My son (known here affectionately as Little MM or Junior ‘Stash) has finally discovered the joys of bike riding, and it is making me a proud Dad. He was a little late to start – when he was 2 through 4 years old, he generally resisted the frustrating prospect of trying to get around on a tricycle and later a “scoot bike”. He is unfortunately just like his father was at that age: afraid to try something new, unless he is sure he can master it on the first try.
But at age five, late last fall, he had a breakthrough. We took the scoot bike down to the slightly sloped parking lot at the high school, and he just started coasting on it. And scooting, and coasting some more. Within an hour, he could balance indefinitely, given a long enough hill. Over the following months, we progressed through a few more scooting sessions, but then the habit was lost with the shorter days of winter and various trips.
Early this year I got him a basic bike with pedals and no training wheels, which led to another breakthrough: unassisted, real bike riding. It was sufficiently fun that he started wanting to ride more often, and suddenly he and I started heading out on father and son adventures around the town. Over to the park to use the play structure, or down to the creek to splash around and make dams. We were covering some real miles, he was growing quickly, and this first bike was a bit of a junker: a heavy-as-a-tank single speed Mongoose model that we found for only $14 at Play it Again Sports. Good for learning and crashing, but at 65% of his bodyweight with very short cranks, not much use on a steep hill.
So it was with great pride that I recently set out to find him his next bike. This would be his first “Real” bike – one with more than one gear ratio, a bigger frame and wheels, and enough room to grow that he could enjoy it for 3-4 years. As a family that treats bikes as the main form of transportation rather than just toys, we wanted something that will help him cover hundreds of miles per year. I also wanted him to be able to ride with me on country road adventures to the other towns around here, and to start checking out some of the excellent mountain bike trails in the foothills.
After a bit of research, it looked like the most likely candidate for the job was a bike called the “Specialized Hotrock 20”. It’s a cute little number with 20″ wheels, a light aluminum frame, and a 6-speed rear gearset. There’s even a decent quality front suspension fork to absorb bumps and increase its curb-hopping and trail riding abilities.
Checking one out in the bike store when buying some parts recently, we found that this model came highly recommended by the shop owner. The $350 retail price seemed reasonable for something with that level of quality. But obviously you never buy anything new in a store without first doing thorough research on Craigslist. And true to form, Craigslist offered up a plethora of Hotrocks from which to choose.
I did the usual round of reading all the ads, contacting the sellers who lived closest to me, and conversing in detail with the ones who ended up getting back to me. The winning seller had a matching pair of the bikes up for sale, only 2 years old and barely used, with an asking price of $200 each.
Over email, I politely negotiated a selling price of $150 using the techniques in the article above, because most of the other Craigslist sellers were asking the lower amount (although they were further away from where I live). The offer was accepted, so I set out to pick up the bike.
The seller was exactly the type of person from which you want to buy things. A friendly, meticulous, lady in Boulder with a $1.3M home (according to Zillow). The matching bikes were sitting there in a garage full of other nice stuff, very shiny and barely used. “Yeah, the twins enjoyed these bikes. They just didn’t use them much since they mostly used their scooters last year, and this year they grew out of the bikes.”
You might be pretty excited that I got this $350.00 bike for only $150. But it’s even better than that: in four years when he grows out of it, the resale value will still be at least $100, making the real cost of ownership about $12.50 per year. From an economics perspective, buying it used also helps to reduce the demand for new stuff. And it helps to close the irrational gap between new and used pricing, which will encourage more trading of used goods and less waste.
I brought the bike home and things have been a whirlwind of riding ever since. Little MM loves the speed and the ability to climb hills. I even installed a digital speedometer on the bike, because I knew that the little Mini-Me would love tracking his records and stats and reporting back to his parents (5.11 miles last night, in case you were wondering).
I almost felt a little out of character when his new bike made its debut among the other first graders. It is clearly one of the nicest bikes in the schoolyard, and I was suddenly aware that it might cause envy or upgrade pressure to the other kids and their parents. It’s the opposite of what I usually try to do when it comes to setting an example in the community.
On the other hand, a bike is a tool just as much as it is a toy, and getting in the habit sets the foundation for a lifetime of health and wealth. Riding instead of driving can make the difference between a crushing college education debt, and complete debt freedom upon graduation. And it can make the difference between “broke” and “millionaire” over the period of just part of an adult lifetime.
Heck, now that I think back, I believe my Dad got me a pretty good bike at just a couple years older than my son is now. I might even have a picture of it scanned in somewhere:
We have a family tradition where I draw a different picture each school day and stick it on his sandwich container. Then he gets to discover it when he opens the lunch bag. For today’s picture, I made this one:
So congratulations Little MM on your new skill! I can’t wait to ride our butts off together over the next 60 years or so.