Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What Is the Right Bike for You?

Bellarena Airfield by Brompton
Of all the bike-related discussions I have with readers, with members of the bicycle industry, with other bloggers and with cycling friends, the most common one - the most recurring and inexhaustible - centers on that all-important question: "What is the right bike for me?" What is the perfect bike, the ideal bike? Does such a thing even exist?

Funny enough, over the years this question has gotten more, not less complicated. From city bikes to racing bikes to everything in between, we are plain spoiled for choice in 2014 compared to the way things stood in 2009. There are more off-the-shelf options now than ever in every category and sub-category of bicycles for sport and transport. The custom framebuilding industry has mushroomed. And we are showered with philosophies and slogans - some competing and overlapping - with respect to how to approach cycling in the first place. There are lots of products out there, lots of opinions and information. But how to parse through it all and know what bike is right for you?

After 5 years of running this blog, I still don't know very much about bicycles. But I do have an answer (not THE answer, heavens forbid) to this question that I can offer to those who ask it. It is not an especially profound or epiphonic answer. It is an answer that, quite, frankly, is disappointing in its simplicity. It is an answer so obvious that it is consistently overlooked. Chances are you will find it a bit of a letdown. But here goes anyway:

The right bike for you is the bike you will ride. 

That's it. That is all there is to it. 

The right bike might fit all the criteria put forth, with impeccable logic, by the most revered cycling journal, book, blog, or reviewer - right down to geometry, tire size and accessories. Or it might fit none of them. It might be completely wrong for your use case scenario. It might be ill fitting and improperly accessorised. It might be too fancy for what you use it for, or not fancy enough. It might have features you'll never need, or lack features you do need. Still, if you find yourself riding it all the time, reaching for it when you head out the door, it is the right bike for you. 

The right bike might be the very epitome of your idea of beautiful. The smuttiest of #bikep0rn. The sort of bike you have always pictured yourself upon, gliding down the street as passers-by swoon with admiration and envy. Or it might be nothing of the sort. Even if the bike is lackluster in appearance and totally at odds with the way you see yourself, if you ride it all the time it is the right bike for you. 

The right bike is the bike you ride. 

This does not imply you ought to force yourself to make do with a machine you dislike. Rather, it suggests you keep an open mind about what it really means to like a bicycle in the first place. The litmus test is in the riding.

Is your "dream bike" - the bike that's supposedly perfect in every way - languishing in the hallway while a different one gets ridden? The one that's being ridden is the right bike for you. 

The right bike is the one you will end up riding the heck out of - regardless of whether you, your friends, the staff at your local bike shop, reviewers in your favourite publication, or anonymous commentators on internet forums, agree it is right for you. In short, all I'm saying is...

RIDE = RIGHT

Thank you, as always, for reading Lovely Bicycle - in particular over this past, rather turbulent year! 

47 comments:

  1. I totally agree wit this post. No point in having a $10,000 dream bike if you are too scared to take it out.

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  2. Thank you for writing it !

    RAR1954

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  3. Haha, yes! And bike shopping can be such a crapshoot. I mean sure, you can ride a bike around your LBS's parking lot, but that doesn't really tell you how it's going to feel after a few miles. Found that out the hard way.

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  4. I love riding my Dahon Mariner folding bike everywhere! I've ridden it over 7000 miles the last couple of years. I have even towed my 2 year old granddaughter along the bike trails in RI and Ma. I am a 66 year old grandfather and find the size just right. (Less far to fall ;-) I love your blog, and notice you seem to enjoy your Brompton.

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    1. I didn't want to like my Dahon. I got it for purely practical/logistical reasons. And it ended up being my favorite bike to ride, so much so, that I'll eschew my other bikes, even if they're slightly more suited to the task at hand. If only I didn't look so goofy riding it!

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  5. It has been a turbulent year for you, and a year of watching remarkable change and growth for us observers. You continue to amaze, V.

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  6. Turbulence? You seem to be straight and level in balanced cruise now! Good on you!!

