Free the Bikes

I knew my friend was going to survive – despite her protestations – when she managed to keep up a steady stream of complaint most of the way up the big hill. I had bullied her into this, this bike was too small, it was rubbish, the saddle was all wrong, she could have been there and back in the car by now, her legs were aching, it would be a mobility scooter for her after this after all.

And she was right about the bike. It was, more or less, this one, although without the ‘rattan effect’ basket (without any rack or basket at all, making it fairly useless as a shopper). She had borrowed the bike from a friend who had apparently bought it and then put it straight in the shed for a year – it still had cardboard packaging wrapped around some of the frame and the tyres were completely unworn. In many ways it was better than I had expected, not some mountain-bike-a-like, but a practical bike with mudguards and a chain guard and a kickstand that was unhelpfully too tall for it so it fell over if you used it, but nobody’s perfect. It also had the ugliest welds I have ever seen on anything. But it was a bike. And after we’d tackled the hill (and it was a long and tough hill) and survived and the adrenaline kicked in, my friend had a ball. We did a five mile round trip and when I rang her after I’d got home to make sure she’d survived she was all ready to go out again on the next jaunt. I don’t think she’ll be popping out for a paper, not on that bike anyway, and not for a while. But I do think she’s another convert. Although I’m not going to ring her to arrange the next ride until I reckon her legs will have recovered…

But seriously, what is it with buying a bike and then not using it? The sheds and garages of Britain must be filled with the things. And at the same time, there are people who’d like to have a crack at cycling but don’t want to rush out and buy a bike until they’re certain. Never mind bike hire schemes, we need a bike liberation scheme – get all those mouldering cycles before it’s too late and put them on the road. You know it makes sense. The bikes want to be free! Hell, even the bike-shaped objects want to be free…

14 Responses to Free the Bikes

  1. Dom says:

    Bikes, for the masses, are like The Gym. You average Brit wakes up in the morning, possibly after one too many, decides they’re unfit and overweight and Should Do Something About It so they vow To Join The Gym or Buy A Bike. They then spend a load of cash on this and feel better about themselves. The gym membership is cancelled after a year (when the contract is up) having been used once or twice. The bike moulders in a shed having been ridden once or twice. That’s not the important bit though, the important bit is that a lot of money has been spent therefore Something Has Been Done to rectify whatever it was that made them go get the thing in the first place and they can feel better about themselves. Simples 😉

  2. Lance Armstrong might say that “it’s not about the bike”, but too often it is. The cycling scheme that I help out with ( has a small fleet of the Dawes Red Feather and Giant Cypresses for hire to novice cyclists. The newbies almost invariably go for the Red Feather because of its benign appearance and step-through frame, but they soon “graduate” to the Cypress when they realise what a superior ride it is. The type of bike a new cyclist first chooses can make or break their cycling career. Too often they’ll get a cheap supermarket clunker “just to give it a try” and find it’s such a horrible experience that the machine spends the rest of eternity mouldering at the back of the shed. Quite how we persuade a new cyclist to go for the best machine they can afford to get any guarantee that they’ll enjoy the experience and get hooked is the big question. The British Attitude Problem continues to dictate that cycling is a leisure activity and a bicycle is little more than a toy.

  3. bikinginla says:

    I’d have to agree with Dom. The exercise equipment industry has gotten fat on people who buy some apparatus for their home, which almost always ends up as a large, expensive paperweight gathering dust in the corner.

    I suspect you could open almost any garage here in the U.S. and find a dust-covered bike that someone had intended to ride someday. As a matter of fact, there’s a lost, lonely little bike that sleeps next to mine, hoping in vain that the woman who bought it will come to visit one day — which hasn’t happened in the near two decades I’ve known them. If it wasn’t for me taking it in for the occasional tune-up in the vain attempt that it might encourage someone to ride it, the poor thing would get no love at all.

  4. disgruntled says:

    Dom – so is your bike getting many miles in, or are you one of ‘the masses’?
    WW – I suppose if cycling schemes had some unthreatening looking – but still rideable – bikes, that might be a start. Or if other cyclists with decent but unridden bikes in their stash could bring them along for people to try? A bike library?
    Bikinginla – do you know anyone who could give it a little love and a few outings as a loaner? I’m sure it’s a lovely bike…

    To be fair, even on the Red Feather my friend did enjoy herself in the end. But she’d have had more fun on one that fit her properly…

  5. Andy in Germany says:

    This is why I spent two years so far looking for a bike for Beautiful wife that will work in our terrain and fit her petite figure. My mum went out and got a bike (I was so proud of her) but the shop went and sold her a 700cc wheeled monster which was far too big for her and she hasn’t touched it since. Of course the shop saw it as a success: they sold a bike.

    BTW one of the things I learned in my long experience of one week working in a bike shop, was that often new bikes are supplied with stands that are too long. Apparently the trick is to use them for a bit and let them bend somewhat and then cut them at the first service. Don’t know if that applies in this case though.

  6. disgruntled says:

    Good tip on the stands, although this one was so long it was unusable. I suppose leaning the bike on it and bouncing might have worked… I’ll try that next trip.

    When I ride my old bike now, I’m astounded I ever had any fun on it at all, but I did, I loved that bike. I think you have to ride a fair bit before you even know what you want – which is why it would be nice to be able to borrow one long term until you’re confident enough to ride one that fits.

  7. Dom says:

    I’m borderline ‘masses’. The fiancée rides hers to work quite often. I occasionally hop on mine. That said, we’ve both just joined the gym so I’ll either be cycling there every week and then getting fit… or leaving the bike in the shed while wasting my membership for the next 6 months 😀

  8. Anonymous says:

    I’ve seen worst,my friend next door has bikes for all his grandchildren and they are right old clunkers.

  9. […] why some apparent violations get enforced while others don’t. Town Mouse takes a friend for her first ride on a borrowed bicycle, and laments all those forgotten bikes yearning to breathe free. An open letter to Toronto […]

  10. Sarah says:

    I’m another one of those with one hiding away in the garage! I don’t know how to ride a bike but want to learn, so other half bought me one for my birthday last year, and there it has sat ever since. I’m scared of falling off!!

  11. disgruntled says:

    Sarah – you can try puting the saddle as low as you need to feel comfortable to start with, you can always put your foot on the ground if you need to. Then gradually work the saddle up as you feel confident. Bossy men will tell you you need to have the saddle high to be efficient, but there’s nothing less efficient than a bike in a shed… Get a cycling friend (maybe not your other half if he’s the sort to hare off into the distance), find a quiet (flat) road, and go for it – you won’t look back.
    John – kids’ bikes are the worst of all.

  12. Jenny says:

    Aw, my sister has a Dawes, and absolutely loves it – it looks like your photo but with panniers and a basket, and we go for miles on it/them. It’s heavy, and solid, but for those of us who like to pack a thermos and make a day of it, perfect. Honest. Mine is similar in shape and has been labeled a Hungarian K-Mart bike, but I am very loyal and it has done me proud. I guess if it is the right size, and you are sitting the way you find most comfortable, it’s all about what you use it for. And I agree, an appalling number of perfectly good bikes are hiding in garages around Auckland. I’ve seen them!

  13. disgruntled says:

    I think you’re right – fit is so important, and something that’s so hard to tell off the internet… but even a very expensive bike that doesn’t have the right geometry is not going to work for some people.

  14. […] My friend rang yesterday, all excited. I’m a bit surprised, because I’d only just been on the […]

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