I’m not sure that, before this month, I’ve ever picked out a bike for myself – unless shopping in my parents’ garage and picking out my dad’s bike counts. Needing some advice about how to pick a new bike, I called Jonathan, who is an experienced bike-chooser, and asked what I should do. His advice sounded suspiciously like good advice for picking a life partner, an analogy that I found quite helpful, approaching this as an amateur bike-chooser with previous experience choosing a spouse.
I think it might be useful to others, either if you need a spouse but know how to choose a bike, or if you have a spouse and are looking for a new ride. (If you have a bike and a spouse, or don’t want either, I’ve got nothing.)
1) You should like the way your potential bike/spouse looks.
For a spouse, this is probably obvious, but for a bike, not so much. Isn’t it a machine that is supposed to operate correctly? Why doesn’t it matter how it looks? But his point is valid. In case of the spouse or the bike, however much you admire and appreciate its other great qualities, you’ll probably be a lot more excited to spend time with it if you’re attracted to it and experience happiness when you see it.
2) Make sure you pick a bike/spouse that “feels” right.
For an amateur bike shopper, this is a very vague and confusing piece of advice – there’s no way around it. I was told to spend plenty time with the bike in various settings, to see how it reacted in various situations, to pay careful attention to how it treated its mother. Does it start and stop well? Is it responsive? How does it handle rough spots on the road, or a quick turn after an abrupt change of plans?
When choosing a spouse, remember that you are not choosing a horse or a car; feeling it does not mean poking it in the gums or kicking its shins/tires. Instead, you should pay attention to the emotional feeling you have when you are with the potential spouse. Do you feel happy and safe? How does the person react in various situations? Is he or she responsive to you? How does he or she handle rough spots or abrupt changes in plans?
3) Make sure your potential bike/spouse “fits.”
With a bike, you have quite a lot of wiggle room. The seat post can be flipped around, the handlebars moved forward or backward, up or down; in fact, pretty much any aspect of the bike’s geometry can be altered before or after you purchase the bike. However, it is still crucial to make an initial decision that is more or less in line with your body size, the type of biking you hope to do, and your preferred riding position, or however much fiddling you do with the components, the bike will never ride as comfortably as you’d like.
With a spouse, you are again looking for more ephemeral signs than you are in bike shopping – but the essence is the same. Does this person’s life goals fit with yours – materially? Spiritually? Emotionally? Can you happily combine your financial lives? Does the way you like to spend your leisure time mesh with the way your potential spouse likes to spend his or hers?
A note about fitting: if you buy a bike and it doesn’t turn out to fit quite the way you hoped it would, you have many options still at your disposal, probably for a relatively minor cost at your local bike shop. However, you are gravely mistaken if you choose a spouse with the idea in mind that you can adjust him or her as necessary as life progresses. You can try, but you will probably fail, causing pain and suffering to yourself and your spouse along the way. Furthermore, after unsuccessful attempts, your only remaining options will be painful ones.
4) You can only make the best bike/spouse decision that you can at the moment; there is no way to anticipate what will happen in the future.
As a cyclist, you can choose a bike based on how you feel and what your strengths and desires are right now, but there’s no telling what will happen down the line – but that’s no reason not to boldly and confidently decide on something now. Make the best decision you can based on your lifestyle, current riding desires, and new-bike budget, and be done with it – avoid meditating on the “what ifs” that may worm their way into your head.
You do not have much to fear – if you later feel you made a wrong choice, you can have your bike adjusted, or save up for a new one.
This point is much more terrifying in the realm of spouse choosing, although the lesson is the same – you can only make the best decision at any given moment. You do not have the ability to foresee the future.
This is much worse than buying a bike in several ways. People lie, and can hide their true natures – and of course, people can change. Your road bike spouse can up and decide to become a mountain bike a month after you marry. You have no control.
The scariest part of all: people DO change.
But this is not a call to run for the hills, because the flip side is that you, also will change. You and your spouse may make new life choices together, and evolve side by side. Your spouse may spontaneously change for the better. And for better or worse, if you heeded points 2 and 3 well, you may have a fighting chance at working together to accept or even embrace whatever new situations you find yourselves in as your lives progress.
5) You are not running a lonely hearts club for rejected bikes/people.
While you may feel bad that no one else has chosen the last remaining previous year’s model of a certain bike, and it’s on sale and has good components and happens to be the correct frame size for you, do not choose it simply for all of those logical reasons, nor because you feel sorry for it. If the fit, feel, and attraction are there, excellent – you may have found the perfect bike for you, and at a nice discount – but if any of those are lacking, it’s not worth buying something you aren’t happy and excited about.
