Ride one bike


The greatest asset that any cyclist can bring to a ride, except fitness, is familiarity with the machine– with the exact moment that the tire loses traction in a turn, the precise action to avoid pedal strike through rocks, and the best way to hide from the wind when the Cateye reads more than 20.  Riding one bike will foster a connection with the machine that is lost when multiple bikes are in play.  I’ve heard of riders with as many as five different mountain bikes who must know which trail the group is planning to ride to be able to select the appropriate machine.  There are such things as training bikes and racing bikes, and road bikes for paved roads and different road bikes for gravel roads.  There are true cyclocross bikes and cross-type bikes that are marketed as light-touring bikes and commuting bikes and hybrid bikes.   Yesterday’s downhill bikes are today’s all-mountain bikes, while yesterday’s cross-country bikes aren’t really even mountain bikes anymore.  Snow bikes have stable geometry at slow speed while trail-capable modern fatbikes are faster handling and feature higher bottom brackets.   This week, both a carbon fatbike and a titanium full-suspension fatbike have been released.  Every year, there are more bikes for more disciplines of riding.  Pick one.

Hybrid has become a dirty word, spoiled by uninspired comfort bikes with low-quality suspension and remarkably upright riding positions.  However, the concept of a hybrid bike signals a versatile machine that can find its way through a variety of conditions.  Historical hybrids such as the Trek Multitrack and Specialized Crossroads give credit to the genre, although few people realize the value of these older models.  The same bike with a drop bar would compete with a Surly CrossCheck or any off-the-peg touring bike, for a fraction of the price.  But nobody wants a bike that doesn’t claim to be great at anything. Fortunately, I demand a bike that is good enough at everything.

The ideal everything bike does not exist.  For some, knobby tires and suspension are essential tools.  Despite the admonishment of purists, riding around town on a mountain bike isn’t a real problem.  Others may require to keep up with an aggressive paceline on Saturday or to break away from the peloton, and a race bike can certainly ride to work on Monday.  I get passed by Cervelos and backpacks all the time on the bike path, and I’m a little jealous as I bump along on a fresh Nate tire on my Pugsley.  But the Pugsley can do things the Cervelo never dreamed– our needs are obviously different.  Many riders are well served by bikes disguised for touring or cross or comfort.  These are the workhorse hybrid bikes of our time and can participate in road rides with friends as well as long-distance travel on dirt roads, and sometimes even singletrack.  A highly specialized machine has long been the standard of an optimized bike, but it is easy to see how a specialized bike is quickly compromised in changing, real world conditions.  Optimization through generalization will ensure you are never on the wrong bike, even if it’s not the right one for the job.


Hybrid is not a dirty word.  Neither is comfort.  Ride one bike.

17 thoughts on “Ride one bike

  1. I have a cross-ish go-to bke,mtn bike and Xtracycle…I COULD use any one of em for all around riding,but in some circumstances (for me at least) it sucks some fun out. For eg if I’m camping or hauling groceries myVassago Bandersnatch would require special racks for bikes with no mounts or a backpack (with spinal injuries,my backpack eight limit is tools and a pump),and while I have ridden much singletrack this year on the cx’er,rigid also wears on me…I don’t really need a SS AND a geared 29″er though…:P

    The DC

    • I almost published a disclaimer at the end of the post saying that “I completely understand why people ride two or three bikes”. Ten bikes? Even I don’t have that much time. This post mainly reflects the notion that knowing a bike is important, while having the right bike does not make the rider. Fitness and familiarity are essential.

      Your bikes are extremely sensible. The Dummy cannot be easily replaced, although one could argue that if unusual loads such as children or lumber are not part of the routine, racks and panniers could get the job done. But then, no one likes to be seen riding trails with racks. A Fargo sounds like your one-bike solution. That’s just about my position as well.

      • I’d love to get down to a single bike, as I’m currently at the far other end of the spectrum. In one sense, It’s great to have so many bikes as to have a wide variety of choices of what to ride. In reality though, many go unridden for months or even years, while just a few are ridden regularly. I suppose these are the ones to keep. As strange as it sounds, it’s a daunting task to get rid of some of the unused. I’m sure it’s largely psychological.

        As far as a fat/cargo/tourer goes, that French bike looks great. However, another that I had seen came to mind: http://www.ridingthespine.com/Journey/category/chupacabra It’s another one-off bike built by a tinkerer, and as it’s Xtracycle compatible, it could readily handle kid duty.

