Authorship

I am always thinking about bicycles. If I am not composing, in the back of my head, some post for these digital pages, I am busy reading about bikes, talking about bicycles. researching and dissecting and coveting new bicycles.

I don’t own that many, mind you. I have two road bikes and a mountain bike right now, having purged the stable of track bikes and cruisers when I moved to the top of this steep hill. Down to what I would term “the bare bones” I am spending even more time thinking about how to fill the garage with new bikes. There will certainly be a BMX coming in the spring, the better to while away the hours with my kids, riding in the street in front of our house. Beyond that, who knows?

It strikes me that the bikes you own are a sort of composition, an expression of your best ideas about what being on a bike should be. So every time you leave the house on two wheels, you’re saying something. Maybe you’re saying, “I can afford a very fancy carbon bicycle.” Or maybe, “I am a purist. I ride steel.” Or, “I ride cyclocross, because I’m tough.” Or, “My pretty track bike will take me to the Animal Collective show.” Of course, there’s what you say with your bike, and what other people hear.

Like each and every post I make here, I read and reread my bicycle compositions constantly, evaluating my story, testing it for truth. And while I spend some significant number of hours poring over the pictures and specifications of high end carbon race bikes, I have yet to find a place for one in my story. When I test the truth of riding one across town, my bird-like appendages flailing away at its monocoque frame, a false note rings in my head.

I am not Andy Schleck.

I am a middle-aged father of two with little time for cycling, and some pretty basic transportational needs. That I ride an Italian road bike back and forth (22 miles round trip) to work everyday is a bit much. It’s like using a Ferrari for  a golf cart, but it’s an indulgence I afford myself to maintain motivation. I’m not sure all that comes across when you ride past me, wheezing and straining at the pedals, but that’s ok. I’ll tell that story anyway.

The other road bike in the garage right now is a Surly Cross Check. I’ll switch over to that when the weather gets dicier. It will say that I am, in the end, a practical soul, that I am willing to ride a workhorse when work is what needs to get done. It will also underline the point that speed isn’t in my DNA. So, no lies there.

This narrative, of course, extends itself to my clothing and accessories, the tools in my box, the parts in my bin, and the way I carry myself. I somehow aspire to tell a story that allows for the cramming of my soft suburban details into a PRO mold without in any way appearing to do so, the way some people spend a lot of time making their hair look like they never do anything to their hair.

The real tension in my cycling story is between covetousness and practicality, between id and ego, between fantasy and reality, between champagne and grape juice. I have drooled over any number of bikes of various frame materials and geometries, but I don’t race, so I can’t justify most of them except as objet d’art. My wife would never go for a Pinarello Prince hung over the hearth in the living room. She just wasn’t blessed with that sort of taste.

What are you saying with your bikes? How are you living your cycling life? And how does that Pinarello look over your fireplace?

18 comments

  1. michael

    with my bikes i am saying that;

    1 – i value sustainability and the long term recycling of the products that I use. I own a ti road bike, a steel road bike and an aluminum winter/commuting bike. I minimize my carbon usage as much as possible save where group set manufacturers include some in their products.

    2 – i prefer the intrinsic value and hard work of a true craftsmen over the soulless creation of a computer and mold.

    3 – i prefer, as much as possible, to shop locally manufactured products as much as is possible in this era of globalization

  2. Johnny Walker Black and Red

    How about this…i’m a 31 year old cat 2 with a family and a real 50+hr/week job. i have the lowest tier carbon frame specialized tarmac frame with sram rival and mavic ksyrium SL race wheels. I train on 32 count 14 gauge spoked DT 1.2′s with a powertap hub. I’m domestique rouleur on an amatuer team and my pain is not special and my FTP (or max wattage) is not eye-popping by any stretch. my bike is a snappy workhorse racer bike that i don’t mind crashing, with wheels that i don’t mind breaking. my bike is a means to an end and i ride for the early breaks to take the pressure off my guys, or drill the front until i blow up. i could give the bike up for another at any moment, and the same goes for any future bike. fitness for local races is all i care that it helps me attain. all that fancy hoopla is for legitimate sponsored pro’s eeking out the extra 1% and category 6 club riders with large egos. it don’t make u fast. with that being said, my bar tape is always wrapped even, drive-chain is always clean as a new whistle, cables are routed perfectly even and it is washed weekly or more. what does that say about me? utilitarian? feng shui?

