There’s no good reason to have a winter hack any more, but try telling that to the rider with 15 bikes on Zwift

There's always room for one more bike, goes the theory (N+1), and Cycling Weekly's columnist agrees, but it's a position he's finding harder to justify

Dr Hutch at his shed considering bikes
(Image credit: Future)
Dr Hutch profile
Michael Hutchinson

Michael Hutchinson is a writer, journalist and former professional cyclist. His Dr Hutch columns appears in every issue of Cycling Weekly magazine. 

A few years ago, I learned to ride a penny-farthing. I was, in fact, briefly in love with penny-farthings. The view was good, the big wheel rolled effortlessly over anything from a pothole to a Golden Retriever, and there was a feeling of accomplishment to having mastered something that was simultaneously like riding a bike, and also not quite like riding a bike.

I made plans to buy one from a guy in the Czech Republic who makes bespoke penny-farthings, and a hipster beard sprang unbidden straight out of my face. But then I realised there would never be an afternoon when I walked to my bike store to select something to ride and thought, “Yep. Today is a penny-farthing day. A couple of hours on the big wheel is what I want.” It would only ever be a novelty.

It would also have been another bike to look after. And at the moment cycling is heading in the very sensible direction of fewer bikes, not more. Witness the quiet fading away of the winter bike as a concept. Disc brakes mean that you don’t wreck the braking surfaces of your good wheels on wet mucky rides, increased clearances mean nice big tyres and space for decent mudguards. There’s no good reason to have a winter hack any more. You can save space and save money. All you need to do is wash the bike you have at intervals a bit less shameful than once a season.

You can swap between road and gravel modes on a lot of bikes, you can go bike packing on the same bike you race. It’s like the 1930s all over again. (And if you think bike packing is different from touring, or gravel is different from what your great grandfather knew as rough-stuff, you’re wrong.)

But I still like the idea of having different bikes. I enjoy my winter bike – I like that it’s different from my summer bike, and that my summer bike is different from my other summer bike. They’re all good, but they’re not the same. For many years my favourite bike was my winter TT bike – aero bars and frame, race position, and a big pair of mudguards. It was fantastic, and no one else had one. I even raced it a few times in early season events.

I acquired the multiple bike enthusiasm early. At my university club the dream bike collection was a regular pub debate. I remember the club secretary explaining he’d have a road training bike, road race bike, “a time trial bike, a hilly time trial bike…”

We asked about the difference between the last two.

 “I never said they’d be different,” he said. When pressed he said the difference would be he’d use one of them in flat time trials and the other in hilly ones. Maybe they’d be contrasting colours so he could tell them apart.

It’s telling that Zwift offers multiple bike options, bought with points earned by spending time on the platform. Clearly, there is not a huge practical difference between an imaginary Canyon and an imaginary Giant. But it says something that there’s a demand for them. I’ve got fifteen bikes on my account and I swap between them like it matters.

When Zwift get around to demanding real-life money for in-game bikes, the only thing that will stop me are those occasional dizzy spells you get where you can see how your behaviour would look to someone who hasn’t yet lost their grip on reality.

I accept that the multi-purpose bike is better. It’s more responsible, it’s more sustainable. It’s very satisfying to have one beautiful machine so well-engineered it can do and survive anything.

But I’d still miss the variety, the changes. I’d still likely as not end up with two. One for odd-numbered days, one for even-numbered days perhaps.

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