My Bike Philosophy

01.8.2009 | 3:51 pm

A Note from Fatty: Today’s post is topical, but has a startlingly small number of jokes. I don’t understand why this happened or whether I make any sense here, because I’m trying to articulate something I believe but don’t have fully worked out even in my own head. Anyway, here it is.

Every once in a while, as I’m riding along, I will consider the bike I’m riding on. By which I mean, I don’t think: “Hey, I’m riding a bike.” No, what I think is much, much deeper. I will try to picture in my head all the various motions that my bike is making.

I picture the movement of the chain, and how each link pivots and straightens constantly. I picture the motion of the pedals and try to imagine what it each pedal would look like to an unmoving observer as I go by: an oscillating, strangely-shaped wave. I try to picture that wave, but get lost; it’s too complex.

I picture the action of the freehub, and I start to panic. I picture the motion of the rear derailleur and nearly black out from the effort.

This longing to be able to visualize what my bike is doing has led to my bike-owning philosophy. I’ll even put it on its own line, in italics and initial caps, for emphasis:

Ride a Bike You Can Understand.

For me, this means a bike like my WaltWorks rigid singlespeed:


I totally get this bike. All the moving parts are simple and obvious. And that’s useful to me even when I’m not trying to be At One with my bike.

For example, I like the way a rigid fork feels as I’m riding, because the distance from my front wheel to my handlebars never changes. When I hit a rock or rut, there’s no brief contraction followed by expansion of that distance like I’d have with a suspension fork. I feel it pretty much the way I’d feel it if I walked over it.

What does this mean? Well, it means a couple of things:

  1. It means that I’m not very good at visualizing things. This is true in other aspects of my life, too. It’s a trait I inherited from my mother, who is even worse. My mom’s very smart, but I once watched her get completely defeated by the seatbelt latch on a baby carrier. And the only way she can tell if a tupperware lid fits a bowl is to try it out.
  2. It means that I’m happiest on simple bikes.

About the Frame
The drivetrain and front suspension are really the smallest part of my philosophy, though. The most crucial part of my “Ride a Bike You Can Understand” philosophy has to do with the frame.

Specifically, full suspension frames blow my mind. Look at this Specialized SX Trail frame:


When you hit a bump, the four (that I can count) different hinges pivot. How am I supposed to picture that?

Or, worse, consider this frame (the Judge) from Cannondale:


As near as I can tell, when you hit a bump riding on a bike with this frame, a series of events is initiated, the conclusion of which is nine minutes after you hit that bump, and is manifested in the form of ejecting you thirty feet into the air.

It’s like some product manager said to an engineer, “Give me a frame that has a bare minimum of seven hinges. I want it to take a quart of grease per week to keep this sucker from squeaking.”

Seriously, is it even possible to picture what happens to this frame when your bike hits a bump?

And this leads to my bike frame philosophy:

Don’t Buy a Bike Frame You Can’t Draw From Memory.

If the bike doesn’t make sense to me, how can I possibly ride it in a way that makes sense?

What My Philosophy Means To You 

Do I expect my bike philosophy to be useful to anyone but me? No, I do not. Chances are, a lot of people don’t need to understand what’s going on in their bikes to ride them. Instead, they just ride their bikes, and do so without looking like a middle-aged doofus.

Indeed, I wish I had that ability: to just have a “feel” for the bike, no matter what its internal workings. Maybe then I’d be able to ride my bikes like they’re a part of me, instead of a device I’m thinking about.

Maybe that’s what distinguishes a rider with style and flow from riders like me: feeling the bike versus thinking about the bike.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll stick with the double-diamond, simple bikes that fit in my brain.

PS: Hey, you kids get offa my lawn!


  1. Comment by Bob | 01.8.2009 | 3:57 pm

    I couldnt agree more

  2. Comment by Clydesteve | 01.8.2009 | 4:07 pm

    codger. I could agree more, but I am not sure that makes sense.

  3. Comment by bikemike | 01.8.2009 | 4:07 pm

    ahhh, grasshopper, you have learned well.
    time for you to leave.

  4. Comment by Luke | 01.8.2009 | 4:10 pm

    I think the path your pedals take is a cycloid.

  5. Comment by Colin | 01.8.2009 | 4:13 pm

    Can you really picture what happens when you ride — or walk — over that bump? As signals from your brain trigger muscles in you legs and feet to expand and contract propelling you over and forward? As nerve signals in you feet combine with motion in your inner ear keep you balanced?

    Do you need to really need to visualize the detailed mechanics of a thing — or your body — to manipulate it?

