James Cornford explores the unthinkable: What if the answer to the “how many bikes?” equation was n-1…That isn’t a typo, that minus should not be a plus.
I said N-1, something that should send shivers down any cyclist’s spine – the prospect of actually reducing, rather than growing a bike collection. We all know that the ideal number of bikes you can own is N+1, with N representing your current number of bikes, so why on earth would someone mention a concept so hurtful as N-1?
Well first let’s look at why N+1 is the correct formula. I’m sure we’ve all heard it whilst contemplating (or building) our new bikes: “You’ve already got a bike, why do you need another?” or “Does that mean you are selling your old bike?” To untrained eyes (let’s call them The Outsiders), cycling comes in two flavors, on-road and off-road. But to us, that’s the equivalent of telling Willy Wonka that chocolate comes in white and brown…
There are so many disciplines within cycling that, with the right drive, cash flow and storage space, there is always a new bike that can be purchased. This allows you to drill down to the nth degree, and get the most precise tool for the job – something The Outsiders will never appreciate.
My ever-growing bike collection has evolved from my first real bike, and has become a manifestation of Trigger’s Broom from Only Fools and Horses – “This old brooms had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time”.
My bikes all share some DNA; as my main bike was upgraded, some parts found their way onto other rigs, or they became the basis of a new bike build, but they still have their own unique uses.
That all sounds great: an ever growing number of bikes; conscientiously upcycling parts; win-win all round – so why on earth would I propose the idea of n-1? It’s not part of an intervention by a bank manager or a significant other, and I’m sure it’s not something that is unique to me. I found that I had a lot of bikes that were ideal for very specific tasks (although slanted a little more towards down than up), but sometimes my riding wouldn’t be that specific.
I had morphed from a specialist, with very specialist bikes, to a jack of all trades. If I wanted to go dirt jumping, downhilling, or BMX racing, I was fine, but if I wanted to see where the adventure would take me, would I be on the right bike? I missed heading out of the door and letting the adventure unravel in front of me, rather than the bike dictating the ride.
To most of you there would be a simple solution to this: n+1; keep the downhill bikes, the BMXes, the dirt jump bikes and the XC racer and add a trail bike as an all rounder. Simple, problem solved, no sacrifices made and there’s another bike in the stable. But I faced another obstacle – I was moving to America.
I was left with a few options. Ship them all out there, take a few, or start again! I chose to start again – I went for n-1, and I cleared the collection down to just one road bike, purely for transport. How did this feel? Well apart from the cold hard realisation that there’s no money in second hand bikes, it was deeply refreshing – I had wiped the slate clean.
I traveled light (ish), and once I arrived in my new country I was able to take stock of who I was as a rider. What riding did I miss? What bikes did I miss? How much of what I had been doing was because of the people I knew, the habits I had developed or the equipment I had built up? With no bikes, no one to ride with and no preconceived ideas of what I should be riding, I was able to become the rider I had been hiding for who knows how long.
So am I the downhiller/BMXer that started out racing as soon as I found out what real mountain biking was? In short, no. I miss the memories, the experiences and the friends for sure, but I’m a different rider now…
…I seem to have developed into a masochistic adventurer.
The masochistic nature I got from racing, of giving it everything I had and knowing that I couldn’t have tried any harder. I missed out the adventures; the finding new trails and getting lost in the woods for hours. This was mostly because of the way my bikes had developed and because of my mindset – I can’t remember the last time I took the time to smell the roses. Instead, when I headed to the trails, it was all about how fast could I go, and not about how I got there.
And now? Currently the bike collection has grown by 1 – the road bike has been supplemented by a hardtail, and I am busy separating my racing/training brain from my riding brain.
Every ride I go on is an adventure, new people, new trails and new experiences and I am determined not to hit every trail in the red zone – like a training ride. My bikes have allowed me to discover new places and new people in an area I know very little about – and this is something I may not have found with my old bike collection and my old head down riding style.