This bike is a platform (thoughts for the Oregon Manifest)

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Published 2011-09-23

In 2007, I bought this Soma Double Cross — notionally a cyclocross racing bike — for commuting. I fitted it with racks, full fenders, 32c touring tires, panniers, lights, the works.

It has never been an awesome build. I have never loved this bike. I call it a Frankenbike. It gets hand-me-down parts and tons of abuse.

But easy enough to hook up a trailer and turn it into a touring rig, or a kids-to-the-zoo hauler.

I rode one Short Track MTB race on it. So: for certain definitions of “mountain biking,” it’s a pretty capable “mountain bike.”

With my Vanilla out of commission, I swapped in my Selle Italia Flite saddle, hand-built road-racing wheels and 23c tires. With this humble bike — always a fair climber (and an excellent descender) — I could hold my own in a road race (at my category, anyway). It is only marginally heavier than my official “racing bike.” And frankly, if I’m looking to shave pounds to save seconds, my bikes carry way more excess meat than excess metal.

Stripped down like this, it would certainly make a capable fire-road randonneur.

Staff Jennings #biketowork

And of course, I can race cyclocross on it. (Or rather, with it)

This homage to my battered do-it-all-pretty-well Soma was inspired by the challenge for this weekend’s Oregon Manifest:

The two-wheeled revolution won’t come on the saddle of a race bike or a specialty bike. The utility bike is the transportation mode of the future for millions of Americans who want to live healthier, more sustainable lives, but don’t think of themselves as “cyclists.” The key to realizing this future is thoughtful, innovative bike design that fills multiple needs and fits into their lives.

...which all sounds noble and awesome and exactly like my grotty old Soma. And yet, check out the Manifest’s Design Consideration (Group 2):

Integration: Individual design solutions and features should be integrated into a complete,
 harmonious aesthetic and functional whole, rather than a checklist of details. Each design element/feature should meld seamlessly with the entire bike.

The killer app of a basic steel triple-triangle 700c bicycle frame is interoperability. You can swap out wheels, tires, saddle, seatpost, chainrings, cogset, racks, fenders, and lighting to turn a minivan into a Range Rover. You can make it lighter and sportier in good weather, or more rugged and weatherly in the snow. Moreover, with mileage you realize that the non-frame stuff is gonna give: fenders snap, racks bend, panniers get grungey, saddles wear out, electronics corrode. But a quick trip to my Local Bike Shop and a few bucks sets all those things right.

For me, the key “design element” of a bike that “fills multiple needs and fits into [my] life” is the exact opposite of features that “meld seamlessly with the entire bike.”