La Vie Velominatus, Part VI: In Pursuit of N+1

La Vie Velominatus, Part VI: In Pursuit of N+1

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Hardly a bike can pass through my gaze without invoking a visceral reaction; admiration for a well-manicured machine regardless of it’s discipline, delight at a vintage gem or a diamond in the rough, anger at an owner who has neglected a beautiful machine, horror at an abomination of sensibility and taste.

When I see these machines my mind flies instantly to what it must feel like to climb aboard and turn the pedals, if even for a moment. I imagine how difficult it must be to move the rusted pedals of an old commuter; I might wonder at the smooth feel of easing the downtube shifter forward as the chain slips into the next cog; I cringe at the thought of grasping bars rotated too far up or down. It is our lot as Velominati to feel this way about a bicycle. To identify with it, to want to care for it, to make it free. On some level, to feel as though each bicycle has a soul, and that it must be cared for.

This same love leads us to always find room in our hearts to aquire another bicycle, however magnificent the other bicycles already own may be. Always, there is the Next Bike, be it in another material, for a different discipline, or a different purpose; the combinations of carbon, steel, aluminum, titanium, road, cross, mountain, and commuting quickly collaborate to fabricate the justification of bike number n+1.

But never is the next bike acquired simply for the sake of owning another machine, for a bicycle must be ridden if its soul is to find salvation. A bicycle that stands by in a corner, year after year, waiting in great anticipation for the Next Ride as the air slowly seeps from its tires is a tragedy beyond articulation. My three road bikes are from three different eras, and each is an enviable beauty. The Bianchi TSX hails from 1997 and represents perfect Italian style; my only lamentation is that I was unable to acquire aluminum Ergo shifters and had to “settle” for carbon. The Bianchi XLEV2 hails from the Pantani Period and, while it sports the same top tube length, is more upright than the TSX, has a taller head tube, and boasts a higher bottom bracket. The Cervelo R3 is 2006’s Roubaix-winning carbon fiber lightweight masterpiece of contradictions: light, stiff, and strong.

But more importantly, these three bicycles represent three eras in my own evolution as a Velominatus. The EV2 was acquired upon my return to the sport and was my first experience with a truly fantastic bike shop. I bought the frame and wheels from Grand Performance and sourced the rest from eBay; after months of collecting the bits, the sight of the complete bike was one that shall never escape the gin-infested cobwebs of my memory. The TSX tested my patience to curate the perfect steel machine, learning where to compromise classical convention for modern convenience. The R3 is the end result of a design process that started when Cervelo’s engineers decided to better the design of their R2.5 after Tyler Hamilton rode it to victory in the 2003 Tour de France stage to Bayonne. As it happened, my VMH and I rode the 2003 L’Etape du Tour, which happened to be over that same route. And we were on the course the day of the stage, and watched on television as Tyler Hamilton held the field at bay over roads we ourselves had suffered on only days before from a cafe called La Calamity Jane. Suffice it to say, each one of these bicycles means a tremendous amount to me, and every time I throw my leg over one or the other, all of that climbs aboard with me.

Invariably, however, one of my bicycles always feels better than the others. Somehow, a note is struck that brings a harmony to rider and machine that can’t be found with the others. Thus begins the endless pursuit of identifying the nuances that create the unique conditions which coax the maximum amount of (either) pleasure or The V from our beings. This pursuit, this quest to find what the Italians call la Posizione, is the true work of the Velominatus – to never be satisfied with “good enough”. The tape measure and the plumb line both show the setback on the saddle to be the same, yet it feels better on one bike than it does the other. The bars are the same distance from the saddle on both machines, yet one is a stretch and one is perfect. These are the differences that mathematics dispute but our bodies know exist.

For me, the mystery of the bicycle begins with the notion that I can ride two identically set up machines up the same climb on the same day and have one deliver me to a back ache and the other into the arms of La Volupté.

Vive la Vie Velominatus.

// La Vie Velominatus

  1. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    That was the beer talkin’. Glad I ran it by you before I tried it in the real world.

  2. Went oh-so close to pushing the boundaries of s-1 overnight, only to be saved by ebay & its overlords.

    Some late night wishful ebay trawling uncovered an 09 Wilier Mortirolo with full Veloce kit that had been started as a 99c auction, 8 hours left & it was still only $65 US. Was pretty doubtful about the legitimacy of the vendors but looking through previous feedback they seemed solid & there were a couple of other high end bikes there in similar auctions…

    Cue quick calculations on postage out here to Aus & just how dead I might end up if I bought a bike & I figured why not have a cheeky punt and enter a $100 bid as a starter. I knew I’d get to work with about 25 minutes to spare on the auction & could look in to what had happened at that stage and make a solid decision then.

    Woke up & was getting ready for my ride, figured “can’t hurt to have a look” and lo and behold I’m still sitting pretty with the highest bid @ about $80. 30k spin up in to the hills & then to work flew by as I’m dreaming of a proper Italian Carbone steed and what excuses I might need to come up with to dodge divorce proceedings in the week of our 1st anniversary.

