Heart and Soul

While discussing bicycles someone will occasionally make a statement to the effect of, “A frame is just something to hang parts on.” I’ve never quite understood this thinking. In my mind, a frame determines the character of a bike by having the greatest influence on fit, ride quality, appearance, and longevity. Modern materials and manufacturing techniques have done much to lower our expectations regarding craftsmanship and frame longevity, but a well-crafted frame has the potential to last decades. Over a span of 20 years or more, one can expect to replace every component on a bike multiple times. So while components (even wheels) are essentially consumables, I believe a well-designed, finely-crafted frame is the heart and soul of a bike.

What do you think? Is the essence of a bike its frame, or is a frame simply a collection of tubes that holds together the more important collection of parts?

Which of the following define the essence of a bike?

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21 Responses to “Heart and Soul”

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    I too think that the frame is the “heart and soul” of the bicycle. Not only because it determines the bicycle’s geometry, but also because it is simply the essence of the bicycle – in concept, in body and in spirit. This is why I am fascinated with the work of different framebuilders, their varied approaches and philosophies. These things matter; they are what shapes the “persona” of the bike and to a great extent they also determine which components are appropriate.

    Also, I am one of those people who claim to “feel” the frame when riding the bike. Some frames just agree with me and some do not, and I seem to be very sensitive to the geometry as well to the material the frame is made of. Put me on an aluminum bike, and I know I’m riding one even if the components are the same as on a steel bike.

  • Ari Hornick says:

    I voted frame because if I change components on a frame, I still say that I’m riding the same bike, but if I change frames, I say that I took the components from my old bike.

  • Jim says:

    Well, among LOTS of avid cyclists of the “roadie” set, all frames have similar looks, similar geometry, and similar levels of limited functionality. They talk about inanities like “carbon is more forgiving” and go on about how upgrading from 105 to Ultegra made some kind of huge improvement. But they are really splitting hairs.

  • s0fa says:

    I think you could get a lot farther putting real wheels and parts on a cheap steel frame than you would on the best custom made frame you can find out there with shimano tourney parts and machine built wheels.

  • Simon says:

    You’re absolutely right, Alan.

    I ride an old Peugeot race bike that I rebuilt with new components a few years ago. I had been to the shop but I’ve not been able to find a new bike that feels like my Peugeot. It’s small, strong, sounds great when riding fast and shows scratches reminding me of some journeys :-)

  • Doug R. says:

    Alan, I voted for the frame, because there were no other options! I agree to an extent that the frame is the heart and soul of a fine bike, however, the “T’hing” is a unique combination of all of it’s parts. In it’s own “Thingness” the bike and to some extent the rider all become one. I know I wax philosophical, but listen, you, I, and everyone else come upon a certain type of bike
    and the “Whole” Thing just strikes the magic chord in our souls and defines it”s beauty or functionality. In a gross analogy, would you then say a person’s skeleton is that which is their defining characteristic? Just tidbits for thought, Dougman.

  • Don says:

    Those who have had the privilege of commissioning a custom handmade steel frame will naturally love it and fetishize it and develop a relationship with it, perhaps in part to diminish cognitive dissonance regarding the expense, but also because it really is a form of kinetic sculpture tied to our own body’s unique measurements.

    In the absence of such craftmanship, though, I can see the Gestalt approach to conceptualizing the wholeness of the bike, or even the merging of bike and body, as the true “soul” of the activity. It is the kinesthetic disappearance of the bike that is its true measure, in my mind.

    Looking at the object when you’re not riding it is a separate kind of appreciation, but even then I am inclined to see the bike as a functioning whole. And each build on a durable frame over the years is akin to a stream, always changing. Part of what I find fascinating about bikes is that we humans are wired to hone in on tiny variations on a Platonic theme, and bicycles are an embodiment of that. So any detail of any bike activates that part of us.

    Lugs especially.

  • MU says:

    A false choice. It’s a lot to ask of any one thing to be both the “heart” and “soul” of a bike. I’m with Doug R. The frame is the skeleton. Often ignored, but you can’t do without it. It sets the shape, basic abilities, and overall character of the body. All else are the ‘soft bits’. Necessary, but modifiable. They can be changed and will have a big impact on the function of the body, but only within the confines of the skeleton’s basic design. Not sure if the wheels are the muscles or the organs (to take the analogy a bit too far).

