Friday Group Ride #364

Friday Group Ride #364

I am beyond fortunate to be able to ride great bikes, bikes built for me, although I’d hesitate to make that one of the criteria of what makes a bike great. When I was 7, I got my first bike, a purple, sparkly clunker that was a source of laughter for the other kids in the neighborhood. The chain brushed the guard on every spin of the pedals, so you could hear me coming. I sounded like someone with a seizure disorder playing the washboard in demonic zydeco band. But that was a great bike, simply by virtue of the freedom and mobility it afforded me. That bike took me places.

I knew it was a bad bike, even then. In fact, I knew it was the worst bike. Maybe it’s just the passage of time, each year burnishing that purple sparkle and pushing the embarrassed memories of being the kid with the worst bike further back into mist of memory.

The red BMX machine I found in front of the Christmas tree the following year was a great bike. That bike moved me from worst to first in the two-wheeled pecking order. I rode it through pine woods, into far off neighborhoods well outside the bounds of parental permission, over badly made plywood jumps. I was a star on that bike. No. Strike that. The bike was the star. I was the sidekick. It made me incomparably happy.

Of course, it wasn’t the best. There were much cooler BMX bikes to be had at the time. Mine was heavy, lacked mag wheels, and was too big for me in accordance with the great tradition of buying your kid a bike he can grow into. To admit these things now, nearly four decades later, seems disrespectful to the memory of that bike, even if they are demonstrably true.

More bikes followed. Each was a revelation to receive (or buy). Each was fun to discover. They were all great in their way. Each one gave me some measure of happiness, even as I outgrew them, physically or philosophically.

It seems true to me that every bike embodies a contradiction, great but simple virtue of being a bicycle, the original freedom machine, but also insufficient as a static object tasked with being dynamic, growing with our bodies and/or imaginations. The old saw about n+1 being the correct number of bikes to own, where n equals the number you own now, is born of this insufficiency. A bike can make you happy, even as you are not entirely happy with your bike.

This week’s Group Ride asks, are you happy with your bike now? If you are, what are the three things about it that light you up? If not, what are you looking for? What’s next? Is purple sparkle one of them?

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9 comments

  1. Dave

    Great thread and question!!!

    My A bikes are simply da bomb for me!! I have always been a steel or ti guy and right now my Merlin is in rotation. Every few years I switch A bikes and go to a custom CoMotion Espresso. They are both light, can sprint with the best and when my form allows can climb pretty quick. The Merlin Works has a gunmetal grey finish, which may not be the sexiest thing ever, but I love the fact that should the bike ever get marked up, a few minutes with Scotch Brite and it looks like it did when I bought it. The CoMotion has a flame powdercoat finish that looks wet and fast!

    My 3 things:
    They both can handle my 200 pound carcass sprinting or bombing downhill.
    Super stiff chainstays so there is no chainrub when sprinting or climbing in a big gear.
    Finish – the Merlin only has a headbadge, but is readily identifiable by the finish and weld quality. The CoMotion has a luscious paint job plus couplers so I can easily get it into a travel box.

    What’s next:
    I want to try out a fat bike since we have fierce winters in Maine.
    A DeRosa Neo Primate with Campag Super Record just because it is an amazing bike.

  2. harris

    Just because I am happy with my bikes doesn’t mean I can’t wonder about other bikes does it?

    I dig your story about the bad purple/hot red bike. I used to get ragged on because I had different bikes. My dad first got into cycling in the late 70’s, and the first non-hand me down bike I received – not just new to me, but new – was a 5 speed blue Ross MTB with thumb shifters, big knobby tires to go anywhere, and a bottle cage: 3 things to love about it. It was cool, and I loved it, even after the mag wheeled BMXers ragged me about it. I would knock a man down to re-experience the rides my 7 year old self enjoyed on that bike. That is happiness with a bike!

  3. David Arnold

    My current S-Works Tarmac non-DI2 with Roval and Williams carbon wheels is the best bike ive ever owned. Im 56yrs old and race with the 1/2/3s it perfoms great. my 3 things: 1) Its stiff to sprint and jump on…comfortable for 5hr rides.2) Completely at ease on fast twisty descents…3) Dura-Ace throughout is fantastic.

