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. @frank

    @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.

    Agree 100%

  2. @Fredrik

    @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.

    Let this be a lesson to always have pictures.

  3. Fuck me. I go away for four days and your collective efforts equal an epic novel, with AWESOME pics, of course. Merckx bless all of you for your fine posts: and now, a thorough cleaning of my espresso’d computer screen is in order.

  4. @Fredrik
    ++1 on your Independent Fabrication bikes. Excellent choices on both the steel and the carbon. After Merlin was bought and sold to Litespeed, the people who didn’t want to move to Tennessee (?!) ended up at IF so I’ve always had carbone for IF’s bikes and their small scale stoner operation. Custom colors is yet an additional benefit to having your bike built for you, owning a Ti bike, I lust for a nice paint job. And living in Catalonia, you are doing many things correctly.

    I’m assuming the carbon frame is much lighter so faster but I’m glad to hear the steel gets out for some V-bank work. What other differences do you notice?

  5. @ jeff petrometro: yeah, +1

    i left for 5 days and have to read a freaking novel of ‘great’ stuff that you just cannot deny, and i am suppose to be at work, this VMH stuff gets in the way

    great stuff

  6. Finally, I have scraped enough money together (in 6 months, if I’m correct) to start my journey for n+1.

    Because this will be my introduction to riding one of these myself, I wanted to know if any of you have any tips for me.

  7. @Netraam

    Finally, I have scraped enough money together (in 6 months, if I’m correct) to start my journey for n+1.
    Because this will be my introduction to riding one of these myself, I wanted to know if any of you have any tips for me.

    You don’t have a bike at all?

  8. Speaking of, my n+1 is probably going to be a BMX for fanging around town on. After years of hating fixies and asshats who try and pull mad barspinnnzzz on a road bike, its time for me to get a dog in the game. Goodbye teeth.

  9. I was n+1 compliant for 2 days until bike 2 wAs stolen. I’m thinking of getting a old steel frame to turn into a commuter.

  10. @frank
    Thanks for sharing your life with those interested enough to read. It pays to be prepared re. camping. In Scotland we often have all four seasons weather in the same day and people often get caught out. The story of the R3 was great especially the surprise wheels, would your VMH really be so cruel as to turn up with the empty box? Fingers crossed, if my VMH knows me as well as yours does, next birthday I’ll be riding the V-kit!

  11. @Minion
    My n+1 was a fixie build I put together over the winter with an 1980s Raleigh frame. Before you go anti-hipster on me, I also throw a Rule #11 deviance seat on the back of it, so I can blow past hipsters on the uphills with an extra 20kg on the back. I call it training.

    @Netraam
    Congratulations””this will be fun. What kind of a budget do you have? And what’s your timeline?

  12. Great post as always Frank and very timely as I myself just picked up my new Jamis comp yesterday. After one year of cycling the bike which got me into the sport, a Trek 1.1 (bad I know), has been demoted to bike #2 and now serves the role of uni commuter/rain bike. After 120km I can say that the difference in frame and components is amazing, even if it is only 105 on a mono-composite frame- beats the old 2200 on Alu’.

    The only problem Im having is that I have gone from a 58cm frame, which had the seatpost beyond maximum, to a 61cm setup which with the seat at maximum but still feels short. When I climb there seems to be an uncomfortable feeling in the front of my knee and also seems that my usual style of pedaling with my toes down cannot be achieved the same. Any suggestions? thinking I might drop my stem? Will try and post a pic soon.

  13. @Cyclops
    That would be so much fun to give that a go, then you get to ride a machine of your own creation.

  14. @snoov

    @ChrisOI 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.

    Make it stop!!! PLEASE!!! Make it stop!!!! It’s already dead…

  15. @frank

    @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

    @CyclopsI’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.

    Not to hijack @cyclops possible future project, but there is an excellent blog on this very subject here:

  16. @michael
    I just call it “The Can”.

    @pommy-git
    I’ve lost track of what Pommy means, but it’s no matter. Oli will likely have more intelligent things to say than I, but the general idea is that pain is bad, especially if you didn’t have it before.

    I would start by doing your best to figure out the saddle height and setback on the old bike and trying to match it on the new bike. Get the saddles to the same height (if it’s the same saddle and same crank length, measure from the center of the BB to the center of the saddle rail, otherwise measure from the top of the pedal to the top of where you sit on the saddle.)

    Then find a flat space next to a wall, lean the bike up and use a plumb line to mark where the bottom bracket is, and drop a plumb line from where you sit in the saddle (pick the same spot, but if it’s the same saddle, drop it from the nose of the saddle) to mark where you’re pedaling from. Measure that distance and try to replicate it on the other bike.

