Too Precious to Ride?

By Jan Heine, Editor
Published January 9, 2011

Source: Bicycle Quarterly

Riding Mt. Rainier

Riding Mt. Rainier

Some people wonder whether special bikes can be too precious to ride. They ask me about my bikes: “Aren’t you afraid that it will get scratched?” or “What if you crash it?” or “What if it gets stolen while you lock it up on the street?”

Those things do happen. I was bringing a mailing of Bicycle Quarterly to the post office, and arrived just seconds before closing. In a rush, I leaned my Urban Bike (below) against a concrete retaining wall. As I took the mailbags off the front rack, the bike scraped against the concrete, causing a big scratch in the seatstay. Ouch! On the way home, I was upset for while, but then my attention drifted to the lovely ride in the evening light and the vibrant autumn colors. I still need to touch up the scratch with paint. I have waxed the bike with car wax, like I do for all of my bikes, so no rust has formed in the two years since the bike got scratched. I got used to the scratch, and no longer notice it.

My new René Herse had been completed just before Paris-Brest-Paris last year. Sixty kilometers into the ride, another rider ran into my front wheel, wedged his seatpost-mounted rack underneath my handlebar bag, and we went down. As I was flying through the air, I was far more concerned about injuries to myself than about damage to my bike. All of us were lucky: The damage was limited to a few scrapes (on both the bikes and the riders). The next ride on the new Herse was a trip across the center of France in the rain and mud (below). I enjoyed riding the bike so much that even if I had known that those things would happen, I still would have taken the new Herse on these rides.

Both bikes are developing patina, and I actually prefer that over a shiny brand-new bike. I also find that high-quality products usually develop nicer patina than inexpensive ones. Plastics and powdercoats don’t age as well as aluminum, leather and paint…

What if it gets stolen? I have been lucky so far. But if it does happen, renter’s or homeowner’s insurance will cover your bike. There is a deductible, which means that your out-of-pocket expense is the same whether your bike costs $ 500 or $ 5000. Of course, replacing a custom-made bicycle is not as easy as going to a bike shop and getting a new one. After a theft, I might have to ride something else for a while. On the other hand, if I were overly protective of my nice bike, I’d be riding “something else” all the time!

Some truly rare classic bikes are more precious, and I take more precautions. There are different opinions, but I believe that even with irreplaceable classics, riding them keeps the intent of the builder alive. An unridden bike is like a painting kept in a safe: it no longer serves its purpose. I really appreciate when collectors let me ride their priceless machines, such as a twin-chain built by Vélocio, a Retro-Directe, the Schulz, and the only surviving René Herse from the Technical Trials. This generosity has enabled me to share first-hand experiences of these machines in the pages of Bicycle Quarterly.

I also felt that riding a 1946 René Herse tandem in Paris-Brest-Paris went a long way toward proving – to myself and others – that wide tires, 650B wheels and low-trail geometries were great alternatives to the then-current conventional wisdom of how to make a superb bike. It was great fun, and it brought wonderful memories to the older spectators, many of whom remembered these machines in their prime!

I recommend not worrying about your nice bike. Just go out and ride it! You don’t want to miss out on the fun!