Friday, September 30, 2011

How We Roll in Greater Boston

JP Twins and His Raleigh Marathon, Lexington MA
It amazes and delights me to see so many people on beautiful, functional and unique bicycles in the Boston area - from refurbished vintage finds to locally built custom frames. A mere two years ago this was far from a common sight, but today I might be stopped on the street and asked things like "Hey, are those Porteur bars?" by a complete stranger. People recognise me on occasion as well, as do I them - which is always funny. "You're Lovely Bicycle!" "And you're the girl who parks her ANT in Harvard Square!" After that we don't know what else to say, but we are both ridiculously happy. Yesterday I had another such encounter, and this time I had my camera out.

Modified Raleigh Marathon
On my way home from Lexington I had taken a detour to photograph my mixte in a field at sunset, when out of the corner of my eye I saw the glow of a dynamo-powered headlight. As it moved toward me - gliding across the grass in the fading evening light - I could make out shellacked bartape and a rider clad in what was almost certainly a vintage wool jersey, astride a gigantic lugged steel bicycle.

JP Twins and His Raleigh Marathon, Lexington MA
Turns out it was JP Twins - whom I had never met before, but have known for some time as a reader of this blog. And that with him is an enormous Raleigh Marathon (what is that, a 65cm frame?..), which he has transformed into an all-weather long distance commuter, Boston style.  Behold:

Modified Raleigh Marathon
A vintage frame with character.

Modified Raleigh Marathon
Nitto Noodles, Cane Creek levers, shellacked cloth tape, brass bell.

Modified Raleigh Marathon
Single speed conversion.

Modified Raleigh Marathon
Two chainring sizes, just in case.

Modified Raleigh Marathon
Dynamo lighting with the wiring neatly zip-tied to the fork.

Modified Raleigh Marathon
And of course, full fenders, rear rack and a set of panniers.

Modified Raleigh Marathon
30 mile commute? No problem. This is how we roll in greater Boston. What about your town?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Guilty Farewell to Vintage Roadbikes

Good Bye, Bianchi
Earlier this month, I parted with my remaining vintage roadbikes: a 1982 Bianchi and a 1978 Francesco Moser. Both bicycles ended up going to people I know, and their futures look promising. The Moser will be built up as a geared roadbike again and ridden by a long-time local cyclist. The Bianchi will get a make-over and may end up riding in the Eroica. The bikes moved on to greener pastures, leaving me with only my Rivendell to contemplate lessons learned and a direction for the future.

Waja Track Bike, Home for Wayward Cats
I've been experimenting with vintage roadbikes since last summer, which has included riding other people's bikes and also buying a few for the express purpose of playing around with them. The bicycles I've tried in this manner have included examples of American, French, Japanese, English and Italian bikes from the late 1970s and early '80s. Not an enormous sample, but a nice beginner's crash course. Somewhat to my surprise, I found that I liked every Italian bicycle I tried, whereas the mid-tier French bicycles felt the worst. The Japanese bikes were comfortable, and I could see the roots of Rivendell's philosophy in their geometry and handling. It was very interesting - but ultimately unsustainable.

Vintage Trek, Concord, MA
For one thing, even if a vintage bike is in good condition, it takes me a great deal of resources to set it up in a way I find ridable: Usually I have to change the brake levers, the handlebars, and - if I want to comfortably switch gears - the shifters. Not only does this require time and money, but it also ultimately changes the bike's character.

However, the bigger issue is that trying a modern roadbike this summer - and enjoying the benefits of its light, easy-to use components - has made me realise just how far I'd have to go to get the same level of performance out of a vintage bike. Assuming that I can find one in the correct size for me and with a sufficiently light, good quality racing frame, I would have to then put a modern wheelset and component group on it, as well as structurally alter the frame in order to make that possible - all just to determine whether the complete bike will be up to par. It does not seem like a practical endevour to me. 

