Friday, May 30, 2008

Style Over Speed.

I have spent the last few days helping a friend make the transition to a car-free life. The biggest part of that has been helping her in choosing which bike as her new source of transportation.

She currently owns a mountain bike but feels too stretched out and thinks it is not really suited for what she wants and needs for her daily travels. She has never been a fan of "that clingy lycra stuff" and is a little intimidated by road bikes. She doesn't see the sense in putting on special cycling clothes for a trip to the store or for her 3 mile commute to work and return trip home. She just wants a comfortable utilitarian bike for daily use without compromising her personal style.

What she wants is style over speed.

(photo by Zakkaliciousness)

The answer to which bike will suit her needs was a simple one once we figured out she what wanted. Or more to the point what she didn't want. The bike of choice for her has been around since the beginning of the 20th century and is still in use by hundreds of thousands of people today. Because we here in the States have a burning need to label and catorgise everything. You may know it as a "Dutch Bike". The Europeans, Asians, Africans and rest of the known world outside of the US refer to it simply as "a bike".

Now that we knew what she wanted. All that we had to do now was find it. Which wouldn't be much of a task in places like Portland, Chicago or New York. But here in Jacksonville it turned out to be a whole other experience. I found several makes and models online which she then narrowed down to 3. All of the 3 chosen bikes listed local dealers (2 of them multiple dealers) and off we went to see if we could find those bikes or something like them.

Knowing our local bike shops as well as I do. I already knew that none of them wouldn't have these bikes in stock. But what I wasn't ready for was the attitude combined with an udder lack of knowledge of anything outside of their staple line of bikes. We would have most likely received the same blank stares followed by the patented "umm, ah what?" if we had walked in and asked for a flux-capacitor.

But the thing that had me about ready to commit an act that would have surly resulted in my arrest and the phrase, "film at eleven". Was the number of times we heard, "you don't want that" right after they had just uttered the infamous, "umm, ah what?".

How do you know we "don't want that" was all the reply I could muster without also performing the aforementioned act above. I just could not comprehend how these very highly trained professional bike shops employees could form such an intelligent well informed response from the simple request for a certain make & model of bike they had no idea even existed.

I must admit that a couple of the shops did take the time to ask a few questions before letting us know what we don't want. It was truly amazing how hard they would try and push hybrids or mountain bikes on us. Which they would also be so kind as to sell us shorter stems and riser bars so she could sit more up right. How so very nice of them.

When queried as to what my friend should do when she was wearing pants or a dress. The shop sales people were quick to reach for that reflective Velcro strip for her to wrap around her pants leg and they always just found someway of ignoring the dress dilemma.

It just seems our local bike shops cannot grasp that someone would want to ride something with only 3 speeds and internal gears on top of that, fenders, racks and a dress screen all on a frame with a little style. They don't (or won't) grasp that joe & jane public are not going to be training for the Tour De France or screaming through the trails of Hanna Park. They just want a convenient utilitarian bike for getting to stores and work. They don't understand people don't want to spend a half an hour squeezing into clothes that look as if a clown took a crap on them and wearing shoes that cause the wearer to walk like a duck. They just want to throw a leg over a bike and ride. And do it with some style.

When will our local bike shops pull their collective heads out of their ass and start to understand that bicycles can be more than just a source of recreation. That many people in these current economic times are starting to rethink their transportation options. And that just maybe they are selling one of the greatest sources of transportation ever invented. And that also just maybe more people would be willing to make a bicycle that choice if they could have just a little style over speed.

My friend did find the exact bike she wanted. 180 miles south in Melbourne, FL.

If you would like to see what style over speed looks like. Check out Copenhagen Cycling Chic.



rachel best henley said...

This is a really great post! And I can guarantee your friend is not the only person who wants a bike like that. I have always been amazed whenever I go to places like Amsterdam, how simple, yet convenient their bikes are, and at the same time look great. I hope bike shop owners will read this entry and take into consideration what you have said. It seems they are neglecting the common person, and it also seems borderline insulting the way they responded to you... they probably had no idea. I appreciate your efforts to relate to bike riders of all kinds!

Rox of Spazhouse said...

This was a great post. There is or was (Iam not sure if it is still there) a Dutch Bicycle Store in St. Augustine. They are indeed beautiful bikes.

If your friend wants a great bike for travel. I would suggest the Dahon The Ciao! It was vote Bike of the year in the Netherlands. The frame dips low enough the accommodate someone wearing a dress and other stylish clothes.

Bike Jax said...

Rachel, thanks for nice words. The big cities are just starting to get it within the last few years. So in typical Jacksonville timeline our bike shops will catch on in about 17 years.

Roxanne, thank you also. The place in St. Augustine was talking about moving to the Boston area well over a year ago. And talk attitude. Those folks had it and none of it in a good way.

Wordnerdy said...

Wow, what a story. I'm glad it's working out for your friend.

