So rather than cave in and learn to ride a motorbike, I decided to stick with what I know (and wanted): the trusty bicycle. I think I probably could learn to ride, with little trouble, a xe may with an automatic transmission. But I just don’t feel like dealing with the hassle of it – plus, the air pollution is bad enough here.; I’ll take one for Mother Earth’s team. Of course life here may still eventually require the purchase of said motorbike, but for now, I’ll stick with this purchase (which cost as much if not more than a motorbike, thanks to the fact that it is imported, and Viet Nam apparently taxes the hell out of imports).
A foolish purchase, perhaps, in many people’s eyes. But as I bombed around Biên Hòa
today for the first time on it, I think it was an excellent purchase. It feels good to ride (regardless of the bike); I haven’t done so in a long time. The nice thing is, this bike is nimble enough and fast enough that it feels like what I’m used to – not like the horrible clunker of an indigenous mountain bike I rode when I first got to Viet Nam last January, and not the terrible piece-of-shite department-store-type bike I tried to ride in Suphanburi, Thailand (geez, that is an episode I need to write about sometime – that shop owner racked up some bad karma).
Anyway, bike nerd stuff is below. But first, some photography stuff. Look at the two photos just below the cut: same, but different. The first is a photo from my Nokia 5800 phone; it has a 3.2 megapixel sensor and a Carl Zeiss lens. As I’ve noted before, I love this phone, but either the image sensor or the processing software is crap, compared to some other camera phones. Even with the flash as fill light, yuck. Of course there is no comparison between any camera phone and a good DSLR. The second picture is taken with my trusty Canon, with the flash bounced off the ceiling. Not even close, which is what I knew and expected – but I’ve been wanting to make a side-by-side comparison for awhile now, and this was an opportunity.
Now for the bike nerd stuff:
Anyway, a brief review of the Giant Bowery based on my first impression. In terms of street cred back home in the States this bike is a total poseur machine, to be sure. A single speed (with a fixie flip-flop hub should one desire) on a compact-geometry road frame (although it does have track dropouts) with, er, wannabe-track-bike bars on it – blasphemy in some cycling circles. I don’t think you’d ever see a messenger tooling around the Bowery in New York City on such a bike, unless perhaps he or she was trying for über irony. Fortunately for me, I’ve never been a slave to fashion or style. This is a man who used to ride with his roadie friends for hours on his Bianchi ‘cross bike (with road slicks) and his – gasp! Horror of horrors! – Camelbak (this is also a man who always had to stop in the middle of every long ride so his roady friends could fill up their damn water bottles). So yeah, I guess I’ve always been a heretic. You can take the boy off the mountain bike, but you can’t take the mountain biker out of the boy, or something like that.
Besides, the cycling culture here is virtually nonexistent, although I have occasionally seen a few Vietnamese guys riding around on expensive carbon fiber and wearing pro-team kits, both here and down in Sai Gon. Usually that would mean the worst sort of bike snob back home – beware the wannabe with too much money (I used to love dropping guys like that, back when I was in some sort of shape) – but team kits and expensive frames may not translate into the same thing here. Perhaps we’ll see one day when I’m out riding. If it does, I look forward to annoying them with the Giant Bowery; if it doesn’t, I welcome international bonding with my fellow bike nerds.
One snobbish thing in this bike’s favor, though – it’s probably the only one in Vietnam, perhaps all of Southeast Asia. The shop I bought it from imported it for someone who changed their mind.
Anyway, I wanted a single speed, because the roads here are flat, but I knew I wanted a western-style road bike in terms of the frame – the local brands of bikes all tend to be mountain bikes (sport bikes, as they are called here) and cruiser-type bikes. Not that I have anything against the cruiser bikes, but the ones here seem to be a bit flimsy for my big ass. Plus, when I stand on the pedals, I want things to happen – as in quick, responsive forward motion, and not bending the pedals and/or crank arms. Cruisers are also just too pokey, especially here. But having said that, I still need something beefy enough to handle my weight and the roads here.