Francesco Moser
Considering the kind of cycling I have been gravitating toward, I would ultimately like to have three roadbikes: a fully equipped touring bike that is capable of going off road, a fixed gear bike, and a "racy" bike that is suitable for competitive cycling. The first I already have. The second I am finally working on after a year of riding a conversion. And the third will be my next priority. I feel guilty that I don't see vintage in the equation, but practical needs trump aesthetic and historical interest. When I am older and have more time and money, I would love to collect gorgeous, historically significant vintage frames. But for now I would like to ride more, tinker less.

Mushroom Picking Season?

Portland Design Works Bamboo/Cork Bar-End Plugs
Just got these in the mail and they looked so ridiculously season-appropriate that I had to share! One of the cutest bicycle accessories I've seen in some time and certainly worth the $10 price tag, these tiny objects are cork and bamboo bar-end plugs from Portland Design Works. They look like miniature mushrooms and are so nice that I almost don't want to install them on my bike.

I like to use wine corks to plug the ends of handlebars, preferring their organic warmth to the cold look and feel of plastic and metal plugs. But I ran out of corks and didn't want to have to drink more wine - so I looked around online and found these delightful creations. They are practically weightless, if you care about that sort of thing, and are made in both drop and upright handlebar diameters. Just lovely all around.

Since my Rivendell no longer has bar-end shifters and my other roadbike is a fixed gear, I will probably order another set and install these on both. What are you using for bar-end plugs these days? I've tried lots of different things at this point, but keep coming back to corky/woodsy stuff - it just feels nicer.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Have Bike, Will Travel?

Co-Motion Tandem with Couplers and Belt Drive
Earlier, I mentioned the popularity of folding bikes at Interbike - a trend that can be attributed to the rise of multimodal urban transport. But a related trend was evident as well: full sized bicycles that disassemble for travel. It seemed like every other booth featured at least one model with couplers - a method of construction that allows for the frame to be taken apart and fit into a standard sized suitcase. The separated parts of the tubes screw into the (usually stainless steel) couplers to form a complete frame, and the brake and shifter cables can be similarly separated using cable splitters. Couplers can be installed on all sorts of bicycles, lugged or welded, with thick or thin tubing - including enormous tandem frames such as this Co-Motion. Visually, I think they look best on stainless steel or silver frames - otherwise they interrupt the continuity of the tubing - though others may not agree (Royal H. has managed to pull these off on a small and elaborately lugged frame without making it overly busy).

Ritchey Breakaway
An alternative method to coupling is the Ritchey break-away system - which I'd heard a lot about, but only now saw in person for the first time.  I am not sure exactly how it works in comparison to couplers, but the connecting points are at the seat cluster and on the downtube near the bottom bracket, which has the benefit of making them seamlessly integrated with the frame.

The idea of taking bicycles apart for travel is certainly not new. While it is not clear who came up with the concept originally and when, I know that disassembleable military bicycles from a number of manufacturers were used during World War II. And Rene Herse offered demountable models for personal use in the 1950s.

Today, the surge in popularity of such bicycles can be traced to the increasing complexity and expense of air travel. Until 2005 or so, many domestic and international airlines allowed full size bicycle boxes to be checked in as luggage for free, or at a minimal cost. Today some airlines do not permit bicycles at all, while those that do charge fees upward of $200 each way. For a couple of years, the ability to disassemble a bicycle and fit it into a standard suitcase allowed the cyclist to avoid this by simply checking in the bike as a regular piece of luggage. However, as of 2010 things have gotten even worse: Most international airlines no longer allow two pieces of luggage per person as before, but limit the amount to one. So even with a disassembleable bicycle, a traveler would have to either check in the suitcase containing it as their sole piece of luggage, or pay an extra fee for checking in two suitcases. As far as I know, no full-size disassembleable bicycle will fit into the overhead compartment of an airplane as carry-on luggage, due to the wheel size. 

