I worked out that over the last three years the Apollo Highway bike that I got from Halfords must have done around 8000 miles back and from work. Over that time, it has had a replacement freewheel twice and a new chain, plus gears and brakes adjusted many times. While kept undercover at home, while at work it would remain outside in all different weather. From a ‘cheap’ £200 bike it had done very well, lots would look at it and think not much and yet it battled every day along the beach front in every weather possible. The hottest summer days, and the wildest snowy evenings.
Situations change and a new job meant longer ride to work and back, double the distance infact meaning that over the same period of time I will be doing nearly 16000 miles a year. After some weeks of this ride I was thinking I would have to do a major service on the bike, the pedals and their bearings had failed quite a number of months ago for a start which was never a real problem but was now a bit of a pain. The bottom bracket was a bit suspect, the brakes needed replacing…. For the longer journey both the bike and myself was noticing and feeling it!
At the same time, I did always have in the back of my mind that surely a new job must mean a new bike, that helped me make the decision. That and the fact that come October/November, all bikes shops are busy getting rid of the current year stock ready for the new year bikes to come in. This is what happened with the Royal, lots of money off as it was the outgoing model, the only different between that and the new one was the colour! I read reviews, had a look around, soon I was looking at Marin bikes, formed in 1986, based in California. Their Fairfax range came up in a “top 10 commuting bikes (at a decent price)” list which instead of containing a load of road bikes that would not last a winter of constant use and battering, instead listed a number of hybrids and touring bikes. Some nice entry level touring bikes, but of course I have the Royal of which I’m more than happy with and do not wish to replicate.
The Marin caught my eye, both due to price and styling, but also the claim that it was as near as a road bike as you could get without it being a road bike. I read from that it meant it was both light and comfortable. The model I was looking at had an 8 speed internal hub gear which looked interesting, low maintenance and all that. I wanted to try it out though, not wanting to find out the first time riding to work that it is either too high geared or too low geared, or may be a bit of both.
Looking around, a shop in Tonbridge sold this range of bikes, not too far from home and nothing that would not make a day trip out at the weekend. Talking to the shop owner, he did have a Marin bike in stock, but not the hub geared one. He did have the same model with normal gears and at a tempting low low price (because the 2016 model will be here in a minute). I thought I would go and take a look. The internal hub gears was starting to fade off, the price of this one was too tempting to worry about something I didn’t know much about. One problem though would be the colour, with the whole range of bikes from the cheapest entry level to the most expensive highly specced was in a nice matt black. The one model in the shop, the one that I was looking to by was the only one they made… in bright blue.
I was impressed talking to the owner of the bike shop on the phone, he seemed not to be pushy and was ready to listen and help. He actually seemed to know something about the bike instead of just repeating the blurb off the maker’s website. Something that puts me off of a lot of small bike shops is the attitude that if you are not after a road bike and not dressed as a bright yellow skin tight banana, they don’t want to know you. None of that here, although when entering the shop there was plenty of road bikes, and plenty of lycra if you wanted to dress up. Again, no reading off the text from the ticket on the bike, but interesting conversation and knowledge of the brand and the bike.
He knew who I was when I entered the shop and he got the bike down. The blue was starting to grow on me, but even more impressive was was weight, or lack of it. Granted, the bike came with no mudguards of rack, two things that I would fit and would weigh it down a bit – but the initial weight seemed nothing at all. Lifting the bike up with your little finger (not quite true…) did enforce the idea of it being as close as a road bike without the discomfort! That pretty much sold it to me. We took the wheels off and put it in the back of the car and headed home.
Then followed a couple of evenings of getting it ready for Monday. A trip down to Halfords for mudguards was my first real trip, after heavy(‘ish) bikes it felt totally different. I started to see and understand how those on road bikes manage to zoom off at great speed even when going up hills. One of the features of the this model is how all of the frame is not a normal round, everything is slanted or a bit of a funny shape in another way. It looks nice, but it seemed to mean nothing was easy to fit. The mudguards resulted in a bit of swearing and some workarounds….
In all, I fitted mudguards and took the rack off the Highway and put on here. With the thinner tyres I was worried the rear rack would look a bit too wide, but in fact it looked right at home. I put on the lights, the front light not being able to fit on the handle bars due to the shape… so instead put on the front forks. I dug out the original peddles that came with the Royal and had straps on, and put them on. I didn’t want to have to wear clipless shoes to go to work, but at the same time I wanted to give the straps a go in order to get some advantage of both an up and down stroke. I fitted the kick stand, something that really was hard to fit and scrapped paint off as I was fitting it, which made sure I got it fitted in the end and so to hide all that! The stand was something I had to put on as it makes it easier when parking at work. When finished, the bike weighed a lot more, but still have a light feel to it. Out of all the bits I did fit or replace, I left the saddle as amazingly it seemed comfortable straight away.
Half a week in and the journey is transformed. I am still surprised by how quickly you can accelerate when you want to, almost leaving me behind (if that’s possible). The gear range is the same as the Royal which means I when I have the wind behind me I have the gears to make the most of it, while the hill going up to the office no longer feels much like a hill. I have high hopes for this bike. With bike parking now being undercover in a warm underground carpark, no bike needs to spend its life outside in the cold and rain for six months of the year. Quite a good thought as I used it for the first time in the rain today.
I quite like the blue now too…