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

A montage of Bikes #1, #2, and #3

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.

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150 Replies to “La Vie Velominatus, Part VI: In Pursuit of N+1”

  1. It is odd how bikes fit, my road bike is 4cm shorter than my tack bike, witht he same length stem and both still manage to fit perfectly. Go figure.

  2. When I first built up the Wilier I took exact dims off my Lemond… Which I also used on my trainer bike. But they each felt different from minute one. I’m not going to say anything about the mtb tho, since everybody’s in a snit about the last thread. Fucking roadie snobs… I agree 100% that any bike worth having is worth riding… We are cyclists, not collectors.

  3. Anyway, just yesterday and the day before I got my two bikes down to – as far as I can tell – the exact same measurements all over. Saddle height and setback, they even measure the same from the ground. Bars are exactly the same distance from the saddle and the ground. Same bars and saddle. They of course feel completely different, but my back appreciates the effort I went to. I only got to compare them on a day I was really tired. I’m excited to try them back to back on the same day when I’m not so tired.

  4. You’ve got the yellow jersey, you’re velomi – entitled to ride a big wheel at Track Nats if you want. Publish and be damned!

  5. Can you belive it!? As luck would have it, I picked up my new Ridley Orion only yesterday. My second bike and I’m on my way to n+1.

    My son kept asking me “…daddy, why do you need two bikes?”. He’s only three, but perhaps I’ll get him to read this post in a few years time.

    Here it is, in all it’s beauty.

  6. So true… Just rescued a 1982 Peugot Course from years of neglect in my neighbour’s garage (legally, for 100 bucks) Rides like a dream and moving up the ranks from #3 to #2.

  7. Tyler wasn’t riding a Cervelo when he rode the tour for csc – he was riding a Parlee Z3sl painted as a Cervelo. Sorry.

  8. @Musket
    In an interview, Hamilton says that he rode a Parlee painted as a Look in the 2002 Giro. There is also mention on the (extremely authoritative and trustworthy) Internet to the effect that some of the US Postal service bikes were Parlees. But do you have a source for the Cervelo story?

  9. @Musket

    Tyler wasn’t riding a Cervelo when he rode the tour for csc – he was riding a Parlee Z3sl painted as a Cervelo. Sorry.

    Shut the front door! Didn’t the R2.5 suffer from terminal seat tube to BB joint design failure? How many suckers fell for that one? I know it’s nothing new, but it still shouldn’t be allowed.

    I’m currently building up bike #7. It’s a 2001 Wilier Alpe d’Huez with 10 speed Campa of various statuses. @Brett has already been kind enough to fit the ultratorque for me. Pics will be posted on completion.

  10. Frank, I too share the inescapable habit of looking in detail at nearly every bike that goes by. I happen to be in NYC this week, which makes for lots of rubbernecking to see some really wonderful bikes of all modes, and also some hipster abominations.

    About 10 years ago I started riding again after a 10-year hiatus, due to innumerable non-reasons. At that point I decided that my old steel Marinoni (Italian framebuilder based in Montreal) was so tired, and whippy that it was scary on the downhills. I decided that I wanted to buy something from one of the Italian classics. Without putting too much thought to it, I bought a Colnago Dream Plus. Aluminum frame with Carbon fork, all Dura-Ace, with an expectedly garish, late-90’s Italian paint job, including an airbrushed rider with raised fist on the top tube near the head tube (inspiration??). This is a solid bike, that rides reasonably well, but never really was able to participate in volupté.

    Then, three years ago I started riding a lot again, and decided that it was time for n+1. This time I spent lots of time considering, researching, evaluating, measuring, talking to friends-in-the-know. I ended up buying an Independent Fabrication Crown Jewel SE. Steel at its finest, combined with a carbon fork, and again all Dura-Ace. An absolute dream to ride, both up and downhill, and especially when the road is full of curves, as it often is among the vineyards, and olive groves and mountains of Catalonia where I ride. More and more hours in the saddle. Volupté returns. Granfondos in the Pyrenees, Dolomites and Alps, performance, squiggly lines on graphs of distance, time, power, but above all an emphasis on the pleasure of riding. And completely aware how fortunate I am to have the opportunity, health, and time to ride where I ride.

