Apples and Oranges

I’m fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to ride an extremely wide variety of bicycles over the past few years, including everything from recumbent tandems, to belt-drive commuters, to compact folders, to English roadsters. A high percentage of these bikes were well-designed and a pleasure to ride. All were limited in some way, because no one bike is appropriate for every use, but most came close to meeting the criteria set forth by their designers, which in my opinion qualifies them as successful designs.

Where things go awry is when we (us riders/consumers) mis-match a bicycle with a use. For example, a recumbent tandem is a lovely bicycle for day-tripping in the country, but it makes a lousy commuter or city bike. A carbon fiber racer is perfect for racing (go figure), but it’s a complete failure as a loaded touring bike (go figure again). And I’d venture to say that I won’t see a lugged-steel touring bike on the podium at Alpe d’Huez in my lifetime… ;-)

I see an awful lot of mud being thrown around the i-net at various bike-types, materials, and brands. In my opinion, much of this criticism is mis-placed because of our proclivity to judge any bicycle only in the context of how we’d personally use it, instead of taking into consideration the goals of the designer and how he/she intended the bike should be used. Judging a bike in the context of its intended use (and considering its intended audience), then comparing it to other bikes intended for the same use, is the only way to get a true measure on the success of a design. Anything short of this is just conjecture and personal preference (something we have plenty of around here, too).

21 Responses to “Apples and Oranges”

  • kit says:

    Spoken like a true bicycle lover. I quite agree. :)

  • Saddle Up says:

    Well put. The “various bike-types, materials and brands”, it’s all good, it’s just not all for everyone.

  • Elliott @ Violet Crown Cycles says:

    This is especially true with transportation bikes. If I have to hear one more time how heavy a transportation bike is from a guy riding a crabon road racing bike, I’m going to puke. You mean having lights, a rack, fenders, a chain guard, a kickstand, and the ability to weather being locked up outside for months will add weight? Shocking! ;)

    Everything is a trade off. There’s a frame builder saying that mirrors a similar saying in the design world, “There is strong, light, and cheap: pick two.” Though all those accessories add weight, I don’t know anyone who regularly uses a bike for transportation that wouldn’t prefer to have their utility.

  • Elliott @ Violet Crown Cycles says:

    I forgot to mention, the guy on the road racing bike is usually carrying an extra 40-50 pounds around the waist!

  • Erich Zechar says:

    Horses for courses, my friend.

  • RJ says:

    Cheers to that!

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    I agree completely. Even within each bike category – for instance, “commuter” – there are different types of users in mind, with different commuting needs. So the question becomes not just “Is this a good commuter bike?”, but more like “Is this a good bike for the kind of commuter it is designed for?” In any case, variety is good, and matching your needs with an appropriate design is crucial.

  • mike says:

    Well said, Alan. A much-needed dose of civility and reason on a topic that always seems to degenerate to something only one notch above name-calling.

    I’m grateful that I discovered cycling at an age where I no longer feel the need for everyone (or anyone) else to share my view of my bike, my commute, my riding attire or cycling speed. These things work for me. Whether they work for the other folks on the bike trail is not something I think about much anymore.

    Despite this freedom — or maybe because of it — it is genuinely gratifying to find others with whom I share overlapping preferences in bikes and cycling… particularly EcoVelo!

  • David says:

    Excellent statement Alan

    Very Well Put.

  • Tom Barone says:

    Alan, Mike,

    I couldn’t agree more with your views. Stopping by here every day has grown to be a daily ” FIX” !

  • Jeff says:

    I agree as well now but sadly, I have been guilty of looking down my nose at those “other” bikes and their riders in the past. Why do we do that? I suppose it’s easier to throw rocks at a house than to build one.

  • Scott Wayland says:

    Astute, as usual! The only bikes I tend to look down on are those that are built to throw away–the Walmart/Kmart/Schlockmart. And I’ve read something about the conditions under which they are constructed, which makes them a symbol of something more sinister than just a cheap consumer culture. We spend fortunes on big screen TV’s, automobiles, and the like, but somehow a few hundred dollars for a decent bike is outrageous. The vast sums I spend on my custom recumbent addiction are scandalous, I’ll grant you that, but a pretty good bike can be had for about $500. As an aficionado of fine things velo, quality has always been important. But, hey, that’s just me, although I have a lot of company on this site, eh, Alan?