    Jump off the bike as I get to the office, fire up the ebay app & go to the “bidding” section, empty??? That can’t be right. In to my calendar to see where I’d saved the finishing time (wasn’t taking chances) and clicked on the item link in there and get a message that the item couldn’t be found, WTF??? Suddenly stressing about whether I’d dreamt the whole thing (surely my subconcious isn’t that cruel) when I notice an email on my phone from ebay…

    “Sorry, the item you were interested in has been removed from sale. We do sometimes take this action in the interests of our buyers. This could have occured due to:

    – The sellers not having rightful ownership of the item
    – The item not meeting our regulations concerning items to be sold on ebay
    – Other extenuating circumstances”

    Basically what they were telling me was they’d just stopped me making a huge mistake by not only threatening my marriage by purchasing “more fucking cycling shit”, but also buying something that was so obviously dodgy even ebay couldn’t sell it with a clean conscience!

  3. @Chris
    Cool! My post wasn’t at BMXers, whose tricks are schweet, it was at losers trying to do something aethetically pleasing on something designed for something else. I have no idea what my actual BMX riding will entail, but I know I wants one!

    My precioussssss…..

  4. Late in the thread but I’m with @Ron
    I’d be the first to admit to a serious bike problem and many near divorce moments have occured to acquire the current collection.
    Rather than apply n-1 I’ve always subscribed to the theory that one should not own more bikes than one can (and does) ride on a reasonably regular basis and I have reached that limit.

    Carbon Merckx AXM – regularly raced
    Merckx corsa extra in columbus max – ridden several times a week for training (built up NOS);
    Gianni motta columbus SL – 9 speed chorus – rain bike and commuter (built up NOS)
    Perkins reynolds 853 track bike – regularly raced
    Ridley crosswind CX bike – raced through winter and ridden on the trails
    no name steel track bike – used as a commuter pig
    1960s Malvern Skidstar GT – fully restored steel cruiser (3speed T gear change) for getting around the ‘hood in style.

    I love riding every single one of them.

  5. @Mikael Liddy

    You going to wine and dine with the Prophet at the Legends Night Dinner?

  6. @itburns

    Mmmm, dinner…

    I’m so hungry.

    It’s 1130 and I’ve already eaten my lunch.

  7. I was out last night riding in the country, very few lights of any kind, and quite dark by 19:30. It reminded me of another reason We keep our bikes in good form: breaking down in total darkness when many km’s out is not a good idea. Even changing a flat can be hard in that type of darkness & you’re going to get chilled doing it. As I rode along it felt great knowing I could trust my machine. (I did have a good tail light & a great headlight.)

    Oh, and this reminds me that I’ve seen a LOT of riders out without any lights on lately. Fall has hit here in the U.S. Please lads, invest in some good lights. Saw a dude on a nice De Rosa the other night, well past dusk, on busy, narrow country roads…and no lights. A $4000 bike, but no money for lights?

    I know it is difficult to bring yourself to put a light or light bracket on your fine steed, but a light on a nice bike says to me, “I’m a Hard Man & ride in all conditions, all year,” not, “This light goes well with my dork disk, don’t ya think?”

  8. @fasthair
    i’ll chime in, having some winter/snow/ice commuting experience:

    you want a mountain frame. it’s about the geometry – when the traction gets squirrely, you’ll appreciate the more nimble mountain geometry…

    also, careful of getting tires that are too wide. too much floatation will not allow your studs to reach the firm surface (ice or pavement) below the snow, and you’ll be at the mercy of the snow cohesion. when snow mixes with road grime, a grey, slippery substance results…

    paradoxically, perhaps, traction is commonly better with colder temperatures.

    one last bit (which seems obvious in retrospect): make sure your studded tires clear your fenders, prior to any purchase commitments…

    good luck, and enjoy all of the Rule #9 banking!

  9. @snowgeek

    also, careful of getting tires that are too wide. too much floatation will not allow your studs to reach the firm surface (ice or pavement) below the snow, and you’ll be at the mercy of the snow cohesion. when snow mixes with road grime, a grey, slippery substance results…

    Awesome input! That’s the kind of thing you don’t discover until it’s too late…

  10. @Ron

    Yeah, the one time I’ve been hit was at night (went out for a summer after-work ride that extended well past dusk).

    Even though I was running front and rear lights, and have random reflective bits in my clothes (logo on bibs, parts of my Sidi shoes) I partially blame it on lack of reflectors that racing bikes have, and partially on inattentive driving by the driver. While reflectors are dorky, they certainly do help make you a bit more visible while riding at night.

    At any rate, it’s made me pretty spooked to be out past dark, which is a bummer since its dark before I’m out of the office these days. I’ve thought about getting those little rubber-housing blinky lights and putting one on each seat stay if I ride after dark.

  11. @Ron
    I’m with you. Thousands of $$$ on a bike, but can’t/won’t spend $20 for a pair of LED lights? What, too cool to sully your steed with some lights? Fuck off. It’s jerks that ride at night with no lights that give the rest of us a bad name. I don’t “stop” at all stop signs, but I do slow down and proceed as the situation demands. I don’t blow through them. To the general driving public, all cyclists are the same. Often, one rider’s bad behavior becomes all our bad behavior.