  6. Comment by graisseux | 01.8.2009 | 4:19 pm

    If Rube Goldberg had lived in the days of mountain bikes, my guess is he would have designed full suspension frames instead of drawing cartoons.

  7. Comment by MOCougFan | 01.8.2009 | 4:20 pm

    Hmmm… I just try to stay on the dumb thing.

  8. Comment by WheelDancer | 01.8.2009 | 4:24 pm

    Sorry I was on your lawn sir, I got wrapped up thinking about the relationship between my gear ratio and compression settings and I must have strayed off the trail…

  9. Comment by MikeonHisBike | 01.8.2009 | 4:38 pm

    That’s just way too much thinking for me. I just hope everything keeps working while I’m riding so I don’t get stranded.


  10. Comment by dug | 01.8.2009 | 4:40 pm

    sorry, i’m on your lawn to stay. sorry about the mess.

  11. Comment by Aaron | 01.8.2009 | 4:44 pm

    Hahaha, “PS: Hey, you kids get offa my lawn!” If you only knew how funny that actually is to me.

    My bikes run the full spectrum. Fully rigid SS, to a very complicated DH bike. And everything in between. I love them all equally. They are just like women. You don’t understand them at all, but you love them anyway.

  12. Comment by Frank | 01.8.2009 | 4:45 pm

    You could go to the other extreme, and get something so complicated that you can’t even begin to understand how it, and just treat it like a black box.

    I mean, you can’t envision all of the electrons running around the inside of your computer, can you?

  13. Comment by Andrew | 01.8.2009 | 4:50 pm

    Actually, 5 pivot points on that first FS frame.

  14. Comment by Bluenoser | 01.8.2009 | 5:01 pm

    There’s only two ways to understand bikes, and nobody knows either one of them.


  15. Comment by Charisa | 01.8.2009 | 5:06 pm

    I had no idea they make bikes that fancy?! :)

  16. Comment by sdcadbiker | 01.8.2009 | 5:19 pm

    Real bikes are for old people… :-)

    Did you just watch Gran Torino or something?

  17. Comment by Clydesteve | 01.8.2009 | 5:20 pm

    Fatty – make sure and get the SRAM electronic shifting on your next fully geared road bike. For balance.

  18. Comment by rich | 01.8.2009 | 5:41 pm

    Fatty, I’m like you, I like my bikes simple and uncomplicated.
    Although mine is less about thinking when riding them as it is about fixing them when they break.
    I’ve NEVER been able to adjust the derailluer on my geared bikes so they work correctly. I usually screw them up to the point that I end up manually putting them in one gear and riding them that way. Having a dedicated SS just eliminates the step of trying to adjust them in the first place

  19. Comment by Grant | 01.8.2009 | 5:49 pm

    pffft, the canondale is just a single pivot. You want complicated, look at this:

    I mean, what the hell?


  20. Comment by steve sax | 01.8.2009 | 6:12 pm

    It’s more complicated than the cycloid, since…
    1. the pedal crank radius is smaller than the wheel radius.
    2. The pedal crank frequency is (usually) different from the wheel rotation frequency.
    All that graduate school pays off at last!

  21. Comment by drapisking | 01.8.2009 | 6:25 pm

    There’s a time for understanding the bike, and there’s a time for feeling it. When you’re on the trail flying down the mountain you just feel it, but when it’s on the stand later in the day, it’s pretty helpful to understand how all of those pivots work.

  22. Comment by Animator Thom | 01.8.2009 | 6:28 pm

    @steve sax

    It would be a flattened cycloid, I believe.

  23. Comment by Don | 01.8.2009 | 6:42 pm

    Yeah… the more c___ the more stuff to break!
    I have a HT with a suspension fork… that’s enough mechanical problems for me.

  24. Comment by Don | 01.8.2009 | 6:43 pm

    PS… You’ve been voted for

  25. Comment by Born 4Lycra | 01.8.2009 | 6:46 pm

    What a great article in that you get to know more about the people here when and how they respond. Me I’m with Wheeldancer and Dug I didn’t mean to get on your lawn but hey its nice here and you called me a kid so I’m staying. Rather than trying to picture what my bike does apart from move slowly and wobble from side to side as i go up any sort of hill I’m checking out the cloud formations. Dug’s helping but everything he can see involves big breasts or Fire engines. Any chance of bringing out some Coffee and a couple of donuts?

  26. Comment by 4get2remember | 01.8.2009 | 7:11 pm

    If I had to ride a bike I understood, I’d still be pedaling around on my Cabbage Patch Big Wheels.

  27. Comment by Bike Rider Guy | 01.8.2009 | 7:15 pm

    Firm believer in the drawing how your suspension works. Only one of my riding mate’s can’t do it.

