An homage to the beater bike, the rain bike, the training bike, the commuter bike

The beater bike. The commuter bike. The rain bike. The other bike. Call it what you will. What it means, and what it looks like, means different things to different people. It all depends on your actual or perceived needs, and how responsible you are with your money. Regardless of what the bike looks like, the fact remains, it's the other bike. It's less than. It's the mistress. It's imitation "cheese product", not actual cheese. It's Boonen's back-up dealer, the one who can only get him the so-so stuff. It's Metallica without Cliff Burton. It's the faux wood panneling on a Dodge Caravan. You get my point. Even though most people see this other bike as being less interesting, I would disagree. I love those bikes, and love seeing them on the road. They are fantastic to look at, and show the sobriety and sanity of their owners. Sanity, I should mention, is sometimes rare in bike owners. As such, I celebrate it when I see it. In a world where I see people going for a quick spin in Zipp tubular wheels, normal 32 spoke wheels are a beautiful sight.

The Spectrum
In the spectrum of bike-owning stupidity (and that's a hugely wide spectrum), thinking that you must have a bike for every occasion, type of weather and time of day ranks pretty high up there. In the middle of said spectrum you will find people who, emboldened with a pioneer-like spirit (and a seemingly endless budget) try to make make some bikes do two or three things at once.

The truth is that all bikes have a limit as to how many things they can be used for. Personally, I think a Cervelo P3 is only good for one thing (crashing in triathlon transitions), and will thus perform any other task rather poorly. I mean, you can use a watermelon as a hammer, but don't be surprised when people laugh at you for doing so, and don't be disappointed when the watermelon doesn't do a good job at driving a nail into a wall. But that's me. Someone else saw a rear-facing dropout on the P3 and instantly got a fixie-boner. And thus the bike above was born. I know I sound judgmental and dogmatic, but I can't help myself. My strict upbringing (I was potty-trained at gunpoint) tells me to point these things out, while my sub-cultural background (punk rock and such) tells me that the world should be a more relaxed, free-for-all where people live in a perpetual willy-nilly state. So excuse me if I'm conflicted. I hate saying that there are rules, even if they are driven by common sense. I hate commenting on such things precisely because it's such a dogmatic thing to do, and also because it gets into how people spend their money and commenting on choices they make...which have nothing to do with me. I mean, if there are rules, I certainly wouldn't know them...because I haven't been ridding a bike long enough to know them. I think you get the official book of rules (it's a Powerpoint presentation now, actually) after many more years of ridding than what I have under my belt/bib shorts.

So, if the Cervelo P3 with riser bars (note the Swobo stem, interesting brand cross-pollination) is in the middle of the bike-owning stupidity spectrum, and owning one bike per jersey and time of day is at one end...what is at the opposite end of said spectrum? Well, that would be the belief that one bike can do it all. One bike that can handle every single type of terrain and perform brilliantly in all circumstances. This type of thinking is sometimes referred to as the "Alessandro Ballan's Dentist Methodology". It's called that because, in putting Ballan's gigantic and powerful teeth together, his dentist assumed that they would be versatile enough cut into soft foods as well as actual slabs of metal and concrete. It's for this reason that he made them as gigantic as humanly possible. So when you see pictures of him putting the UCI gold medal in his mouth, he wasn't just posing for a picture. He actually chewed through that medal like it was made out of soft chocolate.

So, while some look to buy bikes that are so singular in their purpose that they can't be ridden in 99% of conditions, others seek Mad Max-style vehicles that can handle it all. These are the type of people who will swoon with joy when you begin to ask them:

"Can your bike..."

and before you can even finish the question, the Mad Max-bike owner will very quickly and proudly answer:

"Yes, yes it can."