    A Pinerello Prince is a beautiful bike, but is not a race bike unless you are on team sky or something of the sort…or drive around in a Ferrari to play golf and don’t really work…and you’re probably not very fit either…You would probably the triathlete i saw the other day training in a time trial helmet.

  3. Marco Placero

    None of my bikes cost $10,000, but I covet some that do. I also see a power meter as covetousness although I road race using a HR monitor. For practicality I’d rather spend the power meter money and time on a well used but still stiff carbon Italian frame and upgraded new wheels, loving the art of a well engineered frame & components. I find personal practicality in advance frame technology but I admire those who can make a rubbery bike go fast, always with a ‘what if’ caveat lodged behind my eyes. I agree with a famous Italian frame builder, that the bicycle is art. I’m very impractical– yet thankful– because I have more bikes than needed.

  4. mark

    Johnny Walker Black and Red and I live in a parallel universe. Substitute “sprinter” for “rouleur”, “TCR” for “Tarmac,” “Ultegra” for “Rival,” and “three kids” for “two,” and that’s me. Except that I spent my powertap money on a set of EC90 aero tubulars (that I purchased used for a song). They are the only component that lives indoors. It was a tough decision, but the faster wheels for race day won out over the better quality training workouts.

    My next bike won’t be purchased until I break this one. I bought a cross bike from a friend who was interested enough in seeing me race cross that he sold me the bike for less than I paid for the aforementioned wheels. It will allow me to stop using my road race bike as a commuter. At least when the weather is bad.

  5. Dan O

    I have a few bikes in the garage, some are now vintage material and rarely ridden: ’91 Bridgestone RB-1, two old Fat City bikes – ’86 Fat Chance and ’91 Yo Eddy. I don’t plan to sell these due to sentimental value. However, I’ve sold off bikes over the last year or so, that I thought I’d also keep: ’91 Bridgestone MB-Zip, ’88 Ibis Trials Comp, and ’99 Ellsworth Truth. There’s a few other bikes mixed in there as well.

    I list all those bikes, since they represent the past, when I was more of a mountain biker and two incomes fueled the household, with no kids yet in the picture.

    That picture has changed over the last 10 years or so and my current bikes – the three I actually ride – reflect that. Having two kids in the house will change priorities a bit. I’ve also become more of a roadie, commuting 34 miles round trip, but also hit the dirt often – now with my 11 year old son – and that is more fun then any high end bike will provide.

    My three main bikes:

    2006 era Ibis Silk Carbon with Ultegra group. I like this “level” of bike – completely ridable and race worthy (if so inclined), without screaming “look at me!” Plenty light, rides well, and commuting justifies the cost to family man me – it gets plenty of miles.

    1997 Ibis Hakkalugi with a mix of XTR, Ritchey, and other parts. Serves as rain commuter with fenders and 25c tires. Pull off fenders and swap for 35c ‘cross tires for dirt action and the occasional ‘cross race. I’ve owned this bike since new and it has the most miles of anything in my garage. Old school steel appeals to old school me. If I had to live with one bike, this probably would be the one.

    2010 Sette Razzo 29er. This bargain priced ride has changed my view on what you really need to ride well. KIller online deal with a mix of SRAM X9/X7, Rockshox Reba fork, etc. Being old school XC guy, I’m digging the 29er hardtail. I ridden this bike quite a bit over a few months and raced it as well. As slow as I am, doubt I’d be any faster on something with a higher price tag.

    As the years go by, I really have no desire for the mega expensive carbon super bike. When the money is once again a little more free, I’d probably go for the custom steel bike – something like a Steelman with room for fenders and fatter tires. Maybe Campy Chorus to complete. It would be ridden often and put away dirty occasionally.

    I see no need to hang any bike over the fireplace – Pinarello or not – unless to retire it after many miles of use, adventure and stories to tell.

