Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Slow Ride

One of the things I noticed when I was in Cuba is that the people there ride their bikes slowly. Singlespeeds are prevalent, but even bikes that appear to have functioning derailers or internally geared hubs are usually left on one speed, and people just plod along. The average speed is maybe twice as fast as a leisurely walk, keeping cycling in the realm of appreciable mechanical advantage while obviating the need not only for multiple speeds but, for the most part, brakes.

It seems almost too plain to need restatement that we bicycle enthusiasts like speed. We make appreciate cruising sometimes, but we also like to open it up and fly. When we ride around town or to and from work, we go pretty fast. I like going fast too, and I find it hard not to bear down when I ride. But lately, inspired, I suppose, by my trip, I decided it might be nice to embrace leisure in my riding - at least when I am wearing a suit. The problem (if it can be called that) is that the two bike I have like to go at a healthy clip - the handlebars are pretty low, the saddles are kinda high, and somehow, they make me ride hard. Enter the Raleigh Twenty.

Raleigh Twenty

Some time ago, I found this fine specimen on craigslist and bought it for my dear wife. I had just acquired the much-storied Xootr and was drunk off the utilitarian joys of folding bike ownership. I thought a stylish, retro folder for Anna would be just the thing to get her to ride more, which she often says she would like to do. I figured maybe she could keep it at her office at Wesleyan and use it around the campus. Well, what actually happened is that she wasn't interested, told me I shouldn't have spent the money (which I shouldn't have), and the thing sat in the garage for some months, being not what she wanted and too short for me to ride.

So last night, I brought to bear all of my engineering know-how and created a seatpost extension that made this sturdy old rig worthy of a 6'5" rider:


And today, all spiffed up for court, I endeavored to ride slow on a bike that I judged would not go fast even if I wanted it to. The result: smashing success. Rather than be a weird, fast-riding guy with suit pants rolled up, awkwardly straddling two worlds and two speeds, I embraced my inner country lawyer and toodled along in old-school, three-speed style. It was enjoyable, and I didn't get too sweaty. Also, as much as I love the Xootr, it's kinda fancy and new-looking. A slightly rusty, heavy, thirty-year-old bike seems more appropriate for my rumpled suit-wearing style. Also, I was able to imagine this song as my soundtrack.

Also, here's a video that more or less captures my slow, stately movement:

UPDATE: Join the slow ride old folding bike revolution! Someone is selling two Raleigh Twenty folders in Southington for just $20 apiece.


Matthew Platte said...

I ride a trike (Sun tadpole) and my days of fast riding are drawing to a close here in Nebraska. The heat+humidity are conspiring to suppress my speed and, as I often tell people walking along beside me, "I'm trying not to break a sweat."

Mr. Donkey said...

I wonder if the slow speeds that you saw in Cuba are related to the weather.

I bike slower in DC during the summer so that I am not dripping with sweat when I arrive at my destination. In cooler weather, I agree, speed is addictive.

Mark said...

I left them a message on those two Raleighs. Hope they are still available. If so, one might become a fixie project and I will clean the other one up for my wife because she needs to sit upright when she rides (bad back). said...

It's really nice to me that people are starting to discover the joys of riding at a moderate pace.

I think in general, we have forgotten that you get somewhere just as fast by going at a constant 10mph as you do peaking at 30mph for 30 seconds, then stopping, then peaking at 30mph for 30 seconds, then stopping. Our traffic engineering has been designed to accommodate that peaking and stopping, and not only is it a waste of energy, it's frustrating and stressful. Even on a bike (though you probably peak more around 20-25 on a bike, depending on the person).

I average about 10mph on my daily trips, and I still travel much faster than buses, and not that much slower than automobiles, and I enjoy my rides. I don't get stuck in traffic (usually), I don't get frustrated at the people in front of me who aren't going as fast as I want to go (because most of them are going faster, when not stopped), and I have a chance to enjoy the places I ride through.

Also, having a slow bike, for me, also means having a practical bike, and I do basically all of my grocery shopping, library trips, ride to work, out to the park for a picnic - I can do all of it on my bike easily.

I was lucky enough just recently to find a 1952 Raleigh Sport which is in beautiful condition, and I've been having a lot of fun riding it slowly (though a little faster than my Electra Amsterdam) around town. It's such a solid, well-made, beautiful bike. Most people just don't make them like that anymore.

Rich said...

Since joining the folding bike revolution, thanks to a heads-up from El Prez himself, I've noticed that a lot of the people who encounter or know about folding bikes are apparently also nautical enthusiasts. The people in Avon I bought mine from kept saying "it would be great for a boat." Someone else I was talking to about my folding bike also asked if I planned to use it on a boat. And now this Craig's List ad for the Raleighs expounded on his boat usage.

I'd make a Lonely Island "I'm On A Boat" reference here, but I think it is getting tired.

El Presidente de China said...

I realize the idea is to keep these stowed on your boat for easy on-shore transportation, but the way it's worded on the craigslist ad makes it sound like the point is to ride them on the boat: "I used these up to a few years ago on my Boat for transportation." That guy must have a big boat.

2whls3spds said...

Some of us belong to the The Slow Bicycle Movement I too have just recently acquired a Twenty and have been enjoying the hell out of it. I have been a slower rider for years (about the last 10) I have always heard that we needed to slow down and smell the roses along the way. I see, hear and do more from a bicycle than I ever do from behind the wheel of a car. I sometimes wonder if the need for speed doesn't come from it being pushed on us by the auto advertising and we just transfer to our entire lifestyle?

Slow and proud of it!