KonMari Intervention Needed! My Bike Collection Is Out of Control.
I had 28 bikes in my garage. Could the KonMari method save me? Here’s what I learned about how to tell if a bike “sparks joy.” It started when we moved into a bigger house six years ago. I’d always gone through a lot of bikes—there so many I lusted after when I was younger that when I grew into the financial position to own them, I had a hard time controlling myself at the bike shop. And with the extra space, I started keeping too many for too long. Over time, my bike collection tripled in size.
The garage full of bikes was a constant battle in my marriage. Also, there were many that I didn’t even ride anymore. Keeping them began to feel selfish, when they could be sold or given away to people they were better suited for.
Kondo recommends holding each item in your hands, close to your heart, and seeing if it “sparks joy.” If not, she says, thank it for its service and then let it go.
At the start of 2019, I was inspired to do something about it by the Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” featuring the organizing-expert-turned-cultural-phenomenon. Kondo’s KonMari Method encourages keeping only those items that speak to the heart, discarding items that no longer “spark joy.”
Kondo recommends holding each item in your hands, close to your heart, and seeing if it “sparks joy.” If not, she says, thank it for its service and then let it go. My version of doing this with bikes was to catalogue my collection, taking a photo of one bike a day and posting it to my blog with each bike’s origin story, then deciding whether I’d keep it or sell it (you can check out my posts on Medium). My goal was to reduce my 28 bikes to single digits: a few bikes I actually ride, plus a couple I’d keep for nostalgic reasons.
Most people don’t own anywhere close to 28 bikes. But many of us do have that one or those two that we know we no longer need but just can’t seem to let go of—whether for nostalgia or “just in case.”
Here are the most significant pre-KonMari lessons I learned about what it means for a bike to “spark joy.”
Just because a bike once brought you joy doesn’t mean it always will.
I fell in love with cycling because of this bike. The Motorola Merckx was the pro bike from the formative years when I used to watch the Tour de France with my dad. It took me 15 years to find one in my size, and the previous owner told me this was an honest-to-goodness team bike.
But this bike sparked the joy of 16-year old me. Middle-aged me lives in Silicon Valley and is a technophile who mostly rides carbon bikes. Once I catalogued this bike, I realised that I could hold on to the stories and emotions behind it without having to hold on to the physical object itself.
This was the oldest bike in my collection. It was also the first one that sold, within hours of posting online. Now it’s rekindling someone else’s dreams from their younger days, too.
Fun does not necessarily equate to joy.
I loved the way the Salsa Warbird railed turns and soaked up ruts. There was zero doubt that this titanium gravel racer was a fun bike. But did it cross the threshold from “being fun” to “sparking joy?”
Kondo recommends taking three minutes to compare similar items side-by-side if you’re having a hard time deciding which ones truly make you happy. I have a newer cyclocross bike set up to better suit my style of gravel riding—more trails than bike paths or dirt roads. Once I compared the two, it seemed clear that my ’cross bike was on a different level.
Fortunately, a good friend made a great offer on this bike, making it easier to let it go. One person’s extra gravel racer is another person’s dream bike.
Our bikes should match who we are today.
Cannondale’s Supersix Evo is my favourite road bike of the last few years. It was a WorldTour-caliber, corner-carving, KOM-stealing beast. The colourway is super sleek and the hand-built Chris King wheels buzzed down the descents. I loved riding this bike.
But something about it just didn’t feel right anymore. When I was on this bike, I felt like I had to ride it as fast as I could. It was exhausting! I haven’t raced bikes since college. These days, most of my rides are solo, meditative jaunts. I’m over the bad-boy, wannabe-racer thing. I’m a middle-aged dad. I’ve got a few extra pounds and a lot less hair under the cap these days. So I put this bike up for sale.
One of the rules in KonMari is to “imagine your ideal lifestyle” as you clean. Letting go of older items is a way of letting go of our outdated lifestyle and self-image, and accepting who we are today. Our bike collections should evolve over time, as we do.
The things we make, make us.
I built this Giant TCX Advanced Pro frameset with 650b wheels, 48mm Panaracer Gravel King SK tires, a SRAM CX1 drivetrain, and a purple anodized handlebar with a bright purple saddle. With the chunky tires, it’s probably faster than most of my mountain bikes on smooth single-track. If KonMari ever forced me to reduce my quiver to one, it would be this one—it’s a go-anywhere, do-anything bike.
I like to remind my kids of this quote (it’s from a Superbowl car commercial, but they don’t have to know that): “The things we make, make us. And the things we own, own us.” I enjoy building up bikes with custom parts as much as I do riding them. In the car world we call this “tuning,” and the end result is unique, personal, and appreciated by the right folks. In some circles, a properly built Honda Civic Type-R is worth more than a stock Acura NSX—if not in monetary value, in metaphysical merit.
This build is one-of-a-kind . It’s more precious to me than it would be to anyone else. It is my personality manifested in bike form. Of course I am going to keep it.
You can keep a bike just to look at it.
From going through KonMari, my general advice is to keep only the bikes that you love to ride. Yet I fully intend to hold on to this Steelman Manzanita, and I’ve never ridden it. Not even once. How does that make any sense?
The Manzanita single-speed sits inside my house by the fireplace. I have pictures of my kids on the mantle above, and I move it only once a year when we put up Christmas stockings. I even bought some ridiculously expensive indoor bike stand so I can display it with my other custom steel bike from Italy. But this bike came from just a few miles up the road.
Brent Steelman was one of the premier custom bike builders in America. This frame was one of the last ones hanging in the rafters of his shop in Redwood City, California, when he shut down in 2012. It was a raw frame and needed some final brazing—bottle mounts and cable guides. I had frame builder Paul Sadoff, of Rock Lobster Cycles, finish it up, and we decided to make it a 650b bike. (Sliding disc brake mounts meant we just had to put the seat stay bridge a bit higher up for tire clearance.) I had it painted by custom finishing company Dark Matter: Columbia Blue, for my alma mater, with midnight blue graphics. The hubs, stem, seat collar, and brakes are by another small NorCal brand, Paul Component Engineering.
Some bikes have the opportunity to rise to the level of an objet d’art. If it makes you genuinely happy, it is perfectly acceptable to hold on to them just to gaze at and admire. To own them simply to appreciate the oft-undervalued art of custom bike craftsmanship. To me, it feels like a responsibility.
KonMari dictates that when you’re holding an item that sparks joy, it will feel as if every cell in your body is uplifted. That’s how I feel when I see this bike.
My experiment began in February. To date, I’ve sold seven of my 28 bikes, with another four or five listed for sale. While I still have too many, the additional space in the garage is noticeable. And the reduced effort of moving bikes around to get to parts of the garage, or needing this part or that bike serviced in the fleet, is quite a mental relief.
Yes, it was hard to let go, to KonMari properly, but what helped me was that I enjoy handing bikes to friends or other people. Instead of thinking of this tidying up process as subtractive, I imagined that I was adding joy to someone’s life. It’s a blessing to be in the position of having enough that you need to tidy up—a luxury reserved for a fortunate few. So spread the wealth and share the fun.