    Even while looking at his bike, none can figure out how the suspension actually works.
    Check out the Mongoose Team Canaan. They should’ve called it the Meccano.

  28. Comment by the other Jared | 01.8.2009 | 7:28 pm

    I’m curious how the y-foil road frames of the late 90’s fit in your policy of simplicity? would you understand a y-foil?

  29. Comment by sansauto | 01.8.2009 | 7:44 pm

    I used to ride my bike to clear my mind… I think you just ruined that. I’m going to go buy a car, the people in them rarely seem to think at all.

  30. Comment by Jill | 01.8.2009 | 8:16 pm

    I’m with Mikeonhisbike. “No think. Only do.” Really, I just frustrate myself when I think too hard about anything mechanical, including my own body.

    Thanks for the bloggie plug! I completely forgot about them! I’m guessing you’ll be nominated and hope you win again! As always, it’s well deserved.

  31. Comment by Al Maviva | 01.8.2009 | 8:25 pm

    I’m partial to the fixed gear mountain bikes. It’s easy to picture what happens when I ride one of them. I turn the pedals, I crash.

    Pretty simple how that works. Simple enough maybe even Fatty would be able to wrap his mind around it.

    Well, as long as I don’t add a front fork, or brakes.

  32. Comment by sk8ermom3 | 01.8.2009 | 9:27 pm

    Ow, ow, ow, ow… my brain hurts, I’m usually breathing too hard and trying to appreciate the scenery, or trying to keep on someone’s wheel to give that much thought to riding. Unless, of course, I’m on my trainer, then all I think about is how much it sucks, and how much I hate staring at the concrete basement wall…

  33. Comment by Kathleen | 01.8.2009 | 10:07 pm

    Riding a horse is a combo of intellect and feel…maybe you should stay away from riding a horse :-)

  34. Comment by aussie kev | 01.8.2009 | 10:08 pm

    fatty – my track bike is sooooooo simple very few moving parts – would be ideal for you !!!!!


  35. Comment by Carl | 01.8.2009 | 10:26 pm

    I vote for simplicity… Less things to break. Same holds true for cars in my book. Careful, if any of you kids stray into Fatty’s yard, he’ll put your bike under his arm and disappear into the garage…

  36. Comment by Corey | 01.8.2009 | 11:35 pm

    I don’t mind the mechanical workings of my bike, but then I’m a fairly mechanical person.

    But at any rate, when I’m riding, I’m riding, and listening to music, and enjoying the scenery. If I think about anything at all it is more about my body than my bike, because THAT I can do something about the operation of.

    So I guess what I’m saying is, feel the bike, don’t think about how it works. The engineers get paid the big bucks to do that thinking for us.

  37. Comment by Lowrydr | 01.9.2009 | 7:30 am


    Yard, what yard?

    I’m going home and taking my polo bike with me.

  38. Comment by Boz | 01.9.2009 | 7:38 am

    I stopped bu a local ski/lbs to look at xc skis yesterday. Hanging in the window over the front door was a Pista. My first thought was that somebody must have ordered it but didn’t pick it up. Second thought was “Fatty had one of those, I wonder if he still has it?”

  39. Comment by art | 01.9.2009 | 8:44 am

    You do need to be able to visualize how something works if you expect to be able to fix it. And if it’s on a mountain bike, you will need to fix it. Usually when it’s cold, raining, and getting dark.

  40. Comment by Bryan (not that one) | 01.9.2009 | 8:54 am

    Is your WaltWorks leaning against a Christmas tree?

  41. Comment by David | 01.9.2009 | 9:10 am

    We were riding SS full rigid 25 years ago because that’s all we had. I’m older now and really appreciate GEARS and FS. My back thanks me. My body thanks me. Why “think” about a frame or gears while riding? There are better things to do like enjoy the ride and the day.

    I’m currently riding a Specialized Stumpjumper FSR and really appreciate the bike. As far as “how it works”? I have no clue other than setting up the SAG correctly for my weight.

    While not “old”, being older than I was….I really appreciate the modern touches. No offense to Fatty but he’s starting to get older too. Take care of your body and get a FS and some gears. My knees and back couldn’t take that kind of pounding. It’s the difference between riding 10-20 miles on HT and not being able to ride again for a week or riding 50 miles on the FS in one day and being able to ride again the next day.

  42. Comment by KanyonKris | 01.9.2009 | 10:08 am

    You’re really thinking about the intricate workings of the bike when you ride? Fascinating.

