Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Memories and Beausage

If it hasn't been made apparent from reading here yet, my Rivendell Sam Hillborne has been my go-to bike for some time now. It's the bike that has managed to survive my seemingly constant-revolving set of bicycles. There is something about this bike that has kept me attached. Whether that is the ease of use, familiarity, or some other yet-to-be-personally-acknowledged component to the bike, I'm not always certain.
I think the view from beneath the Hillborne may be better than what I get to see riding it.
In reality, I believe the initial investment was the motivation to continue to toil over getting this bike to work. No one wants to spend what feels like a small fortune, only to sell it off and start again. Goodness knows it's happened with even costlier bicycles in the fold though.

Today, even if I wanted to sell the Hillborne I would be quite reluctant to do so as it is no longer made in a size that would fit my height and proportions. I acknowledge that even Riv's former smallest size is still a bit large for me, but somehow over the years, we - the bike and I - have come to understand each other and rarely (unless taking it on a truly extended trip) do I take issue with it.

Over the last several months, I have not ridden this bike as much as I have in the past. It's had some issues that needed to be resolved and although certainly still rideable, I found myself choosing other bikes over this one. I told myself that over winter we would dismantle and reassemble the Hillborne in order to get all the minor issues resolved (plus, it was in desperate need of a thorough cleaning), but it always seemed to take a back seat, at least until one warmer weekend recently.

Having the bike dismantled brought back memories of putting it together for the first time (well, watching Sam and doing my best to offer assistance as needed). I remembered how excited I was to get this bike, having believed it was something we could never really afford to buy. It was an expenditure that I felt guilty about for years afterward, but knowing how much use has come from this bike, it's reached a point today that the cost seems a trivial detail -- which is not to diminish the amount spent by any means, but rather that I've just come to accept that the bike has earned its keep.
As the frame was hanging from our bike stand in its (mostly) disassembled state I ran my fingers over the paint. I have complained for some time about the ridiculously easy-to-chip paint, but as I stood moving my hands over the frame, I knew that each of the little pits of missing paint had a story. I joked at one point that simply breathing too hard near the frame would remove paint (which was only a very slight exaggeration), but I know where and how almost every one of the blemishes occurred.

I couldn't help but smile remembering summer bike valet duty a few years back and having another valet crew member knock the Hillborne over (accidentally, of course), resulting in what I refer to as twin chips on the frame. I recall Sam being livid about the incident, as well as my attempts to reassure him that everything would be fine. It was not the first chip on the frame, and it would not be the last. I wasn't pleased about having my bike knocked over, particularly as I was still highly protective of it, but I knew it wasn't the end of the world.
Then there was the time I tipped the bike over all on my own. I was attempting to side step the rear tire when instead I kicked it, sending the bike into a rocking fit. As I attempted to catch it from falling, I missed entirely and watched in slow motion as the bars escaped my grasp and the bike went to the ground. It was a strangely soft landing, catching on the same foot that had set the whole act in motion, but still resulted in a paint chip on the rear of the frame.
There are many other tales that illustrate the minor imperfections that exist today on the bike. Although the instances tore me up inside initially, it's easier today to view these as our story together - the tales that created our relationship. It is just a bike after all, and it could easily have been about any other; but there are moments together, pockets of time, that I share uniquely with this bicycle. The occasions are not necessarily about this specific bicycle, yet they are intertwined with it.
Close up, the damage is apparent, but from a distance the frame still appears shiny and new - at least when it's clean (a comparison that could be made to myself, no doubt). There is cable rub on the top tube that simply doesn't erase with a cleaning any longer, and spots where the formerly used fenders rubbed indentations on the interior side of the chainstays, just to name a couple flaws that have developed over the years.

Because I haven't shared a similar duration of time with other bikes I ride, we don't have the same quantity of stories - but we're getting there. The VO Campeur and I, for instance, find our relationship to be more than just passing ships in the night, having spent (hard as it is to believe) a year riding together now. That bike is starting to show its own small signs of beausage and we share stories like this one of getting caught in an onslaught of hail too. In time, I have no doubt that I'll have a very similar attachment to the Campeur.