Thus, the 2010 Giant Bowery 72 comes to the rescue. I like the geometry of this bike, as it fits my odd torso. At 5’10” most bike fitters initially try and put me on bikes that are too large, say a 55 cm frame; apparently I have a long torso compared to my arm and leg length. So yeah, compact geometry works for me. The frame is actually a size small; check out the actual geometry measurements to the right (click it to big it) – yes, I’m actually comfortable riding around on this teeny bike! I probably would have been fine on a medium, too – but once I bumped up the seat a bit, this bike felt like home.
It’s not as aggressive as a track bike or a dedicated road-racing bike, of course, but that’s fine – this bike is for bombing around town and the odd fitness ride here and there. I’ve got the handlebar raised to a less aggressive position too; baby steps – as I get into better shape and my abs come around, then I’ll lower it back down.
Some reviewers have said it handles like a tank; I wouldn’t go that far. Yes, it’s not as nimble as a track bike or a racing rig, and for what I’m using it for, I wouldn’t want it to be. But it’s nimble enough to get around in traffic here; I found it plenty responsive enough for me. It’s at least as responsive as my Bianchi Axis crossbike I used to ride all over Hell’s half acre (as my dear old Dad used to say), so I’ve got no complaints. I didn’t notice any problems as far as ride feel either, but then again, I’m used to riding around on beefy aluminum. The tubes aren’t butted (which would be nice), but as far as I can tell, the welds and build quality are fine.
I imagine I might have to replace the rear rim at some point; we’ll see if Giant holds up where previous Taiwanese rims have failed – and this is back when I weighed under 180 lbs. I don’t think that saddle will be around too long, either, although it’s fine for now – nothing wrong with it, per se, for a stock saddle. The brakes and brake levers are adequate – like the saddle, fine for now. If I have this bike a long time, I may replace them at some point, but there is no hurry. The pedals are definitely short timers – as soon as I can lay my hands on some Time/ATAC cleats and pedals. This is the one thing I would have changed immediately, if I could have.
Not sure about those Kenda tires; there is all sorts of shite on the roads here. Of course if I flat a lot, they will have to go. Also not sure about the nuts on the axles. I’ve read that there is no reason not to use quick-release skewers, as long as they are not cheap and flimsy – that nuts on track bikes are just tradition. The Bowery has axle nuts and then some other kind of nut and bolt rig anchoring the hub in each track mount – I’m wondering if I could keep those and use a quick-release skewer in place of the axle nuts. On the other hand, if I can get some beefy tires – next mission: find a shop in Asia that carries Specialized Armadillos (and Time/ATACs) – and keep from flatting often, I’ll stick with the nuts.
Would I be nuts not too? Sorry, but you knew that was coming, didn’t you? I’m sure some friends were wondering why it took me so long to make that painfully obvious pun.
One more thing. I don’t know how much it weighs, but it’s relatively light, for as beefy as it is. I didn’t think to get it weighed in the shop – I thought about it while I was test riding it, then forgot when I got back. It feels a bit lighter than my Bianchi Axis was, even after I had slimmed it down with after-market parts. It doesn’t matter anyway; I’ve never been a weight weenie. According to the U.K. version of Giant’s web site, the Bowery 72 weighs 20.11 pounds, which feels about right – about a pound less than my Axis.
Here’s some more nerdery on the Bowery:
Frame: ALUXX-Grade Aluminum
Fork: CroMo, Alloy Steerer
Handlebar: Alloy Drop, Track Style 26.0
Seatpost: Alloy, 27.2mm
Saddle: GIANT Racing
Pedals: Caged w/ Clips
Brakes: Alloy Dual Pivot
Brake Levers: Alloy Road
Cassette: 17T Fixed or Freewheel
Chain: KMC Z410A 1/2 x 1/8
Crankset: LASCO Track, 48T
Bottom Bracket Cartridge
Rims: GIANT Alloy, Double Wall
Hubs: Alloy High-Flange Track Style w/ Flip-Flop Rear Hub, Nutted 32h
Spokes: Stainless Steel
Tires KENDA Kriterium, 700×25