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Figuring out how to keep my pandemic-fueled bicycle momentum going

From a ride on July 6, 2022

I’ve ridden my bike a lot less this year than last. I’m not happy about it. There are a few causes:

I have less time to ride. In 2020, I worked from home every day and my duties were lighter. I could get out every day the weather supported it. Last year I worked in the office occasionally. This year I’m in the office every Tuesday and Thursday, which takes two days out of the mix. I looked into commuting by bicycle, but ruled it out. The office is a solid two-hour ride from home, and large sections of the ride are on roads and streets that are unfriendly to riders.

It’s wicked hot this summer. Some days it’s dangerously hot. Even when it’s merely very hot, I come home drenched to the bone in sweat. I don’t enjoy that at all, and for me, riding is supposed to be fun.

No extrinsic motivations propel me anymore. In 2020, I was stuck at home a lot because of lockdown. Riding was a great, pandemic-safe way to be out of the house. In 2021, I was building strength and stamina for my Ride Across Indiana. I’m glad I did that four-day tour, but I feel the same way now as I did when I reached the end: I never need to do anything like this again. This year there is no extrinsic motivation to ride.

My bike feels old and tired. My bike is a 1986 Schwinn 3-speed that I bought used in 2009. It was in good condition and rode well, and I’ve loved riding it. But after all of these years of service, culminating in my 150-mile trek across Indiana last year, my bike feels worn out. It’s just not the pleasure to ride it was even last year at this time.

I rode more in 2020 and 2021 than in the previous ten years combined. The pandemic rekindled my desire to ride, and I want to keep it going. I may not ever ride as much again as I did in the previous two years, but I want to ride a lot more than I did in the ten years before that.

It’s time for me to build the intrinsic motivation to ride, and to block out time for it rather than let it happen when I come upon a hole in my schedule. I have always loved to ride, and I think the more I plan for it the more of a habit it will become.

But I also think it’s finally time for a new bike.

I haven’t bought a brand-new bike since about 1990, when I upgraded my beloved 1982-ish AMF Nimble 3-speed for a shiny new Schwinn hybrid bike. You still had to buy Schwinn bikes from Schwinn dealers then, but the bikes were all made in Taiwan and China by this time. Within a couple years, Schwinn would be bankrupt.

I was excited to own that Schwinn at first, but as the miles rolled by I increasingly realized that it wasn’t the right kind of bike for me. It was my first derailleur bike and I didn’t enjoy the times the chain wouldn’t cleanly slip from one sprocket ring to the other. A few times that the chain bound up on, or fell off, a sprocket ring. I also didn’t need 21 speeds. I found myself using the same four or five gears all the time. I missed the simplicity of my old 3-speed’s internally-geared hub. I also came to see that I was a road rider all the way, and didn’t need the frame geometry or knobby tires of that hybrid. My lower back didn’t enjoy the riding position that hybrid bike forced me into. After a while, I wished I had kept my AMF Nimble.

Remembering all of that, I’m looking for a modern version of the traditional 3-speed. I’d like it to have a lighter frame than my current bike’s all-steel frame. I’d also like it to I’d like it to have a first gear with a much lower ratio than that of my Schwinn so that I can handle steep hills more easily. On my Ride Across Indiana, I had to walk my bike up some hills and that made me crabby.

Unfortunately, internally-geared-hub bikes are hard to come by these days. I know of only a couple manufacturers that still feature them. Right now I’m weighing two models from Public Bikes. The first is the V7i, a bicycle with traditional frame geometry and a 7-speed internally-geared hub. It is offered in this nifty British Racing Green. It’s also $900, which to me is an eye-popping amount of money for a bike like this.

Photo credit: Public Bikes

I’m also looking at Public’s D8i, which has an 8-speed internally-geared hub plus disc brakes, which promise sure stopping even in the rain. That would have been a huge help on my Ride Across Indiana, as it rained on me most of the last day and my bike’s stopping ability went to nil. It comes only in one color, chrome, which isn’t my favorite. It’s a lot more expensive than the V7i at $1,400.

Photo credit: Public Bikes

If I buy one of these, I’ll have them fit a rear rack onto it, which will add $60 to the total price. But first, I have to get comfy with what these bikes cost. The most I’ve ever spent on a bike is about $250! Maybe I’ll stumble upon a sale.

