Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wheeling and Dealing: Can We Learn from Owning (and Selling) Bicycles?

As you have probably noticed, I own more than a couple of bicycles at this point. I have also sold a few and may be paring down further before the summer's end. Most of the bicycles I've owned have gone through a variety of experimental alterations - some minor, others major; some successful and others not so much. So, what is the point of it all? Were some of these bicycles "mistakes" that I should not have gotten in the first place? And are my various projects ultimately wastes of time and money if I end up selling the bicycle in the end?

Bicycle ownership for me has two purposes. First and foremost, it is utilitarian: Ideally, I want to own several bicycles, each of which will excel at a designated function - such as commuting or cyclotouring. But I also enjoy learning about different kinds of bicycles. This includes understanding bicycle history, geometry, positioning, and the differences between manufacturing styles. And I would argue that this kind of knowledge can only truly be gained through owning and riding a variety of bicycles; just reading and chatting about it is not sufficient. For me, bicycle ownership has been educational, and no bicycle I have acquired and subsequently let go of has been a "mistake": They have each helped me understand something crucial.

Some things I have learned through my experiences:
. the relationship between bicycle geometry and bicycle handling
. how to adjust my position for maximum comfort on different kinds of bikes
. which components work best for me, and why
. what is really my optimal bicycle size
. how to maximise a bicycle's strengths and compensate for a bicycle's shortcomings
. how to determine whether my cycling limitations are due to lack of skill or to discomfort
. and, of course, how to perform a variety of DIY adjustments

Though there have been frustrations, there have also been great rewards. The Pashley Princess was a dear fried whose beauty inspired me, and thanks to whose stability and reliability I immediately became comfortable with vehicular cycling. The Raleigh Lady's Sports taught me all about vintage English 3-speeds, plunged me into an obsession with cream tires, and, ultimately, made me realise that I prefer loop frames to straight step-through frames. And the Mercier mixte helped me understand derailleur gearing by allowing me to boldly experiment with drivetrain conversion, as well as to experience an authentic French city bicycle from a bygone era.

I do not see myself as a collector of bicycles, but I am happy to serve as foster parent to a few that will ultimately be passed along to another owner - learning all I can from it in the meanwhile. As for the financial costs of the purchases and the alterations - I have been lucky to more or less break even, and that is good enough for me. I have also been lucky to get lots of advice and help from experienced bicycle lovers not only locally, but from all over the world. Thank you all, and I hope that some of my experiences have provided useful or entertaining information for my readers.

21 comments:

  1. It is my feeling that many people become frustrated by bicycling because they think that the first bike they buy should be a "one size fits all" deal; many do not realize the sheer variety of bikes available. You do yourself (and the readers of your blog) a service by experimenting and trying out different styles.

    In the past 4 years I have bought and sold 15 bikes and now have a "stable" of 3... I wholly subscribe to your "I want to own several bicycles, each of which will excel at a designated function" philosophy, and I think I am almost there. Just 2 to go ;)

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  2. Velouria, if you continue to cycle, you will buy and sell even more bikes. We are always learning about bikes and the kinds of riders we are. Both change, sometimes in ways we don't anticipate.

    I think your "foster parent" metaphor is apt. Sometimes you're a temporary caretaker for a bike that finds a more suitable home. And you describe the Pashley as a "dear friend" (which is how you portrayed her throughout this blog). Sometimes being a friend means knowing when to part ways, and you did so at the right time for you--and, probably, her.

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  3. Your posts always prove both useful and entertaining. I agree it's only when you get on the steel steeds that you really start learning lessons about your own personal cycling style and needs (and of course these change anyway). That you've broken even whilst gaining all this experience is fab.

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  4. Well, I'm in a monogamous relationship with my Trek 520 touring bike. With its long wheelbase, it's a wonderfully stable bike for commuting, a comfortable bike for the long rides, and built to carry loads. And I like that the the labor was not outsourced. It was built in the US, keeping US workers on the job.

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  5. Yay! I'm glad I'm not the only one with multiple bikes at home. :-D I agree that you learn a lot by having different types of bikes, and it's fun to have the styles to match your mood of riding. And I'm happy that I no longer need to pay someone else to work on my bikes for me!

