There's a popular saying amongst cyclists that the correct number of bikes to own is 'n+1', where 'n' is the number of bikes you currently have. In other words, you can (almost) never have too many. If you don't already have one, here's my argument for why your next 'plus one' should be a townie – be it DIY or otherwise.
More pedalling is always better than less pedalling
Along with that 'n+1' rule is another mantra that we all abide by: we'd always rather be riding than not riding. Carving out a few hours to get on the road or rip through a favourite stretch of singletrack always sounds good but often isn't as easy as it seems, what with life's typical requirements persistently conspiring to stand in your way.
But what if you could check off a few of those tasks while riding a bike at the same time? Assuming your local surroundings allow, oftentimes it's very feasible – and sometimes faster – to do things by bike. For more than 20 years, I've been fortunate enough to live in two of the most bike-friendly towns in the US (Ann Arbor, Michigan and now Boulder, Colorado). Thanks to the generous bike-friendly infrastructure and relatively compact layouts both cities possess, it isn't unusual for my car to lie fallow for a week at a time, especially since adding a Chariot to the family fleet after the arrival of our baby girl a few months ago.
Groceries? Done. Visiting with a friend? Done. Business meeting downtown? Done, done and done.
All of those trips can be done by car but instead I'm able to log a heap of extra saddle time per week by doing exactly what I would otherwise want to do anyway.
I love cars almost as much as I love bikes but at the same time, I utterly loathe them. They're expensive to buy, expensive to fix, expensive to own, expensive to… you get the picture. Plus, unless the weather is truly horrible, I'm much rather have the wind in my face than look out at the world through a piece of glass while encased in a rolling steel box.
For many of us, the actual act of driving isn't exactly fun, either, with busy streets jammed with traffic and more time spent stopping than going.
We've all been in that situation and thought to ourselves, "this would be way faster on a bike". So what's stopping you? Distance is the most commonly used excuse. But think about how far you went on your last road ride and compare that to how far you need to go for your most common errands.
Safety is another problem entirely, though, as many riders simply don't live somewhere that's conducive to going by bike. In that case, I'm not going to push you to put yourself in danger.
That said, other issues such as weather and cargo capacity are relatively easy to remedy. Foul-weather clothing is awfully good these days (and often relatively inexpensive), full-length mud flaps nearly eliminate road spray, and it's amazing what you can haul with big panniers or a cargo trailer. And when you do head out for your 'fun' rides sans cargo, you instantly feel like Superman.
Going slower is good for you
We're all constantly trying to go faster, faster, faster – but sometimes it's better to go slow and take in the view, much of which can't be seen from behind the wheel or while chasing a Strava KOM. You'd never know while driving how many apple trees there are in Boulder. The other day I found a wild berry bush along a bike path. Two days ago I spotted a family of ducks bathing in a creek. And so on.
What was my VAM during those days? I have no idea. I sure didn't care at the time, either.
There's a training benefit to spending some time on a townie, too. As was recently posted here, many of us don't spend enough time properly recovering from hard efforts to actually reap the benefits of those tough miles. Hopping on a townie is a fantastic excuse to just take it easy.
Then again, some of my best intervals have also come from running late for appointments…
Town bikes are cheap
I love dedicated, purpose-built townies, but you don't have to go out and buy something shiny and new. Many of you can probably cobble something together from spare parts to get the job done. (That's exactly what I did for years; miss you, old Bridgestone.) In fact, former BikeRadar contributor Zach White 'makes do' on an old Serotta steel hardtail he used to race downhill.
The name of the game here is reliable transportation and anything that you can make work will suffice (although Xtracycle's FreeRadical cargo bike conversion is one of my favorites). Just keep in mind the usual requirements: comfort, reliability, weatherproofing and utility, which usually amount to simpler and/or relatively maintenance-free componentry, mud flaps, lights, racks and bags.
Style is a bonus but hardly necessary, plus you should keep in mind that the better something looks, the more appealing it will be to thieves.
That all said, there are heaps of fantastic – and often inexpensive – dedicated townies available these days and they're hard not to like with their relaxed positioning and handling, casual styling and generally simple constructions.
Of course, you can pretty much spend as much as you dare, too.
I ended up buying the Electra Ticino 18D that originally came in for review almost four years ago and I dare say it's become my favourite bike if for no other reason than I can't help but grin – and relax – every time I pedal it somewhere.
You can do it
It wasn't that long ago that I embarked on a project where I went thirty days (mostly) car-free – in Colorado, in January – just to see what it would take to do it. Granted, I didn't have any children then, but the experience proved to me that it was far easier to do than I originally expected, and more fun than anticipated, too.
Seriously, who wouldn't want to actually ride more than you do now? What's stopping you?