Bike geometry is getting more progressive and drivetrain tech is advancing like crazy, making it easier to ride even the hardest terrain. But in response to this, there’s been an international push-back called ‘underbiking’. Basically, it means deliberately riding a less capable bike, such as a vintage road bike on a gravel road – or in David Knee’s case, a rigid, single-speed mountain bike on the technical trails around Cape Town. “I had a romantic notion that the simplicity of riding with no gears would deliver a purer cycling experience, harking back to the days when hard men rode the Tour de France on heavy steel bikes,” says the 52-year-old, who works in the financial services industry.
Indeed, under biking is all about challenging yourself and rediscovering why you fell in love with the sport in the first place. David admits that the experience has been less romantic than he’d expected; but he’s hooked nonetheless.
“To say I’m untalented when it comes to the rough stuff is an understatement,” he says. “Riding the single-speed is nothing like riding my dual-suspension Cannondale Scalpel. The Scalpel basically does the work for me, whereas with the single-speed, I have to take my time and pick my lines. Even a tame trail like the Kirstenbosch loop offers great excitement. I love the challenge of getting up the hills, and I quite enjoy sometimes having to get off and push. Walking is the ‘third gear’ when riding a single-speed – after sitting and standing!”
History and Heritage
David found the frame on the BikeHub classifieds website and it was love at first sight. “When I was a teenager in the UK, I lusted after a Dawes Galaxy touring bike, which was made from was passing riders on bikes with 26-inch wheels, both up and down hills, on his big-wheeled singlespeed. David’s SIR9 is similar in spirit to Sugai’s early prototype bikes; and as such, it’s a piece of mountain-biking history.
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WHAT WE CARRY IS WHO WE ARE
A PHOTOGRAPHER DOCUMENTS LONG-DISTANCE BIKE RIDERS-AND ALL THE MEANING THINGS THEY TRAVEL
The Year That Wasn't But We Made It Happen Anyway
How did that happen? Will our grandchildren believe us? Filter out the almost overwhelming doom and gloom from the most miserable year in recent memory, and there’s actually quite a lot to be cheerful about – if you ride a bike.
David Knee’s stripped-down single speed Niner SIR9.
Build A Better Home Workshop
With bike ridership soaring, and shops backed up with repairs, now’s a great time to set up or improve your home workshop. Here’s some practical advice from Shannon Leigh, who teaches bike maintenance through her company, Radiant Wrench, and also breaks down common repairs regularly on Bicycling US’s YouTube channel.
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My weight doesn’t need to change. But the bike world’s attitude towards me does.
What Happens When Two Strangers Trust The Rides Of Their Lives To The Magic Of The Universe?
Once upon a road in Kazakhstan, two men converge in the desert. Strangers born an ocean apart, riding bicycles burdened like camels, they emerge from either horizon, slowly approaching a common point. Day by day, hour after hour, they make their way through the land as flat and featureless as a page without words. Thousands of kilometers spool out behind them. Thousands more lie ahead.
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Alan Hatherly’s 2021 Specialized S-Works Epic
The Way Home
Home was not a place I wanted to be. My dad had an unpredictable rage that often exploded at my older brother. Anytime he got hit, I felt it too. I was terrified, never knowing when the grenade might blow. I escaped by exploring the woods and creating imaginary worlds down by a slow-flowing stream. Inside, I felt treated differently as the only girl, made to clear supper dishes while my brothers played video games. Outside, I could be anything. Nature is a level playing field.
The last time I got better on a bike was when I decided I would never get any better at riding anymore, that my best days as a cyclist were behind me.