Sunday, July 4, 2010

change your handlebars, change your life

About a month ago, I took the plunge and replaced the handlebars on my bike.

I lack many good "before" photos because I disliked the stock bars enough to avoid aiming the camera in that direction, but here's a partial one:

You can picture it. They're the kind of bars on the majority of modern mountain and hybrid bikes built in the past 2 decades. They're everywhere. They make you lean forward so that part of your weight is on your hands.

I had it done by Rain City Bikes. It's not the place where I bought my bike (who don't carry any kind of scandalous swept-back bar, apparently) but from a few brief conversations it seems that they share my philosophy on cycling. They're a bit farther out of my way and are a small shop, but I like them.

And now, the 'after':

The difference is incredible! I see the world in a new way: I sit up, look around, and feel dignified and practical. Instead of participating in a sporty hobby, I'm controlling my own vehicle and navigating through the city. Surprisingly, it doesn't look strange at all, but natural and aesthetically pleasing.

When I told my friend that I felt like the Wicked Witch of the West, she laughed and replied that on her vintage beach cruiser she feels like Dorothy.

What do you call these bars? Occasionally (e.g. some Craigslist ads), I've seen similar ones called "cruiser bars". Really? Aren't cruiser bars the kind that would look at home on ... a cruiser? Lots of rise and very wide with that on-the-boardwalk vibe. So I've taken to saying: "More swept back, like a city bike." City bar? Not a "road" bar, a "mountain" bar, a "cruiser" bar, but something that is appropriate for the "city".

To be honest, I'd consider something even narrower: more like 90 degrees instead of the 45-ish that I currently have? Why? Velo Orange describes it well when explaining the dimensions of their Montmarte handlebar:

"Like most traditional French bars, the Montmartre bar is narrow, 42cm center-to-center. The streets of Montmartre are also narrow and it wouldn't do to knock over a drink at a cafe table or snag a Citroen's rear view mirror."

The wider the handlebar, the more they get tangled when locked in the racks with other bikes. I'd love an even narrower footprint to match the small spaces of the urban environment.

Do I feel less badass? Yes. And I'm okay with that. Transporting myself around the city on a daily basis is not a badass activity. Maybe one day when I have storage for a fleet of bicycles, I'll have something racier. (Because there is something so sexy about drop bars...)

My eyes have been opened and I've started to notice other bikes where the swept-back handlebars seem unlikely to be original. I hope more people -- both men and women -- do this. It made sense 40 years ago and it still does now.

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