The Wonderful World of Upright Cycling: Part I
For the first twenty seven years of my life I rode sport bikes. I had a mountain bike as a kid that I rode around the neighbourhood with my friends, and went for rides at Boler Mountain (way back when it was free to ride the trails). I wasn't particularly good at mountain biking, but I went because my friends were into it. As I got older, I used my dad's old road bike, which was way too big for me as a teenager, but I rode it anyway. I mainly used that bike to get places, baseball practice, ice cream, sometimes I'd ride from Byron to the University on the TVP just to explore the city. Everyone else had their parents drive them around, so I was a bit of an oddball for wanting to ride my bike. To me, riding my bike felt like freedom. I didn't have to rely on anyone else to get where I wanted to go. It was fast, and fun, and it felt great doing it. It still does. However, the bike never really felt right. My mountain bike felt clunky, unsuited for paved routes, and the road bike had awkward geometry, drop handlebars, and a seat that could have been made from granite. I loved the freedom a bike gave me, but didn't love the bikes I was riding. We didn't have a lot of money growing up, so I was stuck with the bike I had, and that was OK, I was still happy to have a bike at all.
Fast forward a few years. I'd been commuting on clunky mountain bikes, and uncomfortable road bikes through a good part of graduate school (I'm a geochemist by training), but as a result, I became pretty good at repairing all the little things that needed maintenance. It turns out that being mechanically inclined in the laboratory translated well to bikes. I also started riding through the winter in Calgary, which seemed crazy at the time, but I've grown to love the depths of winter even more than fair weather commuting. More on that another time. I bought a few tools, took a few workshops, and eventually felt pretty great about keeping my bike running smoothly. This was a big step forward for me.
I'd had my eye on a bike for a few months at a local bike shop, a Brompton folding bike. I'd never seen anything so brilliant before. A bike that folds up so you can take it anywhere? Too good to be true, but there it was. When I was chosen for my first University teaching job I had a little extra money in the bank, so I bought my first ever new bicycle. What I didn't realize was how its comfortable, upright style of riding would change my life for the better. I quickly realized that the storage options on the Brompton were super convenient for grocery shopping, the upright position let me see what was around me in the city easily without feeling unstable on the bike, and I felt relaxed and comfortable when I was riding. I could even see cars around me better so I felt safer riding on the road. I wanted to ride it everywhere. Having a bike that was comfortable turned me into a utility cyclist, someone who used their bike for normal every day things. It was far more convenient to run errands on a bike compared to driving, way faster than transit to see my friends, and I felt healthier every day I rode. I still have that bike, ride it regularly, and it's usually in the back of the shop when you drop by.
I was hooked on upright cycling before I even knew it was a global phenomenon, before I knew about Amsterdam, or Copenhagen. I wish I'd known sooner. It turns out that in the North American market, people who are new to riding a bike, and urban cyclists of all types have been sold the wrong bikes for years. While in Europe and Asia citizens have been able to acquire practical, affordable bikes that last a long time, the bike industry here in North America became so fixated with selling sporting goods, that they have forgotten that most people here don't ride bikes at all anymore. Part of the reason why many people don't ride anymore is because the racing bike in their garage that they bought in their 20's is uncomfortable, and impractical to help their family get around the city when you reach 30 or 40. While upright cycling for transportation is practical, sexy, and efficient in Amsterdam, Berlin, and Copenhagen, it is still seen as peculiar in many cities in North America. Here, utility cycling is often seen as a niche for that strange old professor, or a last resort for someone down on their luck, rather than a regular part of everyday life for regular middle-class people. Despite the incredible benefits of daily cycling such as better health, happiness, financial savings, and community connection, people eschew a bike for the inside of their automobile, creating pollution and congestion while driving short trips that would be easily made on two wheels, if only they had a comfortable bike to ride. London Bicycle Cafe was built out of that need. The need to provide people like you with comfortable, quality, durable bikes that you will enjoy for a very long time. We are here to provide the tools, knowledge, and support to help you create your own upright cycling revolution, and to help you take advantage of an amazing technological advancement, and 21st century cultural phenomenon, the upright bicycle.
Part II to follow... stay tuned next week.