Basket Case

While many cyclists relate to that whole “n+1” thing whereby you always want one more bike, as a washed-up bike blogger with no shortage of bicycles I’m much more taken by the idea of “n-1,” in that I perpetually fantasize about reducing my overall number of bikes.

Oh sure, there are still some bicycles I covet (a Rivendell Platypus or a Jones Titanium come to mind), but between my lack of storage space and my limited time in which to perform routine maintenance I long for a simplified existence to the extent that I once even tried to ride the same bike for a year–at which I predictably failed.

To that end, I’m always eyeballing one bicycle or another for divestiture, and it would be easy to do this if only I didn’t ride them all. What happens is, just as I’ve resolved to get rid of a bike, it invariably proves its utility and I decide to keep it after all. Consider my Midlife Crisis Hipster Fixie, which until this week I was totally going to ditch:

The bike is a budget fixie from State’s “Core Line,” which I wound up with because Bicycling asked me to write about it. Around this time, I was commuting to Brooklyn once a week to do my radio show, and I came to appreciate the State as a bicycle I could lock up outside and not worry about while I blathered over the airwaves for an hour. (Arguably every New Yorker should have at least two bikes; one “nice” one for pleasure and recreation, and one sacrificial lamb you don’t mind chaining to a pole.) But then I stopped doing the radio show, and it’s too hilly where I live for a fixie (at least if you’re my age), so recently I decided to give it the “Frozen” treatment, by which I mean let it go.

Unfortunately, if you’re a terminal bike dork like I am it doesn’t take much to convince yourself that you “need” a bike. In my case, this week I had a dental appointment, and my dentist is all the way down on 23rd Street–which made sense over 10 years ago when I still worked near 23rd Street, but which makes absolutely no sense now. However, schlepping two and from 23rd Street every six months somehow seems easier than changing dentists, and so I continue to do it. Anyway, it’s a good excuse to go for a ride.

Furthermore, if you’re a terminal bike dork, you spend the days before your dental appointment contemplating which bike you’re going to ride to the dentist. The forecast called for rain, so I wanted fenders. I’d also need to leave the bicycle outside unattended, or else bring it in with me. Certainly the Brompton was an ideal candidate:

But hey, what can I say? I was in the mood to tinker. And so my thoughts turned to the State.

At $299, the State is very cheap, and no doubt one area in which they managed to save money was in the wheels. Specifically, the spokes in the rear wheel had rusted significantly, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before. (And that’s saying a lot given the extent to which I neglect my bikes.) The wheels were also quite heavy, and I’d never liked the looks of those “peak fixie” white rims. As it happened, I had a decent pair of flip-flop wheels lying around, complete with Armadillo tires already mounted–a relic from the heady days when we had no kids, we lived in crêpe-flat Brooklyn, and my wife used to ride around on this baby, which now lives in storage:

(Every few weeks I tell myself I’m going to build this up again for myself.)

I also had a Wald basket, which was on the Electra I tested years ago and has since sat unused, as well as a pair of clip-on fenders, and together all these components and accessories rendered the bike surprisingly classy-looking:

Here’s a closer look at the Wald for all the Basket Freds, by the way:

(It’s this one, in case you’re wondering.)

The bike instantly rode better with the new wheels, and when a bike rides noticeably better with a pair of budget flip-flop wheels and a pair of Armadillos that’s older than your children then that’s saying a lot about the quality of the old wheels and tires:

Also, while digging out the basket, I found this bag that Banjo Brothers sent me way back when I was still relevant:

My “throwback hipster” look now complete, I tossed my bag in the basket and headed downtown:

Motor vehicle traffic has been back for awhile, but overall Manhattan is still oddly subdued:

I should note that I tweeted this yesterday:

And it was at the above intersection that I observed one of these light-runnings. Basically, there’s a dedicated bicycle signal, which was red, while the turn signal for motor vehicle traffic was green. Ahead of me was a Citi Bike rider, who rode right through the red bike signal, right alongside a turning FedEx rig. I thought I was about to see someone get left-hooked, but fortunately she made it through and docked her Citi Bike in the rack at the far end of the intersection.

