Imagine you’re an accountant: a mild-mannered fellow, you go to work in the AM, don your pleated khakis, put on the tasseled loafers, wear your scientific calculator on your shirt pocket. You take the bus/commuter/what-have-you, do the mandatory stop at D&Ds, root for the Red Sox. After hours, at the flip of a switch you wear a brightly-colored mask, strap on the utility belt and go out jumping over buildings, cape flapping in the wind as you scan the city with your special sensory powers for the sole objective of fighting crime. Flip the switch again, strip the cape, the blazoned chest logo, and voilà, you’re a highly skilled sushi-chef. You’re deft at skinning razor-thin fish fillets with your super sharp blade that’s made for that very purpose; you roll the algae-wrapped rice tubes on that little straw mat before cutting them with exacto-knife precision, 4.8cm in length each. Three identities, three ways to approach the day, three sets of tools to deploy.
Nonsense, right? Bear with me here.
As roadies we tend to be an obsessive bunch. Ask any cyclist and he/she’ll gladly tell you in dissertation-detail how many bicycles are in the basement, each with its own quirky set of stories and functions. We have the cross bike, the mountain bike, the city bike with the handlebar basket, the fixie, the winter bike, and on and on. But for this exercise I’d like to stick to the road only and its pavement-oriented praxis. In this study, other bikes do not apply, so let’s assume that for a consummate, semi-serious Joe Racer, you have a few road bikes. I firmly believe that most roadies should own an average of three bikes: the A-bike, the B-bike, the C-bike, each instrument carrying its unique set of characteristics, so let’s start from the bottom up.
I don’t usually refer to this as a “third bike” or the one I love the least. I mean, how can you pick a favorite? It’d be the same as asking “who’s your favorite Jonas brother”, or “was Bewitched better with Dick Sargent or Dick York?” That’s not the line of questioning here, so please don’t make me choose. The C-bike, for many riders, may be the one used most often. After all, it is dragged out as a commuter, or a winter bike, or used to tow the kid’s trailer to daycare, to name but a few applications. Understanding that the fit is consistent on all three of them, the standard issues are handling and build. One can have a beater that works just fine and will last a while, has room for fenders, and is ready for the occasional dirt ride if that’s what turns you on. But it can’t be too nice, or you’ll be paranoid should you decide to roll to the bar and lock it to a tree or parking meter, making you all hot and bothered about leaving it outside. It must be built robustly enough to withstand abuse, indoor sweat, crappy pavement, and snow-ravaged roads. My C-Bike, for instance, is a cheapo contraption with ok-but-reliable parts and hefty, 32 spoke wheels for fearless handling: these are all prerequisites to brave the frost-heaved roads, the stuffy basement workouts, and the occasional (but frequent) trip to the bar, lock in hand, thirst in mind.
Now we’re warming up. The B-bike may have enjoyed the status of an A-bike not too long ago. This is the rig you were racing in a recent past, or it may have been the recipient of better parts when you upgraded the main steed. It’s still somewhat pretty, well-taken care of but with the mandatory battle scars of past crashes, denouncing its former glory as dutiful soldier. In my view it’s the one used the least; it’s there in case your A-bike is waiting for warranty parts, or when you travel and don’t want to bring your too-heavy beater, or in the rare but freaky instance when you’re riding out of the house and the primo-bici suffers a rim-impaling accident (happened to me), breaks a spoke, or suffers any sort of mechanical malaise that’d require you to swap machines in a rush. You run in, grab the B bike and run out, transition-style, the basement as the pit-stop spot for a swift exchange. This bike handles as a racer, has heavy wheels for durability, and will not embarrass you at the local training race or group ride.
Oh yeah. You spared no expenses. You fought with your significant other tooth and nail to get this one. It’s built just so, makes some of your friends jealous and the competition nervous. When you look at it, it winks back at you, inviting you for a hammer sesh with your buddies. It has intuitive handling, nice parts, and can be described as the de facto bad ass rig of your stable. It fears nothing, it’s the A-dog, il capo, the main ticket, you name it. This is the race bike, dialed in so perfectly it knows where you’re going and it leads you there, quickly, smoothly and beautifully. It may be a World Tour favorite, or a local builder’s jaw-dropping super machine. You love it and you make sure it’s perpetually in tip top shape; if a whiter shade of handlebar tape existed, it’d be on; it’s so quiet in its stealth, so sharp in its agility and efficiency that it would put a wire-running ninja to shame.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention the obligatory set of rules:
- all bikes must be in pret-à-rouler shape.
- No cannibalizing parts.
- Keep them clean. Always.
- Ride the hell out of them, take no prisoners, fire at will.
Now you know your ABC’s, stride your steed and ride with me.