As often as bikes seem to leave my grasp, I freely admit that I am decidedly more content to have those that stick around. There's a level of comfort that develops over time and through use that isn't quite the same on a new ride. Oh, I do love the invigoration and discovery of a new bike, but it's a different feeling to one of familiarity.

I know that there will likely always be trade-outs and additions taking place over the years with the bicycle herd, but to find a bike that just works - even when it isn't perfect on paper - is something special, and having the opportunity to share the scars and marks of the roads traveled makes for a beautiful history together.
The Hillborne is put back together now, cleaned up - for the most part - sporting some new parts and pieces that were worn from use. Other bits remain from its former iteration as well, exposing snippets of our travels and time together, badges of sorts that illustrate this machine has been loved and used, but never unappreciated. The paint imperfections could disappear with a fairly easy trip to a paint shop, but we haven't reached that point in our relationship quite yet. Those chips are telling our story and I'm not ready to let go of the visual reminders of our adventures together.

Do you prefer to leave imperfections from wear on your bicycle, or do you clean/paint/resolve them right away? What stories have you shared with your favorite bicycle? Do they keep you attached to the bike itself, or do you think the stories would be there regardless of the specific bicycle?


  1. I have been admiring your Hillborne for a few months now. So much so that even though I can never afford one, I now know that my next bike will be orange. :)

    1. Rivendell's have become even more expensive since I purchased mine, especially the higher end ones. We bought just the frame, thinking that it would be cheaper to build it ourselves, but I think it really came out about the same ultimately.

      It's funny, a lot of people comment on the orange color, especially in person (I've even caught former racer-types eyeing it while it was locked up in town, which always starts a conversation about whether it is old or new), but I never wanted the orange - I was always more excited by the colors that were offered before and after I had mine. It's grown on me over the years though, definitely. :)

  2. I do love your Sam Hillborne. I've enjoyed watching different bag and rack configurations on it whenever you change the photo in the header to the blog.

    My Bianchi is a bit too big too, and I've toyed with changing out the handlebars for flipped North Roads as you've done. I keep thinking, though, that doing that woulud cost nearly the same as selling it and just buying one a size smaller. In the meantime, it just keeps rolling.

    1. I think it's easy to end up with bikes that are large. It's been more infrequent that I find myself with a bike that's too small. This may be opposite for taller people, though I can't speak to that having not experienced it for myself. I would say that Riv tends to use geometry that works better for male proportions than female, and I think most big manufacturers do the same. I don't have strong female proportions (proportionally, my legs are short for a female - not extremely so, but enough that it seems to make a difference), so I think it's one of the reasons that I've managed to find a way to make the Hillborne work. The upright bars definitely helped with reach (that, and a short stem - I have a 50mm stem on that bike - the shortest I could find). When a bike's top tube is already too stretched for me, using drop bars of any sort seems to be a problem, so the flipped Albatross was a good fit. As far as costs go, if you can find the bars cheap enough, it might be worth the effort to try it. When I'm experimenting, I try to find them used to figure out if it will work or not, so I can understand questioning whether it's worth the effort to try on your Bianchi, or start over.

      I've had a pseudo-road bike (it's more road bike than commuter, but it was actually picked up as a possible brevet bicycle, so I'll just call it "road" for purposes in this moment) that I picked up in summer last year and even though the top tube is fine, I'm still struggling with drop bars on it, so I am pondering a switch to either the flipped Albatross style bars or trekking bars like those on the Campeur. My issue, however, tend to be my hands even when the fit is technically right. I hang out far too long on the hoods and that creates problems for me. When I have a different style handlebar, I tend to move more, which allows me to ride longer - which is the whole point.

