Old Favorites

What makes a favorite bike? I’ve had many (too many) bikes over the years, and a few stand out in my mind as favorites, though I can’t say why for sure. Certainly, every time I purchase a bike I anticipate that I’ll like it, and hope that it becomes a favorite, but for any number of reasons, most have fallen short.

A favorite bike by my definition, is the bike you jump on when you’re tired and sore but you have a long ride ahead of you. It’s the bike you grab by default when you don’t have a good reason to choose one bike over the other. It’s the bike that surprises you by needing its tires replaced because you didn’t realize how much you’ve been riding it. It’s the first bike that comes to mind when someone asks the old question, “If you only had one…”.

Thinking back, there are a few things all of my favorite bikes had in common.

  • Probably most importantly, they fit. An ill-fitting bike, no matter how nice, is never a pleasure to ride.
  • Maybe by chance, maybe not, they were all made with steel tubing and had compliant rides.
  • They were all set up for a relatively upright seating position.
  • They were outfitted with Brooks saddles. I’m not sure if the egg or the chicken was first here; did the saddles contribute to my liking the bikes, or did I end up putting Brooks saddles on my favorite bikes?
  • They had relatively robust rims and tires with decent flotation.
  • They were set up for all-weather and nighttime riding.
  • They had old school friction shifters of some sort (either downtube shifters or bar-ends set for friction).

I have a bike in-house right now that only meets a few of the above criteria, yet I find I’m grabbing it more and more. It’s a thoroughly more modern bike than most of my previous favorites, yet I’m enjoying it immensely. Maybe as technology is evolving and maturing, my tastes are changing as well. Maybe it is possible to teach an old dog a new trick or two.

I’d love to hear about your favorites, what you liked about them, where they are now, and which bike you’re currently enamored with.

21 Responses to “Old Favorites”

  • Duncan Watson says:

    My Raptobike is my favorite. It is also my first real favorite bike in the last 20 years. The last bike I liked this much was my old steel ross MTB, no suspension, circa 1986. I ride my raptobike everywhere and love every minute. I think the Rohloff Hub really helps me love my bike, shifting is so easy. Of course since it is a recumbent it is very comfortable as well as fast.

  • Ant says:

    Oddly enough my favorite right now is a bike that I have yet to get much use out of (and I’m personally car-free). I’ve been tweaking my Rans V-Rex (1996) for about 6 mos getting the utility, handling and comfort dialed in to where I want it. Its still not quite there but I see flashes of brilliance. If anyone asked me which bike in the garage I’d really want to take for a ride solely for pleasure that would always be my choice.

    I tend to like bikes with a bit of character. Since I ride all the time in every weather they have to be functional and practical too but it helps if there’s a little history/uniqueness/etc. Comfort and ability to haul at least a little bit of stuff is important too. I can live with a bike that’s not comfortable for distances more than 10k but there’s a good chance I won’t love it. The same holds true if I have to wear a backpack/messenger bag to carry everything.

    I have high hopes for the 1986 Bridgestone MB-2 I just picked up to join the favored ranks as well. It’ll be the first bike I’ve stripped down to just the frame/headset/bb and built back up from scratch (keeping true to the original intention where changes are made). Only things I know for sure at this point it’ll have is high profile cantis and a brooks saddle ;).

    Ant

  • Donald says:

    I have really only had three bikes since I got actively into riding in college in 1970. I first had an Italvega (lugged steel with a very short wheel base and a double crank with a fixed outer chain ring and a dinner plate sized rear freewheel). I rode this for many years and even tried to tour on it but always had to make compromises on fit and comfort. Never the less I still put many miles on it. In 1986 I purchased a Trek 520. I loved the bike and use it for commuting and touring. I never have been completely comfortable with the saddle over the years. The last straw was when I toured down the Pacific Coast of the US ( http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/GrayBeardTour ). I always thought pain and suffering in the saddle was what we had to put up with to do long distance days until just last year when I put a Brooks B-17 on it. At about the same time I purchased a Rans V-Rex recumbent to try it for touring thinking it would solve all of my saddle problems. Everything has its compromises and though the Rans is fairly comfortable, other physical problems showed up. It is a really fun ride but not necessarily in the way that I purchased it for. I say now that if I had purchased the Brooks before the Rans I probably would have never gotten the Rans.