Riding along with my basket, I contemplated the pros and cons of front versus rear portaging. One advantage of carrying stuff up front is that it has less of an effect on the handling of the bike. However, one disadvantage is that if something fails it can interfere with your front wheel, and in turn send you over the bars. After riding over yet another stretch of rough pavement it occurred to me to perform an inspection, and I found that the basket had indeed slipped down within about a millimeter of the front tire:

I suspect I can easily remedy this by putting something grippy between the clamps and the handlebars, but in the meantime I relocated my bag to my shoulder.

From Times Square I headed over to 9th Avenue, where it felt good to be part of bicycle traffic:

Even if we did have to run the Pando-era Gutter Dining Gauntlet:

Shortly thereafter, I once again witnessed light-running that quickened my pulse–this time, the riders ahead of me ran a solid red in front of an approaching UPS truck:

For the second time in about 15 minutes I thought I was about to watch someone get flattened, but instead the UPS driver slowed and waved them through.

I seem to recall someone accusing me of being “reactionary” recently, but the fact is I’m much less so than I once was. Consider something I wrote 10 years ago about people running lights on bikes:

By the way, the intro to that post was quite prescient–at least the part about living in bunkers:

Anyway, I see things a little differently now. Whether it’s flashing lights that tell us when to go or stop, or increasingly baroque rules designed to confuse and outwit a virus, it’s hard not to lament the way in which what we’re “supposed” to be doing at any given moment is so at odds with our fundamental humanity. People are people. Swept up in the sensation of flight that comes with riding a bicycle, they sometimes roll through red lights. Craving joy and companionship at a time when so many outlets are stifled, they defy executive orders and hold secret hookah parties. That’s not to say people should roll through red lights when trucks are coming, but it is to say that even when you’re watching from behind and thinking, “What an idiot,” it’s important to at lest temper that with some compassion for the basic human-ness that occasionally compels even the most disciplined of us to get swept up in the moment. At a certain point, failing to recognize this when implementing policy and infrastructure becomes untenable. At the same time, while acknowledging it doesn’t solve the problem in the short term, at least it’s a start.

As for me, I made it to 23rd Street, where I snugged up my basket:

Whilst being silently shamed by the superior load-bearing triangulation of the basket next to me:

And after I had my wooden teeth shellacked I headed back home beneath a pall of grey…

…though by the time I got home the sun had burned all the cobwebs away and I finished my journey beneath clear skies. Furthermore, upon arriving home I was greeted by yet another ray of sunshine in the form of my new kickstand:

Yes, ever since taking delivery of my Rivendell I’ve been taunted by that bare kickstand plate:

I resisted for awhile–not because I have a problem with kickstands, but because for some reason I’ve felt compelled to put as few accessories on the Rivendell as possible. (Which is silly, considering the abundance of clearance and braze-ons for them.) However, the last straw came the other day when we took a family bike ride and stopped at a restaurant; my wife simply flipped down her kickstand, where as I spent like five minutes trying to lean my bike against a pole in such a manner so as not to scratch it. This, I realized, was stupid, and I resolved to order a kickstand forthwith.

So why the Greenfield instead of the Pletscher Rivendell sells? (None of these names meant anything to me until like a week ago, by the way, but now I know they’re the Shimano and Campagnolo of kickstands.) Well, the Greenfield came in black. Also, it’s made on Long Island. And finally, I enjoyed this video:

Which gave me the confidence to tackle the installation, even though I’m not a “qualified adult:”

Don’t tell anybody, it’ll void the warranty.

Now, between the bag and the kickstand, by bike looks like a dignified gentleman leaning on a walking stick:

If only I were so distinguished.

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