Can a bike/equipment have charm/charisma (or not?)

This kind of relates to a few topics that have been on here lately, and to a topic I made about the new Di2, where I concluded by saying that it was unbelievably competent but I didn’t somehow love it.

I did my first semi-competitive road event this year (a timed reliability ride) today on my TCR with AXS (disc). The bike did everything I asked of it and got me round in a good-ish time/speed given a hilly route, wind and rain. The gears were slick and accurate, the brakes worked well on some slippy roads, and the deep section wheels felt like they helped cut through the wind.

And while, when I’m close to my limit the bike really does make my life as easy as possible, I don’t love it. It feels a bit flat and soulless, somehow, perhaps a bit robotic, maybe. My second bike, which is a Helium SLA, rim brake with Campag mechanical, is irrefutably less competent, especially under real pressure, but increasingly I find myself enjoying riding it more. There’s a bit more feel and feedback (and it’s simpler in quite a pleasing way). I also suspect there’s something about too much frame stiffness too, but that’s a side issue.

Without turning this into an electronic vs mechanical or rim vs disc (because that is NOT the point I’m trying to make), does anyone ever have the same experience? Does anyone have any bikes or bits of kit they know are objectively ‘worse’ but gravitate to more, or somehow get more from?

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I would say at times we enjoy things more when they are not perfect as defaults makes the experience more lively.

Electronic music instruments and DAW almost all have a “swing” function that add a bit of randomness in timing perfectly the note and velocity so the music sounds more human made and less robotic and boring to the ears. People love driving vintage cars and bikes despite a lot of imperfections and much less efficiency. I guess these kind of things may apply to bikes depending on the owner.

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Definitely depends on the rider, and that’s just a human thing. People have different tastes, and that’s fine.
I had a friend who used to love his older car. He said it had “character” and I took that to mean it didn’t like to start on cold mornings. We were clearly different, and that was fine, because we owned different cars.
Same with bikes. Some like electronic gears (I do, but the one I’m building in a couple of weeks will be mechanical) and some don’t. Some like carbon, some like steel. Big deal.

In my world, inanimate objects do not and can not have “charisma”, as they are simply modern contrivances built out of natural and synthetic materials in order to fulfil some specific purpose.

However, I have come to my bikes in a different way than many here–I build them, beginning with a frame (new or used) that I think is perfect for me, based on reviews, experience and so forth. And to those frames I add equipment that over the years I have come to love, which I have learned to set up and maintain perfectly. That said, some bikes come out better than others, despite the “specs” on paper, so of course I will like some bikes more than others, regardless of their pedigree.

I enjoy the organic, natural aspect of cycling, and being an integral part in the eventual “product” that I use. Of course my skills, and as a result the final end-products, have greatly improved over the years (I’ve built more than 40 bikes so far, over the last couple of decades, all for myself, all with the goal of making a better bike than the last one, where I keep the one(s) that win out, and sell or donate the rest). However, the last dozen or so have all been just about perfect, so, I’ve stopped building any new ones, and just maintain the top five that I kept.

I’ve been asked, if I were to have to get rid of one, which would it be–and honestly, I couldn’t choose from among them–they’re all perfect–by design, and by experience–so, no, I have no bikes that don’t live to either their “specs” or my expectations, and where each and every one still is a thrill to ride, with a chuckle extended to those that simply keep buying new because they can, with little of their actual “self” integrated into the process, just their cash. As noted, different strokes for different folks–I make my happiness, I don’t buy it.

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I’d agree that building up a frameset (or even building the frame yourself!) has made me a lot more connected to the bikes that I own and means that I view them more than just inanimate tools to be used. Previously I had always bought complete bikes and can’t say that I’d ever been as connected to one.

I also appreciate the fact that I’ve learnt many skills from building them up and if something went wrong I could address it. Personally that also helps me to build more of a relationship to the bike.

The only bike I currently own that I haven’t built up is my utility one and I’m happy to have a slightly more detached relationship with that one given it’s role.

