Our bikes are more than pieces of recreational equipment that deliver cardio workouts outdoors on dirt. Even more so, they transcend being simply muscle-powered vehicles carrying us into the remote backcountry on epic adventures. Often times, they end up becoming almost personified as "companions" or "friends." We talk to our bikes and treat them with a level of affection where they are almost alive as we give them emotions and other human characteristics.
Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, and intentions to non-human entities (like bikes). That term can be used of pretty much every mountain biker I know in their relationship with bikes. We have names for our bikes. We talk to them. When they break we yell at them. After a day out in the mud we coax and soothe our bikes back into pristine condition as we clean them. We pat them gingerly on the saddle after they deliver us from a near-death experience and say, "atta boy."
It is not as much about the bikes but the stories that they contain or the memories that we experience behind those bars.
I ride a circa 2001-2002 KHS Team ST mountain bike. I don't even know precisely when it was born ... I mean "made" (there I go again with those anthropomorphisms). It is a 26er with an old school softtail and a chromoly frame that flexes when the "shock" engages (1" of travel glory). Like you, I've had many bikes over the years. Too many to count. But one thing I know through it all is I still have my KHS.
Oh, I tried to sell it many times on Craigslist. Sometimes dropping the price to a sweat-inducing $250. A few days later relieved no one contacted me I'd quickly take it off the meat market. It's a quirky bike for sure. I've upgraded literally everything ... new RaceFace cockpit and crankset, XT 1x10 drivetrain (with 42T Wolf Tooth), XT brakes, Chromag saddle, Gravity dropper (do you know how hard it is to find a 26.8 dropper seatpost???), Mavic wheelset, and "enduro blue" powder-coated frame. My last fork upgrade though was a 2006 Marzocchi Bomber fork (thankfully Fox released new forks last year for a 1-1/8 headset).
Every time I show up at the trailhead I know I'm bringing a pocket knife to a gun fight (maybe even a butter knife). Sure, uphills are where this bike excels, but point it down the hill and hold on for dear life as you feel all 1" of the "shock" absorbing hits it was never meant to as the frame flexes from lack of pivots. At the same time there is a sense of pride when rolling into a parking lot full of $3,000-$7,000 bikes on this wolverine after riding a gnarly trail. It may be small but it is ferocious. Ok, maybe it is more like an angry hamster than a wolverine.
But why do I keep this bike around and continue upgrading it against the sound wisdom and pleading of my friends?
I bought this bike from a friend back in 2006. He bought it new and quickly converted it to a singlespeed and painted it matte black. I picked up the frame which came with a Chris King headset, crankset (I forget what was even on there then), chain tensioner, and Bontrager rear wheel. I was on my own for the rest. I had most everything else I needed at home from other janky bikes to complete the build other than forks. I ordered those and headed out of town for a conference in Las Cruces, New Mexico (I was living in Tucson at the time).
At the same time I left for New Mexico my parents were making their way from the Midwest to Tucson to spend a week with us. They always stop outside of Sedona where my aunt and uncle live. However, half way into the weekend at my conference I received a phone call from my Mom. She was crying. My Dad had gone into cardiac arrest and was in the hospital in Cottonwood. He was in a coma. Come quickly.
According to Google it is a 7 hour drive from Las Cruces to Cottonwood. I drove faster than I should have. Since I was driving through Tucson I stopped at home to grab new clothes and such since I knew I'd be gone a while. Interestingly though my new forks for my bike were there in the garage waiting (those Marzocchi Bombers). I don't know why but I cut them, threw them on my bike, and took my bike with me. I had actually never even ridden this new (to me) franken-bike yet.
I was in and out of my house in about 30 minutes. I said hi and bye to my wife and since it was already late our boys are fast asleep. A quick kiss on the foreheads.
All during the drive I'd receive updates from my Mom. Each time the news was worse. Finally I arrived sometime around 2 AM. My Mom was there as was my aunt and uncle. Since my siblings had to catch flights they were all en route. We settled in for the long haul. Eventually after a few days my wife and sons made their way up as well.
In the midst of it all at times we needed a break. It was an emotionally taxing time. My Dad's condition continued to get worse as he held on only by life support. Usually it was my Mom who would shoo us outside for fresh air or to go get coffee or go for a walk. One day I decided that I might squeeze in a short ride on my new set-up. Nothing long, maybe a 30 minute pedal in Sedona.
Maybe it was the elevation (4,236') or the fact that I had never ridden a singlespeed before, but the 30 minute ride was a complete bomb. I know most of it was related to being distracted by what was transpiring over in the hospital. Needless to say, my maiden voyage on my KHS Team ST was short of anything spectacular. I hated my bike and I hated riding singlespeed. I was tempted to push it into the trees or over the cliff and leave it. But I didn't.
My Dad passed away a few days later. It was a surreal moment as I was there in the room with him as he breathed his last breath. All other memories are now a bit hazy. It is not a memory that I dwell on much as I'd rather recall other moments than that last one.
But I still have my bike.
The biggest reason I could never muster the courage to sell this bike because even now 11 years later it is a link to the past and my Dad. My KHS Team ST is certainly not a bike to rule all other bikes in a quiver, but as other bikes come and go into my life this is one I now know I'll never part with.
Words by Sean Benesh, Loam Coffee Founder and Brand Manager.