Even luggage restrictions aside, there is the very real possibility of a disassembled bicycle being damaged as part of a careless security search, for one thing. And then there is the question of the traveler being sufficiently competent to assemble the bicycle upon arrival - as failure to do this properly can result in safety issues. All things considered, is it worth it? As someone who travels fairly frequently, I am not sure whether a disassembleable bicycle would be more of a help or a burden. For the traveling cyclists out there - what are your thoughts?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Bike That Ruined My Blog... a Review of the Seven Axiom S

Seven Axiom S
[edited to add: Seven Cycles became a sponsor of this website in January 2012. This post was written prior to that time.]

"That bike is going to ruin your blog," was the ominous first line of an email from a longtime reader. I had just announced my loaner arrangement with Seven Cycles and the Ride Studio Cafe, and this - in addition to the breathless account of my first paceline ride - proved simply too much for those who saw me as incompatible with such things. Would I soon be selling my loop frames and renaming the blog to "ugly bicycle?" Well, I will neither try to convince you that the Seven is "lovely in its own way," nor assure you that while the Seven was nice I still prefer lugs. I will simply describe my experience with this bike from the beginning and you can draw your own conclusions.

Seven Axiom S, Ride Studio Cafe
Some time in May, I test rode a Seven Axiom S at the Ride Studio Cafe in Lexington, MA - a bike and coffee shop that is also a Seven dealer. This was meant to be a one-time test ride: I wanted to try a bike that was different from what I normally ride, write about it, and that would be that. There were no demo models in exactly my size, and when given a choice between too small and too big I chose the latter - mainly because that bike had no toe overlap. This bicycle was almost identical in size to the 80s Bianchi on which I'd arrived, so the very helpful Rob Vandermark (who owns both the Ride Studio Cafe and Seven Cycles) measured it and set up the Seven so that my position would be the same. Another reason I chose the particular bike I did, was that it had a Campagnolo group installed. I told Rob that I had difficulty using Shimano brifters on all the modern roadbikes I'd attempted to ride in the past. He looked at the Tektro short reach brake levers on my own bike and said that if I liked how those felt then I should try Campagnolo - the design was very similar. He was right and I was able to brake comfortably.

Seven Self-Portrait Fail
This first test ride made three distinct impressions on me: First, that the bike was unexpectedly "easy to handle." I had assumed it would display the same characteristics I'd come to anticipate from other aggressive roadbikes, such as twitchiness at slow speeds, but there was none of it. I also remember being absolutely stunned by the lack of road shock. One thing I dislike about racing bikes with narrow tires is that they tend to be harsh - even in nice vintage steel bikes there is usually some harshness. On the Seven Axiom I could feel nothing. When I'd go over a bump, the bike was stiff and bouncy, but the expected pain that comes with that did not follow. Finally, I could really feel the lightness of the bike (or rather, the lack of heaviness) while pedaling - which surprised me, as I was previously under the impression that you don't really feel a bicycle's weight unless going uphill. Though I did not particularly care for the looks of a modern, welded frame and all the high-tech looking components, I liked the ride quality of the Seven much more than I expected to. It was a fun bike, a comfortable bike, an "approachable" bike even - though, of course, unnecessary for someone like me. I mean, what would I do with a racing bike?

Ride Studio Cafe
Fast forward a couple of weeks, and spontaneously - although some might argue otherwise - I went on my first paceline ride. Not the social kind, but the kind offered by a cycling team. I did the ride on my Rivendell touring bike and, while I managed to keep up, it was clear that a different type of bicycle was needed if I wanted to keep taking part in these rides - which for some reason, I did. I considered my options. I could not afford to buy a new roadbike on the spot of the quality I wanted, and trying a couple of lower-end bikes made me feel that I'd be throwing money away if I went that route. Plus I wasn't sure that I would even be into that kind of cycling once I tried it a few times. So an idea occurred to me: Maybe the Ride Studio Cafe could rent me the Seven demo bike I'd tried earlier. We discussed it and decided to exchange the bike loan for ad placement on Lovely Bicycle. Mutual non-liability forms were signed and soon I was reunited with the Seven Axiom I'd ridden earlier. To insert a side note here, anyone can walk into the Ride Studio Cafe and test ride a Seven to their heart's content for free. What made ours a sponsored arrangement was that I would have this bike for much longer than typical.

