Thursday, December 10, 2015

Overlooked


In an attempt at an interview, I was once asked what I think is the "most overlooked feature" of a bicycle. At the time I never managed to answer, and, admittedly, it is questions like these why I seldom give interviews. You are asked something clever/profound, and must think of something equally clever/profound in return - which never seems to come to you on the spot. Then of course, ages later, you're sitting there and the answer materialises - by which time the publication that asked the question probably no longer exists!

But never mind about that. Because just the other day this question cropped up again, this time in a group discussion, and I was still at a loss. Most overlooked feature... Lights? I ventured unconvincingly. Then someone else replied: that a bicycle be fit for purpose. After some debate over whether that was actually a "feature" per se, we decided this was less interesting to discuss than the notion of "fit for purpose" in of itself.

The idea is simple and commonsensical: that a bicycle should be optimally equipped for whatever it is being used for. A utility bike ought to come with fenders, racks and lights. A racing bicycle ought to go fast. A bike designed for hilly unpaved terrain ought to have fat tires and low gearing, and so on.

It is true that, when shopping for or lusting over a bicycle, we sometimes (often?) overlook its fit-for-purposeness - so dazzled are we by its colour, form, construction details, or some other sexy but not necessarily relevant to us feature. And this can result in ill-fated purchases, where the rider doesn't cycle as much as they could be, or doesn't get the most out of their bicycle, because of the inherent mismatch.

That said, it does not follow that the purpose must always be dictated by the rider. There is something to be said, I feel, for the bicycle inspiring its owner to ride in a new, possibly different manner than what they'd initially envisioned.

Just imagine: A "fixie," misguidedly bought for spins to the cafe, luring its owner onto a velodrome.  A mountain bike bought for commuting failing at that, yet resulting in discoveries of local trails. A decrepit old roadster, bought as a beater, igniting a passion for vintage collecting.

It's great to know what you want and need before you buy, then to look for a bicycle that ticks all the boxes. It is also great to own a bicycle that suits your lifestyle and use case scenario perfectly. At the same time, there is an exciting sense of possibility in not knowing where exactly a bicycle will take you. There is a pleasure in feeling inspired, seduced, even altered, by a two wheeled machine. Though perhaps it is not so much altering, as helping to discover a side of ourselves we did not know existed.

Can a bicycle's ability to inspire purpose be considered an overlooked feature? I think so. Well, that and - seriously - lights!

32 comments:

  1. Oh V! You just expressed something important, maybe not only in a "commercial/marketing/appropriate for purpose" sense exactly, but as a way to understand the urge to mess around with bikes and stuff. They wake us up and lead us places we don't expect.

    I like tinkering with things, especially bikes, but for years and years I built the same bikes over and over again. Aggro Hardtail MTBs and Traditional 70s/80s Road Racers. So the type of riding I was doing was only what those bikes were narrowly focused on. It was "fun" but the novelty had worn off years before and I could have easily have parked my bikes and gone upstairs to watch Tee-Vee like everyone else. Then I started messing around with old 3speeds because a couple of them landed on my doorstep, and then vintage balloon tired cruisers and then a Fixedgear, and then, SHAZAM! I started having FUN again. Then I started putting my old BMX Bikes back together and started having EVEN MORE fun. Then I went crazy and started building dumb stuff like swingbikes(never again), retro-directs, Bi-Chains, a Fire-Bike(that's a fun bike but sort of "burny" if you're not careful) and even a Tall-Bike(never ever again). Every one of those bikes got me out doing stuff I wouldn't have ever done if it weren't for the initial itch to go build something new. Whatever the urge, anything that nudges us into giving something new a try is probably a pretty great thing. Tall-Bikes being one of the possible exceptions...

    So when you wrote about a bike, misguidedly bought for one thing luring you into something completely different and fantastic, you really nailed that idea down for me. Thanks!
    Spindizzy

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    1. I sense you're an artist. And, like all artists, you can never stay there….repeating oneself is boredom….bikes, like many other pastimes, allow for the new and that is one reason they are part of my life. Everyday, same bike, different experience, always visceral.

