Foreword: Anyone who rides bike knows that Rule #12 = The correct number of bikes to own is n+1. For many this means having a bike and coveting another up until the point that they get that +1. Rich though takes the pursuit of the +1 to relentless new levels in the quest for the ultimate +1. But of course, if you know Rich, that ultimate +1 does not really ever come, so the pursuit marches on…. Enjoy Pt. 1 of Rich’s +1 quest. g
There it was, right in front of me. ‘The List’.
Something has to be said… I’d just finished building my new Cervélo R3. It was August 2013. ‘The List’ showed me that this was bike number thirty, and in almost exactly ten years.
But how had I arrived here? Why had I bought and, in most cases, built myself the bikes that brought me to this number – and in such a (relatively) short space of time?
Coincidentally, the split across the years is almost exactly 50/50 – five years MTB, five years road. Ok so some trickled into the other – I’ve had MTBs up until as recently as last year, and I’d gladly buy one again tomorrow if I could. I guess MTBs are ‘my roots’ whereas road is where I find my head and heart are happiest. The bike type count is almost 50/50 too – twelve MTBs, eighteen road bikes. Ok so that’s closer to two-thirds and one-third, but that’s just semantics. Sure there were some before, and of both denominations, but there was a distinct gap pre- and post-millenium (I was too busy drinking to ride whilst I was at uni).
Given the split, it seems wise to do the same with the story…
Part I: The Mountain Bikes
It all started with a Scott Expert Racing – an anodised blue aluminium race-oriented machine with Deore LX, v-brakes and RockShox Judy forks. And when I say “it all started” I really do mean exactly that. The upgrades came thick and fast. The bike began to look better and better. I was sucked in, sold, smitten. It was exciting, but I already wanted a new challenge. Some research, membership of a new-fangled internet forum thingy called ‘Singletrackworld.com’ and a dive into the lesser known world of mountain biking brought me to singlespeeding. This I had to try.
Cue the Surly 1×1. Black Bessy, as I nicknamed it. Ma-hooo-ssive 2.5” Tioga downhill tyres which left next-to-no clearance on the RockShox Reba forks at the front but still had bags of room in the ‘Fatties Fit Fine’ stays at the back, horizontal slot dropouts and pain-in-the-arse slotted disc mounts, and SUCH a hoot to ride. I loved it. Not only that though, I got hooked on the aesthetics of the singlespeed drive train. Regardless of fitness, it was now all I was interested in. Full suspension would be nice though, wouldn’t it?…
The Kona A enters stage right. Nary a more niche MTB existed at the time (unless you were mad enough to run a fixed gear rigid singlespeed). Nary a better looking one either. Spanking *gorgeous* this thing was! And the bling continued: Middleburn Uno chainset, US import saddle and, eventually, upside-down Maverick SC32 suspension forks. Weirdly bent On-One Mary bars make the bike even more unique. I was the king of my quirky singlespeed castle. The suspension meant I could ride harder for longer, which meant I got fitter, which then meant I wanted something faster, which meant going lighter, which meant a return to a hardtail – only this time I wanted to build something as British as I could make it.
Dialled Bikes Love/Hate trumps Kona A. British designed, Middle East built steel. I go as far from the Kona A as I can and build the bike rigid with On-One carbon forks. Those Tioga DH tyres will be enough, won’t they? Apparently not. The Maverick forks work their way onto the bike and the ‘UK thing’ goes out of the window (although the Avid brakes had already imparted the first blow). For the first time I realise how good it looks to match your stem to your seatpost, and in a flash my ‘collars and cuffs’ obsession is born. But now my fitness is wavering again (I think I met a girl, or work got busy or something), and I need gears – only I don’t want to lose that singlespeed aesthetic. Rohloff is the answer, and it works like a dream. Except this frame wasn’t built for it, and I really should run something purpose-built, shouldn’t I?
The small Welsh company called Pipedream happened to have a [ride-21-03-07-002.jpg] Nevis Ti with an eccentric BB going begging which happened to be built for Rohloff. That’ll do. The bling continued in the shape of a pair of White Industries Eno cranks in highly polished silver which accompanied my home from a trip to NYC. The frame wasn’t to last though as a weld gave way under the strain of the Rohloff shift, and the repaired frame cracked before it was even returned to me. I wanted something that was up to the task after this little episode. Something properly strong.
Nicolai Argon FR anyone? Waaaaaay too much bike for me, but holy crap was it good fun! The Fox Vanilla forks on this one worked like an absolute dream. By now I was running my first set of Thomson finishing kit, and was even swapping out my brake levers for fancy aftermarket jobs. The WI Eno cranks were still serving me well, although the carbon USE bottle cage did look a little out of place! But this thing was HEAVY. By now I could afford a second bike.
When this Yeti 575 was finished it was an absolute corker. Silver Thomson this time, and with an XT groupset and delicious Race Face cranks. This time the Fox forks were of the ‘Float’ air variety, and despite being full suspension and 5.5” travel at both ends, it was still a fair bit lighter than the Nicolai. Lighter, more nimble and faster. And every bit as good looking. I still wanted something like the Nicolai, but this Yeti was getting all of the use. I needed a lighter hardtail, and the Shimano Alfine hub was becoming available.
And onto the Santa Cruz Chameleon that Alfine went. By now I was well and truly getting stuck into building a bike to look right – even to the point of having a set of RockShox Pike fork legs powder-coated to match my new frame. A white saddle and bars tied in nicely, whilst the brown grips added a touch of interest. The Alfine setup gave me all the quirk and interest I needed to maintain the look that the Nicolai had offered. In reality the Chameleon was every bit as good as the Nicolai had been, despite being a third of the price. Only now it was the Yeti that wan’t being used, and it wasn’t long before the parts from the Yeti found their way onto the Chameleon. I had come full-circle, and was back on a ‘normal’ MTB again.
The rest of my MTBs were fleeting relationships. Firstly, a Trek 69er that ended up being a string of cock-ups which annoyed me so much I sent it back.
Then a stunning Scapin Bandit that I had resprayed and built to incredible spec, only to have to sell it after breaking a set of road bike wheels (allegiances clearly already slipping). After that came an über-bling (and slightly too small) Ellsworth Truth built to race enduros, only to to knacker my shoulder and be told to stop riding for a while. Finally a Cotic Soda which was a desperate swap for an unwanted road bike, only to be ridden once and sold off.
As already mentioned, I would buy another MTB again tomorrow if I could justify it. I wouldn’t get to ride it much – partly due to time, partly because I enjoy the road so much, but it’d be nice to have one. Despite the lack of clarity over the real benefit of 650B, that is probably the way I’d go; it just makes sense to me as a 26” Vs 29er compromise, besides which I remember when it was a quirk, rather than a fad. I’d like to think I could handle a rigid singlespeed, but in truth I’ve lost any skill I might have had that would enable it to be a valid option.
Are my MTB days behind me? Probably. Possibly. I still miss that Nicolai though…