A good friend once encouraged me to join a local camera club. Having young children at the time and a rapidly shrinking social life, I thought it would be a good idea (at least once a week) to leave baths and bedtime stories for an evening in the company of adults. I knew it was time to quit and resume fatherly duties, however, when the theme of one night’s meeting was tripods. Unfortunately confirming, as each member presented their own example for approval, that it does matter how big it is…
Now you might well be wondering what this has to do with riding a bike but when I re-discovered my love of cycling as middle age approached, I imagine I would be hard pressed to find another interest or hobby with a greater focus on accessorising. What you ride and wear says a lot about you in the cycling world.
And much as I love to ride, even commuting to work in all weathers, I must also admit to buying the magazines. The magazines that report on the racing, the general interest ones with feature rides and interviews with frame builders, and more worryingly, the publications that focus on bike reviews.
I imagine we’ve all been there, pouring over the specifications, mentally juggling whether the 100g or so you save opting for a full Dura Ace groupset outweighs the advantage of choosing an upgrade to full carbon rims. Until, eventually, you consider the £4995 asking price for a bike manufactured by a certain internet-sales-only company as quite remarkable value.
And when I have researched and bought a new bike, there’s no guarantee that it will truly satisfy and meet long-term expectations. A buyer’s guide featuring this year’s ‘Top 10’ road bikes soon becomes last year’s choices as manufacturers produce new models featuring the latest groupset, wheels and colour schemes. The enjoyment of your purchase can be transitory as you’re always playing catch-up.
I did wonder whether this was purely a personal failing but, as with all things in contemporary life, there’s always something bigger (remember the tripod), shinier, more expensive or fashionable. Whether it’s your home, car, holiday, job or even partner; we’re almost encouraged to want the new, better, improved. To be an active participant in a throwaway society.
So how did I disengage from this endless cycle (forgive the pun) of avarice and consumerism? Naturally, I bought another bike. A bike made from steel by a small company called Starley based in Altrincham, Cheshire. And even though, as with most purchases, there are compromises – the bike is marginally heavier than my now ignored carbon road bike – I’ve fallen for it. Absolutely.
In simple terms, it has a classic ‘look’ that feels almost beyond fashion. Round tubes of brushed stainless steel, beautifully brazed joints and a ride that carried me on my cycle club’s 123 mile Milan-San Remo tribute with speed and comfort. And in taking this step into a previous era of frame building, away from the buyer’s guide, I don’t need to worry if there’s a new trend for shaping aero tubes or a longer, thinner carbon fibre strand that utilises a revolutionary new resin. No need to concern myself with saving those 5 Watts and 28 seconds over 40km.
I still look at bike reviews – I can’t help myself. And there’s a place for all bikes, disciplines, budgets and colour schemes. This is part of what makes a club ride so enjoyable – the discussion, debate and expression of personal style. But what I don’t feel, something that I’m convinced the marketing departments of the major retailers want you to feel, is that nagging sense of dissatisfaction. Of the constant need to be planning the next purchase.
Time will tell. For now, however, I feel happy to ride my Starley and enjoy the view.
Words and photos by Chris Hargreaves (@openautograph).