“Do you make your bike ugly so no one will want to steal it?”
A woman asked me this question at the bike rack a couple of weeks ago as I was unlocking my commuter. She went on to explain that when she had first noticed my dirty ride—with its fenders secured by mud-splattered zip ties and duct tape—she dismissed the thought that it could be mine, because she knows I’m picky about my bikes.
I couldn’t decide whether to be flattered or insulted. Sure, the old Stumpjumper is looking a bit abused these days, but I’ve always had a soft spot for roughed-up bikes with a utilitarian look. They’re the noblest of the noble. More than just high-zoot toys owned for speed and adventure, hard-ridden townies carry us to work, school, and on important errands like beer runs. Instead of being carried around town on roof racks, these are the bikes that keep cars sitting in driveways.
Besides, there’s something lovely about a machine that looks trashy to the untrained eye but rides like a dream, revealing its beauty only to the cognoscenti.
Many years ago, I met Cosmic Ray when he spoke at an REI store in Arizona. When someone commented on his dirty mountain bike, Ray explained that he believed a mountain bike looked best with a “fine patina” of use. Ray knew what he was talking about.
To paraphrase Gordon Gecko: Grunge is good. Grunge is right. Grunge works.