How Many Bikes Do I Need?

I ride my bike for enjoyment, fitness, travel and transportation. Bicycles fill more than 90% of my transportation needs (with trains, airplanes, rental trucks and cars making up the other 10%).* For all these needs, I only require two or three bicycles.

The bike I ride most often is my Urban Bike (above). It combines good performance with excellent load-hauling capabilities. I use the Urban Bike for my daily errands in town: pick up mail, deliver books and magazines, ride with my children, buy groceries or supplies for machine shop projects… The wide 650B tires make it safe to cross railroad tracks, and I don’t need to worry too much about potholes. The performance frame responds well to my pedaling inputs. The smallish gears allow me to climb any hill. And the big rack can haul most loads.

When a load is too big for the front rack, I add my Jack Taylor-built (but Goéland-designed) trailer to the Urban Bike. The handling suffers a bit – the trailer is like the proverbial tail wagging the dog – but I only use the trailer about once a month. It’s a small price to pay for the performance advantage of my Urban Bike over a cargo bike.

For spirited rides with friends and for long-distance events, I ride my Randonneur Bike. It uses the same 650B wheels, the same generator-powered lights, and a similar geometry as the Urban Bike. The main difference between the two bikes lies in the frame tubing. The Randonneur’s tubes have ultra-thin walls, resulting in a more flexible frame that performs better for me. The Urban Bike has somewhat stouter tubing so it can haul a trailer.

The Randonneur is a joy to ride when I don’t carry much. On the flats and uphills, it is as fast as a good racing bike. On the downhills, it handles and corners better than any racing bike I have ridden, thanks to the extra rubber on the road. It is equally at home on smooth pavement and on washboard gravel roads. It can be ridden over any distance, in any weather, even at night. It even can be equipped with small panniers on the front for a weekend tour.

These two bikes are all I need. If I raced, I’d obviously need a bike (or several) designed to the rules of the events I want to enter: road-racing, track and/or cyclocross.

Even though my current needs are met with two wonderful bikes, I am dreaming of a third bike:

For long camping trips, I want a Camping Bike (above). Carrying a full camping load on the platform rack of my Urban Bike or in its trailer is not optimal, and for me, this would detract from the enjoyment of the trip. My Camping Bike would differ from the Urban Bike mostly in its racks. In fact, I could add a few braze-ons to the Urban Bike’s frame, make new racks, and I would be ready to go on a camping trip. But aren’t we always looking for an excuse to get another bike?

Before I forget, I should mention the tandem. I don’t need it, but I enjoy riding it with my family.

You may have noticed that all these bikes use the same tires: Grand Bois Hetre 650B x 42 mm. For the Urban Bike, it’s an obvious choice: I need wide tires for safety in the city, and the low pressure of the wide tires also decreases the puncture risk. (I have had one flat in more than 3 years of urban riding.) For the Randonneur, the wide tires result in the same rolling resistance on smooth roads as narrower tires, but much increased speed on rougher surfaces. For the camping bike and the tandem, wide tires are an obvious choice, especially if you want to go on gravel roads.

To mainstream cyclists, all these bikes probably look the very similar: Wide tires, drop handlebars, fenders and lights. It’s difficult to see the difference in the frame and the racks. The frame determines the feel of the bike, and the racks allow these bikes to handle different loads.

Even though my bikes are very different, they all have a similar feel and personality. The Urban Bike loaded with 35 pounds on the front rack responds to my pedaling similar to the Randonneur during a spirited ride with friends. The tandem carves into corners with the same abandon as the other two. I know what I like in a bike, and my goal is to obtain that on all my rides, no matter their distance and purpose.

Everyone else in my family has one bike apiece, partially due to how we prioritize space and money, but also because none of them want (or need) more than one. The one bike in our family that could use significant improvement is my wife’s. For that one, we’ll probably figure out something close to the Urban Bike approach for her commuting, along with features that make it more readily adaptable to loaded touring. We’ll keep you posted.

* Calculated on a per-hour basis. On a per-mile basis, bicycles account only for half, and about 1/3 of my travel is on airplanes, because the distances I fly are so large.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
This entry was posted in A Journey of Discovery, Our Bikes. Bookmark the permalink.

55 Responses to How Many Bikes Do I Need?

  1. Andrew says:

    I’ll be interested to see what you end up deciding in terms of tubing and racks. For those who care about planing it is a tricky compromise to get a touring bike that will be a pleasure to pedal but not wobble like spaghetti when carrying a load.