  6. Bryan Lewis

    Well written, dude. I’m with you on your world view. I’ve never felt tempted to go carbon. So that says I’m a purist? Or just a big-boned old engineer that likes comfort and durability. (The same kind of person that drives a 17-year old Toyota. Would your car express the same personality as your bike, if you had a car?)

    22 miles round-trip commute? Dang, I’m slackin’. I gotta get back to taking the long way home, soon as the ice clears up.

    P.S. I believe that’s the first time I’ve seen “poring” spelled correctly on the internet.

  7. Bikelink

    TCR with 105 (OK, I wish it was Ultegra), powertap for racing/training (I really believe the info is worth more speed over time than fast wheels…made me faster even though I’m slow compared to others…will be a 4rth year 40 y/o cat 4).

    Steel frankenstein commuter in road bike setup.

    Fancy all carbon 29er mtn bike…most recent purchase…wished I’d spent a little more on the road bike, both were ‘team deals’ though for my club/racing team…and the all carbon model had different sizing that fit me better (or so I keep telling myself).

    Will prob add a mid range track bike for racing one of these years soon…

    Not sure what that makes me, but I often feel like the chimp in the picture!

  8. Randomactsofcycling

    I like this topic. Thanks Robot and everyone else that has written.
    I don’t so much covet ‘new’ as I do ‘quality’. I have one bike, it trains, races and commutes. It’s a LOOK 595 and is the 2nd LOOK frame I have owned. The first lasted 7 years before coming off second best in a fight with a tree. It has Chorus 11, after the Campy 10 I transferred from the old bike finally gave up. It too had 7 years of race/train/commute under it’s belt. I’ve been running Open Pros with White Industries hubs for 6 months and this setup should see me to about 2015 pretty comfortably. However, I did just order tubes and lugs from Henry James as a Christmas present and personal project for 2011.
    I don’t begrudge the guy that drives a Porsche on his commute. I would if I could! I don’t like the guy who upgrades his Porsche every year though. Find what you like and stick with it. Form is fleeting, class everlasting.

  9. todd k

    For me it really comes down to a) what do I really intend to do with the bike and b) what is the sweet spot for the price on the bike and componentry that will best serve that purpose and c) before anything else the frame MUST fit me like a glove before I will drop a dime on it. (stem and seatpost and saddle modifications aside).

    I probably don’t really get it perfect, but that is the intent. Right or wrong that is how I wound up with a Tarmac, a Roubaix, a Chili Con Crosso and a 5 spot and each serves a distinct purpose in my stable.

    I like carbon. My roubaix has been dropped, right hooked, knocked over, scratched and generally abused with things like ill fitting fenders. I’m impressed how poorly I can actually treat it. As with all other frames, it has its own inherent weaknesses. I also like Aluminum, Steel, and Titanium for similar as well as different reasons. Sometimes I find different materials better suited to the job I need them to do, but more often than not, a bike that properly fits will do a fine job regardless of the material. Ironically it is the componentry that feeds the price point I seek that more often than not makes or breaks the sweet spot in my decisions.

    One rule for my bikes though… none get “coddled”. They all get equally abused. That said, the bike I predict will “die” first is the Chili. I doubt I can abuse a bike more than I abuse that bike. Good cross bike, but it is forced to endure a nasty, cruel and brutal life.

  10. Souleur

    brilliant piece Robot and great thoughts fella’s.

    I have never considered it, the way we ride, as an authorship but it definitely does describe it well. My ‘shed’ has a few bikes in it, I am always…daily…incessantly looking at bikes, considering and mulling over intricacies and wondering how I might add another to the ‘shed’. My ‘id’ is delicately balanced w/ego, my wife being supremely qualified at squashing any over the top narcissistic tendancy I may have of obtaining the Pinarello Prince or Dogma. But I continually try to pass it by her and as I read of electronic ultegra, integrating frames and componentry and cpu’s it is indeed a bright future for my id’s compulsive feelings to self satisfy.

    In the meantime, every detail matters as I leave for my daily commute. Mine for now is a bit shorter, ~25k and the weather here isn’t very cooperative as temp’s start in the morning ~15*F and mid 30′s to return home. The Roubaix fabric’s are complementary and the cap under the helmet helps as do the baselayers.

