Friday Group Ride #151


A friend of mine was telling a story about a guy he’s known for years, a guy who, whenever he calls, reminds this friend of all the stupid shit he’s done over the years. The guy is basically a nice guy, but he’s tactless, and my friend dreads his phone calls. It reminded me that adulthood is sometimes dotted with persistent characters you don’t really like, people you hesitate to call friends but for the fact they’re always around.

Bikes are like that, too.

I seem always to have at least one bike that I don’t love. There is nothing wrong with the bike, per se, but for some reason we don’t get along, for reasons of fit or configuration or style. And yet, the bike hangs around because at root it is a useful object, and it retains some sort of potential to be better than it is, like a friend who is painful to be around despite being, deep down, a good person.

In my case, there is a certain steel frame, bought for its basic-ness and versatility, that hangs in my garage and occasionally gets reconfigured to a new task, another attempt at finding its inherent symbiosis with my vague ideas about what I want it to do. I think I keep setting this bike up for failure, and I know, in my heart, I should just sell it to someone for whom it can be great.

Of course, the fear is that by eliminating this perfectly good, but not-good-for-me bike from my collection, I will simply transfer its status onto another poor and unsuspecting frame. Every ship has a Jonah that must be cast overboard for the sake of the others. Every journey is shadowed by an albatross.

This week’s Group Ride asks: What is your albatross? What do you have in your cycling life that just isn’t working for you? Is it a bike? A jacket? A pair of gloves? Maybe it’s a whole style of riding, like mountain, for example. You look at the thing and don’t see quite why it doesn’t work for you, but it just doesn’t. What is it?

Image: Gustav Doré’s engraving of The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, c 1850

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  1. Matt Boulanger

    It has to be my winter commuter. It’s a 1998 size medium Trek 930. I have had in in every configuration imaginable but it’s just a pig on the road and compared to the Swobo Crosby I usually commute on it is terrible to ride. usually right around the end of November I have to switch on to the PIG, and its miserable. I started using it as a commuter a couple of years ago with he idea that in doing so I could save up enough money to buy a decent fatbike as a replacement, but with a kid and a mortgage money goes through me like the proverbial goose excrement through a tin horn. So now I just plan to ride it every winter until it falls apart, at which point I might be able to convince my family that said replacement is warranted.

    The thing is, besides being heavy and ungainly, I’m not sure what the problem is. I have it fit pretty close to the riding positions on my other bikes, the gearing is about right, everything works just fine and all that. But its the only bike I ever look at in the morning and think “not again.”

  2. Ransom

    The closest thing I have is an old Raleigh Sport. I’m a sucker for the aesthetics, and was sooo excited to find one in the larger (21″?) frame size.

    It’s still too small. It needs a new or rebuilt everything, and the result would be a pretty-ish, flimsy, somewhat ill-fitting bar-and-errand bike, with stamped steel brake calipers, chrome steel rims (I live in Portland, so those last two items are *hilarious*; how did damp Britain survive these bikes?)…

    As if Fate is trying to tell me something, I went out to the garage the other day and my cheap Brooks knock-off was *molding*… No, I’m not contemplating parting with it yet. One of us will form to the other eventually, I’m sure.

  3. Chris

    A couple years ago a had it in my mind to add a commuter/cross bike to my stable. I had a bunch of parts lying around and figured all I need was a frame. I first bought a steel Miyata touring bike that had been disassembled. I build it back up and rode it around for a couple months but decided, despite its considerable charm it didn’t seem up to the task of leaving the tarmac. Plus I didn’t want to deal with 27″ wheels. To craigslist it went.

    Next was a steel Giant Cross which was heavy and sinfully ugly whose sordid history had seen it stolen and defaced of its decals then purchased at a Police auction before having its badges restored by hand… by a six year old. I commuted on that for about a year and it fit sort of well, handled fine and was crappy enough to lock to a post just about anywhere in town. But I’ve had more pride of ownership for burritos purchased from a truck so I sold that one too.

    I now have a real cross bike which I love but the funny thing is, I kinda miss both those bikes.

  4. Steve P

    I bought a Moulton on a whim, taken in by the unique design of it all. It’s pretty neat, but I don’t end up riding it much… feels like a mismatch. Maybe I need a tweed jacket and cap.

  5. Jon

    My true albatross is my helmet. Make that any helmet. My in-between sized mellon requires me to size up to a large and I wind up looking like a mushroom. Bell, Giro, Specialized … all the same. Very unPRO.

    As far as frames go, mine is the absolute opposite. My first “real” racing bike was a Columbus Aelle tubed Torpado. After a few years I “upgraded” to a better bike and sold the Torpado. Several bikes along, nothing touches the fit and feel of that Torpado. Maybe it’s the “first love” syndrom, but that bike was the best fit and feel I have ever ridden. What I wouldn’t give to have it back.

  6. jim

    I had an expensive Bell helmet that had the wrong shape for my head. It would always slide around, push down over my eyes when carrying the bike in CX races… And it smelled and looked bad on me. But it was expensive and fashionable so I couldn’t ditch it. Eventually I busted it running head on into a tree in an MTB race and I could throw it out with a clear conscience. It was worth the concussion.

    Since then I’ve moved to Giro helmets, which fit me well. None are memorable like the Bell-batross, however.

  7. Eto

    Jerseys of days gone by that are still cool… except, the fit is not what you are used to (now).

    Translation, your current clothes fit like all serious cycling clothes should, fit and trim.

    I am willing to invest in the talents of a good tailor.

  8. Devin Zoller

    My personal albatross is the on/off relationship I have with BMX and trials bikes. I’m a roadie. I know this, and yet every few years I get a small bike designed solely for destroying me (apparently.) I just ordered a new BMX and shudder to imagine the terror this thing is going to inflict on my my ankles and ego.

