I spend a considerable amount of time deciding which bike to ride. This is not a boastful statement about how many bikes I have or my unfettered cycling elitism but more a critical commentary on my need for acceptance. And with that in mind, I will extrapolate this need onto others, for I mustn’t be lonely in my shortcomings. Some people interact socially and seek acceptance at drinking establishments and venues for rhythmic ceremonial ritual while others update virtual status on social media platforms. Most do both. I choose to seek acceptance by the bike I select to ride and the way I ride it. Choosing the right bike for the ride is important for many reasons most notably the type of riding; road, off-road, cyclocross, transportation, time trial etc. For the sake of fewer arguments, we’ll narrow the scope to road and mountain bikes.
I try to avoid cliché situations and, in doing so, very likely become a cliché myself. Working in bicycle retail and seeing every facet of cycling enthusiasm, the cliches materialize frequently and thoroughly. Bike Snob did a wonderful write up about the major cycling cliches in one of his earliest posts: The tri-geek, the “roadie,” the frog man, etc. (See how I sought acceptance there by asserting my knowledge of cycling culture? That was like picking the rigid single speed 26” MTB for the 5 hour prodigious single track ride. Very classy.)
The reason I spend notable time on choosing which bike to ride has little to do with terrain. That part is determined during the initial ride conversation. Time is unnecessarily swallowed by the internal style argument. What bikes will work best given the crowd I will be riding with or crowd I may inadvertently pass while riding. For example, if I decide to participate in a competitive cycling event like, say, a road race with a couple thousand feet of climbing per each 17 mile lap, I’d be expected to choose, and rightfully so, the ultralight carbon bike with carbon wheels. Lighter is faster, better and more efficient on hilly rides. The paradigm says I’d work less hard. But that choice would be a cliché, would it not? If only for the simple reason that that decision is popular, highly repetitive and self justified, then, yes it is a cliché. That is not to say that the choice is unjustified. That selection may very well be the best choice for the situation. But, given my need for acceptance via different channels I choose the custom built titanium and carbon bike with traditional geometry, round tubes and brand name most riders associate with professionals that have letters after their names. (For good measure I did choose wheels with carbon rims.) The rationale thus becomes: if I can outride even a few of the competitors (especially uphill) with lighter, faster bikes while riding a 19 pound unmarketed bike then my quest for acceptance is on the right track. Does this prove that the paradigm is fairy tale? That it truly isn’t about the bike? Absolutely not. If it weren’t about the bike than I would never find acceptance. Whatever “it” is.
Certainly there are rules involved in bike selections. In this region, for instance, the weather determines the bike choice almost as much as social acceptance. If meeting for a group ride, road or off road, and it is raining or the chance of rain is greater than 30%, a fendered bike must be ridden. This rule is a courtesy to others in the ride as well as a display of integrity and respect for equipment and self. Even if the group ride lends itself to becoming a friendly race, this rule need be obeyed. Once obeyed, the questions arise: does this ride require simply a bike with appropriate fenders or a bike with painted to match fenders? What will others be riding? If others show up on light weight bikes with clip on fenders does the juxtaposition with a 29 pound steel bike with matching alloy fenders and 28mm tires afford the necessary irony and thus acceptance? Probably.
If nothing else this social pathology will become the zeitgeist. For me it is the well charted treasure map to many a fruitless fortune.