26 June 2010

a visit to DBC in boston: test-riding the 'swift'.

It's taken me a month to get to this post.  On one hand, it's about sloth-- here and there I've been busy, but for the most part I've settled into a state of mild but ambivalent productivity that is appropriate to my status as an underemployed summering graduate student.  On the other hand, however, this is about my inability to explain things that move me in a certain way, moments of pure joy and freedom.  Like when I played in the Pacific Ocean last summer in San Diego-- the bliss was inexplicable and vast, hard to put my finger on. So I don't really talk about it, because it feels kind of sacred.

Ok, now that we've established that, you can be aghast:
"You felt that way test-riding a bike?!?!"

I know, I know.  It's a little superlative.  

When I visited my best friend in Boston last month-- every Philadelphian should have a cleaner city nearby to escape to from time to time-- I found myself with a morning to myself while she worked.  In the interests of "doing things right" and "getting some blog material" and also, duh, "my interests," I looked to see if there were any Dutch bike shops in Boston.  When I go to Boston, I actually spend most of my time in Cambridge, and let me tell you something-- Cambridge bicycle culture is the jam.  People tend to ride functional, sometimes beautiful bikes with helmets and lights; the bike lanes are plentiful, and (by MIT) sometimes even separate from traffic; there are oodles of folding bikes.  To a spectator- it's orderly, pragmatic, pleasant, plain clothes.  Riding in Boston, I hear, is a bit more aggressive, but let's not get too far away from my impressions of Boston as bike paradise.

So all of this in mind, I made my way out to Somerville, sort-of near Tufts, to City Bikes (lest they be confused with other Dutch Bicycle Companies, though I think they go by DBC).  All I knew going in was that they were Dutch bike dealers building their own bikes.  I expected a traditional bicycle showroom, but it's a little more casual than that-- which I think gets at the practical sensibility at the heart of the City Bikes program.

City Bikes started out with the desire to solve some of the problems of the Dutch bicycle-- the incredible weight, the sometimes wobbly steering, the increasingly cheap components used on bikes for American import.  They recruited an army of MIT engineers (ok, maybe not that many) to come up with a host of frame designs that looked just right, to get a geometry that felt just right, to make a bike ideally suited to the rigors and challenges of American urban riding.  Anywhere they could've cut corners, they didn't-- they used American materials (like Pennsylvania steel!), rebuilt headlights, and selected the very best components.  What they got surprised them: they hadn't expected it to be so perfect.

If you're surprised that you haven't yet heard of City Bikes, that's kind of on purpose-- they are doing everything they can to meet demand as it is.  We all know the demand that's faced other custom builders, like Sweetpea or Vanilla.  When I visited, the only City Bike in the showroom was the men's prototype and an unbuilt women's frame.  
ladies frame

As it is, you can order a bike to fit your measurements with the paint job you want for ~$2400.  For Boston residents, City Bikes is offering lifetime maintenance because they believe in the quality of their bikes.  For people living within 2 hours, they're offering an installment payment plan.  

What can I say about test-riding the Swift?  It's a bike-riders' bike.  It's responsive, easy to recover when you pitch yourself sideways.  The posturing is perfect, the bike is not heavy, it's elegant.  The time I spent on that bike may have been some of the best ten minutes of my summer-- they were lucky I left my purse in the office, I might not have come back.  Riding this bike-- it was my playing in the ocean moment. I can't really explain it. It was how riding bikes ought to be. You could have never ridden a bike before and get on this bike and think it's nice, but I think it might take someone a little more seasoned to appreciate what's going on here in terms of craftsmanship and deliberate design choices.  If I could afford one, I would buy one.

Obviously, if you find yourself in Boston, a City Bikes visit is mandatory.  Dan and Maria are gracious bike enthusiasts who you'll want to spend some time with.  I can't do justice to how excited I was when I left.  Make sure you bring an extra couple grand when you visit-- you'll want to buy one of these beautiful bikes before everybody else finds out about them.  

Dan and Maria, if you see this-- please feel free to make any corrections in the comments!

This video is found on their website- it includes a teensy portion of what I learned during my visit:

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