Does a Bike Have a Soul?

Does a Bike Have a Soul?

by / / 173 posts

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!

// The Bikes

  1. @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.

  2. 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.

  3. @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.

  4. @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?

  5. @scaler911 They’re Mavic Ksyrium SL wheels, so just the standard red anodized Mavic hubs.

  6. @EricW

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

    So nice. How did you repair the crack?

  7. @Daccordi Rider

    Beautiful.

    But why is there no photo of your loved one on the sideboard?

  8. @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……

  9. Bikes have souls.

    Perhaps it takes the right rider to recognise a bike’s soul..

  10. 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.

  11. @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.

  12. @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.

  13. EricW, get a aluminium record group for that frame! SRAM on there = no soul, and black cable routing. ;)

  14. Obviously Jens Voigt’s bike had a soul – but he dropped it…

  15. @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?”

  16. I love this thread. Chapeau, all, on the beautiful rides.

  17. @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.

  18. 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.

  19. @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.

  20. @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.

  21. 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…

  22. “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

  23. @ChrisO

    that video hurt my soul!

  24. @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.

  25. @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”

  26. @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.

  27. @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.

  28. @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?

  29. I just recalled how much soul I could have purchased by choosing a Spumoni scheme!

  30. 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.

  31. You can have your bike built by Soul

  32. 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.

  33. @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.

  34. 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.

  35. @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

  36. @Adam My toaster has a soul.

  37. @unversio You must love making toast :D

  38. @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.

  39. My favorite all around. Have a C59 which is perfect for me as far as carbon but this is my first love

  40. @ChrisO yeah that was the one…corny as hell, but what else could we expect from Cipo?

  41. 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.

  42. @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.

  43. @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.

  44. @Cyclops, @frank

    The blue anodizing on that alleged Campa BMX stuff pretty well sums it up.

  45. 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…

  46. @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.

  47. @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.

  48. @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.

  49. @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.

  50. @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.

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