TCI Friday

Among those of us whose passion for bikes has led us to amass large collections (stables, quivers, piles) of them, sometimes hung neatly from rafters, other times stacked against each other precariously in damp spaces, there are two odd but equal forces at play. First, there is the constant n+1 whereby the correct number of bicycles to own always seems to be one more than we have now. And then, there is the nagging suspicion that one bike might replace many, if not all of them, if only we were clever enough to design or curate that one bike.

Today I want to explore that latter idea, although I’ll leave room for the former as well.

The thing is, and as nearly as I can tell, this an immutable truth, you can only ride one bike at a time. Even if you’re the sort who switches easily between bikes, you’re not likely to. We tend to find a favorite style of riding and a favorite bike to do it on, and that becomes our primary thing. We keep the others, because you never know when you’re gonna wanna take the cruiser to the corner store, but most of us stick to one (or sometimes two) bike(s) for most of our riding.

So we’re riding one bike mainly and our thinking about bikes (which never stops) swirls around that one bike, and we figure out how we can make it better, and we upgrade it, and we alter it, and we’re always searching for that perfection. Occasionally we find it, and I suspect we’ll hear about a few of those in the comments section, but by and large we love riding our favorite bike and never stop thinking about replacing it with something better.

More often than not, in fact, we keep that favorite AND replace it, finding out later that the first bike was actually unimprovable OR the wrong idea all along. Either way, now we have two bikes and n+1 continues to exert its pernicious will on our frenzied cycling minds.

Also, there is a whole industry full of people trying hard to replace your favorite bike with your new favorite bike. Engineers. Artists. An army of them. You really don’t stand a chance.

What I’d like to do this week is propose a sort of doomsday scenario (as if we need another) in which the frenzy for bicycles continues unabated and the industry’s supply chains fail entirely. The cycling authorities impose draconian rationing on the supply of bikes, such that each citizen is only allowed one. As a hoarder, so to speak, you are required to surrender all but one of your beloved machines, forced to stand disconsolately at your cellar door as a crew of indifferent, jump-suited workers flings your precious bikes onto a teetering pile in the back of a truck and drives off.

I know. I know. I’ve lit a candle here in sad contemplation of this tragedy, which will likely never come to pass. Even the thought of it brings a tear to my eye, but also spurs the mental wheels to spin. Which bike to choose? Are any of them THE ONE?

This week’s TCIF asks, if you get to keep just one of your bikes, which one do you keep and why? Alternately, if you could only have one bike and you don’t have the putative “one bike” now, what would you get?

Join the conversation
  1. southcarolinamtb says

    Ahhhh! Doomsday!! I am “prepping” for this right now. Tomorrow, I am selling two beloved bikes to a close friend. I have a single bike on order to replace those two. I’m getting rid of 2 SS mad racing machines; one is a SS MTB; the other is SS CX. The new bike will be a gravel bike with, ahem, gears, but more importantly larger tire clearance and slacker angles for tackling all the fun stuff around here. That will be my bike ration after doomsday. I’ll have to let go a few other bikes, but that would be it – a nice gravel bike with clearance for 33 – 47mm tires. If doomsday hits before I make the drop off, I’m keeping the SS CX!!!

  2. TominAlbany says

    If I can only keep one of my current bikes, it’s my ’98 Serotta CTi. I’m a roadie that dabbles in other surfaces and it will take me on the kinds of rides I’ve enjoyed over the years.
    No specific brand in mind but, if I could only have one, then it would be a ‘closer to road’ multi-surface rig. Something to fit a tire in the upper 30s and allow me to play a bit on tamer trails and dirt and gravel roads and still have good road manners when I put on a pair of 25s.
    Interesting that you published this one directly after George Mount posted ‘What I Know.’ Fun!

  3. scourtright2000 says

    As I sit across the room from a murder of black guitar cases that span most of the distance in the room from one wall to the other, I am asked to contemplate which several of my bikes I would reject in favor of only one. In view of my nature, that’s a tall order hombre. What I tell other people to do is get a gravel bike. They do about everything because they are the perfect compromise between utility around town, in the country, on trails, and even doing road duty with a set of wheels configured to wear road tires. On the other hand, compromises make me uncomfortable. So, for me, it would be my newest road bike, the type of which shall remain nameless, which would fit into the mix at the TDF. It’s fun to ride something that is so focused and so optimized. The day may come when I am evolved to the point where the bike doesn’t matter and only moving and being out and experiencing the trip matters. Not there yet. Maybe next year.