I’ll stick with my 3-speed this year, but next year it’s a new bike for sure.

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40 thoughts on “Figuring out how to keep my pandemic-fueled bicycle momentum going

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    I’m with you, I love the internal hub multi-speeds, and the three-speed upright riding position; and yes, the new model bikes that sport the 7 and 8 speed hubs are eye-poppingly expensive, but also what I would like, with the front disc brake as well, for the stopping power.

    As a guy who’s built a few bikes in his day (not frame braising, but component and wheel change-outs, etc.) have you investigated just haivng your rear wheel rebuilt with a 7 or 8 speed hub? At Nashbar, you can buy a Sturmey Archer 8 speed hub for 240 bucks and have a local person you trust rebuild your back wheel with it, you might even be able to just have it done at Nashbar, and end up with better and/or lighter rims. Of course, you might end up paying half of what a new bike would just cost you anyway, but worth invertigating. If I had a frame I liked, and already had duralum rims and a duralum front chain-wheel, I might investigate that…

    • Duality K. says:

      Hello from Michigan! A friend emailed me this post.

      I am with Andy here. You write like you want to talk yourself into an expensive new bike, and I think this is the incorrect approach for you, because you also write that your current bike has only three faults: a) it’s “tired”, b) it doesn’t stop in the rain, and c) it doesn’t go up hills.

      I have a long form video series on YouTube about how to repair and maintain older Schwinns than this (search for “Chicago Schwinn Bible”, there’s four videos and one or two more in the works). Most of that applies to your bike also. But the short version is: you can maintain a bicycle yourself, you’ll feel better about it when you do, and as long as the frame is intact, there’s no part of the bike you can’t fix or replace yourself to keep it running like new.

      For your stopping problem, I can already see from your picture that your front brake wants some love: a new set of pads will go a long way, especially if you get salmon Kool Stop pads, which are good in the wet and have a little skimmer molded into them to sweep the water from the rim. A double pivot caliper will also stop harder; these are available and reasonably priced.

      For your going up hills problem, you could get a new hub as suggested, or you could even fit a larger rear sprocket or smaller front sprocket to change the overall gearing. You would lose out on high speeds, but I don’t think that’s what you’re after on a standard bike anyway.

      And as for the tired problem: if you lay hands upon this machine yourself, take some time over the winter to really go over it, I suspect you’ll find it’s as sweet in the spring as when you bought it thirteen years ago.

      What you have now fits you; it’s attractive; it’s carried you for many miles. You could roll the dice and drop a grand on a new model, but I think if you spend the time to show some love to your current one, you’ll find it loves you back.

      • I have considered rebuilding my Schwinn to be what I want it to be. I like a few key things about it, and in most ways it meets my needs. But man, is that frame ever heavy. I would enjoy a lighter frame.

        My Schwinn is an ’86, from Taiwan, btw. I also used to own a ’72 (or was it ’73) Schwinn Collegiate Sport, a proper Chicago Schwinn. Unfortunately it was just too small for me so I passed it along to its next owner. Here’s a photo of that bike:

        https://www.flickr.com/photos/mobilene/18802673780/

  2. You could do a hybrid of the above by finding a used bike with the basics you like then set to improving it. But I can understand the attraction of something new.

    • True. One challenge with rebuilding the Schwinn or buying a frame and building what I want is time. I have more money than time right now. But frankly I’ve had a success rate of one in my entire lifetime of buying a brand new bike that I actually liked.

  3. Duality K. says:

    Goodness. Those must be some heavy pounds for nine hundred bucks!

    I know yours is Taiwanese, but other than the bottom bracket being a three piece type, and some differing dimensions, the service procedures are the same. Of course they can get gradually more dissimilar the newer the model, as trends come and go.

    That Collegiate was pretty; it’s a shame it didn’t fit you. My main bike is a 1975 Collegiate Sport, which I restored and modified over a winter. It is a silky machine, fitted with modern wheels, fenders, brakes, and so on, and an internal hub with continuously variable gearing: https://www.flickr.com/gp/28626887@N05/m6447A5T4a

    It was also too small for me, and the handlebars too low, but the bigger 700c wheels and a taller handlebar stem brought everything into line. It also cost as much as a new bike to do, but I consider what I’m doing in the Continental videos to be more inline with what a much more reasonable amount of money and effort can accomplish. I may also sell the Continental when the video series is complete.