    My Grand Bois randonneur bike has so far worked well as a touring bike, but has resulted in me carrying much less stuff. I travel as light as possible, minimising the weight at the rear of the bike and clamp a lowrider rack on the fork when I need to carry a bit more. This isn’t ideal though. I’d like something a bit more specific to touring with camping gear and with a sturdier coating than paint, which tends to suffer when camping, travelling on planes and so on.

    • A camping bike that is stiff enough to work well with a full load does not work well when empty. My Singer camping bike is a good example – lovely to ride with 15-20 kg (35 lb) of load, but terrible when empty. With a load, it planes beautifully, without, it’s jarring and “dead.” That bike uses Reynolds 531 “Super Tourist” (10-7-10) tubing and an extra set of triangulation stays. It would be perfect except it can accept only 32 mm tires, and the front-end geometry could be improved. (Head angle is 71.5° instead of the more common for Singer and Herse 73°.)

      • Steve Palincsar says:

        So, that’s two bikes plus one you’re planning, plus at least one tandem and the 700C Singer ‘former “reference bike”‘ — that sounds a lot like 4 or 5 to me. And I wonder, what else have you omitted from the count? Is that tandem the Herse whose restoration you wrote about, or is it the one you rode in PBP a few years ago? And then, of course, there are all the test bikes. The more I think about it, the more I sense the traditional formula for the ideal number of bikes, “n = n + 1″ at work…

      • Most of the restorations were for book projects, so they weren’t mine. When I want a certain bike in one of our books, and it isn’t presentable, then I make it presentable.

  2. Lee Legrand says:

    Will there be an article in the coming future about camping bicycles in Bicycle Quarterly? You have done an article in the past about camping bicycles ( What Makes a Good Touring Bike- Mike Barry’s Herse “Camping”, but would be interesting to see what you think makes a good camping bicycle. I am seriously looking to purchasing a bicycle like this to do self-supported tours and would like any suggestions you could give in a future article in Bicycle Quarterly.

  3. heather says:

    I applaud your restraint! It is tempting to have many bikes, and I think the internet,flickr, blogs etc contribute to bike lust. We want a legendary ride, columbus tubing, reynolds, imagine that we will be doing cyclocross, touring, brevets, mountain biking, road racing etc, when really all we do is ride to work and the store day after day. I just built up a commuter bike with an old raleigh sports, 5 speed internal hub and drum brakes. I love it, and I cannot say that about the bike I spent $$$ on. Despite the limited igh range, I can still climb most hills depending on the grade which surprised me as I thought the bike would be a novelty and limited to rides into town or routes without hills. It also goes quite fast and can almost keep up with my husband. And since it rains much of the year in the PNW and the road crews put magnesium chloride on the roads at any sign of frost, we can only ride the precious bikes in good weather. So why have so many bikes if only one gets ridden regularly?
    At one point I had an alarming amount of bicycles and frames(I still do), partly because I still needed to keep bikes on hand for when my husband’s daughters would visit. However, as teenagers, they hardly visit and cause such a fuss about having to ride bikes. So I got rid of ‘their’ bikes by giving the bikes to them to store at their mom’s for when they realize that biking is the best way to get around. Another problem is that people give me bikes and frames and I think I will do something with them, but I can never afford to build them up and have various parts all over the house.
    2-3 bikes probably is good, although I might ideally want 4-5 although only one might be functioning at a time.
    Maintaining a wheel size and tire is a good idea as in a pinch you can swap wheels and tires. I have yet to build up my 650b bike, but cannot wait to try the hetres.
    family riding: A tandem is a great idea for riding with the family, especially if kids are too slow on their own. My husband was a single dad for years, a life long cyclist and assumed his kids would graduate to their own bikes and planned on getting a tandem. But they absolutely refused to bike, so he had to haul them in the trailer for years even though they were too big and too old.
    Hopefully your kids will not see biking as something to rebel against!

  4. ablejack says:

    I see you garnered a little patina or “beausage” to use Grant’s term, on your Herse. Also I noticed you need the same number of bikes that the rest of us need. That would be the number we currently have plus one!

  5. Benjamin Van Orsdol says:

    What about your Alex Singer bike that was the BQ benchmark for so long? And isn’t there also an Alex Singer camper with a diagonal tube in your stable? There was an article you wrote years back about a tour and that AS camper can be seen in the background. I’d love to hear more about that bike, and see a picture or two. And I don’t think the tandem shown here is the one you spent so much time and effort bringing back to form, and then riding in the PBP. Is this the pared down list because the title says “need”? I think you have a great start to a list, and depending on the person a classic bike should be added. (Schwinn Jaguar) Of course you can go crazy with specific “dream” bikes, or MTB’s, CX bikes, and even a beater bike, but I think your list of needs is good because it is versatile. Some might say they need a bike for fast group rides, and a bike for light touring, and another for commuting. You’ve shown that a fully equipped bike such as your Herse can do all those things. Versatility helps keep the list short, and space in the garage.