    I am struggling with this exact scenario right now. I am blessed with space (and a little available credit!) so I have my "needs" covered. I have a couple of commuters I love, for the blasts around the weekend I have grown to like this Trek 5200 carbon in a red almost Chromovelato look. Very comfy indeed. I have a 650b for hauling, and a cupla fixed gears for blowing up my knees.

    I have a friend from a fishing website that has run her Fuji Allegro through the ringer for 25 years. She always puts up cool pix around Brooklyn on the site. No car and between jobs her Fooj needed a little love. I did some overhauling and parts changes where needed (the freewheel wasn't free any more!), put some alloy wheels on it and greased everything, etc. She was in heaven!
    It was stolen last summer, such is life. She was crushed.
    So philanthropic me wants to help her out. I would describe her as a non-bike person who rides a lot. She has to carry up a few flights. Lock up here and there. Carry some stuff. She's "used to" riding with her hands near the stem and using the "safety lever" brakes (I hate that term!). As such she was using a 23" or bigger frame.
    Now I want to get her something that fits proper (55 cm)and gets her on the hoods, possibly with some Shimano 9 speed on a vintage steel frame. But then again, as indicated in the timely post, it's gotta "feel right". She's not a "bike person" so she might actually be turned off by modern goodies. So it may be a Nishiki I saw recently ... stem shifters and safety levers be darned!

    Many thanks for all the good insights here, both from the hostess and commenters!

    Victor K. / Gloomy Brooklyn, NY

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    1. Yeah those "safety" levers are crazy. How about aero brake levers & cross (interrupt) levers? That works well for me and works with shifters on an older bike (stem, downtube, bar-end). It's a fairly cheap setup change since an old bike probably needs new bar tape & brake cabling.

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    2. Hi Somebody!
      My friend is very proud and does not want to accept my "charit..." I'll cal it "philanthropy". Lined up in the chamber right now to pull the trigger on are a Lotus Columbus bare frame and a Nishiki fully assembled and equivalent to her old Fuji Allegro. Nice ligged with little panto "N"s on the crown caps. Safety levers and all.

      You and I had the epiphany at the same time! Yes, the Specialized Roubaix bikes were the first ones I noticed the interruptors on and I think that will be the way to go if I build up the Lotus with 9 speed.
      I hope she lightens up and lets me give her a hand. She's got a hearta gold and I want to see her happy on 2 wheels again.

      vsk / Chilly Brookaleen, NY

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  7. I have a full custom on order, but I don't think it will be "the right bike" for ALL my riding. I still find myself grabbing a $100 craigslist Trek for my usual weekend loops, and I will probably continue to do so after having my full custom built up. But my full custom will serve a specific purpose, and for that it will be "the perfect bike".

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  8. You hit the nail square on the head, driving it through the board perfectly. Buy and ride what YOU want, not what somebody else advises you to do. That's great advice for life, too.

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  9. completely agree - although I would add fit and color (or maybe even lack thereof) are probably the 2 most crucial considerations when deciding on a bike.

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  10. Yes, you're right on it again.
    There's also the time thing - the right bike today might languish tomorrow.
    Each day being a little different,
    i prefer 3 $333 bikes to 1 @ $1,000 - what luxurious decadence!

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  11. Wait what???????????

    Do you mean to say you agree with me after so many years of overcomplicating things? Jeez if you'd have just come to the realization awhile ago.

    News flash: I don't know why people think you are the one to go to for all answers bike (but I can guess) but your "realization" is nothing new. Nearly all people who have truly loved bikes since childhood have had a series of bikes, all of which they've loved and ridden. I have. Hence my sometimes harsh words here.

    Now if your self-stated goal is to get people to swoon, that's a social standing aspirational thing that is only tangentially related to bikes. A status symbol.

    But really cars are far, far above the bike as a status indicator, or so the vast majority of car drivers think. Riders will always be marginalized by the redneck car drivers, no matter their whip of choice.

    Now the other existential question you bring up is since you say you don't know that much about bikes but desire the social standing is it earned? Don't answer that, it's rhetorical.