    It’s getting dark here in WI by 7pm and I sometimes go a bit over the top with the lights. Two wee red blinkys and a larger red light on the back, the same in white on the front. Overkill? maybe, but they weigh nothing and go on/off in seconds. I’m usually heading for home on good roads the last few miles, but better safe than sorry. Finally, I know this works as cars give me a wide berth.

  12. @Jeff in PetroMetro

    Thanks for the feedback. I looked at used MTB last that was first off too small but also a POS. I don’t think steel will hold up too well with all the salt and crap they throw around on the roads here.


    I looked on Ebay last night for just what you mentioned, older Cannondale MTB. I have three I’m eyeing and pretty cheap at this point. If you like I can send you the links for your inspection. Staying warm shouldn’t be much of a problem. Lot of my winter Harley riding clothes and the principles should do me well. It’s got to be easier to stay warm at 25kph pedaling instead 100kph with a V-Twin.

    You pops sounds like a try hard man! I see where you get your bad ass-ness.


    The studded tires I have are only 1.9″ so fender clearance shouldn’t be a issue. Yes narrower tires is the right idea for just the reason you say, get you down through the crap to some traction. I’ve got a little Mercedes-Benz repair shop so I understand tires and traction. When I sell customer snow tires/wheel combos we also go with narrower tires.

    I’ve got a small deposit in the Rule #9 account from rainy commutes this summer. As a kid I loved riding in the snow but never at this level. Not that I’m looking forward to winter I must admit I’m excited to take on this next challenge.


    LIGHTS!!! I can’t believe the amount of people I see at night with not a single reflector much less lights. I had a hard time chokin’ down the 95USD for my MiNewt halogen until I lite it up for the first time at o’dark 30 on a moonless night.


  13. @Kiwicyclist
    Now that’s just showing off. At least you’re in the right place.

  14. Lights and a large fistful of defensive riding – I’d rather be looking harder at cars in case they don’t see me or can’t figure out how fast I’m going than be sprawled across their bonnet like the worlds’ ugliest bikini model.

  15. @itburns

    @Mikael Liddy
    You going to wine and dine with The Prophet at the Legends Night Dinner?

    Really hoping so, this being Adelaide I’m pretty sure I know someone who knows someone who could swindle me a ticket or two…

  16. @snowgeek
    Cyclocross bikes are good as well for snow riding if you’re so inclined.
    I’ve good memories of riding through a fresh 10″ of snow to University in Toronto looong ago.
    The tires are nice and narrow so you don’t have the floatation problem.
    I never did have spikes then so I found that the winter CX training was interesting to say the least when riding across glare ice. It is near impossible to remain upright when neither tire has any traction. Good times.

  17. @Minion

    @KiwicyclistNow that’s just showing off. At least you’re in the right place.

    Fucking Nipple Lube. (Sorry @TheBaron)

  18. A sad example of the dreaded S I think!

    “For sale is my fiance’s lovely Bianchi Via Nirone 7 Team Liquigas roadbike.
    He is selling this bike as family commitments mean he does not have time to ride it anymore.”

    Spare the man a moment when you next meditate on the V.

  19. Have a look here

    I guess, once this guy has finished this project, there won’t
    be a “+1″ in his collection of bikes.

  20. @Chris
    I think it was Hemingway who is/was credited with writing one of the shortest novels ever: “For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.” A mountain of tragedy in 6 words.

    “For sale is my fiance’s lovely Bianchi Via Nirone 7 Team Liquigas roadbike.
    He is selling this bike as family commitments mean he does not have time to ride it anymore.”

    To me, this is almost as sad to read. I doubt “he” is selling anything.

  21. @wiscot

    No, you’re right there. I suspect he had already sold his soul and is now facing an eternity of suffering.

  22. @wiscot

    I think it was Hemingway who is/was credited with writing one of the shortest novels ever: “For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.” A mountain of tragedy in 6 words.
    “For sale is my fiance’s lovely Bianchi Via Nirone 7 Team Liquigas roadbike.
    He is selling this bike as family commitments mean he does not have time to ride it anymore.”
    To me, this is almost as sad to read. I doubt “he” is selling anything.

    For whom the bell tolls…

  23. @wiscot

    Man, that is awful. I had a mate who’s wife pressured him get rid of all his “music shit” after they got married, as he had “too much of it” and it took up too much space. He sold off all sorts of cool guitars, amps, and whatnot.

    Two years later they were divorced. Ugh.

    I think there is a proper life balance between hoarding too much shit and what your family can handle, but seeing someone have to get rid of stuff that is their primary love and hobby is just depressing.

  24. @mouse

    As far as riding on ice is concerned, there are nice solutions around:

  25. My most recent addition has been my Stevens Super Prestige CX. A few weeks ago at the end of the first cross race of my season, I christened the white bar tape with the first of V projectile vommiting episodes. As I spewed for the third or fouth time, one of the commies called out to me to stop puking on the cement and to move to the grass. I gruffly responded that, “I am a fuckin’ combat veteran, so I will puke where ever I god-damn feel like.” He shut up after that.

    The purple vommit was carefully and venerably washed from the white bar tape – holy of holies.

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