  2. I always like to think my favorite bike is the one I’m riding. 🙂 Although I can fully appreciate the lust of multi-bike ownership I essentially ride the same bike for everything these days. That being said, I have engaged in the disorder of bike hoarding in years gone past; owning upwards of 10 bikes at one point…hard-tails, full-squish, cross, city, cargo bikes, frames, pieces, parts… fortunately, all this was OK with my domestic scene. Not to worry, I’m better now… 🙂

    • I have engaged in the disorder of hoarding as well, owning more than ten bikes at one time. For me, it was part of a learning phase with bicycle mechanics, where I purchased used bikes for modest prices and repaired them for myself or friends. The bikes were typically re-sold for about what I paid, excluding the cost of tools and materials. I wasn’t trying to make money, but it meant there were bikes for everyone when we needed to travel somewhere en masse. Unfortunately, there were always a few machines that needed work at any given time, so several were rideable with caveats. I’d have to say, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to replace the headset on that one so it is a little loose/rough.” and “Those brake are a little squishy.”, etc. I learned a lot a during that time and tons of great bikes passes through my hands, but it was all just an urban pastime with no end.

      When I left on my first bike trip in 2008, I sold all the bikes and parts and tools and never looked back. I can definitely understand owning several bikes. Seeing a bike as a multipurpose tool is required even to own two or three diverse bikes. The greatest challenge that I now face in owning one bike is that I enjoy mountain biking and finding new routes. And then their is the potential that I find myself in Alaska for the winter again someday.

  3. I was looking at an elderly hybrid on CL a couple weeks ago and wondering about max tire clearance and mounting points and such. Looked like a perfectly sensible solution. But then I went ahead and bought the OX29 because I am a little crazy. Riding the 29×2.25 tires is sweet and now I want a drop-bar/geared equivalent in a more “serious” bike. A Super Monster Cross City Bike Commuter Racer. Tourer. Cruiser.

    I had at one point become a one-bike guy (1981 Schwinn Super Le Tour) but since I am a full time rider, I am sometimes reluctant to start a needed repair because of down time. Not a problem now that I have my Monster Cruiser.

    Nicholas, your gypsy lifestyle would preclude multiple bikes, unless you were to “ghost” number 2 (ha ha I said number 2) over the countless miles you wander, although it would make a good story. By the way, in the equestrian world one “ponies” the second horse, so that is the term I used in reference to what I now know is “ghosting.” I always learn a lot here.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the One Bike concept. Finding that bike, however, might take ownership of multiples until a good amount of distillation has taken place.

    Having said that, I would never ride my Old Schwinn on the sand or local singletrack. I might ride my new OX29 on the singletrack, but it would probably be a good idea to have an ambulance nearby. While I am currently embroiled in my Walmart Bike ruminations, the One Bike concept is also fascinating and probably as unsolvable as the effort to get the Waltons to produce something with two wheels that makes sense.

    Meanwhile, I will keep watching your efforts and will probably just copy whatever you do. The VO bike will be a beauty, I am sure, but you will remember that a while back I called for the “Gypsy” bike from VO (or Surly?) I had expected the Krampus to be that bike, but you seem to have lost interest. (I am curious on that point, by the way.)

    Most of my readers are apparently full-kit Roadies, which is pretty funny considering my bike-style is closer to Homeless Guy. Now that I think of it, in designing a One Bike for the masses, it might be wise to take a cue from the H.G.’s. I am acutely aware of what these guys are riding and it is Walmart MTB’s. By choice or availability is the question. I also see the odd Trek hybrid and my buddy Corky has a Trek mountain bike that was a charitable gift. But these guys, while not riding long, ride constantly and live on their bikes, relying on all manner of contrived luggage to sustain their daily rounds of Public Parks and Fishing Holes and Wooded Camps.

    Your writing has had a great deal of influence on how I look at my riding and my bicycles. Unlike Grant or Chris, you are not in Marketing (not yet anyway) and you also ride a hell of a lot. Your work counts for a great deal in our Sport (Past Time? Endeavor? Transportation?) and it is always a vicarious adventure to come here and see what you are up to lately. Keep it up. It matters.


    • Several exciting topics, as always: The Krampus is not a difference in kind, but of degree. Its a big-tired 29er and nothing more– nothing terribly new– but that is no discredit to its importance. The most exciting thing about the whole 29+ thing is the new 3.0″ tire. I consider it to be a capable go-anywhere format, with the exception of the extreme conditions for which true fatbikes were designed. The solution is a fatbikes frame with two sets of wheels, much as I had considered this past winter. Arguably, a symmetrical rear end as with the Mukluk would be best. One set of wheels would be properly fat, and the other would be capable 700c/29″ rims with a commonly useful tire. For riding around town, the 29″ wheels could feature a large volume touring tire; for trails, a standard knobby would be ideal; and for spirited goofing-off, the Knard tires will fit most of the current fatbikes including Pugsleys and the 2013 Mukluk.

      The Krampus also accepts standard 29″ wheels and tires, which is a huge bonus. It’s an oversized Karate Monkey or Ogre. Surly bikes sound like nonsense.

