Thursday, December 4, 2014

Why being the neighborhood “bike guy” is so nice!

-- By Joel Schwaber

I’m my neighborhood’s “bike guy.” The advantages of being “that bike guy” are actually really numerous. The more bikes you have, the more inexpensive it is to own and use your bike from a maintenance and acquisition standpoint.

How inexpensive? Wholesale made it so that the total restoration of my commuter bike (the tires were the most expensive part) cost me under $30, including tubes, gel handlebar tape, rim tape, grease, cables, and brake pads. Yes, it was mostly DIY and took some time with labor, but that’s why being the bike guy has its perks: I can do it myself. I’d bought my tools for various restorations in the previous years that I’d long since let go.

What floored me recently was that for $30, I had bought a means of transit that I utilized to get from where I was living to my place of work. This was a trip of almost twenty miles, and I did it while paying nothing, even as I enjoyed the outdoor exercise. What strikes me as amazing is that I could do that for twenty years on the same bike, and after those twenty years, the bike would still be rideable. The maintenance and upkeep cost is very, very low. For a basic ten speed steel bike like this one, component failure is rare, and on the occasion that something should break, the component cost is miniscule. There are no parts on the bike that would cost more than $20 to replace with a brand new (and better) component, including the rims. Even if I hit a curb dead-on, replacing the fork costs me a mere $17.50, while a similar component with a car or motorcycle is much more expensive. The lack of proprietary parts is a huge reason as to why it’s so easy to keep this bicycle going forever; an antique car will eventually become hard to find parts for, as an example, but a lot of brands are still manufacturing decent classic components for these antique bikes, and each brand will work if paired with another.

What was weird to me was that I encountered so few other people on bicycles on the beautiful trail that I used to get to and from work. I felt like I had discovered the secret to economic frugality, a way to get outdoors, ecological friendliness, and found a quick-and-easy fitness regimen all in one, and that nobody else had found it yet. I felt liberated from all the obligations of driving a multi-ton machine that could maim or kill if I looked away to enjoy the scenery for even a second. I also didn’t have to deal with the hassle of worrying about a license, my registration, tolls, speed limits, vehicle inspection, odd clicking noises from the engine, or ever getting stuck in traffic. Encountering the morning rush and leaving work at 5:00 was no longer a worry for me, either, because I would just ride past cars that were stuck in traffic up the shoulder. Sure, there was the occasional person clad entirely in lycra who was out to train for a sporting event that I might encounter on a weekend, but there were almost no other cyclists on the trail with me. Funnily enough, by riding to work every day, I became a very strong cyclist- when I did encounter someone out there, no one on these trails could keep up with me. Yet whenever I got into the shop and someone asked for ‘ways to go faster,’ if I recommended riding to work to become a stronger rider, they would look at me like I had just suggested soaking their heads in ammonia.

I occasionally see one of my fixed up classic bikes out on the road, and when I see that, it makes me very happy. I’m sure some ended up back in someone’s garage gathering dust, or a few end up only being used for sporting events like triathlons, but when I see a bike of mine chained up outside an office, I feel like this is all a part of the house that I built. One more rider.

Joel Schwaber lives in North Wilmington. A caring advocate, he operates the Wilmington Bike Recycling co-op. Joel's only goal is to put more people on bikes, at little or no cost. Email Joel at if you would like to volunteer to help, or donate a bicycle(s).

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