  4. Jeff vdD says

    Gravel bike, without a doubt. I can ride road on it (with a second set of wheels). I could race CX on it (I’m Cat 4 for Life which means perfectly tuned geometry just isn’t doing all that much for me). I often underbike it around gringletrack … and once the terrain starts getting to be too much for it, well, that’s the signal that the terrain’s getting to be too much for me.

    Sure, I’d be sad to see my fat bike carted away (especially if it ever snows a worthy amount again here in MA). My two CX bikes make me feel almost pro when I place one of them in the pit. I use my singlespeed, beach cruiser, and folder to get around town with much less worry about theft. And keeping a bike up in Maine saves me a lot of schlepping.

    But I could do one bike. Gravel.

  5. DaveinME says

    @Jeff VdD – where in Maine do you come? I’m in Portland.

    I used to have 10+ bikes when I ran my own shop because I was always coming across deals or people downsizing their own collections. It was fun to have such an assortment for sure. I’m now down to three: a road, a cross, and a cruiser. If I had to choose one it would be the road which is a Merlin Works. It fits me like a glove and never leaves me wanting for more. I have it totally tricked out the way I like. Yes newbikeitis is a thing, and there is a Hampsten Max for sale in my size on The Pros Closet that really is calling me, but I keep reminding myself what a great whip the Merlin is. Instead of another bike I’ll keep contributing to my bike fund and maybe get some carbon hoops at some point.

    I had the Merlin featured on Pez a while back and you can see the article here:

    1. Jeff vdD says

      @DaveinME, just saw your Q about where in ME. We have a place out on Chebeague Island. The perimeter road KOM is about 20 mins. There’s a fair bit of dirt … and the pavement pretty much demands at least a CX bike since there’s no LBS on the island!

  6. Hautacam says

    Painful but simple choice: My 1993 RB-1. Sure, it’s a road bike, but i can take the fenders off and cram some mild skinny gravel tires in there. It can do 90% of my riding at least 90% as well as the other more task-specific bikes I have. Rocky/rooty/technical singletrack would be mostly out of the question but these days I’m more likely to be hiking those trails anyway.

    1. DaveinME says

      Hautacam – that was my first serious road bike and in the small world department, I purchased it from Diane Jenks who contributes here as The Outspoken Cyclist.

      I was blown away once I started training and racing on it. It handled amazingly.

      On my long term to do list is to get another RB-1 and fully restore it.

  7. pfnavin says

    I have given this question much thought over the years, and I always come back to my flatbar 2003 Lemond Wayzata. Reynolds 853, thumb shifters, fenders, ability to take everything from a road tire to a mountain tire to studded Schwalbes… I have more than 65,000 miles on that bike. I used it to commute to work five days a week for 14 years in every imaginable kind of weather, including snow and ice. Cane Creek bar ends on wide handlebars offer incredible control, even in slick conditions. I love my road bikes, but the recurring cycling nightmare I’ve had over the years is coming out of a coffee shop to find my Wayzata gone. I wake up with a start, panting, but quickly feel relief and elation that it was only a dream.

  8. Dan Murphy says

    Being on the down side of the bell curve riding-wise, this is an easy one: gravel bike.

    In the 80’s, I was single, in my mid-30’s, and had a few extra bucks to spend. I wanted every bike out there, but my cheapness prevailed, I resisted and kept the count low.

    Now at 66, let’s just say I don’t demand much from my equipment and making concessions in my bikes doesn’t bother me. I don’t need the perfect road bike with my 15 mph rides. I understand where Scourtright2000 is coming from not wanting to make compromises – that’s not me. My gravel bike does practically everything I want from a bike right now.

  9. khal spencer says

    Good Lord. This is like asking which of your children you would save if you had to kill all the rest of them. But as my wife asks, why does a man with one ass to plop on a bike need seven bicycles?

    Ok, if that is how cold blooded we had to be, it would be the gravel bike. It can sort of do singletrack, although a recent spin around the local rock littered singletrack on the cross bike left my hands numb and my hind end worse. But the gravel bike can sorta do that as well as be a good road bike, especially if we are allowed two sets of wheels with one bike. One set of wheels with fat tires and one with skinny road rubber.

    Of course this does not answer the question of “can you easily add racks and panniers and lights for city riding and then strip all that stuff off to go get your yah-yah’s off on a backcountry road?

    But this is all the stuff of folks who can afford a stable of bikes. Sigh

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