Does a Bike Have a Soul?

Colnago Master. Photo: Cicli Berlinetta

Does a bike have a soul? I can’t make that argument, I don’t think I do either, actually. But we do invest a lot of emotion, pride and dare I say love in our bikes. We form emotional bonds to inanimate objects all the time. My favorite old dead car had to sit in the driveway for another year falling further into rusty disrepair before I had it towed away. On an American call-in radio show Car Talk, a caller asked if the engine was a car’s soul and if the car had a new engine put in, did the car lose that soul? This led to a discussion of where else its soul might be and I was more than amused to have them suggest the soul resides in the headliner of the interior.

My Merlin, with its recently discovered hairline crack can’t go into a dumpster when finally put down. It would be like throwing your dog’s corpse into a dumpster. Hopefully there is a market for alloyed titanium and it can be recycled, re-smelted, reborn as a (gasp) golf club. Or does it go over the mantle? Or out to stud? Or a desperate last ditch back alley surgery?*

Do pros bond with their bikes? They can’t, they are on new bikes every other week. There would be a lot of weeping at the service course if they did.

I’m not quite in the market for a replacement but I could be heading in that direction and it brings me to conundrum number two: what are you buying when you buy a new bike? In the old days if you lusted after a steel Colnago Master you ended up with a steel bike made in northern Italy. You were buying into an Italian artisan fantasy aided by the fact that the coolest professional you liked rode a Colnago. Many years ago a American friend did just that and found out the Colnagos shipped to the USA were made in a second Italian factory, more the apprentice shop. My friend’s Colnago’s rear dropouts were misaligned by almost a centimeter, rideable but not the Italian ideal. Ernesto was not working on his bike. Truth be told, all these bikes were made on some sort of assembly line made by underpaid possibly bored workers. What coming out of a factory isn’t?

Now if I want a Colnago, there is a very good chance it will be made in Taiwan on an assembly line by underpaid possibly bored workers. The same factory will also be knocking out Giants and Scotts. The good news is the rear dropouts won’t be out by a centimeter. They will be close to perfect. My point, if I have one, is the euro-fantasy part of this is gone.

If you need your frame to have a soul there is still hope. I’ve been lucky in that my last two bikes were made in shops I actually walked in, looked at the racks of tubes, spent a little time breathing the air in there. My steel bike was built in a one man shop, a standard 60 cm frame but built for me for $350, a sum at the time which was outrageous to the non-velominati. My Merlin was second hand but I went to the factory and spent some time there helping to restore its luster and put on new decals. If bikes had souls they would be imparted by the builders who put a lot of effort and some love into transforming some uncut tubes into something as fantastic as a frame. The soul might still be there in the small shops like Cyfac in France or Moots in the USA where the person who selects the tubing might be the same person as the one who joins the tubes and worries over that frame’s details. But they don’t have souls or spirits, do they? Native Americans believe inanimate objects do. If a rock does, if a stream does, maybe a bike does. Or more likely I’m full of it, a frame is just a hunk of carbon or metal and it’s all a matter of design, execution and price.

If your Colnago EPS is built in Italy it would be in this place. Does this add or subtract to the euro-fantasy?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRt4p7M1QFw[/youtube]

*the little known bottom bracket-ectomy, where the old BB is milled out and a larger BB 30 is neatly welded in, voila, ridable bike!

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173 Replies to “Does a Bike Have a Soul?”

  1. I confess: I ordered my Seven for at least some of these reasons. I have a card with the signatures of the craftsmen that made my bike. I talked to them on the phone. My local safesperson built my bike up to my specs.

    Priceless.

  2. @brad

    Bikes are bikes, but cool bikes are better than non-cool bikes

    yeah, you might be right there. That would have saved me a lot of writing and thinking. But then there wouldn’t be a beautiful photo of a Colnago to admire.

  3. I don’t know if all bikes have souls; most likely some do and some don’t.  This one definitely does; in fact the frame has somehow assimilated more soul since I replaced the crank with a standard double, the rear mech with a short cage, and the handlebar with one having a proper bend.  Then again, I’m a sucker/hopeless romantic when it comes to these sorts of things.

  4. Not sure about a soul, but the km’s you do with the bike build a relationship with you. Mine is in the LBS and I am missing it bad. Even though it’s only an entry level alu Boardman.

    Listening to this years commentary from the tdf and Vuelta, it seems pro’s ‘prefer’ a certain bike, even if it’s completely rebuit every night. Don’t knoiw if this is superstition or what, but I like the thought of them having a preference.

  5. @the Engine

    ooh – I’m awaiting moderation – haven’t seen that one before

    That usually means the spam filter is going batty again. There were a pile of them in the queue. Don’t be alarmed, you’re not actually being moderated. As we notice this happening, we do our best to keep up with approving them.

