Bikes ain’t bikes

It used to be that a bike was a bike was a bike. These vehicles of yesteryear had a basic frame (male and female styles), two wheels, a seat, classic shaped handlebars and a bell. Some bikes had brakes, and some were the backpedal brake variety. As a teenager, I had one of these clunkers. Mine had ‘real’ brakes, and a single, very large chainring on the front. It was hard work to ride, so it often also sported a nice collection of spiderwebs which I was generally happy to leave undisturbed.

I was amazed and impressed (and a bit overwhelmed) when I re-entered the cycling world some years ago. I had been assured that these old bikes were long gone. And my mentors were right! But one thing I was not prepared for was the enormous variety and the complexity of the modern treadly.

steel is real

Such a lot of choice (Photo credit: Flowizm)

Nowadays when one speaks of a bicycle, it is difficult to know what the discussion is about! Mountain bikes have become a class of their own – big chunky tyres, bouncy suspension front and rear and (if you mountain bike in Scotland) a good set of mudguards (fenders). At the other extreme, road racers are slick, lightweight machines with such skinny tyres and superfit owners who count every gram of weight as a potential threat to their performance capability. Then there is something called a hybrid……. 🙂 Not to mention touring bikes which are in another class of their own – panniers, granny gears and multitudinous spaces and places to attach touring gear.

Women now ride bikes that look like the mens bikes of yesteryear and in many places, what used to be a ‘womens’ style is now unisex and it is difficult to know the difference (if there is one).

A Dahon Tournado folded into its carry case. A full sized touring/road bike ready to be transported anywhere. Sadly, these bikes are no longer available.

A Dahon Tournado folded into its carry case. A full sized touring/road bike ready to be transported anywhere.

So when you go to purchase a bike, it is important to be very clear in your mind what you intend to do with that bike before you enter the shop.  Otherwise, be prepared to be bamboozled by the (fantastic!) array and complexity of choice that will face you! Even if you know exactly what you want, you may find yourself being tempted by something that is right outside your intended scope!

Dahon Tournado [Ritchey Break-Away frame] w/ S...

A Dahon Tournado fully assembled (Credit: Kaptain Amerika)

Which brings me to the point of this post. It has almost reached the point where a cycling enthusiast has to own more than one bike.

The commuter which can fold down to the size of a large carry bag is a must if one travels to work on a busy train, but it is just not suited to a holiday tour. Likewise, if you enjoy bouncing down the rocky slopes on a mountain bike, the same vehicle is not going to get you anywhere fast on the sealed tarmac.

Giant Anthem - a mountain bike set up for touring.

My Giant Anthem mountain bike poses near Orleans (France). I bought and modified this bike for this tour. Because it had front and rear suspension, I had to get special pannier racks (Old Man Mountain racks). I have since replaced the pannier bags with waterproof ones.

To me it feels rather excessive to own more than one bike, but it is almost becoming a necessity given the degree of customisation and incompatibility between bike styles. What are your thoughts on this matter? Do you agree, or do you feel that your bike is able to comfortably cover all the activities you enjoy?

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2 responses to “Bikes ain’t bikes

  1. Oh my, I have two answers.

    Answer #1 – Yes, one bike could do it all. We do tend to over-complicate things with sports. Do you need hiking boots to hike? Not really. Do you need a special bike to bike tour, commute, race. Not really. I’ve used sandals for hiking and touring bikes for racing. The important thing is to get out and DO, don’t let not having the perfect equipment stop you. But…
    Answer #2 No, one bike can’t do well in all situations.The right bike for the right situation surely can improve the quality of your experience. Riding a road bike on a trail is challenging in a number of ways; riding a mountain bike makes it easier to ride over obstacles and is more comfortable. A bike purpose-made for a specific cycling discipline will be more efficient, comfortable, easier to handle, convenient, etc., and that makes the overall experience better. So having multiple bikes makes sense if you have performance expectations or are trying to keep up with others.

    How many bikes do I have? I have 7. Yes, I do use them all. I mostly ride two of them (a 29-er that I can use for mtb, touring, commuting) and a front-loading cargo bike (a Bullitt I use for commuting, touring, and load-hauling). The others are for fun casual spins (a Schwinn tandem, an 1970’s 3-speed, a Bridgestone) or fun going fast (carbon road, and custom road).

    • Aha! A double viewpoint! Whilst I agree that it’s possible to have one bike that does many things, it possibly will be master of only one or two!
      I read with interest that you have 7 bikes, and I know that you are particularly fond of the cargo bike. The other bikes certainly have lots of variety – it was intriguing seeing what they are and what they are for. I have a mountain bike that has toured a lot, but has never gone mountain biking (!!) and 3 road bikes (one for commuting in the summer, one that packs down for travelling and one for winter commuting (can deal better with the mud on the dirt roads).
      So I guess I subscribe to the ‘many specialist bikes’ school of thought!

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