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. Every bike I’ve had has had a character, a personality, a temperament, and an element that goes beyond explanation.

    I feel something when I’m in the room with one – even one I’ve never met before. Even the fixies that the hipsters chop up and tool around on have these qualities to them.

    Some bikes I have a connection to that I’ve never had with any other bike – like my XLEV2 which now for the third time lays in disrepair as it keeps getting shuffled off the bottom end of the heap as it continues to flirt with retirement. That bike just always felt great to me – even this summer as I rode it with DT shifters, fenders, and old school brake levers, it felt great and was just an amazing ride.

    The material doesn’t matter, but if you have a handmade frame, it will have more personality than a molded frame.

    Bikes, like people, have good days and bad days. Sometimes they behave, sometimes they misbehave  – like when you wear out a cassette and the chain starts skipping and you want the throw the little fucker in the ditch. And other days she carries you over the hills like they’re tiny lumps and on those days you want to give it your bed and sleep on the floor in deference.

    Do bikes have souls? I don’t believe in souls, so I reject the premise. But they have whatever I think it is that we try to convey using that word, so in the end, I suppose the answer is yes.

    A-Merckx.

  2. @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.

    Yeah, or that. That would have saved me a lot of typing just now.

  3. Not sure if bikes have souls, but I still feel guilty for turning my #1 Wilier in my #2 when I bought the Look.  To make up for it I bought her (the Wilier) a nice set of Carbon Clinchers and turned her into my crit bike.  She’s happy again.

  4. Cinelli girl was left behind in another recent thread (Look Pro). Hard to believe she was left “behind”…

  5. @frank

    Bikes, like people, have good days and bad days. Sometimes they behave, sometimes they misbehave  – like when you wear out a cassette and the chain starts skipping and you want the throw the little fucker in the ditch.

    Word, I nearly Millarcoptered mine, for this exact reason. If I had more knowledge and experience, I would have realised the problem, so…

     

  6. @DerHoggz

    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?

    @Pistolfrom warragul

    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.

    There was a golden era right around the 1987-1989 time frame where manufactures figured out how to make beautiful, sweeping curves on their components, as opposed to ugly angular things. After that, they started worrying about weight. But for a few years, it there and it was beautiful.

    One of the first articles I wrote for Velominati was on this subject, called The Golden Era: Downtube Shifters and Delta Brakes. Haven’t read it in ages and I’m sure its complete shit, but its there if you want to read it.

    By the way, for those who say Delta Brakes sucked, they didn’t. They were just a motherfucker to adjust. When done right, they were amazing. The ones I’ve ridden are nearly as powerful as modern brakes.

  7. @frank

    Every bike I’ve had has had a character, a personality, a temperament, and an element that goes beyond explanation.

    I feel something when I’m in the room with one – even one I’ve never met before. Even the fixies that the hipsters chop up and tool around on have these qualities to them.

    Some bikes I have a connection to that I’ve never had with any other bike – like my XLEV2 which now for the third time lays in disrepair as it keeps getting shuffled off the bottom end of the heap as it continues to flirt with retirement. That bike just always felt great to me – even this summer as I rode it with DT shifters, fenders, and old school brake levers, it felt great and was just an amazing ride.

    The material doesn’t matter, but if you have a handmade frame, it will have more personality than a molded frame.

    Bikes, like people, have good days and bad days. Sometimes they behave, sometimes they misbehave  – like when you wear out a cassette and the chain starts skipping and you want the throw the little fucker in the ditch. And other days she carries you over the hills like they’re tiny lumps and on those days you want to give it your bed and sleep on the floor in deference.

    Do bikes have souls? I don’t believe in souls, so I reject the premise. But they have whatever I think it is that we try to convey using that word, so in the end, I suppose the answer is yes.

    A-Merckx.

    I like this (stealing it) — “…those days you want to give it your bed and sleep on the floor in deference.

  8. @frank The bike has a “connection” — a “frequency” — a “mojo” — a “what-the-fuck-hells-yeahuh” — a “value”

  9. @frank fair enough, the first one was me copying & pasting the embed code as it was shown on the vimeo ‘share’ page, second one was me just right clicking on the video & selecting to copy the embed code & pasting it in to the message body.

    Weird one was the 3rd attempt where I pasted that embed code in the windo that comes up after hitting “HTML” button above the posting box, that showed the video in the post preview but nothing but text came up when I submitted it.

  10. As long as lance Armstrong hasn’t ridden it, it has a soul.  Otherwise it’s the whore of Babylon …..

  11. huh, interestingly that last closing tag seems to disappear in the transition from the preview window to the post being published…I wouldn’t worry too much though Frank, my money’s on it being the rubbish browser my work’s IT department foists upon us.

