To All the Bikes I’ve Loved Before, Part II

To All the Bikes I’ve Loved Before, Part II

I love bikes. Seeing bikes going down the road delights me, and I find fiddling around with them in my garage endlessly entertaining. I actually used to enjoy kicking back on a warm afternoon and patching tubulars or cleaning my bike. Despite a deviant desire to go really fast on motor vehicles at times, I could be happy with a world with only pedal powered vehicles roaming the streets.

For me the aesthetics of a bike are primarily focused on how it performs and almost every bike I have has been raced hard. Color, chrome, etc. are something I do care about but don’t feel like my opinion really matters since it doesn’t change how the bike performs (although we all know red is the fastest color for Italian bikes).

I’m not really sure how many bikes are in my garage, since the definition of a bike may or may not include a frame, especially if you have the parts to put it together. On occasion people have taken pictures of my garage to prove once and for all to their spouses that they are not crazy. Many of my bikes get ridden on a regular basis no matter how old they are. N+1 rules and while I love to get new ones the acquisition never diminishes my feelings towards the bikes that stick around. Bikes aren’t like people, they can be infinitely more loyal, less judgmental, and not as needy. My bikes bring me endless pleasure and are always there for me. What started as a way to escape an unpleasant world remain capable of providing me with some escape as well as the good feelings the exercise brings. Few bikes remain because of their external beauty, but rather due to some quality of how great they are to ride which does not diminish with time.

How a bike feels to me does not change in the least even though I am not pushing and testing them as hard as I used to. I’m not a neurotic rider; I have never weighed a bike in my life. Even when getting fine custom bikes made, all I ever specified was the length of the top tube. It’s up to the builder to know how to do the rest. Last time I asked someone who built a bike for me what kind of tubing he used I was told it was “metal,” which really was the right response to a dumb bike rider like me. I like to think I know a little bit about how they are put together, but the amount of knowledge I have there is nothing compared to a really good custom builder or some large manufacturers. What I do know better than them is how to ride them and which bike works for me or doesn’t. They way I define a good riding bike is that it has to disappear underneath me and require no thought on my part for it to go where it’s told. I’ve owned horses and motorcycles and it’s the same thing. I know that it takes some work and a bit of magic to get any bike to be its best and that I know how to do.

All of my bikes are built up with tremendous thought to finding balance between all of the parts. This was reasonably easy to do in the days of steel, but with the relentless drive to make everything stiffer, stiffer, and even more stiff, I am not sure how to approach this with modern frames, and this is an area large manufacturers fail at for the most part. The balance between the frame, wheels, and other parts is not simple and some off-the-shelf modern bikes I’ve ridden have been terrible handling bikes in part due to frame design and sometimes due to parts selection. I’ll stick to what I know and love and frankly, I’m pretty well set for a while.

I started on a Legnano/Frejus. Boy oh boy did I love that bike because it was my first real racing bike. I went from a steel rimmed 10-speed I bought with paper route money to my first full Campy bike and I still get a tad emotional when I see one of those bikes in that weird baby-puke color which they actually call “Lizard Green.” I wish I still had it but it was best to let that one go since it was the wrong size. Over the next few years I went through a succession of mostly Italian bikes, all rode reasonably, some exceptionally. The Guerciottis were my standard of consistency. The Colnagos were things of beauty on the outside but did not always ride that well, though it never stopped me from winning a race.

I had a few English bikes and still retain a track bike which has done more laps on various velodromes around the world than I can imagine. It’s rock solid and I still get to the track on occasion and it fits under me like an old pair of jeans. I broke a Raleigh built with their then-new 753 tubing. I liked the feel of that tubing but it cracked at a spot where some idiot crimped the chain stay at the factory. It was repaired by a friend for himself and still lives on, which for some strange reason delights me. Every English bike I had rattled and I could never pinpoint why. Curse you Lucas!

I had a green Pinarello when I first went to Italy in 1977. I loved it and wish I still had it and won a lot of races on that baby. The bike was perfect, and I loved the color even though we all know Italian bikes should be red. Gianni Motta built me a couple of bikes and that road frame is by far the fastest descending bike I’ve ever had, which means it’s stable and sticks to the road and goes where I think it should go. I was pretty much fearless on that bike. In my racing career I only met a few people as fast downhill as I was so it means a lot to me to have that kind of stability.

The dozen or so Benottos I had were stable workhorses, and often built by another custom builder from Milano. I could tell the difference but again, they did their job and after all it was just another day at the office for me and the better you get, the less vote you have. A Marinoni from the old AMF team, well I still have and it isn’t going anywhere. Dead stock from 1979 and I still ride it regularly and it still feels like I’m riding on rails.  I almost get giddy with delight when I hop on that thing. Of course it won’t even take tires larger than about 23 mm.

It’s not all steel in there; I got an early Kestral carbon bike and though it lacks a certain feel I cannot put a finger on, it rides reasonably. I raced a season on a Merlin titanium bike, and when it got sorted with a proper carbon fork and wheels it rode admirably even if it did take some time for us to get used to each other. I firmly believe ti done right is the perfect material for us old people due to the way it smooths out all the little bumps on the road but still stiffens up when kicked into gear.

