The bikes that ate cycling

The post war nightmare of freeways and suburbia killed cycling—that is well known. I try to imagine how bike shops fared in the post war era though. I imagine them being left only with the hard core racing fraternity from which to make money. BMX gave them their next kind of racing. Then, whenever their market expanded, it was into some other form of sporting application for bikes, such was their modus operandi by then. There was mountain bike racing, followed of course by triathlon racing. Trials bike riding spun a few bob, and of course touring (with ultra light tents and all that) is a kind of sport too in its way. What was happening, was that high performance sports bicycles were being cemented in place as the only ideals to which one might aspire when setting foot in a bike store.

Thus for the person seeking a bike just to get around on, the question was: do I want a compromised road racing bike, or a compromised mountain bike, for my commute? How ridiculous! 

Now if we look to countries where cycling was not relegated to sports clubs, but was retained as a transportation mode and quotidian pleasure, we see the persistence of another ideal: the fully equipped city bike. When I say fully equipped, I mean mud guards, luggage racks, gen-lights, internal hub gears and brakes, stands, enclosed chains, and rear wheel locks.  

Though city bikes and commuter bikes are making a comeback, we are far from shaking off attitudes inherited from the days when only those who raced bikes, loved bikes. I’ll pick on you Giant: what ARE these contraptions? Neither would last two hundred meters on an actual mountain bike trail, so why compromise their performance as around-town bikes by incorporating mountain bike racing design features? Why soak your customers’ asses with spray if they meet with a stretch of wet road? Why make them bleed hydraulic brakes? Why make them wear back packs? Why force them home before nightfall—even Cinderella got until midnight! Why weaken a bike that looks made for hard landings, with a step-through for god’s sake?

Why second guess the market’s next ill informed whim, when you actually know about bikes, and could therefore help people make more informed choices? 

If you are that ill-informed buyer, just looking for a bike for leisurely family rides or 5-10k commutes, can I suggest you start by looking at some bikes made for this purpose? Here are two that don’t exactly set my own heart a racing, but which have the features you’re after—the cheap one, admittedly, cuts a few corners, but would nonetheless bring you more joy than an $800 mock mountain bike not fit for racing.

$1650                                                       $400

If you do actually want to take up either road or mountain bike racing, expect to pay around 2k for the bike, plus another $600 or so for shoes, clothes and helmet. Then expect to pay double that in 5 years, when you’re addicted.

Conversely, if you are already a competitive cyclist, why not consider buying a city bike— don’t worry, those Sidi shoes will be safe there in your Chainreaction shopping basket. But with a city bike, you might actually find some applications for that fitness you’ve built up riding in circles.


  1. Surely there are applications where the Giant Sedona [pictured] has its place in cycling. Picture a nice ride along the Fernleigh Track, hot day, mmmmm maybe a dip down at Glenrock Lagoon. Great idea, let’s do it sweetheart. Damn, if only you were riding the hybrid Sedona I bought you as a means of gently easing you into mountain biking, instead of the three geared, thin wheeled, 490kg town bike you are presently riding we could do it. Now we can’t cool off because of your bloody town bike, you have ruined my day, let’s get a divorce.

    Of course there is a place for the town bike [ie the pool table flat lands of Denmark, Sweden etc], and equally so the hybrid. I kid you not, I witnessed a lass of 20 compete admirably in a 10 hr enduro event at Awaba mountain bike park last year on this very model of bike, so it can be done.

    And the Gen light? These low light emitting leg power suckers should be blown up. I get nauseous at the thought of a wheel out of true, a rubbing disk or anything at all that prevents my wheels running as freely and silently as a ninja warrior. Try applying the gen light and spinning the wheel and see how many revs you get. Coupled with the weight of a mini minor and less gear ratio than a single speed, if I do ever buy a town bike, bet your ass I will be running some LED’s to light my way.

  2. Steven says:

    Dear “we can ride giants”, first, thank you for taking the time to register and contribute to this project. I wasn’t aware this site put up barriers to entry. Second: would you not at least align the Sedona’s top tube and seat stays, and that way make it more rational? Third: are you sure a 3 speed town bike could NOT be ridden along a rough trail to the beach?
    Fourth: surely the young lass riding the Sedona “Mountain-Bike” did so as a last resort, because her real bike was out of action that morning?
    Fifth: I happen to like those tire rubbing gen lights. The noise gets attention and they give me a workout. I guess though, I was thinking of hub generators. Little LEDs are fine, but you have to stay on top of battery recharging, and think of a place to put them when you lock up somewhere. The town bike is more a trusty companion: closer to a car in that way. I still think that if a non competitive bike owner wanted only one bike, it should be something like that Gazelle, or perhaps something like it that’s a little more stylish.
    Finally: I trust you agree with everything I wrote, at which you have not taken slight umbrage? I certainly agree with you that the ads are revolting.
    Thanks for reading! It makes me want to keep to writing!

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