    Then, of course the thoughts of n+1 come back, slowly at first. Should I be riding carbon? Would my back be grateful? Would the Marie-Blanque be less of a sufferfest? More research, conversations, measurements,… And now I have another IF, this time a Corvid. All carbon, all ENVE carbon actually. Now I switch back and forth between these two bikes that have almost exactly the same geometry (the Corvid is 0.5deg steeper on the headtube), and exactly the same position. The two bikes ride very differently and the position feels different, but both are more than willing to help me search for volupté. I had thought that I would end up abandoning the steel bike, but that is not the case at all. The springy-ness and life that she shares with me is a pleasure. At the same time the tightness and response of the Corvid is remarkable.

    One of the pleasures and problems of a custom bike is the fact that it is, well, custom. Infinite choice of geometry and colour is paralyzing for me. I did have one thing clear though. No combination of red, white and black that virtually all high-end bikes have these days, and I wanted to recover the aesthetic of the master framebuilders. So, a greenish-blue pearl (Tahitian pearl they call it) with silver lugs. Combined with today’s tech of carbon, Di2, etc.

    But, again, it’s about the ride.

  11. Every darn time I think I’m set with bikes I come up with a very good reason, at least in my own mind, that I need a new one.

    For now though, I think I am set. I hope.
    #1 – flash carbon road
    #2 – flash Italian steel
    #3 – solid Italian steel with full fenders (winter, rain, lockup)
    #4 – very nice Al/carbon CX
    #5 – Sunday riding Italian steel

    Just writing that out makes it seem like I have too many, which I might, but then again I can always think of something new I need. Oh well, Vive La Vie Velominatus.

  12. @Fredrik

    To bad the black of the frame tubing does not match that of the seatpost, stem and rims, especially since it’s all made by ENVE. Can you post a pic of your CJ as well?

  13. @Fredrik

    That’s a lovely bike, very classy.

    I also swap between steel and carbon. In my case the steel is a custom built frame and however much I appreciate riding the finest carbon fibre, nothing can compare to the feel of slipping into my Roberts. I would never abandon it.

  14. @Cyclops

    Good luck! Make sure there will be enough clearance for the tires and place the brake bosses as close to the rims as possible, i.e. try to bend the seat stays. … Although the idea of brazing/welding a frame myself is very tempting, I will leave this to the professional frame builders in the future, especially if I would need a new/or n+1 cyclocross frame.

  15. @Cyclops

    I’d love to give this a go. It’d be awesome to do it with the kids!

    How about a series of step by step guest articles?

  16. @Dr C
    The look on his face as he saves it suggests that the lad who fell wasn’t the only one in need of a new skinsuit.

  17. @Fredrik Oh and BTW, before the Rule #74 fascists come along to beat you with their purist sticks… as you have what appears to be a Garmin atop your stem there is a Velominati club on Strava if you’d care to join.

  18. @Cyclops

    I just purchased Lugged Bicycle Frame Construction: A Manual For the First Time Builder. I plan on constructing me a ‘Cross bike.

    I think I saw a picture ofa blowtorch and a metal rasp in there…..you are not seriously going to build a frame…..is that not a bit like offering to weld the wings onto an aeroplane?

    Reminds me of the chap in a group ride a couple of months back when the chap behind me suddenly fell off, full face plant and concussion, after the weld on his bar stem snapped and his bars fell off – thankfully only going round a slow corner….

    Than again maybe you are Welder by trade and this is money for old rope?

    Just make sure those welds are deep and ugly, and strong….

  19. @Musket

    Tyler wasn’t riding a Cervelo when he rode the tour for csc – he was riding a Parlee Z3sl painted as a Cervelo. Sorry.

    Maybe they just wanted to build a bike Tyler was willing to ride? I have no idea if he rode one or not, but straight from Vroomen’s mouth is the fact that his win at that stage is what sparked the development that landed them on the R3. In fact, until it was branded as the R3, the project was dubbed the Bayonne. Whatever T-Bone rode, I suppose, is beside the point.

    Hamilton always has been a fan of those Parlees…so it’s easy to believe.

  20. As a proud and fortunate MX Leader owner and rider, I say that whomever allowed that Moto Merckx to deteriorate to such a state should spend the rest of their life in a Belgian prison!

  21. @Cyclops

    I just purchased Lugged Bicycle Frame Construction: A Manual For the First Time Builder. I plan on constructing me a ‘Cross bike.

    That’s a dream right there, to build a frame. Very doable, too. One day, one day…As a kid I made drawings of “Strack”-branded bikes. I was obsessed.

