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. @Gianni

    @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”

    Is that a cigarette dangling from the fork drop-out?

  2. Seeing Frank in bed with his Cervelo is like watching a porno with Oprah in it; yeah, she’s a woman, but you don’t want to see her naked.

  3. Moots…. Cyfac… Hmmm… Nice.

    Another way to look at one’s dilemma, and one way I like, is that every ride had on your bike is part of a journey. It is not infinite; the bike isn’t either — unless for some Ti frames — and finite moments are what make the best in life. I hope you find the next frame/bike to provide more of that ephemeral magic.

  4. @loser

    @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.

    You are aware that Campagnolo made a full BMX gruppo bitd, right?

    And that Cinelli made BMX frames and stuff too?

    As far as the LoF goes that’s one con to being a pro – you have to ride what you’re paid to ride regardless of soul.

  5. I don’t think its been said here, but a bike does not have a soul, nor does a car. If you were to change every piece of the machine one at a time, you would eventually have a completely different machine with the same soul. The only place for a soul to exist is in the rider or driver, and the soul represents the bond that you have with the machine.

    The soul that we feel is our own body harmonizing with the machine. Notice how no-one suggests that blenders have a soul? There is no harmonizing a blender. When dishing out copious amounts of The V, the bike feeds back into your guns with every pedal stroke telling you how its rolling, how the chain is gliding, that feeling is the soul.

    Ever been on a climb and thought that the bike wants to go faster than you can? The bike doesn’t have a soul or a voice that is literally telling you, but through your legs you can feel its stiff and agile, and that if your lungs would only let you push harder, a better harmony could be achieved.

  6. @Adam

    “You can say I’m in love You could say I’m insane.
    But no one understands me Like my darling Lorraine.”

    Shaw — Open Season

  7. @Adam I think you stated the sentiment very well. When I crashed my Pinarello Montello (bent front fork, arch in the down tube) the bike was dead — and was left behind in a spiritual sense. I quickly worked on finding a new (better) frame to replace the feeling — my own bike soul.

  8. The TSX MkIV. There’s a lot of love in the sunlight glinting off the record hubs, chainstays and shifters. I find myself nearly riding off the road as I get a bit mesmerized by it all on a sunny summer day.

  9. @Cyclops

    Companies do crazy things. Porche has a sedan now, too. Doesn’t make it right to buy it. Putting Campa on a BMX bike is one of the five things you can do in Velominati to get excommunicated. I don’t want to see you go, so best we keep a lid on ‘er, right?

    And I agree that in many ways it cooler to be a douchebag like us and get to build the dream bike rather than a Pro who has to ride whatever they’re given.

  10. @936adl

    This. This is the reason a handmade frame has more personality than a molded one. Those details will put a smile on your face every time you look at it. Amazing.

  11. Bikes have a soul, or at least a personality or character.  Personally, I think it’s easier to see that soul if the builder crafted the bike with intent, passion, and love.  I don’t think that those characteristics are inherent in any one group of bicycle manufacturers or framebuilders; bikes with soul can come from the Americas, Italy, Asia…  Although I will confess that my very first good bike, back in the late eighties, was a Bianchi Campione del Italia because I was a neophyte Italophile and felt that it had more soul than the American bikes of the day.  Pity I couldn’t have afforded something better, back in those high school days.  It’s still down in my paren’t basement twenty years later, though, waiting to be resurrected.

    The shop that I bought if from used to say that a bike wasn’t yours until you’d ridden it more kilometers than the dollars it cost.  Maybe that’s what it takes to start seeing its soul…

  12. @frank

    @Cyclops

    Companies do crazy things. Porche has a sedan now, too. Doesn’t make it right to buy it. Putting Campa on a BMX bike is one of the five things you can do in Velominati to get excommunicated. I don’t want to see you go, so best we keep a lid on ‘er, right?

    And I agree that in many ways it cooler to be a douchebag like us and get to build the dream bike rather than a Pro who has to ride whatever they’re given.

  13. @cognition

    The shop that I bought if from used to say that a bike wasn’t yours until you’d ridden it more kilometers than the dollars it cost.  Maybe that’s what it takes to start seeing its soul…

    I’m liking the sound of that shop.

  14. @Cyclops

    @loser

    I was so excited to see that someone had registered the username Loser, since it would lift me from a lowly place on the velomi-totem pole (who’s lower that a minion? A loser!) and I was getting all gee’ed up for the hazing. Imagine my disappointment when I see what you’ve gone and done, changing Frink’s name to loser. I hope you’re not suggesting anything there Cyclops.

