Chris and I have to love our bikes. They are more than our means of transport, the vehicles of this absurdly long journey. They define our way of life. Loving our bikes means loving what we do; it means solace during the 6th hour on the saddle when I wonder what the hell I’m doing in the place I never thought I’d be.
But I did not love the bike that took me from Paris to Eastern Turkey. It was a custom built model from a German bike company called Velo de Ville. It was a good bike. Top of the line components, all the right brand names and specifications. But it was far from a great bike.
At the core of a great bike is the frame. That is what transfers the power efficiently, dictates the feel of the ride, and defines all the components and their placement. Tiny details in the frame impact how the components work together, mostly by forcing the rider to assume a certain posture on the bike. So while the DeVille, as she was nicknamed, had all the right parts, the frame was almost built to take the
joy out of the ride. It rode like a truck. And it was slow, a virtue of the frame shape and the mountain bike style tires that the frame demanded.
Besides being less than a party to ride, being slow created enormous practical difficulties. Chris was normally far ahead, almost always out of earshot and frequently out of sight. This meant I couldn’t make us stop for a beautiful photograph, couldn’t decide when and where lunch happened, couldn’t stop to pee without falling completely out of range.
It also left me vulnerable. If my bike had a problem, I was left to deal with it on my own, though Chris carries most of the bike maintenance equipment. And if I had a real problem, I was just screwed. In Romania, I got ambushed after Chris rode through a village about five minutes before I did. I narrowly escaped an attacker that lunged for my bike, and got pelted by rocks thrown by a schoolyard full of
children. Weeks later in Bulgaria, I had an ATV ride on my ass for 3 kilometers, the owner persistently demanding my watch. I was powerless to do anything but give them the middle finger, and was relieved when they drove off. Both those situations might have been avoided if I had kept up with Chris.
Then there was the pride thing. More than once, I would get to the top of a hill and see Chris just sitting there his helmet off. It was embarrassing. Every time we started a ride he would just breeze by, and seeing that every day would just make me angry. I berated Chris for not calling out all of his passes, but it had nothing to do with safety. I just wanted a reason to pissed that he kept passing me, that I was the drag on our speed. The issue became a pressure point between us, and it was a black mark on otherwise fantastic days on the road.
So when I had the chance to replace the bike in Istanbul, I jumped on it. It didn’t matter that the $1700 price tag was going to wipe out half my savings, because the money couldn’t come from the trip fund. I needed a bike that would be my friend.
The Trek 520 that I bought, the same as Chris’, now has 650 kilometers under its wheels. It rides like a dream. The best part is that now that I keep up, Chris and I can actually draft off each other, resting and leading in cycles of about 15 minutes. One new bike, but both of us are going much faster.
So was it worth it? Hell yeah. There’s easily another 10,000 miles on this trip, and we’re going to do it on bikes that can really rip the road.