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  12. I agree with your logic 100%. The perfect bike is the one that gets a person to ride. If you continually reach for that bike, it's the right one for you.

    Now the reality is the perfect bike may change over time due to age or unforeseen complications, but since we have so many selections to choose from, there will always be another perfect bike.

    I'm currently at the junction.

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  13. Excellent entry. The bike I ride is a 36-year old Raleigh Sports that I've had since new. I got reacquainted with it when I retired four years ago. I've tried other bikes and always come to the conclusion that while this might not be the bike for everybody, it is the bike for me.

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    1. Further, I first got aquatinted with your blog when I was getting ready to fix-up or replace the Raleigh. Your entries about "Lucy" were a big help in making the decision. Thanks for sharing your biking wisdom. Always a pleasure to read.

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  14. This is another head scratcher. I've never completely related to your many bike decisions. Excessive is the only way I can think of describing the sorta bike for every occasion philosophy you pursued. But if one has the time and money, go for it, so the array of bikes was entertaining rather than informative.

    But this I understand better. If it works, it's good. Damn, it's beautiful, even. Life is so complicated, why add to it with layers of nothing? Personally, I think I need way more than I do in order to be happy and productive but like you it took many years of riding to understand this, and riding a bike makes me happy. Simply happy. The game changer, however, was getting one which fit properly so I could be on it for hours on end. It's not fancy nor was it cheap but without the expense of operating a car it was a no brainer. I've never owned more than one bike at a time so the 'right' bike was simply the one I had. It was always a means to an end and never the end in and of itself. Riding made me happy, not riding was unhealthy. That said, the experience has been enhanced SO much by getting something which fits properly for my body and needs. Again, it's not about the bike as an object but rather the bike as a tool to health and happiness. Cheers.

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    1. Agree 100% with your second paragraph!

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  15. Great answer. It's like photography. I'm constantly asked which is the best camera. But as other have stated - once you get past basic needs evaluation and understanding the pros and cons of different technologies - the best camera is the one you're willing to take with you. Too big of a dSLR? Pointless. Camera too small to comfortably hold? No point either. So it is with bikes...

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  16. I could not agree more! I always love reading your posts :)

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  17. This sums it up better than anything I have read (and is, more or less, what I tell people who ask me such questions).

    Often, I find myself answering this question with a question: what do you want to use the bicycle for? That, and a few other guiding questions, often lead people towards that perfect bike, whatever it may be.

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  18. My perfect bike is my tandem for riding with my wife, my converted MTB with fenders, racks and lights for commuting and touring, my 1960's British lightweight Condor for weekend riding and Brevets, my Pugsley for mud and sand riding, my Molten for taking on vacations, my racing recumbent for racing recumbents. my rod brake Raleigh for my All British Cycling events.

    Whatever bike you need = The bike you need. There's not one type of bike to love, just as I can't pick one genre of music only listen to, or is the only wine or beer to drink.

    If you can afford it get all the bikes you can and spend what you feel you can.

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  19. My thoughts exactly. I am a lazy kind of person so I knew I need a bike I will love to bits, otherwise after a short riding it all the time-period it will end up in an unlit basement corner covered with dust. Now let me tell you I am not exactly 15 years old anymore, but when I first saw the Felt LeMans beach cruiser I knew I will want to use it whenever possible :) As you write as well, many things had to work out to make this crazy two-wheeled joke an ideal commuter instead of a compromised choice - like living in a not too big city, with manageable traffic which allows for lazy pedalling and enjoying yourself and the ride (instead of trying to get from A to B a.s.a.p.) or living in a mainly flat area, as defying gravity is not one of its strengths. Please keep on writing and cheers from slovakia

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  20. I've never been able to predict which bike I might acquire is going to be the one I ride. First get the bike home, then see what happens. I sure as heck can't predict what someone else is going to like riding. So when someone asks me which bike to buy I can only say "yes, get some bikes". Which advice they never understand.

