I did a bad thing on Saturday -- I bought a bike I didn't really need.
Now, of course, there are those of us who believe there is no such thing as a bike a person doesn't need. But I've never been in that camp. I've mostly seen bicycles as a cheap and effective means of basic transportation, and not so much as an item of conspicuous consumption.
For over a decade, I've been riding a sturdy Trek made from recycled parts built around an old 420 frame. The whole thing cost me $125. I love its practicality with its comfortable mustache handlebars, luggage carrier and fenders. But mostly I love the fact that I spent $125 for it a decade ago, and haven't spent more than maybe a hundred bucks on maintenance for it since, mostly for new tires and brake pads.
I also own a Trek Portland road bike and an old mountain bike that I converted to use as my winter wheels, though to be honest, I haven't been riding over this cold and snowy winter. And I have an old Takara that I rode across the state; it's hanging in my basement, and I keep it mostly for sentimental reasons.
But last weekend, I spent a little time behind the Bike Fed table during Bike O'Rama at the Alliant Energy Center. I was surrounded by bikes and by bike people. You could smell the rubber and grease in the air. The bikes were calling for me to come ride them. And, face it, once you've ridden a bike and love it, all that's left is to get to the checkout counter and hand over your credit card.
I spotted this simple black number in the corner. It turned out to be a Felt Brougham, a steel frame fixie with a flip-flop hub, and sporting both a freewheel and a fixed cog. The silhouette is elegant, and the bike is outfitted with a riser bar, pedals with clips and straps, and even a front brake.
Yeah, I know. I already own four bikes. But what can I say? I saw it and I fell in love. Then I rode it and we flew together like the wind. I had to have it.
It's hard to explain the allure of a fixie. As a practical matter, the bike makes no sense, especially in hilly Madison. Why commit yourself to one gear when you could have 18?
But I imagine I'll ride it to work along Madison's Southwest bike path to the elevator at Monona Terrace and then up to the Capitol Square level and over to our Madison office on Main Street. That route is almost totally flat.
I'll carry my stuff in a bike satchel slung low across my back. When I arrive, I'll carry the Brougham's mere twenty-two pounds up the stairs to my office. It will sit there all day long looking cool. People who visit will see it and imagine I am mysterious and complicated in a way they had never previously comprehended.
They'll be wrong of course, but I will say nothing to correct them. I'll let the bike tell lies about me. Come to think of it now, this is a bike I did need.
Dave Cieslewicz is executive director of the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.