my bikes

Why have I not embraced the Bantam?

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.

11 thoughts on “Why have I not embraced the Bantam?”

    1. 1) Too much money (even the “non” EL versh)
      2) Too fragile (I’ve had sidewall blowouts and regular ol’ blowouts)
      3) A pain in the ass to mount, at least on the rear rim
      4) And I just never felt that excited by them.
      I think you get more “bang” from Compass/Rene Herse tires if you are lighter weight and used narrower tires. But as someone on the heavier side who’s always run 2.0″ or wider on the Bantam, I never had that “wow” moment I read about.

  1. I understand most of your feelings regarding your use of the Bantam. I feel the same way about my Clementine. I won’t get rid of it and have plans for some upgrades, but it will never be the bike that I ride regularly because mainly I’m a commuter and wouldn’t dream of locking it just anywhere. I reserve my “special” bike for long distance day rides and touring. Is that also your feeling with the Bantam?

    1. My feeling is somewhat similar. I do want to keep it for the more special rides. I’m not as scared about using it as a commuter or locking it up. (I have a friend who wouldn’t ride her custom bike AT ALL when she lived in Vancouver BC, out of fear of theft.) But I purposely didn’t set it up in the same way I set up my other “commuting” bikes. Sure, it can haul some stuff (it is a touring bike), but I think differently when it comes to touring loads vs commute loads.

  2. Yes the “problem” with having lots of bikes is someone always gets left behind..I spent alot of time effort and $$ on my Nishiki Cresta GT but keep finding reasons not to ride it (squealing brake, need to mount fenders etc) and there is always something else that’s ready to go. First world problems;-)

  3. I have two customs bikes. Built in 2008 and 2014. At the time I purchased them each one was my dream bike for the kind of riding I was doing. Soon after getting each the kind of riding I was doing changed. They both are amazing bikes I love to ride. Neither of the two are the bike I ride most often. I can’t imagine ever selling them. It’s a shame I don’t ride them more often.

  4. Interesting to hear your reflections on this bike.
    I’ve had some similar thoughts on my own custom tourer. It’s the bike I mostly bring out for “long” rides, because it feels like overkill for short about-town rides (too much tool for the job). And like your Bantam, it’s a touring bike at its core and is designed as such (heavier tubes, stable geo). Since I do more short rides than long ones, the tourer sits at home a lot, and the other bikes in the stable get more frequent (if shorter trip) use. I have found that changing up components adds variety- different tires make for different rides. I do have a lot of “defining” bike moments with this rig, though

    I was thinking about your Bantam the other day, and how it was a bit avant-garde in light of all the current bikepacking rigs out there. A fat-tire drop bar bike, 1x gearing, disc brakes, with racks and sacks- you’ve been doing it for years. I’d say you definitely deserve a bike this nice, and you have put it to good use. Can we agree that (in the realm of consumer goods) custom bikes are actually relatively affordable and an achievable luxury that may actually provide excellent value?

    Things I appreciate about my custom bike: it’s so dialed in, rides so nicely, and is so reliably solid. Every time I get back on it after riding other bikes, I can’t help but smile and enjoy the ride. Can you say the same about your Bantam?

  5. I think the colour* of your mudguards are too blame – black is far too boring for such a prestigious mount…. how about a nice shiny pair instead 🙂
    ….Joking aside, in reference to your last point, affluent people tend to purchase expensive equipment (whether its bicycles, motorcycles, horses, fishing or cooking equipment) not because they necessarily appreciate it but because they’re need to impress others, it because they lack experience and understanding (of that sport or past time – indeed in the case of bicycles many affluent people may tend towards carbon fibre bikes, often made indifferently in far away places by the badly paid simply because of the name on the frame)
    Working class people on the other hand have the experience and knowledge to appreciate good, well made tools and products, the skill which has gone into their manufacture, and are in prepared to prioritise their spending in such a way to obtain them, with any financial benefit remaining in the local community.
    Of all things your bike represents everything positive about being working class – it is a truly beautiful bicycle.

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