Sunday, April 8, 2012

The bike is dead; long live the bike

It's been about eight months since we first started considering whether it was better to repair or replace my husband's old bike. This proved to be a very thought-provoking question that led to a whole series of blog posts, and eventually to a fairly decent formula for making the decision about when it's best, from an ecofrugal standpoint, to repair an item and when it's best to replace it. It also prompted some grumbling on my part about how difficult it is to get things repaired these days. But as we discovered this weekend, sometimes replacing an item can be just as difficult.

Last week, you see, the bike that started the whole debate came decisively down on the "replace" side by completely ejecting its derailleur in the middle of Brian's morning commute. Brian ended up walking the rest of the way to work (fortunately, he was only about a mile away), and the bike made its final trip home in the back of our Honda Fit (which, as a side note, proved its mettle yet again by swallowing up the whole bike without any need for dismantling). It quickly became apparent that the derailleur was not going back on, and so we moved on to the question of what to replace the bike with.

This proved a much trickier question than we had anticipated. Finding the name of a decent bike was easy enough—we just consulted the ConsumerSearch report on "comfort bikes"—but finding the bike itself proved to be an entirely different kettle of fish. We spent the better part of one evening trying to track down the Schwinn Midmoor, a modest $250 model that had been rated a Best Buy in a certain consumer publication that shall, for legal purposes, remain nameless. Both Sears and Kmart had it listed on their websites, but visits to two different Sears stores in our area proved fruitless, and Kmart.com said that the bike was available online only—and then, when we tried to order it online, said that the bike wasn't available for delivery. (Eventually we figured out that this model was actually discontinued, which got us wondering why on earth Schwinn would find that its bike had earned a Best Buy rating and respond with, "Great, let's stop making it!" But since there was nothing we could do about it—even eBay didn't have a single Midmoor for sale—it seemed to be a waste of time grumbling about it.)

After that, Brian tried to tackle the problem from the other end by going to the website of our local bike shop and perusing their selections. This led him to the $350 Jamis Citizen 1, which looked suitable—but when we showed up the next day, we couldn't find either the bike or a salesperson who could tell us anything about it. (We did finally manage to talk to one person, but he seemed bewildered by our questions; the only thing he seemed to know for sure was that they didn't have the bike we wanted in stock. Which got us wondering once again: why put a bike on your website if you don't actually sell it? But once again, wondering didn't really get us anywhere.)

By the time we finally tried Kim's Bike Shop in New Brunswick, we weren't feeling all that hopeful, but we were pleasantly surprised; after a few minutes of looking, we were approached by a helpful hipster who asked a few intelligent questions, directed us toward a couple of last year's models that he said he could "give us a good deal on," and got one out for Brian to take a test ride on. After five minutes of pedaling up and down the block, he was sold on it, and all we had to do was hand over a credit card. And that's how we ended up, after all, choosing the bike named as the best budget hybrid by ConsumerSearch—not because we sought out this bike and found it, but because we sought out a decent bike shop and that's what we found there.

The bike came without much in the way of accessories—no lights, no bell, no kickstand even—so Brian spent part of today stripping down his old one and transferring over these items to the new one. Also, since the last new bike he owned was stolen within a month, he bought some supplies to hang the new bike on the storage room wall, rather than in the unlocked shed. As of tonight, it's officially road ready, all set to undergo its inaugural commute tomorrow. Now the only question that remains is what to do with the carcass of the old bike. It's no longer rideable, but there are still plenty of usable parts on it—the frame, the handlebars, the seat, even the practically-new wheel that kept it on the road last year. I doubt we'd find a taker for it on Freecycle (I've discovered that there are some things people just won't take, even for nothing), so I'm guessing our best bet is to donate the parts to the New Brunswick Bike Library, a nifty local organization that describes itself as "a tool collective and a bicycle lending program." They loan out bikes, provide access to bike-repair tools, and also offer assistance with repairs. Sounds like a good cause to support, and a good way to keep what's left of the old bike out of the landfill.

Next question on the repair-or-replace front: is it worth a hundred bucks to replace a ten-year-old digital camera that works fine when it works at all, but refuses to start unless its batteries are charged clear up to the brim?
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