This sounds more callous when talking about a potential spouse, but the same principles apply. Don’t marry someone just because you feel sorry for the person or are afraid someone else won’t choose him or her. It’s not fair to either of you, and will not make for a pleasant life for you or your spouse.
If you’re looking for a bike only for riding to the park once in a while, your decision may be one of minor importance, but if you’re looking for a long-term companion in your daily commute or exercise plan, Freud’s advice on vital decisions may be useful – regardless of how you feel about his ideas in general:
“When making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves. In the important decisions of personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature.”
That was the sum of Jonathan’s advice, but I have a couple of points to add, after going through the entire process over the last month myself.
6) You will probably receive a lot of conflicting advice about your choice of bike/spouse.
When buying a bike, an unscrupulous salesman or an unknowledgeable one may uncontrollably praise whatever bike he or she is currently holding, eulogizing Tiagra derailleurs one moment and telling you there’s nothing in the world better for your particular situation than 105s the next. Scrupulous and knowledgeable ones also will differ in what they think is important – some may advise buying the best possible components, others the best possible frame – some will insist that you first choose a brand, while for others your first decision should be frame material.
Likewise, many people will have different advice and opinions for you during the important spouse-choosing time of your life; some people of course have your best interests at heart, while others may be involved for different reasons.
In both situations, the key is to try to discern who the trustworthy advisers are, and to avoid taking to heart the recommendations of the less dependable ones. Honest advice may be more likely to come from an outside source than from someone for whom your decision is important, like the salesman, or a potential spouse’s friend. A reliable adviser will also be more likely to give consistent advice, although as Emerson points out consistency has more to do with the larger, overarching aim than any individual movement.
The oft-quoted line that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines” overshadows what I think is his best description of the point:
“For of one will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlike they seem. These varieties are lost sight of at a little distance, at a little height of thought. One tendency unites them all. The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks. See the line from a sufficient distance, and it straightens itself to the average tendency.”
I apologize to anyone who came to read about bike shopping (or to look at photos of Maxwell, although if you came for that you’re probably no longer reading) for the diversion into Self-Reliance, but I do think it’s relevant. The salesman who variously recommends 105s, Apex, and Tiagra may only be tacking into the wind of trying to find out which will be the best derailleurs for your needs.
One last point about to whom you should listen: like in many other areas where advice is given, it is a good idea to listen to many different view points, and not to discard any out of hand. Someone may have something wise to say, even if you don’t want to hear it.
7) Don’t rush into deciding anything. It may feel like your life, or all those beautiful biking days, are slipping through your fingers, but it will be much better to be sure of your decision than to decide too quickly out of fear of losing time.
8) Prepare to spend a lot of money.
Whether you are entering marriage or the sport of cycling, it’s probably going to be expensive, and you’ll have to pay for things you never anticipated at the outset.
Cycling: if you’re starting from scratch, prepare yourself. There’s the helmet, the gloves, the pants, the shorts, the jersey, arm warmers, hats, special pedals, shoes for your special pedals sunblock, a bike computer, biking sunglasses, water bottles, water bottle cages, saddle bags, mini pumps or CO2 cartridges, extra tubes, headlights, taillights, maybe some fenders or a rack and panniers or aero bars, disgusting looking gels and other non-foods, route maps, bike-themed non-biking clothes – plus an official bike fitting, possibly new components as a result of the fitting, and whatever else the bike salesman tries to sell you. It seems like every single part of a bike can be upgraded. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone bought a new bike, upgraded everything (handlebars, grip tape, saddle, wheels, spokes, tires, whatever else is on the thing) and then the salesman tried to get them to upgrade the frame, too….
(I would like to note that the bike shop that John and I both bought bikes from did not try to up-sell us on anything – but some of the bike salesmen at other shops talked quite a lot about all the things we could buy or upgrade.)
Marriage: weddings can be expensive, although aren’t necessarily – and you may have kind and generous family members willing to shoulder or help with the costs. Either way, marriage is a different life stage, and will probably bring new and unexpected expenses from some direction or other.
After much confusion and angst and difficulty, because I am not an extremely fast decision maker, especially when it comes to large, long-term, expensive purchases, I ordered a new bike - in Emerald Green - from a bike store near us. They didn’t have the exact one I wanted in stock, so I still have more than a week to wait for it – but one one hand, that’s only fitting. If you pick a spouse you don’t get to bring him or her home this afternoon, either, unless you’re in Las Vegas, or can wrangle some sort of special dispensation on the marriage license waiting period.
On the other hand, I feel a little like I’ve rejected all the available options, thrown everyone’s helpful advice out the window, and settled on a mail-order spouse from overseas instead.
But it’s probably not as bad as all that. I did try the frame and all of the components, albeit not in a single package.
A helpful explanation coming next week: How Spouses and Bikes Differ.