    There are a few in the shed, a Bianchi Giro that I have converted to a fixie, my mtn bike a Bianchi SASS and i won’t bore us w/details as my daily drivers are most useful now.

    The commuter is a 2000 Bianchi Boron steel, recently repainted due to years of riding and use, a continuous Celeste. A single ring up front, and an 8spd rear on mavic 32h hoops, 3x front and back w/brass nipples. She is a very useful ride, pragmatic.

    For dirty wet days, or dirt roads I pull out the Schwinn Le Tour. A free give away from a friend, re-purposed in my life. Suntour equipped, short gears, fat 700x35c tyres. She weighs 30 lbs, but who cares on wet snowing, sleeting, dirty days.

    For race day, its the Pinarello. She is an older girl, donned w/Deda 7003 treated Aluminium ‘VIRES’ tubing from Jan Ulrich era, clad in SRAM Force grouppo, Zipps 340 bombproof tubular hoops that are indestructable and comes in respectable and is stiff, fast and as Johnny Walker says, one you don’t care if it lays down or not. It will still ride the next day.

    I suppose I will have a carbon ride soon, but the ego and superego out weigh the id compulsion to buy, as I have seen all too many carbon frames trashed in a corner at a blink of an eye…and that keeps me from biting for now. But it won’t hold me for long. Its the future.

  11. Jim

    Mainstays
    - 2006 Giant TCR, Ultegra, Powertap. I commute on it, train on it, hit the occasional charity ride on it. Fast and nice, but a bulletproof value race bike. A 4000+ mile per year ride.
    - 2008 Redline Team Conquest – Ultegra (now migrating to Rival) with Thomson stem & seatpost, Velocity Escape tubulars. I race cross and ride in crummy weather on it. Comfy ride, a workingman’s racer. Bulletproof value race bike.
    - 2008 Redline Monocog Flight – Thomson stem & seatpost, Velocity P-35-based wheels, BB7 disc brakes. Solid off road tank, a little tough on the 43 year-old chassis, but it makes me a better MTB’er and it rolls fine in snow & mud. 12 rides in the last three weeks, washed it once. I race sub-hour XC on this faster than on
    - The Caddilac. 2009 Salsa Big Mama. Full suspension 29′er, Deore & Delgado Cross wheelset, Tektro Auriga Comp disc brakes, Thomson bits, X9 gruppo, Reba. Plush luxury ride in the woods. Heavy, but bulletproof and nice to ride in 4+ hour races and in nasty, fast terrain. Got it because of a back injury, keeping it because the back’s recovered but it’s capable of enormous, keeping-up-with-real-fast-guys speed in very rough places where I’m in way above my head – not Porsche nippy fast, but blown Corvette fast, hang on tight, going to get bumpy here type of thing. Reasonably functional as an All Mountain bike. Way better MTB than I am a rider.
    - Daddy’s Baby – Root Beer colored Kona Major One. Phil flip flop hub, Mavic MA 33 wheels, brown leather saddle & tape, Ultegra, & rigged single or fixed. Single speed cross racer, cruiser, spring trainer when fixed (doubling as commuter vagen) and coffee bike for the rest of the year.

    What this says about me? Other than letting people know I’m a big dude with equipment breakage issues, you got me. Glutton for cycling fun, on a family man’s budget maybe? The whole story isn’t written though. I’d trade both MTB’s in and pay some cash for a MootoX. I’d trade the TCR and Conquest for a new TCR Advanced, and just race singlespeed cross from now on. The Kona? Nobody’s getting that, though I seem to look at it admiringly and wash it more than I ride it. Weird.

  12. Touriste-Routier

    I think about geometry more so than brands or materials. I don’t own carbon not because of my thoughts regarding it as a material, but due to the fact that in my size, the seat angles are too steep for my taste, and the chances for clearance for tires wider than 25mm are slim. I looked at custom, but sticker shock cured me of that fantasies

    I have a collection of bikes, but my go to bikes for the bulk of my rides are built on:

    a) A custom made Rickert 753 frameset built in 1998
    b) A Ritchey Breakaway Cross frameset, set up with road tires purchased in 2008
    c) A 1993 Brigestone RB-1 frameset with clip on fenders

    The handlebars, saddles (Brooks B17), and pedals are more or less identical; the drive trains are completely compatible. I primarily use 32 spoke wheels, though I have a set of nicer/lighter wheels reserved for “events”. I’ve never understood why anyone would “train” on light or aero wheels.

