Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Island Paradox

My wife is a runner, yet all those years we have been married, she always owned a bike (or two, later on that). She likes to cycle, yet over the past seventeen years, I struggled to find a bike she would not have some reservations about. I take it as my failure to identify her bicycling needs. Here is a condensed history of Marketa and her bikes, as far back as we go together:

1996-1998: a steel touring bike, heavy

1999-2000: Schwinn Moab hardtail mountain bike. She rode it few times, but after almost landing in a Supply Pond in Branford, after an abrupt maneuver to avoid a root, the bike sat in garage, later sold.

2004-2006: Giant OCR2 road bike. She rode that bike a lot. Few weeks after she bought the bike, I signed her up for a road metric century on long Island (North Fork Century), which she completed in 98F heat and 99% humidity several hours before I finished the100 mile ride. Our second ride together was a 50 mile ride in the hills of Vermont, after my XC race. Then she took the bike on Connecticut back roads, but often came home bloody with road rash or dropped chain. Apparently, the bike was too twitchy and unstable for her.

2010-today: Specialized Myka 29er HT as a second bike. Marketa used it as a commuter bike for several years riding from Crestview in San Carlos downhill to NDNU and uphill home after classes. She liked the position and stability of the bike, but again said it was too heavy (and I agree, it is a shame that big bike companies equip women specific bikes with the cheap = heavy components). I have put a light wheelset and tires on the bike, next should be the fork and complete drivetrain, which is expensive. This bike still has a chance.

2006-today: mutations of the Giant OCR2. First mutation was a flat handlebar with proper brake levers and Shimano flat bar shifters. It helped a bit, but her position on the bike was still too aggressively low and uncomfortable.

Then comes July 2014. On the island of Kauai, which is our most visited vacation spot, Marketa rented a low end hybrid Marin bike shown below.

She rode it every day for 8 days from Hanalei to Ke'e Beach. It is 7 miles each way on pretty hilly road, with narrow blind curves and many one lane bridges. North shore of Kauai is rainy and the road was slick. Add terrible tourist car traffic and you have quite an undesirable bicycling scenario. But it solved one huge problem: car parking (those of you who have visited Haena in the last 5 or so years know what I'm talking about).
She called me on her second day of vacation exclaiming "This is the perfect bike! Buy me one just like this one." Marin Larkspur exists today in a more refined version, but I really wondered what made her like this particular bike. Wide handlebars with a nice sweep, comfortable WTB saddle, suspension seat post (!!!), wide tires...  When I joined her on the island, she returned the bike and we drove to other parts of the island.
Although the North Shore scenery is beautiful:

 ... one hour trip around Kauai to the Polihale Beach Park takes you to a different world. And it would be really hard to bike there, unless you had a fat bike.

So I had enough time to think about one more road bike mutation for my wife on our flight back home. The mutagens were: 25mm tires, short (70mm) stem and a wide riser handlebar (my old Ibis Mojo 680mm bar). When Marketa saw the bike, she commented that it was the "Harley" of bikes, yet agreed to test ride it to the farmer's market in Pleasanton on Saturday.

An African grass woven basket on the rack, she happily rode the bike there and home with a load of produce. I secretly think the bike has been bastardized (and I keep the old drop bar and Ultegra shifters in my bike spares box), but who am I to judge? The result speaks for itself.

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