    The beauty of a bike is in the harmonious interaction of its many disparate pieces (both machine and rider). A wonderful example of “emergence”…a thing which exceeds simply being a sum of its parts.

  • Roland Smith says:

    None of the poll choices works for me.
    A bike is at least the sum of its parts, and sometimes more.

  • Doug R. says:

    Ommm! Pedal, Ommm! pedal, Ommm! (Mantra!) Just kiddi’n!

  • Deltatrike says:

    I voted frame because I wouldn’t buy a bike for great components if the frame was something I couldn’t be happy riding – same with the wheels – except wait, I did buy my last bike because of the cool red color wheels and the purchase 2 bikes ago because of the red tires and the way they matched the frame paint…..can I change my vote? Seriously….decide what you do most of the time, go shopping, and buy what you want. Sometimes you can sadly miss the beauty of the forest by focusing too much on the trees or in this case the shape of the leaves and the texture of the bark and the depth of the root structure or the acidity of the soil in the root bed……

  • Molnar says:

    I think Ari Hornick nailed it. It isn’t just a question of language, but of what we cherish in a bike, which is usually the frame. My all-time favorite, which I still use, is a 35-year-old Harry Quinn that still has the original seat post and front hub (it would have the original Campagnolo bottom bracket if the spindle were the right length for the newer drive train). I’m a bit disappointed in Jim’s view: I think I once saw on Hiawatha Cyclery’s Flickr pages a photo with a Harry Quinn and A.N.T. in the same frame; until then I had thought I had the only room on earth with that particular combination.

  • martian1 says:

    While I agree the frame is a lot of the heart of a bike, the wheel set & tires contribute
    to it’s soul; bike fit & components make up a bike’s body. One element out of balance
    with the other seems to detract from the bike’s karma.

  • Val says:

    I’m still riding the same bike that I rode from Seattle to New Mexico in 1979. Of course, it did get stolen, so I had to rebuild it from scratch, and since then I’ve repalced the frame four times and various parts, mostly drive train, but it’s still the same bike. Really.

  • Dottie says:

    I agree – it’s all about the frame. And the Brooks saddle :)

  • doug says:

    I voted frame. But I almost voted wheels because they, and the tires you put onto them, have such a huge effect on the ride as well. But I also thought that if I take my bike and put better wheels on it, I have a better bike, not a new bike.

    So, while I might like riding a poor quality frame with great parts more than an awesome frame with thirty year old steel parts and rims, the truth is that the bike is none of these things.

    I always call my bikes “concepts.” What do I want this object to do for me? I go from there, choosing the frame and parts to accomplish whatever goal I have in mind.

    The frame dictates the purpose more than anything else.

  • David says:

    I would absolutly say the frame but then again my velomobile is a tadpole type trike within a monocoque body. I cannot remove the mechanical parts and “frame” pieces from the velomobile body and have a ridable bike. At best I would have a collection of unridable parts.

    But if you ask me if my velomobile had an essence or more so a “soul”, I would say absolutly, as do my other bicycles.

    In a sense with my velomobile it’s the body as a “frame” that gives it it’s essence.

  • Saddle Up says:

    WE supply the heart, the bike provides the soul. I’ve never owned what would be considered a high end frame. I do have some fairly nice components on some mass produced frames though. The soul of any bike is in the ride, thats how it communicates to you.

    My life changed dramatically when I rediscovered cycling aboard a brand new $300 steel framed KHS hybrid. That bike had soul and sang to my heart. Not a bike one would call well crafted.

  • antbikemike says:

    I voted frame [big suprise]. The frame need not be custom or even well made…it just needs to fit well and have that certain feel to it. You can find this in a used frame, but you can nail it with a new custom.

  • Larey says:

    I’ve had the wrong size frame before where my choices were ride wrong or don’t ride. What a miserable time. Everything else but the frame can be either lived with or fixed.

  • Andrew says:

    Nulled my vote, have to agree @Roland Smith.

    Frames are important, but as long as it fits you, I consider the components to be equally as important. Certainly they’re even more so if you’re a weight weenie.

    My example is my current winter beater that I bought off Craigslist. From the looks of it, it’s an old steel frame that may have once lived on a cheap road bike in the early 80s, but whatever it once was, it now has flat-bars, thumb friction shifters, and 26×2.0″ tires (but, of course, it has terrible stamped steel caliper brakes and not canties or vees). The moral of the story is, whatever its frame may have been, it is now very much a beater mountain bike because every other part on it is straining in that direction.

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