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Colnago Master. Photo: Cicli Berlinetta

Does a Bike Have a Soul?

by Gianni / Aug 29 2012 / 172 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?

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*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

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