I realized two things today as I headed back to the “Yak-Shak” after 6 or so hours of riding with an unbelievably cool and motley crew of two wheel compatriots.
The first is this:
We don’t fit the mold.
Let me explain. A few days ago as part of the lead up to the big show, we received a note from NAHBS organizers, asking us to fill out a form explaining what judging categories we wanted to enter our bikes in this year. This seemed very simple at first. The categories are pretty straight forward and understandable in a traditional sense and follow the normal parameters we know of for traditional bicycle categories such as road, off-road, track and city. You can also choose finishing categories, building styles and material choices. You might very well ask if is there is a category for aluminum?
BMX? Downhill? recumbent? Cargo? Trials? Bamboo? Stainless?
Before I make a lot of people upset, I want to make very clear that I am not making a rant about which categories are chosen for judging at NAHBS. That is entirely based on the tradition, history of the organization and of the “mystique” that surrounds the traditional hand builder. I have no desire to stir the pot on NAHBS judging!
My point is this. Most naked bicycles we build don’t fit neatly into any of these categories! I realized that every single bike I build, becomes its own category based completely on my experience and the needs of the customer. Together we come up with something new, every time. You might be able to slot the end product into a commercially accepted pigeon-hole, such as “road” bike, but it is just as likely that I wrote down the following in my notes:
Type of bike for Mr. Smith: too tall for current bike, can’t get seat back far enough, really wants to rail corners, likes to spin and lives near some great mountain roads with some smooth dirt paths to get to work. Rides in the rain sometimes but tries to avoid it. Weighs 145 lbs. Current bike too stiff. Likes to do a few supported tours. Likes long rides. Used to race. Recent knee surgery.
Now most people would read these notes and pretty quickly jump to the honest logical conclusion that Mr. Smith needs a “road bike”. You might be right but then why did I write down all these useless notes?
I treat “Mr.Smith” as the category, not “road bike”. This is a subtle but very important difference. We do have categories on our website to serve as a jumping off point, but the finished bicycle is one that fits the riders needs and desires.
Our customers usually don’t fit nice and tidy into a particular mold and so, neither do we.
What did we put on the form? We looked for the category that best described:
Bike One. Stainless tig and silver soldered bike with belt drive, internal hubs and disc brakes designed to pack heavy gear to bike show. Possibly including a couple ukeleles, be on display and then continue life as a daily grocery getting machine and possible used for future tours.
They didn’t have this category so we looked for something more generic like “touring”. We didn’t see that so we wrote down “City”. Is it a city bike? You could use it that way, absolutely, but does that define it? No way.
Bike Two. Much lighter bike designed for same short term goal but much lighter and nimbler. Designed to carry very little. Will stay on as use on all types of road and gravel surfaces including maybe some light touring, dry cross races and a fondo or two.
Didn’t see a category for this either and no touring category so we wrote down “Road”.
Andrea and I don’t fit the mold, and so, neither do our bikes.
This brings me to our ride today and the discovery of my second revelation:
You don’t fit the mold either.
I would bet that most of you ride with a group of friends or belong to some brother and/or sisterhood of riders. I also am pretty sure that the style of riding and the places you ride, don’t always fit in tidy categories.
Today we had an unbelievable ride on our sweet little rock of an island. What kind of ride? Well lets see; there was quite a bit of pavement, a few trails, lots of nasty gravel road climbs a few sprints, stops for hot tea and mechanicals. Many of us rode as far as 110km and took a good part of the day to do it. What type of ride was it? A really good one.
What kind of riders came along? Hmmm. Of the 20 or so characters we had out , the youngest was 16, Oldest was over 65. Both men and women of course. Some have raced professionally, some have never raced and never will. Some have toured half way round the world and for some, today was the longest ride they have ever done. Some are very fit and have been training all winter. One was on her first tentative strokes back after becoming a new mom 3 months ago. How would you categorize this group of riders? Please, don’t even try!
How about this. What would you think was the type of bike that showed up for this ride? A cross bike sounds perfect. There where three of these. One had been fitted with traditionalist offending disc and over regulation 35mm tires. One had been kitted more for touring and was used mostly for road rides and hauling a kids trailer. The other was mine but had been kitted out with a single fixed gear, balloon tires and v-brakes on a cruiser style frame. Also in the mix were a couple touring bikes from 20 years ago, 5 or 6 mountain bikes but even these varied from single speed XC racing machines to full suspension jobs locked out as best as possible and went off like a dog chasing a squirrel at this slightest hint of some single track or something resembling a jump on the side of the road. Also included in the mix was a variety of road bikes and hybrids in various states of winterization (or not). What kind of bikes did the twenty different riders have? About 20 different types.
There is only one category of bike good enough for most of us which is simple labeled “Bicycle” and we are all one type of rider which for lack of something more creative I will simple call a “Cyclist”.
We are all riders. We all have bikes. None of us fit the mold. Isn’t that the way it should be?
Here is our crazy group of riders. What does yours look like?