I have a new road bike, my fourth in as many years. I first bought a Raleigh Record Ace, probably manufactured towards the end of the 1970s, maybe the early '80s. It cost me something like £140 and I sold it for about the same within mere months of acquiring it; needed too much work, the wheels were an unusual size, which limited the choice of tyres, and I was very much fumbling in the dark with the whole thing.
Next I purchased a rather charming, heavily chromed velocipede with a funny name – called Carlos – whose components were a little tired, but the general condition of the frame was reasonably good; I'm guessing it was about 30-odd years old. I rode that for about 6 months before suddenly deciding to sell up and look for something else. It didn't take me long and I inspected a number of solutions before committing myself to a metallic blue Romani with Shimano 105 group-set, Wolber rims, Campagnolo brakes, in pretty good shape all-round with just a few scratches but no actual rust. The look of the frame and its various components suggested the bike was put together in the very late 1980s. It was upon this bike that I would ride three consecutive London-Brightons – 2013, 2014 and 2015. I made the decision to replace it in late 2014 but couldn't find the appropriate bicycle, so by default it partook in three of these charity rides instead of the intended two.
In the spring of 2014, I added a carbon Look 566 to my stable. The nature of this bike, the material it is made from, how much it cost me and the sort of cycling I undertake on it, excludes it from being meditated on alongside the rest. There is no danger of it being supplanted, just as it wasn't bought to supplant anything else. It is its own thing.
For the moment I still have the Romani, but I have also its successor, a yellow Fondriest with 130 mm spacing between the rear drop-outs, which allows for 8 sprockets and the potential for more should I ever want to augment its capability. Eminently modifiable. This vehicle is probably little more than 20 years old and this is obvious from looking at it: the yellow paint job with black and pink spray painted geometric detail is typical of the period. What is also clear is that this bike represents a move on from the Romani, just as the Romani exemplified the progress made since the Carlos, and the Carlos in turn from the Raleigh. In other words, I have bought my bikes chronologically and they can be used to measure certain developments in the field over time. Considering the gears alone, I have moved from five at the back, to six, then seven, and now eight. The actual gear ratios have steepened too, were friction-shifting on the first two bikes, indexed on the third, and integrated (with the brakes) now with this fourth. Wheels seem lighter, appear more modern, may have fewer spokes.
This is a natural, if unwitting, progression. When I acquired the Raleigh I was already riding a single-speed bike that was attractive in its simplicity, coloured a pale green olive. Aesthetics were at the forefront of my mind when I bought that bike, continued to be so, but more practical concerns have gradually come to the fore. If I could afford a mint-condition metallic blue Rossin dating back to 1982 (such as the one I saw selling on eBay a while back) then the look of the thing might take precedence. I can’t, so I have come to approach my subject from more pragmatic angles. The Fondriest in not unattractive but what drew me towards it was the vintage, the integrated gear shifters, its dimensions and overall condition, which is immaculate. The fact that it is yellow – although I do like yellow – is neither here nor there. I would prefer if it was sprayed a metallic pale blue, as the Romani is, but that now lies much lower on my list of priorities.
The sequence implies a fifth bike, probably with a 10-speed rear cassette, in at least 3 years time, the duration of ownership having risen exponentially. But I don’t intend on this being the case. For one, buying and selling bikes is quite a drag (as are the improvements one makes: new tyres, inner tubes, bar-tape and hoods; exchanging the saddle, pedals and handlebars; attaching a bottle cage; calibrating gears). Second, I would have happily persisted with the Romani had it not been slightly too small for me as well as incompatible with modern componentry. Finally, the Fondriest represents a sort of apogee in cycling design. Thereafter aluminium and carbon began to dominate, and the steel-framed bikes that have been made since have followed more contemporary geometries and technical advancements. I will draw the line somewhere and that line coincides with about the time that top-tubes began to slope, rear derailleurs became long in gauge, stems moved to being threadless, rims became very deep. Unless I want something bespoke – and I have considered building a bike from bought parts – then there is nowhere I can go from here.