A bike for all seasons. The utility bicycle is built to handle bumps and carry baggage
Jack Hadigan had seen better days. The first sign of trouble on his Sunday morning bike ride was the rain clouds. Eventually they unloaded, chasing him and his fenderless bike off the street.
``I pulled into a fast food restaurant, got one of their utility bags that they put the garbage in, and draped that over me,'' he recalls. Things didn't improve much after getting back on the bike, though. He had a blowout coasting down a hill and had to return home with a destroyed tire and tube.
``I got drenched, I had a harrowing experience, and I had to finish it off by walking.''
People expect a lot of a bicycle. It's supposed to get them to work, haul groceries and babies, and take them on cross-country adventures. Day or night, in any weather. The trouble is, the typical skinny-tired, multispeed bike, millions of which have been sold in the United States since the bike boom of the early '70s is hardly an all-purpose machine.
It usually comes with few accessories, beyond a set of 10 reflectors, and is extremely limited in the freedom and service it provides. Sure, it can be used for quick trips here and there, if the rider returns with no more than he left with, confines his cycling to broad daylight on streets from which all debris has been removed, and knows when it will rain (or at least knows where all the fast food restaurants are).
Otherwise, what the rider needs is a bike specifically set up for utilitarian use, or, a ``utility bike.'' Although there is no such category on the market, bicycles sold as ``city bikes'' and ``long distance touring bikes'' come close enough.
City bikes were created to fill a void in the cycling repertoire, addressing the needs of the urban cyclist. The bikes still vary a good deal in features, but their raison d'etre remains the same -- to offer a bike for use in an urban area, with all its pitfalls and potholes.
Businessmen in three-piece suits may be attracted to the characteristic upright handlebars, which permit a more stately and comfortable riding position. Those who have inadvertently painted their legs with black chain grease should revel in the chainguards sometimes available. And anyone who's gone into a pizza-sized pothole and come out alive will appreciate the sturdy tires, which, with their high air volume and low pressure, provide a more comfortable ride.
Long distance touring bikes, on the other hand, while not specifically designed for the special rigors of city cycling, do bring to it several advantages. For one thing, the long distance tourer is more likely to have geometry that will permit the safe mounting of fenders.
The touring bike's probable standard-diameter tubing and wheels also permit the use of the Bridgestone kickstand, made foolproof by its superior mounting position.
In addition, the touring bike's medium-sized rims enable the cyclist to choose Kevlar-belted tires for averting flats, and -- as if that isn't enough -- these tires can be stuffed with thorn-resistant tubes.
Besides the Bridgestone kickstand and Kevlar-belted tires, there's also a flock of other options available for utility, touring, and many other bikes.
Not since Baron Karl von Drais ``invented'' the bicycle with his ``Hobby-Horse'' in 1816 has there been a better time to convert the hobbyhorse into a workhorse.
Want to do a week's worth of shopping for a family by bike? You can. Want to bike down to the park and bring two or three kids along for the ride? No problem. Want to go kayaking, towing the kayak behind the bike? Learning to kayak would be more difficult.
On the next page are a few options will make biking simpler and more utilitarian. Though by no means exhaustive, the list on the following page puts forth some of the best buys on the market.
The following list gives only highlights of what's available from the new cornucopia of accessories available to anyone looking to build the perfect workhorse bike. Lights
Years ago, it was thought that the best bike light was the French leg lamp, which attached to the cyclist's leg and cast a white beam forward and a red to the rear. Indeed, such logic cannot be faulted, since no motorist in his right mind would go anywhere near a large, one-eyed animal that hopped up and down.
Unfortunately, it and other battery- and generator-powered lights were useless for illuminating the road ahead. Even today, numerous sources will tell you that bike lights are for enabling motorists to see you, not for enabling you to see where you're going.
Kindly ignore these sources.
There are now several lights on the market that do both.
Best bet: the Velo-Lux. Its 1,400-candlepower, computer-designed beam will easily keep you out of the potholes. In fact, the Velo-Lux is the only high-powered light in the world that gives the cyclist total independence on the road. (The generator can recharge the nicad battery pack in 1 to 2 hours). It's also the only light that you can tilt upward and aim with your hand for such purposes as reading street signs and house addresses at night.
Finally, its cam-equipped mounting bracket facilitates placement of the beam on the road, allowing the cyclist to position the beam in a way most agreeable to his speed. There is nothing like the Velo-Lux. Cost: $99.90 for both front and rear lights. Order from Velo-Lux Corporation, 1412 Alice Street, Davis, Calif. 95616. Tel. (916) 753-4147. Tires
Flat tires are a real bother, but they can be kept under control using a good tire-and-tube combination.
Best bet: Combine the Specialized Touring K-4 tires with the Cyclepro thorn- resistant tubes. The K-4 features a belt of Kevlar, which has five times the tensile strength of steel. The tires and tubes come in varying sizes, and there is the need for rim-and-tire compatibility, but a good bike shop will set you up.
Disregard the strips on the market sandwiched between the tire and tube. There's really no way to keep them in proper position, and when they work their way to the side of the tire, they're useless, and still add rotational weight to the wheel.
Cost: $11.60 each for the tires, $3.69 to $4.69 for the tubes. Order from Bike Nashbar, 1-800-345-BIKE. Kickstands
Over the years, kickstands have had a rough time of it, imagewise. Because of the mounting position of traditional kickstands (behind the bottom bracket), they work poorly, if at all, with a loaded bike.
The Bridgestone kickstand, however, with its superior design, does what everybody always wanted the old ones to do: work. With its mounting position near the rear hub, it supports the weight of the bike instead of allowing the bike to pivot at the bottom bracket.
Cost: $14. Order from Bridgestone Cycle, 15003 Wicks Boulevard, San Leandro, Calif. 94577. Tel. (415) 895-5480. Horns
Bells with Mickey Mouse on them, as well as the human voice, have both been successfully used for those occasions not requiring high volume, such as passing pedestrians. There may be times, however, when you really need to make your presence known, particularly when mixing it up with buses and trucks.
Best bet: the Super Sound horn. Its 120-decibel blast has a way of letting the world know you're out there. Mount it using a Velo-Lux mounting bracket and a 45-cent pipe clamp.
Cost: $4.49 at bike shops and marine equipment stores. Baskets
These panniers, called ``Commuter Baskets'' by Eclipse, the manufacturer, are unequaled for such errands as carrying laundry and making trips to the grocery store. With two mounted over the front wheel and two over the rear, one should have much more of a problem paying for the groceries than transporting them.
Cost: $42.27 from Bike Nashbar, 1-800-345-BIKE. Also available at bike shops. Trailers
The value of previously mentioned accessories notwithstanding, the trailer will give a utility bike a personality it never knew it had. Kids, groceries, kayaks, surfboards, camping equipment, bottles and cans for recycling, firewood -- all can be hauled on trailers.
Best bet: the Equinox Tourlite. An extremely versatile trailer, the Equinox comes with a full list of options, including a plywood box that converts the trailer to a heavy-duty utility cart, a child seat (with seat belts), and a cover for use during inclement weather. Children may face forward or backward, depending on how it's set up.
Cost: $270 without accessories. Order from a local bike shop or from Equinox, 1142 Chestnut Avenue, Cottage Grove, Ore. 97424. Tel. (503) 942-7895.