“I mean, she’s ridden plenty of gravel and dirt on her road race bike with Specialized Pro III 23’s on it, I’ve kinda tried to trick her into thinking that that’s totally normal, and she thinks it’s fun and fine, but she likes the feeling of riding fast on the road. Basically, that’s the axis of the frame of reference.” All three nod in unison. “But I’m thinking something more capable, you know, on like Vermont snowmobile trails in summer or abandoned dirt roads around New England while still handy for a club ride when her main bike is down in the City.”
“Like riding most of the Divide,” Lael ventures, “but not necessarily the most mountain bikey parts.”
“Uh huh. And for fast and light touring with a mix of asphalt and dirt, not the smoothest nicest ones. Occasional unpremeditated mountain biking.”
“Minimal but probable.”
We’ve been talking about this topic for, oh, four hours, with brief intermissions for route finding, lifting bikes over deadfall, snacks, laughing at some hilarious thing Cass said, that sort of thing. Bikegeek conversational nirvana where patience and zeal are inversely proportional to cosmic importance. Even if we stop for a span now, Nick will start in again over coffee tomorrow or Lael will find an easy sequitur during the most arduous boulder river obstacle and it’ll feel as easy in the conversation like we’re talking about fond crucial life plans or essential canons of wisdom. It’s as if the meaninglessness of it inverts itself, relieves the burden of trying to decide whether we’re having a existential conversation, the friendship, the love of bicycles becomes the only thing.
Nick: “I still think she only has a few options, given what you’ve said. It’s going to be drop bars…”
“..to preserve that roadie sense…”
“…But it needs to take big enough tires to be comfortable and capable on dirt. There can never be too much room for rubber and fenders.”
“What does she say about her mountain bike?” English accent, therefore a serious question.
“That it wallows on dirt roads, seems sluggish like every pedal revolution sends energy into a void… .” Again, nodding. Grave looks.
“It shouldn’t be spendy, either, at least not without really good reason.” We debate the merits of a Warbird. “Obviously, the long term solution is to have Rob build her a bike, but how about for now?”
“So. Fast, light-ish, definitely light feeling, comfortable for a long ride on dirt or asphalt, can mount pretty big tires, can’t cost too much, durable, can carry gear.”
“She’s not a giant,” Lael recalls.
“Oh, right, so it has to come in like a 48, effective top tube around 51…but, ideally, still 700c wheels.”
“Hm, the Vaya runs 26″ wheels in that size. And maybe the smallest Black Mountain Cycles will be too big.”
Nick finally nods, not the nod of yes, but the nod of it’s settled. “A Surly Cross Check.”
“Yeah, a Cross Check. Those ride nicely.”
Lael, who seems happy on any bike she’s riding, but who can imagine not being like that, shrugs, “Uh huh.”
* * *
“This bike is perfect.” We’re a few hours in on the first long ride, a natural thing to do after Thanksgiving in the rolling Shenandoahs. She test rode it along with a bunch of others, thanks to the friendly and mellow crew at NYC Velo. With my smooth tires I’m having trouble staying in contact on the steep loose gravel descent, but I think she’s saying it again.