N-1 (+2W). The Modern Equation for Bicycle Needs
If you’ve been in the bicycle world very long, you know the joke. It killed me the first time I heard it.
“What’s the equation for figuring out how many bikes you need?”
“I dunno… what?”
“Well, if N is the number of bikes you have, N+1 is the number of bikes you need.”
Pause for hysterical laughter.
True as it is that most of us lust after the “latest and greatest” bikes, in a sport and industry dominated by planned obsolescence and constant change, riders’ garages can get full, budgets tight and frankly, lives complicated. With the advent of more capable drop bar bikes (call them gravel, adventure, all-road - choose your iteration) more riders are opting for simplifying their lives and owning fewer, nicer things. The equation to represent this trend admittedly steps up the grade-level of that math equation.
Take the number of bikes you have (N), subtract one, then add two good wheelsets, and let the fun begin.
I’ve spent the summer on such a bike. Tired of my rim-brake equipped, light as a feather and punishing as a hammer road bike gathering dust in the garage, I got onto a gravel frame that could do double duty. Since I ride mtb’s when it’s super rough, and most of my area’s gravel roads are smooth, I opted for a road-oriented build. My wheel options reflect the same. With an Ares6 for fast group rides on the road and a Hyalite Carbon set up with gravel tires, I can move between the two disciplines in a matter of moments, even doing so for two rides in a single day. The frame is stable, yet responsive and the ride quality world’s above what I was used to. Plus, I netted a pile of cash in the process.
I’m not alone. Every day we hear from riders of all levels making the same trade. Even our pro Triathlete Eric Lagerstrom, though he has no shortage of bikes or wheels to choose from, is following suit. With his race season cancelled due to Covid-19, he’s spending more time than ever adventuring on back roads. While he was accustomed to swapping Ares6 and Ares4 based on race courses and wind, and riding Vigor’s as a training wheel on the road bike, these days his gravel bike sees most of the action. As he lives much of his life out of a van on the road, things are simpler with just a single bike and two sets of wheels packed away.
Of course, while the gravel/road bike solution may be the most common, it’s not the only way to solve this equation. It applies across disciplines. With trail-oriented mtb’s getting easier to pedal and xc bikes becoming more capable downhill, two wheelsets equipped with their corresponding “rowdy” and “fast rolling” tires can meet a similar goal on the trails. Riders are astounded by how much a super light Alsea 30 wheelset will change the feel of a 160mm trail bike, just as they are when they mount up 2.5 rubber on sister brand Astral Cycling’s Serpentine with Project 321 hubs for a fast engaging, hard charging trail bruiser. Still others are riding their more slack, adventure oriented gravel bikes with 35mm file treads one day, and 650b 2.0 mtb tires the next, depending on mood and terrain. See sponsored Kona Adventure Team’s Kerry Werner’s Libre for an example of what can be done on this front with two sizes of Outbacks.
Life can feel overwhelming these days, but riding can be a source of joy and clarity. A little streamlining and well-chosen equipment further eases the strain. Even if the equation is a bit higher-level.
Photos: Eric Lagerstrom
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