On the sentimentality of past bikes

The Surly Long Haul Trucker in its final “stripped-down tourer” iteration on Lopez Island, Washington, 15 September 2013

It happens from time to time: I go on a binge of reading my old blog posts. In the past this has happened because work has been slow, but recent thoughts about old commenters and blogs I used to follow has inspired it this time. There’s part of me that wonders if I should be doing something better with my time, especially when I have so many things that I want to accomplish. And there’s the other part of me that needs this therapy, that need to see where I’ve been so I know where to go. (And there is some positive in revisiting the past–I’m planning on reviving a couple ride/events that I was reminded about!)

I mostly landed on posts from 2013 to 2015, just about a decade ago. It’s interesting to see how my life was back then. It’s also fun to use the Wayback Machine to see what my blog looked like then–the WordPress version used “Skeptical” theme. 1 (You can still see the “Picture Window” theme on my moldering Blogger site here.) It wasn’t radically different then now–well, there was no film cameras, travel to exotic destinations, fountain pens, or Emee. But I was all about riding around and exploring things.

There’s things that I miss about that era, mostly my bike stamina, as I was winding down my “touring machine days”. Just looking at the miles I was capable of doing makes me melancholy. And while there were good things that happened, namely bike tours and my first couple of Lake Pepin adventures, it was a pretty dark time for me. 2013 was the year that I ended a long term relationship with April, and I was working a job that I had already quit once and then moved into a house that was toxic, but didn’t feel that way at first. It may not have been as confusing as the period ten years previous (2003-2005) that involved a lot of sleeping on friends couches and little money, but it definitely felt bleaker. It is not a period of my life that I want to return to.

What was really interesting was reading about the bikes I had during that time. I’ve owned a lot of bikes over the last twenty years, but that was the period where I really solidified my bike preferences. Yet none of the bikes I had then I still have, besides the Schwinn Heavy Duti. (And my Bantam, which just entered the picture towards the end of this era.) Reading about adventures with past bikes definitely made me feel sentimental.

Do I regret getting rid of bikes? In the long run, no. Selling any bike is tough, especially if you’ve done a bunch of stuff to it and/or had good adventures with it. But in the end the decision to move on with any of my bikes was the correct choice. And there’s valid reasons for all my bike purges. Here are a few examples:

  • I kept my first Portland bike, the Giant Rincon, for five years (2001-6). That was a few years too long, as it was probably too small for me and very janky. But I was very broke, so I held onto it longer than I should.
  • My Centurion Accordo (2006-8) was my first decent adult bike, and I rode the heck out of it for two years, including tours. But I broke the frame because of stressing it out.
  • While I intensely loved my Raleigh Crested Butte (2012-2021), I also kept that bike for far too long, as it was never going to fit me. I had it for almost nine years, whereas I should have sold it in two or three.
  • There were several bikes that were fun flings, but the fun was limited and I moved on after a year or three. This category included my Schwinn Collegiate (the green five speed version), Univega Safari basket bike three-speed conversion, my Centurion Le Mans single-speed conversion, my Worksman Low-Gravity/Cycle Truck, my Rudge Sports, and Robin Hood path racer.
  • And while my Raleigh Wayfarer (2010-15) was my introduction to British three speeds, I did all I could with it, especially after two attempts at a repaint did not go as planned. When the Raleigh Superbe came into the picture, stripping it down to the frame and using the parts for the Superbe and other projects was a foregone conclusion.

Still, there’s a thread of sentimentality through all the bike purges. I still look back on those above bikes fondly. They either got me around town when I needed cheap transportation, helped me learn about bikes, or get my mind off of things. (This was especially acute during those mid-teens bleak years, when I needed some sort of therapy.) There are two bikes that I’m most melancholy about their departure. Those two are my Surly Long Haul Trucker and my Bridgestone XO-3.

I had my Long Haul Trucker (LHT) for five years, from April of 2008 to December of 2013. It was the first great bike that I owned. And since it was a touring bike, I could take it on all sorts of adventures. And I did! This was the bike that I took on the Big Tour in 2011, four thousand miles across four months and two countries. It’s the bike on which my love of bike touring solidified. There were so many memories intertwined with that bike, good and bad.

