The essential 9. #1: race day machine

Use #3 for suit trousers

I wish to suggest that, with a little careful planning, it is possible to trim ones collection of bikes right down to an essential 9. Sit down if you need to. I know you would sooner have only one pair of shoes, and have to clip-clop to the boardroom in your Sidi Ergos, than even attempt to live with nine bikes and no more. But I am convinced it is possible. You just need to think of your bikes the way you might think of your favourite suit, that is, as a jacket you can dress down with jeans, as a suit, and as trousers you can wear under your undies for superhero engagements. If you can get three outfits from the one suit, it may also be possible to fulfil all your bicycling needs with only 9 bikes, provided those 9 bikes are very carefully chosen.

In this first instalment in what will be a trilogy of trilogies, we are going to look at the bike you have owned for decades now, since long before the renaissance of bike transportation. Your light-as-light, Campagnolo equipped racer, with Mavic wheels and soft compound tires; this is your bible of bikes, in the sense that weekend club racing is your religion and church. Without your race day machine you are faithless, rudderless, lacking motivation to commute through the week. A racing shaped vacuum exists your heart. Losing possession of a competitive bike is the first step on a downward spiral to not renewing your racing licence, buying non bike-specific clothes for the office, and making yourself unattractive, even unto your wife. Then will come drugs, gambling, depression and suicide, as you well know, you old black dog you.

The carbon frame herd

I’m sure you know your preference in racing equipment, so do not need any advice from a blogger. That is, unless you want to be better. So here’s my advice: forget carbon frames, and forget carbon rims! Psychologically, bikes like that make you feel like a part of the bunch, and a part of the bunch you will stay, all the way to finishing line of every race. If you want to finish ahead of the bunch, it is self flagellatory heroics you need, and that aim is helped by a bike that tells the world you are an outsider.

The maverick’s standard choice, for a decade now, has been titanium, preferably bought secondhand, to demonstrate that you know titanium bikes cannot fatigue, but stay elastic forever. You accept you will pay a 400 gram weight penalty (roughly the weight of a full bladder) for the durability of Ti, but know too you can loose that weight with some fly shoes and pedals.

The only thing a titanium frame cannot give you, is decorative lugwork. It is this deficiency of Ti that is gradually turning cashed-up nostalgics to new generation stainless steel frames, which are able to be polished to such a level of brilliance that the lugs start interfering with the Hubble Space Telescope.

But there is one problem with stainless tubing, and polished investment cast lugs: they broadcast your wealth. Telling fellow riders you might be worth knowing in business fora, is less problematically done with the clothes that you wear, than the bike that you race.

If you are not sure you can parade a 5K stainless frame without a shred of self-consciousness, the better way to express your nostalgia is with a collectible steel frame from the 80s or 90s. It might set you back 2K on eBay, but you can tell people your dad gave it to you, and that you’re one of Eddy Merckx’s secret love children. Hit it with new Super Record components and overpriced wheels, and everyone will assume you’re ex-pro.

So what else do you need to know about owning a race-day machine? Well, you can use your racing bike for centuries (3 hour rides you do by yourself, because you prefer the company of your endorphins than your children when they’re staring at screens). You just need an old pair of wheels with hard tires and a cassette that’s compatible with your derailleur. Detachable mudguards also come in handy when taking your race to the paddocks for “me-time”.

I urge you not to be one of these pillocks who upgrades their saddle or headset every six months, just to be “in” with the A-grade Aspergers case who works at their local bike store. That A-grader’s only purpose in life is to keep A-grade sufficiently stocked, that you never have to race A-grade. (I tried it once. Noooo.) He’s also good for his toolkit, and repairs he’ll do for you for just $40 per hour. But you don’t have buy new saddles from him, or pretend you’re his best mate. (Apologies to JohnSam, Jarret, etc.. How’s it goin’ there fellas?)

Old stock is cheap with no wear, and it can have retro charm.

You aught to know that your racing bike has no special attachment to its original groupset. Buy a whole new set every 5 or 6 years, when you see one on special, and have old-mate in A-grade for it for you for about $80.

Standing out from the herd with a non-compact titanium frame

In coming instalments we’ll look at the remaining 8 essential bikes for your quiver. As you wait for them to be revealed, please don’t plan a big garage sale. This is just a hypothetical exercise, to show that bike rationing can be achieved.


  1. Luke says:

    I fear you have set yourself an impossibly minimalist task. The list of your “favourite” bikes from About Steven (which by some extraordinary coincidence comes
    to nine) does not include such obvious essentials as a rubbish bike you don’t worry about being nicked, or touring bike. Once you’ve gone beyond 1, the slippery slope of specificity beckons (if slopes can beckon – my meaning is clear).

  2. petermc says:

    Heehee, yes, there’s no need to be obsessive now – 9 bikes does sound about right ! 🙂

  3. Don says:

    Phew! I was seriously considering thinning out my collection of 10. Thank God I only have to lose one!!

    Trouble is, I may well replace it with that hub-geared 29’er I’ve been hankering after…

    • Steven says:

      Oh yes, I have a 29er with an Alfine 8 hub — kinda just something that came together. But you never know, my essential 9 list may include 8 mountain bikes.

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