Do you believe in love at first sight? I mean bicycles.

I do. I have had such a moment two times in my life. Let me try to describe it. It is when you happen to see a bicycle in a shop, get the urge to do a test ride, and within less than 5 minutes fall in love with the way it feels to ride it. As a result, you buy it right away.

I had such a moment this spring, and another time in 1993. The bicycle from 1993, a black KTM touring bike, stayed with me until last fall when I donated it to charity before my moving from Graz to Stockholm. Within the 25 years it served me on quite a many trips, most notably the one from Geneva to Nice and back, where I took it up and down many of the famous Alpine passes known from the Tour de France.

Meanwhile we have 2019, and as luck wanted it, I had a déjà vu of my 1993-experience. It was a little shop in Surbrunnsgatan in Stockholm where I saw her from outside through the window. Of course, I have heard about the “Kona Sutra” before. Of course, I was susceptible since I was looking around for a bicycle for my one-month’s tour to the North Cape. I went into the shop, asked for a test ride, and three minutes later I knew that I gotta buy it. Fifteen minutes later I was the proud owner of the Kona Sutra model 2018.

Let me try to analyse this love at first sight, this immediate feeling that this obviously is the right one. First of all, it seems to be an informed decision, in my case, at least. Since I had the plan to bicycle with heavy load, I did an online research to learn about the key issues when choosing such a bike. In this online selection process I have limited my attention to a handful of bicycles, which the Kona Sutra was part of.

Still, with online research you cannot learn about how a particular bicycle feels with your body riding on it. A precondition for figuring out this feeling is that you ride on it. In early 2019, the bicycle shops were still selling off their few left-over models of 2018; I was lucky to find my Kona Sutra among those few.

Meanwhile, my love affair has been lasting for more than 3500 kilometers. Most of this distance, I have had it packed with heavy load. Bicycle plus load weighed more than 45 kilograms most of the time.

On my trip to the North Cape I have met many fellow travellers with similar outfit. During short meetings on the road, one of the usual topics to talk about is gear, and all too often it was about bad gear. In contrast to me, being quite happy about my chosen gear, many complained about their bicycle. The literal pain in the ass, the broken spokes, the flat tires, and similar deficiencies. From these  short discussions, I derived that I must have done a lot of right decisions. In the following, I will characterise the most important ones. Maybe it is of help to anyone reading this essay.

1. Geometry of frame

Apparently by sheer luck I found a bicycle fitting my body and the given task of being loaded for long distance bicycling. I guess that if I would have failed in this respect, my tour would have been a pain. Instead, the Kona Sutra together with all the load including my body formed a single well-fitted ensemble of parts. It felt “compact” to the utmost. It seems that the Kona Sutra is just made for exactly this exercise.

2. The saddle: A Brooks B17, leather

Never before I have had a leather saddle, although I have heard and read a lot about them. Again, by sheer luck, the Kona Sutra came with a Brooks B17; thus, I gave it a try. From reading I knew that you need to “break” it in, i.e. need to ride it for several hundred kilometers before the leather becomes a kind of negative of your back end and starts to feel comfortable. I must say that my Brooks saddle felt comfortable from the first moments on, and the feeling got better and better. I have no idea why it was like this. Again “sheer luck”?  For the first time in my life, I dared to skip the usual thick inlay between my body and the saddle. Most of the 3500 kilometers I was riding with just underwear and plain trousers. No pain i.t.a. whatsoever. Never.

3. Drop handlebar

Preparing for the tour, I was thinking a lot about which handlebar I should choose.  Most of my previous bikes had a variety of straight or slightly bent handlebars, and some had horns. Only my first racing bike, a Puch with 10 gears, had a drop handlebar. But then I was only 12 years old. Now, 54 years later, I seemingly got somewhat childish: I thought that I could still bend over all the way. I refer to what I said earlier about falling in love. Apparently pain does not count so much. But let me tell you what happened: I figured out that with the drop handlebar I had a huge variety of hand positions, and thus getting my arms moved while riding. For the first time in many years, I felt happy with my wrists, hands, and arms. No longer the dull feeling of squeezed nerves. What a miracle.

4. Pedals and shoes

I chose to go with click pedals and my old Shimano bike shoes, a perfect combination. These have worked for me for 20 years now. It seems to be a little bit like with hiking shoes: Be careful with new ones.

5. No flat tire: Schwalbe Marathon Mondial 700×40

After I had learned to pump my tires every other day “as hard as I could with my little pump” it felt as if the bicycle would like to move by itself. It seemed to me as if the little extra pressure in the tires did it all. Speaking about flat tires: At some point during my trip I heard a funny noise coming from the front tire. I inspected it and found a piece of metal stuck in it. I pulled it out and, to my  surprise could see that it was sticking in quite a distance. The Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tolerated even this gross attack.

6. 36 spokes, of course

On my tour I met several people who had broken spokes. In particular, one Italian
colleague was struck with really bad luck. I met him when his third broken spoke on the same wheel. He wanted to fix it in Alta, Norway. But, as bad luck wanted it, it was Sunday when he came there, and all shops were closed. He could not wait until Monday, since he had a lack of time due to the return flight being fixed already for a certain date. Apparently, his wheels were not strong enough for all the weight. I think that proper wheels are more important than a good saddle. While the latter is “only” defining comfort, inappropriate wheels can ruin the whole show. As an aside: When I was young, all bicycle wheels had 36 spokes, some even more.

7. Mirror attached to helmet

In 1989 I came back from a one-year stay in the US. There I saw these crazy guys with the mirrors attached to the bicycle helmet. I took some back home with me to Austria and became some sort of celebrity among the students at the university: “Have you seen the odd professor with his helmet and the funny mirror attached to it?” Since then I have made a thing out of these items. I became a warrior for wearing bicycle helmets, and I have had a mirror attached since then. The mirror helps me to judge the traffic coming from behind. Without having to turn my head, I can see which type of vehicle is approaching. On my trip to the North Cape it provided help to distinguish between “very polite Norwegian drivers” and the usually “all too nasty Italian or German drivers” approaching.

Let me stop here with enumerating gear decisions. My initial list was a lot longer. I might continue with reasoning about  gear in some other blogpost. So much for now.

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