The first bike I ever had left a huge impression on me and set the stage for my obsession with two-wheeled machines. It was a typical single-speed apparatus that I used with, and later without, training wheels. Green in colour with ‘T-Rex’ sprawled across the frame and handlebar pad, I loved it right until it tried to kill me when the kickstand inadvertently dropped and got caught in the ground sending me tumbling over the top and the bike flying through the air, eventually landing on my head. A few stitches later I learned to always wear a helmet and thankfully never stopped riding. I no longer have the green hitman and have since gone through a number of sporadically acquired bikes; this list covers my current arsenal.
2007 Specialized Rockhopper
The Rockhopper is my trusty workhorse and has been by my side since 2007. I’ve taken this bike with me across the province where, together, we tackled heat, rain, and snow. She’s conquered mountains and slayed trails, yet never failed to perform anything less than flawlessly as a year-round commuter.
This entry-level hardtail from Specialized was my first bike purchased at a local bike shop (LBS). I was never aware of all the treasures that existed in the small confines of a store that I passed by so many times when on the way to the large shopping centre a few blocks south. And I would have continued to live in ignorance if not for a high school friend who had a bike from a brand I’d never seen before on the shelves of the big-box retailers. Even though I did some research online I was still uninitiated when I walked in; the sales rep, without hesitation, brought me to this bike.
I remember riding my Rockhopper home that day and everything feeling very crisp, especially shifting. However I knew to hold my breath and wait a month or so for the fit and finish to degrade. All my previous bikes had a short honeymoon period so why wouldn’t this one? To my pleasant surprise, that day never came. And that’s where the reward lies in spending more money on a bike: the performance is maintained thanks to better quality components.
For 8 years I never had to do much with the bike. Twice I got the chain replaced due to my own negligence in looking after it and I did go through a few sets of tires, but nothing ever broke. However, because tinkering is so much fun, when I purchased my second bike I decided to upgrade a bunch of parts on this one. The list includes: front fork, front wheel, shifters, brakes, and pedals. In fact, the only things I never swapped out are the derailleurs, cassettes, and crankset. These upgrades brought the bike into the latest decade and made my machine one-of-a-kind. Sure, for the amount I paid for my shopping list I could have purchased a new entry-level mountain bike but it’s not the same thing. In the end I constructed a custom 69’er – a 29″ wheel in the front and 26″ in the back – with modern air suspension and hydraulic brakes.
At this point I can never let my Rockhopper go. It’s endured so much and taught me a great deal about bikes.
2015 Trek Fuel EX 8
The majority of singletrack trails in Ontario are usually flat yet quite technical due to the presence of many rocks, ruts, and roots. A fun trail system I could detour along on the way to work exemplified this ethos, and there came a point in time where I no longer felt comfortable pushing my riding because my Rockhopper’s rear wheel was bouncing around (hopping on rocks, if you will) way too much and wasn’t in contact with the ground to provide much needed traction and braking. I observed that many experienced riders had full suspension bikes which I thought were only necessary for downhill disciplines, but they serve a purpose on even the local bumpy stuff. I set my mind on finding a substitute for the Specialized and began researching potential bikes.
There were a lot of new things for me to learn. Air shocks had become the norm, hydraulic disc brakes were everywhere, and there was an ongoing battle between two tire sizes: 29″ and 27.5″ (650b). I was coming from a 26″ tire and having experienced the benefits of a friend’s 29er I was biased from the start. On a particularly hot August day I visited 5 different bike stores and test rode 8 bikes. I was especially fond of a Lapierre Zesty and although I really liked a Giant Anthem 27.5 I decided to stick to the larger tire size.
I found the Trek at a different store the same day I was going to purchase the Lapierre. It felt great and was discounted by $1200 off its MSRP! This made it cheaper than almost anything I looked at so it was an easy choice. I instantly began using my new Trek for commuting purposes (the Specialized was taken out of commission for the aforementioned upgrades) and thoroughly enjoyed the plush ride. The addition of a rear shock should have made my pedalling less efficient but I wouldn’t say my 14 km ride along road and gravel was noticeably more difficult, especially since both ends had different settings including a ‘lock-out’ mode. On the other hand, the difference on the trails was fantastic! I picked up the pace right away and was attacking trail features with more vigour since the bike just ate everything up. It felt right at home on downhill trails at a local ski hill too. The only thing I purchased for my Fuel was a new set of grippy pedals.
The one complaint I have about the bike is that it’s almost too nice; I definitely don’t want to ride year-round (especially not on salted roads during the winter) and am concerned about leaving it locked up outside. As a result my Rockhopper was brought back into the picture to take care of the daily commute and this became my dedicated trail bike.
2016 Miele Svelto RRD
A few years later I was faced with a brand new route due to a relocation in both my residence and work. This time I had to bike within the confines of the city and its never ending gridlock – sounds like a perfect job for the Rockhopper, right? Initially, it was. The pothole-ridden streets were no match for the big front wheel and the suspension – even in the locked position – soaked up the remainder of the bumps. There were some noticeable drawbacks, however. The thick tires created a lot of rolling resistance on smooth sections of pavement and the situation became exponentially worse if I ever had to contend with oncoming wind. Meanwhile I was getting passed by riders on these funny-looking bikes with thin tires and drop down handlebars. I was intrigued. Maybe my jack-of-all-trades bike was not the ultimate commuting machine after all…
I quickly found out that the road bike community resists change really well. Although the technology in the frames is second to none, many bikes still have traditional rim mounted brakes. I wanted a setup with disc brakes because my year-round daily pilgrimage can feature snow or rain which has a more profound adverse effect on the older style of brakes. I looked at options from Devinci, Jamis, Opus, and others, but finally discovered my Miele which was being sold at a reduced price at a LBS. Because this wasn’t as essential bike to add to my arsenal I was budget conscious and for about $1000 managed to pick something up with a carbon fork, Shimano 105 components, and, crucially, disc brakes. After a month of ownership I upgraded to a pair of Shimano M530 clipless pedals.
The experience of riding a proper road bike is incredibly different from a mountain bike. I liken it to getting onto a supersport motorcycle after spending years on a touring; in other words it feels fast and precise and tempts you into going quicker. The bike itself weighs a negligible amount and I can understand wanting to buy the most expensive accessories to keep the weight down. I instantly shaved 4 minutes off my 15 km one-way trip which doesn’t sound like much but equates to 10% less time spent on the road. More importantly riding the Miele does not tire me out as much as the Specialized and I am able to use it all 5 days of the week whereas 4 days was my limit with the mountain bike. An average month sees me add approximately 500 – 600 km to the bike’s odometer. When winter hits I will put on thicker tires with tread and keep on ridin’.
Click here for a thorough review on the Miele!
And there you have it! This list is current as of 2017 and I doubt will change much in the future until I deem an upgrade necessary… but for now, these 3 bikes are enough to get me around from A to B and have some fun while I’m at it.