Saturday, December 17, 2011

The DIYBIKING.COM Essential Guide to Last-Minute Christmas Shopping

So if you've Googled “last minute Christmas shopping ideas” or “I am a tremendous holiday shopping procrastinator and am in desperate need of help” or if you just need some good gift ideas for cyclists in your life, you've come to the right place.

The first thing you have to do is focus on the small, local stores for your efforts. I know you can save a few extra bucks buying most things online, but few like empty storefronts, unemployed neighbors, and living in a state that has a budget deficit because online companies do not collect sales tax. It's okay for the hard-to-find items, but even now, especially so close to Christmas Day, you can also experience nerve-wracking moments when packages don't arrive when promised (and tracking your dad's gift as it tours every Connecticut city but your own only adds to the teeth-gnashing experience).

Also, if you want to avoid the Buying-Snowshovels-The-Day-Before-The-Blizzard atmosphere that comes with the nearby mall this time of year, you can find plenty of alternatives that will do the job and appreciate the business. You also don't have to battle for a parking space or ssssllllowwwwllly drive behind someone overloaded with shopping bags as they walk to their car...only for them to toss their bags in and sympathetically mouth the words “I'm not leaving. Sorry!” as they shuffle back in to retailing's own Death Star.

You don't need either of those things, especially with Christmas and Hanukkah just days away. So head to the small retailers. You'll usually be in and out faster, and when you shop you'll probably see where your money is going. Take Elm Street Books in New Canaan, for example.

This store has a friendly staff, and if you spend a few seconds telling one of them some key details about the person you are shopping for, she'll lead you to the proper aisle and pull out The Book you should buy that person as a gift. Let's say, for the sake of argument, you're interested in gift ideas for cyclists. In that event, you have a few choices.

This is It's All About The Bike by Robert Penn and Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do by Tom Vanderbilt. Penn's book explores his quest to build the perfect bike for himself using components and talent from around the world, while Traffic is pretty self-explanatory. Great gifts, and if you call Elm Street Books, Barrett Bookstore in Darien or any independent bookstore near you they should be able to get it in your hands straight away.

Now the obvious option if you're buying a gift for a cyclist is something from your local bike shop. One of the Three Pillars of Bike Shop Excellence near my house is Pacific Swim Bike Run at 575 Pacific Street in Stamford, Connecticut; a short walk from Fairway and the Stamford railway station. 

If you're on a budget and you're at this shop, there are quite a few things you can get that are less than $50: cycling jerseys, gloves, a hi-vis vest, a carbon fiber bottle cage...the list goes on. And if you like amusing packaging, DZNuts chamois cream would make a good stocking stuffer for the committed roadie. However, I can't visit Pacific Swim Bike Run without mentioning the shirts.

I picked up one of the Darth Vader/Stormtroopers shirts just before Hurricane Irene kicked down New England's door a few months ago. I had never seen that shirt before and haven't since. I literally cannot go a day wearing it without at least two people either complimenting me on my fashion sense or asking where I got it. Well, Guy in Mystic Seaport and Woman at Orlando International Airport: I got it here, so you can call 203-504-8960 to buy one.

Like any good bike store, you can also buy gift certificates for goods or services (or in PSBR's case, gift coupons for classes or a bike fitting). If you go this route, you can't always buy a gift certificate for someone at your local bike shop. You have to buy one at their local bike shop. If the cyclist doesn't live close to you a quick Google search will find a bike shop near them and you can buy a gift certificate over the phone on on their web site. You should do this with enough time for the certificate to be mailed, but even if you don't you've got options. Once, during a friend's birthday, I phoned a distant bookstore and bought a gift certificate for her over the phone. I then instructed the store manager who took the order to call the friend to tell her a short birthday message from me – he would have sung it if I had asked - and that a gift certificate was waiting for her at the store.

Try getting a company that rhymes with 'Hamazon' to do that.