    Of course what you do is up to you, but for me, bikes are subject only to the cat test: if I fits, I sits. Everything else is fixable.

    • Thanks for confirming that – my ’86 didn’t seem that different from my ’72.

      I looked at Nashbar just now and see a Shimano 8-speed hub with coaster brake (my current hub is a coaster brake one) for under $200, so it’s def. worth considering.

  4. Hi Jim, I understand the way heat robs you of the incentive to ride. It’s been beastly where I live, but the mornings are a bit more comfortable finally. Heading out today.

    Bikes: we’re entering old geezer status. I suggest you opt for a light bike, most likely with a carbon frame. Yes, it’ll cost $3000 or maybe more. It’ll be good for your physique, soul, hairline, energy, etc.

    • Yeah, I’ll be 55 in two weeks. My back is easily tweaked now, and riding is a key way it gets tweaked. Fit is critical. My existing bike isn’t perfect in its fit and as a result I see more of my chiropractor every summer than I’d like. I know, I know, get out a wrench and fix it.

      Yikes, 3 large for a bike.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        Spent a lot of time on bikes up unti my mid-30’s, and like I said, did a lot of swapping out and getting stuff “right”, but I have to say, biking is one of those things that got hi-jacked by the “doctor/lawyer/excercise” crowd sometime in the early “aughts”. That’s when it seemed to get “luxe-branded” and upscaled for the “money is no object as long as mine is bigger than yours” crowd. I live in a bridge neighborhood between a pretty well to do and a pretty poor neighborhood, and every morning while I’m walking, I’m accosted by very upscale “riding clubs” where there isn’t a sub 4 grand bike among them! Sheesh…

        I’ve lived in Wisconsin for half my life, and I have to say, it’s not unusual for the judicious shopper to find a very nice condition 30 year old Trek, for somewhere between 25 and 50 bucks! You can start your project from there. I’ve found a few, but never the correct frame size, but the summer is young!

        • I remember those breathtakingly expensive bikes when they came out. My only complaint about them was that it brought up prices at the bottom end of the market too.

          I’ve bought a number of used bikes in my time. It’s always been my normal!

  5. tbm3fan says:

    I’m 68 and now use the Schwinn Sports Tourer I rebuilt for rides along with my Specialized Stumpjumper from the 90’s at other times. Not to forget my Univega from the early 80’s also rebuilt.

  6. Andy Karlson says:

    Hi Jim–

    Three thoughts about this:

    Is an e-bike a possibility? They are a lot cheaper than they used to be, and some models have enough oomph to be a realistic replacement for cars for short errands. Plus it is just fun as heck to have that extra boost. You still get the workout, but it’s like the bike has a built-in tailwind.
    Fit is critical. Whatever direction you go in with your new ride (and I definitely think you deserve a new ride!) it will be absolutely worth the money to get it professionally fitted and adjusted to the particular geometry of your body. Just think of it as money you won’t be giving a chiropractor for years to come. Proper fit not only will make your riding more efficient and effective (and fun), it will forestall repetitive use injuries down the road.
    You get what you pay for (sadly). I know the lure of the deal, and the pocketbook pain of shelling out for something that, in your youth, would only set you back a few dozen or a hundred dollars. And we don’t tend to think of bikes as complex, or needing a great deal of engineering or research. But the facts are that the best bikes are the result of thousands of hours of engineering and centuries of technological improvements, and it’s not wrong to expect to pay more for a serious machine. Plus, when you prorate the cost over the expected useable lifespan of a new bike (and you can expect a good new bike to last the rest of your lifetime and longer), you might be looking at maybe the cost of a cup of coffee once a month ($1500/30yrs = <$1 a week).

    One last thought on your current bike: the steel in a bike’s frame will change at a molecular level over the course of decades, and lose its springiness and inherent shock absorption – it will start to feel “dead” when you ride it. And there’s no coming back from that, and no way to measure if a used bike is approaching that point. It’s a function of road vibrations over however many thousands of miles. So, if you’re looking for a rest-of-your-life bike, I strongly recommend buying a new one.

    Okay, that’s enough of my bicycle thoughts! Happy shopping and riding!

    • Andy Karlson says:

      Huh, I had my sections numbered but I guess wordpress doesn’t do numbered lists? Oh well, hopefully it still scans clearly!

