Bombing down a mountain on a totally inappropriate bike taught me this

It was a long and uninteresting series of events that led me to ride my daughter’s Breezer Downtown EX down the side of a mountain, but here’s the important part: It was fun.

An outing during a family camping trip that went a little bit differently than expected found us at the head of a fantastically fun single-track through the Selkirks of southeastern British Columbia, me on a beautiful full-suspension mountain bike, she on her beloved yellow urban ride, complete with basket and blinking lights.

Don’t try this at home. Maybe. Photo by Nadia Honnet.

I convinced her to trade bikes with me, partly because I thought putting her on a proper mountain bike would be the safe thing to do on a mountain-bike trail (I didn’t neglect my fatherly responsibilities completely). But partly because I relished the thought of crushing a mountain bike trail on a teenager’s city bike.

Hence, I found myself cresting tabletops and rounding berms at full-speed, fenders bumping along and V-brakes squealing under the strain. I feel like I should tell you that this is unadvisable, and you should not do it.

But in the midst of this ride (which, not coincidentally, was a heap of fun, especially seeing the looks on the faces of other trail riders on $6,000 carbon-framed full-suspension downhill rigs who did double-takes on my basket), one thought kept popping into my head: Do you really need a mountain bike for this?

Of course, a proper mountain bike is the right thing to use, for safety and enjoyment. But the experience got me thinking that perhaps we North Americans have let our gearhead tendencies get the best of us. Cyclists, in particular, seem to obsess over having the “proper” bike for whatever kind of ride they are doing: A road bike for a country road, a mountain bike for a trail, a city bike for a city ride. It’s getting to rather absurd lengths when it’s now possible to buy a bike specially built for gravel rides.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a sucker to the n+1 philosophy of bike ownership as much as the next bike nerd (a formula stipulating the ideal number of bikes you should own, in which n is the number you currently own).  But riding a totally inappropriate machine down a trail and having a blast doing it reminded me that maybe we don’t need a different bike for every ride. Maybe sometimes having a bike that’s good enough is, well, good enough. Maybe we should stop subtly shaming people who show up for a group road ride without a proper road bike, or who ride a hard-tail on a rocky trail. Maybe, ultimately, the ride is more important than the machine we ride on.

But then again, maybe I’m not thinking clearly because my brain got rattled on that mountain bike trail. Man, front suspension would have been nice.


Also published on Medium.

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10 Comments

  1. Wayne

    One bike for (almost) everything: mid-1980s, 4130 Chromo mtn bike off Kijiji for $100 (plus extra $$ for comfort and handling — new 2.25″ tires, Ergon grips, higher stem, Brooks saddle or equivalent, rustproofing in frame, etc). All up, probably no more than $800 for a first class upgrade that will last another 30 years. To bombproof it, I also added Ryde Andra 30 rims (CSS rear, normal front) and kept the more-than-adequate cantilever brakes. City bike, long range tourer over anything, mountain bike, cruiser, survivalist transport — a do-it-all vehicle. The only thing it can’t do is fold which is why I picked up a 2010 Dahon Speed D7 off Kijiji for cheap and upgraded it. 🙂

    Done!

    • Sounds perfect. If you send me a photo of the bike, I’d love to post it! babin.tom@gmail.com

      • Wayne

        My bike is camera shy but this link should give readers some ideas: http://urbanadventureleague.blogspot.ca/2012/10/yet-another-new-bike-1984-raleigh.html . The big thing with the mid-80s mtn bikes is the rear hub spacing: you’re looking at 130mm instead of the now-standard 135mm. The solution is simple (when putting in new wheels, hubs and cassette) — use a 130mm roadie standard hub like the Shimano Ultegra 11 speed. Runs like a charm. It comes with a spacer that will let you slip on an 8-speed cassette like the Shimano HG/41 11-30T in place of the old 6-cog. With a new bottom bracket and crankset (Rivendell is a good source for the latter), it’s smooth riding. As an oldster, I added a higher Nitto stem up front as well as a Surly sweptback handlebar. Of course, you can ride it as bought for townie use. Much cheaper and still rolls along.

  2. Long ago, Italian villagers rode either up or downhill to the market on speedless bicycles with back-pedal brakes. When the hill was too high going up or two steep going down, they got off and walked.

  3. “The best camera is the one you have with you.”
    Perhaps this is true for bikes?

  4. Brendan

    Great read as always Tom, and a subject I have spent some time thinking about as my own gearhead tendencies run up against my lack of enthusiasm to buy a 6000$ bike for everyone in my family, as I seem to be able to justify for myself. Your basic premise is spot-on (fun can be had on anything), but for the regular bike abuser it needs to be modified with some consideration of durability. I think the sweet spot for a new (likely mass-produced, aluminum) bike that will last a good while, put up with off-road abuse, and have a reliable drivetrain and wheels (latter two will always fail on a cheap bike prior to the frame) is about 500$ to 1k. Add 400-500$ for a decent suspension product on either end and you have a 1k to 2k investment. Anything north of that and the cost/durability/performance triad is skewed towards mere incremental gains in the latter two variables for a significant outlay of cash. That said… I will never own a Ferrari, but for 6k, I can own a Ferrari of a bike! By the way – you rocked the cruiser well… and it won’t be long until baskets are enduro de rigueur.

    • These are all great points. Perhaps we need to start searching for the ultimate all-around bike. The world needs that!

  5. As I understand it, the Breezers are basically mountain-bike frames to begin with (in angles and construction methods, if not in appearance). And they come with needlessly big and heavy rims. Actually, the reason my wife got rid of her Breezer Uptown 8 was that she thought it was too clunky for city use. I’ve built up an ’84 Motobécane mixte for her, which makes a lot more sense as a city bike.

  6. I really love Bicycles. It really does not need any Fuel Necessity to go anywhere. It even easy to handle anywhere.. Cost Free Bicycles

  7. That’s really very best using bicycles. It feels great to travel anywhere by using bicycles.

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