Sometimes, the wife asks me a silly question. “How many bikes do you have now?” This is not a question of curiosity. It’s a mixture of mild contempt and disbelief. If you’re married and you have bikes, or cameras, or some other
obsession hobby that encourages collecting stuff, you’ve seen the look which accompanies this question. There is an underlying desire for me to part with at least some of the gigantic pile of crap taking up space in the basement. And on the porch. In the foyer.
There are several ways to answer this question. Some of them are even honest. Fewer are answers given to wives.
- N+1. This means that the proper number of bikes is always one more than the number on hand.
- N-1. This means that a divorce is imminent or the rent is two months behind.
- 7, or 9. This is from Rivendell Reader #42, page 6. “Seven is good. A beater, a bomber, a single-speed, a touring bike, a lightish road bike, a do-all racked and bagged bike, a mixte, a loaner, and a work in progress. Seven? Make it nine.”
- 6. Beloved Cycles has 6 different frames, each intended for a different purpose. A road bike, a porteur, a commuter, a touring bike, a randonneur, and a mixte.
- Maybe you’re a roadie and you need a different racing bike for different conditions. Racing, training, raining, cold raining, warm raining, might start raining. At least one each of crabon, aluminium, and steel. Maybe titanium.
- That frame without wheels isn’t a bike. It’s a bike part. Don’t count it.
There are a zillion ways to answer the question, but I think I may have it figured out. The true answer and other secrets of the universe are revealed below. Keep reading!
One of the ways I’ve looked at bikes is to classify them based on use. In other words, they need to do certain things and I have to figure out which bikes can do what, and which needs are currently unmet. These are the things I commonly do on a bike.
- Just riding around.
- Grocery shopping.
- Towing the girls to school, dance class, etc.
- Bicycle club rides.
- Camping. Going, not just riding around once I get there.
- Dropping books off at the library.
- Rail trail riding.
- That one time I rode a metric century.
- In the future I’d like to commute to work (if/when I find a job), maybe go on an extended tour, and possibly ride a brevet series.
Grant Petersen’s 7 or 9 is a good place to start for this type of justification. At one time I had a bike with a porteur rack, a touring bike, a mountain bike, fixed gear, city, and probably a couple others. Right now I have the lightish road bike, a beater, a bomber, a do-all, tourer, and a couple works in progress. 2 or 3 are ride-able at any given time.
I had considered paring it down to the Beloved 6, but couldn’t figure out how to slot my existing frame sets into their classifications. Plus, I have more than 6 bikes.
This is dumb. (You were thinking that all along. Admit it.) I can do most of what I want to do on a bike on any bike. Maybe I shouldn’t pull a trailer full of kids on the lightish road bike, or ride a metric century on the Collegiate, but there’s a hell of a lot of overlap. I can certainly take any of them on an S24O or on the slow club rides I sometimes lead.
I think it comes down to handlebars, and I think you/I/we need 3 bikes. Three. One, two, three (3). Thuh-ree.
Circling back around to Grant Petersen and Rivendell, those guys have sold 3 types of handlebars ever since 1994. Some sort of drop bar, an upright, swept back bar, and the infamous mustache bar. I’ve read a lot of GP’s writings, and I don’t recall him ever saying “you need one bike with each of our handlebars”, but I think he meant to. Or maybe he knows it, but doesn’t want to just come right out and say it. I don’t know. Doesn’t matter. But in a round about way, I think he’s on to something.
Get a drop bar you like. I like the Nitto B115, the Nitto Randonneur, and the Salsa Cowbell. Pick something you like and set it up in a way that’s comfy. Higher for an off-road-ish bike, lower for lightish, fastish.
Get some city bars. Wald 8095, there’s something called a Promenade, maybe Albatross bars. Pair them up with a leather saddle or a sprung saddle. Maybe both.
Get another bar. Mustache, Mary, those weird trekking bars. And that’s it. That’s all you need.
Put the porteur rack on your bike with city bars. Now it’s your shopper, S24O’er, townie. Or follow Jan Heine’s lead and put it on your drop bar rando bike with fat tires. Now it’s an “urban bike”.
Got an old mountain bike? Albatross bars and racks and baskets and now you can tour, camp, grocery shop and commute on it. Mustache bars and pretend it’s an XO-1. You’ve always wanted one of those.
Get three different bars and put them on three different frames and go from there. You’ll figure out which bike does what.
You need three bikes.
Maybe a fourth, just in case one of them is in the shop…