  6. Yes. We truly feel frames that come to life and connect with our souls. Whatever the cost, we buy them.

  7. Absolutely, a bike has a soul.  Complete anthropomorphism, but what’s life without a little embellishment?  It’s a meaningful relationship, albeit one-sided.  The sport is one of beauty and drama…if we couldn’t believe that our noble steeds were more than a hunk of metal or carbon, we wouldn’t be fans of the sport anyway.

  8. Frame builders breath a soul into a bike. We (owners) put the soul (add) to the bike. Bike takes on a soul of it’s own from there.

  9. After years of wrenching on just about everything…I’d say no they don’t, it’s just a machine.

    Karma on the other hand…definitely.

    Treat it properly and it will treat you properly.

  10. Bikes can have a soul but only those made of metal, steel bikes have lots of soul, and so do ti bikes, aluminum bikes can have a little soul but carbon bikes have no soul.  When a soul tries to find a home in a carbon bike it slips through the weave never to be seen again.

  11. @kg_c

    Bikes can have a soul but only those made of metal, steel bikes have lots of soul, and so do ti bikes, aluminum bikes can have a little soul but carbon bikes have no soul.  When a soul tries to find a home in a carbon bike it slips through the weave never to be seen again.

    Charlene my carbone most certainly has a soul…

  12. All bikes have souls. Even  mass produced supermarket abominations do if it they are ridden enough. The soul resides in the rider’s relationship with it.

  13. @Gianni

    @the Engine

    ooh – I’m awaiting moderation – haven’t seen that one before

    We are watching you…in your dank little room.

    It’s ok – my helmet is lined with tinfoil – you can’t control my thoughts

  14. @jtw

    Absolutely, a bike has a soul.  Complete anthropomorphism, but what’s life without a little embellishment?  It’s a meaningful relationship, albeit one-sided.  The sport is one of beauty and drama…if we couldn’t believe that our noble steeds were more than a hunk of metal or carbon, we wouldn’t be fans of the sport anyway.

    Thank you, yes, it might not even be a one-sided relationship, the bike doesn’t need to talk, just get us there as we need to go, translate the work into speed.

    @mxlmax

    Realised that that comment may offend. I apologise.

    I think you are safe here. Truly offensive things are thrown around here without any apology. I inherited a lot of fine jerseys from a cyclists I never knew who died in his 40s. I was happy to have them and take the man’s legacy out for a ride now and again.

  15. No! There are ugly bikes out there, nicse ones, ver nice ones, thats it. Use them, enjoy them.

    Does my Mac has a soul? My car? My cameras? No!

  16. Maybe.  I always wanted a Colnago.  I went by a shop a few years ago…a white C50 in the window. It really called to me. I heard it.

    Anyway, I’m geek for the logo and the name.  It is actually a great ride.

  17. Abso- fucking- lutely bikes have souls. Even plastic bikes that are cranked out of factories in towns who’s names are all vowels. Someone, somewhere poured over the design, and the materials to build it, be it steel, ti, carbon, plutonium.

    While a particular bike may not “speak” to you or you don’t have a connection to it, someone else will. And that is the bikes soul.

    “…..Soul is at home in the deep, shaded valleys.  Heavy torpid flowers saturated with black grow there.  The rivers flow like warm syrup. They empty into huge oceans of soul.

    Spirit is a land of high white peaks and glittering jewel-like lakes and flowers.  Life is sparse and sounds travel great distances……”-Dalai Lama

     
  18. @Red Atom

    All bikes have souls. Even  mass produced supermarket abominations do if it they are ridden enough. The soul resides in the rider’s relationship with it.

    That’s it right there. If you think your bike has a soul, then it does. If you’re reading this article thinking “WTF?”, then it doesn’t.

  19. Up here in the NE there are a few decent indy shops.  Parlee, Independent Fabrications, Seven, Serotta, none of them slouches by any means.  Next year I reckon I will gift myself one of these fine frames and build it up.

    Whether or not she has soul, it’s unlikely.  But, she will have a story.  And any story worth telling should be told with rhythmic bobbing of the head and snapping of the fingers.  Take a gander at The Bikes section, it isn’t about the marque on the downtube or seat tube, it’s all about the story.  How she was acquired, how she was built up, why she was in such disarray before you got your hands on her, why you’ve been lusting for one the past 2 decades.  That’s the soul the bicycle takes on.

  20. I am highly skeptical of the presence of souls in humans.

    Bikes, cars, boats and motorcycles, on the other hand, can all have souls, but they are not born with them, or if they are there at birth, they are not readily obvious to me.

    It’s the adventures that you (and in some cases your predecessor(s)) share with the machine that give it a soul.

