It’s not about the bike. (OK, maybe it is a bit)
Every good hobby needs good magazines and cycling is well catered. There are plenty of niche publications to suit roadies, mountain bikers, BMXers, hipsters and followers of the pro teams. A lot of these are almost half full of bike reviews. This amazed me when I first started flicking through magazines. Just how many different current bike brands are there? (that’s not really a rhetorical question and if someone has the time to rummage through Google and give me an answer, I’m prepared to be gobsmacked).
When I bought my roadie I was quoted lots of it's features, but the main things I knew were that it was an extra-large size frame, and that it was red and white. For the rookie, at heart all road bikes are essentially the same shape, with the same triangley bits, and they get lighter as the price goes up. Which is why cyclists all do that annoying tyre-kicker thing of walking, uninvited, up to your bike and hoiking it into the air to find out how expensive good it is. I digress. How different could all these bikes be from one another? (Don’t bother- that one IS a rhetorical question). In practical terms it’s not easy to learn the answer to that. Most of us don’t get to ride a wide range of any one style of bike. We may have, say, both a road bike and a MTB but not many of us have a shed full of similar roadies to compare and contrast. There are also many less opportunities to test drive bikes the way you can a new car at a dealership. The subtleties of bike manufacture were way beyond me.
I knew that my beloved Merida ‘Racelite’ (it was neither ‘lite’ or did any racing) hadn’t cost me a lot of money and intuitively I suspected it wasn’t the best bike on the road. “Never mind”, I told myself, “I’m not the best rider on the road either, so the bike is probably NOT what’s jeopardizing my Olympic selection”. So I kept it clean, wore matching kit and at least tried to look the part.
In late 2011 Merida bikes held a competition to find Australian “test riders” for their bikes. Wow. It sent my head swimming and briefly I saw myself like the bicycle industry’s “Stig” being helicoptered into the Nerburgring, being handed a glossy white helmet and swinging my leg over some exotic carbon fibre two wheeled creation. Uhhh, yeah. Meanwhile back on planet Earth the more sensible part of me kept reading and learned that Merida would give you a new bike to ride for twelve months. For three years running. The 'test rider' bit was simply the name of the competition.
I may not have been a fast rider, but I knew I was a fast talker and I gave myself a better than even chance of winning the comp. Ridiculous really since the only thing I’d ever won was at the show’s “every player wins a prize” stall, but I had a good feeling about this one. Such a good feeling that instead of ‘enter-and-forget’, I even took note of the announcement date, and when that date came and went without my letter of congratulations arriving in the mail. my disappointment was actually closer to shock. (editor: arrogant bastard)
A week later Merida updated their website to say that winners hadn’t yet been announced because they’d been overwhelmed by the response and were still reading the entries, so I graciously gave them an extension. Then eventually I got a phone call. Advance Traders who distribute Merida in Australia told me that I’d been picked as the road bike winner.
It took a while to sink in. I laughed and chuckled non stop for about 24 hours, before my confidence evaporated and I wondered why they hadn’t read between the lines in my entry; Why hadn’t they realized I wasn’t some superstar on two wheels, that I didn’t ride for a club, win events, or have thousands of twitter followers? But the bike duly arrived and I wheeled the Merida 2012 Reacto out of Super Elliots with a massive grin on my face. The Reacto was the first of three in the test-rider prize. This year I’ve enjoyed the 2013 Scultura-Pro. Next year I’ll try out a third amazing bike in the range.
I feel like the wino who has been introduced to the delights of Bordeaux. The Target shopper given the Armani suit. The Corolla driver thrown the keys to a Ferrari. I have tweeted, and instagrammed and blogged about the bikes so for Merida’s sake as a result I hope that one or two people kick the tyres of a Merida next time they go shopping.
This prize probably did more than anything else to fuel the addiction I described in chapter 3. Now I’ve added the GPS enabled computer. I log my rides with Strava to see how far I’ve ridden each month. I even subscribed to a couple of those magazines. I nod wisely and pretend to know what they’re talking about when they discuss fork trail and torsional stiffness, but deep down I hope I never get so geeky that I really do understand. I just know what feels good to ride.
It’s answered many of those questions I had about the differences between bikes. My Racelite was a perfectly good bike. I could do anything at all on that bike and it gave me a lot of fun, but wow, the top bikes do the same things just that little bit nicer. Maybe it’s what team Sky call ‘marginal gains’. Personally, I drew the line at carbon fibre bottle holders, but each to their own. Like with most hobbies, we can spend ever more time and money quibbling over smaller and smaller differences. Unlike a book or a video game you’ll never get to the end.
The take home message for the day: You can enjoy cycling on any old bike in the world, but jeez it’s fun playing with the good stuff!
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