How to Buy a Bike (and Survive Your First Test Ride): A Team #SomeNerve Update

When Patty Chang Anker found herself in her 40s and still afraid of heights, water, and biking, she decided to do something about it. In her book Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave, Patty recounts how she faced down myriad fears and how everyone can become braver, happier and stronger by facing theirs. Oprah.com called her journey “downright inspiring.”

 

Now’s your chance to join Patty in her #SomeNerve Challenge: training for the 2014 TD Five Boro Bike Tour. Check back here every month to read about her progress, follow her on Twitter @PattyChangAnker, and see what else she’s up to on her blog, Facing Forty Upside Down. This is her third entry. Click here to read her first.

 

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That one’s pretty” is not the way to buy a bike, Dan Suraci teased, as if reading my mind. We were at Redbeard Bikes in Brooklyn, NY, and the rows of bikes all looked the same to me, so all I had to go on were the ones with pretty colors.

 

Dan was leading a Bike New York How to Buy a Bike tutorial to teach me the major differences between bikes, and help me pick a ride for the TD Five Boro Bike Tour. As a bicycling beginner, the thought of going into a bike shop without understanding makes/models, components/accessories, price/value, was intimidating.

 

“Even experienced bicyclists can find all the choices overwhelming, “ Dan said–thus the draw to big box stores with only 3 models on display (it makes it much easier to pick one). But at a bike store, you’re more likely to find a bike that fits your lifestyle, and is put together and sized for you by people who know how to do it. Plus, it’s a place where you can go for follow-up servicing. Bike New York’s class offers a primer on what to look for so anyone can enter a store with confidence and leave with a bike they will love to ride.

 

“Function first,” Dan declared. “Ask yourself, What kind of riding am I going to do? This is different from What would I like to do?. Goals are good, but be realistic.”  If you fantasize about off road mountain biking, but you know in reality you’re going to bike in the city, the impulse-mountain-bike-buy is not a good idea. Dan pointed out the features of a mountain bike:

 

Mountain bikes often feature dual suspension, shock absorbers, nubby tires for traction, a heavy but durable steel frame, and disc brakes for stopping power in wet and dirty conditions.

Mountain bikes often feature dual suspension, shock absorbers, nubby tires for traction, a heavy but durable steel frame, and disc brakes for stopping power in wet and dirty conditions.

 

“I’m guessing this isn’t the bike for your lifestyle right now,” he said with a grin.

“If I end up off-road in mud and dirt, it will be entirely by mistake,” I replied.

Moving on to a road bike: 

 

A road or racing bike is built to be light and fast; this carbon frame (as opposed to the heavier aluminum or steel) is so light that Dan can lift it with two fingers. The tires are skinny with no treads, and "drop handlebars" allow you to tuck your body down to be as aerodynamic as possible. You would not use this on unpaved terrain; if the frame gets damaged, it can be very costly–or impossible–to repair.

A road or racing bike is built to be light and fast; this carbon frame (as opposed to the heavier aluminum or steel) is so light that Dan can lift it with two fingers. The tires are skinny with no treads, and “drop handlebars” allow you to tuck your body down to be as aerodynamic as possible. You would not use this on unpaved terrain; if the frame gets damaged, it can be very costly–or impossible–to repair.

 

“Considering I have a fear of speed and I’m accident prone, this is not the bike for me,” I said.

 

This brought us to bikes with a mix of features to be used in different conditions: touring, cross, hybrid, commuter, urban–bikes with varying tire sizes, weight, numbers of gears, ability to haul cargo, and one that even folds up into the size of rolling luggage:

 

The Brompton. They say people get emotionally attached to these because they go with them everywhere, like pets.

The Brompton. They say people get emotionally attached to these because they go with them everywhere, like pets.

 

“But what about that one,” I said, pointing to a romantic and ladylike bike with a basket attached; it was just calling out “picnic in a green meadow.”

 

“That’s a cruising bike,” Dan said. “Built for comfort and stability, easy to get off and on. But it only has 3 gears and it’s very heavy.”

 

No to the cruising bike, despite my love of picnic baskets. But the purple Giant Escape 2W On-road Sport Fitness bike in front of Dan? Could be the perfect...

