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May 11, 2010 > Bicycle trend's old-time appeal

Bicycle trend's old-time appeal

By David J. Nicolas

The last time Sean Gould, a computer programmer, was behind the wheel of a car the Internet had been freshly launched, professional players of the Major League Baseball went on strike for 232 days and every kid dreamt of becoming Michael Jordan. It was the 1990s.

"The thing is I never felt very comfortable behind the wheel," Gould said in an e-mail. "One day while driving home, I remember thinking, 'You know, the last thing anyone needs on this highway is an uncomfortable nervous driver. There must be another way.' "

His initial solution was public transportation, but Gould realized that bicycling was a great form of getting to work. And it was fun. So he decided to abandon cars altogether.

Gould has racked up 3,762 miles on a bike this year, and he's bound to add much more before 2011. Gould commutes to work, shops and runs errands mostly on a blue, 30-pound Surly Long Haul Trucker bicycle. Although he works mostly out of his home in Oakland, he takes his bike with him for sporadic work meetings.

At one point once a week, he hopped on BART train bound for Fremont, got off Union City station, rode the Alameda Creek Trail through the Dumbarton Bridge and into San Mateo, a 60-mile round trip on his bicycle.

It will be another typical, car-less day for Gould on Bike to Work Day on Thursday, May 13.

This year's Bike to Work Day reminds people that riding a bike to work can have a significant impact on the environment, your health and pockets. There will be over 100 energizer stations around the East Bay that will provide free drinks and snacks throughout the day.

The recession, as well as the green movement, has brought a movement of people who want ease off the gas and apply pressure to a different kind of pedaling-bicycling.

"People are looking to reduce their driving miles," said Ray Lin, general manager of Castro Valley Cyclery about the bike shop.

Lin has observed a rise in the store's traffic and steady sales since the onset of the recession, late 2007, especially in the road bike category. Fifty percent of sales at the Cyclery are related to the road bikes or parts. Other than saving money at the pump, Lin said customers are also concerned about reaching fitness goals.

Most of the business at the shop are from repeat customers, but a street movement in San Francisco has found its way in and around bike lanes of the Tri-City - the single speed bicycle.

"Some of our customers who have been mountain cyclists almost exclusively for 15 or 20 years have come in and said, 'Hey some of my friends are getting into road cycling, I want to get a road bike, too'," Lin said.

The single-speed or fixed-gear bicycle is stripped of extra wires, gears, knobs and most of the time, hand brakes. A rider's legs are in constant pedaling motion, and the only way to stop is to vigorously crank backwards.

Scott Cramer, sales manager at The Bicycle Garage in Fremont, a shop specializing in repairs and parts, has also seen a rise in store traffic, especially by the younger generation coming in to buy parts.

Cramer thinks the trend toward single speed bikes is not only fad-based, but because of the rider's command on uphill and downhill riding.

But the youth's fascination with a fixed-gear's speed potential, agility and sleek body often blocks its many dangers. In the absence of hand brakes, single-speed bikes are less able to accommodate sudden stops, increasing the possibility of collisions. The jarring braking movement also requires skill and strong muscles around the knee.

Lin feels that there is an old-time appeal with fixed-gear bikes.

"Bicyclists are into their aesthetics. It seems that our culture is moving toward a visually-based society. Visually, fixed gears are stunning. There are no cables in the way; there are no derailers. It harkens back into an older era in which cycling was simple and relatively quieter," Lin said.

"They're really tough on your body unless you have significant muscle development. It's incredibly difficult for your body to handle," Lin said about the single-speed movement.

It's a trend, but like BMX riding, is likely to stay.

"It's probably going to be a five-year cycle. For five years, single-speed bicycles are going to be popular, and in the next five years they won't be," Lin said.

Trend or not, riding a bicycle can be a form of transportation and recreation. For Gould, getting on his bike every day is simple.

"I'd like to say I have a nobler purpose," Lin said. "But really, for me, I ride because I enjoy it."

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