Years ago, I wrote about n+1, the silly philosophy that people should perpetually aspire for their bike stables to have one more bike. I called the piece The Truth and Nonsense of the N+1 Principle and shared my own n+1 journey, which ultimately resulted in a collection of 10 bicycles just for me scattered throughout my home.
The n+1 years began during a time when I was exploring various kinds of steel bicycles: single speeds, folders, touring bikes, commuters, randonneuring frames, and road bikes. This chapter also coincided with a time when I had begun to ride more seriously, and put up big miles through randonneuring and weekend rides.
It seemed only natural to take my new identity as a bike enthusiast and apply it to bicycles as well as my cycling. I had bikes with fenders. Others had racks so I could carry panniers. A few had tire clearance for nothing greater than 28s. One had disc brakes. Two had small wheels. One was a fast fold for short rides, while another was really a packable folder designed for long rides.
These bikes were fun to explore. Each one had its own fit and ride feel. The paint schemes ranged all across the color wheel, although I’m happy to report that all were solid creams or pearls. No fades in my collection, thank you.
This stable helped me hone my riding preferences. Over time, though, I found my personality wasn’t suited to the n+1 lifestyle. Bikes I had pined for, “needed”, and eventually purchased began to gather dust in the Dining Room Bike Shop.
I loved my collection of bicycles, but I am not a collector. If I have a bike taking up space in my home, I want to ride it. And if that steed’s tires are not tasting the pavement on a semi-regular basis, then it should go.
Right-size for me is about n=5: one for gravel, one for light touring, a mixte that can take panniers for commuting, one single speed, and maybe a fast folder, since having one saved me during a time when my building was being hostile to bicycles.
Any more bikes than that, and my bike love is maxed out, and parts of the stable will not see the miles they deserve. I apologize to all the bikes who came to reside with me only to find out that they would be leaning against a wall in the Dining Room Bike Shop (or hallway or bedroom). It must have been disappointing.
But all is not lost for these bicycles so worry not, readers! They will see use. N-1 was my winter revelation and since then, Felkerino and I have begun to set a few free. I thought it would be hard to do, but with the n-1 truth in hand it has not been too difficult. And with people wanting to ride bikes now more than ever, n-1 could not have come at a better time.
Granted I am a slightly weird seller. Maybe we all are when it comes to our bikes. I practically interviewed the person who purchased my Surly Long Haul Trucker to see if the two would really be a good match. Yeah, I interviewed him. Definitely.
I was irrationally happy when the person who purchased my Bridgestone RB-1 told me that he had a MB-1 as well. “That’s so great! The bikes can hang out together!” I only thought these statements, I did not say them out loud. I don’t think I did, anyway.
I may have other emotional hiccups when I sell others that I’m intent on making n-1, but reducing the stable has left me with positive vibes. Someone gets a bike they want and hopefully ride, while I free up space and use all the bikes I own.
This indulgence in n+1 over the years was a privilege and I had lots of fun with it. I’m still privileged to have the bicycles I do. Still, putting n-1 into action and right-sizing to a number still greater than one feels almost as good as my n+1 pursuits were – maybe better.
I never did get caught up in the N+1 silliness. I was lucky enough to have found a steel all-rounder in my size some 13 years ago and I’ve kept her going ever since. I’ve been through a collection of bike parts but none of them have stuck around long unless they functioned as spares, such as brake pads/tires/tubes/patch kits. I can’t apply N-1 to my bikes as my N would be 0! I do apply this philospohy (a.k.a. “minimalism”) to all other possesions.
That is super disciplined, Mike, I aspire to be more like that. It’s a work in progress!
MG, so proud of you! And i had no idea you owned 10 bicycles… Very liberating isn’t it? i went from 6 to 4, which was needed, and I never regretted it.
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Thanks Annie! Yeah the collection really grew over time. I hope to sell a couple more in the coming months. Yeah, very liberating, it felt really good to let the unused ones go.
MG, thank you for this meaningful post. I don’t subscribe to the n+1 approach but I’m guilty of periodically asking myself if from my stable of three bikes is one expendable in favor of a replacement that offers something different or better? Eeeek! I’m doing this dance right now!
It’s fun to keep seeing what’s out there! Also, swapping out is different, as your overall total stays constant, right?
I kid about N+1. I have 6 bikes that I will keep forever. I have another 6 or so that I rotate. ie I buy a fixer upper and sell one of the others. I like working on bikes and riding different ones. Kind of a cull system. Usually have 12 or so bikes in the system at one time.
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Yeah that’s a smart approach. I’m not really into working on bikes so best for me to keep the total small and manageable!
This is the push I need to get some out of my living room! I was ready to release in May and then “the mechanic” started talking about parts, and moving stuff around and I froze.