Fuel for the fire

Jamis Aurora Elite

The Jamis Aurora Elite, rigged for heavy touring. I've been riding this for a couple of weeks now. I'd tell you about it, but then the folks at Adventure Cyclist magazine would have to kill you.

Again with the hysterical gas-prices stories. The difference in this latest run-up, says analyst Trilby Lundberg, is that the national average price of $3.765 would be even higher had refiners and retailers passed on rising crude-oil prices to consumers, who already seem reluctant to put that tiger in their tanks as the mythical $4-per-gallon ceiling looms like a windshield full of oncoming Peterbilt with a full load of live pigs and a drunk, texting driver who doesn’t realize that he’s drifted across the yellow line into oncoming traffic.

“Demand has been falling at these prices,” Lundberg told the Reuters news agency.

I bet. If you don’t have a job — anyone remember the unemployment figures? You know, the story that kinda-sorta mattered before deficits, gas prices and The Donald sucked all the metaphorical oxygen out of the virtual pressroom? — a tank of gas must look like a bottle of Cristal champagne; too rich for your tastes.

But if cash-strapped drivers are buying less gas, how are they getting from point A to point B? Driving hybrids? Scooters? Bicycles? Skateboards? Hush Puppies?

Being biased, I’d like to think “bicycles.” It’s spring, and the weather is improving — well, as much as a Coloradan can expect in April, anyway — and suddenly that two-mile commute from the family seat to the cube farm looks doable on two wheels.

But can the typical Chubbo-American too pinched to buy gas afford the kind of bikes my people sell, or even look at them without hearing their dads, long dead of heart disease, liver failure and homophobia, calling them gay? Are they gonna trade in the family battlewagon for a couple of gaudy plastic-fantastics with saddles shaped like designer perfume bottles and wheels that look like the rings of Saturn? Will they spring for the reasonably priced, sensible machinery like the bikes I’ve been reviewing for Adventure Cyclist magazine?

Frankly, I have no idea. But, ever the optimist, I keep envisioning a graphic depicting the Descent of Motorist — from SUV to small car to hybrid to motorcycle to scooter to pawn-shop bicycle to Keds.

I’ve always been able to find that dark cloud surrounding the silver lining.*

* And yes, I know those front panniers should be swinging lower than an old man’s testicles over the toilet, but I didn’t have a low-rider rack that would work with disc brakes.


32 Responses to “Fuel for the fire”

  1. Jeff Cozad Says:

    I literally just filled the tank of the Honda Fit. I remember seeing the Dino extract being $3.56 Saturday… It was $3.79. At least that is the only car we own.

    I really haven’t noticed an up tick on cycle commuters yet. I’m going to give it some time. What I have seen are two different idiots with bikes that they have attached Whizzer motors to. You can hear and smell them coming a mile away. I just wish they’d go play with their four wheeled brethren. I’m betting I see more of them along with the battery “assist” ones too. That pedaling stuff is hard work, ya know.

  2. BenS Says:


    Glad you noted the bags on the Jamis are kind of high and tight, must make for dodgy turns. Will keep the Adventure Cyclist subscription going as long as you churn out reviews.

    No Whizzers here, too beneath contempt for the locals though there are a lot of those scooters that look like something the 101 Airborne would have jumped with over Normandy.

    40 cent jump per gallon in the last 4 days. The commuter come out the basement tomorrow, at least the temp is above freezing.

  3. barry Says:

    Jeff, I’d love to see your version of idiots a lot more.

    I just did 2 hours in the trenches vs. the wind and dino smokers today and about 95% of the vehicles that turned the pistons in anger at me were of the 4 wheel drive variety. I live less than a mile from the office. It can’t go high enough fast enough for me.

  4. James Says:

    Gas for under $4?!?! Must not be Cal-ee-for-knee-yah because the cheapest place I know of (i.e. where I purchase my gasoline) was $4.05 yesterday. It has stayed pretty close to that over the past week.

    As for the hypothesis of “more $$ for the SUV vs. a cheap bike” I can report that t a friend who is in the business of refurbishing bicycles and selling them at one of the local thrift stores has seen an increase in his pay. He reported over the weekend that of the 40 or so bikes in his garage and yard, and good many are being sold. The odd thing here is that he sells refurbished bikes…so the supply must come from somewhere to fuel the demand. I have no idea where but the types of bikes he gets are not new, Italian or even “high end.” Mostly 70’s or 80’s era Schwinns.

    It is strange unless people are giving up their old bikes for a newer model.

  5. Khal Spencer Says:

    The WRX burns hi test. I’m closer to four bucks a gulp than many. Fortunately, it doesn’t burn all that much of it compared to the local roadway battleships in BombTown and besides, I usually don’t drive all week.

