Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

New bike

Remember when you were a kid, and Honeycomb cereal used to have those contests where you could win a free BMX bike? For a while, they had those tiny little metal license plates that said “HANG 10” or whatever stupid slogan would be on there, and they were each a miniature replica of a state license plate, and then you would rig them up on your seat bottom or handlebars with a bunch of twist-ties. They probably eventually discontinued them because a kid split open someone’s face with one, or because actual metal cost too much or something. Anyway, the old contest was to get a special license plate, and you’d win the bike. Later, it was just some sort of puzzle book where you scratched off some silver lotto ticket paint off a page that said “sorry, try again!” or “25 cents of Honeycomb economy size”. Well, once after a trip to Kroger, I tore apart the cereal box and went through the book and scratched off the matte grey boxes, and I WON! I won the BMX bike!

My mom checked and double checked the rules a million times, figuring there would be a catch or that I won a chance to enter in a raffle or something. But no, it was legit. She sent the thing off, and I waited what seems like years for the package to show up.

One rainy Saturday, it did. UPS dropped off a box from the Huffy corporation, and inside was my brand new bike. It’s probably worth explaining that at the time, I was riding a total POS Huffy with a banana seat that was not cool at all, very far from BMX. And this was when BMX was bigger than Jesus. This bike had a red frame and all of the chrome parts were a bronze/gold plated finish – the rims, the handlebars, the crank, and the chainguard. It had the handlebars with the extra bar across the top that was dipped in the center, the four-bolt neck, coaster brakes but also a secondary lever brake on the rear wheels. The tires were red knobby BMX tires, and it had the pads on the bars. It was AWESOME. I put that thing together in record time, and brought it outside for my trial run.

I remember that day so clearly. It had rained like a mofo all night long and all morning, and it was just starting to let up, but there was still a haze. And there were earthworms EVERYWHERE. Sometimes after a good rain, they get flooded out and are all over the street. I got out just as the sky was starting to clear, and took off through the subdivision. Everything about this bike felt 100% better than my old clunker. It all looked cool, every part spun perfectly against every other, and most of all, I WON THIS BIKE! It was awesome.

I think I rode that bike well into my Freshman year, when I finally got a real ten-speed, and probably long after (or before) it was cool to ride a 20″ BMX bike with no speeds. Come to think of it, it was probably never cool to ride any kind of bike to our school, but the bus sucked, I always worked late at the school theater, and it’s not like mommy and daddy bought me a 5.0 GT Mustang when I turned 16.

So the reason I’m excited NOW, is that I just bought a new bike. I know I already have two frames and a bunch of pieces in my kitchen and neither run. And I’m not sure how long it will take before either will run, so I decided to make a small (~$300) investment in a complete turnkey bike that actually rode well. The lucky purchase was the 2005 Dahon Boardwalk D7. It’s a folding bike, which is pretty cool; with the pop of a couple of latches, the handlebars fold down, the frame folds in half, and then you lower the seat and fold up the pedals and you have about 25 pounds of fairly compact metal to throw in the trunk or schlep onto the subway.

The bike’s based on 20-inch tires and a very low-slung frame, with highly extended seat and handlebar posts. It’s got 7 speeds in the back and none on the front, so it’s not like one of these new 78-speed mountain bike mofos, but the smaller survey of gears, switched with a twist-grip on the right side, works pretty well for the city. All of the components are full-size for the most part, very well thought-out and they are made for a big guy to ride around, not as a toy or for kids. It came with a rear rack, a set of fenders, and a fairly comfy standard seat.

I bought the thing at lunch, and rode back to the office from Bicycle Habitat, maybe a few blocks at most. Later, I took it out for a quick spin around the office, and I hauled it home on the subway to the first stop in Queens, then rode the rest of the way back. It was dark and I had no lights and a black jacket, plus I didn’t want to get stranded if something broke right out of the gate. (That happened on the first MTB I bought here in New York, the Mongoose. I rode way the hell out in Queens my first time out, and the fucking derailleur SNAPPED. I ended up walking the fucking bike home five miles.)

Anyway, the little thing is FUN to ride. The balancing is a bit different, but it’s not like pumping around on a little BMX. It’s very compact, easy to weave through traffic and up and around stuff in the city. I thought there would be some warble or flex in the frame, but it’s solid, almost as tight as my old Giant road bike. Everything works well; the brakes are tight, the shifting is good, and the headset is very smooth. It’s not as smooth on the New York excuses for streets as a good rockhopper with full suspension would be, but it’s decent. And I couldn’t see riding 100K in one of these things, but I could see commuting every day with no problems.

The folding isn’t hard to do, although it took a few practices. The worst part is that everything I have for the old bike doesn’t fit. I have water bottle cages with allen screws that go into the frame, but I really need some kind of handlebar-mounted clip thing to hold my bottle. I have a nice computer that even has a heartrate monitor, but the cable on the sensor is too short, and I’m sure that’s a huge witch hunt and a $30 purchase. I can’t find the frame mount for my Kryptonite lock. (NO it is not the one you can pick with a pen, you motherfucking blog readers.) But I think maybe I shouldn’t add anything to the bike, and just tough it out. I mean, I could spend the cost of the bike getting the approved Dahon-Apple iPod mount with the Bose wraparound handlebar speakers, or I could just ride around with no music and either hum a tune or think about something else. I could spend a few hundred on the official Dahon panniers, or I could just bring less stuff, or bungee down a gym bag. I think I need to do the less is more approach.

Of course, I picked the wrong day to buy a bike – we’re supposed to get about twenty feet of rain over the next two days. Maybe I should go down to the bike store and buy one of those euro full rain getups and slog through it anyway. Well, except for the pneumonia and the possibility of a wreck on a brand new bike, that’s a grand idea.

So I’m seriously thinking of saying “suck it” to the MTA and riding in every day. I don’t think the bike will go with me to Hawaii, but I’d sure as hell like to ride every day from now until then, and then rent one local and have the energy to get up those damn hills. I am so out of shape now, it’s not even funny. But I sure feel great having a motivation to get some regular exercise…