    • You noted that the title of the post talks about “How many bikes I need,” not “How many bikes I have.” There are a few bikes still around that have sentimental or historic value. The “benchmark” Alex Singer is semi-retired after 38 years and more than 120,000 miles of hard riding (most under its original owner), but it’s still a great bike that I enjoy riding. The camping bike also is still around, but its 32 mm tires limit its ability to go off the beaten path a bit. The Herse tandem is a machine I’ll never sell…

      I have a bike for fast group rides – the Randonneur Bike does that as well as any bike I have ridden. The Urban Bike is perfect for commuting… Basically, these bikes can do all the riding I do. And once I have found the perfect bikes for me, there really isn’t much temptation to get another, similar bike.

      • Steve Palincsar says:

        And when you discover the night before a big ride that the bike you were planning to use has a mechanical issue that will take more than a few minutes to resolve, what then? For example, the quickest I’ve ever had a bike return to service after having a cracked rim was 2 weeks. I’d think your new Herse, with all its rare, hand-made parts would be especially likely to experience extended deadlines due to maintenance issues. Having a “spare” bike can be a lifesaver. (Of course, you have that with the “reference bike.”) Also, if you commute to work by bicycle and need to arrive by a specific time, the tire that went flat overnight that you discover in the morning as you’re just about to set out for work can be a major disaster unless you have a backup.

      • Those are good points. One of the most beautiful bikes in our new Herse book was one of a pair. The owner ordered two identical top-of-the-line bikes from Herse, a few months apart. Since most owners had the Herse shop maintain their bikes, this presumably meant he always had a bike to ride.

        However, for many cyclists who do their own maintenance, the more bikes they have, the fewer actually are ready to ride. When I had only one bike, it was always in top shape. I did preventive maintenance, and it was easy to keep track of things. There was no temptation to move around parts between bikes.

        These days, it can happen that I take the pedals off the Urban Bike to use them on a test bike, and then I want to ride to an appointment and find that the bike I planned to take isn’t rideable. And the Herse has no tires, because I tested some tires that I then switched to the Urban Bike. And I am running late and need to carry a briefcase…

  6. marmotte27 says:

    Quite a good point you’re making here, about how to balance needs and wants… I’m thinking about getting something like a Camping bike myself, as a do it all bike, that nevertheless allows me to ride in a spirited manner.

    I don’t know the weather in Seattle very well, but from what you write, it doesn’t seem to snow much there. Because here, I do need another bike, and that’s a winter bike, an inexpensive rugged bike to preserve my nice bikes form the salt that’s always abundantly thrown on the roads when there’s the least hint of sub zero temperatures, and stays there for a long time afterwards. Salt just screws up your bike in a very short time! However, not much spirited riding with that one, unfortunately.

    Another interesting point is what you’re saying about your transport needs, and how you calculate them. Unfortunately, in terms of CO2-emissions, it’s the miles that count, not the time. For someone who has alsways used bikes for his transport, it was quite an eye opener years back when I first compared my bike miles to the milage of our car… Living in the countryside and with family far away, there is not much I can do about it. Of course, every little bit, each mile ridden on a bike instead of in a car helps, but it is necessary to be aware of the big picture.