Of course, you can't go Christmas shopping without buying toys. Like the bookstores and bike stores, the small toy shops are worth the effort it may take to find them and more that worth the few extra dollars you may spend to buy your gifts. There are two that come to mind that I visited yesterday: the first is The Toy Chest in New Canaan, Connecticut.

If you bring your bike with you on one of these trips (as I did) just remember to pick out toys that you know will fit in your backpack or panniers bag (if you didn't think to bring your bike trailer). At The Toy Chest I bought a toy I liked for some reason – that would fit in my pack.

Just a few miles to the south is another gem of a toy store, the Darien Toy Box. Tucked on the busy thoroughfare of Route One across from the remarkable Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant, this store carries a slew of toys, games and puzzles you never thought existed.

There are a lot of educational toys that aren't patronizing educational toys – these actually look fun. The only downside is that most of them are too large to fit in my pack, so I left the store after buying a couple of packs of Legos (but if you're you're looking for another gift idea for the cyclist: In the back of the store there is a lovely 500 piece puzzle of an old black bike leaning up against a yellow wall).

Once you have bought all of your last-minute holiday gifts, you have to do two things: wrap them (or ask one of the small retailers named here to do it for you at the register) and deliver them to the proper Christmas tree.

I didn't have to wrap the Legos or the miniature Bike Shop, but I did have to deliver them along with some other toys. I didn't have to go far but I had more to carry than I felt comfortable hauling on my back. So in the spirit of Christmas, I decided to take the ultimate misfit toy:

Readers, I am pleased to report the Budget Supertrike, arguably my worst build of 2011, is now a little less terrible. The chain doesn't fall off anymore – okay, as often – because it's now running through the derailleur, which is giving it some much needed tension. For cargo space I did away with the unwieldy cooler and went with a plastic holiday tote lashed down with mini bungees. 

That makes the whole trike red. Like Santa's sleigh.

So I loaded lots toys and goodies and set off. The chain didn't fall but it produced quite a din as it was rubbing up against something. The handling was as nimble as a rolling suitcase with a wheel missing, but it was still better than all of those cars out there – and more than a few slowed down to stare at it. Presumably, in envy.

Another feature of the Budget Supertrike: When stopped at the traffic light at the corner of Jefferson and Canal, I didn't have to take my feet out of the clips. Even if I wanted to, it would have been difficult (those particular clipless pedals tend to grip my bike shoes with an iron fist. Once, when they were on the Dahon Matrix, I stopped smoothly at an intersection...and slowly toppled over and crashed onto my side like the AT-AT walker in The Empire Strikes Back. I later decided they'd be better on a vehicle that doesn't require balance).

Before long, I made the turn off of Canal Street onto Fairway Market, nearly flipping the trike over on the 1” threshold separating the street from the parking lot. I passed the Christmas trees and made my way to the Design Within Reach building to deliver the toys.

With no handbrake and the stiff wind yesterday, the Supertrike quickly rolled out of the parking space and into the parking lot traffic (which isn't ideal) so I had to move it up against the building.

Once it was parked safely, I brought the toys inside to make a donation for the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. During this season, I have a tendency to act like a kid on Christmas morning (though if you ask my wife she may say I act like a kid most other days of the year) but I don't want to forget that a lot of kids don't get to feel like kids on Christmas morning. So if you're among the lucky ones who can afford to buy a few extra toys this year, find a location nearest you or stop at the Toys for Tots distribution headquarters across from Fairway to drop off some new, unwrapped toys. You'll be glad you factored this in to your last-minute holiday shopping plans.

After talking with the volunteers for a few minutes about my ride – and answering one question on whether or not it was street legal – I remounted the Budget Supertrike, made as dignified a U-turn as I could manage, and headed home. I made it there in one piece and so did the trike. It was nice to know that no matter what else would happen with the Budget Supertrike this year, it was used for the three mile round trip to deliver toys. I poured a glass of water and smiled up at my wreath. I may not be a tiny tot, but my eyes were all a-glow.

Happy Holidays from DIYBIKING.COM.