    Today the Rans is for sale and the Trek is the daily commuter. I am building up the mileage for another tour; this time along the southern Pacific Coast route. I love the old Trek even more. Even though the 27″ wheels are becoming more difficult to purchase tires for, I will probably ride it now until I am forced to replace it for some reason. (Those Surly’s are looking pretty good but perhaps a little small for me at 6′-4″)

  • Croupier says:

    When I was 14 I was racing BMX on Mongoose’s amateur team. I was just getting into dirt jumping and riding skate parks and was determined to stop racing. I was at a race in Carmel when my friends and I were harassed by a staggeringly drunk man who claimed to be a rep from DK Bicycles. He asked asked us if we wanted t-shirts and told us to follow him to his van in the parking lot. We assumed he thought we were younger than we were and wanted to molest us but we decided to follow him anyway in case he really did have t-shirts (and we figured we could beat him up if we had to). When we got to his van he declared that he was out of t-shirts but did have a demo frame that was of no use to him made by a new company that was a division of DK called FBM (Fat Bald Men). I spoke up first and he gave me the frame.
    After I saved up enough money to build it up I spent nearly every waking moment of my later youth on that bike. I almost destroyed my body on it and it is in some way associated with nearly every positive memory I have of that time in my life. It was the last BMX bike I ever owned. I didn’t let go of it until the head tube fell off…

  • bongobike says:

    Alan,

    You didn’t come out and say it, but I’m assuming your favorite is the Surly you ride most of the time?

    I’ve had several favorites, including a Panasonic Professional, a Koga Miyata Gentleman, and now my first recumbent, a Vision R-45. As I get older and comfort becomes more and more important, I think I’m going to gravitate more toward the ‘bents.

  • Alan says:

    @bongobike

    “You didn’t come out and say it, but I’m assuming your favorite is the Surly you ride most of the time?”

    Well… the Surly was chosen and built up in a specific way to mimic some of my favorites from years ago. It’s a wonderful bike and I ride it a lot, but I’ve been finding myself riding my Civia more and more. It was my Surly sitting in the corner pouting that prompted this post. My affection for the Civia comes as somewhat of a surprise since it’s such a modern bike with IGH, Rapidfire shifters, hydraulic discs, etc. You may not need all the bells and whistles, but once you have them, they’re pretty nice!

    Alan

  • d1willis says:

    I can send a messenger for the Surly if the whole jealousy scene is just too much for you. :-)

  • d1willis says:

    My favorite is still my mid-80s Schwinn LeTour that I’ve converted to an upright commuter. Either it fits me great or I’ve morphed to fit it…but either way it just feels great. Fast, light, bright red. It swoops. I thought I needed to modernize and bought a Masi Soulville 8 with the Shimano 8 internal hub and fit out for commuting. It’s nice, but it doesn’t light up my spirits the way the red bike does. I am considering swapping out the Schwinn’s 27″ wheels for 700c so that I can put studded tires on it in the winter. Or just keep the Masi for winter and go back to the Schwinn for everything else….but that’s too many bikes around the house.

  • John Tubbs says:

    I’ve always liked the way your Surly looked as well. I’m torn between my fixed build on my Dad’s 1973 Motobecane Mirage and my commuter rebuild of six year old Trek 7500fx. Each bike has its role and mood. The Mirage has a vintage cool factor that give me cred’ with the students on the campus where I work.

    Surprisingly I too am gravitating toward similar criteria listed in the original post. (Velo-Orange Model 7 rather than Brooks on the Trek) I’ve got a trail behind third wheeler for my four year old that puts the “pick it up and run” factor over the top. My only wish is that is was steel like the Fisher Aquila that it replaced after a theft. I didn’t really dig it until the following changed: new Avid BB7 brakes, three sets of handlebars – finally a good feel with the Velo-Orange Tourist bar, a shorter steeper stem, solid rear rack and an assortment of bags (Arkel Bug and Utility basket, OYB saddle/handlebar, Reload messenger) to fit the occasion. I’m a daily short distance commuter, but run around a large university campus with full video rig on my back thanks to the Porta-Brace folks. All my inspiration and guidance on these mods comes from the amazing Michael Burns.

    The only time I drive is when I take my boy to preschool. My city doesn’t have a safe kid on a trail-behind route to get cross town. The rest of my day is all on the Trek. I’m getting ready to put a rack on the trail-behind so we can increase the grocery load. My boy loves going shopping on the bikes. We’ll see what he thinks about it in December!

  • Dottie says:

    I’ve been thinking about favorites a lot lately, trying to figure out if my Azor Oma or Rivendell Betty Foy would take the prize. Oma is supremely comfortable and served me admirably through a very long and very cold winter. But she’s not exactly a bike a can jump on in any situation – that’s more Betty’s job. So in answer to the question, “If you only had one,” I’d have to answer: Betty Foy. I’m not prepared to make such a bold statement of favoratism yet, though! Good thing it’s only a thought exercise. :)

  • Jeff says:

    I’m not sure I can name my favorite at this point but, along these lines, I have found it quite liberating to stop feeling like i must have a reason or particular application for each bike I own. I no longer try to justify multiple bikes because honestly, how many do you really need? My answer is “I don’t know yet.”

