How many bikes?

Sometimes, the wife asks me a silly question.  “How many bikes do you have now?”  This is not a question of curiosity.  It’s a mixture of mild contempt and disbelief.  If you’re married and you have bikes, or cameras, or some other obsession hobby that encourages collecting stuff, you’ve seen the look which accompanies this question.  There is an underlying desire for me to part with at least some of the gigantic pile of crap taking up space in the basement.  And on the porch.  In the foyer.

There are several ways to answer this question.  Some of them are even honest.  Fewer are answers given to wives.

  • N+1.  This means that the proper number of bikes is always one more than the number on hand.
  • N-1.  This means that a divorce is imminent or the rent is two months behind.
  • 7, or 9.  This is from Rivendell Reader #42, page 6.  “Seven is good.  A beater, a bomber, a single-speed, a touring bike, a lightish road bike, a do-all racked and bagged bike, a mixte, a loaner, and a work in progress.  Seven?  Make it nine.”
  • 6.  Beloved Cycles has 6 different frames, each intended for a different purpose.  A road bike, a porteur, a commuter, a touring bike, a randonneur, and a mixte.
  • Maybe you’re a roadie and you need a different racing bike for different conditions.  Racing, training, raining, cold raining, warm raining, might start raining.  At least one each of crabon, aluminium, and steel.  Maybe titanium.
  • That frame without wheels isn’t a bike.  It’s a bike part.  Don’t count it.

There are a zillion ways to answer the question, but I think I may have it figured out.  The true answer and other secrets of the universe are revealed below.  Keep reading!

One of the ways I’ve looked at bikes is to classify them based on use.  In other words, they need to do certain things and I have to figure out which bikes can do what, and which needs are currently unmet.  These are the things I commonly do on a bike.

  • Just riding around.
  • Grocery shopping.
  • Towing the girls to school, dance class, etc.
  • Bicycle club rides.
  • Camping.  Going, not just riding around once I get there.
  • Dropping books off at the library.
  • Rail trail riding.
  • That one time I rode a metric century.
  • In the future I’d like to commute to work (if/when I find a job), maybe go on an extended tour, and possibly ride a brevet series.

Grant Petersen’s 7 or 9 is a good place to start for this type of justification.  At one time I had a bike with a porteur rack, a touring bike, a mountain bike, fixed gear, city, and probably a couple others.  Right now I have the lightish road bike, a beater, a bomber, a do-all, tourer, and a couple works in progress.  2 or 3 are ride-able at any given time.

I had considered paring it down to the Beloved 6, but couldn’t figure out how to slot my existing frame sets into their classifications.  Plus, I have more than 6 bikes.

This is dumb.  (You were thinking that all along.  Admit it.)  I can do most of what I want to do on a bike on any bike.  Maybe I shouldn’t pull a trailer full of kids on the lightish road bike, or ride a metric century on the Collegiate, but there’s a hell of a lot of overlap.  I can certainly take any of them on an S24O or on the slow club rides I sometimes lead.

I think it comes down to handlebars, and I think you/I/we need 3 bikes.  Three.  One, two, three (3).  Thuh-ree.

Circling back around to Grant Petersen and Rivendell, those guys have sold 3 types of handlebars ever since 1994.  Some sort of drop bar, an upright, swept back bar, and the infamous mustache bar.  I’ve read a lot of GP’s writings, and I don’t recall him ever saying “you need one bike with each of our handlebars”, but I think he meant to.  Or maybe he knows it, but doesn’t want to just come right out and say it.  I don’t know.  Doesn’t matter.  But in a round about way, I think he’s on to something.

Get a drop bar you like.  I like the Nitto B115, the Nitto Randonneur, and the Salsa Cowbell.  Pick something you like and set it up in a way that’s comfy.  Higher for an off-road-ish bike, lower for lightish, fastish.

Get some city bars.  Wald 8095, there’s something called a Promenade, maybe Albatross bars.  Pair them up with a leather saddle or a sprung saddle.  Maybe both.

Get another bar.  Mustache, Mary, those weird trekking bars.  And that’s it.  That’s all you need.

Put the porteur rack on your bike with city bars.  Now it’s your shopper, S24O’er, townie.  Or follow Jan Heine’s lead and put it on your drop bar rando bike with fat tires.  Now it’s an “urban bike”.

