I’ve owned my Bantam bicycle for just about four years. In 2011 the idea of owning a custom bike wasn’t even in consideration. Fast forward four years and a custom bicycle became reality. I’ve ridden it near and far since 2015. It has gotten a lot of compliments in that time.*
But I feel like I’ve never properly embraced the bicycle.
Don’t read this as “I don’t like the bike” or that the custom I ordered isn’t the custom I really wanted. No, the Bantam was the distillation of my bike ideas at that point. There’s a few minor things I’d change if I did it again, but overall I have been satisfied with the bike. And please, no, I’m not going to get a different custom.
But in those four years, it hasn’t been my “go to” ride. A lot of people assume once you get a custom bike that’s (supposedly) dialed into your wants, needs, and body geometry, it’d be the only bike you’d ever ride. This hasn’t been the case for me. If anything, I’ve felt like I’ve made more excuses for not riding the Bantam (like keeping it “special” and not as a daily commuter) than I’ve made excuses for riding it.
And why do I have these feelings? Why have I never embraced the Bantam as “The” bike? Here’s a few ideas:
- I have too many other bikes. If my fleet was two or three bikes, I would naturally use a bike like the Bantam more often. But I have five bikes. So I can keep the Bantam as the “special” bike and use another (like the Raleigh Crested Butte) as my “day-to-day” bike. Over the past few years, I’ve done less special rides and more day-to-day ones, so the Bantam languishes. From time to time I think about “reducing the fleet”. While this may make the Bantam more prominent, the reality is I’m not going to be getting rid of bikes any time soon.
- The bike is pretty much “done”. Since I started from scratch and knew what I wanted, there’s been little change to it since 2015. I’ve changed tires and handlebars, updated the drivetrain from 1X8 to 1X10, and added racks. It hasn’t seen the constant reinventions like some of my bikes (Crested Butte). Much as constantly tweaking bikes can get annoying and expensive, there is a degree of fun in trying to reinvent a bike. There has been no radical reinventions with the Bantam, it is what it is. Maybe I care more about taking an extant bike and transforming it into something else? It’s an interesting conclusion.
- I’ve denied that it’s a touring bike for far too long. The idea behind the Bantam was for it to be an “all rounder” vs. a traditional touring bike. I had a touring bike with my Long Haul Trucker, I wanted something different. But what bike do I use on my bike tours? The Bantam. What bike did I add racks to so I can carry more stuff? The Bantam. The Bantam is my touring bike, whether I label it that way or not. I need to get over such trivialities.
- I haven’t had enough of a “defining moment” with riding the Bantam. My Giant Rincon was my first bike in Portland, the one in which I became a bike commuter. My Centurion Accordo was my first nice bike, the bike on which I toured the Pacific Coast. My Surly Long Haul Trucker was my true touring bike, the one on which I toured across the continent. The Raleigh Crested Butte is where I discovered my love of vintage mountain bikes and 26 inch wheels. The Bantam’s defining moment is it’s my nicest bike ever and first custom. But somehow that doesn’t ring as strong as these other moments. I haven’t done that much touring with it, haven’t ridden as many long rides with it as I would have thought, and don’t use it as regularly as planned. Compare that to the other bikes in the list, where I rode them regularly because it was the only bike I owned or because I wanted to ride it regularly.
- The self-held notion that I don’t deserve nice things. This one is subliminal, but I feel it from time to time over the years. I grew up working-class. I only did a semester of community college. I’m currently broke and am always scheming ways to get cash. I’ve got a weird relationship with “affluence”. And deep in my head, owning a custom bike is something someone affluent does. So maybe I feel like it’s above my station? And it’s not just this bike. I remember when I got my Centurion Accordo in 2006 having similar feelings. Never mind it was 20 years old at the point I purchased it, and it was an entry level road bike. It was still nicer than any bike I had previously owned. But somehow for awhile I felt like I didn’t “deserve” this bike, I should just own crappy bikes. I’ve gotten over that notion mostly, but custom definitely is a new level.
So what should I do? No, I’m not selling the bike. And I’m not going to get another custom anytime soon. I just need to learn how to embrace this bicycle. Of course I should tour more with it, but there are other things I can do. Like ride it more. And nothing gets me more inspired about riding a bike than giving it a little refresh. So back in September, that’s what I did:
And what did I do to refresh? Not much. I put some new handlebar tape on it and added new tires. The Kenda Small Block Eights did the trick for the last year, but turns out I don’t care much for small knobs. Since I wasn’t going to go back to Rat Trap Pass tires anytime soon, I decided to go with tried-and-true Schwalbes. This time, Fat Franks, a nice plush and wide (2.35″ or 60 mm) tire with that “old motorcycle tread”. Yeah, they are the opposite of “supple” but I don’t care. And I love the colors, a two tone of brown with cream sidewalks. That cream sidewall makes the tire pop and brightens the bike!
I’ve also decided to go with the small Wald basket and a handlebar bag. I like this setup. This time I’m going for the Velo Orange mini-rando bag, made by Road Runner in LA. It’s a very nice big-small bag. I’m still keeping my North Street boxy rando bag for when I need it, but I think this will become the default setup.
So after I did all this, I decided to go on a nice ride to embrace the Bantam. And…I broke the chain.
So the bike languished for weeks, as I rode the functional bikes. I dropped it off to get a new chain and rear cassette, and I got it back a few weeks later. But since I picked it up, have I ridden it? Nope. I’ve not had a lot of time for nice rides so I’ve just been puttering around on the commuters. Two months later, still not embraced. Well, spring is around the corner…
*And also has gotten confused with a Long Haul Trucker, due to the green paint. Oh well.