Ever since I started reviewing bicycles and components, companies just will not stop sending me products to review. I’m sure some of you think that being constantly sternum-deep in the latest high-end gear is a dream come true, but I’m here to tell you that it’s more of a nuisance than anything. In fact, the degree of clutter has reached the point that I’ve had to find household uses for all of these products. So far I’ve built a coat rack out of carbon fiber handlebars, a toilet seat out of a deep-dish carbon fiber rim, and an extremely comfortable bed that uses Marzocchi suspension forks for legs. (Thank goodness for remote lockout.)
Recently I figured it was about time that I reviewed another product. However, I didn’t want to simply review the same high-end, overpriced gimmickry that the rest of the cycling media is always drooling over. Furthermore, I couldn’t find any components that weren’t now providing some kind of essential domestic service. (If you think I’m giving up my SRAM Red shower controls, you are gravely mistaken.) So I decided to do more of a “real world” review for the budget-oriented cyclist. And there’s one place above all where budgets and cyclists collide with spectacular results—that’s right, Craigslist.
I recognize that not every aspiring cyclist can afford to walk into a bike shop and get fully outfitted, so I wanted to see how the Craigslist experience compared to the retail store experience. It wasn’t easy to find a bicycle that met my dual requirements of being both inexpensive yet made by a reputable manufacturer, though. Until I stumbled upon this:
Yes, that’s right, a vintage Bridgestone for $150. Leaning seductively against the refrigerator like a cat rubbing itself on a shin, this bicycle spoke to me through my monitor like few others ever have. Sometimes, when you look at a bicycle, you can see yourself with it in your mind, and at that moment what I saw was this:
I knew I had to have it.
I had three questions for the owner, which I emailed to him. They were as follows:
--“How many speeds does it have?”
--“Is this a Grant Petersen Bridgestone?”
--“Do you take Paypal?”
Shortly thereafter I received an email from someone named Jeff, who answered my questions thusly:
--“it goes how fast you peddle it.”
--“i got it off this guy frank. if grant sez its his i dont know nothing about it.”
--“whats paypal. im not a homo.”
Convinced of the bike’s pedigree and confident in Jeff’s knowledge and integrity, I arranged to purchase the bicycle that very evening.
Even though I arrived at Jeff’s house at exactly the agreed-upon time, I had apparently not only interrupted his dinner of Cocoa Puffs but also hadn’t given him sufficient time to put on pants. Gruffly, he took my money and presented me with the bike. (Actually, he didn’t so much present it as he did roll it in my general direction.) He also indicated a Magna mountain bike in a corner that was being used as a clothes drying rack, and while it was difficult to understand him through his mouthful of cereal and milk I interpreted his grunts to mean that he would throw it in for another $40. I respectfully declined.
As I strapped my new Bridgestone to the trunk rack of my Smart car, I reflected on the exchange. Certainly buying a bike from a shop would have been a more genteel experience, but at the same time I never would have gotten a bicycle for anything close to $150. So despite the fact that I had been treated curtly and had received a face full of Cocoa Puffs, I figured that so far I was ahead of the game.
I soon had an unforeseen problem though. The Bridgestone was so heavy and my Smart car was so light that the bicycle actually lifted the car’s front wheels off the ground. Consequently I was forced to purchase the Magna from Jeff after all. By bungee-cording it to the front of the car as ballast, I was finally able to drive home. So now I had spent $190. Plus, due to the fact that my car now looked like a giant Easter egg being double-teamed by two stray dogs, I received even more anti-Smart car taunts than usual. And it’s hard to put a dollar value on that kind of embarrassment.
The next day, I examined my new bike more closely. The first thing I noticed was that I could not raise or lower the saddle no matter how much I loosened the binder bolt. I figured that the bicycle must have one of those integrated seatposts I had heard about, so I simply angled the nose of the saddle way down in order to compensate. Secondly, when I turned the bars there was a grinding sound, and a red powder fell like dandruff from the headset. Since the powder was the color of clay I assumed that the bicycle must be equipped with ceramic bearings, which according to publications like VeloNews and Bicycling is a significant upgrade. Score! Thirdly, when I spun the wheels I noticed that they were very wobbly. I took this to be what people call “speed wobble,” and I figured that it would help me go faster. The unpleasant transaction now just a memory, I congratulated myself on having found such a bargain.
Having thoroughly examined the bicycle, it was now time to ride. I wanted very much to look like the guy in the ad I had fantasized about being, but it was too cold for shorts. So instead I donned my cold-weather gear: a pair of New Balance running shoes, grey sweatpants tucked into striped tube socks, a hooded sweatshirt, and one of those hard-shell skateboarding helmets. I completed the ensemble by slipping a short-sleeved “BSNYC Test Pilot” jersey over my hooded sweatshirt. Looking sufficiently pro, I hit the streets.
I’ve read about bicycles handling “telepathically.” Now, I’d be lying if I said that this were the case here. In fact, to be completely honest the handling was more via USPS than telepathy. I’ve also heard about drivetrains shifting “crisply” and “cleanly.” In this case, though, shifting was more like listening to AM on an old radio with a dial, in that it was mostly about moving the lever up and down until I found a sound that was bearable. At this point I began to think that I had made a mistake, and this suspicion was confirmed shortly thereafter when the fork separated itself from the steer tube. Fortunately, I was wearing my hard-shell skateboarding helmet. Unfortunately, it did little to protect my chin, which is the body part I landed on.
In conclusion, as I sit here pensively stroking my scab goatee, I have to say that, while there are undoubtedly bargains to be found on Craigslist, there just might be something to the whole bike shop thing.