By Chris Sweeney
I traded my car for a bicycle July 9, 2011.
New Belgium Brewing Company’s “Tour de Fat” is a traveling circus of all things bike related. There are were slow bikes, tall bikes, long bikes, four wheel and two person bikes. It’s a spectacle to say the least. The culmination of the festival is the giving away of a new bike in exchange for a used car. My bike was custom built by Black Sheep Bicycles in Colorado; the trade, my Acura 2.5 TL mass produced by a machine in Japan. I was one of eleven people across the US chosen for this program, but my story is a little blacker than the others. My Black Sheep was ill the day I took her home. After leaving the festival, I went to work (I paced myself…) on my beautiful new Black Sheep. Placing my bike on the stage in the corner of the bar that I work at, I told everyone how amazing my new bike and lifestyle were.
On my ride home from work — a mere 7.5 miles with just shy of 1000 feet of elevation gain — my front light gave out. A sign of the darkness to come. After checking the wires and calling the manufacturer, I removed the light and replaced it with a battery-powered one. I rode the bike for the next three days to and fro. Then the front disc brake started catching. Not being a bike mechanic, I took my bike to our great local outdoor shop. They checked the front wheel and deemed that the disc brake and wheel itself were out of true. After truing the wheel and adjusting the disc, I had the bike back in two days.
I brought the bike back to the same shop the next day. The front hub now seemed to be grinding. The mechanic noted, “It felt as if you took a cheap Walmart hub and overtightened it.” He got on the phone with the manufacturer; I left. I came back the next day, riding the bus, committed to my pledge. They were going to send the front wheel back to the manufacturer for repair or replacement. I paced myself… here begins my wait.
I am a lover of the bicycle and have several. Before the Tour de Fat, I was a fair weather rider. My cycle of choice for commuting was a Dawes Lightning Cross that I bought from the local bike shop near my work. I had it tricked out with city slick tires and a bell. I rode it all over. The first winter I had it, I realized my need for a rear rack and panniers. Nashville winters are generally mild but wet. My attire into work was very different than what I wore on my ride home. I needed those bags.
It is a good thing I had that bike. Having traded my car, not having the promised Black Sheep, I rode the Dawes. Three weeks later I got a call from the outdoor shop that my wheel was in and would be ready the following day. I rode the bus to pick up my bike on my way to work. Having gotten comfortable riding the cyclo-cross position, this bike seemed very awkward to ride, especially when climbing. I found myself walking it as much as I rode it.
After struggling with the bike especially loaded, I noticed the internal hub skipping gears, and eventually slipping quite seriously. I bruised my knee when my foot slipped off the pedal one night. I took my wounded Black Sheep to the the shop I purchased my Dawes. Within the hour, they sent me on my way and my bike rode nicely. For two days. It again was skipping over gears, but no longer slipping out of gear. I rode my Dawes for the next week until I had time to bring my bike back to the shop. The mechanic informed me that these internal hubs are nice but being new technology had a long way to go. With 11 speeds and only one adjustment point, it was exacting to get them just right. I went to work on foot.
That night he brought my bike to me at work. I placed it on the stage, told everyone of the trouble I had been having with it, and how great my car free lifestyle was. On my ride home, a chilly night, I was riding hard. There is a climb about a mile from my work, that is easily the steepest climb on my return trip. About half way up the hill, I was giving that Black Sheep my left foot followed by my right then left… then a crack followed by the worst grinding sound followed with an almost immediate stop. Knowing that limping this Black Sheep home would take and hour, I coasted back to the bar. I removed the Fat Tire bike that hung on the wall for display and rode it the same route home.
I rode the display bike back to work the following day and explained to my boss, who thought it had been lifted without the staff noticing, why I had borrowed it. I took the Black Sheep to the shop by my work that day, and then returned the next day to inquire about the status. He told me they were to send my wheel to the manufacturer, but that they informed him it way take up to a month as the had “quite a few of these” that needed to be repaired. (I paced myself…) After six weeks, I stopped into the shop. Six weeks with no issues on my Dawes. They were busy at the shop, and I asked my mechanic to call the manufacturer at his earliest convenience. He called me the following Monday and informed me that my wheel had been sent — and received — but could not be located. I was frustrated.
I rode through the rain the sleet and the snow — well not snow. It didn’t snow here this year; but that’s another story. I rode everywhere, and everyday until I got a call from the shop. The manufacturer had found, fixed, and shipped my wheel that day; it had showed up at their shop three weeks ago. I rode the bus to work that day early, so when my wheel arrived I was waiting for it. It was like opening a birthday present for the second time. It had been such a long while since I had ridden it. My mechanic installed it in no time, and sent me for a test ride. I was riding my Black Sheep once again. Then realization set in. She was still sick. The hub would shift up but not down. He removed the wheel from the bike to look it over. The hub was filthy and covered in grime. He then looked at the wheel and saw it was well out of true. (I paced myself…) He immediately called the manufacturer but could not get in touch with anyone who know anything about the wheel.
I have had my Black Sheep back now for one week. I ride her everywhere, everyday. She is not as she originally came however. Instead of dealing with the complications of the internal hub I opted to have a nine speed derailer put on it. Also deciding that this bike is by no means a commuter bike, I have stopped treating it like one. This bike is an able cruiser at best. I have removed the rear rack to expose the beautiful lines of the bike, and replaced it with a front basket in black to match the bike. I also chopped the handlebars so the are now 8 inches narrower, making climbing doable. I ride it when I am not in a hurry, and on my shorter trips, but still favor my Dawes as a means of transportation.
I would like to thank New Belgium Brewing Company, especially Matt Kowal for all his support along the way, and for paying to have the conversions done on my Black Sheep. I hear the your-car-for-a-bike traders at this year’s Tour de Fat will be able to choose their cycle to meet their needs. A genius idea. Hell, I might apply I could use a new commuter bike.
But that is not the end of my story. I will continue to ride until I am not able. I believe that cycling is not only the key to our global environmental crisis but also the obesity epidemic. I promote cycling awareness with my synchronized meadow biking team, The Green Angels. “Angels are messengers. We have a message: wear your helmet.” Remember when you rode just for the fun of it? Today, go for a longer ride, or take a different route, but listen to me when I say, “pace yourself.”