The Bikes We Are

Lee pulled up next to us. He was out doing hill repeats. He’s one of those people, I’m afraid. I’m friends with him anyway, cause he’s a sweet guy and what do I care how he likes to spend his time?

Lee’s hill climbing bike is a Tirreno Razza. Tirreno was Performance Bike’s in-house brand for a while. Lee’s looks like a ‘Razz,’ actually, because a lot of the paint is missing. It’s 20 years old and has its original parts. At this point, it’s also got more miles on it than an ’80s Cabriolet full of high school kids. This bike owes Lee not a silver dime. To me, with my bike snob hat on, it looks like a piece of absolute aluminum garbage, the sort of cheaply made bike that’d rattle the teeth out of your skull on the average, pock-marked American roadway. I try not to wear that hat too much anymore though. Lee’s Razza is a charming machine. You can see the service it’s given, the commutes, the rambles, the hill repeats.

And in many ways, it’s an accurate reflection of Lee himself.

Lee is what my friend Phil calls a macro-absorber, that is he can adapt to anything physically. His bike fits are nightmarish, but his smile remains irrepressible. There is a mid-western practicality to Lee that ignores all the suboptimal features of life and plows forward with cheerful resolution. His Razza is also this way. OK. It doesn’t have a lot of its original paint. He cut the bars that came with it into bullhorns and wrapped them in a way I can only describe as “comprehensive,” except that there is no tape covering the flats.

“I don’t put my hands there,” he explains, matter-of-factly.

The truth is, I love his bike, because it’s so exactly his. Our daily riders, whether they’re commuters or gravel bikes or both, become these sorts of neat expressions of who we are. No category of bike varies so wildly as the commuter, the go-to bike. One person’s is an amped up hybrid, with panniers and wide, slick tires. Another’s is a vintage Colnago, because style and speed. You look at bikes like these and know what’s important to the person pedaling them, also what’s not important.

As we stood there, I said all this to Lee, and he said, “I work with a designer who I really respect. His work is stellar. Then one day I saw his bike. He had every imaginable bag and accessory strapped to it. And in an instant, I lost that respect. So I get what you mean.”

“Any good design retains some white space,” I said, and he nodded. Then he looked down at his bike, and we both laughed.

For years I helped people explore their ideas for custom bikes. I walked so many through high zoot road bikes, and guided them through choices for their first gravel bikes. The decision trees for bikes like that were fairly narrow, with not too many branches. The industry and the culture has more or less decided, in any given moment, what the right road or gravel bike is.

But a commuter is a large, blank canvas. People have ideas born, not of perusing websites and magazines, but from their experiences out in the world. “I need a way to carry my laundry,” they might say. Or, “I do 25 miles both ways, so it needs to be fast.”

These are the bikes we are, the ones that have a place for our laptops, our lunch, our most obscure impulses. They have fenders or kickstands or handlebars with dodecahedral shapes and one million possible hand positions. If you want to know what the inside of a person’s mind looks like, check out the bike they use to get around.

Join the conversation
  1. khal spencer says
  2. limpest.hypos-0q says

    I guess I’m simple… Surely Steamroller with some Panaeacer SK just in case I want to get frisky.

  3. John Rezell says

    Love this. It is so true. I ride my bikes until they can ride no more or get stolen — the more battered they are the more pride I exhibit. I had one mountain bike that had about 4 inches of extra cable sticking out from the front brake. I called it my bike snob detector. It amazed me how many guys had to walk up, bend it around and tuck it in. I’d just chuckle

  4. Blue Zurich says

    A guy at a light told me I had 3 extra pounds he wouldn’t dare take with him on a training ride. He was referring to my front DRL, rear taillight, 2nd water bottle, old school seat pack with the kitchen sink and last but not least, a full frame Silca pump.

    I’ll see him on the side of the road one day, frantically calling his SO. I’m already riding a 59cm steel bike, call it resistance training.

    1. khal spencer says

      Reminds me of the day I was on a long ride out on New Mexico Rt. 4 and I ran into a guy who had mis-shifted and mangled a chain link. He was looking pretty forlorn. I happened to have my chain tool, so got him back on the road.

  5. Hautacam says

    Battered Bridgestone RB-1 with 700x28s, full fenders, spd pedals, lights, bottle cages, and a Roadrunner burrito bag full of odds and ends. It’s good for pretty much anything short of technical singletrack, full grocery runs, or competitive racing.

    And fwiw, I would totally be one of the guys tucking in John Rezell’s excess front-brake cable. Bike snob, guilty as charged!

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