    What does this say about me? I suppose it is that my decisions regarding equipment are deliberate but thought through, and practical; that I value fit, comfort, and compatibility over the latest and greatest. While I’d hate to lose the Rickert to a crash, I wouldn’t cry over it; it was built to be ridden hard, and crashes happen. If I babied it, it would have an unfulfilled life so to speak.

  13. Karyg

    I currently have 6 bikes in my stable. A 1990 Waterford Paramount, a Schwinn Pro Stock 24″ BMX cruiser, a KHS tandem, a Haro Mary XC 29er mtn bike, a Haro Mary SS 29er, and a 1987 Rossin profesional SL. Many bikes have come and gone over the last 25 years, a Cannondale, several Specialized, a couple KHS mtn bikes, a FS GT I-drive and even a Moots come to mind. The two bikes that have brought me the most joy are the Rossin and the Mary SS.
    My wife bought the Rossin for me the 1st year we were married. It was the bike that I fancied myself racing with LeMond and Fignon on. I logged over 40k miles since it was new. It has seen many different combinations of components and underwent a new paint job a couple of years ago. We have raced, done centuries and commuted together. I still check out the magazines for the new equipment and marvel at their weights and added features, but when I ride the Rossin I am at home. Maybe it is my near 48 years that still thinks a lugged steel bike is the most beautiful thing ever made.
    The Mary SS is nothing special in terms of equipment. It is an inexpensive Tiawan 29er, but it also just feels right. It can be rode hard and put away wet. I guess it is my response to the slury of $3k plus mtn bikes that take more maintainence than my ’67 VW. Just think of all the money I could have saved through the years if I would have just stuck with my 1st Rockhopper instead of buying the newest suspension fork or latest FS bike. The rigid 29er is just fun to ride.
    As a father of 3 (with one in college) I can’t afford new equipment every year. I appreciate things that are made to last and still provide performance and fun.

    1. Padraig

      What I find interesting is how a group of riders may think they know something of you and your preferences based on the bike they see you ride most often. I’ve got carbon rigs from Specialized and Felt. I also have ti (Seven) and steel (Torelli and Brady). If I show up on a group ride with something other than carbon, people I’ve ridden with for years react (depending on which bike and which person) as if I’ve: A) grown a mullet. B) become much hipper. C) gained mad experience. D) sold my soul.

      I see having different bikes as having more than one kind of jelly, more than one kind of wine/beer, more than one kind of music. It’s a rich world. You should try it.

  14. Utah Man

    32 year old erstwhile racer, now corporate lawyer (stiff) married with a(n awesome) kid. I still keep my racing bike (a beautiful carbon Bianchi made in Italy with SRAM Red and fantastic hand-built wheels built by ROL), but I don’t get out on it much. I went from doing 10,000 plus miles per year two years ago to about half that–and half of those are commuter miles. I used to think of my bike (and bikes in general) as the ultimate toy, and I always strove to have the best.

    Now most of my daily rides are to and from work, on a trusty 3 speed Gary Fisher Simple City (great bike, btw). I bought a bakfiets (Dutch box bike) that my wife and I use to cart our daughter around and after spending thousands of dollars on the latest and greatest frames, components, etc. to make my bike lighter and faster, I am now convinced that my best all-time bike-related purchase weighs more than 100 pounds and won’t go much (if any) faster than 15 mph.

    I still train as hard as I can. I still covet the ever-lighter and stiffer frames, and I sometimes swear I hear cyclocross cowbells ringing in my ears, but I have also discovered the pure joy of living daily life on a bike, of having a bike to hop on and ride in jeans or a suit.

