The Best Bike for You Is...
Throughout my career as a test editor, “What is the best bike?” is the question I’ve probably been asked more than any other. Related questions like “What is your favorite bike?” and “What bike do you own?” get asked often, too. The last one is asked because, people tell me, I ride so many bikes that the one I choose for my own must be pretty great. It’s like asking an auto mechanic, “What car do you own?”
I spend much of my life riding bikes, thinking about bikes, talking to others about bikes, and writing about bikes. It’s been my job for more than 30 years: from bike shop salesperson in high school to mechanic in college to an internship with Mountain Bike magazine to Bicycling test editor after college and ever since.
In those three decades’ time, I’ve ridden many bikes, perhaps in the thousands. And there came a moment on every one of those bikes when I thought to myself, “Do I love this bike? Is it perfect? Is it right for me? Is this the best bike I’ve ever ridden? If I could ride only one bike for the foreseeable future, would it be this bike?”
The crazy thing is, as I’ve ridden more and more bikes, the idea that there could be a perfect or best bike in perpetuity seems less and less likely. And now, thirty-odd years into this journey, I’ve all but let go of the idea that the best bike can exist. Or rather, I understand that it can exist, but only briefly. This doesn’t mean I’ve stopped trying to find the best bike in this moment, or that I no longer seek to learn about bikes and why one might feel better than another. I’m always prepared to be surprised, and I believe that any bike can be magical, for explicable and inexplicable reasons.
I believe in the idea of best bikes and perfect bikes. Brands should construct every bike to be its best. I believe in pursuing perfection even if experience tells me perfection is unattainable.
I’ve ridden a handful of bikes that I’ve loved—even though I struggle to understand why completely—and a few of them I’ve made my own. My current collection includes an OPEN U.P., a Mosaic RS-1, an Evil Following, and a Spot Mayhem 130. And I do love those bikes more than many, perhaps most, but I don’t think they’re perfect. And I don’t think any of them are the best, but they are good bikes for me in more ways than they’re not right. These bikes satisfy my needs as a rider in the terrain I ride most often, and they all have some X-factors, too.
There’s always another bike, novel idea, trendy builder, or hot brand. I bought the Mosaic thinking it’d be my “forever” road bike—the last one I’d buy for myself—because it is gorgeous. And its ride quality is the stuff of dreams. One of my favorite road bikes ever. “I love this bike,” I thought when I purchased the frame; “I don’t need anything more than this,” I told myself.
That lasted about three days.
I rode something else. Maybe the superlight Specialized Aethos or the super-capable Otso Whaheela C. Whatever it was, it was many somethings my Mosaic was not, and whatever those things were, I now wanted them. And after riding a few other bikes, I’d start missing my Mosaic, so I’d ride it and revel in all that it was, but at some point during the ride, I’d start thinking about what it wasn’t.
I was chasing a dragon: liking a bike for a while, but soon enough wanting more, always itching to find the next, the better, the newest. Trying to find a perfect bike, and so frustrated that it always seemed so close yet perpetually just out of reach.
One day, I looked at the bikes in my possession. There were dozens. I’d ridden them all and liked most of them: Some of them were unequivocally great. Despite all this in front of me, all I wanted to do was ride something new and different.
Because the next one, that might be the perfect bike.
And that’s when it struck me. There were dozens of bikes at my immediate disposal, yet none of these bikes satisfied me. I then considered all the bikes I’d ridden over the years: what I thought of them when I rode them and how I perceived them over time. And despite all the groundbreaking, innovative, beautiful, paradigm-shifting, great-riding bikes I’ve ridden, I couldn’t name a single one that I’d consider perfect for me or the best I’d ever ridden. But I still believed that out there somewhere was that perfect bike, and all I had to do was keep searching.
Slowly, something began to click in the gears of my mind. What does it say when—after nearly 30 years of testing and thousands of bikes—I still haven’t found the perfect bike for myself? Is it that I’m insatiable? Possibly. But I think what it’s more likely saying is that, while you can buy a perfect bike, it will not stay that way.
You can search and search. You will feel like you’re getting tantalizingly close. So close that you believe the perfect bike must exist, which encourages you to keep searching. But I can tell you it is a futile search: It took me almost 30 years to learn that no one bike can ever be everything, forever, and that no quiver can ever be big enough. Every single bike is a little different, a little better in some ways and not as good in other ways as the others. There is no one bike. Not now, not ever.
Only when I let go of my belief in a perfect bike could I be content with the bikes I own. And it was when I was satisfied with them that I could totally, fully enjoy riding them and the ride itself. The bikes I have were once the best for me, and even though they no longer are, I still love them and the places they take me. And that makes them perfect enough.
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