My antidote to bike snobbery
For a long time I only rode fast bikes. Carbon framed race machines. I'd try and do the thing I loved for the shortest possible time. That's what going fast means. I'd judge my rides by average speed, not by how much I actually enjoyed them.
Then the disc between my L5 and S1 vertebrae in my lower back made a bid for freedom after lifting something badly at work. I brushed it off as a sprain for a time, riding through it, but eventually I could no longer sit down at all, let alone ride a bike with an absurd saddle-bar drop. In the aftermath I've had a lot of time waiting to ride again to think about what riding a bike really means to me. Something that I kept coming back to was my happiest memory of riding a bike.
I've been incredibly fortunate to ride my bikes in some amazing places. The Alps, the Pyrenees, along the southwest coast path, over Bodmin Moor at sunrise. Lovely as these all were, any many more, the time I remember being most happy was on a family holiday in Sweden. We were staying in a little house near Uppsala, surrounded by pine forests, crisscrossed with paths and animal tracks. I'd ride the bikes that were at the house in the woods, no music, no garmin. No gears. Nothing but a coaster brake. It was wonderful. It didn't matter the bike was the wrong size, or that it was heavy or slow. It meant I could enjoy the forest, smell the trees, see the water. That's what I wanted to build into this bike. Simple, happy, and ultimately cheap.
Everything besides the pedals, stem, cables, rear freewheel and grips are either used parts, or things I had in the spares box. The Bristol Bike Project were helpful as always in finding bits for me, and I heartily recommend them if you're ever nearby. The position is deliberately upright, for a better view. Look for the birds, smell the mud. The gearing is also incredibly light, as one of the many checks and balances against going for speed. You reach a point where you simply have to stop spinning end let gravity do the rest. The tyres, draggy and unyielding do mean you can go anywhere the mood takes you.
The one thing that's lacking is a coaster brake. The rear dropouts aren't designed for that, but despite this the spirit of that bike in my memory lives on. Although I'm back to riding fast bikes again, there's now a physical reminder to take it slow sometimes. To sit up and smell the pine needles.