The velo-lovefest continues a-growin’ at our house. I think Jon has now narrowed his own potential new bike contenders down to 2 or 3 models, and he will likely decide on one and bring it home in the next couple of weeks (he needs to do a few more test rides yet).
And because he’s the Best Guy Ever, pretty much as soon as we started shopping in earnest for his new bike, he urged me to also find a new bike JUST FOR ME (!!!), so that we will be able to ride together. He hadn’t really gotten me a Christmas present this year because, as he told me in advance of the holiday, he was totally stumped on gift ideas. He said he would rather have me give him some guidance after the holidays on something I actually want or need, and that plan was fine with me, of course.
As it turned out, the post-holiday Christmas gift he has now gotten me is quite possibly my very favorite present anyone has given me…EVER.
And here she is!
Everyone, please say hello to” Gloria.” She’s my beautiful, new 2013 women’s Electra Townie in “Persimmon.”
And let me just admit right here and now that I am unabashedly in love with her (I think she likes me, too.)
Remember, I’ve never had a bike of my own before – just a men’s hand me down back when I was in college – and I’ve certainly never had a shiny, pretty, new bicycle of my own, so bringing Gloria home has been sort of jump-up-and-down exciting for me.
There are several different Electra Townie bike models available, each with different features and options. However, after talking to bike-knowledgeable folks around town, Jon and I decided that I should definitely go with the 21D Townie model, meaning that Gloria has 21 speeds. Both of us originally thought maybe we could be happy riding 8 speed bikes, which are often (not always) more budget-friendly, but folks who ride regularly around the hilly city where we live strongly urged us to get bikes with more gearing options. So I ultimately went with Gloria and her hill-scaling 21 speeds, and Jon is now also only considering bike models with similarly solid hill-climbing power.
The only bothersome thing about being limited to bikes with more gears is that this meant I had to cross all makes of bike with internal hub gears off my list (several Electra Townie models offer an internal hub). If we lived somewhere with relatively flat terrain, a lower-maintenance internal hub would be an option I think I would have liked, but you can’t have everything, and I want to be able to actually get my bike up and down hills. Thus, I ended up with a bike with more gears and an external derailleur.
Before I finally decided that I specifically wanted:
A: an Electra Townie
B: the Electra Townie 21D
and C: the Electra Townie 21D in “persimmon,”
I test rode multiple types of bikes, and we visited at least 8 different bike shops over the past 4 weekends. Each time we went into a bike shop, I would explain to the hip looking bike guy working there that I wanted a grown up, pretty bike that would have a relatively upright position, and would also have a real step thru frame (because I wear skirts and dresses pretty much all the time except dead of winter). I would also tell him that I wanted a high quality bike that could readily take me on my commutes to and from work if I wanted it to, as well as take me on weekend rides for fun. I explained that it needed to feel solid and safe, but that I also wanted it to be athletic enough that I could get around quickly and keep up with other bikers around town riding all kinds of bikes. My new bike needed to be cargo-capable, meaning it could be outfitted with a front basket and rear rack, plus a kid seat if I wanted that. It should be capable of pulling a kid trailer or wagon, and I definitely didn’t want any kind of drop handlebars on it. I also explained that I didn’t want some kind of slack “beach cruiser” of a bike, but a real, working city bike. However, I did want something with a feminine, happy, relaxed vibe about it. Furthermore, I explained that I wanted a bike with a certain funky joie de vivre that would stand out.
Clearly, I knew what I wanted (!!!), and I felt like I described it relatively well to these guys (while making clear that this was my grand wishlist; I didn’t expect to find any bike that met every single criterion.) I assumed that after I explained clearly what I had in mind, the experts at the shops would then guide me in finding suitable bikes for my consideration.
Unfortunately, that’s not quite what happened. Instead, after I described “my” bike, the bike shop guys responded by trying to tell me that such a bike simply didn’t exist and/or they would insist that even if it did, it wasn’t really what I wanted. Almost everywhere we went, the bike guys tried to talk me into some variation of a fairly traditional mountain or road bike. To humor them, I rode some of these, and I definitely enjoyed some of the road bikes. I can see myself maybe wanting a bike like that some day as a second option for a more athletic kind of riding, if I ever get into that. But that isn’t what I want or need now.
