Opinion: 500 Euros of Freedom

Nov 20, 2014
by Matt Wragg  
Header for Matt s Op Ed pieces.

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.

Vitus Razor

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.


69 Comments

  • + 54
 In response to @wuzupjosh who suggested the first line of a rap....

"Started with a Kona, now we here
used to shred a trail, get a bruise, drink a beer
Now it's carbon fiber rims and handlebar lockout
but what they didn't tell you is that it's just a cop-out
There ain't a single bike that'll ride without a rider
but it's kinda hard to see while you're watchin' rims get wider
Two wheels, two pedals, a handlebar and seat
One of those systems that's mighty hard to beat....

Boss is coming...Gotta run!
  • + 12
 ohhhhh shiiiiiiit boiiii
  • + 2
 Yea, I'm headed towards a hardtail - full suspension gives me too much grieve that takes away from my ride!
Reposting this, love it Smile
  • + 2
 Wow you should get a record deal man
  • + 5
 he whipped that up right quick too , you should do a duet with mat dennison , would be sick
  • + 1
 spat fire on the track
  • + 25
 just get a dirt jumper or bmx, they last for a long time, they are low maintenance and they are relatively cheap. Nothing beats a good night cruz in town hucking whatever you can find.
  • + 5
 bmx=true commuter , and way funner to ride then a damn fixie
  • + 4
 Heck yeah! I always think how nice it would be to ride a road or commuter bike everywhere but then I think of all the fun little things that I couldn't jump and manual over. It's way funner to ride a bmx or dirt jumper. This is why I only have one road bike and it's a classic project and has only been ride like 3 times in the 6 months I've had it.
  • + 2
 Yeah @MDRipper I just come back from a bmx session in the streets, I held on a 25 meters long manual, what a great feeling, I'm gonna sleep well!
  • + 1
 What is super cool too is that I bought this bmx back in july for really nothing, about 140€/180$ and it s a good one... When I'll sell it one day it will be the same price, maybe I'll even make more money of it... And when I see all the fun I'm having of it, street or dirtjumping, this is SO Nice Smile
  • + 3
 I would get so pissed off if I was out on a road bike and saw sweet MTB lines but couldn't ride them, then I'd try anyway
  • + 2
 i have a BMX like that. except instead of four years of no maintenance, its going on 16. pegs come on and off and the tires get air each year. thats it. keep it simple stupid
  • + 1
 A BMX for commuting? Try riding 40-50 km every day in the pissing rain for a winter.. I'd prefer building some sort of FSFG bike but with brakes and singlespeed.

@ThreesixtyTabletop buy either a nice CX bike or take an old mtb frame and build it into one. I still have an old Trek 8500 frame that I'm planning to fit 28" wheels on with CX tyres, some nice SKS fenders and a little pannier rack so I don't have to wear a backpack (meaning sweating like hell and stinking all day at work).
  • + 1
 Yes, my dartmoor 24player on most ns and dartmoor second-hand parts with xc28 fork and old hayes 9 brakes cost about 90 euros (less than 500 PLN). Some time was spent to assembly and repair, but 100% worth it. I rather dont like expensive bikes, there's too much taking care of them.
  • + 0
 I bought a old, beat up dirt jumper for $200 and i ride it everywhere
  • + 15
 Well, time to buy another bike I suppose.
  • + 11
 i bought my first real mtn bike a few years ago when i was thirteen. I was talking to my neighbor one night while looking at his old 2002 specialized enduro. i told him i would give him 500$ for it but he turned around and gave it to me for 17$. that bike lasted me three years. i was only five foot 7 in. and the frame was an XL, but that didnt matter, i made it work. after i got so sucked into the sport and started racing i had to say goodbye to it to build a nicer bike because the enduro was sucking money out of me for repairs. now I'm on a decked out 650b Santa Cruz Heckler i built myself. the funny thing is half of my own strava times still cant be beat on my new bike. the first bike is always best.
  • - 2
 My good friend and teacher who got me into cycling gave me and helped me build an old KHS hardtail. It was about 14 years old but I rode the crap out of it. It went through 3 drivetrains, 5 rear wheels, and more tires than I can count. The seatstays flexed laterally a good couple inches, and the seatpost was a mile high, but I still can't beat my Strava or race times on a new carbon fiber 29er. The first bike IS always the best.
  • + 5
 The firs REAL MTB might be the best but as far as I'm concerned the real best things are first experiences in the mountains. That's something that you'll remember for ever Wink
  • + 6
 you guys should make a rap , somethin like "started wit a kona now we here"
  • + 1
 Across the hilltoppa's Wink
  • + 3
 i borrowed a friends road bike once... i actually really enjoyed it, must have looked a bit out of place with baggies and 5ten hellcats. but it covers ground like nothing ive ever ridden.. i hate to say it, but i think i could see myself getting into it, or at least giving it a proper try
  • - 2
 Get a commuter, more durable wheels and often less expensive. I find the seating position much more comfortable too
  • + 1
 thanks for the advice, but im still a bit busy throwing all my money at my trail bike D:
  • + 3
 Excellent write up. I have my xc/trail beater that kind of always return to it. I hard to get rid of it. And it's always there either in peaces or with different bin parts. And time and time again it always puts a grin on my face. And keeps on amazing me each time I get back to it.
  • + 3
 Coming from riding street and fixed gear bikes, owning a mountainbike is a pain in the behind.