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  2. Features can always be added to bikes in order to personalize and fit ones priorities. From experience I'd throw out proper fit as something that can make or break ones love of riding and exploring and any benefits derived from those two things. It can unlock senses less available on an ill fitting machine and invite inspiration, alter ones views, simply make one happy. That said I sorta think the rider, more than the bike, could be considered the most overlooked feature. It's not an experience without the rider and what the rider brings.

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    1. +1 on fit. If a bike isn't comfortable, does not matter what else it has. You won't ride it. If it s a good fit, one can always tweak/upgrade/accessorize as needed. Having had bikes that did not fit and now one that finally does, I agree 100%. One endures an ill fitting bike and rides in spite of it. A bike that fits is one you love and ride for pure joy.

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    2. I have found that bikes are very much like shoes. It may take many years and many tries until one finds the one pair/bike that one could not live without. Form, function, fit, aesthetics, it all matters. Unless you find a cool bike in a dumpster! N+1��

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    3. I hate buying shoes and wish they were easier to repair once worn out, to save me the torture of shopping for new ones. Unfortunately even the most reputable brands seem to deliberately design shoes so as to make them unrepairable these days. Thankfully bicycle manufacturers have not yet gone down that route.

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    4. Carbon bikes = frequently unrepairable bikes!

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    5. The frames, generally yes (though it depends on the construction as well, and some types of CF frames are more repairable than others). But, if, for instance, your chain wears out you can still replace the chain, thank god, rather than throwing the entire bike away!

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  3. Thinking about it this way, it's kind of remarkable that we didn't think of bikes this way all along. For a long time, growing up, all I remember is a kind of hierarchy of bicycles, with road bicycles built for racing at the top (I myself lusted after a Raleigh Professional Mark IV). It didn't matter what purpose you intended to us the bicycle for; one type of bike was better than another, and road racing bicycles best of all. Measured by weight, I think.
    Something changed about twenty years ago (I think). There were different types of bikes like mountain bikes that didn't fit into the hierarchy, and manufacturers kept introducing more, like cross bikes, utility bikes, etc., all made well.
    People who are not cyclists are still stuck in the old mindset -- "What kind of bike should I get?" (Meaning, manufacturer). It's a difficult question to answer, especially since they might not know what they want to use it for. So they get a bike they think will work for anything, i.e., a hybrid.

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    1. Even with road racing bikes, I've noticed that versatility is often used as a selling point these days, encouraging the buyer to commute/ grocery shop on same bike by donning a backpack. I guess it's easier than what they used to do in the olden days in the UK - i.e. remove/refit fenders and racks(!) before and after races, so that one's time trial bike was also the commuter.

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  4. this is where the formula "n+1" is derived. getting that one extra bike to meet what was overlooked by all the others.

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    1. At one point I had tried to follow an n-1 formula. It worked for a year, but then I fell off the wagon!

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    2. An entire year is pretty good. I would like to hear about your n-1 formula implementation.

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  5. V, That first bike can lead to a life time of chasing dreams. It only takes that one bike for someone to realize that there's a whole world of bikes and the degrees of which each one can take you. For me it was when I was 10 years old and my dad had me build up my first ten speed, and that was it, then came Tandems, Recumbents, Fully Inclosed Racing Recumbents, Pre-20th century non-pneumatic tire bicycles, Rod Brake Three Speeds, Classic British Lightweights, World Tourers, Down Hill Racers, Ice Bikes with spiked tires and ice skate blade(s), Folders, Cargo Bikes, Fat Tires, Commuters, and the most prized a Campy equipped 1974 Schwinn Paramount Track Bike with the curved seat tube. I only own a few these, but have had the privilege to ride all of them. I think of them as friends, not all of them have the same interests, some may not fit in at certain social occasions, and some of them may rub you the wrong way at times, but they will always be there for you if care for them.