It's this type of mentality that eventually drove the automotive world to bring stillborn mutations such as the Subaru Baja to market. Sedan? Yes. Station wagon? It can be. Pick-up truck? Absolutely. In the world of bikes, of course, there's the Cannondale Bad Boy. Inspired equally by the Subaru Baja and Woody Allen's movie Zelig, the Bad Boy is anything and everything to everyone. It can do everything, it can withstand any and all types of terrain. Additionally, I should mention that, much like roaches, Cannondale Bad Boys can (and will) survive a nuclear holocaust.

Cannondale Bad Boy, the holocaust-surviving cockroach of bikes

Speaking of a/the holocaust, did you see that Tour Of Poland will go through Auschwitz this year? Talk about cheery. By comparison, the Tour de France's visit to Eddy Merckx's home town this summer seems downright lowbrow, superficial and sinfully lighthearted. In order to not seem shallow, the French should make one of the Tour's stages go by a Renault factory. As someone who grew up surrounded by French cars (Renault 4s in particular) I can tell you that French engineering has hurt as many people, if not more, than the Holocaust. Which reminds me, when I went to the concentration camp in Dachau, I stood in the rain for a few seconds, staring at the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign on the main gate. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and a pair of very happy, elderly American women stood there with huge smiles. The oldest of the two proudly said, "Ha! You think Dachau is bad? This is nothing, just wait until you go to Auschwitz! Dachau has nothing on Auschwitz!" She said this in the same tone that I've often used to speak about the best all-you-can-eat Indian buffets in town. "You think Taj Mahal is good? That's should check out Bombay Palace."

But I digress.

Back to that spectrum that we were talking about before I got sidetracked by the holocaust and Ballan's teeth
So, somewhere between owning one bike per hour of the day, and the Bad Boy/magical Cervelo P3 there's the equilibrium of reason. That equilibrium tells me that the need for more than one bike is realistic for many people, but that you probably don't need enough bikes that you can match them to your jersey. I say this, of course, because my logic is never flawed, and I happen to own two bikes. For the amount of ridding I do, that seems like a good number...and perhaps will grow slightly over time. This, as a result, is the correct thing to do. You see, I needed a bike with fenders. I needed a bike that can take a rack, and can be taken on long on, and so forth. As such, I hereby officially acknowledge the fact that one bike can't do every job, sorry Cannondale Bad Boy owners.

By the way, my lefty-leaning instincts* tell me that this is the part of the post where I should acknowledge that owning two of something that most people in the world can't even own one of is a bit indulgent and gluttonous. I'm hoping that merely referencing this notion will be enough to appease some of you out there, as well as my inner pseudo-intellectual.

* These are like Spidey-senses, but instead of being something that only super heroes have, they are common in people like me, who were born and raised in largely poor and leftist countries of the world.

Bianchi with fenders (found on Flickr)

The other bike
As the unsung hero of the cycling establishment, the other bike is seldom talked about. The other bike never gets photographed in Velo News. It's seldom bragged about or even washed. Always the bridesmaid, never the my elderly effeminate neighbor Harley always says. Seriously, the guy manages to stick that phrase into every conversation I've had with him in over two years. You don't even see it coming half of the time. We'll be talking about sports, Albanian politics, rust proofing, cement mixers...somehow, every time...boom, it comes up. By the way, I sometimes think that Harley has swinger parties for other elderly people at his house. But I'm getting off track. Again.

David Millar's training bike (as seen here)

So why not celebrate the other bike? In my mind, those less-than bikes speak volumes about the needs that a person actually has. They speak about a person's history too. The triple crank that they started out with, the shifters that they first raced in, the wheels they got on a trade with so-and-so. Like a well-worn first baseman's mitt, they have character. By the way, I know I'm sounding dangerously close to the douchebags who can go on and on about the "soul" of mass produced Italian goods, but bare with me. After all, what can a brand new carbon fiber frame that looks exactly like the one on a catalog tell us about itself or its owner? All it tells us is:

Hello, I'm a new bike. My specs were determined by a guy in Michigan, and a twelve year old in Taiwan put me together. I look exactly like every other bike in my price range.