  • EdL says:

    I guess I am outside the typical demographic for this site, but my current favorite bike is a relatively new addition – - my Trek 2.5. While I don’t race, and don’t care to, I do enjoy going fast and getting on this bike felt like like straddling a rocket. This is my first bike in years that was not a flat-bar, so it did take a bit of getting used to the less upright position, but the geometry is such on the Trek that it is still quite comfortable, even in the drops, and even for a Clydesdale like myself. My favorite commuter was stolen off my deck a couple of years ago, and its current replacement, an ’05 Trek Astral 5.0 that I picked up on super sale, has always suffered in comparison and has gone through a number of modifications to address real (and probably perceived) shortcomings. I realized the other day that I had actually built it into quite a nice bike – - but I too have felt the Civia lust. My LBS has a Civia built up in its window that is just about the purdiest thing I ever did see.

  • dave says:

    Has to be my Cannondale touring bicycle. I can keep somewhat close to the roadies on a weekend sprint, zip through a century ride, use it for shopping trips, go to and from work, roll down gravel roads without worries – in short, nearly everything I want to do on a bike I can accomplish on the Cannondale.
    The only unfortunate thing is I’m in the U.S. and the first version I happened across when shopping was the Cannondale Trekking bike. I thought – this is it, this is my everyday bike. But I called the company and found out I could only buy it in Europe. As delightful as a trip to Europe might be, it added a bit too much to the cost.

  • Jeremy says:

    Surly Long Haul Trucker. I’d thought about that bike for 2 years before actuallly going out and buying one. Now that I have one, I find that it’s what I go to for my commute to work, a long afternoon road ride and when I want to take the local gravel and double track winding along the miles of irrigation canals. B-17 fitted, fenders, shimano dyno-hub with an E-6, front and rear racks, and of course, fenders. I can use this bike for so many different cycling needs, it would do the best job of replacing all other bikes in my fleet. (which is currently only at 6 bikes). Cheers.

  • Daniel says:

    My Catrike 700 Velomobile! I’m a simple commuter. I don’t like to have a lot of bikes. last week my wish came true — I crashed my Volae. It’s toast now so I’m left with my one and only pedal car :-) Ah the simple things…

  • Tim says:

    My favorite bike is one that I stole two years ago. I was taking classes at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ and outside one of the lecture halls I noticed a grotty, black Ross remake of, I’m guessing, a Raleigh Superbe. It was a single speed with a coaster brake locked to a rack with a tiny chain. After a year and a half, I noticed the bike hadn’t moved from its position on the rack. Deflated tires and a rust-seized chain were enough evidence to convince me that the owner had abandoned it. My ’97 Trek 850 was recently stolen in NYC so I decided I should try to get the bike. I posted signs on the bike and all over the campus asking whose bike it was and listed my email address. A month passed and I received no responses. One night, I delighted myself in bringing bolt cutters to the bike rack and happily freeing the rig from its rusty future.

    The machine is now my daily commuter. I put a new SA 3-spd on the rear. I sit on an old B-17 saddle that I was given. The thing is so comfy and I feel glad that I managed to find something for very little money, invest some time and patience, and turn it into one of my most indispensable items.

  • Alan says:

    @Tim

    Cool story.

  • beth h says:

    Here it is:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/bethness/sets/72157620722408661/

    I got my Rivendell LongLow with proceeds from an accident settlement after my previous bike was totaled. Since I took delivery of the frame in summer 1999, this bike has been my most trusted and reliable companion. It has survived charity rides, camping trips, a grad school flame-out and thousands of miles of daily commuting. It is, simply, the best bike I’ve ever had. And as I type this, the bike is sitting next to my desk at work.

    I could swear it just winked at me.

  • Alan says:

    @beth

    Your Rivvy is a real sweetheart.

  • bongobike says:

    Alan,

    That Tour Easy you had was a real beauty. Why don’t you ride ‘bent anymore?

  • Alan says:

    @bongobike

    “Why don’t you ride ‘bent anymore?”

    We still have a RANS Screamer ‘bent tandem that we ride now and again. It’s a fun ride out on open roads. We hope to take some extended tours on it someday.

    The main reason I switched back from ‘bents to uprights is that many ‘bents don’t play very well with transit, city parking areas, etc. It can certainly be done, but like most things, it’s a trade-off. In my case, none of the ‘bents that I was interested in riding (mostly LWB’s) would fit in my city bike locker or mount a transit bike rack. Just that was a deal killer since my commute is such a beast. Personally, I prefer uprights for short trips in the city, particularly where I may be mixing with pedestrians, hopping on-and-off the bike frequently, etc. Again, everyone’s different, and I know plenty of people who have no problem riding ‘bents in those situations. I would certainly never say I’m done with recumbents – my interests are varied and wide and as long as there’s room in the garage there’s always the potential… LOL.

    Best regards,
    Alan

    PS – A velomobile is on my “someday” list…

 
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