My bikes used to be (/ my track bike is still) so simple: no suspensions, no gears, no brakes, being just the pure and simple bike you need to be able to roll.

And for those riding styles it's the best. When you have to bunnyhop for every trick, you want your bike to be as light as possible.
All the landings to flat will destroy the gears and other weak parts anyways. If you don't need it, you better ditch it.

Since my country is flat I feel like a track bike is more than enough for road riding. It especially feels good to ride without gears. The whole bike is just more pure, and even runs smoother (for example perfect chainline etc). Never have to maintain it at all, except for replacing the rear tyre every once in a while.

Coming from this even my mountainbike is rigid, has v-brakes and is usually single speed. Only mounted a 1x9 drivetrain to be able to do some mountainbiking on the big Table Mountain, in Cape Town.


For me personally 'minimalistic' will always be the way to build my bikes Smile
  • + 3
 This article is so spot on. I have two bikes like this. One my first bike that I really started riding trails on. Its a kona blast I bought it with the $ from the first job I worked and is always a ton of fun to ride. It's such a simple bike that I feel so comfortable on.

The other bike is this old road bike I found in the attic when my mom moved. It's from the early 70s and I've only put in enough $ to keep it rolling and shifting decently.
  • + 1
 I love how I can do most stuff on my Blast and although it's got it's problems it's still going. The simplicity just makes me feel closer to the trail and more involved.
  • + 1
 What issues have you had with yours? The stock dart 2 has been swapped out for an older talas, and the other big change is the wheelset and and cranks that i've done to mine... (mostly just swapping in better parts from a frame that I cracked last year)
  • + 3
 I love this, my version of that is my dirt jump/play bike. One gear, simple coil suspension, mechanical brakes. I have spent less time maintaining it in the 3 or 4 years I have had it than I have spent on my amazing new full sus trail bike in two months. When I have an hour to go out and play on bikes with my friends between work, bills and real life that is the bike I choose. Just throw a leg over it and blast around the local woods and a big stupid grin comes over my face that usually doesn't leave for several hours. It doesn't matter what squeaks and creaks there are (although it is so simple that there usually aren't any) That's a big part of what bikes are about: A big stupid grin full of mud.
  • + 2
 I still have my first mountain bike, a Giant ATX830 I bought with my first few months wages in 1998, I was 14. It was the best thing I ever bought. Like the writer above it was freedom. On my first day out I met what would be my best friends for the next 15 years and still are. Were all old now, getting houses, marriage all that grown up stuff, but I still have my first bike and it still has 85% of original parts and even over my other 5 more expensive bikes it still puts a huge smile on my face!., if any new Kids are reading this now, keep your friends and your bikes and life will be ok Smile
  • + 1
 I've a Vitus Vee1 that I use for summer commutes, trips to the shop and weekend blasts down local riverbanks. Love it. 26", single speed, V-brakes, fully rigid, feels like a giant BMX. Never gets cleaned, throw it against the wall and don't look at it again until your next spin.
  • + 1
 Owning a full suspension bike that is ridden in all conditions is an exercise in patience. That is hard to dispute. But... Over the past few years I've begun to simplify my bicycles. Not buying in to the new stuff every year. I recently purchased (GET THIS!) new 26 inch rims, to upgrade my fully from 2011!!! That's right, I've lived without a new bike for almost 4 years. Shocking, right!?

This is part of a quest to reduce my unbridled consumerism. I've really tried my best to focus on the things that are really important. Like riding the bike as number 1, and not worrying constantly about wheel sizes and new damping systems and if my front center is too short or too long. Second, gaining more appreciation for keeping my bike in a well maintained state. Third, knowing that the base (read: Frame/Fork) that I have is already good, and investing money in to affordable upgrades, instead of dropping 3k or more on something new, and struggling to sell my perfectly good bike for less than I believe it's worth.