But by the end of 2013, I was done with it. While it was great for loaded touring, it wasn’t as good for more sprightly riding, which was what I was getting more into. Newer bikes, like my XO-3, became more fun than the LHT. Plus, there was the emotions involved with the breakup: the bike ownership period overlapped my relationship with April, who came along on the Big Tour. By the end of 2013 it was a foregone conclusion that I would get rid of it at some point. But lack of money needed to move into my new digs (the one that became toxic) precipitated a quick sale for less than I wanted, especially since it was off-season. I wish that I could have held onto it a little bit longer and get what I felt it was worth. And having to sell it fast to be able to get into a place that in the end really wasn’t worth it stings a bit. But I did what had to under the circumstances.

The Bridgestone XO-3 in its final iteration, on tour in La Conner, Washington, 10 August 2014.

As for the XO-3, I had that machine from April of 2013 to October 2014, a much shorter timeframe than the LHT. I bought it on a whim, as I liked the idea of owning a Bridgestone because of Grant Petersen, and was looking for a “fun” bike. (This was just three months before the break-up and I guess I needed something to occupy my mind.) When it overlapped with the LHT it was the fun bike, then when the LHT left it became the default touring/all-rounder bike, which it proved capable. And I had invested a bunch of energy and cash into upgrading it.

But at the same time (2014) I was planning my “dream bike”, my Bantam custom. The XO-3 would be the placeholder until that bike was completed. And a custom build requires a bunch of money. By the fall of 2014 I knew I needed cash again, and also the mustache bars of the XO-3 became uncomfortable. Rather than change out the bars (which could lead to more money spent if I needed different brake levers and/or shifters), I decided to sell sooner than later. Of course, I had just sunk a bunch of money into those upgrades (money I would never recover), and I didn’t end up getting the Bantam finished until August of 2015, almost a year later. This meant that for a year I didn’t have a real touring bike (yeah, I rode the Crested Butte, but it proved to be not the optimal choice.) In the long run, I wished I had not been so hasty and kept this bike until the Bantam was ready.

In the end, everything worked itself out. My Bantam is the best bike I’ve ever owned, and it was designed to be the balance between the Long Haul Trucker and XO-3. Still, there’s the feeling that either bike’s history with me was cut too short due to both internal and external reasons. There’s that feeling of unfinished business, even though for all intents and purposes I’ve moved on. I sort of wish that I could have spent another year with either of the bikes. But I’m not going to try to “fix” the past–what’s done is done. I have no desire to bring another LHT or XO-3 into the stable.

What about you, dear reader? Are there any bikes that you regret getting rid of, that you look back at fondly and wistfully? Or are there bikes you should have dumped much sooner? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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1 I updated to the “Hemingway Rewritten” theme at the very end of 2014, and used that until I updated to the current Baskerville 2 theme in 2021.


6 thoughts on “On the sentimentality of past bikes

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  1. I enjoyed this blog! Funny how our bikes are like markers in our lives. I miss my first adult road bike, a Bridgestone from about 1982. I gave it to my son, who converted it to a fixed gear, then gave it to a girlfriend at college. Sigh. Youth.

  2. The only bike I miss is my Schwinn Paramount I bought in 1971 for racing. I kept that bike up into my early 30’s but sold it in a bout with extreme poverty. I had a couple of young sons and wife and a crappy no pay job. The good thing about this episode was the realization that I needed to own my past, present and future. This set me on a path of self improvement that helped both me and my family. Oddly as I improved my lot I was able to help others much more. I guess you would call this a win win.

    1. Yeah, having to sell a bike or any prized possession because of brokeness/need for fast money will definitely make one reanalyze their life. After selling the LHT I wanted to make sure that I’d never be that broke again. But I’ve still had periods of brokeness since then. Such is life.

  3. My first bike was a chilg/adolescent Velamos SOBI 20 bike (Czechoslovak made). I have little memories about it.

    My first “actual bike” was a Author Classic tourer (nothing exciting, alluminium, 27.5″, 3×7 speeds, flat handlebar, made somewhere in Asia, I think), in 2003. After some 10 000 km I sold it because repairs were too expensive. No special memories. Then got MTB from the same company. It was small to me and I never liked it so sold it quite quickly (actualy I owned it during 2007-2012) .

    In 2013 I have got the GT Avalanche (the XL size, maybe to big for me – but I want to have something compatible with my wife’s bike). Never liked it. It was a very low mileage (I thing ~2000 km) for this reason. However, I still have (and occasionally use) it because of its all-terrain capabilities.

    Somewhere about 2007 I bought the Sinclair A-Bike. I am happy I sold it, actually.

    In 2021 I have got my first Brompton and then repaired a Velamos Roadster…

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