What did your first bike mean to you? For me the answer is simple: freedom. Growing up somewhere in the middle of the UK that first bike meant me and my friends could leave our village for somewhere other than the surrounding cities for the first time. Buses and trains didn't run to the villages around us, or to much-whispered about secret riding spots. Riding ten miles to buy chips from a different chipshop, or chocolate bars from a different newsagent sounds trivial now, but back then that was freedom. It didn't matter that hunting for riding spots usually ended up with us stuck in either mud or a bramble bush somewhere; we were exploring the world and it was the beginning of understanding just how much world there was outside the networks of streets, parks and playing fields we were growing up amongst.
That simple joy of owning a bicycle is lost all too easily. I know my days of uncomplicated mountain bikes are long-gone. I couldn't live without a dropper seatpost, clutch mechs or finely-tuned suspension. These are all wonderful things and once you have sampled their delights, it's hard to go back to anything that isn't as good. In a very real sense, I have lost my innocence riding mountain bikes. Don't confuse that with not loving riding, if anything my love for riding has grown as I've got older, the realities of adult life make the glorious escape of going riding ever more precious. But the bikes I do it on are ever more precise, ever more demanding of my time and money. These days, to really enjoy a ride my bike needs to be just right, or I spend the whole time fixated on whatever flaw is evident.
Yet for the past four years there has been one bike that has taken me back to those early days. It cost me about 500 Euros in an online sale, and if you worked out the cost per mile, then it is without question the best 500 Euros I have ever spent on any bike.
Yes, it's a road bike. But it is the one bike that has stayed with me, while more expensive, refined and complicated mountain bikes have come and gone it has been my faithful companion. Unlike my mountain bikes, I don't know or care what kit is hanging from the frame. It has wheels that roll, gears that change and brakes that stop me. At some point the front derailleur went into the trash in the name of simplicity, the stem was swapped out for a Renthal stem I had lying around from an article and the tyres were changed when fabric started to show through the carcass. It's just a bicycle, no more or no less.
There are no settings to fuss over, I haven't even changed the chain or brake pads in those fours years. Most mechanics would wince at the tortured sounds coming from the bottom bracket and the mis-aligned gears, but it works, and that's all that matters. That's the joy of this bike - there is no need to think about it. My credit card remains unmolested by it, I have never spent hours trying to get a seal on tubeless tyre or remove the last few bubbles of air from the brakelines.
Everybody should own a bike like this. Not a road bike, unless that's what you want, but a simple, uncomplicated bike that reminds you why you love doing this so much. Despite its simple nature, once the pedals start turning it becomes the most glorious machine in the world, one that can take me from wherever I am to somewhere new and exciting. There is no better machine I have found for exploring an area - you move fast enough to cover dozens of kilometres without too much effort, but not so fast that you don't get chance to take in the details that you would miss in a vehicle. Whether I am heading to cruise the hills on a warm summer evening, crossing into Italy to buy cheese or cranking as hard as I can into a cold, winter headwind, it takes me back to that first, simple pleasure of having a bicycle. It offers something that no ten thousand dollar dream-machine could ever compete with: it reminds me of why I fell in love with riding bikes every single time I throw a leg over it. It really is 500 Euros of freedom.