  7. Willem says:

    Jan, I am not sure you need a camping bike: don’t take more than 12-15 kg (easily done unless on a true expedition) and your Urban Bike will do the job just fine. When our kids were younger, we had a Thorn childback tandem for family camping trips, and with a big trailer that was ideal (not sure how old your kids are). What you do need in my view is a winter bike. I have been extremely impressed by the new Conti Topcontact Winter II tyres in 50-559. As long as you do not need heavily studded tyres there is truly nothing like it. Get an old mountainbike with a rigid fork, do it up a bit, and you have a much safer bike, saving your thin walled frames for better days.
    Since this is obviously an invitation to come up with our own lists, here is mine:
    +An old (1976) Viscount Aerospace road bike with 27×1.25 wheels. Now retired because the 32 mm tyres hurt my back too much.
    +A second hand steel cyclo cross bike with 35 mm Pasela tyres to replace the old road bike, for long day rides, and to find out what I like in a future rando bike.
    +A second hand virtually unused 1988 Koga Miyata town bike with 32 mm tyres (max size that will fit). My town rides are short and on excellent tarmac. I bought the bike for 50 euro, to have a spirited bike that I will not moan too much about if it gets stolen (a real risk for a town bike). Upright position (not a drop handle bar), for a better view in congested traffic. In winter, I can just fit the Conti winter tyre in 37-622 on the more important front wheel, as it is only 31 mm wide in reality (but quite tall). Unfortunately there is not enough clearance at the rear. The 37-622 winter tyre is inferior to the 50-559 on my wife’s and son’s bikes, but still better than the Pasela.
    +A Brompton folding bike, shared with my wife.
    + My best bike, a steel (double oversized 0.8-0.5-0.8 mm walled 853 tubes) custom 559 wheeled loaded tourer with Rohloff hub, drop bar, SON lighting, Magura HS 66 brakes, for loaded camping tours. This is the riding I like most, and I think the bike is perfect for that purpose. 559 tyres are available in an extremely wide selection, to suit any riding condition, and the Rohloff hub is flawless and convenient. The bike will handle up to some 35-40 kg load, but is best with 15 kg, which is my current load on most European camping trips.
    If and when I can afford it, and when I have worked out what I like, I will get a 650B rando bike, but not yet.
    Willem

  8. Erik says:

    That is a very modest bunch of bikes! A man in Holland once told me: “you recognise a true car driver by the car he drives, you recognise a true biker by the number of bikes he has.” This conclusion was clearly based on the fact that depending on the circumstances you need another bike to achieve the same satifaction from it. So with 2 bikes and a trailer covering most off your needs, your doing very well :-).
    I must admit he number of bikes we have keeps increasing. Our 2-person household is now living with 9 frequently used bikes. (each of us has a commuter bike, a loaded touring bike, a roadracing bike, and then we added a folding bike, a cargo bike and a tandem) which starts to cause a storage space. However, the fact that we don’t have a car gives us the financial space to have a bit more bikes.

    • I once read an article about a man of modest means who owned a Bugatti race car. It was his only car. I thought at the time that rather than have a collection of a dozen nice, but not exceptional cars, I’d want the Bugatti.

      On average, I buy a new bike about every 8 – 10 years, so I can afford a very nice one. Especially since now that I have found what I need and like, I expect these bikes to last much longer than a decade. The Urban Bike is four years old, and still rides like a brand-new bike. The Herse only has about 10,000 km under its wheels, and I look forward to riding it for a long, long time.

  9. akismet-8abd7529db52dfbc9cab83d9b9ab6741 says:

    Great post and fantastic bikes! I live on a narrowboat in the UK, so one bike has to do everything for me – a 1950’s Humber.

    I’ve been reading a lot about 650b wheels making a ‘come-back’, although mostly this is coming from the USA. Hopefully this trend will migrate over here as I can give the Humber a new lease of life with some high quality parts!

  10. Daniel says:

    I also get along with two, which seem very similar in intent to your bikes, except for the narrow tires:

    An IF Club Racer with a compact crank and with heavier tubing to carry a small load, now with 700×25 tires. The tires are the max for riding with fenderd because of the build I wanted. It can go fast.

    A Surly Cross Check built as sort of a touring bike (racing triple, 12-32 cassette) but mostly used for carrying one of my children (now in a bike seat, formerly in a trailer) and urban commuting on 700×32 tires and rides when I expect rougher roads. I am considering slightly wider tires which will need wider fenders to better accommodate speed on dirt roads. I did ride D2R2 on the current build.

    But, like you, I dream of more bicycles. Maybe a tandem in the future when the children are older, a real touring bike when I have time to tour, a dedicated urban bike, and the list goes on. But the current two allows me to do all of the riding that I currently have time for and that is primarily for recreation, enjoyment, fitness, and, less frequently, travel.

    I can’t quite see the shifters on the Randonneur bike. Where are they mounted.

  11. Edward Scoble says:

    Y’know, I used to have a dedicated touring bicycle, those Thorn Sherpa kitted out with the strongest wheel with steel rack and mudguard.

    But eventually I realised one thing is that they’re no longer necessary when a simple solution in the forum of bikepacking does the job perfectly well using your modern road bicycle as a tourer, because of the weight reduction from not having a rack let alone panniers with heavy mounting, normal bicycle is less susceptible to broken spokes, fast wearing brake pads, regular puncture on normal tyres etc.