    • I’m not thinking e-bike – I’m old school. A granny gear will do me well on those hills! You raise some excellent points, especially about fit. My Schwinn is an okay fit but not perfect. One challenge I didn’t mention above about those Public bikes is that they are mail order only and I can’t try before I buy. If I go shopping at bike stores I will probably eliminate the internallly-geared hubs I love so much, but I will get to test ride the bikes.

      • Andy Karlson says:

        Just to clarify, even if you get that mail-order Public bike, you can still take it in to a decent bike shop and get the fit professionally adjusted. As long as the frame is the right size for your height, the relative positioning of the seat post, saddle, and handlebars can give huge benefits from small-seeming adjustments. My wife came close to permanent nerve damage in her hands from riding on a bike that was slightly ill-fitting. The difference when she got a properly fitted bike was night and day!

        • Of course. I’d want to do that as I’m not an expert at fit. I’ll bet my Schwinn would be a lot better if I had it fitted.

  7. Hey Jim, sorry to hear that your momentum has gone down this year. But I’m also glad that you are thinking about what to do.

    For those of you who are suggesting Jim rebuild his 1986 Schwinn Collegiate: Besides the weight of frame, the major issue is wheels. This bike has the oddball 597 mm wheel size which Schwinn loved (proprietary, anyone?) There’s very little in tire selection and these rims are steel, which means heavy and no stopping power in the rain. The best option for replacement or rebuilding is in the slightly smaller 590 mm size, and that is getting harder to find. Rebuilt wheels with aluminum 590 rims would probably run $300-400, about halfway to that Public Jim mentions.

    In the meantime, lower gearing can be achieved with a larger cog on the rear wheel, which is a pretty cheap and easy fix.

    As for new bikes, yeah, they are going to be more expensive. You can check out Craigslist to see if anyone is trying to sell a used version. Another choice in modern upright bikes with hub gears is Linus. Not as nice as Public, but still good. A former partner has one and likes it. In any case, make sure that whichever new bike you get has a full chromoly frame, it’ll be lighter than the hi-ten steel found on the old Schwinn Collegiate.

    • Thanks Shawn for weighing in. I’m definitely interested in that chromoly frame. A lighter bike would have been amazing on my long ride last year.

  8. I just got a new bike, an e-bike. I had a lot of reservations before hand, but I honestly love it. I got out more now than ever before and it is an absolute pleasure. Yorkshire is very hilly and I just wasn’t enjoying it any more but this bike has brought all that back.I also use it to cycle to work most days.

    • I wish my city were more cycle-friendly. Midwestern cities can just be so spread out. I have a 30-minute car commute to work and that’s not an unusual one for here.

  9. So many things about my happy pandemic life have eroded away over time. I’m back to traveling some and my department is so busy now there are days I struggle too even take lunch. I’m certainly not going out for walks and spending breaks doing light household chores.

    This is something I have been wrestling with for several months because I need to at least restore work life balance and would love to find ways to embrace more happiness in my remote work days.

      • I feel bad about saying this because so many people suffered but….. the pandemic was good for me.

        I had an excuse to stay home and enjoy a slower, quieter life. I was able to save some money and find new purpose in my work. I read more, slept better and was generally quite happy. Perhaps this is a topic to explore with a blog story soon!

  10. DougD says:

    Jim, get yourself a nice new bike. We’re 55, we’ve earned some nice things once in a while and with sketchy backs we’re not going to ride forever.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        Plus One for DougD, you are getting older and need to start reaping the rewards of your toil! If you’re like me, I never made it to Ferrarri country (or even Mazda Miata), but damn it, get the bike you want!

  11. Michael says:

    You’d definitely need someone to re-paint that $1400 model. You are NOT a chrome bike kind of guy. If it was a classic car….

  12. ronian42 says:

    Hi Jim, a thought on motivation – small lightweight camera + bicycle = ability to go places you cant in a car! I have a Raleigh Courier 3-speed gathering dust, I must get it out again.

    Ian

  13. This past weekend, I found my younger daughter’s bicycle and dusted it off at the back of the basement. The chain had come, but I quickly resolved that issue. I hopped on the bike and rode around for about 10 minutes before the pain in my knees stopped my fun. I’m motivated, but my body is unwilling.

  14. I forgot to mention. I am in looking into getting an electric bicycle. They are expensive, but from what I read, they make bike riding possible for woefully out of shape (like myself).

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