    From there, you’ll have to start worrying about bar drop and extension, and finding what works. What’s tricky about this is you’re changing bike sizes, so you may be going from a too-small frame to a right frame or a right frame to a too-big frame, so it’s hard to say that one position over the other was right or wrong without experimentation.

  17. @huffalotpuffalot

    @DeltaMngo
    maybe don’t let your son see the gold fish you ran over, they are still stuck to the spokes.

    :)
    I gave them to him last night. He loves the colour!

    On another note, I’m trying to decide if I should put a saddle bag on the bike. Maybe a very small one? To carry a spare tube and my multi tool. Why do I get the feeling I’m breaking a rule somewhere…

  18. @frank

    @pommy-git I’ve lost track of what Pommy means

    Simples – “Pommy” is a term we convicts use to denigrate those that sent us out to this unspoiled pleasure island. Therefore a “Pommy Git” is what we call someone of English nationality when we don’t really like them, but respect them none the less. If they’re genuinely disliked they will be known as a “Pommy Cunt”

  19. @pommy-git

    Did you get fitted for the bike ? Even if you did, it might still be worth going to a bike-fit service and getting your setup looked at before you do too many miles on the new bike.

    I was gradually getting more and more pain on the outside of one knee until I went along and with some small adjustments to my cleat position and an insert in one shoe I’m now fine.

  20. @DeltaMngo

    @huffalotpuffalot

    @DeltaMngo
    maybe don’t let your son see the gold fish you ran over, they are still stuck to the spokes.

    :)
    I gave them to him last night. He loves the colour!
    On another note, I’m trying to decide if I should put a saddle bag on the bike. Maybe a very small one? To carry a spare tube and my multi tool. Why do I get the feeling I’m breaking a rule somewhere…

    Dangerous ground, dangerous ground. First, the goldfish. Now, this question? Uh oh.

  21. @frank

    @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.

    Remove reflectors – done
    Dork disk – how do I remove this? Just cut it off?
    Extra spacers – shall do this tonight.

  22. @Ron

    @DeltaMngo

    @huffalotpuffalot

    @DeltaMngomaybe don’t let your son see the gold fish you ran over, they are still stuck to the spokes.

    :)I gave them to him last night. He loves the colour!On another note, I’m trying to decide if I should put a saddle bag on the bike. Maybe a very small one? To carry a spare tube and my multi tool. Why do I get the feeling I’m breaking a rule somewhere…

    Dangerous ground, dangerous ground. First, the goldfish. Now, this question? Uh oh.

    Damn. Just found Rule #29. Sorry all…my mistake. I wasn’t thinking straight. Scrap the saddle bag idea!

  23. Thanks to everyone thats helped with advice regarding bike fit… Frank I’ll get a plum line and tape measure onto it asap. @ChrisO

    @pommy-git
    Did you get fitted for the bike ? Even if you did, it might still be worth going to a bike-fit service and getting your setup looked at before you do too many miles on the new bike.
    I was gradually getting more and more pain on the outside of one knee until I went along and with some small adjustments to my cleat position and an insert in one shoe I’m now fine.

    Yeah I was fitted for the bike, also like you I am going to adjust my cleat position for my next ride and see what the effect is. They are currently as far forward as they can go, so moving them back a bit may help.

    Haha yeah, Pommy= Prisoner of her majesty, or something along those lines. About as creative an acronym as the convicts could come up with. I get it a bit myself being a sports loving Englishman living down under.

    Thanks for all the advice again.

  24. I’m late to this conversation, so apologies if this has been covered. It was date night tonight, so wife and I have sunk two bottles of chianti, and I haven’t been allowed to talk cycling for three hours. This may be somewhat cathartic.

    Rule #12 is one of my favourites. N+1. Hmmmm (quote: Homer Simpson).

    I let myself down with my first bike: I was young, impressionable, easy. I fell for the looks, the allure, the sexy, sleek lines, the speed. Frankly, I was punching above my weight. The Carbon racer… lugged frame, light, stiff, responsive. She is now my high performance steed that I use on special occasions with her deep section carbon rims and (largely ornamental) yellow brake pads… she does have pedigree though: Ventoux, Tourmalet, Galibier, Alpe D’Huez… we’ve ridden them together, and you never forget those early young rides: plenty of vim and vigour, not much finesse or style.

