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On Biking: In search of the perfect bike

Posted by Your Town  July 17, 2013 03:19 PM

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My first high-end road bike, the one I bought over 10 years ago, did not fit me properly. At least that’s what I thought. A good carpenter never blames his tools, but I decided my bike was not right: After four hours on the saddle, my shoulders and neck began to hurt. Something must be causing that pain, I reasoned, and because it couldn’t be me, it must be the bike.

Or so I thought.

With that in mind, I rode over to see Peter Mooney, a Belmont-based frame-builder extraordinaire and bike guru. I wanted his opinion about (and hopefully his blessing for) the purchase of a new bike. Preferably one of the gorgeous custom-lugged steel bikes that he builds by hand.

Except that Peter told me I looked just fine on my bike. “Keep on riding. I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said. “It’s a great bike you’ve got there. Enjoy it.”

He was right, but that was not what I wanted to hear. Only after I purchased three more bikes did I eventually realize that Peter was right all along: it wasn’t the bike, it was me. It turned out that sit-ups and pullups solved my problem.

Cyclists talk about our “forever bike,” the last one we’ll ever have to buy because it is perfect. We believe that the forever bike will make everything right and stop all that wishing for more. It just never works that way.

A guy I know has bought three racing bikes in the past two years. He deliberated endlessly over each purchase: Each bike was going to be forever. After his most recent acquisition, I asked him what was next.

He wondered how I knew his last bike was not his last bike. And then he laughed and said, “As a matter of fact, I was debating between a DeRosa and a Colnago. I like buying bikes. It’s like a hunt, but once I get the bike I’m like ‘OK, I’m ready for the next one.’ The thrill is gone.”

What my friend is learning is that the half-life of that thrill is pretty short. Full disclosure: I know the half-life of buying a new bike is short, and yet I, too, have bought a forever bike.

At first I wanted a second bike for when the weather turned bad — that way, the expensive parts on my fancy racing ride wouldn't get ruined by the winter sand and salt. It might have made sense if I had bought a $300 beater from Craigslist. But somehow I began to think about carbon fiber models because they were on sale, and if I were getting carbon fiber I might as well get what I had always wanted: a custom bike.

I believed that a custom bike would be my forever bike. Custom means that the bike would be fitted to me, not me to the bike. Fitting is a painstaking process: You are measured, bent, prodded, and poked, and then measured some more. Sometimes a weighted string or a protractor is placed against your knee to position your saddle and the cleat beneath your shoe. Sometimes you are videotaped on the bike, sometimes you are just told to “stand over the bike and pull up on the handlebars to make sure you've got enough room.” Sometimes I think I would have been better off just hopping on whatever bike was in my basement, just like I did as a kid.

My forever bike truly is forever: It fits me perfectly and rides like a dream. Still, I would have been just as happy with a used bike I found online.

Only after I bought my forever bike did I realize I did not need a forever bike. Sure, I love my forever bike, but I also know that in this one way, Lance Armstrong was right: It’s not about the bike.

And yet I still sometimes long for a new bike, one that I imagine will help me win the town-line sprint.

And then I head out on the road and my brain becomes bathed with endorphins and dopamine, and I realize that whatever I’m on fits me just fine.

For more coverage of biking, and other participatory sports, follow @Globerecreation on Twitter and go to boston.com's Recreation Page.

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