For many of us the dream is to have the right bike for every niche of cycling. If this is you, you’re following the long-standing rule of n+1: always looking to add another bike to your collection. It’s an absolutely brilliant concept for bicycle manufacturers, as it of course supports their aim of selling more bikes. But has the emergence of two-in-one (lightweight AND aero) race bikes with wider tyre clearances and do-it-all fast gravel bikes gone as far as negating the need of n+1. Is the term really relevant anymore?
We take a look at what n+1 is and whether the perfect bike (or a very small collection of bikes) can ever exist.
Velominati who aims to “maintain the sacred text wherein lie the simple truths of cycling etiquette known as The Rules”, lists n+1 as RULE#12, describing it as:
The correct number of bikes to own is n+1.
While the minimum number of bikes one should own is three, the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned.
The idea behind n+1 is that you should own one more bike than the amount you currently own. Basically, you should always be thinking about what your two wheel purchase is going to be - your bike collection is an ever-growing one.
There are a lot of different cycling disciplines.and so there’s a lot of scope for continuing to add to your collection. But even if you just stick to roads, the demands can still vary so much it’s very easy to build up a collection to cater for each of your specific needs.
You may want a winter warrior bike complete with mudguards mounts and lights ready to go for grinding through the grim and low light conditions, and then a fun race bike that’s lightweight for dancing up the climbs and aero for blasting it along the flat.
How about a nondescript townie that you can look up with no stress in the middle of town. Then an e-bike for that particularly long ride to the office could be pretty useful for completing the commute on a more regular basis. What about a solid tourer that has a larger load capacity for the year’s cycling adventure somewhere new in Europe. That’s before even getting into bikes suitable for off-road terrain…
It’s easy to see why the rule n+1 came about; as well as different disciplines, cycling’s not just a performance sport, it’s a mode of transport too, for day to day tasks, for holidays. It’s so expansive, you really can get stuck into so many different aspects of the sport and we all get it, it’s great having the right bike for the ride at hand.
The two limiting factors with n+1 are often capacity and cost. But there are an increasing number of ways of overcoming these issues though, which all helps with following the n+1 rule.
We’re all limited by the inside or outside space we have for storing bikes but brands keep on coming out with great solutions for making the most of the space you do have.
Check out our guide on the best ways of organising your bikes and keeping them out the way over here including wall mounting options and racks for high ceilings.
Next up, is the price. That said, bike brands such as Giant and Canyon, and retailers such as Tredz, are now offering finance plans for spreading the cost of your bike over a set period of time with no hidden fees. It’s still going to cost you, but does mean you don’t have to save up first before adding to your collection.
But even with these space-saving and financing hacks for many of us even a second bike is a luxury. We started thinking about what would be the best second bike to have for a roadie, and the discussion quickly showed us two things. Firstly, we were never going to agree on what is the best second bike for a road rider; we’re all different and we each have our own ideas. Secondly, there are a huge number of options if you are indeed looking for a second bike, and they don’t all need to be an off-road bike. You can read more on the road.cc’s teams picks over here.
However in recent years we have seen the emergence of two-in-one race bikes (lightweight and aero), carbon fibre bikes with mudguards mounts as well as gravel and all-road bikes. It’s a very different scene to when the rule n+1 came about. So, we decided it was about time we re-evaluated if n+1 is still relevant.
We all have different needs and goals with our riding and so I put the question ‘is there such thing as having enough bikes’ to the road.cc team to explore the matter. Yes, it's vox pop time:
Liam Cahill, road.cc Tech Writer:
How can anyone ever have enough bikes? Jokes aside, I think that if you have something suitable for each discipline that you want to do, you’re set. Those bikes don’t have to be absolutely perfect for what you’re going to be doing, but they do need to be close for you to have an enjoyable ride. If you want to spend the winter getting away from the road, a lightweight carbon road bike with 25mm tyres won’t be suitable for much beyond a dirt road.
And conversely, trying to put in some big road miles on an enduro bike is going to prove to be very dull…and slow.
Within the various disciplines, you’re always going to have niches based on the riding conditions and terrain in your local area. For me, I use an XC MTB for all of my MTB riding. It might not be great for some of the enduro runs I do, but I don’t feel that I go mountain biking enough, or ride those routes fast enough to justify another bike.
On the road side, however, I have a dedicated winter bike because I know I’ll be going out whatever the weather. My nice road bike doesn’t have to do those hard yards and I’ve got less cleaning to do.
A suitable gravel bike for someone in Scotland could be very different to one for the south west of England. Let’s not talk about my TT bike that sees an average of 1 race per year…
Mat Brett, road.cc Tech Editor:
I don't think that the bike industry needs to worry about the whole n+1 thing disappearing any time soon.
