Saturday, March 15, 2008

how many bikes?

I have often been asked by friends who don't ride much, "How many bikes do you own?"

I currently own three: a mountain bike and road bike that have both been repurposed into upright city bikes, and a road bike with drop bars. I also own a couple of trailers and am in the process of deciding which one to keep and which to move along.

I like all of my bikes, for various reasons. Mostly I like the two I use most of all because they fit me and are comfortable and fun to ride. The ATB I like because it was cheap to put together and it's tough and sturdy. With the lowest stand-over height of the three, it also serves as a loaner for out-of-town company. But mostly I just like to ride -- for fun, for transportation, just because it feels good to pedal my bike.

My occasional-riding friends think that three bikes is, while not extreme, perhaps more than any one person needs to own. And they're probably right. But because I work in the bike industry, these same friends cut me a LOT of slack. They figure I know what I'm doing, so of course I ought to own three bikes instead of just one.

When my bike-enthusiast pals ask me "how many bikes do you own?", they are shocked when I tell them I have three bikes.

"ONLY three?" they ask, astonished.

If I raced, I suppose I would probably require a bike for whatever kind of racing I did, whether cross, crit or road racing.
But I don't race and in fact, only dabbled in it briefly. Like I said, I just like to ride. I rather like the fact that at least two of my bikes could, in a pinch, serve almost equally well for those day-long rides I mentioned earlier. I just happen to prefer the bike with the drop handlebars for anything over, say, 20 miles. But really, I don't have to be so picky. I just ride.

Most of my bikey buddies own a minimum of five or six bikes. Each is special, no doubt. If they race, certain bikes are probably more necessary for the job. But not all of my bikey pals race, and some don't even commute by bike every day. Yet, they're convinced that they "need" their five, six, or fifteen bikes. "You never know," one friend said to me when I asked him to explain his collection of over twenty bikes, only a dozen of which were actually in rideable condition at the time.
"I never know what?" I asked.
"Well," he shrugged, his voice growing softer and trailing off, "well, um, ah, you know..."
I never did figure out what he was talking about. But when I see this same guy on a different bike each week and he's wearing the same happy expression on his face, I figure it's better to let him be. Because if our house had a full-sized garage instead of a tiny shed, who knows how many bikes I'd think I just HAD to have? Space limitations are actually good for me that way.

Roger, the fellow who founded Citybikes (the cooperative shop where I am one of 12 co-owners), recently "retired"; essentially, he asked not be written into the schedule ever again but is happy to remain very occasionally on-call. Roger owns in excess of 50 bikes, in various stages of repair or disrepair. When I was first hired at Citybikes in 1995 he had nearly 70 bikes, and I used to chide him about it: "Roger, you got seventy bikes and ONE butt. When ya gonna ride 'em all?" We'd both laugh out loud and then get back to work. He recently told me he plans to spend more of his free time at home fixing up and selling off most of these bikes, accumulated over 30 years of working in the bicycle industry. Roger has three or four bikes that he actually rides, and only two that he rides most of the time. Having recently moved to a smaller house, I guess he's ready to own fewer bikes. Space limitations are helpful, like I said.

Many of the customers who come into my shop own just one bike, and they're glad to have it at all, even if it's heavy and rusty and old. It's a bike, it works, and it gets them where they're going. I try to keep those folks in mind when I am tempted by a shiny new bike. Just that thought is usually more than enough to remind me I have all the bikes I need, and then some. In the end, I am reminded to just be grateful, and to just go out and ride my bike.

Beth Hamon is an owner and member of Citybikes Workers' Cooperative in Portland. She has lived without a car of her own since 1990 (though she will grudgingly take her turn behind the wheel of her partner's car on very long trips). Beth is also a musician who composes music and plays several instruments. Her personal blog can be found at


alice b. toeclips said...

yo Beth!!! I love
"Roger, you got seventy bikes and ONE butt."
Can I quote you?
Luv, yr fan J

beth h said...

Yes, please do. I love being quoted. Even when I say inappropriate things. At least they're MY inappropriate things...

Tim said...

Well, Beth, as one of your friends with a plethora of bikes, I'll chime in.

No, I don't NEED my 12 + bikes... geez, is it 15 yet? But it sure is fun to have such a selection, and there's a somewhat "collectible" aspect to each of my bikes.

But if it came down to it, and someone said "two bikes, and no more", I know which two it would be... my Trek I've had for 28 years and the lovely Miyata 1000. It's the somewhere between two and fifteen I'd have a hard time picking out! :-)

Christopher Johnson said...


How ironic, I found a pair of Suntour stem shifters and, based on your prior comments on stem shifters, thought of you. I'm not sure if offering them to you as a gift would be contrary to the "enough is enough" theme of your post. Nonetheless, they're yours if you want them.

Chris Johnson
Sanger, Texas

bikelovejones said...

Christopher --


Sweet of you to remember.
At the present I have all the stem shifters I need.
I use the extras to fix up old bikes and help them find new homes with folks on a budget. Why don't you donate the shifters to your local bike-love non-profit?
They'll be grateful.
And so am I.

Christopher Johnson said...

Great idea, will do.