    My second bike, I was better: I wanted a flat top tube, ambrosio rims, royce hubs, lots of spokes… built from titanium for winter training and the tour of flanders (sportive). I love her so much, she is so pretty, and harks back to a classic age when cyclists were gladiators, and the cobbles were their arena…. but even she isn’t perfect. She may look classic, like she ran with the Prophet, Roger de V, Freddie Maertens, but no… titanium is too gauche, too arriviste, too unforgiving. I can never grow old with her, because she’ll never grow old. In a thousand years, she’ll still look exactly the same as she does today, whilst I’ll be dust… I do love her, but I feel I’m settling.

    That is why my third bike, currently being built, is from steel. It won’t be the lightest, the strongest, the fastest. Neither am I, in my grupetto. This is the bike I wish I’d bought first, this is the one I’ll do all my future road trips with, this is the one that will be my soulmate… no, it won’t be the lightest, the strongest, the fastest. But, I like to think that like me, it will be the most stubborn, the hardest working and it will never, ever give in. And it will be my road companion for the next twenty years and beyond, before retiring, gracefully into grumpy, rusty and stiff old age.

    I think I remember that TdF stage with Tyler Hamilton. I remember yelling at the TV, urging him on, willing him on. I could almost feel the rough ends of his broken collar bone grinding together with each turn of the crank, feel the reverberations of all fourteen of his molars vibrating around inside my head as he ground them down with the pain of carrying on, the effort of constraining the madness that lurked just below the surface of his personality, constantly straining for release. And staying ahead for 116km. On Compact gearing at some insanely high cadence on his 50×11 after the descent of the Col de Bargarge (sp?).

    Love this article. N+1. I need to work out what my next +1 is. Hmmmmm.

    p.s. BTW, I think STRACK would be a great name for a frame builder. I’d have one of them built. I can see it written in a compact, seraphed font on the down tube, probably italicised, definitely capitalised. Aggressive but comfortable geometry; fast lines; neat cabling. Only compatible with Campagnolo (pre-1993). A thoroughbred. There’s no way in hell that this one would be built in China or Korea or Taiwan: where’s the pedigree in that?

  25. The weather over there must be shitty. Why else did you have so much time to read & write here? Beginning of October and I went for the first night ride of the CX season in the woods yesterday. Guess what? It was almost 20 °C (extended Rule #24) until midnight. Loooong Indian summer over here.

  26. @Fredrik

    @grumbledook
    Actually the frame is not black, it is a dark green-blue pearl colour.

    Definitively need to re-calibrate my monitor. I know that green & black fit very nicely together; I have some green Chris King goodies decorating my black(/white) Seven. Still I would like to see your steel IF. (I own a IF (Planet-X Ti) myself.)

  27. @DeltaMngo
    Dork Disk – how do I remove this? Just cut it off?

    The Dork Disk comes off most easily and enjoyably by removing the cassette and then taking said disk out to a large field and seeing just how spectacularly far those Mavic Dork Disks fly.

    If you can’t find a large field, simply chucking it over the short apartment building across the street will suffice, then go to the next block and look for it stuck in someone’s head.

    If you can’t get the cassette off you can take a pair of diagonal pliers or tin snips and eventually get the thing off but it’s a bit of PITA and I shouldn’t need to say watch out for the spokes and hub.

  28. N+1 is a dangerous rule, particularly if your VMH does not exactly share your passion for vintage italian steel. To paraphrase Hunter S, once you get locked into a serious bike collection, there’s a tendency to push it as far as you can go…

    I’m currently happy at three, though I can see a SS MTB in my future. Maybe in Ti…hmm….

  29. @michael
    Thanks for the tip.

    @RedRanger

    @DeltaMngo
    Unless you have experience cutting a head tube, I would take it to the shop you bought it at and have them do it.

    Agree. I’m a bit nervous cutting the head tube on my prized position. Time to get professional help. Might be non compliant for a little bit longer.

  30. @DeltaMngo
    Don’t let fashion victims tell you to shorten that steerer until you are absolutely certain the height is where it’s best for you. For maximum enjoyment of cycling your bicycle should be an extension of you, which means it has to fit you correctly, not a bunch of outside observers that can’t even see you!

    The ability to alter the height of your handlebars is as fundamental to the correct fit and, hence, function of a bicycle as saddle height is.

    Your bike just cost you a no doubt considerable pile of shekels, so it’s a no-brainer that it’s better to show your investment the respect it deserves by ensuring it’s at it’s optimum in terms of customisation, than to disrespect it by rendering it less adjustable in an effort to make it fit some inane and irrelevant visual template.