  15. lawhaas

    Great article. I too would love the Pinnarello above the fireplace but My Wife is not having that either. Having worked in Bike Shops during my college years and times when not exactly in school. I have given away more bikes than I currently own. My quiver consists of a Caad 4 Cannodale F-700, full XT complete with a Hippie-Tech Psylo, A mid 80′s Specilized Sirrus, currently built up as my fixie complete with a set of Dura-Ace splined cranks, Those 2 bikes are not ridden as much as My Voodoo D-Jab Ti mountain bike built with a white industies ENO hub and a sweet reba race 29er that was purchased for my Surly Karte Monkey complete with Chris King hubs laced up on Mavic 719′s. Most recently I picked up an 09 Roubaix with Ultegra, previously I was doing 40+ miles on my Sirrus built up as a 7-speed. I will say it makes long road rides a bit more enjoyable. I have most frame materials covered. I’ll wrap up with a quote that my Wife said when I was pleading to buy the Roubaix, She said ” you better not ask for a bike for at least 2-years”……Oh how nice…now in 2 years what am I going to get? I’m thinking full suspension…Thanks Honey….

  16. j.king

    I’d say I’m living my cycling life pretty well. A few years ago I had the opportunity to move from America over to Europe and I’ve never looked back on the decision. With cyclists over here how you look is so very important. Unwritten etiquette amongst local cyclists is to match as much as you can. That means your kit must match your bike at all times even if that means owning multiple helmets or pairs of shoes. The typical clubs in the area have follow cars that replicate a full grown pro tour team. Come Sunday it’s best to ride in the afternoon as the roads will be clogged with more cyclists than cars. Everything they do is to emulate a pro.

    Nothing about what I wear or what I ride says I’m trying to emulate anyone. I have three bikes currently. Collecting dust is a mountain bike that speaks only of my dying love affair with riding off road. It’s been a downward slide but after about three years of internal struggle this will be the year, the first in about 17 that I don’t have a mountain bike in my possession. There is a aluminum Giant TCR racing bike that has seen more kilometers than anything else I’ve ever owned. This bike speaks to me in a way that a bike needs to when I spend hour upon hour racking up kilometers for nothing but the pleasure of it. I’d purchased the aluminum bike years ago at a incredible discount, we’re talking a double digit percentage below wholesale. I changed a few things here and there to my personal liking. I completed the partial 105 build into a complete 105 build and swapped the wheels for something with classically laced 32h rims. Third tier components are good enough for me. I’ve been everywhere with this bike. I’ve ridden mountains in Colorado, rolling hills in the Midwest and most recently the famed cobbles of the Tour of Flanders. We have the same characteristics that bike and I. I favor things like durability and value. I take pride in keeping my bike in top working order as if it were new each time I took it out for a ride.

    I find just about all frame materials interesting. I even own a carbon bike from the same manufacturer only this one is spec’d with Dura Ace and every other top end part I could find. I don’t ride it as much as I feel I’m supposed to. The worst part is I’m not even sure I could say why. I think in some ways I’m afraid of it and that is a shame. I’m lucky in my line of work that I get to ride a lot of different bikes. Yet most of them don’t speak to me but instead make me laugh at how pretentious I feel they are. Occasionally there is something that sparks interest and makes me dream of pulling out my wallet. My problem is that I find it hard to move away from being content with what I have now.

    I’m practical and my now five year old bike says that about me. A quick glance over the cleanliness of my bike speaks volumes about how I take pride in maintaining what I have. If those are the things that my bikes emulate about me than everything is right in my world. I can agree with what “Padraig” said about trying as many bikes as you can. I’ve tried a lot of bikes and I hope to try a lot more. As the mountain bike goes up for sale I can only hope that a new racing bike will take its place. I’ve been wanting to try titanium for awhile now…

  17. SLORIDE

    Im a cat 3 racer. Had 6 or more bikes at onetime but had to unload some since my wife argued that they eat much of the space in our house. Eventually i settle with just 2. Kestrel Talon for TT and a BMC SL01 for road in Ultegra and Token T50 tubulars.
    For me its seems as you improve your racing fitness the more you urge for upgrades to complement the sacrifices you gave in training. Well as for my road bike right now, its the only allotted budget i have. Of course, it still feels better riding brands seen in TdF.

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