    What I’m saying is that surely your current bicycle, says the Grand Bois Urban would be more than enough for touring if you choose to bikepack the bicycle instead?

    they’re ugly and not pleasing to the eyes, but having completed 3,000km from London to Africa on a fixed wheel bicycle with all the necessary equipment (sleeping bag, 1 man tent, inflatable mattress, one change of clothes, tools etc.), it was a breeze and I can’t help but think I can enjoy it even more on a normal budget road bicycle (Jamis Satellite being the poor man Rivendell come to mind), and enjoy the ride as if you’re not carrying anything.

    I’m quite interested to hear your view on such method, as in the past I loved to go touring with the classic rack and panniers, but now switch off that view and stick to bikepacking instead.

    • When I am going lightweight and staying in hotels, I take my Randonneur Bike, and I usually fit all I need into the handlebar bag. (The photo of the bike was taken on a 4-day trip through the Cevennes in France.) However, when I am camping, I am not in a rush, and the creature comforts of a (lightweight) tent, a cooking stove and real food (vegetables are heavy) means that my minimum load (including weight of the panniers) is 15 kg (33 lb.). Going a little slower does not reduce the enjoyment of riding if the bike responds well to my pedal strokes (“planes”), and having a little “Crazy Creek” chair frame to convert my foam pad into a rocking chair at camp beats squatting for an hour while my rice and lentils cook. In backpacking, you carry all your weight, so every bit less greatly reduces the strain and effort, but when my bike carries the weight, the benefits of weight savings are somewhat reduced. I still carry much less than many (most) bicycle tourists, though.

      If you are trying to cover the maximum distance or ride truly rough terrain, then the ultralight bike packing is the way to go. Mark, our second tester, is a big proponent of that approach.

  12. Bob says:

    Jan, you really have more than 3 bikes, right? There’s the Alex Singer (or is it plural – a ’62 and a ’73?), and possibly some others hanging from the rafters.

  13. John says:

    For the generator front wheel, do you use it on the tandem as well? If so, does it need to be more robust to be able to handle tandem stresses?

    • The tandem currently doesn’t get ridden at night, and if we get home too late, the old sidewall generator will be adequate. We did Paris-Brest-Paris on a tandem in 2003, and used a standard SON20 generator hub with no problems. That wheel now is on the Urban Bike… For tandem use, I most definitely would recommend the “Wide-Body” SON Delux generator hub, even though the standard version is fine under most conditions.

      • somervillebikes says:

        For a bike that has the potential to get a lot of riding in slow, stop and go traffic, wouldn’t it make more sense to use the slightly heavier and higher resistance SON28? I’ve noticed that bikes with the SONdelux/SON20 have to roll faster to overcome flicker and attain full brightness. I feel that the SONdelux is best suited to bikes that are ridden faster and not in stop and go traffic.

      • I find that with a modern LED light, the SON Delux (or even the old SON20) generator hub provides plenty of light when you reach 5 mph. It’s hard to balance a bike at lower speeds anyhow. When stopped the standlight function of modern LED lights provides light. I don’t really see an advantage for the SON28, but on the other hand, it also doesn’t have much more resistance, so either is a great choice.

  14. Life without at least one mountain bike simply isn’t worth living.

  15. DougReport says:

    There is an old formula for this: If n = the number of bikes you have then n + 1 = the number of bikes you need.

  16. Jeremy says:

    Interesting reading…I’ve been thinking about a lot of the same things recently, since my focus in riding and refinement has been on two particular bikes of mine, the bikes which I ride the most (road bike for fun, hilly rides and a very nice urban bike) while the two others have sat neglected now for a year or more. I or friends ride them occasionally, but mechanically, they’re in iffy shape. One includes my touring bike, a bike for which I have a great deal of affection (it was my first “real” bike, and I rode coast-to-coast on it when I was 17), but I find that while I like the idea of touring, I only end up going once every few years (and while I tried it a couple of times, I never really got into the S240 thing espoused by GP and others). Right now, I’m kind of at a crossroads, considering further refinements to my road bike, or trying to get my touring bike functional again, especially as my wife is looking to but a touring bike and try it out herself. We’ll see.

    Do you find that getting to test a wide range of bikes for BQ helps you to quell your own desires for other bikes? I have certainly found that working in a bike shop has helped me a little bit on that front, since i get to ride bikes that I build up to sell and bikes that I service, although my test rides are rarely more than a mile.

    • Yes, riding many test bikes is fun, but it makes me realize that I don’t need multiple bikes that fill the same purpose. Most of all, I like to focus on the ride, and like the bike to disappear, so having two similar bikes doesn’t serve much purpose.

  17. Nice post like most cyclists, I love talking about bikes. I have three “need” bikes and a few fun or extra bikes. At this point at have all my biking needs covered, so all bike purchases in the future will simply be improvements and refinements of what I currently have.

