Just like the topic subjects states, what brands do you “identify” with or feel like they have a soul (something James Huang has discussed in some of his podcasts)? Where, whether it’s true or not, the bottom line isn’t the only thing that they are concerned about and they don’t seem be beholden to the bean counters.
You don’t even have to own their products necessarily.
For me, both past and present, brands that had a soul was 90’s Colnago (frames just seem magical…and the paint jobs!) and, for the present, Ornot clothing.
It seems this sentimentality comes to any enthusiast/hobbyist forum, whatever the object of fascination might be. The answer there, and here, is that objects and devices don’t have souls, contrary to Mr. Huang, no matter how much they be coveted by their owners–they are just objects and devices constructed out of various materials for the main purposes of making money for their “creators”–beyond that, it is the flock of followers that create the souls out of thin air and active imaginations.
There are of course brands, lines of equipment, various one-off products that stand out as among the best in the game, for all time, or for a dew days–but even that is an exercise in subjective futility–no one will ever agree across the board of what represents the truly stellar offerings in any discipline. No baubles have a life of their own among my possessions, including my bicycles–they don’t speak to me, and I don’t speak to them.
“Soul” is attributed to an item by an owner.
For example a utility bike may be viewed by one owner as a trusty old steed that’s been through thick and thin whilst another may just think of it as a heavy, slow bike.
Likewise if someone has dreamt of owning a fancy Colnago, they’re far more likely to believe the bike has some “soul” than a pro who rides a Colnago as that’s what they’re given.
I’m certainly not going to argue for the existence of souls in inanimate objects (or, probably, even in people - OT), but - as some thoughtful posts above have alluded to - there is certainly something about certain products that communicate to many of us on an emotional level, for want of a better phrase. There could be many reasons for that, which often (usually?) have nothing to do with the product’s design or function.
But all that aside, I’ll play the game (as it’s fun).
In terms of stuff for which I have a non-rational, disproportionate fondness (i.e. I know there are ‘better’ options out there in many cases):
Campagnolo groupsets, especially mechanical, and rim. There is something beautiful and simple to it; nothing to charge, or bleed, and the sound and ergonomics just works
Really well made custom steel frames, especially stainless. Again, it’s the aesthetics, the simplicity, and the sense of something genuinely crafted and individual.
ultra-narrow, tan-wall tyres, especially on TT bikes. It’s just a look thing (look, we’re all allowed a kink, ok? )
Controversial, but electronic shifting on TT bikes. It just feels like the zenith of speed/performance/tech.
Slightly OT, but stuff which I think is just remarkably good and which I really enjoy using:
Di2. It. Just. Works. Every. Single. Time.
Any good cycling computer: in conjunction with Strava or ridewithgps, a godsend for plotting good routes in unknown areas and returning home on time and safely.
For me any stock bike doesn’t have soul. Soul is a product of the work and time put into it. Any bike that’s had heavy customization to fit the rider’s body, aesthetic preferences, and riding style has soul. My Kona Jake gravel bike wouldn’t have soul off the shelf, but I’ve put a lot of time into making it as good as I can for the kind of riding I do, and that’s what gives it soul.
Campag, Look and Surly. Berthoud has a lot of soul for me too. Ritchey, Chris King to an extent but nearly not as much as those 4.
Totally agree with comments above - soul is attributed by owner and the time they spend with particular products. But it has to be quality time. I have spent time with my Apex 1 groupset and it has 0 soul for me.
Chris King must have a soul, how else do the products last so long and take such abuse. I have a greater affinity for all my CK bits than anything else I own, probably because everything else has broken at some point and the CK parts moved on to another rig.
I find mountain bike stems have a similar effect for me. I love the machining and sharp lines. My Thomson stem has a special place in my heart as does my chromag ranger stem.
Handmade steel bikes of just about any sort. Lugged, yes please. Carbon bikes do nothing for me. Love the performance but the idea that some underpaid person in another country is whipping those things off just trying to make ends meet all while a big company pays some ambassador too much to ride one so that I might buy one. Not really a legacy I can get behind.
I’ve ridden surley bikes for over 20 years. Agree with above comment that they earn a soft spot in my heart just because they go through thick and thin with you. That being said, another overseas bike with no name tube sets. If they weren’t so damn reliable…and functional!
