Two weeks ago, I bought my first road bike – a Giant Defy 1 – from a local bike shop (or LBS, in internet bike parlance). I’ve never been much for exercising as an activity – I enjoy doing things, but things like the Army physical fitness test are more of a necessary evil to me than anything else – but for some reason, I’m very excited by the idea of sitting on a bike for an hour or more and pedaling away. Maybe it’s because biking plays into my technological fetishism, so I can pretend it’s not really exercise: hey, I’m sweating my balls off, but look at this cool thing I’m riding!

The process of selecting a bike was bewildering, since road bikes are expensive and the biking community seems plagued with gear snobs. This is saying a lot, considering how accustomed I am to the snobbery of firearms enthusiasts (“only Colt and LMT parkerize under the front sight block!”). Most significant is the discussion about shifter and derailer equipment, almost all of which is made by Shimano. Shimano makes several levels of gear equipment for road bikes, with elegant, foreign-sounding names like Sora, Tiagra, and Ultegra (and the inexplicably named 105, which lies between Tiagra and Ultegra). I’ll spare you the acrimonious debate and give the summary, which is: Sora is shit, Tiagra is livable, and 105 is what you want. Ultegra is even better, of course, but doesn’t enter into the entry-level road bike equation, since it’s not found on bikes south of $1500 or so.

The problem with bikes is that unlike firearms, the characteristics of bike parts are often difficult to quantify, so comparative discussions usually contain a lot of “this shifter feels better” and “these tires are faster” and “this frame really wants to climb hills.” Also, since Shimano pretty much makes all the gear parts for all manufacturers, choice in bike ends up being about a) price b) color and c) fit (and the hidden variable, brand snobbery). In the case of shifter and derailer equipment, I rode bikes with all three levels of Shimano’s gearing, and really, for an entry-level rider like me, any of them would have been fine.

The employee of the local shop who made the sale seemed pretty blasé about my $1000 purchase, barely meriting a “thanks” for my hard-earned coin. I suppose the typical bike co-op employee – a poor college student steeped in collectivist social ideology and redistributionist economic schemes – isn’t much interested in the capitalist concepts of “profit” or “repeat business.” I don’t plan to patronize the place again, except for minor (free) maintenance.