Additionally, most of the bike shop guys (I never saw ONE SINGLE woman working at any of them) were adamant that I didn’t actually need the full step thru frame I’d told them was a must. One of the guys actually argued with me that, “no one rides a bike in a dress.” I was becoming quite frustrated. (Clearly these guys who don’t believe real women ride in skirts and dresses need to be directed to Let’s Go Ride a Bike, Cycle Chic, and badass bakfiets mama, Emily Finch. But I digress…)
Although no local bike shop guys proactively suggested an Electra bike to me, I’d seen Electra Townies online, so after I got tired of riding all the “sport hybrids” and “roadster mixtes” they were pushing on me, I finally just insisted that the guys at two of the local shops that carry Electra bikes let me at least test ride the women’s Townies they had in stock. The first time I pedaled a Townie around a bike store parking lot (in a dress, natch) with a giant grin on my face, I knew I’d found my bike. All I needed to do was determine which of the various Townie models was to be mine, and then select options.
In contrast to the negative feedback I was getting from local shop guys, almost all of the (many, many) Townie owner reviews that Jon and I read online before we brought my new bike home were incredibly positive. Additionally, when I talked to an REI salesperson by phone about Townies, she told me that their customers love Electra bikes so much that REI can’t stock them fast enough.
I ended up buying my new Townie at Greenlee’s Bike Hospital, which is right up the street from our house, making it a hyper local bike shop.They had the exact model and color I wanted in the store, and so I was able to ride her home that very evening. Woohoo! Plus, the Greenlee’s guy (not a young, hip bike guy like everyone else I met at local shops, but instead a grizzled, much older and gruffly taciturn bike fella) was actually very pro-Townie. He told me that the various Townie models are probably their bestselling bikes, and said that in his experience selling and working on Electra bicycles for several years now, they are solid bikes and a good value.
So what was it that made me fall hard for my Electra Townie 21D over other possible, somewhat similar options? Well, for starters, like I said, I knew I wanted an upright, “city bike,” but with a little more get up and go. I test rode everything from a gorgeous Pashley Princess Sovereign (no shop here sells them new, but I checked out a used one that someone was selling) to a Giant Suede. But I just immediately felt the most comfortable, safe and happy on the Townie. I especially like the way that on a Townie, I can touch the ground easily with both feet when I stop. This feeling of truly being able to handle the bike is important for someone like me who is basically just learning how to ride a bike at all, and who will be doing lots of real city riding right up next to real cars and trucks. However, despite this feeling of stability, Gloria doesn’t feel or handle like some kind of old-lady bike when I ride her. She feels pretty darn zippy and nimble, and with the suspension up front, I can go over curbs and potholes, etc without really feeling it.
Also, it turns out that the experienced local cyclists whom I asked about gears were correct. I am already very much appreciating all 21 of Gloria’s gears, which allow me to ride anywhere I like without worrying that my bike isn’t going to get me over the next hill. I will admit, however, that I am still very much in a steep learning curve with this whole shifting gears thing. I’ve never ridden a bike with gears (or ridden a bike much, period) and Gloria’s gear system seems extra complicated to me because one of the two gear shifters (with 7 options) is at my right hand, while a second shifter – a gear multiplier – is at my left. I’m getting better at working the gears (I rode 6 miles around hilly downtown tonight after work), but I hope to get a much better hang of it soon.
Her stylin’ Electra head badge.
I love my Electra owl bell.
Here’s another view of my funky yet oh-so-pretty Gloria, parked in our front hallway.
I added this nifty drink holder to Gloria’s handlebars. I got it at Tennessee Valley Bikes, a wonderful local bike shop located in our neighborhood. They are extremely helpful there. (They don’t carry Electra bikes, though.)
I found this handy iPhone bike mount at yet another local shop, Bike Zoo (also not an Electra carrier, but lots of great bikes there). You just clip this iPhone mount onto your bike and then pop your iPhone into it. My phone fits very securely in this mount, even with the Otterbox case I keep on it at all times. I downloaded an app that uses the iPhone’s GPS to track my mileage, plus and how fast I am going – basically it turns your iPhone into a bike computer gadget.
One thing I do want to upgrade/change about my Townie is the rather insubstantial, clear plastic chain guard that she came with. As you can see in the photo below, this standard Townie chainguard is certainly better than nothing, but I’d prefer to have a more robust chainguard. (What I’d really love is a chain case, although I’m told there’s no way to fit a full chain case on a bike with a derailleur.) One of the things I will be having installed onto Gloria in the months ahead is a metal or prettier plastic chain guard of some kind – maybe something like this cool one from Velo Orange (although I don’t know if this actual model would fit my bike. I’ll have to do some research on that.) If anyone knows of a substantial aftermarket chain guard that would fit my Electra Townie 21D, I’d love to have you steer me in the right direction.
