In search of the perfect bike

By Jonny Ives

With summer here, Cyclox Trustee Jonny Ives, tunes into the Tour de France and wonders whether in the race for perfection the latest light-weight racing machine might come second to a heavy shopper with a hinge in the middle.

The Tour de France may have begun as a promotional tool for a newspaper but it quickly became the shop window for bicycle manufacturers, each desperate to demonstrate that they were able to offer the perfect bike. Huge distances, impassable mountains and extraordinary endurance quickly became part of the legend of the Tour. Champions were pictured, the names of the bike companies on their jerseys, riding the bikes you could buy in your nearest town.

The tradition of cycle promotion continues today, with the Tour pros riding state-of-art machines that represent the pinnacle of engineering achievement. After a century and a half of bicycle development, this is surely where you will find the perfect bike: incredibly strong, amazingly light, and built for startling speeds up hill and down.

These are clearly the best bikes for the best road racers but there is still room for debate. Even in the professional peloton, riders and designers argue over aerodynamics versus weight, rim brakes versus disk, Campagnolo versus Shimano (or even SRAM).

However, ask an experienced long-distance cyclist – the cyclo-tourist or radonneur – and they will probably shake their head at the pros’ rigid, uncomfortable rides, their fragile wheel sets and a carrying capacity restricted to what you can fit in your pockets. Mountain bikers, couriers and delivery riders will already have walked away, getting on with their day aboard very different machines, each specifically designed to meet their particular needs.

For most of us, the perfect bike is a long way from the bikes you see on the Tour. We need our bikes for a zippy commute or a leisurely pedal. Our season’s goal might be to get up the hill or just get round the corner. We might need to carry a laptop or a week’s shopping, little more than a wallet or a much as a you can cram into a cargo bike. 

Our perfect bike might be something that has taken years to save up for or something we’ve found in a skip. It might be built for speed or may be just one ride away from the scrap yard.

Most of all, our perfect bike is likely to be one that works. It has air in the tyres, brakes that work and a saddle that will make the journey bearable.

My perfect bike has varied over the years. For a while it was a sleek racing machine, then a fixed-wheel track bike. Then it was an old postie’s bike with a great big basket to carry briefcases and shopping. Then it was a Bakfiets cargo bike to carry children and even more shopping.

At the moment, it’s a small-wheeled shopper bike that has an unwieldy hinge in the middle of the frame and a broken spoke in the back wheel. It’s too small for me and has no carrying capacity at all but it’s great for anything up to a mile and, no matter how flimsy the lock, I can be pretty confident that it will be there when I get back.

Most of all, every time I jump on and get its little fat tyres rolling, it makes me smile and that is perhaps the best definition of the perfect bike I am ever going to find.

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