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The idiot’s guide to buying a commuter bike

The time has come to buy a sweet new adult ride: a bike. Not to get fit, not to go green, but to avoid paying the higher parking fees incurred by my cubicle’s move to the NASCAR Plaza. Also I live only about 1.5 miles from that building, so, why not?

Like any decent journalist, I did some research. I learned that:

(1) Annually, more than 960 bicyclists and 2,400 pedestrians are hit by cars in NC. Good. Great.

(2) There are a bunch of bike shops in the area for those of us who want to shop local. See here.

(3) To help me narrow down my options, Jordan Moore, Sustain Charlotte’s bicycle program director (and basically Charlotte’s bike god), said in an email: “I would suggest the Re-Cyclery at 15th Street. They refurbish old bikes.”

Off to the Re-Cyclery!

This place opened in 2006 and refurbishes donated bikes to sell, as well as to gift to kids in the nonprofit Trips for Kids Charlotte (TFKC) Earn-A-Bike program. Purchases from the Re-Cyclery help fund TFKC programs and keep old bikes out of landfills.

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The TFKC Earn-A-Bike program teaches underserved kids bike safety, maintenance and repair, and, upon completion, rewards them with a free refurbished bike. The classroom:

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The Re-Cyclery also offers the expertise of bike-savvy staff for painfully ignorant bike buyers such as myself. Andy Tucker spent 45 minutes coaching me on my purchase.

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I told him what I wanted: a bike to ride into uptown and on the greenways, one that shifted gears and one that was preferably under $300.

Option 1: The Cruiser

Tucker said this blue Schwinn is a true cruiser with one gear, and it’s good for riding around town if your destination is not far, or at the beach or other flat places.

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Option 2: The Mountain Bike

“When people do a little bit of everything, we recommend mountain bikes … Anything in this area is notoriously root-y and rocky,” said Tucker, adding that, ideally, you would get a set of tires for the city and a set of tires for the trails.

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Option 3: The City Bike. I chose this one.

– It’s equipped with 26-inch wheels, 21 gears and a spring in the seat post.

– It has a white light on the front and a red light on the back, in compliance with a Mecklenburg County ordinance.

– It has a size 15 frame that fits me. (Adult bike frames have a measurement that’s relative to your legs and ranges from about 13 to 24.)

– I was horrified to see a dinky little bell on it, but Tucker set me straight: “Every bike I have has a bell. It’s because I encounter too many people and at some point I get tired of yelling.” He rings the bell when he’s coming.

– The tires are a compromise between thin and thick: They are super thick in the center, therefore good for rolling over objects in town like glass, and can also handle gravel with off-road grip. The bigger tires give more stability.

– The riser handlebar (in comparison to the flat mountain bike handlebar) is more comfortable because it allows the rider to be upright vs. bent over. “Riding in the city in general, the more upright you are the more you’re able to see what’s going on around you,” Tucker said.

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Sold. I took this champagne-colored Fuji Monterey chariot for a spin. Then I bought it for $200. Then I begged for last-minute advice for the new bike commuter.

“Take a class,” Tucker said, suggesting Pam Murray’s Cycling Savvy classes to learn how to blend with traffic. He also suggested joining a group like Plaza Midwood Tuesday Night Ride to get familiar with riding, and to explore areas of town.

Last, he said, “Any avid biker should know how to change a tire… It is the most common repair.”

Off I go.

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The Re-Cyclery, 1132 N. Caldwell St

Photos: Katie Toussaint

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