even have testicles.

But one thing I do know: the cycling revolution in Indianapolis is here to stay. We've got bike lanes, bike racks, bike hubs, special spandex shorts and a vocabulary entirely unique with terms like "donkey back" and "boing." In my relatively short life, there's one cliché I'm willing to follow: "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." And that's exactly what I intend to do.

I moved from the Westside of Indianapolis (think Speedway but further) to the Historic Old Northside last Summer with the intention to walk more. If I lived in walking distance of grocery stores, shops, bars, even the library, maybe I stood a chance of being more active and leaving less of a carbon foot print. But it turns out, walking everywhere was a big-ol' pain in my ass.

Then one day, I was plodding along Mass Ave, the sun blazing down on me, my arms loaded with groceries wilting in the stagnant summer air, when a pair of cyclist zipped passed me creating the strongest wind I'd felt all day. I found myself yearning after these people who had the ability to zoom by and one thought gnawed at my heart: "If I had a bike, I'd be home by now."

However, like a lot of other things, and like a lot of other people do, I've put off purchasing a bicycle and joining the two-wheeled revolution out of fear. Fear of helmet hair. Fear that upon arriving anyplace, I'll be sweaty and out of breath. Fear that my ass is too big for one of those tiny little banana seats...the excuses go on.

But day-mares of falling into traffic and having my bloodied mangled face start off the 11 news aside, I've decided to conquer the fear. I challenge myself, and all of you, to ride into the world of bicycling and help make Indianapolis a more sustainable place to live.

click to enlarge MIKE HOSP

Enjoy, as I approach Indy's cycling community from the "Big Girl's" perspective.

Note: a "Big Girl" is a mindset, an attitude... not a number.

The Purchase

First things first: the purchase. Though I'm always one to hunt down a deal, I felt that it was important to find my perfect bicycle at one of the local bike boutiques, which cater to Indy's cycling crowd. I am, after all, posting this blog to NUVO's website, one of the most bicycle-friendly organizations in the city, famous for its liberal outlook and delicious, crunchy granola topping.

Buying a cheaply priced (and I would later find out, often poorly made) bike from a big box store doesn't align with this blog's goal to engage in one of Indy's fastest growing grassroots movements toward sustainability.

While the prices may jump a bit at the locally owned shops, it's next to impossible to beat the focused and welcoming customer service at these stores. From the new shop Bikes on Mass Ave to The Bike Line and National Moto in Broad Ripple and even Bicycle Garage Indy on 82nd Street, you'll meet friendly sales people who aren't just trying to take your money. Instead, these active participants in cycling want to see their community grow by fitting customers on the right bicycle, regardless of price. Any addition to the growing population of cyclists is a win for their team, which gains its greatest power in numbers.

Honestly, as a "bunny" cyclist (biker lingo for beginner), I must admit that I enjoyed the shopping process a bit too much. I'm not one to really spend money. I've always been more of a "do-the-best-with-what-I've-got" kind of gal. So for me, a budget of $500, which is a pretty reasonable price range for most beginning cyclists, it felt like a lot of money to spend. But the phrase I kept hearing each time my sticker shock got the best of me was "it's an investment."

But where to make such an investment? I visited The Bike Line first, where I met Charlie Revard. "We have been in business since 1979," explained Charlie of his family owned business. "I bought this store from my parents in 1990. I run it with my sister, and our two younger brothers run our Carmel store." Revard gave me a tour of the Broad Ripple location, suggesting bikes and explaining the lingo.

He showed me bicycle pumps, tires treads, helmets and specially designed shoes and fashion. I took a shine to the bicycle shorts with padded butts: just fitting into a pair of those would be a high achievement in my book. He also explained the difference between a u-lock and a cable lock. "These keep honest people honest," he said pointing to the cable lock, "while these keep dishonest people honest," in reference to the heavy-duty steel u-locks. Meanwhile, my head started spinning at all of the uses and purposes for the various cycling accessories.

click to enlarge MIKE HOSP

Charlie, who was practically raised by bicycles, had my number when it came to the bikes. I told him I wanted something light weight (to carry up to my 3rd floor apartment), that could be used for commuting around town and exercise on the Monon.

"This one," he said, pointing to a Trek 7.2 WSD in Berry Gloss, "I would probably pick as the number-one bike for what you want, and in the sea of bikes that there are to look at, this kind of really easily narrows it down for you." That morning, I took the Trek for a quick test spin on the Monon. When I returned the bike, I bid Charlie farewell assuring him I would return to The Bike Line.

My shopping journey continued the next day when I met with Matty Bennett and Brendan Fox of National Moto+Cycle Co. These two very cool dudes, who specialize in electric bikes, sat down with me to talk style options. The pair opened their shop last February.

"We haven't felt this kind of momentum in the bicycling community in Indianapolis since the early 90s, when mountain biking had a big surge," said the gregarious Matty. His more silent partner, Fox, pulled up bikes specs on his computer. We discussed my options, and I even learned some new vocab to work on: internal gear shift (primarily for three speeds, a gearing system on the interior of the bike's back wheel) and pannier (fancy-pantsy bags to attach to your bike).

The National Moto guys gave me invaluable advice as I continued my shopping experience. A few days later, I had a chance to test out some bicycles at Bicycle Garage Indy and Bikes on Mass Ave. But after comparing so many options, that "sea of bikes" Charlie Revard mentioned was starting to overwhelm this bunny. My heart led me back to The Bike Line, where Charlie sold me the very first bike he pointed out to me, the very first bike I test rode.

click to enlarge MIKE HOSP

Now I'm leaving pedestrians in my dust. And even though that pain in my ass is literal instead of figurative (as my rear adjusts to the banana seat), I'm ready to begin my two-wheeled adventures.

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