Does a Bike Have a Soul?

Colnago Master. Photo: Cicli Berlinetta

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?


*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!

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173 Replies to “Does a Bike Have a Soul?”

  1. @Gianni Many thanks for your compliment Gianni.  We are very happy with the end result.  Tarn Mott the framebuilder and myself have been talking about doing a project together for a couple of years.  I have a few frames that he has built for me.  We decided upon a lugged frame (because I love them) and stainless steel because it makes such a lovely riding frame at a respectable weight.  We felt there was enough demand for a beautifully engineeered frame with a great finish.  We are a fan of the brushed finish which we have used on this frame although can do the polished stainless on the lugs and tubes as well as fork crown and dropouts.  The polishing will be done by me after Tarn builds the frames.  After twenty years in the Navy I am enjoying my second career.  I just love beautiful engineering!!

  2. THe old mountain bike frame is getting a strip down in the background to be used as a shop runner with a kids bike sit on the back ……  get my young son on two wheels early …..   the Dodson in the foreground was the first race bike ….   retrieved from the back of the shed and about to get cleaned up after being under wraps for some 12 years…….   the USPS Trek frame is in hiding awaiting trial , whilst the Fui SST is my new love ….  per previous post, its got soul as its allowed the passion to live on after a neck injury left the “too large” USPS Trek destined to a mount on the wall…………

    n+1 = work in progress, but not soul less

  3. @936adl that is a sweet mf ride.  Much nicer that that guy Penn’s Rourke.  LOVE the orange.  A lot.

  4. So, it was bound to happen. All Campa cassettes and chains on all bikes wore out the same week. Which means that I just spent more on cassettes and chains than most reasonable people would spend on a bike.

    Campa cassettes are massively expensive, so as a cost-saving measure, I decided to put Centaur cassettes on all rain bikes, as the steel will last longer and they cost 1/V as much as the record blocks do. As Keeper of the Stables, the VMH was not consulted in this decision making process, and was merely informed (we operate our household according to a RACI chart, in line with my not having a controlling share on any significant decision-making panel outside of cycling gear).

    When I told her that “Evie” (her Bianchi EV4 which serves as her more than modest rain bike) had been given a Centaur cassette that afternoon, I was met first with icy silence and then with a reserved statement, “Did you at least tell her what was going on, so she isn’t worried?”

    Of course I had, but my Merckx, I love that woman.

  5. @frank ooof, just reading that first sentence my wallet starting edging away from me on the desk. That’s a solid credit card statement coming your way next month!

  6. @frank “Please donate to the Keepers Charity Fund. Some Keepers are unable to afford titanium frames and may have to settle for carbon fiber. If you have any Campa Record or Super Record cassettes you can give, please drop them off at the donation center. Anything you can give would be appreciated! But no SRAM, please.”

  7. @frank Campa cassette “cynosure”: find 13/26 bargain buys, remove 23-26 sprocket off the back (sell it or keep it), remove 13t (first position)(sell it or just keep it), place new or good conditioned 13t, 12t and 11t (first position) on the front. Assuming you have an 11t lock ring. Then you have your own 11/21! Or just ride 13/26… or both…

  8. @frank

    So, it was bound to happen. All Campa cassettes and chains on all bikes wore out the same week. Which means that I just spent more on cassettes and chains than most reasonable people would spend on a bike.

    Campa cassettes are massively expensive, so as a cost-saving measure, I decided to put Centaur cassettes on all rain bikes, as the steel will last longer and they cost 1/V as much as the record blocks do. As Keeper of the Stables, the VMH was not consulted in this decision making process, and was merely informed (we operate our household according to a RACI chart, in line with my not having a controlling share on any significant decision-making panel outside of cycling gear).

    When I told her that “Evie” (her Bianchi EV4 which serves as her more than modest rain bike) had been given a Centaur cassette that afternoon, I was met first with icy silence and then with a reserved statement, “Did you at least tell her what was going on, so she isn’t worried?”

    Of course I had, but my Merckx, I love that woman.

    that raci thing is new to me. Still trying to figure out if there is a way that it softens the ask for forgiveness rather than permission strategy. Gotta love management tools, until they cross the line- then nothing helps. I seem to recall being bludgeoned with one or two that lost their charm- perhaps why i can’t remember which  ones…

    And definitely a nice touch by the vmh, being sensitive to evie’s needs…

  9. I think the bike gives the rider soul, to give back to the bike as its soul, no matter where in life you are.

    My boys started on balance bikes and it freaks me out at how fast and confident they ride them, and willing to go faster and further. Smiles from the heart as they enjoy a ride down the park.

  10. This is my soul sister! Built ~1986-87 by Peter Brotherton from a tube set I scored from my LBS. Tange No.1 Pro, Cinelli lugs, Columbus drop outs. Love rebuilding it and riding it. A tad small, but feels oh-so-good.

    Learn’t a few things from Peter during the progress of the build. Mainly recovery tips. I think Allan used a few of his tips.

    Had a few falls with it. Has been painted red, then blue now orange and is in need of a new top tube. Suffered a fall from hook in garage and handle bars dented the TT.