    That’s pretty keen looking hardware, Patrick. So…are you climbing those fourteener mountain passes with a full pannier load front and back and a 34×32 low gear? Or, are you filling all four panniers with tonsil polish and lugging it back and forth from the hooch shop to the family mansion? I’ll probably spring for a 12×36 cassette (Shimano makes an HG-61, not too much cash) for the La Cruz and try much the same setup this summer.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      K, my Forester burns the cheap stuff — $3.56 when I last filled up on April 8 with the low-fuel light on, for a grand total of $44.46. Bibleburg’s gas is pretty cheap compared to the rest of the state (and the world). And I’ve got that short commute from the bed to the coffeepot to the Mac, so a tank lasts me quite a while.

      I haven’t tackled any fourteeners on the Jamis, but I have been seeking out some of the steeper hills Bibleburg has to offer. The load pictured was basically the full rooster — pretty much everything I’d need to ride fully self-supported, camping instead of staying in motels; the pile included an Asus netbook, iPhone and Canon PowerShot S90 for chronicling the journey.

      And yeah, with 30-odd pounds of extra crap front and rear I was in that 34×22 quite a bit. I’m a few hundred miles behind where I was last year at this time, and I definitely feel it when the ground tilts upward; I always hate to be in my lowest gear at the start of a long climb. Where’s my bailout gear? Mayday! Mayday! I’m goin’ down. …

  6. bromasi Says:

    Good old eureka, ca $4.35 and going up.

  7. Larry T. Says:

    National news’ lead story last night was the horrific price of gasoline — the interesting part, after all the whining from gas-guzzling “shopping utility vehicle” owners and nitwits who chose to live hours from their jobs so they could live in a new house far away from any people of color, was that they pointed out the U.S. dollar just ain’t worth much these days. Of course I see this every day as the dollar vs euro reports come in, watching CycleItalia’s profits get eaten up by the exchange rate. We decide on any possible surcharge early in March and then it wasn’t bad enough (yet) to justify something I SO hate to do (we’ve done it only two times in 13 seasons) so we didn’t — and now helplessly watch as the 6 billion extra U.S. greenbacks Bernanke and Co. recently printed up and scattered to the wind, bring the value of our customers money down vs the euro. Not even the Portugal crisis has dented the decline of the dollar vs euro! But in less than 6 weeks I will no longer care, we’ll be in Italy and as the youngsters like to say “it is what it is”…the food will be just as sumptuous, the wine just as sublime and the cycling just as wonderful….just a bit more expensive. The answer to the question, “do we need another bottle of wine?” will still be “perche no?” (why not?). Can one put a price on heaven?
    OG — I must confess…riding that thing in the photo looks like anything BUT fun…but then I’m a guy who thinks camping out is sleeping in a strange bed and having to get up and go outside to get my morning cappuccino!

    • khal spencer Says:

      “do we need another bottle of wine?”

      If you have to ask….

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Larry, it’s actually a pretty fun bike to ride, even when you’re hauling your bedroom, kitchen and office along with you.

      Herself shares your philosophy about camping (and usually I do, too): To her, camping is a Hilton without room service.

      We’ll all be jealous as hell of you in about six weeks. We can get the vino, but not the views.

  8. swell Says:

    $3.86 here in central Cheeseland. Going up every day. I usually commute until the tourist bomb goes off Memorial Day weekend, when it becomes too dangerous to cross the Wisc River bridge four times a day.
    That’s a nice looking ride. I have my eyes on a Fuji cross bike. Are Fujis pretty reliable?

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Swell, I’ve never owned a Fuji, but know folks who have, and they don’t complain. One of our local teams was sponsored by them for a while and the road bikes looked pretty damn’ nice. (Full disclosure: I know Fuji’s lifestyle/transportation brand manager, too, and think he’s a good guy.)

      My only problem with their ’cross bikes is that they’re either carbon or aluminum, but then most everything is these days. I like steel for ’cross. Old habits die hard.

  9. BenS Says:

    First commute of the year and gas is $4.22/gallon. Up from $4.14 two days ago.

  10. Brian Smith Says:

    I wish I could bike commute. Motorcycle will get pressed into service when the $4 bell rings here in Rambalama. This job ends on Friday due to mill shutdown. I had two new ones to pick from. Both offers were exactly the same. One I would have to live 40 miles away to find decent schools. I pick the other. Still may not be close enought to commute via pedal, but at least its not a 45-60 min commute at 4+ a gal. Smetimes there are no good answers, just ones that are not as bad.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Brian, glad to hear you had a couple choices and one had decent schools nearby. I know a construction guy who’s been looking for work for three years. He’s found bits here and there, but nothing steady, and lost his house in the process.

