Everything I need to know I learned from my bikes

The title of this article is partly a joke, but the fact is that each bike has taught me a great deal, or I have learned alot through riding it and modifying it.

I had quite a few one-speed bikes before buying my first multi-gear bike. These taught me the joy of riding, of going significant distances under my own power.

My old Schwinn LeTour taught me how useful gears could be, and that derailleurs aren't so hard to maintain. Of course, it didn't have indexed shifting, so I didn't have to do much to it to keep it working. Going for a tour with it, I learned that it really does get cold at night even in the summer (I was foolish enough to try to do without a sleeping bag for that trip), and that putting all your stuff in rear panniers and rack-top bag is a pretty bad way of carrying a heavy load. It left my company long ago, being replaced by the Panasonic PT3500.

My Panasonic PT3500 touring bike (bought in 1988, still in use in one form or another) has taught me an incredible amount. I learned that index shifting is a wonderful thing. That cantilever brakes are much stronger than centerpulls (I assumed from this that cantis were stronger than any road brake). I learned from touring with it that distributing weight between rear and front panniers (the latter on a lowrider rack) works much better for carrying loads. I also learned that with a flexy laden bike you must shift down when you stop, since you can't stand up to pedal! I learned from trying to ride it offroad that slick tires don't have much grip in steep dirt, and later from putting cyclocross tires on it that it works pretty well offroad in flattish areas, except that the narrow drop bars don't offer you as good a hand position for rough stuff as flat bars. It is has now been converted to a fixed gear so it has taught me about riding without a freewheel.

My mountain bike (heavily upgraded Trek 950) has taught me the joys of offroad riding, of getting away from the cars into the quiet contryside, and of challenging myself with technical bits. Surprisingly, I'm pretty good at trail skills, although I'm hopeless at showoff type skills. From putting a suspension fork and seatpost on it I've learned the value of springs. From getting it absolutely caked in mud I've learned the value of narrow tires for muddy conditions.

My cheap used racer (Paul Milnes) came with 165mm Stronglight cranks. This was a big shock to me. It felt so strange that at first I contemplating finding some 170mm cranks to put on it, but gradually I realized that it was actually better for me: I could spin the pedals much more easily. And then I started converting all my bikes to 165mm cranks... I also learned, in looking for some better brakes to put on in place of the cheapo sidepulls that came on it, that dual pivot brakes are as powerful as cantis, and are much easier to adjust. It was sold off in autumn '99 and now provides a trusty ride for another local lady.

From my Fisher (old alu MTB) I learned to appreciate a more upright riding position. You see, all of my bikes were meant for men and offered a very stretched out riding position. I'd been suffering from tendonitis in my elbows for a few years, and in desperation I kitted out the Fisher for on-road riding, putting on slick tires and mudguards. Suddenly, I could ride as far as I wanted to without my elbows bothering me. This has lead me to think much more about how women fit on bikes. I've also discovered how nice it is to have a "road" bike that's reasonably comfortable offroad, so I can mix offroad into my road rides.

From my old 3-speed, I've discovered the joys of long-lasting bikes. It's 30 years old, and works as well as it did when new (I guess, I've never ridden a new three-speed!).

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