    1. The commuter. A Jamis Aurora with flat bars and a CETMA rack. I ride this to work four or five days a week, and on errands most other days. The CETMA makes it very versatile. Handling is fine despite the total lack of appropriate front-loading design. I’ve never had a properly designed front-loader, though, so I probably don’t know what I am missing.

    2. Road bike, an old Univega. Very fun to ride, but it barely fits 29mm tires. Without fenders, I ride it infrequently during the winter, but I hope to retrofit some. Ideally I’d like to get a nice riding bike with room for 32s and fenders.

    3. Camper. A pretty standard Surly Long Haul Trucker. I agree that any bike that is truly good for camping simply won’t work for general use. This bike is great with a load, and its 40mm tires mean I can ride it just about anywhere. Take the gear off, though, and I hate it. My Aurora used to be the camper, but it was not stiff enough to be an excellent camper. Los of flex (and then the dropout snapped).

    And my fun and extra bikes:

    Bridgestone mountain bike
    Early 90s trek tandem
    Univega Touring bike (for guests and visitors)
    Wife’s road bike

    Finally, a cargo trailer rounds out the stable.

  18. Hi Jan:
    What a wonderful post. You certainly have some fine machines in your stable.

    Currently I get by with one main bike, the purchase of which was heavily influenced by your writings. It is a Velo-Orange Polyvalent (Mark 1) which is essentially a 1950’s porteur bike built in 2012. It has 650B wheels, low trail front geometry and a little longer wheel base than modern bikes. It features a rack, with a Berthoud bag, and large ‘zeppelin’ fenders. It is my everything bike – commuting, training and randonneuring and it does it all well. The best part about this bike was the $400 price tag for the frame.

    I just finished building a Boulder Bike for my wife. Again this purchase was heavily influenced by BQ and she absolutely loves the ride, the handling and the aesthetics. It took four years to convince her that a 650B randonneuring type bike with a compact double was what she needed for commuting and rides with me, rather than a cyclo-cross machine with parts ‘bolted on’.

    We also have a mountain bike each and a 1980’s tandem that is a little too small but gorgeous, built a a frame builder in Edmonton that we used to know.

    Cheers Lee

  19. Leaf Slayer says:

    For many years I had two bikes–a mountain bike and a road bike. This was while I was working low-paying jobs and in school. Once out of graduate school I had a little more money to put towards my bikes. I’m at five bikes now, a Rivendell AHH, a Joshua Bryant randonneuring bike, and three Surlys–a Big Dummy for hauling, an LHT for camping/touring/commuting and a Cross Check which is set-up with upright bars and singlespeed for commuting daily to work. I don’t have any other hobbies and I don’t own a car. In fact I’ve never even had a license. On the one hand 5 bikes seems excessive but they all get put to good use. And space isn’t really an issue. Sometimes I might go a while without riding the Riv or the Bryant but I literally ride at least one of my bikes once a day. Surprisingly if I could have only one it would be the LHT. It’s just a great all-round/all-road bike. Although I can’t ever imagine having less than two because I like having a beater, rain, commuter, lock up in front of the bookstore for hours bike, ie the Cross Check. So surprisingly the bikes I can’t do without are the most inexpensive–the LHT and CC. I’m glad I don’t have decide which ones stay or go. For now all have a home and a use. I think if I got a great deal on something like a Bike Friday I might add that. Before any other bikes get added though, one of these would have to go.

  20. My quiver in the garage is down to 3, the remaining once-and-a-while machines are stashed in more inconvenient locations (one in a suitcase in the closet). We can’t all have a detached “mudhouse”.

    What kind of machine shop projects are you working on, Jan? I’m whacking my Chinese mini-mill into alignment so I can make some V-blocks for laying out a frameset on a surface plate.

    • My machine shop projects are both parts for my Randonneur Bike, as well as prototyping for parts that Compass may sell some day.

      • I look forward to seeing some Jan-vex derailleurs!

        I’m fed up with the indignity of bidding on Raid’s when I have some Racers that are none much different – cutting and filing some wide-clearance centerpull calipers with a similar look (but necessarily thicker) is a another project I am apprehensively considering.

  21. John Hawrylak says:

    Would the Randonneur Bike function with low riders added to the front with 3 to 4 lbs of load on each side in panniers, assuming the handle bar bag is kept with its current load?? No rear load.

    John Hawrylak
    Woodstown NJ

    • Yes, the Randonneur Bike easily can handle lightly loaded panniers even now, with just rack flanges. Low-riders would improve the load carrying capacity a bit. So for credit card touring, there would be more than ample carrying capacity.