That being said, I do have a city bike (on which I do actually manage to have fun), a dirt jumper, and have recently acquired a rusty old cruiser. So I'm not perfect.
  • + 1
 Takes me back... I'm old enough that my SECOND mountain bike was an AMP B2 (Google it kids) and my first was a 12 speed...still miss my first 10 speed road bike where me and my friends used to go out after school and ride as if we were some sort of TdF lead group of 5....
  • + 1
 It's funny, my first full suspension bike in my mind has never been matched by current rigs even though they both are supposed to outperform in all disciplines. I'm sure it's all in my head, or maybe the fact that the first rig was stolen by some homeless dude forever left a void that is hard to fill. I miss that bike with its stupid dual shifter brake levers, they pissed me off but dammit I miss them!
  • + 1
 Started on the legendary next power climber. At that point I was 13 and still spent most my time on the xbox. I then took the leap and saved up for a real bike and sold the box. And can I say, i have never looked back and now all I spend my money on is bike stuff. amen
  • + 1
 My first bike was Cross full suspension.His price was about 400 euros.That was my first bike and I remember,whenever was a raining and I was on it,I always had to find a shelter to keep my bike dry cause I thougt if ''he'' get wet it would be broken or something haha.After that,I bought XC hardtail with 100mm RS Tora.That was 5 years ago and back then I rode freakin' fast haha.I think faster than now with 160mm Spec Enduro.I dont know,I think that I need to get back on a hardtail.It's all about fun,isn't it ?
  • + 1
 Great article Matt! Your first two paragraphs are awesome. If my old tires knees and back didn't hate me so much for it, I'd take my hardtail out waaaay more often. So reliable, and no time spent twisting knobs and checking shock pressure, etc. Oh, to be 20-something again.
  • + 1
 I know most people think "klunkers" are just a novelty and good for some laughs, but if you think about it, they make a lot of sense. Simple, sturdy, stable geometry, low cost, comfortable riding position... If your trails are not too brutal, and you wash your mind of all the competitive nonsense, they are a lot of fun. So if road is not your thing, or the local drivers are redneck psychopaths (like in my town) then consider putting together a modern interpretation of the good'ol klunker.
  • + 1
 i just renewed my '89 Raleigh Super Grand Prix, for lunch time seawall rides. the thing had only ever been ridden 50km total, and sat in my folks garage since. new tubes, rubber, and straight bar... i brings me nearly as much joy as my mountain bike. almost.
  • + 1
 While I still haven't figured out the whole roadie thing, I can appreciate the sentiment. For me it's actually my wife's old Kona coiler. Bald tires, pink slip on handgrips with hearts, bracket bolted on for the kids tow-behind bike so I can't actually drop the seat post, but I've explored more of my surrounding area on it then any of my more downhill dedicated brood of bikes by just going for a pedal. And when I do "accidently" end up pointed downhill on it, it brings a whole new life to trails.

I love where I live and ride, but some of the young boys on their big bikes who've never ridden a piece of crap can be a little much sometimes. I think they need to go rip Rio or whatever local trail you love on something that's under sprung and dates back a few years and get a feel for where this sport really came from.
  • + 1
 Road simple Yes. But you can buy 2-3 nice FS mountain bikes for the cost ($17,000) of this Road bike!

www.bicycling.com/bikes-gear/bikes-and-gear-features/ridley-helium-sl-legendarily-good-ride
  • + 1
 I dunno why those road and triathlon bikes are often more expensive than mountain bikes (for example, scott's 2015 line up has 3-4 10k euro road bikes and only spark 700 ultimate mtb in this price tag) . Aero testing and materials? I'll never understand road biking. Soooo booooring.
  • + 0
 I started riding when I was 3, I had my first quarter pipe when I was 10, I've ridden as long as I can remember. I just feel like this story, like the one you told, has been told so many times that it's become a cliche. Yes, it's a true story, and I could write a long missive that's equally nostalgic, but it would be boring, derivative and redundant. More stories about the epic (which PB does really well), fewer stories about the self!
  • + 1
 @mattwragg pretty much describes my road bike too, and yeah... you get to see a lot of awesome countryside in the saddle of one of them. :-)
  • + 1
 @Mattwragg you're a journalist... don't tell us your credit card gets molested by any of your bikes! We all know you don't buy any of them!
  • + 1
 Rode my giant rainier into the ground in 5 years of my first mountain bike. Rode DH, DJ, street, pretty much anything; all on a £420 xc hardtail
  • + 1
 Rebuilding my first MTB, late 90's rigid specialized, into a road-ish bike, partly because "why not?" partly to have something to just cruise on.
  • + 1
 I feel the same way. I've had my Road Bike since 2002 and have only replaced what has completely worn out and I still love it. Great article Matt!
  • + 0
 l have a giant simple single speed cruiser that l use to ride to the park, grocery store, bars, around the neighborhood etc. use this bike more than any other. love this bike.
  • + 1
 I like my road bike, but crashing on it fucking sucks. Just ask Bono and my clavicle.
  • + 0
 I'm in the same boat, road bike, don't worry about the specs just use it for commuting to college and the occasional 30k road ride. Cost me 250 and delighted with it!
  • + 0
 Totally agreed. I put about 3x as many miles per year on my road bikes as my mountain bike and it still only needs 1/10th the attention for maintenance and tweaking shit.
  • + 1
 This feeling you describe is magic! Especially when found again after forgetting it for so long!
  • + 1
 thats why I love my HT SS. no gears, no rear shock, no big wheels. just pure fun
  • + 1
 Fortunately I was born on the continent where I trains and buses stop even in the smallest villages Smile
  • + 2
 Less is more
  • + 1
 Biking is the thing that keeps me 110 % alive
  • + 1
 Its not what your riding. It's how you ride it.
  • + 1
 I did. I got a dirt jumper...... .... .... sold it.
  • + 0
 when trees start txting i may find road bikes again.......nah.
  • + 3
 Totally agree. I built a bike like this for commuting...I never ride it because traffic scares the hell out of me. It isn't worth it.
  • + 1
 can depend on your commute but i did that for a few years and raced road on the same bike when i worked at a shop. after my kiddo was born it was eff that..
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