Not Evangelism

Monday, March 14, 2011

A New Bike

Last week, I commuted on my new bike for the first time.

It was a frosty morning, by the by, not so cold that I suffered brain freeze on the big downhill, but cold enough that my toes were tending towards numbness as I arrived at the office.

The Joys of a New Bike

There's a pleasure in riding a new bike, of course, especially one that has been a long time coming. I've wanted this bike for a year or so. I ordered it in December 2010. That's a lot of deferred pleasure.

Picking a new bike is great fun, certainly; choosing the colour of the frame, the saddle, the bar tape. There's joy to be found in kitting out the bike, too, putting the new bits and pieces on it, arranging it just so. But it's not just the lure of the new, the shiny. It's also the thrill of excitement from meeting a new friend, of learning about their little quirks. Sure, there's always a certain amount of getting used to a new friend; the riding position being ever so slightly different, the pedals needing a bit of tweaking and set-up, the responsiveness of the steering and the brakes.

And there are the unanswered questions, too - particularly with a machine ordered over the Internet, unseen, unridden.

Will I like it? Should I have chosen something else? Was I crazy to pick a singlespeed bike for my commuter, on the Cycle2Work scheme? This is not a bike I can easily sell on if I don't like it - it's owned by my employer for at least 12 months. Am I be strong enough to ride my commute with just one gear?

One of my biggest worries was whether I'd picked the "right" gearing. Picking a singlespeed gearing is naturally, necessarily a compromise: a gear easy enough to get up the worst of the hills, a gear hard enough to make the flats and downhills manageable without spinning out (and if you hadn't considered the latter a possibility or a problem, try it the next time you're going down a decent hill; the old legs are reluctant to go beyond a certain speed).

The Early Verdict

After that first ride, I think I've got the gearing bang-on. On the flat, the gear felt pleasant - definitely spinning rather than grinding - but with just enough resistance that it was fun. After the morning ride I was pleased.

In the evening: I will not claim I glided up the Big Uphill, but I did climb it without stopping and sweating too much. Sure, I had to get out of the saddle to get over the worst of the gradient, but I'd expected that. And at no point had I found the going so tough that I'd even been near considering stopping, slowing or - help! - getting off and pushing. No dismounts, no walking, no worries!

So I figure the gearing is about right.

And an unexpected benefit: because the gear is a touch easier than I might choose on another bike, because I can't change that gear, I spend more of the time spinning rather than grinding (on the flats, at least, where normally I would be pushing a bigger and bigger gear). This means that I can't go quite so fast, but it means that it feels easier. And, better still, it feels more fun! I spend more time in the easier cadence, working less hard, feeling stronger, more aerobic exercise.

I felt, in short, that I was flying more often than I normally do.

One thing I did notice: momentum is key. Because I have to work a little to get on top of the gear from a standing start, it means that I'm increasingly reluctant to stop. I need to plan my deceleration, looking farther down the road, reading the traffic. These are good skills to hone.

In Conclusion

The first ride with my new friend was great. The bike rides really well. Yes, the saddle needs raising a little, and the brake hoods - squat, chunky things - feel less comfortable in my hands than the Shimano integrated shifters I've used for the last 2000 miles. But that's a question of familiarity; they're comfy enough, and so is the bike - clearly the money spent on a bike fitting when I bought the Giant is still paying dividends.

And I was smiling all the way there and back again.

Friday, March 4, 2011

On Plastic

I am not a great fan of plastic.

I mean, I like the qualities of plastic: that it's unbreakable (or, at least, shatterproof), durable, watertight. Lightweight. It's a great idea. But I don't like that it's made from a non-renewable resource (crude oil, ultimately), and is rather tricky to recycle. It's not great at rotting, tending to stick around for ages, clogging up the place for hundreds of years.

So wherever possible, I prefer to avoid plastic, and choose alternatives that are made from renewable materials, or can be more easily disposed of at the end of their life, through recycling or bio-degrading, or composting.

I eschew plastic bags, choosing instead to use my hands and pockets, or cardboard boxes.

I buy my milk in glass bottles (that, as well as being made from the wonderfully renewable glass, are rinsed, returned and reused). I buy baskets and wooden storage boxes. I have a metal toolbox I inherited from my father (and might yet pass on to my son).

There are, though, times when only plastic will do. To store something in a sometimes-damp garage, safe from rodent's teeth, protected from the weather - plastic is pretty much the best choice.

In these cases, I choose plastic that is durable, robust, and - if possible - made from a type of plastic that can be recycled (or, at least, downcycled). And I plan to keep it for a long time; I weigh my current needs, my future plans, and choose the best fit that will last. If I'm going to buy plastic, I want it to be as infrequently as possible, and I don't want to be throwing it away any time soon.

Getting the best - the most - out of what I spend my time and money on. That's my kind of environmentalism.