Friday, June 5, 2015

Converting a Mountain Bike to a Cruiser Bike


 This simple handlebar stem extender can convert a mountain bike into a cruiser bike, for under $10.

Style sells.   Even things that you would think are utilitarian, are sold on style.  Even anti-style is style.  One reason I bought the Nissan truck versus the Toyota, is that Toyota has gone crazy with styling, putting swoops and boops on the sides of their pickups.   The Nissan looked more like a truck - slab sides, wheel arches, a plain and simple tailgate.   We invest a lot more into style than we care to admit.

When I was a kid, my parents got me a Schwinn "Stingray" bicycle, which was the style at the time.  It was sort of modeled after the chopper motorcycles of the era, and perhaps drag racers (later models came with slicks and even wheelie wheels).   As a bicycle, it was piss-poor, as the riding position was horrifically inefficient and gearing not suited for road riding.

My older brother saved up to buy a "10-speed" bike, and these at the time were styled after racing bikes, complete with "rams horn" handlbars, that looked like the kind the racers used at the time, but were very uncomfortable for daily riding.   The narrow rims, suited for racing, bent easily on curbs and potholes.  Nevertheless, this was what style of bike was available for the next two decades.

Mountain bikes became popular in the 1980's, and I bought my first one in 1983.   It was so much nicer than a "10-speed" mostly because it had 18-speeds.  It also had a more comfortable seat, a more upright riding position, wide forgiving tires and rims, and was much better suited for urban riding and riding on dirt and gravel bike paths.

But of course, the style changed before too long.  Serious mountain bike riders, who plunge off cliff-like mountains and perform deeds of derring-do, wanted more "serious" bikes, with full suspensions, a hunched-over riding position, handlebar extensions, and the like.   And the bike industry supplied these - and aped the style of the bikes onto lesser bikes sold to the general public.

For example, I borrowed a neighbor's bike, which he bought at Wal-Mart.  It has a full suspension and looks, from a distance, like a serious mountain bike.   But when you look up close, you realize that it is a kiddie sidewalk bike styled to look like a serious mountain bike.  The handlebars, the brakes, the derailleurs, etc, are all made cheaply and are off-brands.    The styling, however, is copied faithfully, much as cheap 10-speeds of an earlier era faithfully copied the road-racer look for customers who would never be racing.  

The 1999 Trek 6000's we bought were borderline "serious" bikes, according to the TREK catalog of the day (not being listed with their more plebian "recreational" street bikes).   But they were not "hard core" mountain bikes, either.  I suspect most were sold to people like me who never took them down a mountain, but instead road them on the street, the local bike path, and the like.

And for 16 years, they have held up well, being a well-made product.   But in 16 years, we have not held up as well.  And the hunched-over riding position is less comfortable for middle-aged men with bad backs and compressed discs.

So, do we buy new "cruiser" style bikes?   These, too, are an example of style gone awry.   They are sold as "beach bikes" or whatnot, and are designed to look like Jimmy Buffet just rode in on it.  They have tiki baskets, surfboard themes, or "woody" trim.   They also weigh a ton, have no gears, are geared too high (like most cheap bikes are) so they are hard to pedal and no fun to ride.   They are usually poorly made, too, so even at $119.99 they are no bargain.

Of course, you can pay a lot more for a quality cruiser bike, and the quality ones are very nicely made.  Or one of these commercial-grade bikes, which I would love to buy, but the one I want starts at $1000, hand-made in Brooklyn, not including options.   I've bought cars for less.  And no, I don't need to ape the "style" of Park Slope hipsters.

But could the old mountain bike be upgraded for a new era?   Thankfully, you can buy on eBay, for less than $10, an adapter that will raise the handlebars on an older Trek-style bike.   It does take about a month to ship from China, but it is worth it.   And you may need to replace the front brake cable, as it may not be long enough to reach, once the handle bars are raised.

But it seems to work well, and Mr. See loves his bike again.   And it was a lot cheaper than buying a new bicycle.   And best of all, it comes off so the bike can be reverted to its original configuration.

I may end up getting one for my bike, even!