No sooner will you have bought your first decent bike than someone will tell you to buy a ‘winter bike’. As a piece of friendly advice it comes behind only such suggestions as ‘Remember to unclip at the lights’ and ‘Don’t wear your underpants under your shorts’.
It is well meant. It is the only occasion on which you can argue an economic case for a bike purchase — it is just about conceivable that it will save you money by preserving your summer bike from the ravages of the salty, grimy roads. And when it comes to saving money by spending it in a bike shop, ‘just about conceivable’ is as good as the news is ever going to be.
However, I am going to offer you a cautionary tale. Many years ago I bought my first winter bike. And it was as if I had thrown my home open to a 10-year-old vandal with his own Allen keys.
The problems all started with a puncture on my winter bike, one of the exquisitely irritating variety that happen overnight in the garage and you only discover when you’re in a hurry to get out the next day. Instead of fixing it, I just took a wheel from my summer bike.
And thus the floodgates opened to a mass cannibalisation of parts. If you’re not riding your summer bike all winter, and the saddle is more comfortable than the cheap one on your winter bike… well, why would you want to suffer unnecessarily?
Would my winter bike be better with a slightly longer stem? Where might I find one to try out this theory? This quick release doesn’t release quickly enough — where is there one I’ll like better? It’s communism for inanimate objects — from each bicycle according to its current parts, to each bicycle according to what’s currently not working very well.
This is how I discovered Hutch’s third law of cycling, which states that a man with one bicycle knows how many bicycles he has while a man with more than one is never sure.
When asked how many bikes I have I usually confess to 14. This is an arbitrary number. The real number varies depending on how you define a bike. If you define it as ‘something I could ride to the shops right now’ it’s probably between zero and two.
If you prefer ‘a machine that could, in theory, be called into existence using a particular combination of frame and parts in a time window of not more than, say, a week and with the purchase of no more than £50 worth of new parts’, then the permutations are for all practical purposes infinite.
You want a Specialized Shiv with mudguards? I can do that. You want a Lotus 110 with a shopping basket? No problem.
The flux has a clear pattern. All of these parts are quietly flowing towards the winter bike. Everything ends up there eventually, it’s just a case of how long it takes. Sometimes it’s heartbreakingly quick — a pair of pedals bought for the summer bike got popped onto the winter bike, ‘until I’ve got to swap them round’. And of course nothing ever goes back the other way.
The results can be unsettling. Last week I suddenly realised that my current winter bike is the bike I rode in the Commonwealth Games in 2002. The frame and all the parts have, over the years, been part of many different machines. Some have been in almost constant use, some have spent a decade in a box.
But finally, perhaps inevitably, in the gloom of the garage they have all gravitated together for one last time.
The bottom bracket still creaks and everything.