      For a full camping load, I’d need rear panniers, though, and the superlight tubing of the Randonneur probably would not do well with a rear rack…

  22. MSRW says:

    Plenty of lifelong cyclists these days seem to be shifting to fewer higher-quality bikes, which places a premium on riding and minimizes the ownership/maintenance burden. I’m guessing that a third bike won’t have the same happiness per dollar ratio of your first two.

    I also have an event bike, an urban bike and a tandem. All have fenders, lights, racks and all are titanium.

    • Matthew J says:

      But if you like to cycle camp with full gear assortment rather than hobo, which bike would you use? The urban?

      Personally, my work and life demands make it hard for me to find the time to cycle camp – nearby options for midwesterners being extremely limited – so my tourer is of the same vein as what you find in a rando bike. Easily takes what I need for a few days on the road staying at motels and B&Bs but not full camping gear (need to be able to cook and make coffee).

      My city bike is great and I have an even nicer on the way. But these are single speed. If I ever did find the time to start camping again, I could see going Jan’s route.

      • The main reason I don’t have an “optimized” camping bike is that like you, I don’t make the time for multi-day or multi-week tours. I hope to change that in the future. I have taken the Urban Bike plus trailer camping. When we go as a family, I have to carry the children’s gear as well, and need all the capacity I can muster.

  23. Matt says:

    I think this can be summed up in a algebraic equation. Where X equals the number of bicycles you have and Y equals the number of bikes you need, the answer is simply: Y > X

    Now if only I could get my wife to understand algebra!

    • I find that the opposite is the case: X > Y, yet we don’t have the bike we really need and want. I was in that camp for a long time, but finally sat down and ordered exactly the bikes I wanted. And riding has been much more fun as a result.

      • Matt says:

        I think you’ve come a lot closer to buying/creating the one bike you really want than most of us are able to. I’ve got two bikes but my grocery getter/townie requires me to use cheap BMX brakes to reach the rims on my 650B wheels. My “nice/more expensive” road frame would also necessitate crummy brakes so instead I use it with good quality 700c wheels with Cypress tires and vintage centerpulls. I really do enjoy the nice bike but if I could use the 650b wheelset with Hetres on it, it would be even better. Boulder Bikes makes nice 650b specific frames but I think they only take threadless headsets. So for most of us it’s either custom (too much money for me) or settle for something less than perfect.

      • I was facing a similar decision when I ordered my Urban Bike. I had a bunch of bikes that weren’t optimal, and I decided instead of investing more money into improving them, I should just start over and get what I really needed and wanted. I haven’t regretted it. Even after just four years, the cost per mile is starting to be quite reasonable, and it continues to decrease because apart from tires and chains, there is no investment needed to keep them on the road.

        As an aside, what is wrong with a threadless headset? I don’t a bike that uses one, but both of the “bikes I need” use stems that directly clamp to the steerer. Once you know your handlebar height, and adjustable stem is of little use. In fact, with a heavy front load, the wind-up in the stem quill makes the bike hard to control. (This would be an issue with the Urban Bike, not with the Randonneur.)

  24. Marc says:

    Excellent article – if I am allowed to say so.
    I was always curious how you manage your daily traffic by bike. I was wondering about your pedals on your bikes. Seems that you always have to wear bike shoes….
    What are you doing when wearing a more formal outfit. Or you just want to go to the next corner for a snack etc. Change shoes, or ride with leather soles on your pedals? What about a chainguard for long trousers. Do you have one more bike for these occasions?
    I love my bike for getting to work and going to business appointments. Many of the people here do and use Gazelle bikes. Mostly the “populair” model. Good for summer, winter, workloads, leather shoes, picking up the kids, or just shopping. (I have a berthoud saddlebag on it, although
    the forkbent would allow for a front bag too)
    These bikes have been tested and improved by millions of Dutch people over many years. It is missing the sporty feeling and looks and is for sure too heavy for being a PBP bike…. therefore I wish I would be able to have any of your dream bikes.. Best Marc /Düsseldorf

    • I live in Seattle, where distances are large and hills are steep. So cycling in street clothes and street shoes is only marginally practical. Your Gazelle would not work well here, because even though you could ride in street clothes, you would get so sweaty on the hills that you would need a shower and change at your destination.

      So cycling clothes are a good idea. Many commuters shower and change at work, but I don’t have that option when I go to meetings or run errands. So I wear functional, but tasteful clothes – a single-color wool jersey and knickers. That way, I don’t smell even if I get slightly sweaty. My cycling shoes are black… and in Seattle, that sort of outfit is considered totally presentable.