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  6. I've found that one of the advantages of growing older is that novelty is no longer necessary in my bikes or any other consumer goods.

    So I don't lust after new bikes any longer, but keep my fleet of good quality steel framed bikes ( 2 each of road, tourer and MTB) in fine mechanical condition with 7 and 8 speed bits.

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  7. If I were to interview you, I'd reach deep into the Barbara Walters celebrity cyclist instruction manual and ask: "If you were a bike, what kind of bike would you be?"

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    1. 650B, Barbara. 650B (lone teardrop rolls down cheek)

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  8. What I like about this post is how your bike, despite being the super-duper custom-made dream of a randonneuse-connoisseuse, looks like it grew there on the ground, a product of the natural environment into which, chromatically speaking, it perfectly blends.

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  9. Completely Agree with the opinion shared in the post. The timing is uncanny. First, I recently decided to put my beloved DL-1 up for sale because being a college student in a hilly town, it simply isn't practical to keep it around and I know I'll be here for a few more years. I jumped on the deal half a year ago because the price was low, condition was great, and it was one of my dream bikes. I built it up, rode it, enjoyed it, but not as much as I had hoped. I'll find another one, someday. Also, near the end, "old roadster bought as a beater ... " Before I knew anything about bikes, I acquired what ended up being a '58 Raleigh Sports to be a college beater. In finding out what it was and what it needed, I (among all things) found your blog and was catapulted into the world of bikes. Couldn't have asked for a better accidental discovery. Lastly, omg - LIGHTS!!!!!!!

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  10. It seems perhaps that your series of bicycles has been there to point you to new things through their unfitness for purpose; the Pashley, with its ungainly front basket leading to the ongoing interest in handling and trail in particular, paceline riding on the Hillbourne leading you to move past your aesthetic inclinations to get the Seven, The Royal H perhaps taking you to actually make your own frame. Their individual unfitness of purpose leading to the greater purpose of understanding and enjoying bicycles and the riding of them.

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    1. That is true. But then I also got a lot out of the year and a half when I made do with "only" one transport bike and one road bike. It made the distinction between what I need and what I like clearer than ever.

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  11. Replies
    1. not your friend in a perpetually windy area, I assure you!

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  12. The most overlooked feature of a bicycle?

    For me: it is your companion in life and adventure; it should be regarded as such and outfitted accordingly.

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  13. A bicycle is like a lamp with unlimited wishes,personal patina !

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  14. Two years ago I was forever altered by the discovery of Shwalbe Fat Franks, which I would never have known had my friend not sold me his Velorbis dirt cheap when he moved overseas. It was not my style of bike...... except that it was! Who is to know what feels right until we try?

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  15. Your answer is perfect. Fit and suitability for the rider and the intended use is paramount. That said, proper fitting fenders make a world of difference with all commuter, touring and everyday-riding bikes. I also very much liked your photo of your bicycle in its natural environment.

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  16. Too much of our thinking is dominated by adverts and social media. Things overlooked are good design. Image is nothing in the long term which means I'm cautious of all your sponsors.

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  17. one feature that I think is often overlooked, and in my opinion second only to fit, is color. if the look of the bike doesn't inspire you to ride it, then even fit won't matter.

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  18. As is said above, the overlooked feature of a bike is one of inspiration. People buy bikes for many reasons, fitness, commuting, etc. But what I see is that if the person stays on the bike then they tend to find ways to stay on the bike!

    I bought a bike to potter around town on; small journeys nothing more. Now 5 years on that bike is still there for my short commutes and shopping trips. But the other bikes in the garage are there for fitness, exploration etc. Everyone of them a road bike, and everyone of them well ridden.

    Similarly, a colleague bought a bike for their longer commute. Now we ride out together often enough looking for a long day on the road, preferably new roads. And we have a small adventure.

    A bike, once purchased and ridden has the potential to expand our horizons. Magic!

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