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JIM’S BIKE RECOMMENDATION

What bike should I buy? Read on.

I’ve always had a special bond with bikes. When I was younger, I never had a really expensive bike, but I did what I could. While my friends with more prosperous paper routes or parents pedaled around the latest BMX bikes with lightweight components and alloy handlebars, I had to make due with a $99 department store Huffy, which I made marginally cooler by swapping out the “banana seat” with a basic one, removing the cheesy number plate and fenders, and adding some of the accessories of the better rides. I pushed that bike on make-shift ramps, local trails, and endless miles of pavement far more than could be expected.

So when I entered the working world, was finally out on my own, and had saved up a little cash in between student loan payments, it was time to upgrade. After extensive research, I decided on a $499 Specialized Rockhopper. It was forest green, had big knobby tires, and was, well, glorious.

Like it’s predecessor, my trusty two-wheeler carried me to locations far and wide. From the local path at Pond Meadow Park, to more challenging terrain in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. While the trails were ok, I yearned for something more.

Then came Seattle.

As fate would have it, my new job 3,000 miles away at a company with 100 or so employees paired me with mountain biker Dan Dole as my office-mate. Within a few weeks, I was part of their crew that went to the intimidating “Tiger Mountain” for weekly rides.

Also within a few rides, I realized my trusty RockHopper was underpowered for the new terrain I was tackling. Dan’s advice? My bike was too heavy, didn’t have a front shock, and that ideally, I would get a “full-suspension, cross-country” style bike. He flipped open the latest Specialized catalog and pointed. THIS … is the one you should get.

Cost? $2,200

Over two grand? The $500 I spent a few years ago on my current bike seemed like a lot, so even $1,000 seemed out of the question.

But then the upgrades kept coming:

My helmet was a few years old and in need of an upgrade (for both safety and style)
I needed better wet-weather clothing for the Seattle climate, from rugged mountain biking shorts to wicking shirts to stretchable fleece tops and waterproof outer shells.

Multi-lens glasses (dark lenses for bright sunshine, clear lenses for rain and muddy conditions, and orange lenses to brighten the dark trails while in the forest at dusk)

I needed a Camelbak to hold extra gear and food and larger amounts of water (I learned waterbottles attached to your bike didn’t hold enough water, added weight to the bike, were hard to reach while riding, and got smattered with mud on the trail)

Clipless pedals – while presenting an intimidating, steep, and sometimes-painful learning curve – were a key part to becoming a better biker (my analogy: like learning how to drive a 5-speed transmission before getting a sports car)

Mountain bike shoes, necessary for the switch to clipless pedals, but also providing traction, rock-smashing protection, and mud-shedding qualities over standard sneakers… at a cost of up to $300.

In short, a big decision needed to be made.
Once I was able to go on a few more rides, three things became apparent…

1) This was a great group of people… and would form my core group of friends in this new city
2) Mountain biking was going to be more than just a fun thing to do once in awhile, it was something that resonated with me almost on a spiritual level
3) A better bike would make the experience even better

I went all in.

In true Jim fashion, I entered research mode, asking group members why they chose their particular bikes, test-riding multiple brands, talking to bike store owners, scouring the internet for deals, and devouring the Specialized catalog the way a Harry Potter fan reads the latest sequel.

Beginning with the $1,800 Specialized Stumpjumper Comp – which I somehow secured for $1250 from a store outside Vancouver through some crazy combination of a clearance sale and the Canadian exchange rate – I slowly and carefully assembled an all-star team of biking equipment. This gear, some of which I still use more than 10 years later, formed the basis for perhaps the most enjoyable 2 year span of my life.

In short, this was one of the best decisions I ever made.

As I reference in the opening chapters of my book, a virtuous cycle – or as I poorly joke, a virtuous bicycle – was formed.
I was really excited about the bike, so I rode more. The more I rode, the more skilled I became. Since it was a better bike, I became a better rider. Because I became a better rider, I had more fun. The more fun I had, the more I wanted to ride. The more I rode, the more skilled I became. And the cycle just kept repeating.

After moving to New York City (and an apartment a block from Central Park), I realized I would be riding a lot more asphalt than dirt. There was no question of the brand I would choose… I went to right to Specialized, picking up a used Allez road bike for about $700 on Craigslist.

Over the next 10 years, I came to appreciate that incredible 2 year span in Seattle, when every week brought a new adventure involving road trips, ferries, long, painful climbs, sweet, glorious descents, and most important, incredible camaraderie.

The peaks (both literally and figuratively) are still there, but fewer and far between, making it imperative to embrace the moment. A 5-day tour of the Grand Canyon with a college buddy, conquering the highest, most difficult trail in Washington State, or a guy’s weekend on a mountain in Denver.

There are even lessons in the worst of times. An unlucky tumble onto a rock on my 41st birthday in 2010 resulted in a distral humurus fracture (ie, a badly broken arm), a botched surgery, loss of feeling in my hand, and 14 months of rehab.

But there I was, one year from the crash, back with close friends, back on the bike.