I started riding a bike regularly as an adult only when I moved to San Francisco, and it was purely out of necessity. I had to get from the Haight to SF state way down near Daly City, and my car was more trouble than it was worth. I bought a steel “sport-touring” bike because I was drawn to the skinny tubes and vintage-y look. Not a bad bike, but it had problems a newbie un-racer would easily miss: Ridiculously optimistic gearing, skinny tires, a steerer tube that ends right above the headtube, and 10cm (seriously) too small to boot.
I realized the size was a problem only after I rode it to LA, camping as I went. I arrived with numb hands, and an aching back and neck. Big Sur on a 52/38? A loaded bike on 25mm tires? You can do it, but it’s no vacation.
Later and at the behest of my buddies, I bought a steel 62cm Brand X Italian Race Bike that folks would regularly fawn over, which confused me because I thought it rode terribly. Going over the Golden Gate Bridge I’d get blown all over the place. Even rough patches on the way to work were challenging, but I had nothing good to compare it too. The bike felt zippy, but I was so uncomfortable that it was impossible to appreciate. I wonder now how much of that zippiness was actually just misinterpreted twitchiness.
I was lucky it took me only two lemons to figure out what I liked in bikes and what I needed. I sold the Brand X (apologies to whoever has it now), then had a string of pretty good, useful, fairly comfortable bikes until I finally started working for Rivendell.
I’ve ridden bikes everyday for 8 years, and the Cheviot is the best bike I’ve found. I use it mostly to run errands and get places, either to work during the week, or to skate spots on the weekend that otherwise would be too far away. The combination of a long headtube, a tall quill stem and the luxurious Bosco bar puts me in a perfect upright position. Seeing and being seen over traffic helps me relax on the commute. The handling is predictable in the best way possible. I’ve retrofitted old bikes with upright bars, and the position is always better, but usually the handling suffers. Cheviots practically beg for Bosco bars, and the handling is still perfect, even with a ton of stuff in the basket up front and a skateboard in the back.
It handles the fire-trails of shell ridge easily, the long stays and fattish tires smooth out the bumps. If for whatever reason I have to jump off quickly, the step-through gives me some room there. If I camp the sloppy way, by strapping a bunch of bulky stuff onto the front and rear racks, I can easily step over the diaga-tube, instead of swinging a leg over my sleeping bag.
I’ve slapped stickers all over mine, personalizing it for more worry-free locking. Even for all that, the bike is still beautiful, which is important too. The lugs identify it as one of ours, and it’s always good to see the graceful bend of the fork with the bat-wing crown. The function has to come first, but it’s nice to ride a bike that’s easy on my bike-snobbish eyes.
I have other bikes, I work for a bike company after all, but if I had to pick just one to keep, it would be my Cheviot. Commuting is the most important form of bike riding to me, and my Cheviot is set up that way, but I like knowing that I could turn it into a mountain bike, a full-on touring bike, or even a roadish “fast” bike with a couple easily-made tweaks. I wish I could get everybody who has even a remote interest in non-racing, useful bikes to ride one, they’d be hooked.