Seven, Red, Woods
I personalised the bike with my own saddle (a red Selle An-Atomica) and matching Fizik handlebar tape, installed a bottle cage, a computer, and MKS Stream pedals with Power Grips, and put a puncture-resistant set of tires on it (Michelin Krylion Carbon), just in case. Otherwise, the bike pictured is as it was given to me. The weight - with everything shown here (note the tool pouch) plus clip-on lights and empty water bottle - felt to be around 17lb.

Axiom S, Clover
Seven Cycles was established in 1997 in Watertown, Massachusetts, where they continue to operate today - building custom frames in titanium, steel and carbon fiber. The titanium models what they are best known for, and their frames have a world-wide reputation for being comfortable and fast. The Axiom S is Seven's "value" straight gauge titanium model, with the frameset priced in the mid $2,000s and complete bikes starting at just over $4,000. While that may seem costly, consider that the Seven is handmade locally and includes custom geometry and paint, and that mass-produced off the shelf roadbikes can fetch similar figures. Puts things into a different perspective is all.

Seven Titanium
The frame is unpainted titanium, polished to a matte finish. My impression of titanium is that it has a cleaner, but also a more "clinical" look to it than, say, stainless steel. However, it is also more scratch/ dent resistant. I rode the bike in all sorts of weather and you can see in the close-up pictures that the frame ended up perpetually covered in sand and grit. This resulted in no surface wear after 800+ miles. As for the feel of titanium, I don't think I can really say, given that my experience of it is limited to this specific bike. Supposedly, titanium offers a cushier ride quality than steel, all other factors remaining equal - and I did experience that here. Still, I'm not ready to attribute this to the titanium per se until I have a bit more experience under my belt.

Seven Axiom S, Curved Stays
This is difficult to photograph, but Seven frames have these beautiful curvy chainstays

Seven Axiom S, Curved Stays
as well as seat stays, which really make the frames recognisable. It's a visual extravagance that, combined with the somber nature of titanium, creates an interesting juxtaposition.

Eternally Dirty
My favourite part of the frame construction is the way the stays transition to the dropouts. Don't know whether anybody else notices this, but it is such a graceful, crisp change in surfaces - there is something I find very satisfying about the design.

Seven Axiom Chainstays
Here it is again - see what I mean?

Seven Cycles Headbadge
I also like the headbadge - especially since my birthday happens to be on the 7th.

Campagnolo Bottom Bracket
This bike was fitted with the Campagnolo Chorus group, which I believe is mid/upper tier. It included crazy things like a carbon fiber crankset and a hollow bottom bracket. Of course, nothing goes better with a carbon crankset than touring pedals and Power Grips - but we'll leave that issue aside for now!

Chorus Ergo 11 Sp Shifters
My favourite aspect of the Chorus group were the combination levers. I like these so much, that I will have to write a separate post about this. But suffice to say I found them easier and more intuitive to use than any other brake lever and shifter system I've tried - and at this point I've tried many, from a variety of Shimano groups to SRAM to all sorts of vintage stuff. By far not everyone feels this way about Campagnolo levers, but they seem to work for me and I was very happy with the effortless braking, fine modulation and precise shifting they afforded.

Eternally Dirty
The Chorus drivetrain is an 11-speed double, which some believe is excessive. I don't really get how it's any more excessive than a 10-speed in comparison to a 9-speed or a 9-speed in comparison to an 8-speed, if you see what I mean. But what do I know. All I can say is that I liked it, and that I preferred using the 11x2 double to the 8x3 triple on my own bike.

