When I was in grade school I delivered newspapers, The Scottsdale Daily Progress, for 45 minutes after school everyday, plus Saturdays at sun-up, on my 1976 JCPenney bike.
Years of demanding daily deliveries took their toll on it. The once-fluorescent orange paint faded to a strange pinkish color, the rear wheel lost any knowledge or recollection of truth, the bars and stem regularly stripped and swung away with little or no notice, and the saddle gave up its vinyl veneer for cheap foam.
But it was, nonetheless, a masterful ride: I could pedal it no-handed for hours, wobbly rear wheel notwithstanding, up driveways and back down, around suburban block after block, rubber-banding each newspaper in succession from a ready supply I kept looped on the handlebars. By design it was a bike ill-suited for newsboy work. But I never considered buying a new rig with my meager profits.
My faded orange JCPenny might have been the wrong bike for the job, but it would always be my bike for the job.
If you often (or exclusively) ride a singlespeed, a fixed gear, a vintage cruiser or maybe even a cyclocross bike, you probably already know: you’re riding the wrong bike. Not the wrong brand. Not the wrong size. Not the wrong vintage. The wrong bike; a bike that’s often not the most ideally suited to the ride you’re on. A bike that is somewhat (if not radically) ill-suited to many of the myriad tasks you demand of it. A bike that will challenge you to meet the landscape with less mechanical or technological advantage; a bike that will occasionally make you hurt, suffer, or cry out in pain and frustration; a bike that will regularly cause others to shake their heads in wonder at your compulsion to so obviously sabotage your innate capabilities.
You know it: you’re riding the wrong bike. And that’s just fine with you.
The wrong bike can show you things the right bike is designed to miss, like rocks, hills, and time. The wrong bike can reinstate a sense of challenge and accomplishment where such has been lost. The wrong bike can be a lot of fun to ride.
But, if you’re not already riding the wrong bike once in a while, here’s a suggestion: try riding the wrong bike! Do it as often as you like. And as often as you can! Sometime soon, just for grins: choose a ride and a bike that are logically mismatched.
You see: given the right (or wrong!) circumstances, every bike is the wrong bike!
Try this: leave your fully suspended demi-motorcycle at home and ride an old rigid bike on your favorite Sedona ride. Take your fixed gear or singlespeed on your fast weekly group ride. Century on anything other than your lightest, fastest road bike. Hop on your vintage cruiser and go on a long, hilly ride off road. Or ride a few of your regular singletrack loops on your ‘cross bike, just after a good snow.
However you choose, whatever you choose... Ride the wrong bike!