Andrew Rides a Bicycle, Part 1
Like some maniac hellbent on wrecking the respectable number of body parts that still work at 33, I decided to buy a mountain bike.
My purpose here is to document my journey from mountain bike noob to mountain bike half-noob. I’ll teach you what I learn about mountain biking along the way. You should read other things about mountain biking besides this.
Nowadays, the cool kids ride $2,000–4,000+ full-suspension bikes that I’m sure make your ass feel like a million bucks. I do not have $2,000 to spend on a bicycle. (Nor, come to think of it, on the health insurance deductible.) So I purchased the best old bike I could find for $300. If you’re patient, you can find something right for you for half that price.
My brother Aaron, a longtime mountain biker and fan of used things, gave me the lay of the land in one extremely helpful email, which launched me on a months-long hunt for a bike.
“Mountain bikes are basically a pile of separate parts, more so than motorcycles, where a disintegrated air filter can be evidence that there’s a whole lot of other problems due to long-term disuse. It can be pretty inexpensive to switch out parts, but sometimes you need some special tools. Also, most people don’t thrash their bikes hard enough to seriously weaken the frame. For this reason, I think you’ll get a better deal on an older bike.
A pretty new bike for $200 probably cost $350 new, whereas a 15-yr-old bike for $200 probably cost north of $1000. Mountain bikes went from crap to amazing in the mid 90’s, and the technology and prices haven’t really changed much since then. The more expensive bikes are much lighter and sturdier than the cheaper ones, and they hold up very well over the years.”
Aaron recommended an aluminum frame, the brands Specialized, Trek, GT, Giant, and Schwinn, at the size that fits you best. I got the size right, which is probably the most important part. For the rest, I just wung it.
Meet the 1995 Gary Fisher Procaliber.
Light carbon fiber frame. Well-upgraded front forks and stem. Expensivish-at-the-time Shimano components. A seat that doesn’t suck. And tires that could either be the best tires in the world or a poorly performed bunny hop away from killing me.
Sizes for mountain bikes (MTBs, if you want to get all internety about it) start at 17-inch frames and go up to somewhere around 24 inches. Standard wheel size used to be 26 inches. Then it was 29ers—29-inch wheels. The 27.5-inch size seems to be the surest bet, although I honestly have no idea how to tell if my 26-inch rims are cutting it or making my life hell. The hot thing now is ‘plus-size’ tires, which you won’t find on older bikes. They’re smoother, better traction. Something. Whatever, it feels like a fad. Or at least a stepping stone in MTB technology.
Price was my biggest concern. If you’re looking, Bicycle Blue Book helps; the Procaliber was simply the most expensive MSRP I found between Craigslist and eBay that was still a good deal. A $2,200 bike for $300. Beat that, Walmart.
I know what you’re thinking—yes, I did originally believe this was the Procaliber Ltd., the MSRP $3,700 masterpiece. That’s the deal I actually thought I got. I told everyone about it. In fact, I didn’t know I had the less expensive model until just moments before I wrote “$2,200” a couple sentences ago. But who cares? Any nice bike is a privilege and a luxury. I should shut the fuck up about it and get on to riding.