Traffic: What makes a Good Ride?

My perception of what constitutes a nice bike or a nice ride has changed much in the last couple of years. I've been a 'cyclist' for somewhere around seventeen years and before that found the most happiness astride a bike. In the early 90's I considered myself a Mountain Biker (an unfortunately awkward term) but I'd dabble in a bit of road riding occasionally. In the late 90's I built my first fixed-gear on a whim, subconsciously searching for The Meaning Of Riding.

In 2001 I moved to Bozeman and found a thriving, if disjointed, cycling community. Lots of people riding trails, lots of people riding roads, but there was still something missing.

Last year Captain E. handed me a copy of The Bicycle Quarterly, a rag dedicated to classic cycle touring, racing, and the history of classic bikes and bike design.

This event forever changed my perception of what "Cycling" is.

The cover has a Frank Patterson illustration depicting a British gent pausing at the side of a road, taking in the countryside while enjoying a pipe. His bike, likely a Raleigh or Dunelt or Rudge with a Sturmey-Archer hub, rests on its stand next to him. The bike appears to have a largish bag, perhaps a Brooks Millbrook. It's probably the same bike that takes the guy to work at a steel factory. He might also use it for time-trialing on race day, with fenders and bags removed, of course.

My point (as much as there is one), is that many cyclists tend to think of themselves as specific kinds of riders: mountain Bikers, road racers, tourers, DHers, singlespeeders, fixed-gear riders, etc. And they willingly exclude themselves from not just another kind of riding but an expanded way to view life. Sounds grandiose, I know. But try it! Get an old three-speed at a garage sale and take the scenic route to work. Wear regular clothes and take an hour to go eight miles. Ride a road bike on a dirt road (trust me, the bike can handle it). There's a world of experiences bikes can help take you to, once you stop thinking about needing the "right" equipment for exactly the "right" type of riding.

With this in mind, I went for a solitary ride the other day, in the English tradition. I packed my bag (a Crumpler messenger bag-not the best choice, but it's all I had) with a sandwich, some peanuts, a camera, and a bottle of water (my bike doesn't yet have a bottle cage).

I hopped on my KHS Winner, recently acquired from Sethanol and converted to a fixed-gear. I rode at a leisurely pace, maybe 15 mph on a combination of dirt and paved roads. My route took me along the Gallatin River, where I stopped for lunch. I saw tons of cows, had robins fly alongside me, heard woodpeckers, and saw some ospreys. All this, even if I had noticed, would be diminished had I been on my road bike, or even if I had been riding with another person.

I've been in the process of Anglicizing my bike, with its 32mm tires, 3-speed-esque handlebars, and full fenders. Its current gearing (42x17) allows me to climb pretty much all hills around here but does not hold my top speed down too much.

The ride ended up being about 38 miles, and it took me about four hours. It's something that I'll be doing more in the future, and I heartily recommend that you try it. Even if you don't have the 'right' bike. b