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  • Mark Smith

Bike Porn and Walls of Dust


I’ve got two excellent bikes—three if you count the tandem. The first and oldest found me on a backstreet in Hong Kong, in a cluttered little shop called Flying Ball Bicycles. I still wonder what that name means, but the shop owner, a diminutive Chinese fellow who spoke perfect English, knew his stuff. He listened to my case, thought for a minute, then presented me with a Merlin Extralight titanium frame of exquisite beauty. “That should do you well for a good long time,” he said with disarming frankness. If every shop owner sold gear of such quality and with such honesty, the world would be a better place. That was 2001. The frame, accoutered with new Shimano Dura Ace components once and new wheels twice since its christening on the streets of Paris that year, continues to serve me magnificently, providing a ride of unmatched comfort. Twelve years later I put the Merlin out to pasture at our house in Normandy, acquiring for my Paris mount a high-end carbon-fiber bike that was lighter and possibly faster than the Merlin. But a year later the carbon bike broke in a minor accident. I went back to the Merlin. You can’t ride a thoroughbred racing bike around the city, so about 10 years ago I bought my second bike—a custom-made titanium from Seven Cycles, which I ordered through a bike shop in Houston, Texas. This too is a beautiful bike, which I have modified slightly to accommodate my occasional desire for touring, an application the Seven fulfills with aplomb. These two titanium bicycles make a short stable of a quality and expense that few cyclists would allow themselves. Still, I can’t help myself: I want more. In his beautiful song “Mur de poussière” (wall of dust), French singer-songwriter Francis Cabrel tells of a man who dreams of a better place than his modest plot of land with a twisted tree in the middle. The man searches the planet for that better place but never finds it, eventually returning to his old plot with the twisted tree. Unlike the man, I’m still out searching. And to make matters worse, I appear to have fallen victim to the current cycling fad—gravel bikes, which are effectively road bikes with fat tires. I know I don’t need one, but I want one because I find the idea of riding offroad to be increasingly appealing. Ditch the cars, etc. I’ve got four or five in my sights, the first having been forced upon me by bike pal Robert, an architect with refined taste in cycling technology. He sent a link to a stunning specimen from Festka*, in the Czech Republic. It was the spark that started the fire. Other gravel bikes have risen to the surface of my computer’s browser: the Mason Bokeh*; the Open U.P.*; and the one I’m leaning toward most, the NDVR* titanium breakaway travel bike, which has all the great features of titanium, the gravel wide-tire geometry…and the frame breaks into two pieces so the whole bike fits into a regulation suitcase that no airline can refuse. Two things keep me from buying these bikes, all of which are expensive, obviously. First, I don’t want to spend the money, and second, none of them would erase my desire for still more bikes. Like the man in the song, I should learn to be happy within my walls of dust. I’m going to try and do that some day. Wish me luck.

Atop the Col de la Madeleine. It gets all the credit in Tour de France legend but the Col du Glandon, on the opposite side of the same valley, is way harder.

*Links

Festka

Mason Cycles

Open Cycle

NDVR Cycle

The song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylE-hmBKiOE


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