For some time now, I have been trying to make my cycling more "pure" and less adulterated by the constant pressure to buy the latest-greatest-lightest-biggest-bling-for-the-buck. Admittedly, I have utterly failed over the past 2 years, as I went from a Trek to a Specialized to a Litespeed. I even tried mountain/off-road cycling (which I really enjoy), but that too had its issues at complicating what otherwise should be a simple pleasure.
The first whiff of epiphany came to me while attending my LCI course in August of '05, where I had thought everyone would be riding some sort of racing machine.
Observation # 1: Those bikes are called "racing" bikes for a reason; they are meant to race; to go fast. Their secondary concern (or even tertiary concern) is comfort and enjoyment of the rider.
A guy at my LCI session was riding this amazingly beautiful steel machine, with exquisite lugs, a Brooks leather saddle, and a sweet canvas-type saddle bag. The bike didn't look fast, but it looked smooth and regal, mature and refined. That, I thought, is a bike. I was riding a machine; he was riding a piece of art. My bike was otherwise replaceable and expendible; his bike was to be cared for like a faithful companion.
Since then, I have been struggling with defining why I ride. I have tried not to allow my cycling to be an ego supplement, and I have tried to avoid riding with others who see their bikes as mere toys, like the next-best golf club. The bike is to be respected, treated with respect, shown respect, and the roads to be treated as the canvas, with the bike being the pallette.
With this mindset, however, I found myself very alone, isolated, as if everyone else "got it" and I was off on some crusade, the fool wandering the desert looking for nirvana and enlightenment. I didn't want to be wrong, but I also don't want to be the fool wandering alone.
I was fortunate enough to come across the Rivendell Bicycle Works website, where I found someone else's prophetic words, which reinspired me and confirmed for me, not so much that "they" are "wrong, but rather, that I have been fortunate enough to be riding on a "higher path".
"WE'RE A TEN-YEAR-OLD MANUFACTURER AND MAIL-ORDER BIKE SHOP for bike riders who prefer traditional, classical bicycles and parts and accessories to today's ever-changing high-tech fare. If that sounds remotely like you, you're sure to like our catalogue and quarterly newsletter, the Rivendell Reader. Sometimes people hear "classical" or "traditional" in the context of bicycles, and think turn-of-the-century highwheelers or '50s ballooners, or English three-speeds, or restoring vintage racing bicycles. Those are good pursuits, but they're not our deal. We just like to ride bikes, and are more influenced by the pure, practical, and beautiful design ethics of the '70s to late'80s."
"Then, the cycling powers in Japan and Europe were mature, and hadn't yet been corrupted by power, and were not yet influenced by the need to radically change technology every couple of years in order to increase sales in a flat market. There was variety and healthy competition, and the best of the new designs were refinements of already excellent ones. We took it for granted at the time, but have come to appreciate it now."
"We offer gear for cyclists who can't relate to the aggressive, thrill-seeking and/or body-shaping approach that passes as normal today. Our bikes are designed and built to withstand a lifetime of long, hard, fast riding and racing, if that's what you're up to, but we don't go out of our way to appeal to the rambunctious, speed-before-all crowd. It isn't us versus them, or retro versus techno, or old versus new. It isn't niche marketing in the tactical sense, either. It's the same gear we prefer and ride, every day. It is not a "market-driven" approach, which is one reason we're so small."
"As you look through our catalogue, and through this web site, you'll see a common theme. It is simple gear, because bikes aren't improved by complication, and simple parts allow for more rider input. It is practical gear, in the sense that it fulfills a fundamental cycling (not just psychological) need. And it is proven - much of what we offer was born before we were, and even new items borrow heavily from materials and designs from the past. On the other hand, when something new comes along that really is better, we're open to it."
"We believe the best bicycles are simple to operate, simple to fix, and simple to understand. They aren't black box point-and pedal bikes. Those kinds of bikes are important, and get a lot of people into this sport, and for some people, they're the best choice. But just as a point-and shoot camera leapfrogs the full photography experience on the way to getting you the snapshot, we believe part of the fun of riding a bike is interacting with it. That's why we like bikes that allow human input - manual bicycles. Compared to the point-and-pedals, they're at least as fun to ride, easier to service, less likely to need service, and more satisfying to use. For anybody."
"Also in here, you'll find leather saddles, wool clothing, waxed cotton saddlebags and panniers, standard pedals clips and straps, assorted curved handlebars, chains and freewheels, forged aluminum cranks, sidepull and cantilever brakes, friction shifters, and cotton handlebar tape. As technology goes, we don't consider it outdated, but refined, and in some cases, perfected. We have all you need to build and equip your bike, but there's no gratuitous high-tech, and our selection is narrow. Every item earned its spot by being the best, the best value, or the last of its kind available. And, if we sell it, we also use it, know its quirks, believe in it completely, and can tell you anything you want or need to know about it. Ask away!"
"We are able to survive-if-not-thrive because we don't depend on local business. The web helps a lot. Word of mouth helps as much. We do right by our customers, and they seem quite loyal; and we're always trying to find new ways to reach cyclists who like traditional gear and a non-race-oriented approach."