It’s been a fair few years since I bought a bike. Things seemed so much simpler then: there were essentially mountain bikes and road bikes. OK, there were different sorts of each, and there were BMX bikes, but really, the choices were relatively simple. Going back even further, to when I was growing up, it was simpler still – there were “racers” (with drop handlebars), and there was the “sit-up-and-beg” sort of bike – the sort your mum might have ridden to the shops with a wicker basket on the front. Actually, this is almost certainly a view through the filter of youth and nostalgia – even then there would have been a distinction between racing and touring bikes. But still, not a lot more than that. And then there was the Chopper, of course, that one-off marmite bike.
Having recently started cycling again after a bit of a break (there shall be more joy in heaven…), I’m gobsmacked at the number of niches that have apparently opened up in the intervening years. We now have trail bikes, downhill bikes, fat bikes, plus bikes, cyclocross bikes, endurance bikes, aero bikes and apparently dozens of other categories within categories.
It’s not just me saying this: after I wrote the first draft of this piece (honest!), I saw a piece on BikeRadar in which the term “hyper-niche-ification” was applied to what had occurred. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but it seems about right.
There’s an old joke about bikes (which, by the way, applies equally to cameras and guitars), that essentially says, the answer to the question – which will probably be asked by your other half on seeing you eyeing up a bike shop, or web site – “how many bikes does a person need?”, is “one more than you already have”. These days, it seems, the answer is actually several more.
Except… there’s now a reaction to this so-called “n+1” problem, with a new breed of “all road” or “gravel” bikes being touted as the “one bike to rule them all”: quick enough on the tarmac, yet capable of riding out the bumps on the trackways and bridleways, and usually fitted with lugs so you can carry a bit of luggage if you need to, or fit mudguards. Lovely idea; I really fancy one. Of course, I’d still want another bike for… oh, wait…