To call cycling a sport is insulting to cycling; it quickly becomes a lifestyle. Cycling has giving me so much in my life from health, to a career, friends, and fond memories. The connection between ones self and their bicycle is an important bond that is hard to put into words. Bikes take you places; they help you accomplish great feats of athleticism that you may not have thought possible. They allow you to see parts of the wilderness impossible to get to by other means. They're truly unique.
With all that being said, getting a bike you love is all about getting the right bike for the job. You are not going to fall in love with biking if you try to take a 1970’s Schwinn road bike out to a rocky mountain bike trail. The "job" is also not necessarily the task at hand because that would not explain people doing hundred mile mountain bike races like the Shenandoah 100 on fixed gear, 26” wheeled, ridged mountain bikes. The job is getting the bike that allows you to have the experience you want, to perform to your expectations. People choose the bike that makes the trip or ride memorable for them, that inspires them, and for some that is getting the ideal bike that allows them to go as fast as possible, and for others it is saying I did that on a track bike with no brakes, and could barely walk the next day.
Getting the right bike is important, but with so many options how does one even start? Well it is not an easy task, and the sooner you accept that having one bike is most likely not going to be an option the better! "Do it all" bikes are pretty rare unless you only ride the exact same terrain at the same speed.
Getting the right bike guides area all over the place so I am going to go a little more unorthodox. Everyone can figure out what type of riding they are trying to do and blah blah… the normal talk you get from every website, magazine or shop. But this, this is a special guide just for you.
Buy bikes based on fun! What I want to help everyone do is not just purchase his or her next bike, but GO FIND YOUR NEXT “FAVORITE” BIKE. What is a favorite bike? Well here are some friends describing their favorite bikes they have ever had:
Why is this bike your favorite bike?
- It is the Ultimate trail weapon
- Gives me confidence to ride faster on trails I know, and ride without hesitation on technical trails
- Little to no maintenance and it goes over anything
- That bike just loves my local trails
- It was the first bike I built up from a frame. It is the bike I really learned to love mountain biking
- Once it reaches terminal velocity you can't stop it, you can only hope to contain it!
- I rode twice across the US on it. It has been with me for 30 years and I still ride it to work
- My first race bike. It was aluminum, ridged and took me on some great adventures
- It is black and hot pink
- Smoothest best handling bike I have ever ridden
- It was an absolute rocket, fit me like a glove
- Bombs down hills, comfy, rolls anything
- Totally different than anything I have ever ridden
- It had mag wheels
- Most versatile fun bike I have ever owned
- It handles anything I can throw at it
These descriptions explain a special connection a rider had with their bike, and most are about how they feel on the bike. That is just something you can’t measure until you are just that…on the bike. I asked one of the engineers at Salsa Cycles what the most important elements to sum up how a bike rides and what should people look for when they are going to start looking to buy a bike? This was part of his response:
“These bikes are dynamic vehicles ridden over constantly changing terrain at speed. The only way to understand them is to experience them in that setting. Even the best designers use experience and feel (by riding a lot of bikes!) to reverse engineer the numbers and graphs and charts that help them understand one design versus the next.” – Pete Koski, Salsa Cycles
I fell in love with my favorite bike of all time like this: It was a warm spring afternoon, and I was hanging out with the guys from Salsa, and they handed me a Horsethief. We rode for many hours in the Shenandoah mountains outside Harrisonburg, it was awesome. But, this is not where my favorite bike was born; no, that would be too simple. It took me a couple of months to figure out this beauty was destined to be my favorite bike. I was on a ride at my local trail system, and I couldn’t help wanting to go faster and faster because it was just more fun, descending was more fun, going fast didn’t even hurt, it just made the ride more enjoyable. Then I crashed on my new bike, and that is when I decided it was perfect. I got up from my fall, scratched and bruised, hopped on that bike and carried on ripping and shredding just as much gnar as before the crash. That moment is when I fell in love with the Salsa Horsethief. That bike was too much fun to let a crash effect it. The crash hurt, but I couldn't wait to get back on that bike and keep riding just as fast before, confidence unshaken.
What's my point?
The point is that people fall in love with bikes for so many reasons, but that reason is never the spec: what bar, stem or drivetrain are on it.
Take my mom for example: she recently got a new bike for Christmas. She got the new Trek Top Fuel. It wasn't her first full suspension 29er, in fact she had a Salsa Spearfish before that is arguably identical in spec to the Top Fuel. Then she told me about the first time she rode it on the trail, and she said, “Pat, I made it over my log.” Now, my mom has had multiple knee surgeries recently, and has not been quite as confident on the mountain bike trails ever since. There is a log on the local trails that is known among her friends as “Katie’s log”. The reason we call it that is because this log used to symbolize how well she was riding that day. She hadn’t made it over that log in more than a year because of her knee. Then she went out on her first ride aboard the new bike, and made it over the log. This bike on paper is almost identical to the Salsa Spearfish, but she didn’t make it over on her Spearfish. The last bike she made it over on was her 26” Fuel EX, which carries exactly zero similarities to her new 29’er fuel; however, for whatever reason, she made it, and now it's her favorite bike. There is nothing a spec sheet can tell me that explains this; it's just about that special connection one has to a bike.
So, buy bikes based on how they ride. Buy bikes based on the complete package, because that is really what makes the bike. Don’t buy a bike because it is a better “value” based on the parts it comes with. Buy a bike because when you ride it you can't help but enjoy it, and get out of it exactly what you're looking for. Buy a bike because as soon as your ride is over, you want to start planning the next time you ride it. Buy a bike that inspires you and helps take you where you want to go. Maybe that's down a rocky chute on a mountain, or over 5 huge climbs, or meandering through a loamy forest with friends. Don’t pick a bike like you pick an appliance; pick a bike based on how badly you can't wait to get back on it and ride.