Loaner Seven Axiom S
The wheelset is a Mavic Ksyrium SL, with the crazy flat spokes (yes, that is their official name). And the fork is a Seven 5E - which is supped to be a really good, extremely durable carbon fiber fork - but was still scary for me to use at first. In fact, this is the one part of the bike I was afraid to trust, half-convinced the fork would snap and kill me during my first ride.

Seven Axiom S
While initially the bike was set up for me so that the saddle was even with the handlebars, I was soon ready for a more aggressive position and we moved the spacers to lower the bars, flipped the stem upside down, raised the saddle a tad, and also pushed the saddle forward. Still, there is no getting around the fact that this bike was too big for me and it was difficult to take flattering pictures of it, given how I had it set up. Not very good promotion for Seven, I'm afraid!

Last Day with the Seven Axiom S
So what was it like to ride a titanium Seven roadbike for 800+ miles? Well, for one thing the bike rode "fast" - big surprise there. I was faster on it than the Co-Habitant, which otherwise never happens. When I rejoined the paceline rides, I not only was able to keep up, but moved up two group levels fairly quickly. The Seven and the paceline rides combined changed my riding style. I started to ride more frequently, more aggressively, more confidently, and in a more determined and less meandering manner. I lost fat and gained thigh and arm muscle. I got generally stronger and more cardiovascularly fit. I started to think of riding as "training." Training for what? Well, for continuing to move up in the paceline groups and then maybe joining a cycling club and... possibly racing. Did this change me or this blog's content for the worse? I can't tell. Maybe, maybe not. But I enjoyed this type of cycling as I never thought possible to enjoy an athletic activity, and my own perception of myself has shifted as a result.

Seven, Ride Studio Cafe
Of course none of that really describes what's special about the Seven per se, and as you're reading this, you are probably thinking "Well, she would have had the same experience with any light, fast modern roadbike." Except I don't necessarily agree. In order for a person to have an experience like that, a bike has to make them want to ride that way. It has to feel pain-free, safe and comfortable - while going at speeds faster than what they are used to. With other light, modern roadbikes I'd tried, I did not feel comfortable riding them beyond the bike shop parking lot. The carbon fiber felt scary-flimsy, the aluminum felt painful over bumps, the fit felt awkward. Whenever I'd get on a modern racing bike, all I'd feel was "Oh no, that's not for me," whereas on my very first test ride of the Seven I felt the opposite: "Hey wait, I can ride this one!" Maybe it was the titanium, maybe it was the feel of the components, maybe it was the way the bike was set up for me, or maybe it was all of those things. Bottom line is, the Seven turned me into a "roadie" whereas other modern roadbikes I'd tried only made me want to dismount them as soon as possible. To me that seems worth noting.

Seven Axiom S
Also worth noting is that I was able to ride the Seven - and quite enjoyably - across a wider range of conditions than I imagined advisable for a bicycle of its type. I rode it in pouring rain, over horrible pothole-ridden roads (it bounced off the potholes at speed, but quickly regained stability), and on 50+ mile trips. Over time, I began to trust the bike's handling more and more and riding it in all sorts of conditions began to feel natural. In fact, I never felt the desire to ride a roadbike with wider tires or fenders or racks or less aggressive geometry unless I needed to transport stuff or was going to ride off road. While the Seven handled very differently than my other bikes, that difference did not feel any less comfortable - at least not over a 50 mile stretch. Nothing hurt, and there was certainly less fatigue than after riding a heavier steel bike over that distance. Make of that what you will.

Loaner Seven Axiom S
Basically, my understanding had been that there was a trade-off between "racy but uncomfortable" on the one hand, and "comfortable but not racy" on the other. My experience with the Seven has challenged that dichotomy. It was difficult not to choose it over my other roadbikes (a Rivendell Sam Hillborne and a vintage Bianchi Nuovo Racing) nearly every time, given that it was not only faster but also perfectly comfortable.