      I expect the motorcycle and scooter shops are going to get busy this summer. Last year I put a rear rack on the Vespa so I could use it for fetching groceries and grog (a messenger bag only holds so much) and this year I may add a front rack.

      I’d like to have a motorcycle for the extra power and quick acceleration, but I never learned how to drive one when I was a sprout with an unsullied brain. The science of shifting gears on a motorcycle leaves me baffled, as did mathematics and chemistry in high school. Twist-and-go is the thing for us old fellers.

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        Learning to ride a motorcycle as a sprout with an unsullied brain is a competition between hormones, brains, and fast reflexes. I survived that period of life intact and without any serious crashes (worst damage was replacing some turn signals after wiping out and high-siding on an overcooked curve–thankfully soft grass is easy on shoulder structure), but had friends who came out of that lifestyle with broken bones and wired elbows or worse. Youth is often wasted on the young.

        When my first wife cashiered me and took the car, I was using a 500 cc motorcycle for most everything–weekly laundry runs, shopping, and commuting when I was not riding my pedal bike. Mostly uneventful except for a couple lay-downs on black ice during the winter-she fired me in December. That’s when I became a believer in heavy tubular steel crash bars. Kept the turn signals and other small bits intact and kept my knees intact on one bad slide on black ice

        I fear we will see a lot of new folks on two wheels, either motorized or not, this summer. Many of them are going to be making the kind of dumb mistakes that land one in the ER. Please be careful out there. Take it from an old fart. Enroll in a Motorcycle Safety Foundation or League of American Bicyclists course and keep the rubber side down.

      • Brian Smith Says:

        I came to the motorcycle late in life (ie 48). Figured I was mature enough not to try something stupid that my younger hi-test testosterone fueled self would have tried. Shifting baffled me at first but you get used to it pretty fast. Being a cyclist helps a lot. Cycling give you great situational awareness, you know you are invisible and act accordingly. Works the same on a motorcycle as well. And both groups have the same problems, ie dumbasses in cars (bikers call them “cagers”). I always wave at bikers when I’m on either. Same spirit, different motor.

    • khal spencer Says:

      Forgot about this one.

    • khal spencer Says:

  11. HPD Says:

    Can I fill my panniers with helium balloons to help go uphill? I know what you’re thinking, that the drag offsets any gains. But the panniers don’t stick out past my subcutaneous saddlebags, so there’s little additional resistance.

  12. Khal Spencer Says:

    Sucks to live in California.

    • James Says:

      I won’t even click on that story since 1) it is in the New York Times, and 2) it only sucks if you never have. Otherwise it is a great place to live…..as long as the actors stay on the soundstages and out of the political houses. Silly East Coast, leftist liberal bias…..

      • Khal Spencer Says:

        With the CA car culture and often long commute distances (not to mention a dysfunctional government), five bucks a pop in CA has gotta suck. Regardless of one’s political bias. We lived in SF for a while when I was a kid. Great place, as I discovered when going back repeatedly as an adult. But like Honolulu, a little busy for my country boy lifestyle.

  13. Larry T. Says:

    There’s still something wrong in the US — wine STILL costs more than gasoline, unlike in Italy. Someone mentioned something about another bottle ALWAYS being a good idea rather than needing one while we’re over there. That’s something I find different when compared to US wine-culture (if it can be described as such) as in Italy, generally when the food is done, so is the wine. Wine IS food there, so this makes sense, unlike in the US where folks not only feel compelled to wring every last drop out of the bottle (bad form in Italia) but keep drinking until all the bottles are empty, even if they’ve already had their dessert and caffe. This extends to over-doing it as well, Italians enjoy wine, but being drunk in public is frowned upon.
    As to California and gasoline….there’s likely not a nuttier place on earth when it comes to this…as a former resident I can vouch for it. This is the place where they constructed a special commuter lane on a freeway (already 3-4 lanes) that leads out into the godforsaken desert north of LA, so nitwits can buy houses in places like Palmdale and Lancaster (which have metastasized into one huge cancer in the desert nowadays) and drive their “shopping-utility vee-hickles” 40-50 miles to work each way! I scratched my head and got the three-word response from the wife as I ranted about this while driving through there during the end-of-year holidays. It was always dumb, now it’ll be expensive and dumb.

  14. Khal Spencer Says:

    In a world without limits, maybe living in Outerville and driving a hundred miles R/T a day to Innerville was not dumb, as long as you could afford it. Since the first OPEC embargo, anyone with an IQ higher than their age should have realized that the days of cheap gas, big V-8s, and big driving distances were short. Its a constant battle, though, between trying to stay abreast of real news and being fed chickenshit by vested interests and bullshit-peddlers. There is a lot of junk science on the Internet, on FAUX News (and its left wingnut counterparts) and unless you are at least marginally literate in science (or Italian and actually read the paper), its probably tough to tell the difference between shit and Shinola.