      I was actually looking at old headers recently. I didn't start saving them until a few years ago, but it is fun to look back and see the set up I was using at various points. I need to change the current one... it's been up far too long, but I've been bad about taking photos when I'm out. I'll have to remedy that soon. :)

    2. Now I'm curious. I was under the impression that I'd have to get new shifters and brake levers to use a non-drop style bar (and that's where most of the cost would be). My current bike has brifters. Am I wrong about that? Will drop-style brakes go on other types of bars?

      I've looked at FSA Metropolis bars and Jones loop bars, but the trekking bars look really intriguing too.

    3. You are correct. I get so used to having extra parts around and neglect to think things through with handlebar exchanges. I did once put brifters on albatross bars though - just to see if it would work. It was a very odd experience (I convinced Sam it was worth trying...he just shook his head). :) My brakes on the Hillborne are intended for a drop bar and work fine, but shifting would be challenging if they were brifters. I've always had bar-end shifters on this bike, even when I had drops, so I can easily forget that most people on drop bars are sporting brifter set ups. My apologies.

      I will stand by the original statement though that sometimes getting a second hand set up is less expensive than you might think. It's worth a look occasionally on CL or eBay to see if there's any kind of deal. We're getting into the "season" though, so it gets a bit more challenging to find great deals - though not impossible. Of course, you may need new cables too, but those can be found pretty inexpensively in the right spot.

      I considered the Jones loop/H-bar for a couple of bikes. I think really I just want to try these bars in general, but don't actually have need for them. I haven't yet found the I'll-just-get-them-to-try-them price anywhere yet though so I haven't moved forward. If you do end up with them, I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts.

  3. The orange is still my favourite Hillborne.

  4. I share your passion for bicycles, but over the years have been trying to detach from them as objects with personality or aesthetically qualities. This came about with the theft of a bike i held dear.

    As I contemplated the loss of the object, I realized that what i really treasured about that bicycle were the memories of past journeys taken on it, and those were not stolen with the object, they remained.

    Also it made me wake up to the fact that what I really treasured about that bike in practical material terms was that I had put a lot of time and experimentation into dialing the riding position by switching stems of different lengths, trying different handlebar heights and many differently shaped handlebars and saddles until settling on one that together with all the other parts gave my most comfortable and favorite riding position.
    All of this was also not really lost, because I could always replicate it with a lot less work and experimentation on a new bike.

    This made me shift from someone who evangelized bicycle beauty and elitism, into someone who views the bicycle as a tool.

    A tool that is best when its components are reliable, that is effective in its function, that makes no extraneous noises or rattles, that skips no gear, which wheels stay true, that gives more comfort and more mechanical longevity while asking for less in return (less admiration, less fixing).

    That does all of this with mid/low range inexpensive parts.
    A bicycle that gives you no anxiety whatsoever.
    A bicycle that is "beautiful" because it is the perfect tool for the job at hand.
    That can be stolen and then "replicated" without hassle.
    A bicycle that is a humble tool.

    If you chip the paint put some nail polish on it to prevent rusting.
    Don't worry about how the bicycle looks.
    Don´t worry about how others perceive the bicycle.

    Stay alert to how you feel about the bicycle yourself:
    Do you feel proud of it? Why?
    Do you have a special emotional attachment to it? Why?

    Anyway =) this is the rant from someone who taught himself to not be materialistic about any individual bikes and to transfer that "love" to all bicycles in general instead.

  5. I appreciate the occasional rant, so always feel free to voice an opinion. :)

    While I think it's perfectly acceptable to like a bicycle for its beauty, I can also appreciate your thoughts on this. It's easy to get caught up in the surface beauty of a bike sometimes and not be as grateful for its ability to perform well to get from point A to B (and sometimes C, D, & E too). I always enjoy it when the two can come together - when I find something I enjoy on the outside and that functions as a great tool as well. But, the bottom line is that it has to function well in order to be useful - otherwise it's just something pretty to look at and won't perform its job.

    1. I recently came across an Instagram post -- the opening page of an article in a Japanese (bicycle?) magazine (sorry, didn't save/link-to it) -- IIRC, it's title was the word that complements "beausage": "beautility" (the source words are clear).

    2. Love it! Beautility is a perfect term.


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