N+1 Is Self Care

The first quality bike I purchased was a touring bike. I loved the idea of going places. My second bicycle was a mountain bike. I’d tried riding my touring bike on muddy trails and staying upright in a turn was pure comedy, but the desire to zoom down twisting trails called to me like Sirens. Then the racing bug bit and I bought a hand-made racing bike from one of the customers at the bike shop where I worked—an odd reversal of how a bike shop is supposed to work.

Even though I wasn’t living at home with my parents, I still felt the need to hide my second and third bikes from them. Hiding a purchase suggests a feeling of guilt, that the buy was unwise, unwarranted, undisciplined, un- … whatever.

To the uninitiated, owning more than one bike seems acquisitive. Cancerous consumerism. The bête noir of the simple life: conspicuous consumption.

Shimano North America has been sponsoring N+1 since 1965.

Why do we let people who aren’t cyclists guilt us into believing we should only own one bike? It’s dumb. People who aren’t cyclists see multiple bicycles as a sign of excess, too much of an unnecessary thing.

And those people are wrong.

My favorite analogy is kitchen knives. A paring knife is no good for cutting bread. And no one cuts a chicken breast with a serrated blade. I’m no chef, but my kitchen contains one very nice butcher’s knife as well as another that’s pretty good. Years ago I bought a crappy paring knife at the grocery store when I needed to re-establish a kitchen inventory. My inventory of steak knives counts seven, not eight; how does that even happen? Again, I’m no chef and even I own more than one blade.

Let’s try music. If someone criticized me for owning every disc Kate Bush has released, I’d laugh. Their reproval would mark me like microwaves to the naked eye. Would we listen to anyone who tried to suggest that one piece of music is enough?

I ride a road bike for a multitude of reasons. Today, most of them pertain to my inner life, not my outer one. Riding a bicycle feeds my spiritual life like so much Miracle-Gro stirred into potting soil. But I also love owning a thing of beauty, rideable art, as we call it. I’m honored to have paid money to artisans who created something that dazzles me with what humans can craft. I’ll never feel ashamed of that.

I ride gravel bikes because they allow me to leave the trappings of the city behind, to escape into wilder places while still bringing my mind the peace I reach when my body runs like an engine.

The mountain bike matters because I love the zoom, the proof that I am a body, that my inner ear is the doorway to a sanctum of whee and I am the initiate who still aspires to grow closer to my own sense of paradise.

For all that I’ve shared with others while cruising on two wheels, I’ve never shared a ride in the way that a tandem allows, in the way that only a tandem permits. One line, twinned cadence, corners entered together—not followed—and two riders engaged in a conversation with gravity, reciting the same lines. Even sheets can’t match this kind of intimate.

And what of utility? Is there any way to explain to the unconverted that the bike that sets our hair afire isn’t the bike we want to run to the store aboard? No, there isn’t. I’ve tried. I wouldn’t put a basket on a racing bike just as I wouldn’t put a hitch rack on a Ferrari. And diving down singletrack astride a cruiser makes as much sense as starting the Monaco Grand Prix in a Toyota Corolla.

As we say, those who know, know.

Simply put, I can’t do what I do on a road bike on any other sort of bike. And if I want to get rad(ish) and catch some air, I’m not taking flight on my tandem. Can’t. Won’t. Not gonna.

And here’s the thing: Doing a group ride and taking pulls at 25 mph is a blast. Flying down singletrack on a mountain bike? Objectively fun. Also, subjectively. Cruising some dirt backroad and watching the vineyards ladder past is sublime. They are provably grin-inducing and as good a romp as I can have with clothes on. A sure path to Nirvana. Better than Prozac. They are, each of them, valid experiences that wouldn’t be the same, or even possible, on the wrong bike.

We like to say experiences, not stuff, right? Well, I don’t need all the bikes, but I want all the experiences different bikes can bring.

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  1. Wyatt says

    100%. Gear is good; stuff is bad.

  2. eborling says

    “And diving down singletrack astride a cruiser makes as much sense as starting the Monaco Grand Prix in a Toyota Corolla.”

    I agree with everything in the article except this. It isn’t (relatively) fast, comfortable, or safe…but it sure is fun.

    1. Barry Johnson says

      It also happens to be how I built my first MTB in 1978.

    2. Padraig says

      Given that we are cyclists, I’ve volunteered that our sense of fun is pretty suspect. If I try to argue against you, I’ll be arguing against myself soon enough. I like your style.

  3. tommilani says

    Some real poetry in this line: “two riders engaged in a conversation with gravity, reciting the same lines”; your experience on the tandem mirrors my own.

    1. Padraig says

      Thanks much.

  4. TominAlbany says

    My brother-in-law brought up N+1 recently. I just listed the varied uses of my four bikes (Road, CX/EZgravel, MTB, and my RADAR (road and dirt adventure rig) that I can load up for bikepacking.

    End of discussion.

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