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