Sure, we all want the latest in electronic shifting, the lightest carbon frames, the sleekest aero-wheelsets to grind out those precious marginal gains and finally take that elusive Strava segment.
But have you ever thought of the benefits of having just a bike. Something to get you from A to B (B very much being the pub hopefully) without having to squeeze into Lycra. Normal clothes on a normal bike.
It would be a revolutionary idea, except we know that those smart Dutch people have already figured this out. Hopefully when you have finished reading this you too might consider swapping the SPD pedals for something more pedestrian, at least every once in a while.
I am sure everyone had their own projects over the various Covid-enforced lockdowns. With nothing else to do I set about finally turning an old road bike that I bought off the internet for £80 into something rideable.
It was a vintage (in the sense of being old but not in the sense of being valuable) Peugeot road bike that archeologists had dated back to approximately 1990. It has seen better days and most of the components were caked in a viscous muddy grease that made your hands dirty even when looked upon from afar.
Like any engineer worth his salt my first step was to completely disassemble the bike without caring about the order of where everything went. I tried to implement a system but I knew I was only kidding myself. After a decade of being an actual engineer (with letters and everything) I have made peace with the fact that the thrill of unscrewing, bashing and levering things apart is destroyed when you have to do it in any organised way. I approach it in the same way I live my life; act first and deal with the consequences later.
The next step was to clean everything down. I won’t bore you with the details but it involved lots of degreaser and toothbrushes. Slowly, things started once again resembling bike components and could be put into two piles; salvageable and scrap.
I went into this project with the clear aim of spending as little as possible to conjure up a decent utility bike and so most of the original components were salvaged. The only things I replaced were the chain (just like Ted Hastings, it refused to even bend), the bar tape (the old stuff had whole new species growing in it), the brake and gear cables (very little money for a lot of gain) and the brake pads (because stopping is pretty important).
The restored, yet still reassuringly terrible bike. The handlebar bag added a touch of practicality, especially for carrying face masks and had sanitiser that had become de rigueur at this point.
To cut down on the maintenance I briefly considered converting it into a single speed before quickly remembering that there is only one short section of flat road in the whole North East of Scotland and it was not within ten miles of my house. Those five gears would remain and with them, the dreaded downtube shifters.
Before replacing the components and cursing myself for being so cocky and not having a system, I spray painted the frame (and a bit of the wall of the house) in a rather natty blue. This was far and away the most fun part of the project and surprisingly easy to get great results. In fact it was so much fun that, whilst waiting for the frame to dry, I would spray random pieces of scrap metal from my garage with the remains of the canister.
The bike was finished off with some classic brown bar tape. It certainly looked classy but how would it ride? My birthday was just around the corner and the bars had slowly started to come out of their Covid-hibernation. We could sit outside and socialise again. It wasn’t quite normal but it wasn’t lockdown. My birthday wish was simple; to sit and have a pint surrounded by other people and my new, old bike was going to make it happen.
I will talk more about the ride quality in another post. Here, all I want to do is show you why everyone should have a bike that is a bit different to the road bikes we are all used to pushing around country lanes at the weekend.
This type of bike means a different type of riding. One where you actually enjoy being outside and don't mind stopping to admire the view.
The most obvious advantage is that you don’t have to feel exposed in the bar wearing Lycra. This is a bike for normal clothes and normal shoes. No more faffing about finding cycling stuff, just walk out the door, get in the saddle and go.
Normal clothes for a normal bike.
And you can really enjoy that pint without worrying if someone might steal your pride and joy. Even with the new components that I put on, it is still worth less than £100 and if you park it next to something sleaker (i.e. every other bike in existence) then no one is going to bother with it.
There is real freedom to be had in this type of bike and this type of riding. There is no little Garmin screaming at you to go faster and you start to rediscover what you loved about cycling in the first place. Exploring, getting lost and taking it all in.
My first post-lockdown pint. It was up there with the best pint I have ever had in my life.
I used to explore parts of my city and, despite living here for a decade, I was finding new places every time I went on this bike.
So my advice to every cyclist is simple. Find a shit bike. Make it slightly less shit. And ride like a normal cyclist every so often.
If nothing else, your fancy race bike will feel even better the next time you jump on it.