Seven, Fizik, Selle An-Atomica
And as far as looks are concerned... This may be a cliché, but they grew on me. Part of it was just a matter of coming to appreciate a different aesthetic, but another part of it was coming to associate the look with the feel: I liked how the bicycle rode and the way it looked reminded me of how it rode. Therefore, I began to like the way it looked. Personalising it with some of my own accessories helped as well, and in general I think the titanium frames are very versatile in that sense.

Last Day with the Seven Axiom S
So that is my story of the Seven Axiom S. This is far from a perfect review, given the limited nature of my experience with other roadbikes in its class. But it's telling in the sense that, as a relative beginner, I was able to ride this bicycle comfortably and to advance fairly quickly with its help. Are there other bikes out there that I could have had the same relationship with? Probably, but at this point I will never know, simply because I can't go through this experience twice. The Seven is now back at the Ride Studio Cafe, and I won't lie - I am having major withdrawal. I need a light, modern, road/racing bike of my own, that much is clear. Does it have to be a Seven? Probably not, other bikes exist. But frankly, the idea of doing more lengthy test rides and research - when I already know that the Seven Axiom S does everything I want and need - seems tedious. So... well, I can't say for sure yet; time will tell. In the meantime, my sincere thanks to the Ride Studio Cafe and Seven Cycles for this opportunity... even if they did help ruin my blog!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Manifest's Destiny: Thoughts on Utility Bikes and the Oregon Manifest Challenge

Oregon Manifest Field Test-18
image via Jonathan Maus/ BikePortland.org
The Oregon Manifest took place over last weekend, and it was fascinating to follow. Having now become an annual tradition, this event is a competition among framebuilders - a "constructor's design challenge" - for creating the ultimate utility bike. What's a utility bike? You are not the only one who's wondering. Not only does everyone seem to have a different idea of the meaning of this concept, but the Manifest's parameters have shifted over time as well.

Oregon Manifest 2009: Cielo - III
image via scurvy_knaves
In the first couple of years of the competition, most of the participating framebuilders submitted some version of modified racing bikes or French randonneur or porterur inspired bicycles: aggressive diamond frame bikes designed to carry a front load (I believe the requirement was a case of beer). Only some of the entries were equipped with proper lights, fenders and other basics. This approach was criticised for taking into account the needs and abilities of only a small portion of cyclists, and for not being sufficiently condusive to everyday use.

Fuse Project - Sycip-3-22
image via Jonathan Maus/ BikePortland.org
But the 2011 entries were radically different. Nearly all framebuilders submitted some version of a cargo bicycle - ranging from contemporary versions of long-tails, to long johns, to front load box bikes and tricycles resembling small houseboats. Electric assist was used on what seemed like half of them. Mixte or step-through designs on some.

Frances-66
image via Jonathan Maus/ BikePortland.org
With this in mind, it is somewhat ironic that this year's competition seems to have garnered even more criticism than I recall in previous years - and mostly from transportation cyclists. All weekend long there was exchange about it on twitter that has been summarised in this post by Dave Feucht on Portlandize - the gist of it being that the winning entries suffer from lack of real-world applicability, making the Oregon Manifest "irrelevant." Personally, I would not go that far. But - with the disclaimer that I did not actually attend the show and formed impressions based on photographic evidence - my personal view is that this year's competition went too far into the opposite direction from which it started.

Ziba Design - Signal Cycles-5-28
image via Jonathan Maus/ BikePortland.org
Most of the designs I see in the show's documentation are so convoluted that I hardly know where to look, let alone how to operate the bikes. From side-cars, to bags suspended like hammocks, to complicated locking systems, to frames that look like they are designed for an acrobat, it seems to me that many framebuilders focused on bells and whistles rather than actual utility. It also seems like many of the builders worked in a vacuum - trying to design a cargo bike from scratch instead of taking into consideration the perfectly good, time-tested models that have been out there for decades.