  • Doug P says:

    It looks like we have a consensus, Alan.. the only bike worthy of derision is the bike that is not ridden!! I remember a garage in Gent in Belgium, tiny, with no room for a bike and car side by side. What was impressive was the bike had the place of honor in that garage; in front of the car! This is the opposite of what we see often elsewhere, the bike never used, relegated to the back of the garage where it merely collects dust and spiderwebs.
    Someone at my job once expressed shock at the cost of my bike(s), and I replied, ” How much did you spend on your new couch?” She got it immediately! We are never unwilling to feed our particular passions. I believe in adapting to local conditions, hence my bike collection is skewed to the road, and the flat. (Sacramento valley) If I lived in Downieville I would have a MTB flavored collection, and if I lived on the coast, I’d have a bike to take my surfboard to the beach! I Adaptation is the biggest strength of the human species….

  • Doug R. says:

    I agree with All of the comments, however, I do not believe the Walmart type bicycles are well constructed or intended for any use but to sell to unknowing American consumers. (Grouchy oldman).

  • CedarWood says:

    No one has any right to complain about another’s choice of bicycle or equipment until they have ridden that person’s commute because each person rides a different area under different conditions. What works for me may not work for another, and vice versa.

    That said, I do wonder about the logic governing some people’s choices, and have been guilty of judging others, mainly on the lack of fenders in this very rainy climate. I have to remember that, like our local Kent Peterson says, sometimes it just doesn’t matter. What really matters is getting on the bike and riding.

  • CedarWood says:

    @ Doug R.

    When my legs outgrew my 20″ bike, my grandma purchased a Spalding Blade TE for me at Sears for $120. The narrow tires put me off though, so it sat in a barn for 10 years neglected, waiting for me to gain too much weight one winter. With some grease on the chain and the cobwebs wiped off, I began logging miles. I was hooked before long.

    It became my first commuting bike, taking me to and from work for 2 years without incident before I purchased another bike with lower gears which was better suited to my commute.

    BSO? Not in my eyes. Oh sure, some things could be better quality, but they work, so why complain?

  • Pat Zyduck says:

    I too see a lot of “looking down” and as you put it “mud thrown” at folks because of the types of bicycles they choose to ride. I refuse to try and “fit” into any catagory of rider other than bicycle rider. Does it really matter what I ride or why? Seriously? I ride, and that’s all that matters.

    With that said, I would never take my hybid to a race and expect anything but the aforementioned looking down. But to look down at me as you pass me on your $6000.00 carbon fiber racer while I am riding to work on my $500.00 aluminium hybrid is just ridiculous.

    Fortunatley, it doesn’t happen very often. I find that bicycle enthusiasts are all pretty well grounded. They “get it” so to speak. Just ride and enjoy the company of other who ride as well.

  • Andrew says:

    Agree 100%. Being dogmatic about any element on a bike is ridiculous if you aren’t gauging it in the proper context of it’s intended use.

  • Tom W says:

    I am seriously looking at importing a Civia Loring to the UK but it will be at least 3 months until I have saved for it. As far as I know it will be the first but would be very happy to know that someone else has beat me: honest. I currently ride a Pashley Roadster but my brother has my father’s 1939 Durrkopf. Not sure exactly what model but it is a wonderful bike.

    Thanks to Alan and Michael for this website!.

  • Don says:

    I would add to Alan’s use variable two more: the rider’s body type as it impacts bike fit adjustment and local geography.

    Bikes are so aesthetically beautiful that many riders, particularly casual riders, may be inclined to adjust their bikes on an aesthetic rather than biomechanical standard. And to complicate matters, some body types — say someone with longish arms but proportionate torso and legs — tend to have set-ups that are more pleasing to the eye than someone with my frame, with proportionately short arms and legs and a long torso.

    This blog is unique in the way it weighs aesthetics seriously along with other more quantifiable aspects of a given build. I love the trend of showing off one’s ride online as a kind of artwork. As it happens, they can be revealing as a self-portrait, so appreciation of difference is as valid with bikes as it is with people.

  • Steven says:

    While I totally agree with the author’s sentiment, there are real difference in materials used to make different bike types. No, I’m not one who thinks the only real bike is a steel bike, in fact I’m actually a big fan of the often slighted aluminum framed bike. Carbon fiber is what I’m talking about. It is often quite fragile, not very repairable, expensive to both the wallet and the environment to produce, usually have shorter working lives than bikes made from metals, and worst of all they are almost impossible to recycle.

© 2011 EcoVelo™