    My old work horse all 11 kg’s of it! Columbus MAX It was built by Hillman Cycles and repainted by Paconi. I have a love/hate relationship with this one. My previous Paconi was stolen and I chose this one from the insurance pay out. Should’ve got the 853 next to it.

  11. @BarracudaMany thanks Barracuda, she’s getting there, just picked up the wheels yesterday so the build can get underway now.

  12. This is a superb thread. Many super hot bikes, lots of good stories.

    Frank – just curious, how do you define/determine when it’s time to swap chains/cassettes? I know there are many different methods & this is kind of a personal decision for most folks…

    I use Veloce chains on my two Campa-equipped road bikes, Record on the Tommasini. No issues or noise for me and I just wait for sales, then buy a bunch at once.

  13. I like the idea that a bike has soul that is passed to the rider, that is then passed back to the bike.  I’ve had bikes that I’ve loved, but no bike with real soul like my first road bike.

    Despite following pro cycling for years, it took a bad back injury to make me consider taking up the sport.  My gymnastic career was over, but the idea began to take hold after surgery and in physical therapy.  I was riding the therapy bike before I was walking, and before I knew it, I had purchased a bike that I had no guarantee I could ride.  I bought a Cervelo Soloist mostly because the engineer in me went a bit giddy over the aero frame.  It sat in my bedroom and was the last thing I saw at night, and the first thing I saw in the morning.  When I finally got to ride it a few months later, I knew I was in love.  Sure, it hurt like hell, but it felt awesome to be defying fate.  With continued therapy, the pain became manageable and I felt normal again.  And it was all because of the bike.

    I’ve had other bikes come and go since then, but I will never sell that Cervelo.  No other bike has had such a hold on me.  I still ride it, proudly even.  Some make disparaging remarks, but I hardly notice.  Yes, they are just tools for us to use, but I feel for the poor bastard that hasn’t made that kind of connection with their machine.  When the sad day comes to retire my glorious steed, you can bet it will be properly mounted on a plinth in tribute to obstinacy.

  14. I think a bikes soul takes time to grow.  I like the idea that you have to do at least as many km as dollars you paid for it and that the soul passes from rider to bike and back again

    It does not really have soul though, until it is moulded perfectly to you, the rider, and feels perfectly normal to you, but horribly alien to anyone else.  I’ve had my Bianchi Mono-Q for over a year now, and it’s growing more soul all the time.  I’m not rough on gear, so even though it gets ridden in all weather, it is still rather pristine to look at, except for the Celeste bar tape.   Conversely, I’ve got a cheap Electra Beach Cruiser that was born with soul.  Currently, I’m n=5, and it’s hard to tell which I love more, the Bianchi or the Electra.  The most recent acquisition, a Cervelo P3, is distinctly lacking in soul at present.  I’m working on that.  Not sure if it will ever have any though.  It’s too weird.  Maybe when it gets it’s proper aero wheels and I ride it on the road more.

  15. If a bike has a soul its only because we gave it one, I have a Fuji tourer which was all things to me for many years then I had a custom made steel Europa made and now my love has transferred to that. I really only ride the Europa in the dry and the the Fuji in the rain but now the passion has gone! The Fuji is one fat heifer and I hate to ride it, too heavy. Now I’m trying to scrape together more $’s to get the nice people at Europa cycles to make me another nice light bike that can accommodate mudguards.

    As far as a soul goes now my sexy red bike( the Europa ) now has the soul and the Fuji is a collection of parts only to be ridden when no alternative presents.

  16. So…. I am doing research into this very idea of Bicycle and Soul.

    The real research now is to find… the most FAMOUS unknown Bicycle.


    Rosebud… the mysterious utterance in Citizen Kane was the last word of a dying man, the secret to his sorrow and known only to him. We come to find it was the name of his childhood sled, ultimately thrown into a furnace with a casual disregard, the name Rosebud in flames burning into our memory the movie’s final scene.

    Herman Mankiewicz’ Oscar for Best Screenplay

    Citizen Kane seen by many as the greatest film ever made
    Rosebud: one of Film’s Great Dying lines
    Rosebud: one of Film’s Great Quotes
    Rosebud: one Cinema’s Great Secrets

    Seventy years later people still ask, What was Rosebud?

    Rosebud resonates with a truth all of us can understand, traveling through the innocent purity of childhood to finally face the fire and smoke of mortality and death. The final symbolic burning of Rosebud in the furnace of Kane’s castle represents the Kane himself, his final memories and innocence ending before our eyes.

    Of course everyone has an opinion, and Rosebud seems to have generated quite a few over the years.

    My first experience with Citizen Kane was watching it with my father on our black-and-white TV one night in the late 60″²s when I was 12. In his late fifties he had actually seen Kane on its 1941 first run, sharing that with me.

    He was a different man in the 40″²s living a wild and carefree life as a trumpet player in a Big Band. The man I knew cared not for wealth and fame but for the welfare of others and peace of a quiet family life. Rosebud became to me the symbol of my father, peaceful, centered and thoughtful. Things I wish for yet find elusive to this day.

