Thursday, March 12, 2015

Bikes I Want

This cartoon, from the bikeretrogrouch blog, illustrates a modern cyclist on the right and a "retrogrouch", a cyclist who prefers older technology, on the left. This conflict between wanting the best that the modern cycling world has to offer on the one hand yet still being in love with the cycling technology of my youth on the other, is one of the themes of this post.

Almost three years ago, I posted a description of every bicycle I have owned. I confess, however, that this is only a small fraction of the bicycles I would like to own, the topic of this post. Here is my wish-list of bikes I would like to acquire:

Trek's $370 entry level mountain bike

A Mountain Bike. So what is the deal with mountain bikes? They had yet to be invented during my first cycling career (1963-1971) so when I rejoined cycling in 2008, I didn't know what to make of them. (Coincidentally, one of the inventors of the mountain bike, Gary Fisher, was a racing companion of mine; little did I know what future lay in store for him.) So one reason I want one is just to try to understand the breed. Another reason is to get away from traffic. Some of my friends from my first cycling career have all but abandoned road biking for mountain biking for just that reason. There is a strong argument that mountain biking is safer than road biking because of the lack of cars. Finally, a "mountain" bike is not just for the mountains (which is a good thing, since there are no mountains anywhere near Houston.) In the first place, they probably should be named "trail" bikes; they are meant for riding on dirt roads and hiking paths, whatever the geography. In the second place, the same features that make mountain bikes good on dirt roads makes them good for deteriorating urban streets; the Houston Bike Club recommends mountain bikes for their urban rides.

Having said all that, it is not clear I would get much use out of a mountain bike. In a recent post, I detailed how I tend to ride the same routes over and over. If I am not interested in getting in my car and driving to more interesting routes on my road bike, what makes me think I would be willing to drive a mountain bike to the trails on which I could use it? Also, it is unclear how much additional functionality a mountain bike would give me. Part of the reason my wife and I chose our Surly Crosscheck's is their versatility; they have wider tires and are generally ruggeder than a typical road bike, making them quite satisfactory for the mean streets of Houston, and even for a good quality dirt road.

Still, maybe if I signed up for mountain biking lessons, that would give me the inspiration I would need to extend my cycling options in fun new directions.

Trek's top of the line Domane Road Bike. This is their "endurance" fast bike, used in races like Paris-Roubaix, where comfort is a factor. This bike sells for $7,600.

A Fast Bike. Isn't my Bianchi Specialissima my fast bike? Not really. It is faster than my Surly, but not as fast as a good, modern road bike. When my Bianchi was manufactured, it was as fast as any bike being ridden in the 1960 Tour de France, but bicycle technology has moved on. That said, I am in a bit of a quandary as to what it is I want to buy. A full-on carbon fiber bike, like a Trek Domane ($7,600) or a Bianchi Infinito ($4,600)? I confess to a prejudice against carbon fiber as a frame or fork material, but perhaps I need to get with the times. Neither Trek nor Bianchi publish bicycle weights so I am going to assume these bikes weigh in at the minimum weight allowed by UCI or USA Cycling, 15 lbs. Obviously, if one considers bicycle + luggage + rider, the bike weight is almost irrelevant, but there is something inspiring about picking up your bike and having it feel light as a feather.

This is Grant Pederson's all steel answer to the bikes like the Trek Domane. When comparably equipped, it sells for about the same amount of money. It weighs a few pounds more. Which of the two bikes is faster is perhaps open to debate, though conventional wisdom would probably bet on the Trek.

If I stay true to my retrogrouch tradition, I might take the advice of Grant Peterson and purchase his 18 lb all-steel Rodeo, Grant's self-titled "answer to speedy carbon road bikes" ($5,400.) Besides being not all that light, Grant has made other design decisions (e.g. fatter tires) that might not be entirely consistent with speed, or at least the perception of speed. Grant is a strong proponent of conservative design and functionality. Normally, I would be full on board with that, but because I am buying this specifically as a fast bike, his philosophy might not, in this case, be as attractive. Surly has an equivalent bike, its Pacer, but it seems that would be even heavier and certainly not any faster. There are other vendors who sell steel-framed road bikes that are so light that they come in below the 15 lb UCI limit. These are based on the latest, extremely light steel tubing, and a custom frame builder, such as Waterford Precision Cycles, can use these to build a truly fast bike with an exceptionally light frame to please even the most grouchy of the retrogrouches. Such bikes do not come cheap, however.

One fast option that used to be available is an aluminum bike. Although it is still possible to purchase fast, light road bikes with aluminum frames, as best I can tell, all now come with a carbon fork, a deal killer unless I overcome my aversion to carbon, at which point, why not go full carbon?

I confess to spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about and researching a "fast bike", but I think the fun may be more in the dreaming than the riding, at least for now. One game I am playing with myself is to say that if I can loose my 40 pounds of extra body weight, then I will reward myself with a new fast, light bike. That might be the best use of such a bike imaginable (inspiration), but will mean that I will not be buying it tomorrow.

Surly's Travelers Check is available only as a frame. I would have West End Cycles, my LBS of choice, build it up as a complete bike. The silver lumps at the top and the bottom of the frame, near the seat tube, are where the bicycle comes apart so that it can be put into a regulation-sized suitcase for air travel.

