Many non-cyclists are astonished to hear I have three bicycles (this is actually a small number of bikes to own, trust me). On hearing this, there's the inevitable, wide-eyed, slightly disbelieving, “But why three?” With an unspoken hint of, “I'm pretty sure you're insane, but let me make you say it so I'm justified in throwing this quiche in your face and running out of here.”
The answer is simple. I own more than one bicycle because there is more than one kind of bicycle.
You could, in theory, have one large pot in your kitchen in which you make everything, from tea to rice to fried chicken, but most cooks understand that different tasks need different tools. And if you don't, I really don't want to come to your house for dinner, thank you. Oh, I'm sure your one-pot chicken stew will be fantastic, but I'm not so sure I'll want the chicken-flavoured payasam. And the chicken-flavoured-payasam flavoured tea.
I think everyone understands the basic bicycle divide: mountain and road. Even the uninitiated can see that one has fat tyres, suspension and a flat handlebar. The other has thin tyres, no suspension, and, usually, the infamous “racing bars” or “curved bars”, known as drop bars. Those who look closer will see that the frames are different as well. Road bikes and mountain bikes have different stances, and put the rider in different positions relative to the bike itself.
But just as under frying pans there are saute pans, omelette pans, cast-iron pans and so on, there are different kinds of mountain bikes (MTBs), each designed for a certain kind, or intensity, of off-road riding. Some MTBs are cheap and meant simply to ride around the park on unpaved roads. As you go up the range, they can take more and more beating, and eventually you end up at the downhill bikes—heavy, extremely strong machines that can barrel down mountains chomping 30-foot drops with ease.
Road bikes tend to look very similar to the untrained eye, but sport differences that make some suitable for touring, others for long, fast rides, and still others exclusively for racing. Many of these are in the geometry of the frame, others are in the features available. For instance, a touring frame will have attachment points for racks, while a racing bike won't. A touring frame will put the rider in a comfortable, stable position, while the racing bike will have the rider bent over in a more “aggressive”, aerodynamic position. And there are a range of bikes that are the grey areas in the middle, and yes, the differences between some of these sub-castes can be subtle.
Imagine if cars weren't as expensive and damaging as they are and that we all lived on big estates with tons of garage space. You can see how we might have many kinds of vehicles. Perhaps a good 4WD for off-roading. A large people-carrier for family runs. A plush, quiet car for commuting. A hardcore sports car for track days and Sunday drives in the mountains. A vintage car to tinker with in the evenings. A cheap runabout for quick errands.
That's the good thing about loving cycles, even motorcycles. You don't have to be a billionaire to have a stable.