A number of people have expressed puzzlement about the fact that I regularly ride a traditional lugged-steel bike with old school components such as friction shifters, high profile cantilever brakes, a Brooks saddle, and a quill stem; a modern tig-welded bike with a carbon belt drive, internal gear hub, threadless headset/stem, and brifters; and, a 3-speed folding bike made in Great Britain. The underlying assumption seems to be that a person should stake out a position on bike design and become a proponent of that particular school forevermore.
My guess is that this expectation grows from our procilvity to see bicycles as an extension of ourselves, as a way of expressing our aesthetic values, much like our choices in clothing, home decor, and automobiles. I certainly understand this. I too am conscious of the image I portray when on my bikes, and there are any number of bikes I’d be uncomfortable riding in public (my wife’s old hot pink cruiser comes to mind).
The problem with limiting ourselves to one style of bicycle is that we miss out on so much. Nearly every type of well-designed bike offers some advantage over another. Let’s look at the three bikes described above.
The old school bike is delicate and beautiful. The lug work and small diameter tubes hark back to a time when many things were simpler, including bicycles. It’s a bike that’s easy to understand, and that familiarity breeds fondness. The frame is flexible in a good way, the geometry is conservative and comfortable, and the drivetrain and brakes are predicatable and reliable.
The modern bike is tig-welded which reduces costs and allows the use of non-standard tube diameters and frame geometries. This makes it easier to design a stiff, but lightweight frame. The belt drive and IGH require zero maintenance while providing ultra-smooth, all-weather performance. The combo brake/shifter places the controls at the rider’s fingertips for city riding in heavy traffic, and the disc brakes modulate nicely and remain powerful even when wet and dirty.
The folder offers the obvious advantages of being compact and versatile. It’s a tiny package that doesn’t give up too much in ride quality to larger bikes. Best of all, it opens up many multi-modal commuting and travel options.
None of this is to say a person needs more than one bike. The point is that it behooves bicyclists to be open to bike designs that don’t immediately fit within their current school of preference. We do ourselves a disservice by taking too strong of a position and hunkering down; doing so limits our experiences and cuts us off from the potential to learn something new. And you never know, you just might find that you love that carbon racing bike or long wheelbase recumbent afterall.