  12. I have many bikes, but as others have said, I don’t believe these bikes come with a soul. The soul of a bike (more specifically the bike frame only) is something that is ignited at a given moment in time when the bond between rider and machine suddenly spark into existence. It’s like that moment you first realize you’re in love with another human, or your first child is born. An epiphany of the connection sparks a previously unrealized appreciation and bond that forevermore causes a divergent set of feelings and thoughts each and every time you ride or even think of riding that specific frame. The specific build around the frame is nothing more than a metaphor for clothing – fancy or cheep it’s all irrelevant to the frame’s soul.

    Like I said, I have many bikes, but only two of them have a soul…

  13. Ti and steel definitely have more soul than Al or carbon. Though my Scandium Merckx has a lot of soul, so much more than my Specializeds did, even though they were great riding bikes, they didn’t have the ‘sit and stare for hours’ gene.

    There’s just something about thin, straight tubes that fat, swoopy carbon just doesn’t capture.

    A modern take on steel… hot.

  14. @JFT

    I have many bikes, but as others have said, I don’t believe these bikes come with a soul. The soul of a bike (more specifically the bike frame only) is something that is ignited at a given moment in time when the bond between rider and machine suddenly spark into existence. It’s like that moment you first realize you’re in love with another human, or your first child is born. An epiphany of the connection sparks a previously unrealized appreciation and bond that forevermore causes a divergent set of feelings and thoughts each and every time you ride or even think of riding that specific frame. The specific build around the frame is nothing more than a metaphor for clothing – fancy or cheep it’s all irrelevant to the frame’s soul.

    Like I said, I have many bikes, but only two of them have a soul…

    As above …..  I too am embracing the n+1 rule ……   however only one of my rides has a connection with me and I a connection with it ……..  its about the story behind it and hence why I feel more as one with my new bike than any others.   Through a serious neck injury, my older Trek “USPS” edition …yes I said it, USPS edition ….lets not rant about FAN boys etc here …  thats a whole other can of worms……   well it was deemed to large for me and in order to again get riding the task of searching for a suitable steed was on in ernest ……6 months of searching / researching / pricing this and admiring that, the final decision came down to one bike, my Fuji SST….  yes its mass produced, no its not a fine italian steed with eons of history….   but it fits like a glove, I was drawn to it time and time again while other bigger brands tried to woo me with there promises ….. I kept coming back to her ……  so whether its a soul in the true sense of the word or a feeling you get when two become one, Im not sure..but regardless of this carbon steeds pedigree, its now part of me and part of my story… its no longer in a box, or part of a military style line up in a LBS somewhere….  its mine, its in the shed with covers on it when its not on the road … so, just maybe, by default, she has a soul afterall !!

  15. @Mikael Liddy

    @brett If you tell me that Wilier’s yours I’m jumping on a plane to Welli for some Grand Theft Velo…Bel Mezzo indeed.

    Not mine unfortunately.

    @Nate

    @brett

    I don’t think you can reduce it to material “” rather, it’s a function of material x builder.

    For sure, some carbon bikes have soul, that’s why I said ti and steel have more…

  16. @brettOOOOO Daccordi, awesome. I can’t resist posting mine even though the photo is dodgy. Handmade, lugged Italian Carbon. Makes me want to ride. If you look closely enough you can see the model is Grinta. Kinda sort of the Italian word for Rule V, if you are loose on the translation and use your imagination.

  17. @Gianni
    I would, but I’m embarassed that in my rush to photograph my newly restored pride and joy I, 1) left it in the little ring, 2) had the seat sloping, 3) had the handlebars at the wrong angle, 4) had the wrong bar tape, had the brake QR open(all since corrected) and took the delta brakes off and returned them to the guy who loaned them to me when I found out what they sell for now.Shame you can’t make out the tied and soldered spokes. Stuff it, who cares, here’s a bigger version…

    Kypo 853/Campag Record

  18. @Pistolfromwarragul

    Well I like the red stem and seat pin with all the blue, straight front forks, a nice Camoagnolo gruppo and you are in bel mezzo territory. And it’s a Reynolds 853 tubeset, outstanding. It can be fun to get a bike repainted, it really puts some life back in older bikes.

  19. Longtime reader, first time posting.  This article struck a chord with me, I recently rescued an early 80s Colnago Super with a cracked driveside chainstay and ratty paint from the dumpster.  Decided to just clear powder the frame so all the brazing and torchmarks shows through.

    Having ridden and raced only carbon and aluminum, this bike is a revelation.  The ride is sublime.  It’s the only bike I’ve built up that literally needed no adjustments, the levers, and saddle all felt perfect from the first ride.  No squeaks, no rattles.  Hell, the cables barely stretched.  It might weight 19 pounds, but when you’re pointed uphill on it your legs always have one more kick in them.  There’s only one explanation.  This bike has a soul.

