One bike, one camera?

Johnson Creek Park, where Johnson and Crystal Springs Creeks meet. 12 Nov 2022
Camera: Olympus Pen EES-2
Film: Kodak Portra 160

I was in correspondence with someone who is pondering doing one of those “one camera” challenges. Basically, the idea is to use the same camera for a certain period of time, whether a month or a year. If the camera has interchangeable lenses, only one lens is to be used. And often the challenge extends to film stock too. There’s a few reasons for going this route: simplicity, minimalism, and getting to know one machine inside and out.

This type of challenge has been popular to some degree over the last decade or so. It runs counter to the consumeristic and materialistic world we live in. It gets us to think about what’s really important, what’s really needed.

Yet I never am that interested in participating. I get the idea, and can be swayed by the rationale. Nick Carman of the dormant blog Gypsy By Trade 1 eloquently rationalized this perspective on bicycles in a 2012 blog post titled “Ride One Bike”:

The greatest asset that any cyclist can bring to a ride, except fitness, is familiarity with the machine– with the exact moment that the tire loses traction in a turn, the precise action to avoid pedal strike through rocks, and the best way to hide from the wind when the Cateye reads more than 20.  Riding one bike will foster a connection with the machine that is lost when multiple bikes are in play. 

I get everything Nick is saying. When I was on the big tour in 2011, I was a “one bike” person by default. And I knew my Long Haul Trucker in and out by the time it was done. But in an everyday sense, does this matter? I don’t worry much about “pedal strike through rocks” because on a day to day basis I don’t ride rocky paths. And if my Cateye goes over 20, it’s downhill, so aerodynamics do not matter that much. Being totally in touch with a single bike is great if you are racing, mountain biking, or the like. But riding two miles on city streets to the library?

I think with most bikes, unless they are highly specialized, it’s pretty easy to get used to a different bike’s handling and operation within a few minutes of a ride. When I swap bikes things might feel weird for a minute or two as I get used to the bike (especially if it’s my Brompton), but after that the muscle memory of how to ride that particular bike takes over.

After many years with multiple bikes, I get the reason why I do have multiple bikes: variety. I get bored of a bike if I ride it too much. I got bored of the Long Haul Trucker by month two, longing to ride my Raleigh Wayfarer instead. (Heck, even before I left, I was missing the Wayfarer.) One of the first things I did when I got back to Portland was go to where the Wayfarer was being stored and pick it up. And I also made sure to grab some other clothes–after being limited to a very limited wardrobe for four months, that was quite liberating.

I admire those who can live with just one bike. But I can also see how trying to stick to this principle can lead down the road to absurdity. There was a bike blog I followed from back in the day where the blogger was very much a “one bike” guy. The blog documented his search for the “one bike”. Each week, a new bike was purchased, stuff was done to it, the blogger seemed happy for two days, then there was the inevitable “this bike doesn’t work, I’m selling it and getting this other bike instead.” And repeat. And repeat. I couldn’t help but think: Wouldn’t it be easier to have two, maybe three bikes instead? If space wasn’t the issue, they could have a few bikes that do things something differently, rather than tilt at windmills and try to find that “perfect” bike, again and again? I don’t know. Maybe buying a bike a week, doing a bunch of stuff to it, and selling it a week later was enjoyable or therapeutic for them. But it wouldn’t be for me!

Trying to find a “one bike” that is perfect is hard, especially if you want to do different things like commutes, road rides, off-road rides, and touring. There’s going to be some compromise somewhere. The best that you can hope for is that it does the things you want to well enough, and that overall the bike is comfortable and aesthetically pleasing.

I’ve given up on the concept of the one bike. If I was forced to, I guess it would be my Bantam. But I like my other bikes enough that I don’t want to limit myself to it. I like variety. I don’t make a lot of money, nor live a luxurious lifestyle. One of the luxuries I do have is having a variety of things I like, whether it be bikes, cameras, or watches. I know that if I tried to limit myself to one of each, I’d then be thinking about getting another one of each. And then another. So I like the idea of the “one thing” challenge, but let me enjoy my variety!

Like my stuff? Go to my Ko-fi page to buy me a coffee!

1 I haven’t seen him post on social media in a couple years. I reached out to him via email, but have not heard back. I really hope he’s doing OK. Has anyone else been in touch with him?

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4 thoughts on “One bike, one camera?

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  1. Chasing that perfect tool is such a prison (as we’ve previously discussed). But the temporary limitation has been such a teaching experience for me. Nevertheless, a part of me yearns to be able to enjoy any bike or camera. Not a specific one, but any (of reasonable quality and condition, that is). As I try to find the right stem length and saddle angle (it’s presently between two on my non-micro adjust post) for my Big Dummy, it’s good to recall the fun I had on a Giant (brand) rental beach bike in Venice Beach less than two decades ago. This was after a hiatus from bicycling, and the catylist that ignited my present involvement with bicycling.

  2. As that guy, I’m interested in hearing what other people think. I’m still working on why I want to do it, and what I expect to get out of it. Part of it is learning to be grateful for what I do have. Part of it has to do with simplicity. I’m not really being the person I think of myself as being when I keep buying stuff, rearranging parts, switching out bags, etc. What is it that I’m looking for? I was riding the 1952 Raleigh, which, for reasons of its own is attractive as the 1-year bike, but as I rode it, I started thinking how much I like the front baskets on my other bikes. Maybe I should add a front basket. And I don’t like that I put the taillight on the seat stay, in homage to the placement of the original lights. It’s covered up and knocked about when I have panniers on. Maybe I should buy a fender mounted light and mount it to the fender above the little round reflector that doesn’t even reflect anymore. That kind of change/innovate/improve thinking chases after me day by day, with the accompanying dribbling away of small amounts of money. So, I want to spend a year riding my bike, rather than thinking about, changing, swapping, etc. And I want to apply that to several other items in my life I treat the same way. It is only a year-long experiment, and I’m not planning to get rid of anything, which raises the question if I will learn anything useful about myself by limiting myself that way, or if it is simply an exercise in being a little more boring.

    1. I hear ya. I’ve spent dribs and drabs on my bikes over the years, and it adds up. Then there are those bikes I’ve had where I’d endlessly change/swap things (hello, Crested Butte!) The urge to do that has subsided over the years, though that doesn’t mean it’s gone away entirely. But my dislike of endlessly fiddling with bikes has overcome the urge to endlessly fiddle with bikes.

      There is also the temptation to make all your bikes essentially the same. I’ve got baskets on two of my bikes, and there’s been the temptation of adding one to the Superbe, but I’ve resisted, as I want to keep it more aesthetically “British”. Buying too many bags is too easy, especially if you have your bikes set up differently. I sometimes look jealously at those who have multiple bikes, but they all are rear rack only, so a set of Ortliebs is all they need. Me? I’m looking at buying another Brompton bag, and Brompton bags can only be used on Bromptons.

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