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Why You Probably Need at Least Three Bikes (And a Strong Case for a Fourth)… Hear Me Out!

November 2021
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I was tinkering on my mountain bike over the weekend, a heavy behemoth of a hard tail 29er with a decent component spec. Hydraulic discs, decent Shimano group set, upgraded fork… there’s a lot to like about that bike – especially that my wife bought it for me as a Valentine’s Day present six year ago. It’s slow, though, next to its Specialized counterparts in the bike room (technically, that’s the spare bedroom, but “bike room” sounds really cool).

The shifting had gone all kittywampus on me last year and I wanted to figure it out. I don’t ride the bike often, but being responsible for the maintenance of eight bikes, I’ve gotten pretty good at it, and it was the Rockhopper’s time. It took two minutes to identify the issue. A big blob of dirt lodged in the barrel adjuster (not outside the barrel adjuster, in the barrel adjuster). I was expecting something much more… complex. I loosened the cable retaining bolt, cleaned the dirt out of the end cap and barrel adjuster, lubed everything, put it together and adjusted the shifting to perfect… and put it in the bike room. I have a tough time with the whole “speed” thing. I like to go fast so it’s hard to put that bike on the road when my gravel bike is easy to push 33% faster.

I’ve got two road bikes, a gravel bike and my mountain bike in the bike room for the time being. With my wife’s gravel bike, it gets a little crowded, but it’s that time of year when all of the bikes get used in a bit of a rotation. I rode the gravel bike Saturday. A fantastic (if cold) day for a ride. Sunday, I almost had the mountain bike out the door when it started spitting freezing rain. I rode the Trek rain bike on the trainer. Monday I was on Extra-Super-Duper-Hyper Secure Covid Lockdown (our COO tested positive, though we have no close contact, out of an abundance of caution, etc., etc.) so I rode the Trek on the trainer after going in to get tested (I feel fine, if a little stuffy from the weather change).

I picked my race road bike up from the shop that afternoon after getting tested, though I did wear a good KN-95 mask in the store, because I’m not an @$$hole. I also found out later that evening that the test was negatory.

Tuesday, my honorary Italian cycling brother from a Polish mother, Chuck(er), texted me while I was at work to see if I wanted to ride. I checked with my wife that I was clear and that’s when it hit me: ride the Rockhopper (mountain bike, for those not up on Specialized parlance).

Now, I knew Chuck would have his gravel bike and that I’d be at a severe disadvantage, but it looked like so much… fun. I texted him to see if he wanted to ride his mountain bike, too. He wasn’t as enthusiastic as I, but urged me to take it. He said he wanted a slow roll anyway.

I almost took the Diverge.

But I didn’t. And I had one of the more enjoyable night rides I’ve had. The shifting was butter-perfect. The beefy 29”x2.0” tires ate the dirt up… well, if the dirt hadn’t been packed down and absolutely perfect they’d have eaten it up. The tires were plush on the bumps, though. Way better than the paltry 30mm semi-slicks on the gravel bike.

I was smiling for most of the 22 miles even though it was just over freezing when we finished and I had to work quite a bit harder than I normally would. This is why I have a tough time giving up the speed of the road bikes when the weather is nice. When it turns cold, though, the additional speed just makes it colder. This is when the slow bikes shine. And my Rockhopper really put a smile on my face last night.

I posted a photo of all of my bikes in the bike room yesterday:

I’ve been thinking lately, if I had to live without one of my bikes, which would go?

Being blunt; I’m at S-1 but I’ve got the perfect stable. The saying applies more to bicycles than it does to those with a desire to stay married; variety is the spice of life.

If I had to, I could live without one of my bikes. Damned if I had to figure out which one, though.

And so it is, the case for three bikes, easy; road, mountain and gravel… with a fourth swing-road bike for rain days (also known as a “winter” bike in the UK).

As an aside, I could make the case for a fifth bike, while we’re at it; a tandem. While caution should always be taken when riding a tandem with one’s spouse, because without expert communication things get dicey in a hurry, our tandem was worth every penny. I love that riding that bike with my wife. Absolutely love it.


13 Comments

  1. idlecyclist says:

    So you have 4, tandem is 5, does your wife have 3 bikes to make up the 8?

  2. crustytuna says:

    I thought the number of bikes needed was always n+1!
    I’m at 4 as well, but on the “slow” side with a road bike, a dirt jumper, an enduro and a downhill. Put our collections together and you’d have the whole gamut.. But I’m pretty happy with the stable as it is too. There is probably a point where it can be too much, though I think a shorter travel xc bike and a gravel bike would be interesting to add…😜

  3. The Rockhopper really wants actual dirt, singletrack. Gravel is OK, but dirt is when a mountain bike is in its element, when it really is fast.

    Sold the last of my road bike paraphernalia this past week — my old aluminum Kreitler rollers and the Trek 2300 Comp frame I was holding onto. In a few months, when I get married again, I move to her condo. It has a one car garage and no “bike room”. Last weekend, I started working in her garage, added shelves and started clearing it out. With her bikes, I will only have room for my 9 Zero 7, Salsa, and the Univega hybrid (that will some day be my gravel bike). I don’t think I will be able to talk her into parking her car outside.

  4. kirkmtb says:

    Whatever you do, Jim, don’t get into classic bikes. I have N+1 fairly modern but 3 classics, 2 of which are nearly identical. The good thing about 5 bikes is that my wife probably wouldn’t notice a sixth.

    • bgddyjim says:

      🤣 That’s hilarious! I’ve been tempted to go for at least one steel frame, just to have one, but with modern components… and maybe even a carbon fork to save weight. Other than that, my Trek 5200 is classic enough!

      And because my wife rides, she would notice one more. Instantly. And it would be bad.

  5. Brent says:

    I realize that you left out the whole discussion of a fat bike because you’re busy paying for your daughter’s college tuition, otherwise I know you would have said that the right number of bikes is one more than you posted here (road, gravel, mountain fat and backup road).

    I salute you for concealing the wellspring of sorrow that stems from not having a fat bike with winter approaching, and managing to soldier on bravely without one.

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