I have so many bicycles I hardly ever will, and won’t here, admit exactly how many I have. I’ll tell you this: It’s too many.
I’m aware that a lot of cyclists will say there is no such thing as too many bikes—the popular formula for the right amount to own is n+1, where n equals how many you own now. I’m also aware of all the cyclists who can only dream of owning whatever number of bikes might feel like too many—there are a lot of you out there who are doing all you can manage to own even one. Some cyclists pursue the various splinters of the sport so avidly they need a remuda—the road bike, the cross bike, the downhill bike, the all-mountain bike, the track bike, et cetera, and some are so serious about their goals that they want bikes equally committed to their ambitions, so they legitimately end up with a crit bike, a TT bike, two cross bikes, and on and on. There are the connoisseurs, who, like oenophiles, want to be able at their whim to sample steel, aluminum, carbon, scandium, and various vintages and appellations of such. And, of course, there are the collectors—the fetishists.
I’m not any of those, though. I never dreamed about owning a bunch of bikes for any reason, and I’m not really good enough to ever feel that what’s holding me back in any of my pursuits is some special machine. I just sort of…kept buying bikes. I had the money to procure them, and the space to keep them, and the time to keep them all running (and to ride them), and, what’s most important: Doing all that stuff was fun.
Lately, for the same kind of mysterious reasons that made it so much fun for so long, I have begun to feel not exactly bad about how many bikes I own, but something more like disturbed by it—or, I don’t know, impure, or as if I’m trying to make up for something, or have gone the wrong way.
My riding friend, friend, and mechanic, Taylor, and I have been talking about this—if it’s really possible to own too many bikes. He has been feeling the same way, and for some of the same sort of vague but powerful reasons, plus, I guess, a few of his own. We have come up with this idea that we can each get ourselves down to three bikes, which seems like a practical compromise between the dream of simplicity and the fact of reality, a worthy ambition, a workable plan—right up until we walk over and actually look at our bikes, or start trying to figure out which specifically we’d cull, listing them by name and experiences we’ve had on them. I can’t commit.
Maybe that’s what this is about, why I’m writing this—half thinking this declaration, as tepid as it is, will commit me, and half hoping I will realize as I write that I’m crazy and have forgotten how lucky I am and I’ll just drop the whole thing.
My first job out of college, I made eleven-five a year, and I lived in a series of shitholes, including at one point a pay-by-the-week motel inhabited mostly by truckstop hookers (who, to their credit, for some reason once they found out I wasn’t a patron liked to give me used paperbacks; they read a lot of Stephen King). I’d had to sell my only bike, a Paramount with a mix of Campagnolo, to make it through the end of school. I finally saved up enough for another bike, then resold it and got another, a Klein Quantum tri-fade, and I got broken up with at about the same time and for good measure went out and jumped off a roof and broke my leg and lived alone in a horrible apartment set right on the sidewalk, with a ramshackle door that would never hold so I kept waiting to get robbed or killed in my sleep, and I had a good drinking friend who was about the same kind of mess I was, and he would crash the door open even if it was locked, and find me many nights just sitting alone. “Let’s go,” he’d say. “What the hell are you doing?”
And I would say, “Looking at my bike,” and I was. That’s all I was doing. I had one bike, and I would sit in at night and look at it.
I remember. I was crazy. I was lucky. I remember it all.
Originally published in The Selection, August 30, 2013