There has been a small amount of merging of genres in the road bike world lately. After many years of separate lightweight road bikes and aero road bikes, we're now in a period where the two have joined together. Loads of lightweight road bikes have taken on aero features over the past two or three years – the top level Trek Emonda SLR, for instance, now has aero tubing and a sub-700g frame, and Specialized launched the Tarmac SL7 as being 'one bike to rule them all', able to hit the UCI's 6.8kg minimum limit for racing while being as efficient as its Venge aero road bike.
Once a few big brands start going down that route, everyone else has to follow. Why would you buy a road bike that's just aero when you can buy one that's aero AND lightweight? So the desire for a second performance road bike might abate, but there's a lot more to cycling than that.
There are certainly super-versatile bikes out there that can handle road, all-road, and gravel. The Wilier Rave SLR that I reviewed recently is quick on both asphalt and gravel, for example. You could have it set up for gravel with a different pair of wheels/tyres - and a different cassette – for the road.
Jack Sexty, road.cc Editor:
With ‘all-road’ and very versatile, gravelly, big tyre clearance-y things becoming ever more popular, I appreciate that for some people a bike loosely fitting this description might do everything they want it to do… but na, I’m still N+1 all the way!
Every now and then I get tempted by one of the newer breeds of ‘do everything’ drop bar bikes, but then I start to think about all the things it couldn’t do for me. What about time trialling (TT bike of course), or if I just want to go out on a hard road ride and know my equipment will allow me to go as fast as I could? Only a road racing bike with deep rims would suffice.
I also use my bike a lot for generally getting about, riding to the shops, to the gym and so on; and if I was to have one bike and one bike only, it would be far too posh for locking up out of sight for longer than it takes a half-decent thief to cut through my lock. For this reason, I have a cheap road bike specifically for riding to the gym and the shops… although my gym is also accessible via a trail, so for this I also have a mountain bike that is pretty much exclusively deployed for going swimming via this muddy former railway line. If I wanted to actually start properly mountain biking this one probably isn't quite up to the job, so I'd need yet another bike for that.
I’m currently at four bikes – one of which is permanently used for indoor training at the moment – and still feel like I’m about two or three short of having one for every occasion.
Anna Hughes, road.cc Tech Writer:
I think the relevancy of n+1 today really depends on what kind of person you are: are you someone who prefers the exact tool for the job or do you have fun pushing the limits of the bike, testing your skills. There are bikes out there that can be ridden fast, on gravel, and with mudguards such as the Orbea Terra and those that focus in on providing a bike that caters for a very specific rider or type of riding such as Ribble Ultra SL or Surly Disc Trucker.
Thanks to the latest technology, there’s even a lot of scope for expanding the remit of bikes that weren’t specifically designed to be mega-versatile. Clip-on mudguards have greatly improved and can convert your bike without eyelets into one that’ll cope with winter.
While brilliant inventions such as Tailfin’s aero rack allow you to carry loads efficiently on a bike that doesn’t have panniers. Locks such as Hiplok’s portable bike lock for resisting angle-grinder attacks means you don’t have to add a mount to a bike to make it practical for use around town and can also give you greater confidence when locking up a more expensive bike.
Specificity certainly has its place when you’re racing it does make a difference at the tippy top end. Also for long bikepacking trips and touring it can make carrying loads a little easier and limit the chance of mechanical failures if you get a bike designed expressly for the task.
But for the most part I believe there’s a lot more crossover than there once was, so you can do all the sorts of riding you want on a much smaller collection. The most difficult part I’ve found is building your collection in the right order to achieve this!
But, could there be a bike out there that does come close to meaning n+1 is no longer relevant?
The obvious answer here is gravel bikes as they’re fast and light enough on the road, while also being able to handle fairly serious off-road stuff. That said, they’re generally a bit meh to ride on the road (the new Crux being an exception) and go too far away from gravel trails and you’re going to take a beating so I don’t see N+1 being irrelevant any time soon.”
If I wanted only one bike, I'd go for something that's easily adaptable in that way... but I don't want only one bike. No matter how comprehensive the current range of bikes I own, there's always something else I want to get into. That's one of the beauties of cycling. You'll never get a perfect stable of bikes, but it's a lot of fun trying.
I think it depends on the type of riding you do, and if like me your riding is over varying terrain in lots of different scenarios, then your ‘one bike to rule them all’ would constantly be getting its wheels, tyres and accessories swapped over, wasting a whole lot of riding time and probably discouraging you from just getting out the door!
While there are certainly more options that do provide an overlap nowadays, and accessories to extend the use of each bike you do own, it seems we have all come to the same conclusion. Bicycle manufacturers need not be worried, as the concept of n+1 is not going away any time soon...
What would you have in your ideal bike collection? Let us know in the comments as always.