Like most enthusiasts, I like nice bikes. I mean what bike nut doesn’t get excited over the artistry of Sacha White or Joseph Ahearne. There’s a lot to be said for a bike that’s custom built specifically to fit your physique, with every detail carefully attended to. Such a bike can be a once-in-a-lifetime purchase and acquiring one usually involves a major investment in time, effort, and expense.
I’ve been lucky enough to own a full-custom bike, and I’ve also owned many semi-custom bikes based upon production frames, but built-up from bare framesets with each component spec’d to my liking. Most of these bikes have been a joy to own and ride. Besides being a pleasure to look at, photograph, and work on, for the most part they’ve performed flawlessly on the road.
But there is a drawback to expensive, high-end bikes. I always take good care of my equipment, and custom bikes, more so than run-of-the-mill production models, demand to be handled with kid gloves. Somehow I can’t get comfortable riding a really nice bike in the rain everyday, locking it up to the bike rack in front of the grocery store, or hanging it on a hook in the baggage car where it will bang against other bikes. These restrictions handicap the day-to-day usefulness of these bikes and limit their full potential as tools (of course, others may not have this same aversion to using their custom bikes as their daily rides).
Because I’m now using my bikes as tools for transportation, I find myself gravitating toward less extravagant production models that are only slightly modified for personal preference. My thinking has changed from always looking for the optimal, to looking for a certain mid-level functionality that will get the job done without going overboard and triggering that urge to baby the bike. My Pashley, my Brompton, and my soon-to-be Surly LHT fall into this category. Unlike high-end custom bikes, they’re workhorses that I’m not afraid to use and abuse… and even put a few scratches on.