    After all, you can always cut a steerer down, but you can’t cut it back up again…

  31. @Oli
    thanks for that Oli – I can feel comfortable now, to leave my spacers where they are – had been feeling self conscious as a newbie that I should be dropping my bars, but I am sooper comfortable where I am, so will leave it as it is – can’t touch my toes so lower might not be better for me with lower bars – my back hurts looking at Frank’s riding position!

  32. Nice work, Frank!

    My two main road bikes definitely feel different, one modern compact geo carbon & the other traditional geo steel. I love being able to either one down off the hook depending on the ride that awaits, my mood, my mindset. What a wonderful privilege to have choice between more than one fine road machine.

    I live right near a college campus, the graveyard of bicycles. Most began as junk, but I still cringe when I see an unloved bike. No matter how ugly, a bike is a tool & a neglected tool is one that will fail you when you need it most.

  33. @Jeff in PetroMetro

    Fuck me. I go away for four days and your collective efforts equal an epic novel, with AWESOME pics, of course. Merckx bless all of you for your fine posts: and now, a thorough cleaning of my espresso’d computer screen is in order.

    No kidding. I have been gone for a few days and have just given up on catching up on old posts!

    But, relevent to this thread, I have just begun saving money to try to find a Holy Grail frame and fork: ’70’s era Merckx frame. Just set aside $600 bucks and will continue sdaving over the next year or two until i can find one that I can afford.

    As an aside: where is the best place to find old frames to purchase? e-bay? Any specific sites that you all know?

    Also, JiPM: Just signed up for the Tour de Gruene a few weeks ago. If you are going to be up my way on the 5th of NOV, sounds like a nice little ITT!

  34. @Minion

    Speaking of, my n+1 is probably going to be a BMX for fanging around town on. After years of hating fixies and asshats who try and pull mad barspinnnzzz on a road bike, its time for me to get a dog in the game. Goodbye teeth.

    I’ve fancied a BMX for while but no barspining malarky here, this is a race machine to chase the little Chrises the track and get some sprint reps in at the same time. I’m not sure if it’s my n+1 as I brought most of it before I brought my last bike but it’s not quite finished yet.

  35. This is my first autumn having a cx bike. While I am really enjoying cx riding & love having an option beyond road riding, I must say I feel a bit detached from my road steeds. Though it has only been a few days, it seems as if I haven’t ridden some of them in a year.

    Beware the separation sadness incurred via the n+1 move!

  36. @Chris… I have, yes… the guy in my LBS gave it to me to try and persuade me NOT to get a steel bike! Only made me want one more. I did empathise with Mr Penn… but felt he was trying too hard to build his perfect bike… for free, by garnering publicity for the componentry. LOVED Campagnolo, who wouldn’t let him in the factory, and charged him full whack for his bits and pieces. He shouldn’t have put the world championship bands on his downtube (between the blue and the orange) as – as far as I can tell – neither a Rourke frame nor the author have won a world championship, therefore don’t have the privilege of carrying the bands. If you get the chance to see the TV series he made of the book, bits of it are awesome.

  37. @roadslave

    I didn’t really see it as a attempt to get the kit for free, never really occurred to me to think about the money side of it. I’ll have a hunt around the web for the TV series.

  38. @roadslave

    @Chris… I have, yes… the guy in my LBS gave it to me to try and persuade me NOT to get a steel bike! Only made me want one more. I did empathise with Mr Penn… but felt he was trying too hard to build his perfect bike… for free, by garnering publicity for the componentry. LOVED Campagnolo, who wouldn’t let him in the factory, and charged him full whack for his bits and pieces. He shouldn’t have put the world championship bands on his downtube (between the blue and the orange) as – as far as I can tell – neither a Rourke frame nor the author have won a world championship, therefore don’t have the privilege of carrying the bands. If you get the chance to see the TV series he made of the book, bits of it are awesome.

    You can watch it on youtube:
    Part 1
    Part 2
    Part 3
    Part 4
    Part 5
    Part 6

  39. Hey moderator! I, just linked the youtube videos of Rob Penn’s BBC series “Ride of my life”. Please release my comment. Thanks.

  40. @Ron
    Oh absolutely. Ride the new CX hotness and feel guilty for cheating on my first love or step astride the road bike and wonder why you just dropped all that cash on a CX bike if you’re not even going to ride it?

    For me, this torture has been exacerbated by a torn calf that has kept me entirely off the bike for the past 3 weeks (and ~2 weeks before that with a f-ed up collarbone). Nothing like looking forward all summer to CX season, a new bike, and then watching the whole thing pass you by. Hoping to salvage the latter 1/2 of the season – though now my form just sucks.

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