I’ve just been re-reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert M. Pirsig). It’s a great road book and rates right up there with the other seminal road books, for me at least being, ‘On The Road’, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’, ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ [and scripts of the TV series ‘Kung Fu’]. The central theme of ZMM is that the narrator goes a bit dotty trying to affirm a primary place for ‘Quality’ in a philosophical hierarchy; his contention being that quality has been misunderstood, mostly due to classical Greek philosophy (Aristotle in particular) and the subsequent western preoccupation with ‘subject’ and ‘object’. Quality has somehow therefore been relegated to a lesser status than is warranted. ‘Quality’ should more rightly be considered something like a Kantian a-priori fact that leads to an understanding of the subordinate considerations such as rationality and aesthetics, classical and romantic understanding etc.
You can be forgiven for wondering why he bothered so much as the meatier parts of the book pertain not so much to the academic / semantic questions of philosophical hierarchy or who won an argument in a lecture theatre somewhere etc but rather in addressing a question, ‘Do we appropriately value and understand what it is to really care about in what we do and make etc?’ Suffice to say here that there is a great deal to be said for high Quality in life in terms of words, deeds, work and items/products.
My touring bicycle is a wonderful example of technological Quality.
It is obviously fitting to read this kind of book when on the road. Perhaps as I’m older I can appreciate it far more than when I first read it 25 years ago. Or perhaps philosophy undergraduates should be issued with bicycles and sent off on extended bicycle trips to clear the head of assorted muck and tedious detail to increase the ability to concentrate and absorb.
The Quality of this bicycle of course comes from the material from which it has been produced and the craftsmanship with which it is constructed. This bicycle consists of the best available materials and has been lovingly put together in Oregon by people who really care about their craft. The result, therefore, not very surprisingly, is the best touring bike on the planet.
The bulk of the components are either from England (frame steel, saddle) or Germany (gear hub, dynamo hub, tires) and it was crafted and put together by the good people at Co-Motion Cycles in Eugene, Oregon. During this trip I had the opportunity to drop into the factory and see people at work pouring their skills and craftsmanship into each bicycle. It was inspiring to see people devoting their skills to these bicycles and generating true Quality.
The result is ‘The Pangea’, in my humble opinion the finest touring bicycle going around (co-motion.com). It is oddly difficult sometimes to convince others that mine is the ultimate touring machine but there it is. In order to address this, indulge me a moment:
The Frame: is chrome alloy, the most robust and luxurious touring frame material. It absorbs pesky little vibrations that would otherwise travel untrammeled through lesser materials. Significantly the Co-Motion bike utilizes the premium steel from Reynolds of UK, which has been recognized for a long time as simply the best material on which to base a touring machine. Since 1889 John Reynolds and Co of Birmingham have been producing the premium bicycle material and my bike sports the 725 – Heat-Treated ‘Chromoly’ [UTS: 1080-1280 MPa, density 7.78 g/cm3]. Reynolds patented the butting process to make tubes thinner/lighter in the middle and therefore stronger for their weight. It is longer lasting and more workable than aluminum or other materials such as titanium and carbon. This particular frame has the added feature of having S&S couplings so that it can be taken apart for aeroplane travel without compromising the strength of the frame. Co-Motion specialize in building tandem bikes so the basis of the single bike utilizes some of the same proportions and is very robust and chunky especially in the bottom end so as to be able to take additional weight thus giving the bike substance, character and strength.
Gates Belt Drive. The Gates belt drive is smooth and strong relegating chains to the dust-bin. The belt, if treated with appropriate care, should last 10,000 kilometres and a spare is very light and easy to carry. There is simply no going back to the outdated chain once you have made the transformation to belt–drive riding. Period.
Rohloff Speed Hub (14 speed): This is simply the ultimate gearing set up for serious touring. The chain and derailleur will simply go the way of the dinosaurs for tour bikes once more people come (kicking and screaming) to terms with this essential truth. There are other gear hub options on the market including Shimano 8 and 11 speed hubs (I’m actually getting the Shimano Alfine 11 speed hub on my new wooden café cruiser from Renovo) but the Rohloff is the duck’s nuts for touring.
Significantly, when the (sizable) Rohloff hub is teamed with a 26-inch mountain bike sized rear wheel, the rear spokes are significantly shorter than otherwise would be the case therefore adding additional strength to the rear wheel set up. The rims are DT Swiss 450; tough and reliable so putting this all together gives you a very strong rear set-up.
The Continental Travel Contact tire is a wonderfully strong tire that also rolls easily due to the smooth (non)tread pattern along the centre. It can be inflated to 80psi so is great for efficient rolling on flat long road, where you spend the vast bulk of your time when touring. (I wrote this before one of them just exploded in northern Guatemala).
Seat: The Brooks saddle is likely the most popular touring saddle around and once it is settled into the shape of your bum bones, it is very comfortable.
Headset: Chris King. Cane Creek actually hold a lot of the patents for the bearing technology that Chris King uses but the Chris King head set is widely recognized as the best out there (although I’m putting Cane Creek on the Wooden bike).
Handlebars: I like the drop bars as they provide the mix of hand positions that I enjoy but this is purely a matter of taste. Pretzel bars are also good but flat bars do not offer the variety of hand position.
There you have it. If still not convinced, refer ‘It’s All About The Bike’ (Robert Penn) who scoured the planet looking for the best components for a bike and ended up with something very similar to the above.