Got an old mountain bike?  Albatross bars and racks and baskets and now you can tour, camp, grocery shop and commute on it.  Mustache bars and pretend it’s an XO-1.  You’ve always wanted one of those.

Get three different bars and put them on three different frames and go from there.  You’ll figure out which bike does what.

You need three bikes.

Maybe a fourth, just in case one of them is in the shop…


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10 Responses to How many bikes?

  1. Jason Nunemaker says:

    When you said you were going to reveal the secrets of the universe, I fully expected the correct number of bikes to be 42. 🙂

    Jason “Got My Towel” Nunemaker, with a current four-count (one slow, one less slow, one tandem, and one wife’s bike) in Des Moines, IA

    • the sloth says:

      The tandem doesn’t count, because you’re married and it’s her bike, too. If you were single and/or trying to use it for courtship purposes, then it might count. But I think you may be on to something, too. 42 bikes. How happy would we all be if we each had 42 bikes?

      Let’s ask Tim.

  2. Tim says:

    1. road
    2. muck road/’cross if so inclined to race
    3. commuter/city
    4. mt (dedicated)
    5. cargo- because they’re the best things of all time. If you haul a trailer, can be dedicated trailer-attached bike
    6. tourer
    7. beer-run bike/beater- less valuable than #3
    **nowhere in this list is there an allowance for a SS/Fixie. Obviously one of these can be just that, or,
    8. SS/Fixie

    I think a minimum of 4:
    1. road
    2. city
    3. trail
    4. beater/beerrun/fixie/ss/cargo/etc

    I have more than this. Prob is, I’m getting down to discomfort parting b/c I have really nice bikes left, not junk.

    • the sloth says:

      I hear you. There’s some nice stuff in my stash, too. Pacer, rSogn, MB-2, that beautiful Nishiki that just doesn’t like me, plus a few more. The bike I ride most is a beater. Go figure.

  3. doc says:

    hmm… I have that frame for you, along with a pair of wheels (but not mounted) in the back of the van today. I wonder if that counts?

  4. adventure! says:

    Well, I’ve got three plus one right now. The touring/”all-rounder” (LHT), the citybike/three-speed (Raleigh Wayfarer), and the classy old three-speed vintage ride (Rudge Sports.) (That’s a category you don’t have!) And just got a cheap 90’s mountain bike that will be used for winter hacking-round and off-road camping. But it needs a little work. I think I can use three more: a modern “touring” mtb (like the Salsa Fargo or Surly Troll) or fatbike (a la Surly Pugsley) for “bikepacking”, a nicer lighter bike for just rides and/or randonnerding (yeah, let’s get it with 650B if we’re going that way), and a cargo bike. Oh sure, throw in a Brompton, if you can. Now we’re up to eight. I call that the “in-between seven and nine” number.

    In your listing of upright bars, you forgot the bestest one of all time: The North Road.

    And you need a bike specifically for library book returns? Wow, you read a lot. Wonder what a library-book-returning-specific frameset would look like.

    • the sloth says:

      I do have a Schwinn Collegiate from the early 70s. 5-speed freewheel, but I think it fills roughly the same niche as a Raleigh 3-speed.

      Forgot to mention the North Road? You dare to impugn my honor? Behold the Wald 8095! Seriously, though, it is a North Road bar, chrome plated ‘Merican steel, fits bar end shifters, weighs a ton, straight outa Kentucky. Mwahaha! I was a loud champion of the 8095 for a long time, interrupting any discussions of Albatross bars to preach the Word of Wald. Then a while back a set I had on the city bike bent as I was sprinting through an intersection. So I’ve been less loud about them lately.

      I’ll get back to you on the rack-mounted bookshelves.

  5. Tim S says:

    Rereading bc I can and to avoid watching what my wife is watching in the telly.

    1. Road
    2. Brevet/muck training
    3. Trails
    4. Gravel
    5. Tourer/commuter (LHT, duh!)- obviously a rSogn kind of rig can do 2, 4, and 5, but I’m lazy and don’t like to move tires and racks around constantly.

    According to this, my cargo and SS bike respectively are surplus. Want a 58cm QB at top dollar?