Again, I don't want to dwell on the subject of being different, or that of injecting personality where none is needed. A bike is an inanimate object, I know that. New doesn't mean bad, or boring. Conversely, cobbled-together does not mean it has "soul". If that weren't the case, cobbled together, color coordinated track bikes would be like like the Isaac Hayes of bikes. But you see, well-used objects simply have more of a story to tell. Where have they been? What are they used for? These are messages that can only be communicated by objects which have some history and thus a layered complexity in messages. In post-modern terms, they speak of plurality rather than singularity, and are imensly self-referential. Okay, I better stop going down that route...because even I'm getting sick of myself. Next thing you know, I'll be posting a six-part essay about the meaning of stitching patterns in mid-1980's cycling jerseys.

Levi Leipheimer's rain bike

The main bike
I don't dislike the new, the fancy, the well-cared for. But a brand new carbon bike can only speak about the needs of someone else...a generic someone else, that the manufacturer had in mind. It's design mimics the needs of professionals whose bikes are cared for on a daily basis by mechanics, and who have support vehicles. This has nothing to do with most of us. I know that many of you want to pretend like you're one of them (professionals)...but most of you aren't. It's for this very reason that I don't wear a full Formula 1 fire suit and helmet when I drive somewhere. Those bikes are commonly intended for a single purpose, racing (or something like it) which will happen under similar circumstances for all involved. My primary bike was cetainly designed with that sort of thing in mind, and I really love it. So it's not as though I only like old crappy ten speed bikes. It's just that brand new bikes simply speak of singular needs which I'm well aware of. This, however, is not the case for the other bike. It's for this reason that I love seeing people's second, third, fourth or fifth bike more than their primary bike. The mismatched wheels, the lights, the old steel frame with fenders. In some cases, this oddly mismatched bike has a PowerTap wheel. Does it get any better? I think not. I love bikes like that.

Michael Barry's training bike (as seen here)

Sure someone's other bike may be much nicer and more expensive than both of our bikes put together. The beater bike has sometimes never been beaten, but rather held and transported gingerly. Sometimes, as is the case with professionals, the other bike is carbon fiber. That's fine, since that fact speaks about their needs as well. These training bikes often have sturdier components, and are a fantastic mix of new and old. Perhaps I'm just another idiot fetishizing minutia within cycling, I'm open to that possibility. Perhaps I'm only a tiny bit better than the people who are amazed when every single year around April, pictures are released of pro's bikes showing non-sponsor wheels...and in some cases (gasp!), crazy things like cyclocross frames and cantilever brakes. Still, I love this stuff, what can I do? Sue me. Actually, don't. Please.

Cheapo (for his standards) Gossamer FSA crankset on Hincapie's new training bike

In my case, my second bike is a heavy steel thing, it has my old shifters, and a color scheme ugly enough to stop traffic. It works well though, and its fenders have extended the amount of days I can comfortably ride to work significantly. Soon it will have a rack and panniers. Yes, both the bike and I will look stupid, but in my opinion, there's nothing stupid about getting to ride the 15 miles to work year round (30 round trip, thank you very much). What about you? Do you have a second/beater bike? Is your main bike also the other bike? Are you Boonen's dealer? Did you make it through this insanely long and scattered post without having to go back and re-read a paragraph multiple times? Let me know.

An homage to common sense, and the magic of the other bike:

Rack, frame pump. Sweet plastic flat pedals.

Fenders, lights, saddle bag

Fenders, lights, pump, saddle bag, mismatched wheels. Sweet wood paneling.

Fenders, lights, rack...and brown plastic siding.

As always, a few last words:

- What does Jens Voigt tell his legs when they are screaming in pain?

Via Cycling Tips

- What does Jens Voigt tell his body when it's screaming in pain?

- Lastly, I want to remind you to check out my brother's podcast. New episode, check him out.