      For very short distances (up to 3 miles), I just use street shoes on my clipless pedals. Or I use my kid’s scooter (not a razor, but with pneumatic tires). Or I walk.

      • Marc says:

        Yes. We have few hills here and most of them can be avoided by cycling around them. Therefore sweat is no problem normaly. My everyday bike of dreams is the Alex Singer shown in your book “The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles” page 58.. Pedals, chain guard, seating position perfect for flat terrain, light, elegant – but out of reach.

  25. marmotte27 says:

    I find that I can cycle up even quite steep hills in normal street clothes, but I have to cycle quite slowly so as not to sweat overly much, and I need my bike to have a reduction gear, especially when cycling with a load. It doesn’t occur too often luckily otherwise it wouldn’t really be practical for me to cycle around daily. Rain obviously complicates matters.

    The point raised by Marc is one of the issues connected with cycling really becoming a widely acceptable means of transport. For the time being this is only the case in places where there are not many hills and distances are short, so that you can cycle even in elegant street clothes (Netherlands, Denmark, the dense European city centres… ) There is some change needed in our general dress code to make cycling truly acceptable to the ‘masses’, and on any terrain. For the time being, I feel that even an understated sporty outfit like Jan’s often wouldn’t really be acceptable around here, and I wouldn’t feel to good in it in a meeting for example. For work it’s also excluded, and showers are not on offer. (I make an exception only as far as shoes are concerned, on rainy days I wear a pair of waterproof hiking shoes).

    It has to become truly acceptable to arrive somewhere slightly (or more than slightly) dishevelled by rain and effort.

  26. John Duval says:

    I have always thought of a “utility” bike and a “beater” synonymously. Reason is that I worry too much to leave a bike parked outside with a $200 saddle, $500 lighting system, and $1200 component group. Living in “Long Beach: The Most Bike-Friendly City In America” (currently a goal, not a reality) also means it is ripe for bike theft. Near my office I also worry about vandals (I park inside and walk locally).

    I would love to have a “beater” I could use to go places other than work, but inexpensive off the rack bikes don’t come remotely close to my size. A full custom $10,000 urban bike seems like quite a target. I don’t think this way about my $32,000 car, so am I simply being paranoid?

    • My Urban Bike wasn’t that expensive, but most of all, a would-be thief might find it hard to sell, because it’s relatively unique. A bike thief who needs $50 right now might be better off taking an anonymous mountain bike that is easy to sell. And sophisticated thieves who hawk stuff on ebay look for high-end production bikes, which again are relatively anonymous.

      While I am cautious, I refuse to restrict my life out of fear for material things. In the worst case, I have insurance, like you do for your car. In the mean time, my bikes bring me a lot of joy… and I live only once.

  27. Nick English says:

    Interested in your thoughts on why you have the crossover on the tandem at the captain’s cranks?

    • I did not build that tandem… but long-chain tandems (with drive from the front cranks) were popular in France from the late 1930s onward. They were seen as an improvement over the short-chain tandems (with drive from the rear cranks). From my interviews with builders, there appear to be a few reasons:
      1. You could build a tandem with a short wheelbase and wide tires, because the chainrings don’t interfere with the chainstays. Later, Herse even used curved seat tubes to shorten the chainstays more on their performance model. Having ridden these machines, their performance truly is exceptional, so there is something that is working here.
      2. Better chainline, especially with short chainstays.
      3. With a lever-operated front derailleur (which my tandem doesn’t have), you’d have the stoker operate the front derailleur. Some tandems during the war-time technical trials actually used that setup, but for the most part, it was preferable to have the captain operate all controls.

  28. Carl Otto Wollin says:

    Interesting article, that give me inspiration commuter project!
    I have read your tests of 559 vs 584 vs 622 mm wheelsize. Is it a possible solution to build a bike with 559 wheels as an classic Randonneur with low trail geometry as the classic Rene Herse/ Alex Singer I´m thinking of building a commuter bike with 559 x 2.0 tires to get the same circumference as a 584 x 42 tires Hetre Tires. My main reason for this question is that 559 has a better selection of studded tires. See it as a winter Randonneur/Commuter project. Is 559 in this case a good starting point or is it better to go with 622 mm.

    • For tires wider than 40 mm, 559 mm (26″) is a great size. In fact, we offer the Compass 26″ x 1.75″ tires (44 mm wide) because it’s a great size. It’ll give you the same optimized handling as a medium-width 622 mm (700C) tire or a Grand Bois Hetre (40 – 584 mm/650B). A 700C tire in that width would make your bike too stable and sluggish in its handling.

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