The 'Right' Bike

Updated: Sep 28

WORDS & PHOTOS | VARUN JYOTHYKUMAR


It all started on a cold January’s morning, when someone stole two of Varuns bikes and he decided, very swiftly, that he didn’t want them anymore.


This sentence needs a preamble. Over the last one year I had accumulated (there is no better word) four bicycles. A Specialized Allez road bike, the one I’d owned the longest, was permanently in a state of ‘For Sale.’ A Holdsworth MTB from the 1980s, that I had converted to take drop handlebars and a front and rear rack, was used only for load-lugging duties. A Cannondale CAADX and a Giant Contend SL2 rounded off the quartet as the two bikes I used the most; the Cannondale for anything off-roadsy and the Giant for anything roadsy.


As you can see below, they made for a crowded back garden and bike cleaning day regularly devolved into a scene reminiscent of a Renaissance painting.


Four bikes are scattered around a garden
A renaissance painting of bicycles is perhaps one bicycle too many.
It was the Cannondale and Giant that got stolen. The Giant was returned in memorable circumstances that I won’t go into, but in the span of one morning, I went from owning four bicycles to just one that I could see being used regularly. And that really, really sucked.

Don’t get me wrong - the Giant is a very competent bike for riding on most paved roads. It can take 28mm tires with mudguards, has hydraulic disc brakes, a comfortable but fast riding position and came with a fancy carbon seatpost and fork to smoothen out bumps in the road. The word I once used to describe how it rode is ’wafty’ - a bit like one might describe a Bentley Continental.


But, like, the Bentley Continental, it is desperately limited in the breadth of conditions it could be ridden in. I couldn’t comfortably take it on bike paths, towpaths, potholed back lanes or anything short of a tarmacked road - leave alone trails or off-road tracks.


If I did, I’d know about it and it would just feel compromised, as if it were being forced; a whippet trying to be a retriever. My cycling became, within a few short weeks, limited to the same or similar stretches of tarmacked roads.


This brings me back to my opening sentence. When my bikes were stolen, I had a moment to think about what I really needed from them in the first place: adaptability, all-terrain usability, comfort, speed (to a point) and ruggedness. I wrote this out and contemplated it. I knew that my Giant was fast and comfortable; my Cannondale rugged and good on a range of off-road terrain.


While both types of bikes had elements of these traits, I found myself wishing for just ONE bike that had them all.


In essence, what I wanted from my one bike was:

  • Drop handlebars

  • Tire clearance for at least 45+ mm tires, but suitable for narrower tires when the need arose

  • From the above, the option to fit both 650B wheels with wide tires and 700C wheels with narrower ones

  • Mudguards and utility cage fittings aplenty

  • Disc brakes, with no argument

  • A comfy but fast (when I wanted) riding position

  • That elusive ‘wafty’ ride


an orange Fairlight bike on gravel path
What I see when I picture my dream bike. Fairlight, are you listening?

There was a certain inevitability about this list. A certain terror loomed in the air. I immediately worried that I would be compromising - I’d have a bicycle that didn’t do ANY of the things I needed perfectly, a Master of None and Jack of Most. I thought of my upcoming Audax season, of my daily commutes, of my Ultra road races and then my Ultra off-road races. How much would I hate my Jack of Most Trades bike on each of these?


It was around this time that I happened across the website for Further Journal, discussing their definition of the ‘right’ bicycles for attempting their oft-demanding Ultra Endurance races. It could be argued that the events organised by Further could demand a certain type of bicycle - hefty mountain bikes often show up in their racers’ image galleries. But Camille from Further was adamant in pointing out that bikes are “tools of Journey” (with a capital ‘J’).


So what if a bike didn’t have 13-speed Campagnolo Ekar or 120mm of suspension travel, if it performed to all of its needs with aplomb?

A grey Cannondale bike on a tarmac path
Was the ‘right’ bicycle staring right at me all along?

This rang true. Somewhere out there, there are downhill mountain bikers who need hefty suspension forks and there are Tour de France racers who need bikes that weigh very little and can only fit slim tires on. But I immediately realised that, for the breadth of abilities I needed of my bike, neither one of these specialisms would do but, for the relatively lesser depth of fitness and skill I had relative to these types of bikers, I wouldn’t notice the difference.


The world is filled with extremely capable and specialised machines and extremely persuasive advertisements influencing you to buy them all. But, ultimately, the bicycle IS just a Tool of Journey. For the vast majority of us, I am convinced that the ‘right’ bicycle is just one that fits all the parameters within which we ride and is suitable for our needs.


It should be fun selecting this one bike. Watch this space; I now have the luxury of choice.


@twowheeledteacherman

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