The wast majority of people overbike. They do this because the media and marketing have made them feel it is the only way to achieve their goals. They’ll be faster if they buy this. Marketing, as I always say, is geared at racing. That is a massive issue for creating an inclusive cycling culture. Do you think everyone in the Netherlands feels that they are in a race? That is one of the reasons we should underbike.
What is underbiking?
Underbiking is taking a bike that is simple and having fun on it. A tracklocross bike is a perfect example of an underbiked bike; how many times can I say the word bike in a sentence? A tracklocross bike may not suit everyone, though. Not everyone wants to ride fixed.
You could then try a single speed bike or even a seven-speed bike. A 7-speed bike will give most people all the gears they need and have the advantage that their drivetrain won’t just dissolve in lousy weather. 12 speed is probably great if you live in California. If you live somewhere wet, then it ain’t.
Why seven gears?
- High gear for downhill fun.
- Highish gear for fast flat riding.
- Medium gear for just riding along.
- Lower medium gear for when you’re bike is loaded and slight slopes.
- Low gear for when the slopes are a bit steeper, or you have a really heavy load.
- Pretty low gear for steep slopes.
- A very low gear for really steep slopes and also for when you feel a bit tired.
You don’t need a 50 tooth cassette, as the marketing tells you for monster climbs. Have you ridden a 50 tooth cog? It feels awful, and you are riding so slow you are fighting to keep your balance. You would be better served by getting off your bike and pushing it. The weird feeling goes for most cogs above a 35 tooth.
Infrastructure would be better served
We should make all city planning officials ride around on an underbiked bike. They would then get to see failings in their system and how to improve things. Many people involved in creating cycling infrastructure love cycling. They then have nice bikes and forget that most people are riding around on £300 bikes and these bikes aren’t always the most forgiving.
I was on a site visit and looking at creating a “go-to area for cycling.” The first thing they wanted to do was lower the quality of paths. They wanted to change all the paths to red ash. Have you ridden red ash? It’s horrible, and it is even worse in a country that rains a lot.
You create an exclusive park by using red ash. You can’t scoot across it. A wheelchair will become a mess going across it. The weather we get in Scotland means that it will become a mountain bike black route pretty quickly without regular maintenance. All of this is a barrier.
We also have the other issue: in wet weather, the grit and grime from red ash paths will destroy a drivetrain. You take your £300 bike and ride it around the park a lot. You might not be the best with maintenance as you’re just a beginner. Something isn’t feeling right on your bike, so you take it to your local bike shop. A £150-200 bill now hits you. The bicycle goes in the garage, and we’ve lost another person to active travel.
How does underbiking stop this?
The park in question has red ash paths already, just a few. The weather has destroyed these trails. On the site visit, the city planner walks about and thinks mainly about cost just now, not repeated cost of upkeep. Red ash paths are cheap. The future maintenance is ignored, and as they are a reasonably fit person walking, they don’t take in the many issues of the surface.
We now have two failings here. We have done the usual British thing of building down to a price rather than up to quality. The paths would also need to have regular maintenance to keep them running. We can already see they won’t, and with stormy weather becoming the new norm for Scotland, these paths will die.
People won’t ride them as they become harder to ride. You have then spent a load of taxpayer money and gained nothing other than ticking a box for some year saying you put in infrastructure. Infrastructure that doesn’t work and won’t lead to modal shift.
What we need is this planner to ride an underbiked bike and see the issues. Feel the problems. Look at the area from the position of a user. The planner then needs to think of how to alleviate the issues and build a better society while explaining this to their boss, who are fundamentally the electorate.
In the long run, this will lower costs. Not just on the park’s maintenance, but as local roads see less car traffic, then there will be less maintenance needed on roads. We need to stop thinking of projects as an annual spend thing, think of how to maximise use for years, and spread the cost over the years rather than skimping to make this year’s budget.
Riding an everday bike will help planners to see what they need to fix and work on ways to make all of our lives better.
I may have digressed
I may have gone off at a tangent there, but we need to see many cycling issues holistically. We need to stop seeing bikes as a tool of speed and see them as a toy. A toy brings fun and enjoyment, so do bicycles. I went out yesterday and spent time sliding down a hill sideways. It was muddy, wet, and all in ridiculous fun.
There was no way anything I did was fast. A more expensive bike might well have been looking at a new drivetrain. Suspension bushings wouldn’t have enjoyed this. A simple bike though was great.
Scottish conditions will eat most of the things that cycling marketing tells you that you need to fit in in the cycling tribe. It is now the time that we realise that simple is more often better than marketing gimmicks.
Get a simple bike and go ride. You won’t be fast, objectively but subjectively you will be. You’ll have a smile and you won’t be out of pocket after riding.