We recently posted a series of YouTube clips titled ‘Story of My Bike’. It’s a narrative of putting together something to ride. Been there, done that? What make your bike yours?
James Stout offers his explanation…
Bikes and art: a commentary
Remember the first time you picked up RIDE Cycling Review? You were probably newer to cycling then. You probably flicked through the pages of photographs and articles and, I’m guessing, there was one that stopped you. In each issue of the magazine there is a vast collection of bike images, and I bet every one of us can remember the one bike that we saw – on the page or in the flesh – that stopped us in our tracks.
Those are the bikes that we compare other bikes to. You see, it turns out that for all the charts and numbers we publish, we can’t quantify our feelings. That first second of clapping eyes on The Bike, that’s when you fall in love.
Humans have been trying to quantify attraction for decades now. There are hundreds of websites that allow you to type in your interests, your hair colour and your tolerance for spicy food and be “matched with your perfect partner”. But then you go on a date and find out that they do crossfit or listen to Whitesnake and you realise that the algorithm isn’t quite ready for prime time – not on that site, not yet.
The same is true for bikes. There is not some kind of magic combination of weight, frontal area, top tube length and fork rake that works for everyone. If there was, life would be boring.
I am 190cm and 72kg, it is quite possible that my bike has more stem than yours has seat post. A bike that feels lively to me might feel petrifying to you. A bike that feels flexy to a more powerful rider might feel just fine for me.
The service of the cycling media is not so much one of objective quantification, but one of subjective opinion and curation.
Most modern bikes are excellent. We root out the occasional bad apple but almost any value bike I have reviewed this year is better than the bikes that won the Tour de France a decade ago. Despite this, and despite the relationship-stressing number of bike sin my shed currently, I have very clear favourites.
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Cannondale’s commemorative bike, the ‘Black Lightning’ (above) – a limited run of 300 was released as part of the company’s 30th anniversary celebrations… it features a special black Campagnolo Record ensemble.
Willem De Kooning, the Dutch-American painter who lived out his final years with Alzheimer’s was reportedly unable to recall why, or what, he was painting.
Beauty, desirability and art are about momentary interactions, little sparks in the grey mundanity of our lives.
There’s nothing rational or quanitifable about De Kooning’s abstract expressionism but there is something truly beautiful. The market seems to agree that beauty has value, de Kooning’s “Interchange” sold in 2015 for $300 million, making it the most expensive painting ever sold.
Cycling, like art, isn’t supposed to be rational or sensible, it’s supposed to be emotional and beautiful and entirely nonsensical.
Think of your favourite riders, they’re the ones who attack on a whim, turn on a dime and succeed or fail in a blaze of glory.
It turns out that bikes, much the same as art, need to be emotionally stimulating to be truly desirable.
There are toasters that serve more practical function than De Kooning’s paintings, but there are not $300 million toasters.
You see it’s passion, not angular deflection, that makes you want to ride a bike. The bike you are going to have the most fun riding, and thus ride more, get fitter and go faster on, is the one that you see every morning and think “that’s a stunner of a bike”.
The bike that makes you want to ride no hands to admire its top tube and stop on top of hills to take photos that you hope will make your mates jealous – that’s the bike that’s best for you.
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The Scott Addict from 2010 (above): features the first commercially available iteration of Shimano’s Di2 shifting system.
For me, The Bike is a Trek Domane Rsl. In part, the aggressive geometry and compliant frame make it great fun for long adventures. If I’m honest though, what really grabs me every morning whilst I sip my coffee is the paint job which I designed after the Catalan flag and a custom Spanish champion bike that Valverde rode back when I spent much idle time ogling cycling magazines. It is, to me, everything I have always aspired to have. It also gets me out of the door and onto the road every day, because it speaks to me and about me. It’s the bike I chose and it looks the way I want it to look.
Bikes have been black and red for far too long. I understand that those colours go with everything, but they don’t really say much about you, other than that you are a bike rider.
Cycling is impulsive and odd and it’s time that our bikes came to represent that. I understand that many of us are on a budget, but perhaps it really would be better to allocate some more of that money to style and a little less to aerodynamic headset spacers.
– By James Stout
The bikes featured above are from a collection that has been years in the making: a Cannondale with Campagnolo, Scott with Shimano and Focus with SRAM… They span 15 years and are special for different reasons.
What’s the story of your bike? Write to RIDE and let us know.
In the coming months, we look forward to sharing commentary about the things we ride, why we ride them, and what people have learned because of the simple act of pedalling.
Since 2001, there has been a feature in our magazine called ‘Bikes from the bunch’. There are hundreds of these vox pops that have been published over the years. It was a simple format: photo of bike and rider with a few simple topics to prompt discussion – ‘The Bike’, ‘The Groupset’, ‘Kilometre Count’, ‘Good Points’, ‘Bad Points’… ‘Miscellaneous’.
When you next go for a ride, consider these topics and how you might tell your story…