So, I ride for work, play, etc. and somewhere along the way, I got a crazy idea that my commuter bike, was serviceable, but wasn’t ideal. It was a 1986 Fuji absolute that I built up at the local bike co-op in 2007. After my initial $40 investment, I replaced the parts that weren’t working particularly well, and ended up with a really good commuter: very functional, nice components where they count and cheaper parts where less essential (e.g. genero brake hoods with decent shimano long reach brakes). It met my major goal: be exceptionally reliable without sending “steal me” signals to would-be thieves.
The Fuji was never a perfect bicycle: I had to stay on top of constant rust and it wasn’t quite the perfect fit, but it did its job: it helped me go places faster than my lazy feet could get there.
Between Husband Dan’s bike obsessions and my own bike affiliations (such as League Certified Fred status) we get several glossy magazines each month with pictures of beautiful bicycles and essays that wax poetic on ride quality and craftsmanship of hand-crafted artisan vintage lugged custom painted powder coated carbon fiber titanium bicycles. These things are beautiful, unique, special flowers and should be desired by anyone who has ever straddled a top tube. The more I looked at these bikes, the more I started to think things like: I ride a bicycle every day. Why don’t I have a beautiful transportation bicycle?
This mixed in my head with the many occasions of awkward unintentional flashing of strangers as I rode around town in skirts on my diamond frame bike. It made me really want a step-through frame – but, being Nanda, I wanted to keep my drop bars and the touring-niceties of my old steel bike. I started looking at vintage mixtes on Ebay, Craigslist, and around town. I found a few that could perhaps do the trick, but most needed some serious work or they were overpriced. During my last experiment in bike building, I learned that buying an old bike (even in good condition!) is basically purchasing a cheap ticket to a lot of pricey bullshit. Between replacing undesired old parts and trying to match modern components to and old frame, what you’ve saved in money up front, you lose in the amount of wasted time and heartache involved in fixing/replacing/upgrading. I prefer to spend my time riding.
I started looking at modern frames. I found several modern mixtes, but most were designed for upright riding and many were more expensive than I would like, I narrowed it down to two options: the Soma Buena Vista and the Origin 8 Mixer. I really wanted the Origin 8 – a cheap frame that wouldn’t make me cry when it got the shit beaten out of it while parked at a bike rack. However, it wasn’t available in my size, and the Buena Vista was (well, sort of). We ordered some cheap aluminum compact bars and seat post, and found a nice short 90mm stem on clearance at a local bike shop.
Husband Dan found a good deal on a barely used Tiagra groupset. I added Techtro brakes and cheap fenders, and then repurposed my existing 700c commuter wheels, Blackburn rack, and saddle to finish the bike.
I’ve ridden it around for a while now, and one of the first things I noticed was: it’s a bike. It rides like a steel bike – not that much different from my last one. We have it set up so it fits similarly to my road bike, but with less drop so that I’m in a semi-upright position – so both the position and handling feels familiar*. It’s lighter – mostly due to the aluminum bars, seat post, new stem, and Tiagra cassette, but somewhat more awkward to carry up a flight of stairs.
Also familiar: it took 3 days before someone manhandled it at a bike rack and scratched my brand new top tube to shit, initiating a new war on rust.
So, according to this very scientific comparison, these are virtually identical bicycles, except one costs $500 dollars more. The replacement cost for the Buena Vista** probably would be considerably higher, as I used Husband Dan’s steep team discount to purchase the frame and some of the components through the LBS, found the groupset on Ebay, and cannibalized the Fuji for parts – and free labor was provided by Pro-Mechanic Dan’s Home Bike Shop (thanks, Honey!)
For the record, having integrated shifting on a commuter is awesome. I like the simplicity of the friction shifting set up on the Fuji, but changing gears in hairy traffic now requires virtually no thought.
- A beautiful bicycle will still get scratched to shit, even if you take the time to properly park it at a rack meeting APBP guidelines.
- Realizing you need to park your bike in public places for 8 hours at a time makes you still need to avoid making your bike attractive for thieves, no matter how attractive you really want your bike to be (eg: those hammered fenders ? No. how about generic black plastic? Sounds great/ugly!).
- A bicycle that fits and is assembled well is priceless. Everything else is superfluous.
I love having a nice new bicycle with shiny parts that work well, are lighter and more modern than most of the components on the Fuji, and lets me wear skirts without a bargain peep-show for everyone else on the road. I’m looking forward to more adventures with the Buena Vista, but still have fears about leaving a nice bike outside my office for entire days at a time.
*The wheelbase on the Buena Vista is stupid-long compared to the Fuji, and while I’m not typically dragging it around corners at high speeds, I did notice this every time I tried to get it through the L-shaped entryway in our College Town apartment. Luckily, our Boston Metro apartment has no such issues. The bottom bracket is lower to the ground, and I actual had a pedal strike occur while lackadaisically turning in a parking lot at a ridiculously low speed.
** After writing “Buena Vista” fifteen times I was tempted to abbreviate it “BV” but quickly realized why I was so squeamish about doing so. You’re welcome, ladies.