Happy 40th

I don't remember how many soccer balls I had in my childhood (not a lot, though, it was a tough time). But I vividly remember one of them – it was a classic black and beige-white, vintage AF. Maybe it left such a sharp footprint in my memory because I also remember my father stitching it up after some good beating in the mud. Can't really imagine myself doing the same nowadays. With modern goods, you don't even have a chance to express love and care; that opportunity has been taken from us by mass manufacturing, for better or worse. Open “my orders”, click “buy it again”. Problem solved. Convenient and soulless experience.

But the brightest memory from around that age is my bike. Steel, single-speed, flat pedals, coaster brakes. Those brakes... they were so much fun! Spraying mud, competing for the longest skid mark, track standing, you name it. Article 31 of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child must include the statement that all kid's bikes must be equipped with coaster brakes, seriously.

We used to wrap the spokes with wires of various colors. Spoke tensioning? Compliance? Rotational weight? What are you, a boring 40-year-old MAMIL with a midlife crisis? Hell no (well, technically, the answer to that is “yes,” but I refuse to accept that). It's all about the look. It's all about silly boys having good old fun.

I want to be that boy sometimes. Or act like him. The moment this bubble-head dies inside me, I quit riding bikes. Doesn't matter if I'm still fit or not. I didn't start doing that because I had strong legs and high VO2max. And those in decline are not the reason to stop either. But if a grim face replaces a smile – that's a pretty good sign to switch focus to online chess or whatever.

So, back to the biological age of 40 years old. The day has come, but for now, it sits on the porch, waiting for its turn to knock on my door. Tax day came here first. But a silly boy in me said “fuck off” to that creepy monster. Not interested. Not fun (anymore, it sure used to be). Too busy today. Chasing the peace of mind, aka shopping for the bike parts.

That's the curse and the joy of being an adult – you don't wait for presents, you make them. But the choice is all yours. And I made mine about six weeks ago. My credit card got charged, and a few days later, a delivery truck showed up. Just like that. Easy. Perhaps too easy. As if I was restocking on napkins and trash bags. In that box was a nice looking, well-specced, fancy racey hardtail. I quickly put it together, and then... nothing happened.

Fortunately, nearby trails were still covered in snow. So, the shiny new steed stood right in front of my desk for two weeks straight. Clean, fast-looking, spreading a delicate smell of fresh rubber. The trails were drying out, the temps were going higher, and the daylight was getting longer. The moment to take the new rig out was coming. You could feel it. Well, maybe someone could. Because I felt nothing. An absolute zero desire to ride the thing. Precisely the same level of excitement as in opening a new box of those trash bags, but sprinkled with a bit of regret for making such a mistake. So, thanks to a generous return policy, it went right back to where it came from. Relief.

I do still need/want a new bike. But not “just another” bike. I want it to be mine. Not the one that just belongs to me, but the one that is me. As a rider, I have opinions on what's important in bike design/componentry and what's not so much. I also have a taste (a terrible one, I'm not delusional in that regard, but it's mine). And I want to have fun. Fun building it, fun riding it, fun writing home about it. Her, not it. The moment I stepped back and looked at what seemed to become a final outfit, I couldn't help but whisper: “She's a beauty.” Her name is Penny now (it was supposed to be Penne because I expected it to come out as a spaghetti monster).

I won't go into the technical details of the build (but you can get a pretty good idea from the picture below). But I must mention the frame because the story about the ball would otherwise look irrelevant to the rest of this post. I own two carbon bikes. And I love them, like everyone loves theirs, for a good reason. They are freaking rocket ships. Mass-produced, easy to crack, not so easy to repair, non-recyclable. As cool as they are – they are a commodity. I don't know why, but it feels that way. Steel or titanium hits differently. Someone welded and engraved that thing! It's so crafty, so touchy, so natural. And if shit happens – a good welder can stitch it back up. It's truly yours for life.

Fun hurts, though, you know. Having fun building a bike means making not one choice but many. I had no idea how many. Last summer I was wondering why the flick a wheel builder put a spacer onto my XDR freehub body (at first I didn't even notice it was there, gave me such a headache). Well, now I even know its width by heart, down to the hundredths of a millimeter. You live – you learn. Cranksets having all kinds of a spindle diameter? Chainlines? Spacers? Gosh, give me a break... But the first time it all paid off was on Wednesday morning when a mechanic called me saying that this was one of the best builds he had ever worked on because every single part had been so perfectly picked. I haven't ridden it yet, but it felt like I've already got a PR, if not a KOM, on a “But First, You've Got to Build Your Bike, Sir” segment.

Lightweight or red? Red, of course. How's that even a question? Okay, okay... Who doesn't like their bikes to be light, right? I do appreciate my lightweight gravel race machine. Thing rips, as they say. But do you remember that taste thing I've been talking about, which I kinda have, but not really? Well, for better or worse, now that thing has become a priority. We are going all in on matchy-matchy, whatever it takes. And everything that doesn't contribute to the color accents just needs to be sturdy enough to last for a lifetime. And the weight... let's leave some room for the upgrades, right? Haha.

At first, I put the flat pedals on, even though I hate them. I really do (that's why you won't see them in the pictures; I just couldn't stand them any longer, pun intended). “Why are you using them?” – my buddy asked me on a ride. There was one objective reason, but it's kind of irrelevant. The main idea was: that's all we had when we were kids. Yep, dead simple. Back to the roots. Back to the pure fun of riding bikes with other boys and girls, joking around, and drinking beer in the parking lot.

Happy birthday, dude. GL;HF. And keep fucking going.

PS: There's one more bright memory from the childhood. If you ask me what I enjoyed watching the most, it will be two things. Disney cartoons will come to mind first, but that goes without saying, right? The second will be “The Jacques Cousteau Odyssey.” I could never get enough of it. So, when I saw Jacques' quote, “We must go and see for ourselves,” sneakily printed on the inside of the frame... Another quote immediately came to my mind: “We be of one blood, ye and I.”