    @Chris

    @Cyclops
    I’d love to give this a go. It’d be awesome to do it with the kids!
    How about a series of step by step guest articles?

    Yes, that. A+1.

  22. Oh you’re all being beastly tonight – leave the man’s bike alone.

    Wrong colours, imperfect lugs – let he who is without sin cast the first stone and all that…

    And put down that rock Frank…

    (after the late and brilliant Dave Allen)

  23. @Cyclops

    I just purchased Lugged Bicycle Frame Construction: A Manual For the First Time Builder. I plan on constructing me a ‘Cross bike.

    Where are you going to source tubing? Im guessing you’re not going to use steel pipe from Home Des-pot.

  24. @ChrisO
    I was merely worried about a catastrophic equipment failure at speed, the bike looks sweet, sorry if the tone wasn’t quite right but as I rarely see any emoticons here I’d assumed they were frowned on.

    As penance I submit my shameful bike #3 downtube.

    It was like that when I got it but I don’t have the cash to get it fixed.

  25. @scaler911

    @Cyclops

    I just purchased Lugged Bicycle Frame Construction: A Manual For the First Time Builder. I plan on constructing me a ‘Cross bike.

    Where are you going to source tubing? Im guessing you’re not going to use steel pipe from Home Des-pot.

    Home Despot – that’s what my Volvo driving, Cherry Bicycles bike riding, OSU alumni best friend calls it. Anyway, I’ve been pointed toward Ceeway out of the U.K. but I’d rather find a more local source.

  26. @michael

    Shouldn’t your caption read: “A MONTAGE OF BIKES #2, #1, AND #3“?

    Ha, it depends on your sense of symmetry. For me, it seems very odd to list the numbers out of order. By your logic, it should be Bikes #3, #1, #2; that just feels so wrong to me!

  27. @DeltaMngo Nice… I also have a Ridley and love it.

    But mine won’t stand up by itself in the garden.

  28. @Dan Kaempff

    As a proud and fortunate MX Leader owner and rider, I say that whomever allowed that Moto Merckx to deteriorate to such a state should spend the rest of their life in a Belgian prison!

    A-Merckx, brother. The eBay auction shows even more damage. Totally depressing.

    @all
    For anyone caring to read my post on my old blog from 2008 when I bought the R3, it can be found here.

  29. @michael

    Anyway, just yesterday and the day before I got my two bikes down to – as far as I can tell – the exact same measurements all over. Saddle height and setback, they even measure the same from the ground. Bars are exactly the same distance from the saddle and the ground. Same bars and saddle. They of course feel completely different, but my back appreciates the effort I went to. I only got to compare them on a day I was really tired. I’m excited to try them back to back on the same day when I’m not so tired.

    I’ve done the same with my bikes, and they all feel different. The TSX, with its low BB, feels totally different; enough different that it doesn’t bother me. Plus, with the ride it gives, I never have the same ambitions than I do on my other bikes.

    Also, the more I get used to the R3 (I’ve ridden a lot this summer and we had such good weather, almost all of it has been on Bike #1), the more the subtle differences matter. It’s funny, I’d have thought the differences would matter less the better you get, but I have the opposite experience.

    The EV2 has to be retired from use, sadly, and I’ve just picked up a Cervelo Soloist on eBay for a steal. I’m expecting to get the setup more identicalized than I’ve been able to on the EV2.

  30. @Fredrik
    I echo the other’s request for a photo of the Steel. Those IF’s are absolutely stunning. Strong, strong work.

    @DeltaMngo
    Welcome, and beautiful bike; love those Ridleys. Once you get the dork disk, reflextors, and extra spacers chopped off the stem, post a new picture.

  31. @Dr C
    Word is still out on the Di2. It’s a bit finicky, and the supposed automatic trim doesn’t always work. And as someone said on another series of posts, over time you get used to the coordination of leg pressure with shifting that is now no longer necessary.
    That being said, flawless shifts with tiny movements of one finger….

  32. @ChrisO

    Oh you’re all being beastly tonight – leave the man’s bike alone.
    Wrong colours, imperfect lugs – let he who is without sin cast the first stone and all that…
    And put down that rock Frank…
    (after the late and brilliant Dave Allen)

    A+1. This weeks badge moves to you.

  33. @frank
    I will send along a photo of the CJ steel, but I am traveling right now and don’t have any pictures with me. As soon as I can, will do.

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