  4. Miles Archer

    I had the worst bikes as a kid. Out in suburbia, bikes were the only means of transportation in the summer. We had no bus service, my Mom worked and my Dad wasn’t going to drive us anywhere (a story for another time).

    My parents bought me a bike from a police auction. It was when the cool thing to have was a BMX bike. This might have been a BMX bike at one point, but it was totally thrashed. The frame had a crack in it. One of my neighbor’s dad welded it.

    At one point, my parents found some deal where they could buy some Chinese bikes for real cheap. They were 10 speed road bikes, but really cheaply made. They bought them for themselves, but never rode them. My dad rode his maybe 100 yards total. When I got big enough I rode them. They didn’t have quick release hubs, so changing a tire was a bitch. The only tools I had were screw drivers and crescent wrenches. I still hate working on bikes. But I still love riding them.

  5. Stephen Barner

    My fastest bike is the Klein Q-Pro that I’ve had for several years. It’s a it anachronistic, as the frame was replaced on warrantee, and I built it up with 2000 vintage Campy Chorus components. I recently changed it to a 10-speed cassette and it’s only gotten better with a 29 tooth cog back there.
    Three things to like:
    Very responsive and grest climber, while being quite comfortable. It has oversized and shaped aluminum tubing, and carbon seatstays and fork. I’ve ridden double-centuries on it.
    It’s reasonably light (by my standards) and fits well for a production frame.
    It isn’t black.
    My next bike is finally finished and waiting for its first ride. It’s a Look KG86–the bike LeMond won the ’86 Tour on. I built it up with unusual, high-end French componants, which is an interesting challenge in itself.On deck is a steel 60th anniversary Paramount project.

  6. Steven Down

    Purple. Pah! The bike that set my childhood self free was “ultra violet” no less. It was a Raleigh Chopper, the MK II with the arrow wedge frame. The decals clumsily applied to the paint were broken, which was probably the reason that my Dad was able to buy me the real thing rather than a Chinese lookalike product.

    It was an ungainly ride, but at least the fat tyres rarely punctured, so I felt emboldened to explore the roads and farm tracks of the Somerset levels, something I still do to this day. The T shaped gear shifter mounted on the top tubes worked the Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub gear passably well. If only it had been equipped with brakes that worked…

    It taught me to love riding off road. I’ve been neglecting that aspect of my riding recently so my Pipedream Scion hardtail will be my “next bike”.

  7. TomInAlbany

    My original thrill ride was a brown Schwinn with a bright yellow (how appropriate!) banana seat. I had that bike for less than a year. It got stolen from my back yard. Ugh.

    I currently have the itch to replace my Ti Serotta (’98 model) with something a little lighter and that can take some gear. Am also looking forward to moving up to an 11-speed cassette and am considering tubeless. Probably a carbon fiber frame but, that’s not a gotta have at this point. I’m looking at going longer rather than faster any more so, I want something with all-day comfort.

  8. Shawn

    My family lived in southern Italy in the early 70s when my parents gave me a gold bike. I remember reading “Made in Spain” on a metal tag, but I have no idea the make or model. Its design had no top tube, and there was a hinge at the base of its slightly-oversized downtube that allowed the bike to fold in half. A J-shaped pin threaded vertically through loops in the hinge to lock the hinge and hold the bike in “open” position. I have no idea where my father bought it, but the most likely reason for the purchase was to get me off of the book rack on the back of his bike–the perch where I stood and held on around his neck as he took care of small chores in the little town where we lived.

    That bike gave me wings of freedom, and and I kept it as a perfect utility bike until there wasn’t room in the moving van a couple of decades after I got it…

  9. Dizzy

    I love my current bikes (Road: Giant Defy / Hybrid: Cannondale H300).
    Giant Defy Road: 1) It fits like a glove, 2) It’s light and nimble & 3) It was bought w/money inherited from my mother-in-law (it’s named after her too!).
    Cannondale H300: 1) It fits like a glove, 2) It takes whatever I dish out & 3) It’s been my trusty steed for over 15 years!

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