Words and Photos by Danielle Baker
At the beginning of the summer my mom asked me to help her pick out a new bike. Currently she has a sweet pink cruiser that was meant to be a typical mom bike; I thought that maybe she would add a basket and ride it to the fruit stand down the beach from her Mexican villa on Sundays. Nope.
Averaging about 12 miles a day, my mom has spent three years turning her cruiser into a mean performance machine. Every year when I visit something else has been changed; the seat has gotten wider and skinnier, harder and softer, taller and lower and at one point exploded into a multitude of parts, probably an expression of protest over its many adjustments.
Mom has duct taped a water-bottle cage to the frame and when that did not hold, she drilled straight into the aluminum. She added one wicker basket, meant for flowers and other light-duty items that moms might need to carry, but left it behind in disappointment when it sagged under the weight of the dog food she carries to feed hungry animals along her route, not to mention its inability to carry an actual stray dog in need. Instead mom replaced it with a metal basket with braces that are bolted to the front axle. Then, when she made the transition to the busier paved roads from the dirt village roads, she cut the ends off her grips to add a side mirror and started sporting a helmet. I have always expected to arrive off the plane and find that she has somehow added road wheels to the cruiser frame for extra speed; instead she realized that she needed a new bike.
The problem with summer requests for me is that it is my busiest time of year, and so, my mom's appeal for help shopping did not get the attention it should have. She would mention it in phone calls and I would say, "Don't worry, we will get to it" and she would mention it in an email and I would reply “It is okay. We will do it soon.” She spends April to October in Canada so I felt like I had lots of time to help her pick out a new ride. But then one day I got a phone call that changed that attitude, a call that every bike industry worker fears receiving from their parents, "I found a bike at Walmart" and worse yet, "it has suspension stuff on the seat post so I think it must be really good." The guilt hit me like a ton of bricks. How could I have been so neglectful?
I realized that this had to be a priority. I gently explained that seat suspension should not factor into her decision and that Walmart should only be used to find cheap camping gear, and guns if you live in Utah. I started to ask her questions about what she was looking for and what she needed in a bike. She had a long stream-of-consciousness-list that went something like this; "I don't want another cruiser bike, I want something where I can sit more in an upright position so my back doesn't hurt, but not with the bendy bars, I want a 'fat ass' seat, but not the kind that makes my bum numb. I want to ride on sand and pavement and I want some gears, but not too many (it turns out she hurt her knees on her single speed cruiser while racing some of the local guys uphill). I really love my coaster brake but will go to hand brakes if I have to. The tires shouldn't be too skinny but I would like to go faster, I am pretty sure that I don't want a mountain bike, even though the roads are bumpy, but I need something higher performance than my cruiser, and not a road bike and most importantly it has to look nice and be pink… Oh, and have a basket too."
The next day I walked down to the bike shop and picked out a bike for my mom, a sweet new Opus Classico. The eye-pleasing lines were cruiser-esque with skinny, but lots of tread tires that would handle the terrain in Mexico. It took me all of 10 minutes to pick out the bike she had been searching for all summer. This is why it should have been a priority. I knew she would love it, and when it finally arrived in the shop, mom was thrilled. For her, buying a bike is not something you do on a whim. Retired and on a fixed income, she spent the summer working odd jobs to make the money to buy it. It is her first new bike in three years and she genuinely had outgrown her old bike; it just couldn't keep up with her. Mom will ride her new bike every day that she can and she will use it as a tool to continue rescuing stray dogs. This will be a bike with a purpose, not a garage wall decoration or something to tire of.
When we took it out to the alley for a test ride I could not help but feel a role reversal and flashback to many years ago when I was taking my first ride sans training wheels. My mom stood by and cheered for me that day and today her smile was huge as she pedaled her new bike for the first time. And then her smile was a little concerned as she swished past me anxiously asking, "Which brake am I supposed to use?"
Satisfied with her test drive we grabbed coffee next door, while the guys at the shop readied her bike for travel to Mexico, and she excitedly told a stranger all about her new purchase. She looked at me at one point and asked me what kind of bike it was. Stumped, I referred to it as a 'hybrid.’ My mom scowled a little and said she did not like that name. Back at the shop she wandered around as the final packing was completed and when we finally left, she looked at me and said, "It's not a hybrid bike. It's an urbanista." With that my mom took ownership of her new bike.