Everyone should own a few bikes, two being the absolute bare minimum. A bike collection is a reflection of the owner’s personality and lifestyle, and a person summed up by a single bike would be a very dull person indeed.
You can learn a lot about someone by studying their bikes—the parts, condition, cleanliness and accessories. A stock off-the-shelf bike can only tell you so much, like scanning the cover of a book. But a bike assembled and customized by the cyclist themself tells you so much more about the person, like cracking the cover and delving into the pages of their diary. In the process of building a bike, the builder imparts something of themself to the machine. Keep this in mind as I share my two bikes with you.
Let’s begin with my utility/adventure/cyclocross/commuter/gravel/recovery bike, or as I prefer, my “cross” bike. It is my jack-of-all-trades, go anywhere, do anything bike. My cross bike is a lovable mongrel. Its lineage can be traced back to at least five other bikes and scarcely two parts bear the same brand name. It sits by the door and begs to be taken out daily. In its company, the allure of an unexplored road is irresistible. And its chunky tires flow like silk over the most treacherous rural roads.
It all started with a frameset, spotted in the classifieds and acquired for a song. It was encrusted with decals and years’ worth of grime, but its potential shone through. An evening of elbow grease restored a sheen to its scandium surface. The parts were cobbled together from internet bargains and salvage from the Parts Bin, the ubiquitous receptacle of the flotsam and jetsam of every bike collection. But perhaps “cobbled together” isn’t the best term, since it belies the thought that went into the build. Each part was precisely at the nexus of performance, comfort, cost, weight and availability. As a finishing touch, I couldn’t resist gussying it up with some red anodized bits. I granted myself a small budget and went wild like a kid let loose on allowance day.
My cross bike has a sort of battered industrial charm. Like one of those chic big city neighbourhoods undergoing gentrification, but not without rough edges that attest to a hard-living past. It has a good sized dent in the top tube (from a previous owner), no shortage of scuffs and scratches, snaggletoothed chainrings and slightly warped rims. In my eyes, these imperfections only add to its curb appeal.
My race bike couldn’t be a more different beast. Its gleaming carbon surfaces are sculpted to knife through the wind, with comfort, handling and looks as afterthoughts. It exists for the sole purpose of going very fast in a straight line. From tires to tape, every detail is streamlined and optimized. It is ever impeccably clean, oiled and tuned. Even sitting still, it projects an unmistakable intensity, a thinly veiled aggression, that betray a ferociously competitive nature.
It has darker aspects to its character. As the sadistic overseer of my toil, it demands to be ridden hard and punishes me cruelly if I ever dare to attempt a leisurely spin. But point it down a smooth stretch of pavement, apply power to the pedals, and it purrs along appreciatively. All of its harsh characteristics become muted, or perhaps just overshadowed by the raw exhilaration of speed.
So which mistress wins more of my affection? I certainly spend more time with my cross bike. Our relationship is that of comfortable old friends, relaxed and content in each other’s company. But my race bike and I have shared something far more personal. Time and time again, it has borne witness to my successes and failures, my elation and agony.
I could justify owning a few more bikes (couldn’t we all), but I seldom find myself desiring more. Perhaps you attain Cycling Nirvana when your bikes are perfectly in tune with your life. Of course, this state can only exist in principle; there will always be upgrades to purchase, a new machine to covet, changing needs to fulfill. Our bikes are ever evolving, never reaching perfection because it is a moving target. They will never perfectly capture our essence because we never stop changing. The most we can hope for is to savour those fleeting moments of perfection that we find while riding.
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