The one accessory that I did go ahead and buy, and then have installed at Greenlee’s before I brought Gloria home was an Electra model rear rack. Eventually I want to have some lovely and useful panniers (Like these! Or maybe these? Or both!) to attach to my rear rack when needed so that I can easily and safely carry things like my laptop, etc, etc. I’d also like to be able to switch from panniers to a rear cargo basket when the occasion arises, so I’m sure I will at some point also spring for a beautiful rear bike basket.
For now, however, my budget-friendly, DIY bike cargo solution seems to be working fine, as you can see in the photos below. I simply took a storage basket we had sitting around the house, and then I rustled up two matching bungee cords from our basement. The Electra rear rack is very well designed, so it was pretty simple to figure out a way to securely attach the basket to it with the stretchy cords. Then I just clipped my blinky bike light (Target. $2.00) onto the back. I’m very happy with how well this bungee-basket is working to carry stuff, and I think it looks just fine for the time being.
An upgrade I will be making as soon as I am able will be to swap out the heavy, dour looking black seat (see below) and black rubber handlebar grips with which Gloria came for a much softer-looking, vintage-ey brown saddle and similar-style handlebar grips. I have my eye on either this double sprung Electra “classic” saddle, or possibly the brown “Om” saddle, also made by Electra (if any of y’all have ridden on either of these, I’d love to get your feedback.) As for switching out the black rubber handlebar grips, I think I will have a local bike shop install cork grips, and then have them do a traditional wrap over the cork in either brown leather or by twining them. I can’t wait to make these changes because as lovely as Gloria is, I really think she’s just crying out to have that unattractive black seat and those industrial-looking black rubber grips replaced with classic brown ones.
Other planned additions/upgrades for Gloria as budget permits over time:
- She needs fenders ASAP (this is a practical need for me because fenders will keep me dry when the road is wet). I know I want them to be traditional silver in color, but I will need to decide between metal and plastic fenders, so any advice that you more experienced bike riders may have on making that purchasing decision would be most appreciated.
- I bought super cheap front and back lights for Gloria to use for now, but will eventually add a nice retro-looking, metal colored headlight (something like this one) up front, and a much more substantial rear headlight.
- I will be replacing her standard black tires (which ride great; I just want a different look) with cream colored Schwalbe Delta Cruisers.
-I’m hoping I can find a double kickstand like this one that will work with my particular bike.
- And last but not least, I am keeping my eye on Etsy for some kind of pretty skirt guard to finish fitting Gloria perfectly for my needs.
If I continue to enjoy biking as much as I think I will, and if my skills and interest level grow over time, there may come a day in the future when I will want to save up for a custom or much higher-end (and higher priced) bicycle for myself. Even as little as I know about bikes and biking at this point, I am already in serious lust with the drop dead gorgeous Rivendell Betty Foy (swoon…). However, for a new cyclist like me, making her first purchase of a “real” adult bicycle costing more than not so long ago I ever would have imagined spending on a bike for anyone, much less myself, I truly believe that I found the perfectly perfect bike in my new Electra Townie 21D. Gloria is a high quality, rock solid, stylish, fun and practical bike to meet me and my needs and skill level where I am now and for the foreseeable future. I’m just thrilled with her, and I will certainly keep y’all posted as she and I get to know one another.
Oh! And one last thing. Before I wrap up here, I am sure that some of you are wondering, “What about Ethel?!!” Well, never fear. Ethel isn’t going anywhere. Although it would obviously make sense to sell Ethel, I just can’t. I love, love, love Ethel. I continue to ride her regularly to get groceries and run other errands that require the ability to haul large quantities of stuff. Plus, while Gloria is incredibly fun to ride, sweet Ethel is also great fun in her own funky way to tool around the neighborhood. I am truly enjoying riding both E and G, and I expect that Ethel will be especially great this summer to haul picnic supplies, kid toys, etc down to the neighborhood park. Also, because Ethel can’t be tipped over – she’s a tank – I have discovered that it’s really fun to ride on her three wheels while taking Leo out for a jog. He really seems to enjoy that too. So Ethel is staying. I have already come to consider her a member of the family. She just has that kind of endearing personality!