Ol' No. 7
Amongst cyclists there is an algebraic equation that is famously written either as N+1 or S-1. N is the number of bikes you currently own and S is the number of bikes that will result in you being divorced, thus finding yourself single.
For years I have ogled at the latest crop of bikes and wheelsets and thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice?” The bike industry was happy to feed this craving by slicing the market thinner and thinner. Instead of simply offering a road bike, companies offer aero road bikes, climbing road bikes, endurance road bikes and who-knows-what-is-next road bikes.
Counter to the California culture we all love (Everything….right now) curiously I find this excessive specialization actually makes me want to simplify my bike inventory. I find myself in the process of selling bikes and actually reducing the number of bikes I own and ride.
When the seemingly unconnected progression of wider tires and rims met the evolution of tubeless technology, in combination with the aging demographic of Cyclocross racers; the stage was set for the explosion of gravel riding.
Instead of stopping where the pavement ends we are able to smile as if we are breaking the rules and take the path across the field or continue onto the fire road and remember why we rode our bikes as kids. This “I can if I want to” perspective matches well with the varied terrain we now ride. Before we inflate our egos and think we have invented a new sport we need to be reminded that what we call gravel riding (or mixed surface riding in marketing speak) the Belgians call, “bike riding.”
One of the byproducts of riding the same bike on multiple surfaces is that no single bike or tire is perfect for every part of the ride. Riding this way we become accustomed to compromise. The smooth tires are better on the road but squirrely on the dirt. A beefier tire is good on the dirt but slower on the road.
In this era of optimization, the strange thing is we don’t seem to mind the slower tires on the road or not being able to rail a loose corner in the dirt. We gladly accept the tradeoff of do-it-all at the expense of perfection in any one aspect.
One could say we start taking a more holistic approach to cycling. I remember packing up after a Cross crusade race in Portland. As I was stuffing the war wagon with my bike, muddy clothes, pump and a tub of stuff; I noticed a rider from my same race ride up to a backpack and sling that on his back and clip on some fenders and ride off on the same bike he had raced on. Talk about cred! I felt like that guy was legit and I was a poser. That was several years ago but the image has stuck with me.
No white kit allowed.....
After embracing this holistic perspective, my focus seems to have shifted from expanding my quiver of bikes to simplifying my riding options. Let’s not get carried away and start thinking I want to sell everything and get a wooden strider bike. I am, however, actively working to reduce the contents of my stable.