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Back on Two Wheels...

So about a month ago, I decided to take Erin's suggestion that we get bikes seriously and we started looking. She had been saying she wanted to take bike rides with Devon when the weather got better since this past winter when she spotted this baby/toddler bike seat. Originally this was supposed to have been a relatively quick process. But as Erin would say a few weeks later, "I should have known this was going to happen after the whole aquarium debacle." Obviously not her exact words. ;-p

So anyway, we first started off visiting Cycle Craft over in Parsippany and checked out the Trek line of comfort bikes. Which we liked. We pretty much figured early on that because we both hadn't biked in awhile and biking most likely wasn't going to turn into a huge thing for us it'd make sense just to stick with the comfort ones. We almost pulled the trigger right then and there but I figured it'd be better if I did some research first.

And so it pretty much just snowballed from there. I wound up asking a few friends and coworkers who I knew had gotten bikes in the relatively recent past about brands and models and such and then I just started poking around the brand sites. Besides Trek there was Fuji, Jamis, Giant, Raleigh, Specialized, and Dahon. Unable to find a site where I could easily compare the models between brands, I wound up creating an Excel spreadsheet, the final version which you can see here. Even after throwing together the spreadsheet, I was faced with a problem. Namely, I had no freakin' clue what the difference (if any) there were between the components used on these bikes. And I still don't. Well, ok, I know that as far as entry-level Shimano lines are concerned, the order of low to high is Altus, Acera, and Alivio. But that's about it.

We also visited a few other stores like James Vincent Bicycles in North Bergen, Whippany Cycle in Whippany, and Flo on Wheels in Hoboken and it became pretty apparent to me that as far as comfort was concerned, it really didn't matter much which brand you went with cause they were all very comfortable. So whichever bike we chose would most likely come down to style and color. Or I should say, whichever bike I chose would come down to that. Erin was nowhere near as picky as I was and said she'd just choose one at whichever store I wound up finally patronizing.

Trek, Fuji and Giant were the first brands to drop off my list. Trek was expensive for the components you got compared to all the other brands and I didn't like the color of the Fuji offerings and Giant's comfort models didn't come with a configuration that had shift levers instead of twist which I dislike. For awhile I was seriously considering the Dahon Jack because it was a normal looking folding bike. Bike storage space is a concern for us because we have no garage and rather limited interior space. But eventually that no longer became an option because even the largest-sized model available for that line was too small for me. Which is unfortunate cause I really like the concept of a folding bike.

The Jamis Explorer 2 and Raleigh Venture 4 were serious contenders for awhile as well but Whippany Cycle wasn't expecting any more of those in until later than I wanted and I couldn't find any place to test ride a Jamis until near the very end of this whole process when my decision was already made anyway.

So, that left me with Specialized. Originally, Specialized wasn't my top choice as I wasn't too fond of the bent top tube look nor the available colors for the Expedition Elite model. But after test riding the Expedition, Crossroads and Hardrock Sport and at the recommendation of Florentino from Flo on Wheels, I chose Crossroads. The Hardrock Sport was mighty tempting though, with its Satin Black Scythe look but in the end, comfort won out over looks. Not that the Crossroads/Expedition models are terrible looking bikes.

Specialized Crossroads Sport

I had Flo order the black/silver Crossroads Elite model for me but unfortunately, Specialized didn't have any that would have been available within a week so I wound up going with the charcoal Crossroads Sport that Flo already had in the store and which he then outfitted with shift levers for me instead of the standard twist which was pretty much the sole reason I wanted the Elite instead of the Sport model. Saved me $120.

Specialized Expedition Women's Sport

Erin wound up going with the Women's Expedition model which works just great for her.

Concurrent to the whole agonizing over bike model process was a completely separate agonizing over car-mounted bike rack process. Except in this case it wasn't comparing models, it was whether or not to fork over the extra cash for a hitch-mounted model as opposed to the strap ones that you just wrap in and around the trunk. In the end I bit the bullet and had a hitch mounted at our local Lexus dealer. As for the actual rack, I didn't have any preferences. On the day that I picked up the bikes, Flo just yanked one out from the basement, said "This is the best one we've got right now and I'll give you a 20% discount," and I said, "Hook it up." Turned out to be the Hollywood HR400 which fits 4 bikes so it's future-proof.

