Friday, August 15, 2008

Snapshots from a $4/gallon world

On Thursday before the Providence Bridge Pedal--that would make it the 7th of August--the folks at Bike 'n' Hike, the bike shop that takes care of me and my ride managed to squeeze me in for new rear brake pads first thing in the morning.

That was especially generous of them since, as one of the crew told me as we chatted while I waited, they were booked up on tune-ups and service appointments through the 27th of the month.

A big percentage of those, he said, were bikes that had been hanging in the garage gathering dust for years and getting a second life now that the price of gas is making all Americans, not just Oregonians, rethink the amount of driving they do.

They were also keeping fairly busy assembling new bikes out of the carton. This model in particular was going off the sales floor almost as fast as they could put them together, especially the "women's model" with the lowered crossbar. The aluminum frame, internal (automatic) drive train, narrow tires, chain guard, fenders, and rear rack give a pretty good idea of the buyer it's aimed at--one of the most common frame colors is even the same champagne color so popular with Prius owners.

It's not a coincidence that this style of bike, with the lighter weight and narrower tires of a road bike, plus the generous saddle, suspension, and more upright positioning the rider more common to a mountain bike, is commonly called a "hybrid"--although Giant, maker of this particular model, classes it under "lifestyle bicycles" in its catalog, which is also pretty telling.

On the other hand, it's also pretty telling that this model--heavier frame, off-road tires, "handlebar moustache" handlebars, and fold-down front and rear racks resembling the grillwork on a Jeep--is also doing pretty brisk business as well. My friend at the shop says buyers take one look at it and say, "Hey, it looks like a Hummer!"

Does this mean people are being drawn to reproduce--or maybe compensate for--their auto preferences when they start shopping for bikes?

If you drive a hybrid car, will you be also drawn to the more Prius-looking bike?

Or if your conscience wouldn't let you own a real Hummer, is your next bike purchase the chance to secretly make up for it?

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