One of cycling’s most seductive myths is that of the convertible bike. In a world of hair-splitting and seemingly infinite specificity, it is tempting to seek a single platform that allows you to change your bicycle’s character with just a few adjustments or component swaps instead of having to own multiple bikes. Think pretty much every frame Surly makes, for example:
Of course, in practice we rarely switch back and forth even if our bikes allow it, at least with any frequency. Instead, we generally pick a configuration and stick with it, and maybe re-think the bike years down the line when our needs change or we get bored. Or, we purchase such frames because we have a surfeit of unused components and they allow us to cobble all this disparate equipment into something resembling a cohesive and functional bicycle. In this sense, convertible frames like those that Surly offers are almost like adapters for your spare parts bin, allowing you to re-commission as much of its contents as possible.
The quest for the convertible bike has also intensified thanks to the gravel boom, with bike companies offering frames designed to accommodate different wheel sizes, and even offering adjustable geometry via contrivances such as the “flip chip”:
Being old and out of it, I have no idea if riders are regularly flipping their chips, or if it’s one more thing that you simply “set and forget.” Horizontal dropouts aside, the idea of adjustable frame geometry is at least as old as the Montaneus, which American Bicycle Manufacturing offered back in 1985:
Which I only know about because I read up on the company’s history during my time with the M-16:
Over the years I’ve had various bicycles that have lived a convertible lifestyle. For example, I’d generally winterize or commuterize my cyclocross bikes when I wasn’t using them for getting lapped:
Though that was mostly just a matter of changing tires and adding fenders and a bottle cage, not fundamentally altering the configuration of the bike.
My Ironic Orange Julius Bike has also had various incarnations. It was my commuter way back when I had a real job:
I victimized it whilst single-speed cyclocrossing on more than one occasion:
And I even made a sad attempt at Rivendellizing it with comfy NItto bars, flat pedals, and a Brooks saddle:
It also did a little bit of everything when I took it to Portland in order to look for the “bike culture.”
But even these weren’t regular back-and-forth conversions; they just happened over time, whether due to evolution, or necessity, or happenstance.
As of now, with my cyclocross bike holdings at zero and my Ironic Orange Julius Bike currently stripped of most of its parts, my “convertible bike” is my Soma Rush:
I had originally configured it in the urban runabout mode you see above, but this past summer I had occasion to use it as an actual track bike:
And while plan to keep using it as an actual track bike from time to time, it’s of absolutely no use to me that way when I’m not at the velodrome, which means switching it back and forth. So what’s the bare minimum involved in that process?
Well, obviously the 90-something-inch gear is a non-starter for everyday riding, both literally and figuratively. That means changing not only the cog and the chainring, but also the chain itself, since the other one would have been too long:
Actually, I’m not sure the chain would have been too long, but I already had this one and knew it would fit, so I went ahead and switched it. While not terribly difficult, changing drivetrain components is somewhat irritating (not to mention grimy if you’re a slob like me), and is enough of a chore that I’m inclined to put it off and ride something else–though having a pre-cut chain and knurled chainring bolts that stay put when you tighten and loosen them do make it a more straighforward operation.
While I wouldn’t necessarily mind sticking with the drop bars for everyday riding, as a polite shredder I do require a brake, and I wasn’t going to un-tape the bars to add one. Fortunately, quill stems make swapping cockpits a mere 30-second affair, especially when you keep your position marked with electrical tape:
Not that I need it, mind you–at this point in my life I just set quill extension to “Max.”
I do like these bars, by the way (they’re from Velo Orange), though like the bamboo bars I kind of think the half-sweep is a tease and reserve the right to change them to something more sweepy and straight-wristed in the future:
The bars in the final photo of my IOJB would be a good candidate.
I could certainly save my time by using the same saddle, but not only is the crabon-railed Brooks a little fancy for locking up, but the textured cover is liable to wear out the seat of my pants, and I also don’t like riding around in jeans with gratuitous crabon on my bike. So I just keep another saddle already installed on a marked post, which means I can swap ass pedestals in the time it takes you to say, “Aging hipster:”
Oh, and yes, that’s an Allen key on a magnet:
Grant Petersen set it to me. Taking full advantage of your steel frame by carrying stuff on it with magnets is the ultimate in smugness.
Besides the drivetrain, the other annoying swap is the tires. I’d been using those fancy Donnellys, but the mean streets of the city call for something more robust, so I went with these:
These are the very tires that came on my Milwaukee back in 2015, which I’ve barely used since then. Since switching tires is annoying, and since I suck at racing anyway, I’ll probably just keep them on there even if I’m embarrassing myself at the velodrome.
Arguably, fixed-gears are best as winter bikes, yet of course the Rush is too much of a track bike to have eyelets for fenders. But the strap-on ones work pretty well, and are easy to take on and off once you make the initial adjustment:
My only real complaint is that, on bikes with thight clearances, the front fender hammers the fork crown on bumpy roads:
I probably have some Zertz inserts somewhere.
As for pedals, I had put on road pedals for the track, but I dug out one of my eight million pairs of ATACs to complete the conversion back to city bike:
Originally I planned to keep these on, even for any velodromatic self-flagellation. However, I am beginning to suspect that these kinds of pedals are contributing to my tendonitis, which has improved as I increase the time I spend on flats. So I’m going to switch to toeclips and straps and see how that goes.
Anyway, for all the bike industry’s attempts to make versatile bikes, the much-vaunted Zen simplicity of the fixie does make them the best candidate for relatively quick identity changes. Also, with minimal cabling, it’s easy to lock them up by the neck.
That locking style is called the “Breaking Bad.”
The downside is that they attract squirrely riders:
As well as the types who will check your tire pressure without asking:
“You really should top that up, you don’t want to pinch flat,” he admonished:
Then he played me a song on his little squirrel harmonica:
Finally, he hopped back on his bike and rode away.