And the final headache that we had to deal with was figuring out a place to store the bikes. As I mentioned before, we have no garage and our interior space is limited so our original plan was to just chain the bikes to a railing outside or even on our balcony and throw a tarp over 'em during bad weather. That plan was eventually nixed because I figured even though the bikes were mostly aluminum/alloy and was thus more weather-resistant than if they were regular steel frames, there were still components that might be more quickly affected by prolonged exposure to the elements and moisture like the chain and brake lines and such. Another plan was to clear out as much of the storage area under our stairs to the second floor as possible and store the bikes in there. But I ruled that out because the storage area is relatively deep within our home and we'd have to trek the soon-to-be-dirty bikes through Devon's play area and our living room on a regular basis if we were to store them there.

So the only place left was our entrance stairway. Erin had mentioned wall-mounting the bikes in that area but I was hesitant because I generally dislike drilling holes into walls. Not because I'm lazy but because I'm deathly afraid of screwing things up and patching holes in drywall seem to just be a huge pain in the ass. But after speaking to a friend about their bike storage arrangement, I was tuned into pole-based bike hangers that stay in place via tension and pressure without the need for screws. So I picked up the cheapest one I could find which turned out to be this Swagman Hang It Bike Hanger. Installation was relatively easy, finding the spot to install it in took a bit of trial and error. Originally I had set the pole too close to the wall so that when mounted, the front wheel and handlebar of the bikes had to be turned at a 90 degree angle. I figured because the width of the wheels were larger than the length of the handlebars, I'd save a teeny bit of space if I mounted the pole far enough from the wall so that the handlebars had enough clearance. We still lose about half the width of the entire stairway at the top of the stairs with this setup but unfortunately, we don't have any other options at this point. I suppose I could mount the pole closer to the wall again and then just remove the front wheels before mounting the bikes but that just seems to be more of a hassle. I'm going to have collapsible pedals installed on the bikes though just to save a bit more space as well.

Bike Hanger

As for biking itself, I'm really enjoying it. I haven't ridden a bike since high school so it'll take a while to get back into shape for it but since we're riding with Devon, we're riding at a low speed so we'll have plenty of time to build up endurance. I just hope Devon gets used to his bike helmet soon cause having him wail like the damned when we try to put it on him every time is not usually a good way to start a ride. ;-p And the Bobike Mini is a pretty fantastic front bike seat. Installs super easy on bikes with a long stem between the handlebar and the lock nut as most comfort bikes do and on Erin's bike, it sits high up enough so that she can ride normally without banging her knees into the bottom of the seat but it's not high enough to obscure her vision. I did a tiny bit of research when it came to baby/toddler bike seats and the conclusion I came away with was that while there's a subset of Americans (no issues with Europeans and Asians because they've had front bike seats for ages now) that seem to rag on the front mounted seats because of perceived safety issues, the reviews on these seats by the people who actually buy and use them are uniformly positive. My view on it is that if we're riding with Devon, we're going to be going slow and will be more alert than if he wasn't with us so the chances of either of us running directly into something hard enough to pitch the bike forward is pretty much nil. It's not like we're riding out in urban streets or down mountain trails. For leisurely spins around suburban neighborhoods and parks it works fantastically. Flo did suggest that we buy a rear mounted seat because of safety but we decided to stick with the front one for now because we figured Devon would be more interested in a front seat with its unobstructed view of pretty much everything. The rear mounted seat would have given him a nice view of our heinies and he'd only be able to see things to the right and left. However, we may have to eventually get a rear seat anyway because the front seats only support up to around 30 pounds while the rear seats are good up to 50. Devon's already at 25 so he'll most likely outgrow this seat over the summer. But until he does, the front seat is working out pretty great.

So, if I were to impart any wisdom when it comes to bike shopping after all this, it would be, don't worry too much about brands. Unless you're an advanced bicyclist, the recreational models are all very similar. Just go to the closest bike store in your area, test ride a bunch and have the store workers (who are hopefully knowledgeable and helpful) eyeball you so they can make suggestions on which ones may fit you best. And go with the one you feel is most comfortable overall in the color and style that you'd like. Annoyingly, there are zero bike stores in Jersey City but Flo on Wheels in Hoboken is pretty fantastic. Flo definitely knows his stuff and everything he told me basically turned out to be true. The Dahon Jack is too small for me, the Crossroads is a pretty good fit, and the Hardrock Sport is a pretty cool bike. He was patient throughout the entire process, answered my noob questions in detail, didn't go for the hard sell, and saved me a tidy chunk of change. Yeah the shop's a bit small and crowded, parking is a pain, and the store hours are a bit inconvenient (opens at 12:30 on the weekdays) but overall it was a great shopping experience.


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