“I saw my dream bike today.”
How many of us have said that? How many of us say it a couple times a year? For some of us it is a mantra.
It was my 7-year old daughter who uttered those words, without reservation, to my wife following her first trip to the bike shop to buy new handgrips for her 20-inch wheeled bike.
“You sound just like your father,” said my wife. Of course. I am a cyclist.
The object of my daughter’s desire was a 24-inch bike. It had a single chainring up front and a derailleur in the back – technological progress from her singlespeed. The color was a blue-grey fade, which gave it a look of joyful utility rather than a bike matched to the one-legged Barbie doll that haunts our mud room. Her dream bike had a simple steel fork, like her current bike. The tires were semi-slick and promised to reward effort with speed. Most importantly, it is bigger. That is the foundation of what a child asks of cycling: A smile.
For adults, it is more complicated. More so that it is dream-bike season. Eurobike’s siren song calls to us after we resurface into regular life after giving a month to the Tour de France. This is a moment when we ought to be bound to our bicycles with Velox rim tape so that we are not allowed to lose precious hours sitting in front of a screen staring at the bikes we should be out riding.
Now that my life affords less and less time for as much riding as I desire, I dream of really nice bikes more and more often. The carbon Santa Cruz Highball. A steel Seven Mudhoney. The Cervelo R5. Think of the 50-mile races in Vermont! The beer hand-ups! Riding L’Etape du Tour! The happy binds of daily life make these visions, often coming as I am trying to fall asleep, that much more of an escape.
My dream bikes change with my mood or my outlook on the day. It’s been this way for a long time. Before I could drive, I dreamt of owning rally cars like Audi’s ’84 Coupe Quattro. When I got around to buying my first car, it lacked all-wheel drive, race heritage or a turbocharger’s feral hiss. Instead it had roll-up windows and manual locks and barely enough horsepower to make it through Colorado’s Eisenhower Tunnel. Reliability, not rally nous, won the day. Twelve years later it is still driven daily.
Though the bicycle industry is working towards a one-bike quiver, a machine capable of keeping up with a 25 m.p.h. paceline one day and bombing a rutted gravel descent with the surefootedness that only comes from hydraulic disc brakes and fat rubber. This means it’s a great moment for looking inward at not just what you want to buy, but why. I don’t want a bike like my Honda Accord. I want one like the Coupe Quattro that I never owned – or even drove.
If you could only have one bike would it be a multifaceted machine capable of, literally, any wheeled adventure you dream up? That is what Eurobike appears to be offering up as a preview of next year’s bikes. Or would it be a purpose-built machine with a soul that comes from a singularity of design and intent?
I can speak to the merits of both. I had a jack-of all trades Bridgestone X0-2 that once spent a night in the hands of Corsican thieves. After years of hard duty in West Philadelphia, it retired to a sedate life out back of a friend’s condo backyard in Palo Alto, nestled next to a hot tub. My Redline Conquest Pro, a cyclocross race machine that today looks like it might give me a tetanus infection if I botch a dismount, time and time again continues to free me from writer’s block. It was bought in the weeks following 9/11.
My daughter has yet to think about these questions. We want bikes as complicated as our lives. She wants one as simple as hers. She never asks who designed her bike, or if the tubing is butted, or if she should be on disc brakes next season. She rides her bike because it makes her smile. That is its most important feature.
I also know if she sticks with cycling like I hope she will, someday she too will be thinking of her dream bike. With the way our society is advancing, and bike technology with it, that dream bike may well be her very first one.