MELBOURNE, Australia (CT) – An embarrassingly outdated cyclocross bike from eight years ago “works just fine”, despite its lack of electronics and hydraulics, primitive braking, tubed tyres and paucity of gear options.
Following a rainy Saturday afternoon jaunt through the gravel bikepaths and singletrack of north-eastern Melbourne, CyclingTips can report that a 2011 Cannondale CAADX was put to the sword, but conspicuously failed to fall to pieces – in spite of the fact that it predated the gravel craze and its swathe of new products by a number of years.
“This is my oldest and least glamorous bike,” explained our source. “But get it out on gravel and this thing still shreds. I know, right? I could hardly believe it myself.”
Casting an eye over the bike in question, it’s easy to understand the bemusement.
I mean, just look at it. It has a front derailleur, and the gearing is from the unlovely decade-old Shimano Dura Ace 7900 range – widely regarded as a low-point in Shimano’s recent repertoire. The gearing is actuated by cables – a now-antiquated system requiring neither batteries nor electricity. The frame is made of aluminium, a material best known from such hit products as ‘food tins’ and ‘beer cans’.
The tyres look tired, and also have tubes inside them. The brakes are neither hydraulic nor disc. The bartape is white. The colourway is trapped in an ominous no-man’s-land between retro and chic, whilst crucially, not yet being retro-chic.
This bike, it seems, has everything against it. And yet, in a baffling rebuttal to industry insistence that a fancy new gravel bike is a mandatory purchase, this leperous machine turns out to be not just completely rideable, but actually even quite good.
“I only rode this thing today because I’m having a bugger of a time with the tubeless tyres on the carbon fibre, Red AXS-equipped gravel bike that I actually wanted to ride. I have been trying to get them to seat and seal for about a fortnight. I have sealant all over the garage, a sore back from pumping up my Air Blast, and I want to throw the [inaudible] things through a window,” our source said with a tone of rising exasperation, before taking a deep, sad breath. “Tubeless tyres can be so unacceptably flakey. Oh, and I’d forgotten to charge the eTap.
“Anyway. All that time working on fussy bikes without actually riding them meant I needed a bike ride to calm down, and this piece of crap was the only gravel-adjacent thing I had in a rideable condition.”
The ride in question – a couple of hours in driving rain and frigid conditions – was far from an epic, but seemed certain to expose some weakness in the antiquated, deeply unfashionable build. However, CyclingTips can exclusively report that the mini v-brakes actively slowed the bike, the gears shifted when they needed to, and the frame was, to a point, both vertically stiff and laterally compliant.
This unlikely combination of minor miracles allowed our source to not just take the road less travelled, but to return all the way back home again.
“Look, it’s not my place to discourage people from dropping their hard-earned on a 2020-season gravel bike, but this thing worked just fine. Maybe we’re all getting it wrong. What if it’s just about getting out there?” said our source with a faint quiver, before unravelling further into an existential funk.
“What if old bikes are more capable than anyone gives them credit for? What if the journey is more important than the machine? What if we lived in a world where you could have un-ironic fun on a bike built most of a decade ago, without experiencing a thick vein of self-loathing, consumerist anxiety, and the disdain of fellow riders? And what if any ride, on any bike, makes the world a slightly better place?”
More on this developing story as we have it.