Speaking of, the boy toy and I are going to two shops tomorrow. I hear he's tired of carting me places beyond my bike's limits, but he hasn't told me that. And he continues to agree to take me places. Such a guy. If he didn't want to drive, he could Just Say No, like a good Reagan Republican.

And Rox mentioned that dutch bicycle shop in St. A. I think I've seen that place. Boy, they had nice rides. A bit expensive, though.

I have some feedback on shops here and the attitudes of their owners, but I haven't heard from your friend who lives here, the shy one with the package.

Wordnerdy said...

So I've been doing some research on the St. A place. It seems every link on the Internet for St. Augustine, FL dutch bicycles takes you to The Dutch Bicycle Company, but that's in Massachussetts. Links are provided to shops in Denver, Seattle and BOZEMAN, of all places. What the heck?

Grrrr. I'm getting testy.

Anonymous said...

The bike shop staff in Jacksonville must have relatives here in Salt Lake City - but they figure you must need a mountain bike for Moab.

Either that, or the Lance Armstrong replica that they usually have near the front of the shop.

As far as basic transportation, isn't that what the Subaru is for?

Very entertaining blog so far. Keep up the good work.

Nate (SLC)

Second_Pancake said...

I really wish I had read this earlier. The bike shop in St. Augustine was still there a month ago when I was walking around, but their hours are really odd and I've never actually gotten to go in.

Bicycles Etc. carries the Townie Amsterdam which has a chain guard, fenders, sits upright, can accomodate a dress, has a headlamp that runs on energy from pedaling and comes in some great colors. I dont' know if that's the bike shop you visited or not.

Bike Jax said...

Hi Second pancake. If you notice I didn't call out any of the bike shops. I know and like most of the shop owners and didn't want to publicly embarrass any of them.

They all however need to wake up and smell the chain lube. Especially those in the urban core.

Anonymous said...

Zactly. It is frustrating but I suspect the shops will come around or else new bicycle brands and marketers will end-around them in the next year. The shops fail to appreciate that the comfort bikes they sell look too much like SUVs and their design is not appealing to the under 60 demographic. In addition to getting the shops to stock the city bike, most mainline bike store brands aren't making them. For example, Raleigh, having had one of the most popular 3 speed style city bikes ever some decades ago, doesn't make a city bike (at least for the US market). If Trek (Gary Fisher) can get its shops to stock what they just designed and build enough of them (hopefully with more colors so we don't all have identical bikes), they will make some decent coin. Somebody local ought to pick up the Breezer line, too.

Jax, FL

Bike Jax said...

Tom, I with you all the way on the Breezer line. It is nuts that city our size doesn't have a single Breezer dealer.

Ricardo's Law said...

Not to go all commercial on everybody - but there are other options out there.

Has anybody looked at the Chinese-made roadsters? Single-speed, most of them, but there are some three-speeders out there.

Very "retro" style, but not self-consciously so, since they build them this way because this is how they build them, not because urban hipsters have suddenly embraced the style.

I've got some coming in; the fad and/or the sudden up-tick in interest in utility cycling has driven this jade dealer into expanding his offerings.

Shek said...

I hear you all and I completely agree that the bike shops in town are barely geared to tackle commuting accessories, let alone commuter bikes.

In their defense, it does not make any business sense to stock up on bikes that not many people want. Though they can be more aware of such bikes and be ready to talk about them, have one at hand and be prompt to order one if needed.

Even though more people are commuting by bikes these days (thanks to gas prices), a lot of people are not going to commute till the roads get safer for cyclists.

Anonymous said...

The store that sells bikes like that in St. Augustine moved up north if I am not mistaken a while back? I went in and checked out while they were still there packing and what not.

Audeamus said...

Hello from Tallahassee. I'm sort of going through the same thing. We did find a Raleigh semi-step-through for my wife, and had fenders installed. She's too far away from work to ride, but it's a good neighborhood bike. However, to a bike snob like me, the bearings, derailleurs, and other parts are unbearably cheap. However, I'm now looking for a Dutch-style bike to commute to work on, and I've been looking pretty hard at the Breezer Uptown 8. However, the closest shop is in Atlanta. We've got at least six nice bike shops in TLH, but none of them carry decent city bikes. And this is supposed to be the newest growth category!

Good to see intelligent bicycle posting in Jax. Y'all are coming right along, aren't you?

Bike Jax said...

Audeamus, I understand your frustration with not being able to find a quality city bike. What I don't understand is why Raleigh doesn't supply the US with the same city bikes that they offer in Europe and are are so popular over there.

I also find it completely disappointing that shops here Florida don't carry the Breezer line. Not only is Joe (Breezer) a founding father of Mountain Biking. He has been a long time advocate of bikes as transportation. And as such is building some of the finest city bikes in the world.

I don't really know the TLH shops that well. But have you talked with Joe of Joe's Bike Shop? If I remember right, he is on Monroe by Lake Ella. He might be willing to order a Breezer for you. His shop is also in perfect location to carry a line of city bikes. Sorry I can't be of more help. Good luck with your search and let us know how it turns out.