The Bikes We Don’t Need

On Saturday I did a bad thing. I bought a bike I didn’t really need.

Now, of course, there are those of us who believe there is no such thing as a bike a person doesn’t need. But I’ve never been in that camp. I’ve mostly seen the bike as a cheap and effective means of basic transportation. I don’t race road bikes, mountain bikes or cyclocross, so I don’t need carbon speedsters. And I’m not a collector, hoarder of items of conspicuous consumption.

For over a decade I’ve been riding a sturdy Trek made from recycled parts built around an old 420 frame. The whole thing cost me $125. I love its practicality with its comfortable mustache handlebars and its luggage carrier and its fenders. But mostly I love the fact that I spent $125 for it a decade ago and haven’t spent more than maybe a hundred bucks on maintenance for it since, mostly for new brake pads and tires.

I also own a Trek Portland road bike and an old mountain bike that I had converted to my winter wheels, though to be honest I haven’t been riding this cold and snowy winter. I’m no Dave Schlabowske.

But this weekend I spent a little time behind the Bike Fed table at Bike O Rama in Madison. I was surrounded by bikes and by bike people. You could smell the rubber and grease in the air. The bikes were calling for me to come ride them. And, face it, once you’ve ridden a bike and love it, all that’s left is to get to the checkout counter and hand over your credit card.

I spotted this simple black number in the corner. It turned out to be a Felt Brougham, a steel frame fixie with a flip-flop hub complete with both a freewheel and a fixed cog. The look is simple and clean with riser bar, pedals with clips and straps and a front brake.

Yeah, I know. I’m a Wisconsin guy and Trek is wonderful to the Bike Fed and I promise the next bike I don’t need will be my third Trek. But what can I say? I saw it and I fell in love. Then I rode it and we flew together like the wind. I had to have it.

It’s hard to explain the allure of a fixie. As a practical matter the bike makes no sense, especially in hilly Madison. Why commit yourself to one gear when you could have 18?

But I imagine I’ll ride it to work along Madison’s Southwest Bike Path to the elevator at Monona Terrace and then up to the Capitol Square level and over to Main Street and our Madison office. That route is almost totally flat.

I’ll carry my stuff in a bike satchel slung low across my back. When I arrive I’ll carry the Brougham’s mere twenty-two pounds up the stairs to my office. All day it’ll sit there looking cool. People who visit will see it and imagine I am mysterious and complicated in a way they had never comprehended before.

They’ll be wrong of course, but I will say nothing to correct them. I’ll let the bike tell lies about me. Come to think of it now, this is a bike I did need.

About Dave Cieslewicz, Director Emeritus

Dave Cieslewicz served two terms as mayor of Madison where he set the city on a path for Platinum status as one of the best biking cities in North America. Before that he started his own nonprofit, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which focuses on land use and transportation policy. He has been an adjunct professor at the UW Madison's Department of Urban and Regional Planning where he teaches a class called Bikes, Pedestrians and Cities. He pronounces his name chess LEV ich, but nobody else does.

5 thoughts on “The Bikes We Don’t Need

  1. Totally understandable. I had gotten one of those single-speeds (a Sasha Stray Cat) and it absolutely creates a whole different bike experience. There is a pureness to it, similar to the traditional archer with a recurve versus a compound bow, There is a pureness in it’s simplicity. I’ll ride mine on the pi ride if you ride your’s.

  2. Now you’ve got me trying to remember the last time I bought a bicycle I needed. I’m going to guess 1974, but it was my dad that bought that Schwinn Collegiate. Everything I’ve bought since then is less needed bicycle and more desired bicycle insulation.

    And I stay warm, very warm.

  3. “hilly Madison”? please. we’re not Kansas, but we’re certainly not the Appalachians, let alone the Rockies. and I can’t remember the last time I bought a bike I needed. I think it was 1989. But mostly I’m commenting because “I’m a Wisconsin guy and Trek is wonderful to the Bike Fed and I promise the next bike I don’t need will be my third Trek” is the best sentence I’ve read in a long time. And I read a lot.

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