Two Wheels Are Better Than Four: The Benefits of Bikes
By Tim Butterfield '12, Staff Writer
I realize that most people, especially college guys, are thinking about the upcoming Super Bowl at this particular moment in time. It’ll no doubt be a good game; I’ll even watch the whole thing. But, am I thinking about the game right now? Nope. That ain’t me. Fortunately, “Frustrated Fanatic”, Erik Schulwolf ’10, covered that topic for you last time.

I also realize that a lot of people, especially men, are into cars. They like to point out the sweetest sports cars in parking lots and are knowledgeable of new models and powerful engines. There’s nothing wrong with that, but again, that’s not my thing. When it comes to looking at hot rides, I prefer to window shop at Amherst’s very own Laughing Dog Cyclery.

Whenever I’m in town, I always make sure to stop by the store’s display window located near the bus stop. There has been a beautiful blue Trek road bike being showcased there for a long, long time. I guess no one wants the sleek two-wheeler, or, more likely, no one can afford it. Road bikes aren’t cheap, new or used, and neither are most decent mountain or commuter bicycles. As such, most people who need or want a bicycle during their time at Amherst end up buying one for cheap at a store like Target.

A worker at the establishment expressed to me his distaste for the cheaply bought equipment: “Their one-size frames means that no one over 5’9” can adjust the seat to a reasonable and safe height,” he tells me. “These bikes just do everyone a huge disservice.”

Now, I don’t know much about cycling — in fact, I only started doing the sport somewhat seriously last summer — but what I heard from this employee sounded reasonable enough. It was true that the Wal-Mart caliber bike currently being repaired in the shop was not doing wonders for its owner. The back tire leaked air, each bolt and screw required a different tool to be loosened and the brakes have never brought the wheels to a complete halt. Worst of all, the seat was way too low because its rider, like most college-aged males, was significantly taller than 5’9”.

But I was just in the store to look around, so I perused the floor, gaping at sleek bikes with drop-down handlebars, clean thin chains and enormous price tags. I could hear the employee working on the bike in the next room over. He wasn’t pleased. Nevertheless, he made the repairs and even taught me a few new swear words that I could utilize if I ever found myself in the presence of such a contemptible bicycle.

I have a bicycle of my own; a well-priced and sharp-looking commuter that I invested in last summer. It’s the Gary Fisher Kaitai and I love it. Search for it on Google Images — it’s the silver one — and you’ll love it too. The seat rises, the brakes work, only one tool is required for all repairs and it was designed by one of mountain biking’s founding fathers. Because of those factors I keep it inside my room all winter. It stays clean and mounted on a fluid-resisting trainer, so I can ride it indoors as hard as I want to without moving an inch.

Bicycling is a cool sport and I hope a lot of people realize that. The sport demands incredible focus, determination and planning throughout races of various lengths. Riding a real or stationary bike for just 20—30 minutes (or however long it takes to get one’s heart rate reasonably elevated) every few days is all it takes to keep the average person fit, happy and healthy. Cycling is a fun sport to follow as well. Not every athlete is as high-profile as Lance, but it’s cool to track the progress of individual riders and teams as they advance throughout their racing seasons.

But, on a more local level, I can’t deny that Amherst is a bicycling town. We have a road cycling club and a mountain bike racing team right here on campus and there are groups in every town nearby. Every bike rack on the College’s campus is filled at all times of the day and bike lanes are painted on the streets throughout the town. All year long I see students, workers and athletes pedaling through the wind, snow and fog, and that’s awesome. My appreciation stems not entirely from the environmentally-friendly “go green!” cries of this town, state and country. It’s just really nice to see people getting about in a safer, cheaper and healthier way than by just driving their cars to the five nearby places us students and residents go to on a regular basis.

The next step is for more students here to become interested in their own bicycles and, for those who don’t own a pair of wheels, to look into the benefits of changing that. There are a lot of nice bikes on this campus — I see them every day. There’s that classic yellow cruiser in front of Grosvenor on warm days, the silver Specialized mountain bike by Mo Pratt, that neglected red road bike lying on the ground in front of the gym, and there’s the snazzy-looking orange one by Moore that may be the coolest looking bike around; perhaps not, I haven’t decided just yet. Countless other bikes are kept in rooms, dorm storage areas and chained to posts around campus.

If you have a bike that needs repair, you’re not condemned to the fate of walking everywhere for the rest of your Amherst days. If you’re unsure of how to maintain your bike, you don’t need to wait for it to fall apart at some dreaded later date. And if you don’t have a bike because you can’t afford one, you probably haven’t looked into all of your options. These issues can all be resolved in one short trip to the Laughing Dog where there is, in fact, a dog kept in a corner. Check out the eye candy bicycles there, get your questions answered and proceed from there. You’ll receive expert advice from nice people who want to help you out. Even if you walk in with your childhood bike from Sam’s Club, someone will take care of your needs.

And be sure to have a helmet. You promised your mom that you wouldn’t forget it.

Issue 13, Submitted 2010-02-03 02:40:52