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  6. A person knows what they know from experience, not from theory. Isn't it great to know about bicycles! Loved the Portland travelogue. Maybe one with more about Portland than bikes.

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  7. Astroluc - Informative to know that you have bought and sold 15 bikes over the years. But let's not be extreme here; I think cutting down to under 3 is just unreasonable : )

    BB - Once you have a bunch of bike cr@p, there are things that can be done like trading with others, and just plain selling unnecessary vintage components, which helps as well.

    Anne - I now have a Trek 610 from 1982, which feels very nice as well. It is more sporty than a touring bike, but comfortable and super fast.

    Dave - This time the trip was short and too personal for the web; but I hope we will be back soon - then travelogue for sure.

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  8. Very well put. Couldn't have said it better myself. Agree entirely.

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  9. I do the same thing with my camera collection, the main difference is that it fits on a shelf and cost less altogether than my new bike. Right now I am considering selling one lens to buy another rangefinder and get another repaired.

    I would like to have another bike, something a little sportier than my commuter, just for fun, but there's the storage space issue. Don't really have any. This might improve when we have the shed and fence rebuilt, but for now, I'm going to have to get as much fun as I can out of the one bike.

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  10. I love reading about your various builds/projects - regardless if they turn out or not. I have a {small} collection of vintage beauties myself but have not entertained the idea of selling any of them {yet!}. thank you for sharing your trials and tribulations - you have excellent taste in bikes!

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  11. Moopheus - I agree about the camera collection! Fountain pens (of which I own many) take a lot less space as well.

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  12. Your posts continually remind me that finding the one perfect multipurpose bike is impossible - which somehow frees me to enjoy my less than perfect bike choices to the fullest. Besides it's such fun to see what bike-adventuring you'll do next.

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  13. This is beautifully said.

    When I decided to sell my first bike, I felt a little sheepish about it -- like I had failed somehow, like I actually had no idea what I wanted in a bike at all. The second bike softened this a bit. It was so completely wrong for me, that it helped me warm to the idea that I won't always get it right. Also, that what is right at the present moment may not necessarily be right forever.

    Your experience is a good lesson here. It's an adventure to enjoy, not a mistake to feel guilty about.

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  14. Emma - Right now I feel fortunate enough to own 2 bicycles that are absolutely perfect for what they are meant to be, but (at least in my view) not very versatile enough for other things. The rest is fun, but changeable. Will see whee it all goes : )

    erin - That is pretty much exactly what I meant!

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  15. velouria,
    love your site...thanks so much for giving voice to so much of what i feel about bicycles and cycling (not to mention cameras, cats and fountain pens)!
    glad you have been able to ride, enjoy, tweak and then find new homes for some of your bicycles. so far, i have not been able to let go of any of mine. you might give me the courage needed to do so, though. ;-) can't wait to see the Royal Mixte built up (and with Peter White's wheels!). also glad you're enjoying your Rivendell so much. i feel the same about mine.

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  16. Velouria, love your blog. thank you for giving voice to so much of what i feel about bicycles and cycling (not to mention cameras, cats and fountain pens). looking forward to seeing your Royal Mixte built-up (with PW's wheels, no less!). also glad your Rivendell is suiting you so well. i feel the same way about mine. Now if i could just bring myself to 'let go' of a couple of my bikes, i'd be happy. Maybe you'll give me the courage to do so!

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  17. so sorry about the duplicates, as i'm new at posting...my apologies!

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  18. Can't have too many bikes or components. I keep UPS busy delivering items that I cannot live without. Luckily, I have no other costly obsession.

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  19. Beautiful post!

    I agree - loving and learning about cycling and bicycles is best achieved through experimentation with lots of different models, through hands-on DIY, and by having the courage to buy and let go of various bikes at one point or another.

    I have really enjoyed reading about your various bikes and your various alterations and experimentations, it's what makes your site a wealth of knowledge for me! Thank you!

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  20. kps - The mixte with the custom wheels is this close to being done!.. (and that's when he time most likely will come to let one more bike go)

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  21. Great post. I learned a lot about what I wanted and didn't want in a bike by riding my first, an inexpensive aluminum "commuter" bike. After that was stolen, I knew exactly what to look for and chose perfectly with my Rivendell Betty Foy - a huge upgrade, but one that I felt comfortable spending the money on, once I really understood my needs.

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