How Many Bikes Do I Need?

Posted on October 30, 2012

Source: Off The Beaten Track

I ride my bike for enjoyment, fitness, travel and transportation. Bicycles fill more than 90% of my transportation needs (with trains, airplanes, rental trucks and cars making up the other 10%).* For all these needs, I only require two or three bicycles.

The bike I ride most often is my Urban Bike (above). It combines good performance with excellent load-hauling capabilities. I use the Urban Bike for my daily errands in town: pick up mail, deliver books and magazines, ride with my children, buy groceries or supplies for machine shop projects… The wide 650B tires make it safe to cross railroad tracks, and I don’t need to worry too much about potholes. The performance frame responds well to my pedaling inputs. The smallish gears allow me to climb any hill. And the big rack can haul most loads.

When a load is too big for the front rack, I add my Jack Taylor-built (but Goéland-designed) trailer to the Urban Bike. The handling suffers a bit – the trailer is like the proverbial tail wagging the dog – but I only use the trailer about once a month. It’s a small price to pay for the performance advantage of my Urban Bike over a cargo bike.

For spirited rides with friends and for long-distance events, I ride my Randonneur Bike. It uses the same 650B wheels, the same generator-powered lights, and a similar geometry as the Urban Bike. The main difference between the two bikes lies in the frame tubing. The Randonneur’s tubes have ultra-thin walls, resulting in a more flexible frame that performs better for me. The Urban Bike has somewhat stouter tubing so it can haul a trailer.

The Randonneur is a joy to ride when I don’t carry much. On the flats and uphills, it is as fast as a good racing bike. On the downhills, it handles and corners better than any racing bike I have ridden, thanks to the extra rubber on the road. It is equally at home on smooth pavement and on washboard gravel roads. It can be ridden over any distance, in any weather, even at night. It even can be equipped with small panniers on the front for a weekend tour.

These two bikes are all I need. If I raced, I’d obviously need a bike (or several) designed to the rules of the events I want to enter: road-racing, track and/or cyclocross.

Even though my current needs are met with two wonderful bikes, I am dreaming of a third bike:

For long camping trips, I want a Camping Bike (above). Carrying a full camping load on the platform rack of my Urban Bike or in its trailer is not optimal, and for me, this would detract from the enjoyment of the trip. My Camping Bike would differ from the Urban Bike mostly in its racks. In fact, I could add a few braze-ons to the Urban Bike’s frame, make new racks, and I would be ready to go on a camping trip. But aren’t we always looking for an excuse to get another bike?

Before I forget, I should mention the tandem. I don’t need it, but I enjoy riding it with my family.

You may have noticed that all these bikes use the same tires: Grand Bois Hetre 650B x 42 mm. For the Urban Bike, it’s an obvious choice: I need wide tires for safety in the city, and the low pressure of the wide tires also decreases the puncture risk. (I have had one flat in more than 3 years of urban riding.) For the Randonneur, the wide tires result in the same rolling resistance on smooth roads as narrower tires, but much increased speed on rougher surfaces. For the camping bike and the tandem, wide tires are an obvious choice, especially if you want to go on gravel roads.

To mainstream cyclists, all these bikes probably look the very similar: Wide tires, drop handlebars, fenders and lights. It’s difficult to see the difference in the frame and the racks. The frame determines the feel of the bike, and the racks allow these bikes to handle different loads.

Even though my bikes are very different, they all have a similar feel and personality. The Urban Bike loaded with 35 pounds on the front rack responds to my pedaling similar to the Randonneur during a spirited ride with friends. The tandem carves into corners with the same abandon as the other two. I know what I like in a bike, and my goal is to obtain that on all my rides, no matter their distance and purpose.

Everyone else in my family has one bike apiece, partially due to how we prioritize space and money, but also because none of them want (or need) more than one. The one bike in our family that could use significant improvement is my wife’s. For that one, we’ll probably figure out something close to the Urban Bike approach for her commuting, along with features that make it more readily adaptable to loaded touring. We’ll keep you posted.

* Calculated on a per-hour basis. On a per-mile basis, bicycles account only for half, and about 1/3 of my travel is on airplanes, because the distances I fly are so large.