    So how is the Triumph doing? Fully operational? Any chance it will ever be the go-to bike in preference to the Brompton? Personally I just don't care for Brommies but I have seen over the years that Brommy purchasers I never expected to much ride the thing use them and use them a lot.

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    1. No danger of it competing with the Brompton. The Triumph was a rescue bike, purely for recreational short distance use and V-CC rides. I need to replace the rod brakes, but otherwise it is good to go.

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  21. Nothing much to add, except Happy Blogiversary!

    It's been an interesting and eventful time, and it's funny to think I have been here for almost all of it.

    http://www.omniglot.com/soundfiles/vietnamese/cheers_vi.mp3

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  22. Yes. Beautiful, and true, in its simplicity.

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  23. I've got seven cycles that I rotate more or less regularly, depending on need or purpose. Each is basically an unholy Frankenbike, built up from a cast-off frame (having been cursed with a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences, I'm perennially skinned), with self-built wheels and whatever parts and accessories I could get. Each bike is functional, but each has some major flaw or defect that denies it the "perfect bike" designation. As a bonus, after 40-50 miles, each induces some severe physical discomfort and/or numbness in its rider. Hope springs eternal, though: I'm pretty sure I can turn the late-50's department store diamond-frame middleweight found in a former landlady's garage into the perfect ride. Right? I mean, sure, this one will be the one. What was it that Einstein said?

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  24. Suddenly, in spite of KNOWING that the "Right" one for us is 5'10", slim and athletic, tan with blue eyes, we find we can't sleep wondering how long till the next time we get to breathe the air behind the ear of that small, crinkly haired, brown eyed person that made us forget where we left the keys.

    The Universe doesn't really care about what we "prefer", it gives us what it's got.

    Spindizzy

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  25. Totally agree. My favourite bike is my old speedwell, my bike from my childhood. It's just coincidental that it is comfortable and suits the sort of riding I do now, but all these things combined make it my go to bike, nearly every time.

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  26. Happy anniversary. You're lovely!

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  27. I made up my four bicycles and among these the "randonneur 650B" is my favorite. Nevertheless, it's impossible to park it downtown in a street because I have fears for losing it.
    It took me a lot of time to fit components in my flat, especially building wheels with a more or less good truing stand.

    Here is two pictures of my "perfect bike":
    http://www.kirikoo.net/images/7lemage-2-20140329-175020.jpg
    http://www.kirikoo.net/images/7lemage-3-20140329-175020.jpg

    L.

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  28. I hope this philosophy is compatible with the N+1 formula!

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  29. My favorite bike is the one with air in the tires.

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  30. thank you for a great post. I agree (as far as I'm concerned the seat of my pants contain the collective wisdom of millions of years of evolution and it would be unbelievably arrogant to disagree with it). the post read like a cross between a chant/song/lords prayer and I think you should try to put it in verse and add music and put it on YouTube (with, perhaps, three leonard cohenish back singers doing the "right bike is the bike you ride" chorus at intervals)

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  31. Is it your Blog Anniversary? Congratulations! Here's to many more.

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    1. I missed it actually, twas a couple of weeks ago - 5 years!

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  32. Great topic for a post! My take on this is that when someone asks or wonders about what is the right bike or 'perfect' bike for them, they are implying that they have not settled on a bike they are completely happy with.

    Perhaps they haven't ridden for a while and are contemplating taking up riding this year. Or perhaps they have several bikes but are not particularly fond of any of them. Maybe they have had a history of not feeling comfortable on the bikes they've owned, either because of poor fit or some other issue.

    In cases like these, it's oxymoronic to say 'the right bike is the bike you'll ride' because there is not bike in the garage that fits that bill and the questioner is actually asking 'how do I identify the right bike for me'?

    So... the process to identify that bike really depends on asking the person a series of questions about how they want to use the bike (urban commuting, country rambles, an occasional short jaunt, etc), along with other things, such as their level of seriousness (for lack of a better word) about the sport, budget, importance of aesthetics (Rivendell vs Soma vs Jamis), etc.

