The Utility Bike – is there any other kind?

A friend of mine described my all-rounder bike as a utility bike the other day. Although not intentional, I detected a hint of condescension in his choice of phrase. But I didn’t take offence. I mean what could be so wrong with owning a useful bike?

Seriously, is there any other kind of bike? Let’s break this down for a moment. A ‘Utility’ bike is presumably a bike that’s built to be used. Surely all bikes are built to be used, no? I mean, who would buy a non-useful bike?

Plenty of people – is the answer, certainly if the product ranges of the major manufacturers are anything to go by. Carbon bikes, bikes with tight clearances, bikes with no room for mudguards, no braze-ons for racks, painted and decaled too flashy to leave hanging around anywhere. Such bikes dominate the sport-obsessed market.

I’m a bike enthusiast. I’d shy away from the word evangelist or advocate – too laden, but I won’t buy anything that’s too outwardly flashy or expensive. It’s not an Amish tendency at play here – it’s all about the point on the graph where the utility curve and the expense curve intersect. Or to put it simply – after a certain point, the more you spend on a bike, the less useful it becomes.

How so? Because if you spend too much on a bike, you’re less inclined to leave it locked up in town, you’re less likely to leave it in the bike rack on the train and you’re less happy with using it as your everyday bike. And I’m not just talking about high-end road or mountain bikes here. I’m forever tempted to upgrade my all-rounder tourer/commuter/trail/road bike with a better frame, wheels, etc and ditch some of the begged/borrowed/ebayed parts for something more flashy, but when all’s said and done, I’ll end up with a bike that I’m so precious about, I’ll never use it.

As it stands, I’ve got a low key, comfortable, adaptable bike, that, with care and a bit of luck, I’ll still be riding in a decade.


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