No to the cruising bike, despite my love of picnic baskets. But the purple Giant Escape 2W On-road Sport Fitness bike in front of Dan? Could be the perfect…

 

The only way to know for sure is to test ride a couple of bikes to compare, and so before I knew it I was getting fitted for a helmet…

 

Two fingers above the brow line is where you want the helmet to sit. I look like a soldier saluting, except I'm wearing a watermelon.

Two fingers above the brow line is where you want the helmet to sit. I look like a soldier saluting, except I’m wearing a watermelon.

 

…and ushered out into the street. Wait. The street? I don’t know what I was expecting for a test ride–a dead end? A bike path or parking lot?  Not the streets of Brooklyn! I’ve never biked in a street with cars, and here there were cars and potholes, patches of ice from the latest snow, and crazy bike messengers–I am not like them, I have always thought. I want to live!  But then a group of very ordinary and sane-looking people on Citi Bikes came pedaling by.

 

"Maybe I could be like them..." Dan showed me my brakes and gears and away we went.

“Maybe I could be like them…” Dan showed me my brakes and gears and away we went.

 

My husband, a seasoned cyclist, took a Brompton out for a spin. He's in the red shirt on the left.

My husband, a seasoned cyclist, took a Brompton out for a spin. He’s in the red shirt on the left.

 

It all started off okay–despite my difficulties staying between the cones in the Bicycling Basics class, I was able to maneuver around potholes and puddles. I was feeling pretty good until we turned the 3rd corner and the street went downhill. I have a fear of gathering speed, remember? I ground to a halt. My husband, squeaking the brakes of the Brompton in order to avoid hitting me, passed by. He and Dan, halfway down the hill, turned to look back at me, saying things I couldn’t hear. An SUV was parallel parking in front of me and all I could hear was the roar of engines around me. I can’t do this, I thought, tears flooding my eyes. The last time I went downhill on a bike I ended up in a ditch. I got off the bike.

 

I almost quit.

I almost quit.

 

I was having an anxiety attack and I knew it. I had one the day I walked down the bunny slope carrying my skis. My fear of feeling that kind of fear again kept me from doing so many things. It was the desire to not let my fear stop me from living a full life that led me to write the book Some Nerve, that led me to make the TD Five Boro Bike Tour my #SomeNerve Challenge. I had said I would learn to ride and train for 40-mile route ,and here I was ready to quit at block #4. I took a deep breath and remembered what so many experts had told me in my research, and what I knew to be true from my own experiences pushing through fear: If I walk this bike back to the shop, it will be so much harder to get back on. And I want to ride the Tour. I can’t let the fear stop me.

 

I got back on. I love Dan's "C'mon, you can do it" expression.

I got back on. I love Dan’s “C’mon, you can do it” expression.

 

I felt scared the whole way down. But look! That's me biking, in a bike lane, on an NYC street!

I felt scared the whole way down. But look! That’s me biking, in a bike lane, on an NYC street!

 

We did the lap around the block again, and this time the hill was less daunting. I was so elated, I wanted to test ride the Some Nerve-yellow Brompton even as it started to get dark.

 

I love that I'm biking giddily in front of a "Mojitos" mural while wearing a watermelon helmet.

I love that I’m biking giddily in front of a “Mojitos” mural while wearing a watermelon helmet.

 

I caught a glimpse of the Empire State building and felt in awe that I was out on a February night, doing something I never imagined I would do: seeing the city from a whole new perspective on a bike. I felt I’d crossed over somehow, from the bravado of declaring a big goal, to the actual bravery of doing what needs to be done to make it a reality. There will be many challenging moments ahead when I will feel out of my league. But now, knowing the resources that are here for me–especially in Bike New York classes–I know I’ll be able to work through them.

 

Outside Redbeard, relieved and proud. BTW, SOMEBODY BUY ME THIS BIKE–it's YELLOW for crying out loud, just like my book! Out of my price range, but niiiice...

Outside Redbeard, relieved and proud. BTW, SOMEBODY BUY ME THIS BIKE–it’s YELLOW for crying out loud, just like my book! Out of my price range, but niiiice…

 

Ilya Nikhamin, the red beard behind Redbeard Bikes, adjusting my future ride.

Ilya Nikhamin, the red beard behind Redbeard Bikes, adjusting my future ride.

 

What about you? Ready to join Team #SomeNerve for the TD Five Boro Bike Tour? General registration is closed, but we’ve got a couple of spots left. There’s only one answer:

 

Buying the Giant Escape 2W. YES!

Buying the Giant Escape 2W. YES!