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I mean pretty much anything can have charm/charisma if you endow it with such characteristics but I don’t think there is much charm to bikes in comparison with other mechanical objects. I’ve had road bikes punch way above their weight (for example I like my Bowman Palace 3:c/R more than my Super Six Evo and my gen 1 S-Works Venge even though Hambini thinks it’s a death trap and I will die immediately) but I think that stuff is more a geometry being a better fit for what I like doing (fast flowy descending) thing vs a craftsmanship or individual to frame thing and at the end of the day road bikes are pretty simplistic tools that operate in a fairly narrow window of environments so there really isn’t that much difference between them all.

It’s not like cars though where they can really surprise you (e.g. a RWD truck or a hot hatch being able to get through something you thought it couldn’t get through). Closest thing I can think of is a hard tail XC mtb, to me the most versatile, there is something charming to a bike I’ve taken so far out of its elements (downhill trails, CX races, riding on the road when my venge snapped). Groupsets to me are like suspension components in most cars, they either work and feel tight/correct for the purpose or they don’t and have a mechanical issue that needs to be repaired/replaced. I’ve ridden electronic and manual groups and feel about the same with a slight edge going to electric. Wheels and other stuff is indifferent. I train on aluminum and race on deep section carbon so they always feel extra fun since it’s rare that I ride on deep section wheels with nice supple race tires.

The"charisma" for me tends to come after a while. I feel a much stronger attachment after I’ve put some miles on a bike, worked on it, and had a few adventures. Customizing a bike helps too.

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I sort of feel like a lot of mechanical charisma comes from faults that you have to workaround. Like only getting one bad shift out of ten from Campagnolo friction. Or going down mountain roads on a pre-1985 race bike/components. Or getting up mountain roads with a 42-21 low gear. Everything an adventure.

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Of course it does. Every bike has a personality. You can tell what it does or doesn’t like to do. Remember the first time on a race bike? If you ride a lot, a bike is about how it makes you feel: feel like you can fly, travel long distances self-propelled, recall places you’ve been, things you’ve done. I still ride my SLX custom from 1988-ish all the time. It’s a bit heavier, a bit clunkier, a bit more beaten down than my newer rides. It’s on about its 2nd to 3rd groupset and 5th to 6th set of wheels, been crashed several times - including my worst, been neglected badly from time to time. But, it still fits the best, flexes the best, carries the best memories. It’s an old bike that can make me feel young. When I can’t ride it anymore, I hope to it finds a good home.

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“I like my Bowman Palace 3:c/R more than my Super Six Evo and my gen 1 S-Works Venge even though Hambini thinks it’s a death trap and I will die immediately)” - brilliant!

I’ve got a Bowman 3 as well, lovely bike to ride, there’s worse ways to go.

I’ve had etap for 4yrs+ I think now and still think it’s robotic and enjoyed all my years on sti + tho luv the logic of the etap as it’s easy on the fingers, deep wheels on the other hand, tried them 50mm 1500 gram carbons and they felt cumbersome to ride and caught the wind atrociously… maybe 38’s would be better :thinking: yet I’ve rode light wheels (25/30mm) and their quick to ride light in nature, feel better basically for me…

My 'carbon frame just says get out the saddle on this hill and I’m luvin it, whereas my custom steel frame is comfortable and does the job the same but with lag…that was a BIG difference when I started on carbon…

Curious which are your top 5 as you mention?

I went from 1" steel fork/frame to 1 1/8" carbon fork/alu frame (Cervelo S1), and then onto similar variations. Know what you mean. It’s a completely different style, different technique. But after all that, I’ve come completely full circle to conclude what I had before suits me better. In fact, wish I still had that noodly Look KG56. The 1" steerer has a much deeper flex that you can load. I can’t really bend the new front ends.

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I’ve gone from a custom steel job to a no name carbon and prefer the outright performance of the latter…in all honesty

I’m sure I remember reading a Jan Heine article about steel frames rewarding seated climbing over standing, so that doesn’t surprise me.

The older I get, and the more bikes I ride, the more and more I’m convinced that just the right amount of flex in a frame (which will obviously vary by rider and use case) is the key to ‘feel’.

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