These days when I head out the door I usually reach for my Eisentraut road bike or a beat up bent old Taiwanese-made road frame set up scatto fisso or fixed gear. It’s a franken-bike with parts like a 50+ year old Cinelli stem and a mish-mash of stuff from the garage, some worth more to parts hoarders than the bike is. The Eisentraut does everything it’s told to do, looks like no other bike, and is as perfect riding a bike as there can be, incorporating all of the characteristics I want in one machine. I recently talked him into building me essentially the same bike but with room for wider tires, disc brakes, and rack mounts for my fishing pole and a rack to carry some beer.  It’s rapidly become a regular rider as I ride more on mixed surfaces.

There are the oddballs in the garage too—a Ritchey P-21 mountain bike. The longer I have it the more it comes back in style. It’s wicked fun to ride tight single track on a 21 pound bike. Then there is the Bike Friday. Everyone needs to try a well-designed small-wheeled bike. At speed it feels pretty much like a large wheel bike and you forget you have small wheels. The fun part is no one can touch you on twisty mountain descents with those 20-inch wheels. There’s an old cyclocross bike I got for very little, set up with racks, fenders, lights, etc. for commuting and wet days; handling is not important on this bike but it has seen a lot of miles over the years and is still used regularly. My wife and I have a tandem and man is that thing fun, but we decided we wanted to stay married so we don’t ride it together too often. A few other frames hang in the garage that I’m either ambivalent about or can’t really justify so I should get rid of them, maybe. Finally, a beach cruiser for going on store runs and cruising around the hood—I only bought it because I saw an ad for it on Amazon years ago and still can not figure out how they could sell and ship a bike to me for $50.

I love riding every one of these bikes. Do I need them all? Not really, but I love all my kids too.

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  1. Christopher Barrett

    I read the line “On occasion people have taken pictures of my garage to prove once and for all to their spouses that they are not crazy.” to my wife and she rolled her eyes at me. She said, “You have eighteen f***ing pairs of wheels hanging in the garage. You know it’s too many when the number is preceded by the word f***ing!” She loves me anyway, and I love all of my bikes. And her too, of course.

    1. Christopher Barrett

      A slight exaggeration, I’m afraid. But throw in all the complete bikes, frames, and boxes of parts and you (well, my wife) can begin to make the argument that I’m in the early stages of becoming a hoarder. I disagree. A hoarder will keep anything. I only keep old bikes and old bike parts. And, of course, her too.

  2. Eric

    Very cool read, George, thank you. My best descender is also an Eisentraut – the faster you go the more stable and glued to the road it gets. AE is a genius…🚵🏼‍♀️

  3. Earle Young

    I loved George’s comment about ti being the right material for us old guys. My steel bike, built in 1982 by David Brink, did everything it was supposed to, the way George so clearly describes. By working from that bike, I was able to get a Litespeed ti frame, a John Slawta steel fork and custom EarleWheels to handle exactly the same way. I think George will admit that David Brink is a competent descender, and his frame design centered on descending. On some of the gnarliest roads in the Berkeley hills, the bike would remind me, “Relax, I know what I am doing. Just look when you want to go and I will go there.”

  4. Philip Huyghe

    Great Article George . I have an 80’s era Eddy Merckx road bike that every time I get on it reminds me why I did so much riding and racing on it back in the day. Feels and rides fantastic still to this day.
    Recently I had a bike for two years that every time I rode it we had an argument about what I wanted it to do. We just never got along . I sold it recently and replaced it with a bike that I can’t stop smiling every time I am on it ! Thanks for sharing your story George.

  5. Johnny B

    Good stuff George…although when I showed my wife the picture of your garage her only comment was “don’t even (explative) go there”…so I take that as there is still hope!

    Keep them coming!

  6. Stephen Barner

    I took an inventory of my wheels & rims a year ago and listed them all in a spreadsheet. It was well over 100 singles & pairs. Sadly, I wasn’t conscientious about maintaining the list, and the wheels moving in outnumber the ones I’ve worn out. I still lose an hour going through the stacks for just the right wheel, when I have a use for one.

    The tandem saved our marriage, early in the 1980s. We met through bikes, but were always painfully, distressingly mismatched in speed and style. The tandem keeps us together, let’s us hold a fairly normal conversation (I have to ask people to say things twice, even off the bike), let’s us ride a lot faster, has helped my wife develop a faster, smoother cadence, and has enabled some amazing descents. We once caught a group of riders, who has passed us on a climb, on the long descent on the other side of the mountain. We were going at least 10 mph faster than they were, and we could hear them break out laughing when we flew by. Gotta love those long bikes!

    Like Jorge, I have more bikes than a small shop, but almost all of them are ridden. Every one has a different ride or aesthetic, and I like being able to pick what I think is just the right bike for the day’s ride. There’s something really special about getting back on a bike that you’ve been riding for 30 or 40 years. Oh, while the Pinarello is red, the Colnago, Gios and Canaditalian Marinoni are various shades of blue, the DeRosa is silver, and at least one of the Bianchis is Celeste, as it should be!

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