  15. @Adam Well said man. The feedback between bike and body is a beautiful thing, the harmonizing, as you say. I actually do harmonize with my blender when I return from Sunday ride: mango juice, many frozen apple bananas, some vanilla flavored protein powder. Oh lordy, it’s heaven in a pint glass.

    @gordo
    Oh man, the yellow Colnago. Yeah, it’s hard to argue with those bikes. Especially the chrome head lugs and insane paint. I would love to own those two bikes of yours. That is a proper “quiver”.

    @936adl

    All the keepers have been salivating over your ride. It’s TFM man. Is it a stainless Reynolds tubeset? It seems from the video they tig weld parts then braze something else, maybe the seat stay/seat tube wrap. Either way, awesome bike, nice paint.

  16. @frank

    @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.

    Thank you for this, if you didn’t post it I would have.The honest exception to the rule, a C40 in 7700 just looks right, especially in Mapei livery. With a pedigree including the aforementioned Apostle, Ballerini, Tafi, Olano, Steels, VdB, Bartoli, Bettini, Rominger, Friere and on and on, these bikes have a soul and character like few others. The azzurro bar tape remains nut sack free, to suggest otherwise is sacrilege.

  17. @frank

    @Cyclops

    Companies do crazy things. Porche has a sedan now, too. Doesn’t make it right to buy it. Putting Campa on a BMX bike is one of the five things you can do in Velominati to get excommunicated. I don’t want to see you go, so best we keep a lid on ‘er, right?

    Don’t come crying to me when you go ass-over-tea kettle on the CX-V because you were sliding around in the snow with 2x4s attached to your feet instead of catching big are and learning bike handling skills as a yute.

  18. Does a bike have soul? Of course it does. It is a lot easier to identify it in a steel bike but it also exists in carbon bikes, so long as it is lugged and has straight tubes. A bike’s soul resides within its top tube. How else can you explain why bikes with sloping top tubes have no soul? It flows out, down the seat tube and through the drain holes under the bottom bracket unless the top tube is level. A sloping stem also hastens the loss of soul. Everything on this bike has been changed except the main frame and forks but its soul has been maintained. There aren’t many bikes racing today that have soul.

     

  19. Great stuff, Gianni! Ha…”a lot of weeping at the service course…” I often wonder such things about PROS – do they unite with the bike in the same way, what’s it like to no longer do any maintenance of your steed, and on.

    Very sorry to read about this hairline fracture. The first I’ve heard of this.

    I like all my bikes a whole bunch and they are all special in their own way. I see some of them as pure tools – fast, off road – but some of them are just a joy to ride and have.

    Pistol – I agree. I own a few steel bikes with ol’ geo. I own one carbon race bike that has a TT slope. It’s fast, but it just doesn’t do it for me, just a tool, just a bike. Something is in that plain, original main triangle, I do think. You’re onto something, friend!

  20. @Gianni

    @936adl
    All the keepers have been salivating over your ride. It’s TFM man. Is it a stainless Reynolds tubeset? It seems from the video they tig weld parts then braze something else, maybe the seat stay/seat tube wrap. Either way, awesome bike, nice paint.

    Yep, it’s a Reynolds 953 Stainless tubeset. The frameset in the video is 853, but i understand the process is similiar. The seat stay wrapover is a rourke signature, and this is only the second one that was done in bare stainless. It’s a lot of work to do, and a fairly pricey option, but the finish is just lovely.

    The video really does capture what it’s like to have a full custom build put together by Rourke’s. From the fitting, to choosing colour schemes, to the waiting, to finally taking delivery. It’s not a cheap way to by a bike, but absolutely worth every penny. And along the way you know evey single person involved in the process. I’m a lucky man!

  21. @mxlmax

    You can have your bike built by Soul

    Been trying to get a wheelset out of those guys.

    Emailed about the S2.0 three weeks ago. He says they’re out of them, waiting on next year’s to arrive. Email us again in a couple of weeks.

    Emailed again yesterday to see if they’re in yet. His response was, exact quote: “unfortunately not”.

    No mention of when they might arrive, no offer to, I don’t know, email me when they do get in.

    Just odd if they do want to sell stuff.

  22. @frank

    @Cyclops

    Putting Campa on a BMX bike is one of the five things you can do in Velominati to get excommunicated.