  20. @Pistolfromwarragul

    @Gianni
    I would, but I’m embarassed that in my rush to photograph my newly restored pride and joy I, 1) left it in the little ring, 2) had the seat sloping, 3) had the handlebars at the wrong angle, 4) had the wrong bar tape, had the brake QR open(all since corrected) and took the delta brakes off and returned them to the guy who loaned them to me when I found out what they sell for now.Shame you can’t make out the tied and soldered spokes. Stuff it, who cares, here’s a bigger version…

    Kypo 853/Campag Record

    That’s very kick ass. Too bad about the Delta brakes. But good on ya for returning them. I kick myself for just giving a coupe pairs away years ago.

  21. @EricW

    Longtime reader, first time posting.  This article struck a chord with me, I recently rescued an early 80s Colnago Super with a cracked driveside chainstay and ratty paint from the dumpster.  Decided to just clear powder the frame so all the brazing and torchmarks shows through.

    Having ridden and raced only carbon and aluminum, this bike is a revelation.  The ride is sublime.  It’s the only bike I’ve built up that literally needed no adjustments, the levers, and saddle all felt perfect from the first ride.  No squeaks, no rattles.  Hell, the cables barely stretched.  It might weight 19 pounds, but when you’re pointed uphill on it your legs always have one more kick in them.  There’s only one explanation.  This bike has a soul.

    Very nice. What hubs are you running there?

  22. @EricW

    Why is it some people can find cool, valuable booty in dumpsters? Damn!

    So nice. How did you repair the crack?

  23. @Skinnyphat

    Not sure if bikes have souls, but I still feel guilty for turning my #1 Wilier in my #2 when I bought the Look.  To make up for it I bought her (the Wilier) a nice set of Carbon Clinchers and turned her into my crit bike.  She’s happy again.

    if bikes do have souls, you sent the Wilier’s to bike heaven when you made her #2. Close to bike homicide……

  24. If anyone’s read Phillip Pullman’s dark materials books, the characters have Daemons –  animals that share the character’s ‘souls’, and reflect the emotional state of the character at that time. That pretty much sums up what I think a bike has re. soul.

  25. @minion

    If anyone’s read Phillip Pullman’s dark materials books, the characters have Daemons –  animals that share the character’s ‘souls’, and reflect the emotional state of the character at that time. That pretty much sums up what I think a bike has re. soul.

    fun books to read also. to bad the movie sucked.

  26. @harminator Thanks, I guess it’s all my years of being a hobo/graduate student.  The nice folks at Alchemy Cycles did the work..  They’re excellent and unless you were really looking for it, it’s invisible.

  27. @Stefan Haha, yeah I toyed with that thought for a long time.  Sram ended up on there for a number of reasons.  1) I hate shifting with my thumbs, 2) The bottom bracket is a 68mm Italian (trust me I measured) and SRAM locates the crank using only the non-driveside bottom bracket cup, allowing me to use spacers to get the BB “close enough” to 70mm, 3) The Italian purists were gonna scoff at me stripping off the paint anyway, so I might as well piss them off completely, and 4) I hate shifting with my thumbs.  I also kind of like how everything that’s not vintage Italian steel is black.

    As for the cables, all my bikes run white cables, so I’m just matching across bikes.  The Colnago is actually going to get a single mismatched cable — Molteni Orange housing for the front shifter — to constantly be asking me “What ring would Merckx be in?”

  28. @Mikael Liddy

    huh, interestingly that last closing tag seems to disappear in the transition from the preview window to the post being published…I wouldn’t worry too much though Frank, my money’s on it being the rubbish browser my work’s IT department foists upon us.

    Could be; I nevertheless added a new embed button which I hope works a little better. But it does appear that perhaps what’s happening is that the code is being stripped out for some reason in the backend. Funny thing is I can’t manage to reproduce it myself so its one of those things that makes it hard to debug.

  29. This article speaks to my, uh, soul on many fronts.  Firstly, I’ve long maintained that ANY Italian bike running anything other than Campagnolo is anathema.  A Colnago running Dura Ace?  I wouldn’t even give it a second glance, let alone think about swinging a leg over it.  Back in the day, when I was a mechanic, if you brought you DeRosa with Shimano 600 in to be worked on chances are I rubbed my nut sack on your bar tape.  I think the opposite is equally true.  A 3Rensho with C-Record track hubs?  That would be weird.  It goes without saying that any American brand (Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, etc.) has Carte Blanche when it comes to gruppos.  I really wanted a Campag Record equipped Trek 760 (in beaujolais) back in the 80s.  My current bike #1 is treading a kind of twilight zone.  It is a Look 586 running SRAM Red.  I justify running an American gruppo on it because there are no modern French components worthy of such a fine bike.

