Wednesday, October 8, 2008

How to Choose a Bike Like an Expert

Experts. You have all seen them. They stand out from any crowd by the way they intimately know their field of expertise. The average man on the street stands in jealous awe at the skill and ease with which they work their craft.

Take for instance the wine afficionado. From the reading of the label to the first taste, this person judges clarity, color, bouquet, taste, and quietly pronounces judgement like Emperor Nero at the arena. Thumbs up, thumbs down.

Likewise, the keen eye for horseflesh. With skilled hands they examine the animal's hocks, withers, teeth, hoofs. No brokedown mare will pass through undetected.

Bicycles can be judged the same way by those in the know. Up until now, this has been a closely guarded secret passed on from rider to rider, but only in the strictest of confidence. However, I am going to change all that and empower the average Joe or Judy to look like an expert. I say look, because much is made in the appearance.

The wine dude? Hey, who knows if he really can tell the difference between Ripple and Chablis? He looks so confident and sure that no one dares challenge him. He is an expert.

The horse master? Hey if the nag falls down in the derby, it was rider error or such. He is, after all, an expert. You can tell that by the way he acts and the things he says. I mean, what do YOU know about strangulated tendons? I thought as much.

See, experts just need to LOOK like they know more than you, and since you may not know the first thing about it either, the most practiced and prepared will win.

Now, bikes. They are no different than wine, cars, horses, etc. If you know what to do and what to say, you can be an expert there too. You may not know how to spell deraaill...ahh....derrailer...well, shifters (hey, it's French, who can spell that stuff?) or tell a clincher from a tubular, but that is not important. With the secrets of the ages I am going to reveal to you, it won't matter a bit.

Consider the typical bike shop. The shop rat figures he knows more than you and he may or may not, but that is neither here nor there. You are an expert and you will demonstrate that in no uncertain terms by these key steps:

Choose a bike, any typical mtn bike for instance, and begin with:

The Brake Lever Flick -

The brake lever is lightly gripped with one or two fingers...NEVER the entire hand...and then released like a bow string. This should be done a few times in repetition as you listen to the qualifiying 'thunk' of the brake lever. Immediately the shop monkey is re-evaulating you. Perhaps there is more about you than meets the eye? This is the equivalent to uncorking the bottle.

The Heft -

Moving to the side of the bike and getting close to it, grab the bar/stem interface with one hand and underneath the back of the seat with the other hand and pick the bike off the ground. Bounce it up and down a few times, not letting it touch the ground, and then set it back down. Say something like, "well it is a bit heavier than what I am used to", but never venture to guess the actual weight as the monkey may know this. If you do venture a guess, say it in some obscure unit of measure like "I bet this is about 6.5 stone, maybe less" or, "huh, I would say it is less than 26.5 kilograms". At this point, the shop rat is confused and in awe of your tactile and mental abilities. This is to bikes what holding the filled wine glass to the light reveals.

The Squish -

If it has a suspension fork, this is the next key move. Holding both brake levers firmly on, push up and down on the fork and make a few noises with your lips, barely more than murmurs, perhaps a knowing nod. Be subtle. Ever see a wine guy take a sip and yell, "That is AWESOME!" I think not.

You are almost done except for the ultimate test of frame rigidity.

The Crankarm Press -

Find either crankarm (the thing the cheap, plastic pedal is screwed into) and place the pedal all the way down in the rotation. Once again, get to the side of the bike, holding the bars and seat just like in The Heft, but with your body farther away. Now place either foot on the pedal and press the pedal down in such a way as to cause the bike to bend away from you. This will seal the deal in concrete for the shop guy and anyone around you as you expertly show the ultimate test in bottom bracket stiffness. Never mind that the tires are nearly flat and the spokes are as well tensioned as Top Ramen, you have shown by this move that your judgement is not to be questioned.

One more thing: DO NOT ACTUALLY RIDE the bike. That may ruin the entire performance, but if you are forced into actually saddling up, stay tuned for part two on Choosing a Bike Like an Expert

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