There are more bike types than ever, but let’s not lose sight of the es­sen­tials, says Rob Ains­ley

Cycling Plus - - THE HUB -

The generic me­dia im­age of a bike has changed over the years. 1950s: town run­about, prob­a­bly a Raleigh. 1990s: moun­tain bike. Now: road bike. Ex­cept on promo lit­er­a­ture for train com­pa­nies and prop­erty de­vel­op­ers. They only show fold­ers, so they can claim to be bike-friendly with­out the ef­fort of pro­vid­ing any space for them.

My bike sta­ble cov­ers those four types. But mar­ket­ing labs breed new strains every sea­son. Auc­tion site eBay lists nearly 40 cat­e­gories, from Bal­ance to Ur­ban - Fixed Gear, via Dutch, Fat, Freeride, and in­trigu­ingly ‘Sax­onette’, which sounds more like a wind in­stru­ment. And still doesn’t cover ev­ery­thing, no ‘Win­ter bike’ for in­stance.

The ploy of in­vent­ing novel gen­res means more buy­ing temp­ta­tion, but we should keep some per­spec­tive. Bikes can serve many roles. I’ve been round town on my moun­tain bike, gone off road on my tourer, toured on my folder, and folded my town bike into a car boot.

Un­for­tu­nately that last oc­ca­sion was af­ter a lorry crushed it while parked, and I had to get the re­mains home. Every bike can be a fold­ing bike, if only once. As many who’ve risked their prize road bike on a plane can tes­tify.

My favourite bike, my be­spoke steel tourer, is the most ver­sa­tile. It’s bliss to tour on, ob­vi­ously, but can be so many other things with tweak­ing. En­durance/ au­dax? Re­move the front pan­nier rack. Gravel/ ad­ven­ture? Re­move the mud­guards and rear rack. Cy­clocross? Switch to fat­ter tyres. Triathlon bike? Sim­ply change the bars, wheels and frame, and rider.

So, bound­aries can be fuzzy. But de­cent in­fra­struc­ture – for which read ‘sur­faces’ – means you can have good ex­pe­ri­ences on any bike. This struck me when I met up with two friends re­cently to cy­cle in Bel­gium, a coun­try that has some fuzzy bound­aries it­self, not only the French/ Flem­ish busi­ness – Google ‘Baarle’.

One friend joined us be­tween 200km day rides, so was on his en­durance bike: a car­bon Trek Do­mane with long-dis­tance es­sen­tials such as light­weight sad­dle­bag, hub-driven USB charger and sound sys­tem. The other friend was back­pack­ing, so hired a ba­sic hy­brid. I’d ar­rived by coach, so was on my folder. The Trek had cost 10 times more than my folder, and the folder had cost 10 times more than the week’s hy­brid hire.

De­spite the range in bike types, we had equally en­joy­able cy­cling. We were af­ter all in Flan­ders, Dutch-speak­ing and very much Dutch-bik­ing in char­ac­ter. Out­side the cob­bled old town cen­tres (a lit­eral pain in the back­side thanks to my small wheels), cy­cle tracks and roads were beau­ti­fully smooth. In­fra­struc­ture is bet­ter than the UK’s. It’s in­stalling a net­work of Fi­etss­nel­we­gen (bike free­ways), longdis­tance high-qual­ity routes link­ing towns, of­ten run­ning par­al­lel to rail­ways. To­gether with great per­me­abil­ity in towns – oneway streets for mo­tors are al­ways two-way for bikes, and cy­cle paths gen­er­ally have pri­or­ity at junc­tions – and ex­cel­lent driver be­hav­iour (very pa­tient and cour­te­ous) it meant we all had good ex­pe­ri­ences, re­gard­less of bike genre, speed of progress, or lug­gage car­ried.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter, I was in Lon­don three times in the space of a week on dif­fer­ent bikes – folder, tourer, town – but cov­er­ing the same area each time, on its bril­liant de­vel­op­ing sys­tem of seg­re­gated, wide-ish, joy­ous cy­cle tracks. I en­joyed sim­i­larly pos­i­tive re­sults.

Good cy­cle in­fra­struc­ture en­ables all types of rider. In Lon­don and Flan­ders the bike paths were plied by fast road­ies, slow Dutch bikes, re­cum­bents, e-bikes, moun­tain bikes, wheel­chairs, skates… and all happy. You don’t need a gravel bike for the tow­path, or an en­durance bike for the seven-sides-of-an-oc­tagon Sus­trans route to the town cen­tre. In­fra­struc­ture trumps mar­ket­ing.

So, all these are good log­i­cal ar­gu­ments that I don’t need an­other bike, but not quite clinch­ing. Win­ter is com­ing, and we know a win­ter bike is an es­sen­tial. A less pre­cious, re­serve bike, good and com­fort­able enough for a long day’s ride, but one you don’t worry about so much in mud and rain, even out­side overnight. A pru­dent in­vest­ment, to pro­tect your more valu­able bikes. I’m not fussy over de­tail: I might use it in sum­mer too. I’ll tell eBay to add a new cat­e­gory...

De­cent in­fra­struc­ture means you can have good ex­pe­ri­ences on any bike

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