    Now this is why I love your site. Suggestions for the other five? Or have they already been articulated and I’ve missed that?

  23. @Blah

    @frank

    @Cyclops

    Putting Campa on a BMX bike is one of the five things you can do in Velominati to get excommunicated.

    Now this is why I love your site. Suggestions for the other five? Or have they already been articulated and I’ve missed that?

    I must have missed it too. But my suggestions would be:

    1. Buying a recumbent.

    2. Possessing a COTHO autograph.

    3. Buying shares in Paul Sherwen’s goldmine.

    4. Knocking the Prophet or any Apostle off his/her bike (“her” included as Vos is a future apostle IMHO)

    Reserve: declining the offer of a night out with Team Vanderkitten.

  24. @Pistolfromwarragul

    Does a bike have soul? Of course it does. It is a lot easier to identify it in a steel bike but it also exists in carbon bikes, so long as it is lugged and has straight tubes. A bike’s soul resides within its top tube. How else can you explain why bikes with sloping top tubes have no soul? It flows out, down the seat tube and through the drain holes under the bottom bracket unless the top tube is level. A sloping stem also hastens the loss of soul. Everything on this bike has been changed except the main frame and forks but its soul has been maintained. There aren’t many bikes racing today that have soul.

    That’s the hottest bike I’ve seen on this site. The rest of them can suck it and go cry into their lattes.

    But seriously though this is the best thread in ages. there have been a  range of well considered and eloquent responses  that show that people care about their bikes and are considering what they write quite carefully, and the result has been a really, really good read.

    I think it’s down to a complete lack of Marcus.

  25. @Pistolfromwarragul I may need you at my work disciplinary hearing Pistol, apparently the ‘oh, fuck me, YES’ that escaped on seeing that bike was a little to loud for the office. Bad combo of Belgian Stella & no work to do on a Friday afternoon.

    @minion +1

  26. There is some significance, but it’s a long story that I don’t feel like sharing in this cold climate. I don’t have cancer though.

  27. This is a great read, Frank and as Minion said above an excellent, drool worthy thread.  Sadly, I’d say my bike would fall into the classic no soul category (madone w/ group-san).  However I will say in my opinion the power of the soul of a bike is not in the bike alone, but as @Adam said, perhaps in the harmonizing of man and machine. But going one step further, I think a bike reveals it’s soul in the way that it reveals truth about our souls and characters.  You ride the bike, but the bike tells you who you are that moment: how tough, brave or how weak and scared.  It’s all there and the bike is our seer. In this way I guess every bike could have a soul as even a chinese carbon bike with a compact frame can gift a person with this experience and information.

  28. Just to add, I don’t believe there is any such thing as a generic fan package when it comes to Livestrong and/or Lance Armstrong. The signed photo was the thing, the stickers and bookmarks incidental.

  29. @Oli Fair enough. I think we can sometimes forget the significance of the last couple of weeks to some people. I didn’t really follow cycling in the early ’00s, so I never even had the opportunity to be disappointed, but a lot of folks invested a lot of emotion into the guy. It’s easy to chuck someone like him under the bus. Too easy. I always liked the prayer, “Lord, help me to forgive those who sin differently than I do.”

  30. And to get back on topic, I believe some bikes definitely have soul but I don’t believe they have a soul. Small but important distinction. I’ve ridden soulless bikes aplenty, but when one has soul the whole experience of riding is heightened. My Bianchi definitely has soul…

  31. I’ve always been suspicious when people talk of inanimate objects as having personalities and whatnot. When talking about cars, for example, a person who says their car has personality usually means, if you dig a bit, that it breaks down often. I had a friend who insisted that her old Volvo was better than a newer car essentially because it had left her stranded a lot (my cynical reduction of her thought).

    I think it was @frank a page or so ago who said bikes have good days and they have bad days and they misbehave etc. This is true, but it shits me to tears rather than draws me nearer to it.

  32. I have a Renovo hardwood bike (renovobikes.com), so my frame was, actually, a living, breathing thing. It definitely has soul. And, to paraphrase James Brown, I know I got soul.

    And I agree with @Oli’s distinction, myself included.

  33. I dont know if it has soul or mine is just a bit warmer because I have it.  Stainless, Llewellyn lugs, handmade in Australia. 

  34. @Xyverz Still a couple of weeks to go, just waiting on the groupset (Chorus), wheels are R45s black to H+Son TB14s, Veloflex Master 23s.  Bike sexy, rider not!

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