A Travel Bike. At this point, travel bikes are the most likely next purchases for my wife and I. The motivation to act now is that Surly, after a long lapse, is once again offering the "Travelers Check", a version of our beloved Surly Crosschecks, but with the S&S couplers which allow the bike to be taken apart and put into a regulation-sized suitcase for checking onto an airline flight. Financially, this almost certainly doesn't make sense. In the first place, these new bikes will have substantial overlap in function with our existing bikes. Paying back the full purchase price of these new bikes in bike shipping fees would take many more years than we have left to live. Even if we sold our existing bikes for a good price, the extra cost of the S&S couplers, the special suitcases for packing the bikes, and other necessary paraphernalia would all by itself take many years to recoup in saved shipping fees. The reason we are interested in these bikes has to do with psychological factors. I find the process of shipping a normal bike stressful, and as a result, tend to not travel as much as I would like. In addition, transporting the packed bike to the airport is awkward. I am hoping that if I could pack the bikes up myself in normal sized suitcases, the stress of travel will be less and we will travel and enjoy biking more.

A Tandem. For years, I begged my wife to consider a tandem. For years, she refused to consider it. Lately, however, she is more open to the idea. I originally wanted a tandem just because I thought they were cool, but more recently, it has occurred to both my wife and I that on a tandem, there would be rides we could do together than would not be possible if each of us were on single bikes. The reason is that I am a stronger rider and could "loan" her some of my strength, to go longer distances and to make it up steeper hills. A number of the couples who ride with my bike club, the Houston Randonneurs, ride tandems. On my last brevet, I fell in love with Co-Motion Mocha, available from a local dealer who specializes in tandems, the House of Tandems.

One issue we struggled with in selecting a tandem is how to have it configured. At one extreme, we would purchase it with S&S couplers, an internal hub gear (Rohloff), and belt drive at significantly increased cost or alternatively, a basic tandem for much less money. The advantage of the former is that it makes it possible to take our tandem on trips. The disadvantage is that it makes it much more expensive and possibly more difficult to maintain. Also, when we thought about our one guided bike tour, we realized that a key part of that trip was the ability of the guides to transport bikes on the roof of their van. Would they have been able to transport a tandem?

My wife would have to participate in the purchase of any tandem and she is very busy at work right now, so the purchase of any tandem is probably not imminent.

The picture of this randonneuse is from Chris Richards, linked to from the Boulder Bicycle Shop website

A True Randonneuse. Purchasing a bike specifically designed for randonneuring, a randonneuse, was high on my priority list a couple of years ago. However, with the growing realization of my limitations as a randonneur and with the modifications I have made to my Surly Crosscheck to make it more suitable for randonneuring, my enthusiasm for a dedicated randonneuse is waining. Nonetheless, it is still something I think about.

Picture from

A 1960's Peugeot PX10. Although my Bianchi Specialissima is not my dream fast bike anymore, it still brings back wonderful memories. As I have previously blogged, a Peugeot PX10 was my bike during the peak of by first cycling career, and I miss this bike very much. I am sure my actual bike is long gone, I don't even know if I could identify it if I found it, but a similar bike from about the same era would make me very happy.

Catalogue scan from:

A 1960's Schwinn Varsity. My first 10-speed was a Schwinn Continental, an upgraded version of the iconic Schwinn Varsity. I did not love that bike the way I loved my PX10, but it was an important part of my history. Besides, that era of Schwinn 10 speeds is of great historic significance and employs some very unique (if questionable) technology. In this case, I am less motivated to reclaim the actual bike I had than to own a piece of this history, and the Varsity is a more canonical representative than the Continental. Similarly, I might want to own a Super Sport from that era, a very different kind of technology employed by Schwinn for this line of bikes. (Modern day Schwinn bicycles have no connection whatsoever with the Schwinns described here. They are not even a single brand, the name is licensed by whoever whats to pay for it.)

A Replacement for my 3 Speed. My commuter bike is an old department store three speed a friend gave me when he moved. It is truly awful. The brakes don't work well. The frame is poorly made and out of alignment. The three speed hub is failing. It makes no sense to repair any of this as there is no part of this bike which works correctly. I would love to have a commuter bike that looked cheap, ugly, and useless so it is less likely to be stolen but which rides well. It would also be nice if it wasn't tremendously valuable, so that if it were stolen, it would not break my heart. There are a couple of ways I could go with this. One direction is to use this as an opportunity to add to my bicycle museum; to get something like an old Raleigh 3 speed or an old Schwinn 3 speed. Another way to go is to kill two birds with one stone, to purchase an inexpensive mountain bike which could also double as a commuter.

Picture from Bianchi's website

A Fixie. A few years ago, fixed gear bicycles (which have but a single speed and do not coast, the pedals turn all the time) were all the rage; "fixies" and hipsters went together like peas and carrots. Although this fashion has wained, fixies remain popular among serious cyclists for their many virtues. In fact, fixies are not a new thing. When I was "cycling in the 60's", fixies were recommended as good training bikes which helped improve one's rhythm; they were especially popular among racing cyclists in England. I briefly owned one in college. For all these reasons, I would love to have a fixie in my garage to ride when the mood struck me. An example of such is the Bianchi Pista, still available, still steel, still reasonably priced at $800. An interesting thought: perhaps an $800 fixie could slate my lust for an $8,000 fast bike, at least temporarily. The place I am most likely to want a fast bike is on the Rice Track, and there ain't nothing faster than a fixie on that venue!


The reason I was able to retire at age 62 is that I am frugal by nature. In fact, I am frugal to a fault. I hate to buy things and as a result, I even put off buying things that I really need or that would make me very happy. Thus, I do not anticipate acquiring the bikes describe above very quickly. That said, both the entry level mountain bike and the fixie described above are relatively inexpensive and quite versatile. Maybe I should get outside my comfort zone and give my LBS some business. In any case, it is fun to dream.

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