It doesn’t matter how many bikes some cyclists have. There is always another bike on the horizon. If you’ve got a racing bike, a mountain bike, a commuter, a tourer, it may be hard to justify yet another bike. So, to help you, we’re going to create another bike category. It’s the “going-out bike” (GOB). A going-out bike is different than a commuter, in that it’s much simpler and might have a bit more style. Strictly speaking, any bike will work for a going-out bike—if you narrowly define it as “a bike that allows me to go out.”
But a great going-out bike should be simple in its operation and non-flashy in appearance. Like a great mountain bike allows you to enjoy the trails without thinking about the bike, a going-out bike should get you where you’re going and “just work” when you go out for dinner or to the pub. And like any specialized equipment, there are a few small details that help define a great going-out bike. Here are the essentials:
Thinking about shifting, fixing thrown chains, cross-chaining, mashing gears, hitting the wrong gear on a steep hill—all of these nit-picky issues associated with geared bikes should not be allowed on a going-out bike. One speed is all you need. I suggest a single-speed with freewheel, not a fixie, so you can enjoy downhill coasting. For Spokane hills 60-65 total gear inches is a good range. Even if you live at the top of a hill, you’ll be fine. There is no shame in walking, and since you’re using your bike to get to dinner or to the pub, you can ride those carbs right to the top of the steepest incline. Seriously, you’ll seldom feel stronger than when climbing a hill on a single-speed bike after a carb-rich night out. Furthermore, a single speed also opens the potential for a simple chainguard that can keep the muck off your pants.
This is the big money piece on your going-out bike. Generator lights are a requirement. They are powered by a generator in the front wheel hub. Advances in LED lighting paired with photo-cell technology make generator lighting a no-brainer for a GOB. When you ride your bike and it’s dark, the lights will just work. You don’t have to remember to turn them on or bring them or deal with batteries or attach them. Generator lighting systems are always attached to your bike. And since the lights are attached with nuts and bolts, they tend to stay put. Do not dismiss the integral nature of a generator lighting system on your going-out bike.
Don’t let a little rain, snow, or slush stand in the way of riding your bike out to dinner with friends. Fenders are in the generator-lighting category. As you sit reading this in June, you think, “Meh, fenders—who needs them?” But think about this scenario: you’re out with friends on a nice late fall afternoon. You’ve had a great after-work hang. It’s time to go home, which is a few uphill miles away. What’s that you see? Is that snowy, sleety rain? Looks cold. You’re wearing jeans and a light jacket.
With fenders, the ride home is tolerable, maybe even fun if you get into it. Without fenders, the ride home is a misery-fest, as cold watery gunk sprays off the front tire directly into your sock, which saturates and drives ice-cold water into your shoe box, where it collects around your freezing toes. And of course there’s the greasy-slush that spins off your rear tire onto your back. Lame. Just put fenders on there! Fenders belong on a proper going-out bike!
ATTACHED BAG OR BASKET
Here is where a saddle bag shines. A good going-out bike saddlebag should attach semi-permanently to your bike seat. “Semi-permanently” means that it’s attached with either nuts/bolts or, at a minimum, a complicated and hard-to-quickly-detach set of straps and buckles. You should always have a basic set of tire-fixing tools in the saddlebag. Otherwise, it’s great for holding a jacket and a lock.
Another good option here is to zip-tie a big basket to a rear rack. You can dump all sorts of stuff in a basket and cover the top with a bungee net to hold it all in.
There are no hard rules here, but generally, you should seek out a bike style that you are comfortable with and that you love to ride. If you’re a fast drop-bar roadie, then build your going-out bike around an old touring or CX frame. If you’re into taking jumps, find an old mountain bike or a cruiser. Your going-out bike should be inviting. It should have a comfy position. And it should have flat pedals—no clipping in! Ideally, the bike should also not attract attention to itself. You don’t want to worry too much about locking it out of sight, so it should be homely enough to be left alone.
John Speare grew up and lives in Spokane. He rides his bike everywhere. Check out his blog at http://cyclingspokane.blogspot.com.