  9. Michael

    A pair of Assos bib shorts. Since no one sells high-end cycling clothes within a few hours of here, I bought them on line. I am smack in the middle of the size range for the shorts, and I have longish legs and shortish torso for a male, so if anything the bib should be too long, but instead the straps dig into my shoulders. I spent so much on the damn things thinking they’d be perfect when rides are over 200 km, but instead I leave them in the drawer and pull out cheaper shorts with elastic waists.

  10. Gary

    Mine is a Trek Madone 5.2, made in Wisconsin, Ultrega groupset. It’s a beautiful bike. I bought it because I believed a carbon frame would be easier on my bum wrist. I do thank this bike for getting me back to riding after several years during which I did not ride a road bike at all because of the ensuing pain. In the end, however, the Madone was just not comfortable. What I did not realize when I bought the Madone was that the solution to my problem was simple: higher handlebars and bigger tires. Because of the threadless steerer on the Madone, there was no good way to raise the bars sufficiently.

    Thankfully, I discovered Rivendell, and now all is good. I love my Hilborne and SOMA San Marcos (designed by Grant Petersen). Tall head tubes, threaded steerers and bigger tires–yay!

    I realize most of your readers are riding race-type bikes and more power to them. Maybe one would like to buy a beautiful Madone.

  11. Carl N.

    For me it was a winter jacket by Adidas. Great look and fit but it stank. No matter what I washed it with, nor how often, I couldn’t rid it of it’s smell. I justified wearing it because, well, I was riding a bike, not going on a date. But one day, after just having washed it, I walked by my closet and could smell it through the closed doors from 6 feet away. I loved wearing it on the bike, and wanted to keep it, but…..

  12. Wisco

    My Rivendell Atlantis. I have been a supporter of Grant Petersen since his Bridgestone days when he literally gave my a wool jersey from his personal collection as a thank you. I bought the Atlantis thinking it would be a perfect commuter (it is), loaded touring bike (it is, but I’m not a tourer) and to support RIvendell. So I bought it for many good reasons, have built it with reliable 8-speed Shimano, some sweet steel Nitto racks… and I never ride it. I’m ashamed but also hopeful that I will transition to a touring guy, but I enjoy the fast group ride and training as if I still could race worth a damn when I couldn’t race worth a damn when I was 25. Ce est’ la vie, it sits on a hook in the garage.

  13. Bigring01

    A few years ago, I bought a old Bridgestone with a for sale sign chained to a scaffold in downtown Manhattan where I was working as a consultant. The first day I walked by it and thought it was my size. Next day I took a tape measure and yep, it was a 57cm. Paid the $75 bucks took it to my room and found the seatpost was stuck. Long story short, I ended up spending $400+ to have it the wy I wanted it just because I was far from home without a bike.

    There is nothing wrong with the bike other than the fact that it just sits idle among my stable of bikes at home and the fact that it has a 7 spd straight block 11-17 cassette from my crit racing days in Dallas, which is a pain to ride here in hilly and mountainous NM.

  14. bryand

    Funny reading these. By no means is this meant to be a Trek bashing session, but mine immediately came to mind… It’s a beautiful old 1991 lugged steel 750 frame that I thought would be a great commuter and town bike. It has plenty of room for 700×45 knobbies, every fender and rack mount imaginable, and as a labor of love I stripped it down and powder coated it with a beautiful metallic copper finish. And I just can’t make it work. Tried flat bars, classic swept back 3 speed bars, drop bars, and wide swept dirt drop bars but it never feels right. Maybe it’s the high bottom bracket, maybe it’s the slack angles and long chainstays; I’m not sure. But it looks so nice and seems so practical that I keep trying to figure it out even though I never really ride it.

  15. Alan

    I am my own Albatross. Actually, I am a penguin wishing I was a wonderful flyer as the Albatross and all the other birds in the sky.

    I am so painfully slow. I’ve spent the last couple years pretending to be good enough to race, but really, I am just not very fast. Certainly not fast enough to ever win.

    Considering just relegating myself to long hard charity rides and fondos.

  16. Robot

    @All – It’s interesting how often an “old” bike is the one. I think, without us maybe knowing it, today’s bikes ruin us for older vintages. How many times have you heard that story about someone getting their dream-bike of the last decade or earlier, and then they find out it’s awful?

  17. Robot

    @Blake – The thing with the albatross is that some saw it as a good omen, leading them to the trade winds, while others saw it as a curse, hovering there, reminding them of the capriciousness of nature. It’s all in the ambiguity…or at least that’s what I was shooting for.

  18. bryand

    Robot, I think you’re on to something here… I have all these great memories of 20 (+!!) years ago on my old Ciocc Mockba 80. It was a dream bike for me back than, I was fast and fit and I won races on it. Fast forward to now and I’d like to either buy another one and build it with modern components or find a framebuilder to replicate the geometry of it for me. And I’ve never done it because I think I’d spend a lot of money on something that didn’t make me as happy as my current bikes do…

    Maybe I’ll feel this way about my current bikes in 20 years?!

  19. Pat O'Brien

    My 4 year old Trek 520 is bugging me. I only have 2 bikes, and the other is a Niner MCR built up by my LBS just the way I wanted it. There is nothing wrong with the 520, it fits just right, but I am always looking for perfection, which to me is a steel frame made from brand name steel and a label that says where it is made. The 520 fails on both counts. So, the Surly disc trucker or a Soma comes to mind over and over again. I know the problem is with me.

  20. Rom

    All my jerseys. I’m broad shouldered and slim(ish) otherwise, so all my jerseys are tight under the arms and bags elsewhere.

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