Oregon Manifest Field Test-22
image via Jonathan Maus/ BikePortland.org
I suspect the judges felt this as well - because the winning entry was fairly simple in comparison to the others. But I agree with Portlandize that an integrated stereo and carbon fiber lock box for your lunch do not make a bicycle a "car replacement."

Curtis Inglis-Retrotec-2-40
image via Jonathan Maus/ BikePortland.org
There were a few bicycles in the show that - to my eye - were both simple and utilitarian, such as the Quixote/CleverCycles collaboration, the Rock Lobster bike, and the entry from Geekhouse. And my personal favourite in the show was the long tail + front loader by Retrotec/Inglis Cycles (above). The low step-through makes it accessible to everyone, regardless of gender and choice of clothing. The X-tracycle-based design and extra boards placed low in the rear allow for enormous loads as well as passengers, and the front utility rack allows for more cargo still. The design is harmonious and classic and the bicycle looks approachable to a moderately skilled cyclist - which I think is an important factor many builders tend to undermine.

Oregon Manifest Field Test-32
image via Jonathan Maus / BikePortland.org
Finally, I agree with the comment on Portlandize that the Field Test part of the challenge - a 50 mile on and off road course over a mountain - is not representative of how a typical person in North America would wish to use a heavy-duty utility bike. It was a relevant test when the randonneur style bicycles were prevalent among the entries, but not for bikes like these - the whole point of which is to carry much more than is pictured, but over shorter distances. With all the talk of "car replacement" in the guidelines, a huge cargo-style family bike seems to not have been what the organisers of the Oregon Manifest had in mind.

Oregon Manifest Field Test-45
image via Jonathan Maus/ BikePortland.org
There are many varieties of utility bikes out there and perhaps events such this would do better if they picked one and stuck to it, optimising all the aspects of the competition - including the field test - for testing that particular style of bicycle. There is a world of difference between randonneuring bicycles and long-johns, and a competition that is vague enough to include both - and then make them race against one another - is bound to evoke criticism.

"Identity before destiny" might be a motto to consider for next year's Oregon Manifest. And one could say that the same issue faces the utility bike market in North America at large. What do we mean by "car replacement?" Are stereos and electric assist must-have parts of the equation, or is it about ease of operation and hauling capacity? And is it reasonable to expect such a bicycle to win a 50 mile race?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Frills or Basics?

Phil Wood Crankset
In the comments of recent posts there has been some interesting discussion about spending money on bicycles and accessories. I am not going to delve into some of the more existential issues raised, but one theme I found funny was the difference in our willingness to spend money on bikes versus accessories. Some are willing to spend a hefty sum on a bicycle, but don't really go for fancy components or accessories beyond the basics. Others would never spend more than several hundred dollars on a bike, but are perfectly happy to pay for component upgrades and fancy luggage.

My personal bias falls toward the former. If I have a set budget and I am building up a bicycle from scratch, I am liable to spring for the nicest frame I can manage and then settle for inexpensive components until I can afford better ones. Or else just buy the frame alone, then wait another year while I save up for the rest. And while I know that components can influence ride quality as much as the frame, I just can't help but place more importance on the latter. The frame is the key in defining the bike for me, while  components can always be replaced if need be. But I realise that not everyone feels that way. In Boston I sometimes see things like a Surly frame with Phil Wood hubs, or a Linus bike with a limited edition Brooks saddle and grips, and it's always mystified me - those things cost more than the rest of the bike! One woman's told me that she finds it more interesting to spend money on components and accessories, because there is a great deal of choice and it feels playful. A frame, on the other hand, is "just there" - kind of a boring part of the bike unless one is especially interested in geometry and frame design. Okay, I sort of understand that take on it. But I definitely can't relate!

Do you tend to splurge on the frills or the basics? Or do you opt for the sensible middle-ground?