My friend’s father who is in his 70’s has recently taken up riding a bicycle for transportation. He’s absolutely on fire about it, doing his grocery shopping and errands on his bike, while riding around for fun and exercise on days when he has no other reason to ride. He’s doing all of this on a Schwinn hybrid he picked up at Wal-Mart for $199. Mechanically the bike is a real nightmare, but between his son and I we’ve managed to keep it on the road. He likes the bike because it has fat tires (he runs them at 45-50 psi), a soft saddle, and an adjustable stem with upright bars that place the grips at least 6” above the saddle.
For fun, I let him try out the Raleigh Detour Deluxe I have on loan. [For the uninitiated, the Detour Deluxe is a well-appointed, mid-level commuting bike that many people feel may be one of the best values in a fully-outfitted commuter for 2011. The review is coming, I promise. —ed.] We went on a 20-mile ride around town so he could see what a “real” bike feels like. He quite liked the Alfine/Nexus shifting, but otherwise he didn’t seem all that impressed. His comments revolved around the fact that the Raleigh’s ride is more rough than what he’s accustomed to (undoubtedly due to the tires, which have a smaller cross-section and require a higher pressure than those on his bike), and the reach to the bars (which is further than on his bike), causing him back and saddle pain. So while he clearly appreciated the technical superiority and build quality of the Raleigh, I was left with the feeling that he still prefers his big box Schwinn with its balloon tires and high handlebars.
To be perfectly clear, none of this has the least bit to do with the Raleigh’s suitability as a commuting bike; it is, in fact, a tremendous value and an excellent bike (yeah, I know, finish the review already). The point, I think, is that matching a bike to a person’s needs is far more important than the technical details we so enjoy discussing here on the blog. This point is so crucial that, like in the case of my friend’s father, a mechanically far superior bicycle may seem less desirable than a junker when a bike’s attibutes are not well-aligned with with the needs of the rider. It may have absolutely nothing to do with a bike’s quality, and everything to do with whatever a particular rider deems vital for the way he/she rides.