    As the years passed I had viewed Citizen Kane as any other great film. However I was unaware of the truth of Rosebud’s origin. In one of my Psychology classes I remember a professor quoting Orson Welles, who explained the idea behind the word “Rosebud.”

    “It’s a gimmick, really, a rather tawdry device, a dollar-book Freudian gag.”

    Screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz

    Then in 1989 Gore Vidal, of whom I am a big fan, blew the lid off Rosebud forever with an outlandish claim! Rosebud was a nickname Randolph Hearst used for his mistress’ clitoris! According to Vidal the “real” Screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz had found out about this and threw it in as a joke.

    When I told my dad that story he laughed his head off. I had a new hero: Herman Mankiewicz.

    Rosebud being a clitoris was fine with me and I was happy to leave it at that. Until 2007 and I needed a cool name for a Bicycle Shop.

    A bicycle was one of the most prized possessions to a boy growing up in the sunny Santa Clara Valley in the 1960″²s. Before the “Silicon Valley” there was “The Valley of Heart’s Delight” and it was by bicycle that is was best explored: Stevens Creek Dam, Blackberry Farm, Saratoga Springs, Villa Montalvo, Mt. Eden, and other names a 10 year old boy would be proud to say he had traveled to via bicycle. To Charles Foster Kane, Rosebud may have been a sled; to me Rosebud was my bicycle. So grew the idea for the name of my bicycle shop: Citizen Chain.

    Citizen Chain
    The naming of a bicycle shop can be as daunting a task as the decision to open one. With a name that referenced memories of the happy times of both my youth and my father, I felt I was halfway there. I bought the Internet domain name and began on the second more difficult endeavor of opening an actual shop.

    It was late on a Sunday night in early September 2007. I was in my soon-to-be-opened shop working on the final t-shirt design when I heard a tap at the window. I opened the door to find Darryll, a friend and owner of the nearby Bike and Roll rental shop, just home from a New York City business trip. Two weeks earlier I shared with Darryll how Citizen Chain was a play on words, and how I viewed my bicycle as my Rosebud.

    “Rosebud is a Bicycle!” Darryll said as a matter of fact. No hello. No howdy-do.

    I protested figuring he had finally gotten my wordplay. “Yes it is my bicycle.” I said.

    Shaking his head, Darryll proceeded to tell me about his New York trip. About being at a talk by David Byrne “” yes that Davis Byrne “” where he shared the pain of the recent theft of his bicycle. It was here that Mr. Byrne shared a little known secret that Rosebud was in fact based on a stolen bicycle, owned by a young Herman Mankiewicz. My mind began to spin. No way.

    I began to type, searching Google. With Darryll looking over my shoulder my first Google search’s lead only to the basic sites, or my own new site. Then on my third entry I added the name of Mankiewicz and Wilkes-Barre to Rosebud and bicycle.

    There it was. One article originally published on May, 1, 1991 titled “Listen Up, Cinema Sleuths: Rosebud Was Really A Bike” by Joe Butkiewicz, a writer for the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader. His reference was MANK: The Wit, World and Life of Herman Mankiewicz the Richard Meryman biography about Mankiewicz.

    As the story goes, Rosebud was a bicycle given to Herman Mankiewicz for Christmas, just after his tenth birthday. Soon afterward, Herman’s bicycle, Rosebud, was stolen from the front of the public library as he studied. Blaming Herman’s irresponsibility for the loss, his parents refused to replace the bike. Rosebud was never returned, but Herman’s loss evolved into the immortal Rosebud of Citizen Kane.

    A 1907 Cleveland Bicycle, possibly the same or similar to Mankiewicz’ stolen bike

    The unfortunate loss of David Byrne’s bike led me to what? The little known fact that Rosebud was a bike is one thing. What else is there?

    The scene of the crime: The Osterhout Library, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

    I am determined to find the truth. Herman and Rosebud, what was it about this bike and its loss that drove a wedge between a father and son. What happened to Herman’s bike?

    I discussed the history of Rosebud with Herman’s son Frank Mankiewicz, during a telephone conversation in August of 2011. A charming man, I soon hope to interview in person, gave me the words I now view as my call to action.

    It is time Vidal’s story be put to rest and the truth be told. Rosebud was a bike. It was my Fathers Bike.

    -Frank Mankiewicz. August, 2011

    Rosebud was a bike… The truth needs to be told, and will be. I promise.

    Solving “The Greatest Bicycle Theft of All Time” may be a more difficult endeavor.

    Stay tuned.

    Dallas Adams

    [email protected]

  17. @Dallas Adams

    Engaging story.

    I’ve been deciding that my mtb has a soul, and it is the soul of a woman of undistinguished upbringing, superficial charm, and good technique in the sack. I can’t love her, but she deserves fundamental respect and a decent attention to her needs.

  18. I like the way, you know, when you stumble upon an old article.

    This made me think of Shinto-ism. The japanese religion where to put it simply all objects have a “Kami” or soul/spirit within them.

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