Often what I need is not the best, but what's good enough. Not the newest, but new enough. Not the lightest, but light enough. Not the fastest, but fast enough. I don't think I'm alone in this. I want to ride fast, but I also want to get to work. I want to race well, but I also want to sleep and eat cookies and cake. I want the best technology I can get, but I want a wallet that isn't already empty when times get tough. I want to ride everywhere, but I can only fit a certain number of bicycles in my apartment. Can I be and do and have all of these things? I think most of us would like to.
I've had a lot of bicycles, in the pursuit of these desires. Somehow I always fall into the trap of thinking that this bike or that one will be the final piece in the puzzle of my complete life, so I keep acquiring and discarding them. I need one to go to work on, another one to do road races on, another one cheap enough to keep outside all the time and avoid maintaining. Many of these bicycles end up as disappointments, but some have been delights, and a very few have achieved bicycle genius and enabled me to expand my abilities and myself.
I shipped one bicycle to myself when I began my great Southern experiment, so it was waiting for me in Nashville when I arrived, lonely, broke, with only some empty rooms, some belongings that didn't fill them, a sleeping bag, a pair of shoes. And within a day of arriving, a bicycle. It was an old beginner's racing bike, as old as I was, it was garish, it was heavy, it was suboptimal for everything. I bought groceries on it, I rode it to school, and I raced a summer of criteriums in the shadow of the Titans stadium. When the summer was over and all of my stuff, including a new racing bike and a new commuting bike had moved down to join me, I sold it. I didn't have room for it. It was too big for me, really. It was suboptimal.
During that summer and sometimes in the years afterward, the friends I made in that summer of racing marveled that I raced criteriums with six cogs and downtube shifters, with a steel fork and single-pivot brakes, as though people didn't used to do it all the time. But it was easy, really, the easiest part of a hard summer. For one and a half months, my bike was my meal ticket, my race machine, my daily commuter and my escape. It was humble, and it was suboptimal. For one and a half months, it was the perfect bicycle.