Yes, that’s the great Surly contradiction… so ordinary but so good!
Soft spots in my heart are as follows:
De Rosa - De Rosa was my later father’s choice in bicycles. He owned matching road and track frames in Ferrari red from the late 80s with full Campy Record. In 2007, he bought a Corum with Campy Record 10. The Corum is my regular road machine and I cannot find fault with it, except the 53-39 is a little more than I need. I’ll always take the opportunity to chat with someone on a ride if I see they’re riding a De Rosa.
Campagnolo - Same thoughts as above.
Cannondale - My first road bicycle at 12 years old was a white Cannondale. I’m not even sure what model it was or it’s age. The only way you might be able to date it is that it featured the old-style Cannondale ‘house’ logo and down tube shifters. The bicycle was built up with Shimano 105. Even though Cannondale is one of the big brands and you can find them everywhere, I always will take a look.
Slightly older brands that speak to me: Kleins and early 2000s Colnagos. Also, during my weight weenie days, Tune and AX Lightness. I never really owned any of these - I did get a Colnago Dream Plus aluminum frame on closeout just before they released the Dream B-Stay (with carbon stays), but that got destroyed in a car accident.
Alchemy hubs, later taken over by Wheels Manufacturing, then discontinued. Unlike the items above, they weren’t visually that striking, but I thought they were very well designed from a technical perspective. It turns out that I kept bending the axles, and I’m light, so maybe the design was a bit unsound - although we were still in the weight weenie era when those hubs came out. Anyway, their demise left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, but oh well.
White Industries still speaks to me. So does Chris King. I’m struggling to find a mainstream bike brand that speaks to me today, but I do have somewhat unorthodox personal preferences. I like a bunch of the aero road stuff out there, but I am not sure that any of the brands really speak to me. I am more of a custom steel bike sort of person.
ooohh yes. I lusted after a Klein years back. If I could ever find a good (structurally sound) one, that would be a great project.
I’m with @Joe_Totale on this. I don’t like attributing soul to a brand. We’ve all had a favorite artist, celebrity or company who we’ve idolised - and they’ve turned out to be much less than the ideals we’ve projected onto them.
That small workshop turning out fancy frames. How do you know the owner doesn’t underpay his staff or short his suppliers? Obviously the opposite may be true, but I’d want to know before establishing soul to them.
Brands certainly want people to identify with them, but I think that’s problematic.
If some brands have “soul” or are considered cool, other brands will be less well regarded. And inevitably, someone will wear or ride products from an uncool brand, making them uncool. The entire line of thinking is not very inclusive and focuses too much on a superficial aspect of the gear.
Instead, I prefer to value other qualities, e.g.
- aesthetics (as you might guess, I don’t find large, high-contrast logos very tasteful)
I agree with David that if anything has soul, it’s customization as an expression of the rider.
I don’t think having “soul” and being “cool” are the same thing. In fact, something I think has soul likely wouldn’t be appreciated or thought of as cool by 90% or more of the roadies in this world. And vice versa. For instance a 1" threaded Chris King headset most modern day riders would feel is just antiquated while I appreciate that it has reliably done its job and looked spectacular at the front of my bike for decades. Does it have soul? No. But I do get what the op was after.
I think we can all agree though, that all wireless parts have no soul.
I’ve a Goff custom and as much a small frame builder, it’s a true classic, I cherish that bike as it’s made to my dimensions/specs as per angles and love it for that…
I’ve always had a thing for Litespeed titanium. They can build pretty well balanced bikes that ride very nicely. They might not have the cachet of boutique builders but I like them. People say that since they got sold to ABG they went downhill but lately they dropped carbon and seem to have got their main focus back.
I find this somewhat contradictory as soul itself is a wireless property residing in the realm of ether.
If Di2 becomes self-aware a la Skynet, none of us will be able to ride anywhere.
Both very good points. But I think di2 is more of a lost soul, like a ghost, rather than a part that has soul. In fact, I’m going to just think of all wireless shifting as being haunted from now on.
Poor suckers with electronic shifting bikes…their rides are haunted!
Di2 is wicked, how does it work without wires? I think Einstein’s explanation of radio applies to it as well: “You see, the wire telegraph is a kind of very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is there is no cat.”