    I only think about the bike when somethings not working right or I’m doing technical stuff and figuring how I’m going to use the bike to get up or down it. Mostly when I ride I’m watching the scenery and enjoy the awareness of being alive and in motion. Occasionally I think about my family/friends, stuff I’m working on. More frequently I get a song stuck in my head (usually a dorky song), I believe you call that an earwig.

  43. Comment by pink! | 01.9.2009 | 10:34 am

    You’d think differently if your local trails weren’t UT smooth. In many cases, FS is a matter of survival, and it’s really not that difficult to maintain so long as you have a basic understanding of how things work on a bike. But I guess since you confessed to not owning tools or a bike stand, this is a skill you’re trying to obtain in 2009.

    I’d feel like I was going backwards if I had to ride 1980’s technology in 2009.

  44. Comment by Clydesteve | 01.9.2009 | 11:55 am

    OK, Fatty, joke’s over. You sucked in a lot of people who are taking you seriously.

    This IS a funny column, after all.

  45. Comment by Wild Dingo | 01.9.2009 | 12:10 pm

    Dude, i totally take it seriously! (grin) but sadly its the reason why i ride a hard tail. what’s that they say? the harder the bike, the harder the rider? :) i’d also add, for a chick: ride a bike you can fix if you’re stranded by yourself.

  46. Comment by Hamish A | 01.9.2009 | 3:15 pm

    I’d have to say that last piece of advice from Wild Dingo applies to guys as well as women riders… I’ve lost count of the number of men I’ve found stranded for some piffling mechanical reason they can’t figure out.

    Suspension isn’t all that complicated Fatty, the FSR is just a ’simple’ 4 bar system, the Judge is a single pivot (it only gets simpler with a softail) and the 2-Stage bikes only look complicated, they’re really not. Suspension made a big change to my riding so I wouldn’t want to be without it. Saying that though for the past 6 weeks I’ve been riding a fully rigid, steel, 29er singlespeed and loving every minute of it :-)

    Great post, made me think (thanks for that, on a Friday…) and it turns out I can draw how all my suspension bikes work. Oh dear, I’m a Bike Geek.

    Have a great weekend.


  47. Comment by Nate | 01.9.2009 | 3:18 pm

    I got a real laugh when I clicked on the judge link and the first thing that I saw was this quote about their suspension design…

    “Out on the course, downhillers don’t have time to think. That’s why Cannondale’s engineers designed the Judge with staged suspension travel. “

  48. Comment by Jaime O. | 01.9.2009 | 6:30 pm

    Fatty, try not to give yourself a stroke while out on a nice bike ride. goodness. lol

  49. Comment by Dobovedo | 01.9.2009 | 7:17 pm


    Nailed it.

  50. Comment by Big Mike In Oz | 01.11.2009 | 4:56 am

    “… ride a bike I understand.”

    I even think your Waltworks has too many moving parts. That’s why I took up track racing;
    no gears
    no brakes
    no ratchets
    no freewheeling
    no climbing
    no descending
    no right hand turns

  51. Comment by micro1985 | 01.11.2009 | 8:37 pm


    I establish bicycle-related blog.

    Would you link to my blog by all means?

    In addition, I come to look.

  52. Comment by B. Goat | 01.13.2009 | 9:02 pm

    Cycloid is now my new favorite word. I guess I am a lucky one that feels my bike is an extension of my body. Whether it is multi, single, fixed or free. I do find being able to work on all my bikes helps the relationship though. I’m new to your blog. You do an excellent job. I look foreword to coming back.

  53. Comment by Rich | 01.19.2009 | 10:37 pm

    What Grant said. The rear wheel path of the Cannondale Judge couldn’t be simpler – there is only one relevant pivot on it, the one just above the BB. Notice solid metal from it all the way to the rear axle? Single Pivot – the rear axle moves in a circle.

    Despite the millions of different looking FS bikes, there’s only a few basic kinds, some of which aren’t that different from the others..

    * “Four bar” (Horst Link – Specialized FSR, Giant NRS, Titus etc) – which would become DW-link, if you just moved the pivot below the rear axle (chain stay) most of the way towards the Bottom Bracket.

    * DW-link (Giant’s Maestro, BMC VPS etc)

    * VPS systems similar to DW-link but with the top pivot on the frame located ABOVE the top pivot on the rear triangle instead of below.

    * Single Pivot (inc Kona Faux-bar, Trek Fuel Ex; unless the pivot is below or below and foward the rear axle, it doesn’t count.) The rear axle path is a circle, that’s all.

    * A few wacky Floating pivot bikes (with REAL floating pivots, IE, more than 4 of them)

    (OK, so there’s leverage at the shock .. but hey, choose a shock with damping the ProPedal-like damping that works for you and forget about it!)


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