    My good friend Bill Meyers, a retired sedimentary geologist from Stony Brook, is now spending his retirement whupping ass and taking USCF national titles in his age group. He still putters a bit, trying to stay current with what we know about remaining world oil reserves. That’s more than most Americans do–which is get their wishful thinking from sound bytes.

    What oil remains, probably about half of what was originally there but most of the remainder in hard to recover places (translation: COSTS A LOT MORE AND INVOLVES BIGGER RISKS IN RECOVERY) is no longer our oyster. We used to be oil self-sufficient into the sixties and had most of the world’s money in Fort Knox. Now we import about two-thirds of our oil with money we don’t have any more–most of our money is in China or other offshore repositories because of our spendthrift ways. Whatever oil is left is now a world, not US, commodity and we are increasingly the beggars on the streetcorner. I guess no one sees a problem here when they take out a car loan for yet one more Shopping Utility Vehicle (thanks, Larry–good one).

    I’m sure the dinosaurs didn’t know they were about to become extinct, either. Too bad we can’t expect more intelligence from Homo sapiens. That three word response is perfect.

    p.s. James, I have to clarify. California, like Hawaii, is a lovely place. The Golden State’s political and social problems are the result of…people are stupid. Sorry for the global condemnation. What God perfected, Californians are trying to screw up.

  15. Larry T. Says:

    California still is a swell place to visit but unless 40-50% of the folks there now decide to move away, I have no desire to live there again. On the driving long-distances to work issue, I think it’s DUMB. Dumb then, dumb now. Even when it was cheap, who wants to spend hours each day just driving back and forth to work…let alone burning all those hydrocarbons and fouling the air? Takes too much time from riding your bike or typing snarky comments into OG’s blog!

  16. khal spencer Says:

    Dunno, Larry.

    People live away from work for reasons that make sense to them, and endure the drive. I’ve never managed to live more than a dozen miles from work and often used the dozen miles as a good bike ride, twice a day. Then again, I’m not what passes for normal in America. To me, the definition of living too far from work is that I’m not likely to ride my bike to work. That has meant more money on the mortgage but far less in the car.

    Back in the early sixties when I was a kid, we moved to the ‘burbs to get out of Buffalo. It was just a few years before the shit hit the fan (we lived near Jefferson Street, which is where the shit hit the fan) but the writing was on the wall. We lived upstairs from my stepdad’s parents on the East side and eventually, that house went up in flames due to arson. Tragic.

    Frankly, living there was not much fun albeit I still have a few fond memories of the Tabernacle Baptist Church, a couple doors away, and my best friend Michael, whose father was a city cop. The gospel music on Sundays rocked, and as the little white kid a couple doors away from the church, I got free barbecue when they had fundraisers.

    But the part of Buffalo where I grew up now looks like the aftermath of a civil war and deindustrialization. Lots of empty lots where houses used to be. Back when my mom died in the early ’90’s and I took Meena through that part of Buffalo after the funeral, she muttered something about “Soweto”.

    After we moved out of Buffalo, which we did as much to move TO somewhere as to get AWAY from somewhere, the old man bought a BMW R60 and rode that to the Chevy plant in Buffalo when it was warm, or drove his 1961 Volkswagen Beetle in the winter, about 20 miles one-way. He loved being out in the country where he grew up and could go out the back door and hunt or fish or just watch the grass grow. Frankly, when we lived in Buffalo he got out to the country whenever he could.

    Was great living out there as a kid, too. Back of the house was several hundred acres of farm field and Ellicott Creek. I got lost there a lot of days.

    Sixties were admittedly the era of white flight and white picket fences. I certainly don’t blame my parents for leaving Buffalo when they did. Only reason my grandparents stayed was that they had deep roots there and owned their home, which was a few blocks from the Rich’s ice cream factory where they worked until they retired. During the riots people left them alone but it wasn’t fun.

    But that was then and this is now. An hour in a car drives me crazy unless it is the occasional trip. Don’t know how folks put up with it, but I guess that’s why cars have turned into home entertainment centers.

  17. BenS Says:

    I remember Buffalo in the 70s. Spent 5 years in Fredonia, one of them working in a vineyard. Nothing like spending a whole year outside in view of Lake Erie to teach that nature is to be loved and winter is a really good time to be indoors as much as possible.

    Old routes 17, 20 and 9 are now intrastate bike routes. Amazing, I use to get run off the road on 20 back when.

    • Khal Spencer Says:

      Used to ride US 20 to my high school. Ed Pavelka (past editor of Bicycling) once wrote a story about a cross NYS long distance race that went west to east on US 20. Wonder what ever happened to old Ed.

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