Monday, May 21, 2012

A couple of decouplers

So in the long period that this blog has lain dormant, the bicycles in my life haven't. (At least, the two currently in my possession. The Iro sits entombed in a cardboard box in our flat in Bangalore.) The Volpe has been on a three week, 1,200km tour in Mexico after which I've stripped it down to frame only (and bottom bracket—that guy is jammed in there TIGHT), and in return for its selfless service I've sent it off to Bilenky CycleWorks where they'll hacksaw it in half and install S&S bicycle torque couplings.

The CAAD meanwhile has received a pair of new lightweight wheels and is being thrown at every incline I'm inclined to throw it at. The two of us are closing in rapidly on 100,000 vertical feet, or about 30km of riding up into the sky. (On the other geometrical plane and across all bicycles, I hit 20,000km somewhere in Mexico.) Why all the climbing? I want to soak up the San Gabriel mountains every chance I get. Even today, after so many trips up there, I can't believe there's so much beauty and wildness accessible on a door-to-door ride in what is essentially Los Angeles. The other day, a lynx glowered at me from the side of the road as I went past.

I went. I sawed. I decoupled
I loved touring, but really hated dealing with the full bike in box. Bike Fridays, the logical alternative to chopping your beloved bike in two, make me itch a little when I look at them. It's not just about the cycling, some of it is the cycle as well right? At least for me. I need to feel a bit of thrill when I lean my bike against a post a 1,000 miles from home, and look back at it before going off to see whatever sight I'm there to see.

But what a contradiction. I love my Volpe so much that I'd rather cut it up than buy another bike. And even cut up, it's not nearly as convenient as one of those Bike Friday things, which, with a flick of a wrist and the bat of an eyelid, can be stashed in a Samsonite between your dirty undies and useless souveniers that seemed such a good idea at the time. And though it has those tiny wheels, most riders swear by all that's good and comes in small packages that the ride is indistinguishable from a regular bike. The very next chance I get, I shall ride one of these bikes with what I shall call an open-minded skepticism, where I don't believe a word of what they say, but will be ready to be proved wrong.

The S&S coupler is another of those things that they promise doesn't affect the ride of your bike—everybody who has S&S coupled their bike and written about it on the internet (and the few people I've talked to directly) swear that you won't notice a thing. However, installing the couplers involves burning off some of the paint for the brazing process and having Bilenky repaint it just way out of my budget.

Why is this of any interest to you? Because a lot of people are horrified that I'd cut up my “beautiful Bianchi” and this has made me think a little about this relationship. Just as with your body, the bicycle relationship is a mix of love and a more rational, utility-based approach. I like nice things, but ultimately understand that they are tools. They are meant to be used. In fact, by spending good money in the first place, you get something solid and durable and fun to use. Spending money on precious items (in all senses of the word, but especially the sense of 'affectation') is just not me.

Ultimately the Volpe is a mass-produced steel frame, made in Taiwan, not something that was lovingly welded with moonlight under an oak tree in Portland by a man with a big beard. If taking it to a chop shop makes it more usable and useful, than so be it.


  1. Oh.. So, you took that plunge after all! Good for you, I say! The first bike with couplers that I saw was a 'Surly Traveller's Check' with Matt(yes, the same Matt who introduced me to the idea of a fixed gear bike). It also sported internal hub gears if I remember correctly. He travels with that bike the world over and loves it. :)

  2. Yeah the frame should get to Philly today. There's a slight upcharge because the top tube is flattened, so they have to round it out before installing the coupler. Would love to have watched!