Monday, June 23, 2008

Multiples: How Much Is Too Much?

If you're like me, you've been frustrated by the diminutive diameter of your road bike headset bearings. Sprinting with a 1 1/8" front end is like balancing an unabridged dictionary on a sewing needle. And as for a 1" setup, it's hard to imagine anybody ever rode a bicycle like that. I strongly believe than any still left should be forcibly removed from the road, and if you're still riding one then you must be stupid, suicidal, or both.

Fortunately, the big bike manufacturers have heard our demands and seem to be moving towards a new headset "standard," this being a 1 1/8" bearing on top and an even larger 1 1/4" bearing on the bottom. I had originally been waiting for road bike headsets to go to 1 1/4" top and bottom before upgrading, because I'm convinced that's where things are headed and I think right now head tubes are in an awkward "Popeye's arm" stage. However, it looks like I'm going to need a new bike sooner than I intended, since I smashed my last one to bits Pete Townshend-style this past weekend after failing to win yet another road race due entirely to my outmoded front end setup. (Though to be fair my lack of an eleventh cog was also partly to blame.)

As such, I spent the rest of the weekend researching new bikes, which consisted mostly of reading reviews online while picking my teeth with a shard of carbon fiber from my freshly-shattered frame. One particularly attractive line of bikes is the '09 Giant line-up. It's got all the features I require: Popeye's arm head tube with a logo that spans both the head tube and the fork (head tube/fork-spanning logos are the frame URLs of the new millennium), enormous tubes everywhere else, and integrated everything. But more than anything else, what caught my eye was this:

Yes, that's Cyclingnews reviewer James Huang's name right there on the top tube. I may be wrong, but I'm guessing this is Giant's way of tickling his ego a bit and making him feel all pro and special while he's testing out their new line-up. This got me thinking: at what point to you have access to so many bicycles that you can no longer differentiate them? I'm not saying this is the case with James, but generally speaking wouldn't all these bikes eventually melt together into one big, sticky, sickly sweet mass of crotch candy? I mean, let's be frank: high-end race bikes are luxury items, and when you're constantly surrounded by luxury you may be appreciative at first but after awhile you get really comfortable, start taking it for granted, and eventually become addicted to the luxury itself. (I stayed in a Holiday Inn recently so I know what I'm talking about.)

I maintain it's important to limit the number of bicycles you have so you can appreciate the differences between them. In cycling as in life, the excitement is in the contrasts. So how do you know if you have too many bikes and you're getting soft? Well, if you have any of the following, you're probably there:

An Inside Bike

Do you have a perfectly good bicycle that you keep only to use inside on rollers or on a trainer of some kind? This is simply excessive. Bikes are for outside. Having an inside-only bike is like having an inside-only outfit--not a pair of flannel pajamas or something, but rather a flowing, silk ensemble with lots of embroidery. Who do you think you are, Hugh Hefner?

An A La Recherche du Temps Perdu Bike

This is a bicycle you keep only for nostalgic purposes. It could be that Paramount you always coveted in your youth and then finally purchased on eBay, or that Skyway TA your friend had when you were kids and then you painstakingly recreated vintage bit by vintage bit. Sure, if you're actually riding the thing I suppose it's OK, but if you simply keep it inside and post pictures of it on relevant internet galleries I'd argue that's excessive. When your stable of bikes can be described as Proustian it may be time to start thinning the proverbial herd.

A Fluid Bike

Last week we saw the dangers of having specific bikes for specific beverages. Coffee bikes, beer bikes, Orange Julius bikes--where does it end? (I admit I have an Orange Julius bike complete with handlebar-mounted cup holder, but I did get rid of my A La Recherche du Temps Perdu CW Dizz Hicks replica and studded leather halter top in order to make room for it.) Trust me, not every liquid requires a specific bicycle in order to fetch it. Surely some people are just some bike lust and a case of anemia away from owning a hemoglobin bike. Actually, isn't that what Astana rides?

A Doppelganger Bike

Hoarding is a dangerous impulse, and it's one to which all too many cyclists fall victim. If you're not a hoarder you probably know one--we've all encountered the guy who's afraid they might stop making his favorite pedal or something so he stockpiles enough to last him three lifetimes. Well, the hoarding impulse can extend to complete bikes. Some people like a bicycle so much they feel compelled to replicate it. Just in case. Having a duplicate bicycle is OK if you're a really good cyclocross racer. Otherwise, it's excessive.

