The old joke goes that the ideal number of bikes to own is N + 1, where N is the current number of bicycles you have. It’s usually a funny joke, and perhaps a slightly tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement that many of us who ride bikes also appreciate the artistry and technology that goes in them.
Truth be told, however, in my eyes there is a definite ideal number of bikes to own per capita, and it isn’t N + 1. Below are a few reasons why.
ALL. THAT. MAINTENANCE.
The biggest thing that people don’t tell you about having a large bike fleet is all the maintenance those machines require. Granted, they may remain mechanically sound if you store them away correctly while they’re not used (and that’s another can of worms I’ll tackle later), but you still have chains to lubricate and tires to air up and inspect, at the very least. Add to that the longer-period jobs, such as servicing your hubs, servicing your pedals, adjusting your headset, greasing your seat post…you can see where I’m going from here.
Maintaining and cleaning bikes is also a time sink – one we accept because a clean bike generally runs at its best longer than a dirty one does. How much of your time do you really want to devote to the activity, though? Not everyone who reads this amateurish blog is a professional bicycle racer, and if you are, you usually have mechanics to do the nitty-gritty for you, so that you can get back to doing what you should be doing: riding the damn thing. Ultimately, that’s what most of us want to do with our precious free time, and any time spent working on the bike is time spent away from the saddle.
STORAGE AND SPACE
There’s no getting around it: bicycles are bulky things. There are ways of making their storage elegant, and there are bicycles that indeed help free up space by folding into a more compact form factor, but they will still encroach upon at least some of your space.
It’s not just the bikes themselves, either. There are a lot of ancillary parts and supplies to account for, especially so for people like me who like doing the maintenance work themselves. At the very least, you’re looking at a stock of shift and brake cables and their respective housings, plus brake pads, spare inner tubes, and any reserve tires, saddles, or unused chains.
Finally, don’t forget the tools. While most parts on modern bikes have settled on some level of standardization of tools, there are still areas that are minefields of proprietary parts-and-tools headache.
ABILITY AND OVERLAP?
Now we delve deeper into the personal preference side of things. You will have to be honest with yourself when you ask the question: “What do I look for in my bike riding?”
Do you ride on the road, or do you want to hit the trails? Is aerodynamics important to you, or is a bike better serving you if it can haul stuff along? Does your riding style prefer a more stable bike with slower steering, or a more agile, twitchier machine? Finally, do you live in an area with a defined winter, or does your area just have a hot season and a wet season?
It is in answering these questions that we can also start to distill your ideal number of bikes. Each bike should bring something new to the table that the others can’t. If you have bikes that are too similar to each other, those I believe you can dispose of.
SO WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER, THEN?
Nowadays, I’m actually rather close to it already. Two bikes is my minimum; it’s always good to have a spare bike to use on days when the other isn’t rideable. However, I can’t imagine myself owning more than three bikes for my own use.
Bino, my Dahon Vitesse folding bike, was a good machine as a beginner cyclist. I’ve since outgrown his capabilities to the point where I am better served by something burlier. It’s still worth having him around, though, as he can accommodate riders of various sizes and shapes, and he might be my ticket to getting in some ride time in situations where it would otherwise be impossible.
Hyro, my Giant TCX SLR 2, was the logical answer to Bino’s shortcomings. Tougher, stiffer, faster, and more comfortable at speed for longer spells on the saddle, he is also a veritable quiver-killer, fulfilling various roles just by swapping tires and/or wheels and adding/removing a rack and fenders. He isn’t perfect, though; having been built for the demands of cyclocross races that are just one hour long, some of the decisions behind Hyro’s geometry aren’t necessarily the best for comfort on long road rides.
Any third bike I own would ideally be made of titanium or steel, and at least as versatile as Hyro is, yet with more responsive handling and geometry. Such a machine may be too similar to Hyro and I might end up replacing him in my fleet altogether. In terms of avoiding overlap, a viable third bike for me would be a full-suspension cross-country mountain bike…had I displayed more interest in actually hitting trails.