In the fork in the road that sees an old and once-loved steed either consigned to the rubbish tip or given a breath of new life, Kath discovers that you can indeed teach an old bike new tricks.
I pulled my commuter out of the shed post-Christmas and discovered not only had the chain rusted, but it was looking rather zigzag. Awesome, I thought. Maybe I can finally justify hauling it to the tip and heading to the shop for a trendy looking singlespeed.
I pulled out a bottle of lube and tried to spin the pedals. The difference it made was negligible and I started thinking about what brand of gearless bike I would look for first, and whether or not coloured rims would encourage theft or vandalism when I parked the bike at a lamppost in favour of shopping, uni or going out for a meal.
A few days later, the need to commute had arrived and I’d still done nothing to reach a sustainable pedalling solution. I hopped on ol’ faithful and discovered that the excess lube had crept into the gaps and we pedalled along like old friends.
This is the problem. We’ve had so many adventures together, that even though this hardtail beast weighs more than most duallies, is harsher over bumpy pavement than my road bike with 140psi in the tyres, and all the oil in the suspension has long washed off the outside of the seals, I can’t bear to part with it.
Riding along through obstacle-laden backstreets feels like getting in touch with where mountain biking began for me. Remembering what riding was like before disc brakes were the norm, how much feedback you can really get through a chunky alloy frame, and just how worn a drive train can be before you need to replace it in the spirit of flawless shifting.
When I first got “the Goose” (as it is now affectionately known) I didn’t even know what a mountain bike was, let alone what it could do. The guys at my local shop simply told me I wasn’t a ‘roadie’ and this is what I needed. Learning to ride it was a matter of following a friend down the rough side of a local hill, in the dark, on the way home from a theatre rehearsal. I used a blinking red light as a guide to the unfolding trail in front of me, and discovered, fairly quickly, if I mimicked the body position of the rider ahead, chances were I wasn’t going to come a cropper.
The Goose and I honed our skills lapping our way through some enduros together. Sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. We were none the wiser about the difference reliable braking made to the little ligaments that hold your fingers together and gave every ride our all. We’d never heard of phrases like ‘power-to-weight ratio’ and the concept of lighter, faster, more comfortable riding was something that never crossed our minds – at least not until I started hanging around with a different crowd. My current race bike has more black aerospace-style parts than I can name but when the Goose and I first met, ‘carbon’ was only in my vocabulary for as long as I needed to pass the next chemistry test.
Cycling technology has come so far now that the latest riding trend appears to have moved past carboning everything, to ‘getting back to basics’ and riding pimped up bikes that don’t have any gears. Really, I have to ask, how basic is this trend? How many riders do you know who only have one of these ‘truly simplistic’ bikes, as opposed to a shed full of steeds for different days, different terrain?
The question that was momentarily silenced when neglect had seized my chain, was: if I settled my mind on an urban, one speed, glamour bike — purely for commuting purposes and as an alternative to fixing the worn drive train piece by piece — would it be as good? I’m sure the ride quality would be nice, and it would look seductively chic in traffic, but if I bought something at a price that wouldn’t make me cry the day the bike gets stolen, would it really hold together as well during rough, all weather, chain-rusting commutes in the time between then and now?
I’ve discovered that this attachment to my early bike is in no way unusual . If you know where to look, you’ll discover there are many others who have turned an early off-road love affair into an inner city weapon. Add some panniers, lights and a sticker or two and only the discerning eye will ever know, ten or so years on, that this bike was a real head turner in its day.
Despite the obvious attraction of new bling rides, there is a similar enthusiasm in some that fuels the choice of wheels tested on singletrack over shiny new pavement-grade rims. Perhaps the trusted old steed is a better ingredient for stylish, simple riding and inner city stealth.