I have a friend who rides only the most exquisite and rarefied handmade bicycles. His bikes are always perfectly appointed to match the style and era from which they came. He’s a true aficionado. I have another friend who rides a big box mountain bike for transportation. He’s only concerned with basic functionality and as long as his bike gets him to where he needs to go, he could care less how it looks or where it came from. He’s a user of bicycles, but he’s anything but what most people think of as a “cyclist”. In both cases, their approaches to bicycling are clear and obvious expressions of their differing personalities.
Most of us fall somewhere between these two extremes. Within the broad spectrum between fetishism and pure practicality exists a myriad of niches to which we can knowingly or unknowingly assign ourselves. Some of us outfit our bikes with leather, cotton, and cork while only using retro parts such as friction shifters, freewheels, and cottered cranks; others insist upon the latest in high tech gadgetry such as carbon belts, internal gear hubs, and STI shifters; while others choose to ride only fixed gear bikes tricked out with matching anodized components. Wherever each of us falls in the spectrum, the bike we choose to ride (and the way we outfit it) often says something about who we are and how we want the world to see us.
Personally, I’m a bit of a chameleon. I certainly lean toward preferring the classic look of lugged frames, gently curved handlebars, and level top tubes, but, I can also get excited about modern, high-tech bikes, particularly when the technology makes sense and provides real advantages in functionality. Probably more important to me than the particular style of a bike is that the parts and accessories installed on it are a good aesthetic match for the bike. For example, to my eye, many modern bikes don’t pair well with Brooks saddles, hammered fenders, and shellaced bar tape, while rubber hand grips, synthetic racing saddles, and STI shifters look out of place on a vintage frame.
I still haven’t decided who’s the more evolved bicyclist; my friend who rides the handmade bikes or my friend who rides the department store bikes. I suppose it doesn’t matter; what really counts is that they’re both out there on the road enjoying bicycles in their own unique way.