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The Nth Degree: When n+1 bikes just isn't enough

Frank Strack
14 Aug 2017

Protector of The Rules Frank Strack considers the limitations of the n+1 rule for the correct number of bikes to own

Dear Frank I recently purchased my eighth bike, and I’m not sure why. I am fully aware of the n+1 rule, but I now find myself struggling to justify why I need all these bikes, or even if I really want them. Can you help me? Anon, by email

Dear Anon – if that really is your name – you have chosen your time to ask this question wisely.

My dear father, 73 years old, is the mastermind of Rule #12, which deals with the number of bikes you should own (the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned), and it is under his tutelage that I’ve acquired my own stable of bikes.

For his 50th birthday, he had an Eddy Merckx bike built by our friend in the Netherlands, Herman, who was very well connected.

The frame was built and custom-painted, and Herman had dinner with Eddy when the frame was ready for delivery. That’s customer service.

That was the pinnacle of bikes, and my father only dared ride it in sunny weather because the bike was so dear to him (I once knocked it over at a roadside cafe in France and he glared at me in a way that made me want to evaporate).

To alleviate the stress of riding it, he had an ‘inferior’ model built with the same tubing to the same specifications and with the same components, but with a less frilly paint scheme and without the builder having to dine with The Prophet.

This bike could be ridden in the kind of weather when one considers the possibility of rain, but is uncertain of it. Which left a gaping hole: what if one is certain it will rain?

What if it rains?

He had no alternative but to have another Merckx built, this time in titanium, again with the same components.

No dinners with Eddy, no special paint (no paint at all, if memory serves). In fact, Eddy didn’t build in titanium, so this ‘Belgian Handmade Lady’ was actually an ‘American Tramp’ built by Litespeed.

His latest bike tally is 54, although that number includes a fat bike and a tricycle acquired during a short period where he couldn’t balance himself due to a debilitating hip injury. He still wanted to pedal something.

This was the example by which I was raised. But real life, as it turns out, tends to deviate somewhat from your previous experience.

In high school I had a road bike and a mountain bike. Done. When I lived in dorm rooms and apartments in college, I was too broke to have any more bikes. I also didn’t mind that they were in my living room.

Neither did my non-existent girlfriend.

I graduated, got a job, started making money, and my ambitions towards having more bikes grew. They moved out of the living room and into the basement.

Basements are things of luxury where you can store loads of stuff you don’t fully appreciate, like heirlooms, skis and superfluous bikes.

Then you get divorced and suddenly you have a dozen bikes and a tiny 800-square-foot apartment.

At this point in your life, all those bikes start asking you questions like, ‘How often do you ride me?’

When the answer is, ‘Whenever I feel like riding in a wool jersey and toe clips,’ one is forced to counter with, ‘How many wool jerseys and toe clip-compatible shoes do I have?’

When the answer is, ‘None,’ the eyebrows start raising, along with the realisation that perhaps one or more of the bikes in your beloved stable are superfluous.

Scaling back

A few bikes were sold, and a few were converted into daily workhorses that now see the light of day more than they ever did before.

I came to the realisation that bikes need to be ridden more than they need to be cherished. I think my dad appreciates all his bikes – and he somehow rides them all (apart from
the trike, I hope) – but that’s more bikes than I can appreciate.

I appreciate the bikes I ride, and the way the frame responds to me when I pedal. The vibrations in the wheels and frame are what connect me to my bicycle.

Let no one judge your stable but yourself. But I do offer you this yardstick: if your bikes aren’t being ridden, ask yourself whether they are truly being appreciated.

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