    Then, of course, there's no substitute for spending some time trying different bikes-- though, as some have pointed out here, short sample rides are not always conclusive.

    Ultimately, V, you are right that the best bike is the one that's ridden. But getting from here to there is the real challenge.

    And though I really like my bike in the garage (Salsa Vaya), I still wonder if there's another bike out there...

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  33. I have to disagree with one of your comments: "...I don't know much about bikes." You're too humble. I wish I had 1/10th of your bike knowledge. I've learned a lot from reading your blog and I've researched a lot because of something you've mentioned. I thank you for that.

    I also enjoy reading the comments except for one who shall be nameless here. It's like bikes: Can't like 'em all.

    Happy Belated Blog Anniversary.

    In the meantime.....

    Ride Long and Prosper

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    1. That's ok, I don't like half the comments or post conclusions here either, if you're referring to me. If not, same applies. That's life, which is greater than bikes.

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  34. Brilliant post. Thanks you for keeping the blog going, it's a refuge for me.

    Still loving my Soma Smoothie ES though I'm thinking of adding some kind of rando setup to the collection (as in, two bikes. Gotta sell a mountain bike, with possible return to hardtail simplicity in the future). I see a folder in my future too.

    Funny thing is, lately I've been thinking about my childhood bike, one of those 26-incher single-speed coaster-brake deals that I think we got at Sears. I rode that nonstop for six or seven years and at some point spray-painted it red. For flatland biking I'd be very happy with that as well.

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  35. I love your post. First time commenter.

    It's weird. The right bike for me now was the right bike for me when I was a kid. When going out to play meant riding my bike (such as it was). The bikes which have evolved as "right for me" have all called out to me from dumpsters or other states of neglect or ignominy. They "followed me home."

    I hope it's OK to post my introduction to RatRodBikes. It sums it up. Here goes:

    I was lost but now I'm found

    Oh, sorry… no religion allowed.

    I started riding and building my own bikes when I was a kid. Every kid in my neighborhood did the same thing. It kept us off the school bus. They all started out as trash (the bikes, that is). We all pieced broken bikes together with other trash finds. Some of them were actually pretty cool as irreverent trash goes (again, the bikes). It was a cultural and economic reality.

    Well, fast forward to 1998. I needed a bike for the NYC Five Borough Tour. My garbage picking days were past (I thought) so I picked up a League Fuji 12 speed at the Salvation Army. Drop bars were out of the question so I scavenged a flat bar, grip shifters, and rode. And I kept on riding.

    I was back; but the technology was so new, I was lost. Stuck in a time warp, I could no sooner ride a plastic bicycle with giant lettering on the wheels as I could wear a multi colored leotard while I was riding it. I needed steel.


    I kept building and riding in my own creations, my soul becoming more tortured with each passing season. I drifted around different forums and found lots of smart people. They were knowledgeable, disciplined, pure. No, I needed to remain the iconoclast. Where could a crazy mixed up kid like me go?

    Well, one day I was web surfing some rat rod car photos looking for paint ideas for my fixie and there you all were. I thought, “man, these cats are all form my planet. I’m home”. So it's back to garbage picking and dreams of Ashtabula cranks. I guess i'll see you all later.

    Peace everyone, (oops sorry, no politics allowed)

    jodphoto
    Yonkers, NY

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  36. Christopher FotosApril 16, 2014 at 2:35 PM

    I made up my four bicycles and among these the "randonneur 650B" is my favorite. Nevertheless, it's impossible to park it downtown in a street because I have fears for losing it.

    Say, at the risk of burdening Velouria with approving comments in an aging thread, that is one beautiful bike! Do you have any information on the frame? I think I can suss out the components.

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    1. Frame Handmade by Cyfac only for "confrérie des 650" members.
      L.

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  37. Did you notice even Pashley has added a mixte to their product offering this year?

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  38. I ride my bike every day, but it is kind of shite.
    I'd love to one day try out a bike that is new and fancy.

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