    In addition to my road bike (which, by the way,  has  soul galore), my wife and I have a hand built tandem.  We watched various stages of it’s birth over the months that followed handing over the deposit check (aka conception).  We met and got to know the craftsmen and admired their work. When it was completed, we rode off and guess what? NO SOUL.

    It rode well, better than expected, really.  It turned heads, we could hardly stop with out admiring comments from tandem riders, non-tandem riders, and non-cyclists alike. Until after we had experienced adventures – some good, some not so much, the bike had no soul that I could feel.  Now that we have a summer under our tires, the soul is beginning to emerge and I am sure that over the next few years it will blossom.

    The big exception to my thesis is the craft that you build (I mean build, not assemble) yourself.  I have built boats possessed of fully developed souls before they even touched the water, but that’s a different matter altogether.

  21. I’ve got that Colnago jacket those 2 thinner guys in the video were wearing.

    I’ve got a 1972 Colnago Super I used to race in restoration.

    I’ve got a 1976 Colnago Mexico I’m restoring.

    I ride a mid 90’s Colnago Master Olympic.

    I buy and resell Colnagos for fun.

    I’ve got Colnago soul!

    Those bikes are just a bunch of metal.

  22. Similarly, can bikes or components be sexy?  That adjective gets thrown around for a lot of different things, and I don’t really know whether a phone or car or whathaveyou can be sexy?

  23. I’m not sure that bikes have a soul anymore. They used to, as someone has already said, when they were made of steel by an artisan. I do think, though, that my two bikes both have soul. My training bike shown below was custom made from Reynolds 853 and recently re-painted. My race bike, a Colnago C40, is 12 years old, has been crashed 5 or 6 times, driven into the carport once and the supermarket underground car-park once, and is still like new. I kinda think that these are the only carbon bikes with soul, mainly because of the legendary status they acheived under the Mapei guys at the height of their dominance.

  24. I don’t believe in a soul, so I cant use that term. But I  do believe in character. Some bike have a character I  enjoy, some dont.

  25. Those steel Colnagos were from a time when the aesthetic appeal of a bicycle was as important as function, and the parts that you put on them were crafted with the same goal.

  26. As a logical, critical-thinking engineering-trained mechanical designer I should be saying bikes don’t have a soul.

    BUT

    As someone who has been in love with cycling for 30 years (even if the love was distant at times) I can also say that there are things not logical about these man-made mistresses (and masters, for those of other genders or inclinations) we share our existence with.

    @Red Atom

    All bikes have souls. Even  mass produced supermarket abominations do if it they are ridden enough. The soul resides in the rider’s relationship with it.

     

    @Jamie

    Bikes, cars, boats and motorcycles, on the other hand, can all have souls, but they are not born with them,…….

    It’s the adventures that you (and in some cases your predecessor(s)) share with the machine that give it a soul.

    These thoughts echo mine. My first good bike was an out-of-the-catalogue mass produced item that never really fitted properly, I rode for a season then, with my first post-high-school job I bought a Peugeot. That latter bike was in itself nothing special, but I put many many miles on it in the subsequent years, upgrading cranks, rear derailleur, wheels, putting in hours adjusting those non-cartridge wheel and BB bearings just so until they spun as good as anything Italian…a couple of years later, a new job and a feeling it was about time I upgraded, I bought a half decent replacement bike that was, in theory superior in every way (newer, lighter, STI etc)… but I STILL prefer the Peugeot. When the replacement was stolen last year, I was like, “bummer it’s an inconvenience” but I know, deep down, even though I haven’t ridden it for a long time and it’s badly in need of restoration, I would have been DEVASTATED if the Peugeot had been taken instead. I am never getting rid of it, and yet it’s a collection of semi-rusty tubes, dusty alloy and peeling stickers. But I have many miles, memories, and experiences on that bike; it certainly has more soul that my ex wife!

  27. I agree with the notion that the bike in and of itself has no soul, but rather when connected with its rider it becomes an extension of the riders soul.  The bikes soul is merely a reflection of the riders soul.  For arguments sake let presume that rider and owner are synonymous in this case.

  28. @Stefan

    No! There are ugly bikes out there, nicse ones, ver nice ones, thats it. Use them, enjoy them.

    Does my Mac has a soul? My car? My cameras? No!

    True, but this isn’t appleminati, autominati, or cameraminati, is it?

    I don’t think bikes have souls because people don’t have souls. But I do think they contain something that people do, which is something of another dimension that we don’t really know or understand that seems to live on after the passing of something.

  29. @Stefan

    No! There are ugly bikes out there, nicse ones, ver nice ones, thats it. Use them, enjoy them.

    Does my Mac has a soul? My car? My cameras? No!

    Mac? No

    Car? no

    Camera? hmmmmmm

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