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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Custom bicycles for the upscale commuter

Image of custom commuting bicycle
From Marketplace (American Public Radio), 08.18.09:

Can't afford gas? Try a 'commuter bike'
Kai Ryssdal: There's some evidence commuting to work by bicycle is on the rise. A survey out from the advocacy group Bikes Belong says sales of what're called commuter bikes, those are bikes designed for short city trips, [is up]. There's some good reasons. Maybe it's a desire to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. Or maybe it's gas still at $3.75 a gallon, although you can drop a pretty penny on consumer bikes if you want to. Marketplace's Sean Cole got to ride one for nuthin'.

Sean Cole: Wow, I am once again in the saddle. I hadn't ridden in years. But I had to try one of Mike Flanigan's bikes. Mike runs a one-man factory in Holliston, Mass., called Alternative Needs Transport, or ANT. Each bike takes him maybe a week to build. His waiting list is a year long.

I'd actually never heard of a commuter bike. It just means a bike with fenders and a chain guard, upright handle bars, maybe a basket, definitely lights and a bell. [bell rings] In this case a special bell from Japan. You have to be up close to see how well made Mike's bikes are, and you might never guess the price. His base model runs $2900.

Flanigan: And actually mine is on the low end of the high end market.

Cole: Really?

Flanigan: Oh yeah. People can spend upwards of $10,000 dollars for a bike.

Or as little as $400 to $1,000 for a factory-made commuter bike. But since Mike's bikes are handmade in America, they're gonna be pricier. Plus, he fits each one to the customer's height. He's been doing this for six years, long before there was so much interest in commuter bikes...

Flanigan: Like Specialized tried that in the early '90s...They had a bike called the Globe. Very nice bike. Reasonable priced. Completely failed in the market. Gas was still cheap. Bicycles were still toys. It just, the market wasn't ready for it.

But last fall, he says, at an annual trade show called Interbike, a lot of the big brands were finally hawking bicycles built for commuting. (Read more, includes audio and slideshow.)
Sigh. Envy those bicycle commuters who can treat themselves to one of Mike Flanigan's bicycles ("not sport...transport"). A custom commuting bike is really only suited for those fortunate bicycle commuters who have secure indoor bike parking at work. For us less fortunate bike commuters--who need to leave our rides locked outside vulnerable to theft and the elements--a less costly bicycle is probably best.

As I've said on this blog before, American employers should really do more to encourage bicycle commuting (showers, lockers, secure parking, etc.) Providing vehicle parking is costly: land, construction, lighting, security, insurance, etc. Yet employers routinely provide car parking for staff, while neglecting the needs of bicycle commuting employees. Many of us might enjoy our commutes more if we used our best quality bicycle, feeling secure about where we kept it during work.

This radio report contrasts with an interesting story from Washington DC, where Union Station employees confiscated a woman's bicycle for being "too ugly." Needless harassment of bicycle commuters, I'd say. If Union Station were really concerned about aesthetics, they could provide secure bicycle lockers or, better, a Bikestation-type staffed facility. Then maybe more local bike commuters would feel comfortable leaving their beauty bikes at the train station.

Image: Mike Flanigan.
Visit: Buying the right commuting bike, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Dutch bicycles finding market in U.S.?, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Bikes come in all types for all people, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site


Anonymous said...

Union Station in DC will have a bicycle transit center (like a Bikestation) but it doesn't open until spring 2009. I guess ugly bikes aren't allowed until then. :-)

Tom said...

a commuter for $2,900? I think of the abuse that a commuter bike goes through..... and I wouldn't recommend anything above $1000. It is overkill. I remember a friend who bought a family car - a bmw with plush leather interior- for carting around his 2,4, & 5 year olds.

Che said...

I agree with you Tom, on the price of the bike. I started commuting this summer to work and school. Now I built a beater single speed for the easy commute to the bus stop. The bike cost about 150 bucks. It is an old Schwin Le tour. 27" wheels, but is should last the semester ok. I do still have the Specialized tricross as a back up. I didn't want to put too much damage on that one though.

Yokota Fritz said...

I'd love a $2000+ commuter :-) But yeah, these guys do see some abuse.

Georgina's "ugly" bike is beautiful! I can't believe a little rust marks a bike as abandoned. A big party of the beauty of bikes is they can be used forever.

Susan Beebe said...

The marketing folks need to change the background on that bike photo el pronto!
Why was the commuter bike photographed with a huge tombstone behind it at a cemetery?! That creeps me out! Also, draws unnecessary reference to death with that bike!

Susan Beebe

Anonymous said...

I have biked for 30 years plus if you don't count my childhood cycling. Then it is more like 45. Anyway, when the gas crunch hit I needed a commuter bike. I had long given up on expensive road bike fantasies because they are just not suitable for pot-holing and traffic jamming. First I bought a cheap Giant bike, a Boulder. It is a pseudo mountain bike and ended up so uncomfortable to ride on city streets I was bummed.

Then I went deep into my storage room and dug out my two really old bikes, one a Schwinn Le Tour that I once did Tecate-Ensenada on, oh, many years ago. But the frame geometry was horrible then and now. After that ride I had saved up and bought a Nishiki Cresta touring bike that I rode around for 10 years. I bought it because of the generous gearing and that it fit me better than anything I could find 30 years ago when they were not yet making bikes for women or short people.

I had the bars replaced with mountain bike bars and brake levers, adjusting the sidepulls tighter to make up for the greater braking distance. Then I packed up for the 5 mile trip to my office at least one day a week. It is perfect.

It is a bit lighter and more responsive than many lower priced mountain bikes and hybrids. It has that heavenly wide gearing for my nearly sixty year old legs and it has the sentimental value of an old friend.

I am convinced that rebuilding an old bike is a pretty decent way to go. I didn't want to spend the bucks to get a good hybrid or tour/commuter bike new. This has great components and is in good shape because I keep my bikes indoors and have taken good care of it.

As you can tell I am enjoying my return to the bike very much. The gas crunch is a blessing for me. I had forgotten how much I love my bike. Just like whem I was 10 years old.