A Fixed/Singlespeed Iteration of a Bike You Already Have

Many people who own multiple bikes have a singlespeed and/or a fixed-gear in there somewhere, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. There is something wrong though with the person who's got every conceivable bicycle and so he starts from the beginning and builds fixed or singlespeed versions of all the bicycles he already has. This is a variant of the hoarding disorder. You've got the 'cross bike, now you need the singlespeed 'cross bike. You've got the titanium century bike, now you need the fixed titanium century bike. If gone untreated, this doubles over on itself and you start building geared versions of your singlespeed or fixed bikes. Then one day you're just riding around in circles in front of your house on a bike with a carbon belt drive and a Rohloff hub, naked and sobbing to yourself. And I don't want to see that happen to anybody.

An Occasion Bike

A bicycle is a tool, and you certainly need the right tool for the right job. That's why many of us own more than one bicycle. But if you've got too many tools eventually you yourself become the tool. It starts with having a beater bike. Then a rain bike. Then a coffee bike. (See "fluid bikes.") Then a Sunday morning bagel-getter. Then a loaner bike in case your friend visits from out of town and wants to go mountain biking. Then a post road ride road bike. (You know, just to shake out the legs.) Then a pit bike. Then a pit bike for your pit bike. Eventually you're buying one of those Worksman bikes just in case someone invites you to a barbecue and wants you to bring hot dogs or something. Guess what? It's OK not to have the exact bike for every occasion. It's OK to carry hot dogs on your Orange Julius bike once in awhile, really. (Just don't stick them in the handlebar-mounted cup holder like pencils.)

A Grant Petersen Iteration of a Bike You Already Have

So you have the go-anywhere bike. You have the singlespeed go-anywhere bike. Naturally, you now need Grant Petersen's take on the singlespeed go-anywhere bike. Or do you? Just because something has received the Rivendell treatment by getting lugs and a really tall head tube doesn't mean you need it, no matter how eloquent the website copy is.

So next time you're contemplating adding a new bike to your fleet, stop and ask yourself: "Do I really need it?" Then ask yourself, "In the event of a fire, if I could only save one of my bikes, which one would it be?" In my case I know exactly which it would be. It would be the one with the largest diameter headset. (Or maybe the Orange Julius bike.)


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Long Live RBW!!

Anonymous said...

I have a hangover bike that I don't ride when I'm hung over.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure I could have too many bikes.
Last week, my wonderful brother came over to help me with my bike storage in my garage at my newly purchased house. He put up 16 more hooks to hold bikes with selves above to hold boxes of water bottles and extra parts. This was in addition to the 12 hooks my god-son had already installed in my garage.

My brother was quite happy and said that it looked like I would have enough room for all of my bikes now. I did not have the heart to tell him that I have about another dozen bikes in a friend's basement or that my son still has about 10 bikes in a friends garage.

I must admit I do have a lot of bikes but in my defense--I was an avid bike rider until a careless driver got me with a right hook. Now my pleasure is in the form of watching my various bonus children and bonus grandchildren ride bikes.

My stable of bike exists to provide bikes for the children. I have 5 bonus grandson (ages 2 to 7)regularly racing in kiddy races, a granddaughter and two god-sons who races track, road and cross.

I think I am doing something right. My 7 year old grandson is finally tall enough to almost stand over one of the three small track bikes. I took him to the velodrome on Tuesday and in about an hour he went from a BMX bike to a track bike with toe clips and rode several laps on the Alpenrose velodrome.

The reward he wanted?--those shoes that hook onto the pedals like the older kids. On Thursday he went to the track with a track bike with red handle bar tape, red look pedals, and cool red and grey "clip in" shoes. I had everything he need in my garage.

People have given me a hard time for hanging onto all of the cycling gear I had collected when my son and 10 nieces and nephews were racing but the pleasure that 7 year old experienced was worth it.

Now I need a lighter bike for the 3 year old who just started riding with pedals.

Oh, what fun.

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