      The VO Campeur will exercise and idea that was brewing before the arrival of the Pugsley. Last year, while riding all over the place on my drop-bar Schwinn High-Sierra, I developed an idealized allroad bike. With similar features, clearances, and geometry to the HS, I wanted bigger wheels. It’s a rather simple idea, and while the nothing fits the bill exactly, it is important to exercise the idea with bikes that are more compliant, rather than the mountain bike frames whose features include rigidity. I want the tires and the frame, the fork especially) to absorb high-frequency, med/low-amplitude vibrations common on dirt roads, especially when riding fast. It would be my ideal Divide bike. I am hungry for some fast and far riding through rural New Mexico. The Pugs is good at the bushwhacking stuff, but the Campeur will let me reach further, for what it’s worth. Mostly, Pie Town, NM is about 140 miles away, which is a little to far for a two or three day trip on the Pugs, but the Campeur will do it. This project may be called “the Pie Bike”.

      I have owned lots and lots of bikes, mostly old bikes, and mostly sorta broken bikes. I prefer one bike that works real good. Keep your eyes on CL for more of those old hybrids, they usually fit a 40-45mm tire and can be had for $100 or less. As always, look for the nicer components to make your life easier as some will be found with heavy riveted steel chainrings, etc. If you can find a nice Acera/Alivio/Deore equipped steel hybrid, consider it. As always, old 26″ wheeled ATBs are great too. The hybrids that I speak of are descendants of Rockhoppers and Sierras. I you are serious about real big tires, look for used steel 29ers, which are becoming much easier to find. I found these options to be reasonable: Surly KM, Redline Monocog, Raleigh XXIX, Kona Unit. This could be your “one bike”, with some white Fat Frank tires and cruiser handlebar.

      For the record, I like the new bike a lot. Please take it on a short basket tour. Does it have a basket yet?


      • Regarding Walmart bikes and homeless guys, I think it is almost purely a cost-based decision. If you don’t have $300 to buy a bike shop bike, then you don’t have it. However, when you never need to ride fast or far, almost any bike will do. So, I don’t think the HG Walmart bike riders feel underserved by their shiny Mongeese and Magnas, but they are certainly underserved by the dimwits that assemble them. We repaired lots of new Walmart bikes in AK, as the big box was just down the street. Lots of left cranks are falling off for sure.

  4. I’m happy with a Surly LHT as my one bike. I’ve had 700×35 tires on it which are good for dirt and gravel. Don’t really do much singletrack though… I’m considering riding the Great Divide route next year. I’m planning to take it albeit possibly with wider tires. Any foreseeable problems?

    Or should I just jump onto the “fat tire touring bike” bandwagon? 🙂

    • The LHT will be a fine bike for the Divide, especially for a hardy rider like you. Most of the route is on well-maintained dirt roads. They are rarely challenging, except for extended climbs and descents. I have ridden the Divide on two different bikes, the Pugsley and my 1985 Schwinn High Sierra (both are here: https://gypsybytrade.wordpress.com/the-bike-1985-schwinn-high-sierra/). The Pugsley does everything, but for pure Divide-syle riding I prefer the High Sierra. It made cake of the climbs, and was fast on the smooth stuff. I was riding 47mm Marathons, although I would have ideally been on something a little bigger. With a minimal load, I could run the tires at low pressure which worked well. The Marathons had been on since the beginning of my trip in Maryland, and I didn’t feel like buying new tires.

      Something like the 50mm Schwalbe Dureme or 47mm Marathon would be fine, although I doubt the fender will fit. Lael rode sections of the Divide with me on her 26″ wheeled Trucker, which has slightly broader clearances than the 700c version. Her bike fit a 2.1″ tire and a fender (see here: https://gypsybytrade.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/20111018-121808.jpg).

      Perhaps you should jump on the fatbike bandwagon– it’s loads of fun! If you are to consider bigger tires, such as full-sized mtb rubber, something like the Surly Ogre would accept all the parts from the LHT as it has rim brake mounts. Just a thought, and a cheap solution.


    • If you are looking for some dirt trails, the Dale Ball system offers the best riding in town, or just slightly above town. The La Tierra system is also nearby in the lowlands, although I have not ridden there. The Winsor Trail and assorted connectors are highly regarded, and require several thousand feet of climbing and descending (unless you hitch up the hill).

      Dale Ball: http://www.santafenm.gov/DocumentCenter/Home/View/1974
      Winsor: Ride up Hype Park/Ski Basin Road to several trailheads. Ask at local shops. Mellow Velo rents bikes, if you need.

      For in-town rides, I would suggest the rail-trail alongside the new commuter train, the Railrunner. It begins in the plaza near REI and goes for several miles, passing at least one brewery. Mellow Velo is the most interesting bike shop to visit, although Broken Spoke is a little more down-home, in a highly practical way. There is a co-op called Chainbreaker, and they may have some hours this weekend.

      Ask anyone about the best New Mexican food. I’ve heard of some great places in SF. Expect lots of chiles, green or red. If you order both kinds, you’d fit in with the locals if you simply requested “Christmas”. Really, that’s what they say!

      The Dale Ball Trails would also be the best place in town for a short hike, and can be accessed from several places, including several points on Hyde State Park Rd or up near St. John’s College. Oh, and get a map. As the city is several centuries old, it is terribly confusing. Let me know if you make it down to ABQ. There are some excellent in-town cycling facilities here. Hope this helps.


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