Today I saw the first pics from the 2011 National Handbuilt Bicycle Show and the lovingly crafted bike and accessories, all finished in immaculate paint and detail that builders have made to show off their skills.
And it left me cold.
Those of you with long memories will remember that Solitude Cycles was a no-frills (mostly!) business I ran with focus on fit and function. Yes I built a bike with polished stainless lugs because the Frame Builder Mafia would have taken me out otherwise (and Matt wanted it!) Yes there was the odd fancy paint job and nice touches but at the end of the day the frames were more like a nicely refurbished 90series Landy than a Porche Cayenne from pimp-my-ride.
This ties in with my love for the Surly CrossCheck which seems to do pretty much everything I have asked of it although the high-rise stem may have to go back on as the 15deg Thomson could be a little low....I need more miles to check! It is a versatile frame made in a wide range of sizes and even a choice of colours for not too much money. Sure a Rivendell would be nice, or maybe a custom IF or Seven but for the extra cash you would want a real improvement in function and then you would be scared to lock it up incase it a) got stolen or b) scratched.
The last post from Joe about his lost Surly LHT also brought this in to sharp focus: What would happen if your bike was stolen / lost / written off in a freak accident with a Buffalo? For an off the peg frame a quick call to your LBS or 10mins on line should have a new frame and fork on its way. Parts would be easy to pick up in this cross-boarder bike parts purchasing world we now live in. I would wager that with in a couple of weeks and for not that much £ / $ you would have a replacement bike, probably with a few tweeks to make it better from the previous one. A custom frame builder can take 2 weeks to reply to an initial email....
The bike is a tool for enabling travel and adventure. Yes it needs to be suitably fitted and correctly specced (stem length and rise, not brand!) but any bike will do. Fancy paint, beautiful integrated racks, gem stones (yes YOU Sheldon!) don't mean much when you are actually riding it.
I realise that this will come off as arogant and that I am having a dig at the builders and customers of these works of art. I'm not, I just prefer to focus on the practicalities of the machine first and then save some money and heart ache along the way.
Nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect.