Tuesday, June 6, 2017

How Many is Too Many?

It's a question that has been asked in various places by many, many people. How many bicycles does one person need, and how many are simply too many? In reading over the years, it has become apparent that there are two very separated sides of this question: those who believe one bicycle is more than enough, and those who follow the n+1 philosophy. There are definitely those who fall somewhere in the middle too. I suppose I fancy myself one of those people - the middle of the road sort of person. While I believe it is possible to live with just one bicycle, I understand that there are many types of terrain and distances that riders will cover, so it is less likely that one bicycle will do the job in every situation.

Still, I can't help but question how many bicycles a person truly needs. Recently, Sam and I were in conversation about such matters.  We have both (separately, but somehow around the same stretch of time) had thoughts of limiting bicycles. Sam has been in search of "the one" bicycle to rule them all. When I pointed out that he rides rough mountain roads and long paved roads as well, he agreed that he wasn't truly going to be able to limit his bicycles to one single ride.

My problem is nearly the exact opposite. While Sam's bicycles all have a different purpose, my bicycles all (for the most part) perform the same type of riding. They all cover distance fine, they all have wide-ish tires that allow for some trail riding when needed, they can all have racks/bags added or removed at will, and they're all set up with comfort at the forefront and speed as a secondary point.

However, several of my bicycles I could never own again either due to the cost-prohibitive nature of repurchasing in the future or because the size or bicycle is no longer made. This makes the idea of eliminating a bicycle (or three) very difficult! Yes, this is truly a first world problem. I have so much that I don't know what to eliminate from my life. That in itself is a bit unsettling.
Our "bike house." It is approximately 11 ft tall at its peak to allow storage in the rafters for wheels, frames that are un-built, and other miscellaneous parts.
Yet, I know what it is to go without, and I don't wish to live a life of hoarding excessive material possessions. Our bicycle obsession - and that is the only appropriate word I can think to use at this moment - even resulted in building a separate storage shed just for housing bikes. Granted, we built the shed ourselves for almost no cost from scrap pieces of wood, but one has to question how far things have turned when a separate housing structure is required for bicycle storage.

Currently, we have 12 built bicycles between the two of us. While I realize that is far from the shocking numbers often shared by other enthusiasts, in our minds, it still feels like overkill. But, when we sit down to try to figure out which bicycles should go, it becomes a far more challenging task than one might expect. It's great to have bicycles that work well, but when is it too much of a good thing?

Speaking for myself, I ride each of my bicycles. Some get more saddle time than others, but they all get used. In some ways, I know I've done this intentionally to justify owning them, and in many ways it does provide comfort to be able to say, "Well, I use them all." But, I can't help but believe that there is still a bit of sickness taking place under the surface.

Most people have some kind of hobby that s/he spends on, and those items are usually not regarded as necessary. I suppose bicycles, while utilitarian, provide a sort of hobby for each of us. Of course they are practical machines, but does that practicality reach an end point when the numbers become excessive? And how many exactly marks an excessive number? I had personally thought that it was easy for Sam to justify his bicycles because they each fulfill a unique task, as opposed to myself who simply owns similar bicycles but in greater quantity than necessary, but when our discussion came up, I quickly understood that even he feels that the justification is difficult when the numbers get higher.

To a greater or lesser extent, having "spare" bicycles can come in handy when there are repairs or maintenance that need to be completed. It's also nice when friends or family visit to be able to loan out a bike. I also particularly enjoy being able to test out different parts and not have every bicycle dismantled in order to test a change - particularly when I'm not certain how well the test will go or how long the test may drag out.

Then there's the costs involved in each build. Sam and I often take on different methods in this regard. Sam takes his time, searching for the absolute best deal on a part (or frame), waiting patiently and watching for the one that suits his pre-set budget. He is flexible (obviously within the constraints of what is needed for a particular frame) when it comes to exact part selection. In fact, there is a local secondhand seller on eBay that employs individuals who are on a first name basis with Sam. Sometimes, even if a part is currently unneeded but is too good a deal to pass up, Sam will make the leap and hope that it will get used on a future build or that someone else will need the part.

While I also want to get a deal, if there is a part I'm particularly fond of using, I will spend a little more to get the particulars that suit me. I don't like having extra parts that aren't getting used (with the exception of handlebars - this is one part for which I actually like to have options) and I prefer to resell or give away the excess unless I believe I will use it on another bike, such as newer bar tape or pedals.

Even though we approach builds differently, we have both obviously reached a point that has caused us to stop and question what we are doing and have both been wondering exactly how many bicycles we should individually own. As Sam pointed out during our discussion, even if we were to flush out the excess, we would still be looking, wondering, and pondering other bicycles though. It's as though the n+1 rule comes into play whether we want it to or not.

I don't truly think anyone can answer for another how many bicycles are too many. For one, having two bicycles may seem excessive, and for others they may extend well into double digits before having such thoughts. Perhaps for some "excessive" never enters their thoughts at all.

As for me, I don't know where this process is leading. I'm hesitant to sell off bikes as I've regretted doing so in the past, but there's still that nagging voice telling me that the number owned is simply too many. Sam's suggestion was to pull a couple of builds apart and store them to see how I feel about not using them for a stretch of time. That may be a plausible suggestion that I implement, but for now, I continue to enjoy my bicycles. I think that's the most important piece of the puzzle to me -- that I find joy each time I get to ride.


  1. This is a timely blog post. I am struggling justifying the 5 bicycled that I currently own. You have a spouse that you can bounce ideas off of in this regard, which may or may not fuel the fire...whereas I am the only bicycle horder in my family. I take a ribbing from all my family members too. which only makes me feel worse. I currently ride only 3 of my five but can get rid of two bicycles because I can easily justify the one, the Trek Antelope as a parts bike - it's worth more to all of us for it's parts to keep our 1980's bikes in repair. The Miyata 610 is another story: it's valuable to the right buyer, and worth upwards of 300.00 so I can't justify selling it for less. I am holding out, hoping our youngest son may ride it someday...and my problem will be easily solved.

    I think what also is noteworthy is that our preferences continually change - we want to experiment with a different style of bicycle, a model that for many years was never available to us, like a cargo or fat tire bicycle, or in my particular case, I am gravitating to step through bicycles.

    I don't know what the solution is to paring down, but as long as we have storage, it's easy to hold onto bicycles beyond their useful life.

    1. It is nice to have someone to share ideas; however, since we both tend to be collectors (to put it nicely - hoarders, probably more accurately), it's not even an argument when one or the other wants to get another bike. It always seems perfectly justifiable somehow. :-/

      Bikes seem to lose a lot of value quickly, and it becomes difficult to sell them when I am well aware that the bike has more value to me as an individual than it would out in the world. We're all looking for a deal, so I understand it, but when it's a bicycle that holds value to us because of memories or actual monetary value, it can be difficult to send it off to someone else. I suppose what I'm saying is that I understand hanging on to bikes, believing that someone else may find value in it at a later time, or even because we think we may use it down the line.

      I wholeheartedly agree with you about preferences. I have watched it happen with myself and others. I have even longed to be able to return to the way things once were, but I know that the particular time has passed and all I can do is move forward. Although I am happy with my current mix, I know the day will come when I'll think something else could make sense (I'm still casually looking for a step through that works the way I want it to, even though I really don't want to add another into the mix).

  2. As AB states, timely.

    We "only" have 6 bikes for the 2 of us, compared to your twelve!! Downsizing from a relatively large home to a very small home (almost a tiny house), we are faced with a space dilemma. I'm looking to build a separate "bike barn" in addition to our very large shed.

    I only ride 2 of the 3 bikes that I own, as two are very similar city bikes. The city bikes are good for urban riding short distances and for shopping. The third bike is a drop handlebar "adventure" bike, for longer distances.

    The problem is both of the city bikes were expensive European imports and I can only imagine getting pennies on the dollar if I sold one of the two. So instead, I will keep both in my quiver for use by friends and family when they visit.

    To make matters worse, since retiring, I mostly ride the drop handlebar bike - but for 3 hours a day instead of only one hour. This increased riding time has lead to nerve issues in my hands, which is concerning. I already have permanent nerve damage in my feet from years of riding with clipless pedals. The nerve problem in my hands has caused me to research recumbent trikes - which are extremely popular here in Tucson. Yikes, a trike would be even more troublesome to store!

    1. Space is probably the biggest factor for many people, I would think. Especially for those who can't create it in some form (those in apartments, limited land, etc).

      Building the bike house was the best solution for us, honestly. To anyone who is looking to "make" space for storage, we had really good luck using Craigslist for free wood that people were wanting to get out of their lives, and construction sites (some won't allow people to take their unused pieces, but others are fine with it... and much of it was perfectly usable. The pieces simply had a knot or had a slightly warped end - which can easily be cut off). We even bought wood siding from someone on CL and covered the entire shed for less than $40, and roof shingles from a contractor who had extra left over from a project (and we still have enough to redo the roof, if it was needed). We did buy new plywood from a hardware store, but we've seen full sheets on Craigslist from time to time as well. We were just impatient with this particular project. All-in, including paint, siding, roofing, etc, the cost to us was under $300 - compared to buying one from a shed company which would have been several thousand dollars.

      Of course, I realize not everyone wants to or is capable of building his/her own shed. But, for anyone who is looking to try, it is possible to do and not spend a fortune. I'll have to try to find a photo of the outside to put up, but I was actually surprised by the finished product.

      In regard to your nerve issues, I can feel for you. It's one of the reasons my drop bar bikes have been used less and less over the past few years (or been sold). I was simply spending too many hours in a position that caused pain. Even with other handlebars, if I don't move my hands, I can have problems.

      Recumbent bikes were a suggestion made to me years ago by several people (you may have even been one of them, as I can't recall at this moment). I think it could be fun to try one out, but I have not quite been able to bring myself to go in that direction. I have no doubt though that the day is coming when it will be the only option.

      Hopefully, you are able to find a way to continue to ride and not be in pain. If you do get a recumbent, I'd be interested in hearing how it goes and what you think of it. I have a friend who owns one (along with other two-wheeled bicycles) and she always looks happy when I see her riding. :) She should probably be the person I ask to try one out.

  3. I currently have 6 bikes and use them all and am currently lusting after a Surly Cargo bike. I'm also a hoarder of old Trek road bike frames.

    1. I think when bikes get used, it's a lot easier to justify. I, too, have wanted some type of cargo bike, but it's one of those things that I have difficulty justifying since I do have a trailer I can use (though it's a bit challenging to use in all instances). I even looked into getting one of these, but it just didn't happen (though I suppose there is always time).

  4. As a means of exercise, utility, and as the focus of a hobby in general, your number of bikes doesn't seem excessive to me. Of course, I'm a bike nut, too, so obviously my judgment must be called into question on this matter.

    My thoughts on the matter are that if your collection/collecting doesn't interfere with the quality of your life, vis-a-vis financially causing negative effects, then that's the biggest division between "OK" and "Woah there partner". And you seem to have a storage solution that is effective and doesn't encroach on your living space. And, most important of all, it's a passion shared with your spouse. How does it get any better?

    With that said, I get your internal conflict. I've got a fairly sizable collection. Not a financial burden. Space isn't an issue. And while it is not something shared with my wife, she doesn't mind my enjoyment of it. I have actually been taking the "strip 'em all down and see which ones I really miss riding" approach, and have determined where some of the truly excess pieces are.

    I sure would like to know how you end up working this out. It's hard to give 'em up!

    Nice shed, by the way.


    1. I agree with you, Wolf. If bikes are causing a hardship financially, then we've definitely spanned into the "too many" realm, I'd say.

      I do feel fortunate that bicycles are something we both enjoy. We don't necessarily like the same types of bicycles, but it is someone to bounce ideas off of and who understands that sometimes it feels like another bike actually is a necessity (even if it isn't). I'm also fortunate that Sam is such a bargain hunter - it allows me to be slightly more frivolous on occasion, which is nice too (For the record, it's not like I'm out spending wildly, but there are certain parts I just like to have). I do wish that sometimes Sam would spend a little more on himself to get something he really wants, but I think he's far more patient with waiting for the deal than I am most of the time. As we've gotten a little older, I think we both have become more cautious about what we spend on, but on rare occasions, it is nice to splurge on something. I suppose it gives me an opportunity to gift the things I know he won't purchase when birthdays or holidays come around though! :)

      It's interesting that you've been experimenting with stripping some bicycles to see what you ride. I hadn't really considered it until it was suggested by Sam, but it does seem to be a good way to measure how much a bike is needed. I'll have to keep it in mind as we move forward... and, I promise, if I actually do figure out how and what is going, I'll let you all know. :)

  5. Yes, this is timely. We recently moved to a high-rise condo downtown, which required re-thinking our stable. What we kept had to fit in our basement bike room, our small basement storage room, or inside the flat. We're down to two each.

    My spouse has a recumbent trike for long, recreational rides (goes in the bike room) and a folder for quick trip to downtown businesses (lives in the unit).

    After much agonizing, I decided to give away an old cross bike I got for free in graduate school. It served as my backup bike (and was the first bike I ever overhauled myself!). I also sold Sassy, my beautiful red Dutch bike. Now I have two: A Bianchi Volpe (Vixen) that lives in our basement storage and does just about everything (long distances, a little gravel if I want, commuting, whatever) and Whimsy, a brand new Bike Friday Pakit that lives in the unit and goes on my multimodal commute. So far, I'm very happy with this arrangement even though I mourn the loss of Sassy and the-first-one-I-ever-overhauled-myself.

    1. I have no doubt it must've been an agonizing decision about which bicycles would leave with your move -- particularly giving up a bicycle you've had for many years must've been a bit challenging. However, I can also appreciate the ease of having two bicycles and knowing which bike will take on a task without too much thought.

      I know that we could make the tough decisions if it were necessary, but for now, I'm thankful not to have to make the choices of which would go or stay. Since we're nearly out of room in the storage we do have, if any more enter our lives, we may have to start making cuts though. I don't look forward to that day.


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