It so happens that, from time to time, casual people do a walk about in our shop. It usually follows that they stop in front of any given current model, give a low whistle through their teeth, and say “holy mackerel! What’s that got? Twenty one speeds?!” To which we brace ourselves and reply “nope, that one has thirty.” To which the counter reply says “THIRTY! You’re kidding! You really need all those gears?”
The general consensus among the majority of cycling enthusiasts is that carbon fiber racing bikes are sexy. It follows that if you take sexy and add lots of gears (following the well worn credo that more has GOT to be better) then it can only serve to make sexy sexier! Light, stiff, sleek and enough gears to make it fast as hell. It’s enough to make anyone swoon.
But…. a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Mountain bikes, whether anorexic or obese in tire size, started to go against the aforementioned grain. “Rip those chainrings off!”, the customers cried! (following the well worn credo that less is more). The NEW sexy flaunts a pile of gears on the back partnered with a naked single gear on the front.
Which brings us back to where we all started a few minutes ago. “Holy mackerel! What’s that got? Twenty one speeds?!” To which we NOW have to brace ourselves and reply “nope, that one has ten.”
See him? His name is Sheldon Brown. Spend enough time hanging out in good bike shops and you’ll discover that for most of us that fall under the heading “certifiably bike-crazy, shop employee”, Sheldon Brown was THE bike mechanics bike mechanic. When he died on February 4 2008, plenty of us cried. The void is still felt.
But anyhow, Sheldon liked innovation. He loved fast bikes, but he especially loved the unsung heroes of everyday cycling. The commuter bikes. In this realm, everything is fair game. He once made a commuter bike that had (get this) TWO different handlebars with TWO stems, one mounted above the other on a fork with an uncut steerer tube. Drop bars on the bottom, and a mountain bike handlebar mounted above it. FOUR brake levers and FOUR brake cables. All in the good name of getting to and from work on a bike with “got all of the bases covered” positioning.
Talk about more is better! But…. if the new sexy is “less is more”, then Sheldon would have been the champion of it. He showed many of us how to build simple, reliable all-weather commuting bikes. He taught the virtues of single speed and fixed gear drivetrains. Take that old friend that was unceremoniously shoved into the dark corner of the garage when you replaced it with a carbon fiber sexy. Remove as many gears as necessary in order to make it a new kind of minimalist that suits your needs. Install a new higher handlebar setup (or go for complete gusto with a TWO handlebar setup!)
In all seriousness, simplifying a drivetrain and adding a carrier rack and some fenders to a perfectly useable bike makes perfectly good sense. You already own the machine. Take your beloved old lightweight bicycle and make it utilitarian. While you’re at it, add a kickstand so that it can stand outside of the grocery store while you’re inside. Expensive, lightweight bikes that are no longer used have no feelings, so go ahead and install one.
If I happen to be wrong, and they DO have feelings, then I’ll wager that they’ll soon be grinning from ear to ear as they become your new go-to errand bike.
If you’d like to learn what Sheldon taught many of us, then go to http://www.sheldonbrown.com. It takes a while to browse through, but the knowledge in there is timeless and well worth diving into.