The crunch of finely ground dirt and gravel under my tires seems to amplify my sense of speed in the early-morning mist. That peculiar sound adds a sense of urgency, of pursuit. It is fitting given the way the path winds between some of the Revolutionary War’s most important sites in Minute Man National Historical Park.
It is a road for remembrance just after dawn. British and American flags sprout like spring buds from cracks in stone fences. This testament, while somber, is also a beautiful reminder of why a simple trip by bicycle can be imbued with so much more when you can lose yourself in your surroundings.
Such practiced reverie takes work. Yet I was regularly preoccupied during my first solo outings along Battle Road. It was not angst over how much history I have forgotten, something indeed worth worrying about, but because I kept asking myself if my bike’s carbon fork was up to even this mild unpaved path. Doubt in your bike is a terrible thing, be it during a 50 M.P.H. descent or a mellow morning spin.
I have a lot of history with my bike—a Litespeed Firenze bought the year before my oldest daughter was born on the other side of the country nearly nine years ago. When you have a bike for this long, it changes with the miles. It has to. With each ride you come to understand what you want from it and what its limits are. You add a longer 130 mm stem. A lighter handlebar. A Thomson seatpost. Fresh wheels. A black Selle Italia Turbomatic 4 saddle makes way for a white Fi’zi:k Aliante. Yet the bones, the titanium frame and carbon fork, were constant. They were the kind of reliable mates we want our kids to grow up and marry.
Or so I thought. A tear-down cleaning this summer revealed the fork was not the faithful partner I thought it was. What were once beautiful long, slender legs were ravaged by road acne and the kinds of scars you might get from a prison knife fight. Suburban singletrack and clip-on fenders in winter months had not been kind. I’d hardly noticed the change over the years.
I weighed watchful waiting, to borrow the medical term, because I was put off by the cost of a new carbon fork. I was as close to being able to get a new bike as I had been since I bought this one a decade ago yet the timing was just not quite right. Then on a ride I had an epiphany. What made the decision easy was thinking about the cost of a new Enve fork in terms of insurance co-pay payments. A catastrophic fork failure is pretty much guaranteed to result in Boston’s finest full white-coat experience, so from that perspective the upgrade economics suddenly made sense. The fork cost me about 10 co-pays. The matte-black Enve fork has stout, straight legs so exquisitely muscular I could not bear to put a zip-tied speed sensor on them. So now I ride without a computer.
The smile I had after my first ride with the new fork was shiny-red-bike-under-the-Christmas tree wide. This was indeed a new bike and I had a 6-year old’s grin. It climbed definitively better, especially out of the saddle. On my loop out to Battle Road, it handled the deep-woods rollers with a poise in the dirt that I did not think was possible.
Philosophers can debate for hours the question of is an object new or still the same when you replace its individual elements. “Grandfather’s axe” some call it, for if you replace the handle and head on your grandfather’s old axe is that the same tool he once used? This question is also dear to the cyclist, even those who have only experienced the joy of an upgrade to a more supple set of tires or a saddle that actually fits. As bike engineering becomes more refined and integrated frames become the norm, it will be a question with a different answer in 10 years time. It may not be possible to take a production carbon bike in 2024 and make the kind of transformative changes that I can today.
Now when I confidently ride down Battle Road I do feel I am riding a different bike than the one I walked out of a San Francisco bike shop with so long ago. I also can answer the philosopher’s question: it is the same bike. In fact, it is better.
Only time will tell whether I will say the same thing about my next bike.