    Secondly, I desire to become one of those one man shops that Gianni speaks of.  Over the winter I will be running power out to my little detached garage and insulating/sheetrocking it to transform it from the glorified storage shed that it is into a workshop to propagate my 50 year love affair with the bike.

    General rule of thumb:  Jens Voigt is the definition of soul as it pertains to bikes – Lance Armstrong is the Antichrist.

  30. @Nate

    @brett

    @Nate

    @brett

    I don’t think you can reduce it to material “” rather, it’s a function of material x builder.

    For sure, some carbon bikes have soul, that’s why I said ti and steel have more…

    I think it comes down to being handmade verses coming off some assembly line…its the imperfections that give it character. Still, I love my molded R3 as much as any bike I’ve ever had or seen – and to my eyes it certainly inspires me to sit and stare for hours.

  31. @frank

    @Nate

    @brett

    @Nate

    @brett

    I don’t think you can reduce it to material “” rather, it’s a function of material x builder.

    For sure, some carbon bikes have soul, that’s why I said ti and steel have more…

    I think it comes down to being handmade verses coming off some assembly line…its the imperfections that give it character. Still, I love my molded R3 as much as any bike I’ve ever had or seen – and to my eyes it certainly inspires me to sit and stare for hours.

    Mrs Engine wants to know if the front wheel is resting where it is for a reason.

    She has just bought a bike and now feels that she knows stuff.

  32. Was this the video you were trying to embed Mikael.

    Cipo does James Bond… although they manage to make it rather dull. I think the bad guy is Dutch (or Belgian, perhaps).

    I was amused by the downhill sequence. All they had to do was wait until he got to the first uphill and he would have quit.

    FILM BOND from Mcipollini on Vimeo.

    The embed button seems to work Frank, nice…

  33. “Does a bike have soul?” Hell yeah.

    Especially when you go for a full custom build by one of the icons of British frame building.

    This says it all……

    And here’s the finished product…

    Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

    Along with perhaps my favourite bit…..

    Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

  34. @ChrisO

    Was this the video you were trying to embed Mikael.

    Cipo does James Bond… although they manage to make it rather dull. I think the bad guy is Dutch (or Belgian, perhaps).

    I was amused by the downhill sequence. All they had to do was wait until he got to the first uphill and he would have quit.

    FILM BOND from Mcipollini on Vimeo.

    The embed button seems to work Frank, nice…

    David Beckham wishes, in his wildest dreams, that he was as cool as Cipo.

  35. @frank

    @Nate

    @brett

    @Nate

    @brett

    I don’t think you can reduce it to material “” rather, it’s a function of material x builder.

    For sure, some carbon bikes have soul, that’s why I said ti and steel have more…

    I think it comes down to being handmade verses coming off some assembly line…its the imperfections that give it character. Still, I love my molded R3 as much as any bike I’ve ever had or seen – and to my eyes it certainly inspires me to sit and stare for hours.

    Frank, I almost wrote you for this photo before I posted this article. This photo says it all. Can we love our inanimate objects? Yeah, here we are. “Come on up on the bed with daddy and lets watch us some Tour”

  36. @meursault

    @frank

    Bikes, like people, have good days and bad days. Sometimes they behave, sometimes they misbehave  – like when you wear out a cassette and the chain starts skipping and you want the throw the little fucker in the ditch.

    Word, I nearly Millarcoptered mine, for this exact reason. If I had more knowledge and experience, I would have realised the problem, so…

    Yeah, I’d worn out my 11 cog, and was very frustrated to have to ride home in my 12T, or my “climbing gear” as I normally call it.

  37. @Cyclops

    This article speaks to my, uh, soul on many fronts.  Firstly, I’ve long maintained that ANY Italian bike running anything other than Campagnolo is anathema.  A Colnago running Dura Ace?  I wouldn’t even give it a second glance, let alone think about swinging a leg over it.  Back in the day, when I was a mechanic, if you brought you DeRosa with Shimano 600 in to be worked on chances are I rubbed my nut sack on your bar tape.  I think the opposite is equally true.  A 3Rensho with C-Record track hubs?  That would be weird.  It goes without saying that any American brand (Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, etc.) has Carte Blanche when it comes to gruppos.  I really wanted a Campag Record equipped Trek 760 (in beaujolais) back in the 80s.  My current bike #1 is treading a kind of twilight zone.  It is a Look 586 running SRAM Red.  I justify running an American Gruppo on it because there are no modern French components worthy of such a fine bike.

    All this coming from a guy who rode a BMX bike with Campa hubs, which makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit. Pot, kettle, mate. And the Apostle Museeuw disagrees with your view on Italian  steeds with a Groupsan.

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