Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Time to make a change

There's this obsession with the newest, greatest equipment, whether it be the new $5000 Leica camera, the lightest wheelset for your bicycle, the fanciest steel lugs on a bike frame, or the quickest car around a track. Having functional equipment is certainly important, but taking things so seriously as to worry about the number of ounces of a crankset, whether all the components on a bike match, or the name on a camera? There comes a point when the emphasis on expensive gear takes on a condescending air, as if you need the best equipment to enjoy yourself. It also takes all the fun out of a hobby when you start to care about acquiring the latest gadget rather than riding your bike or taking photos. To a certain extent, I've fallen victim to it as well, getting excited about shiny bits for a bike, coveting a new lens that I'd probably in actuality never use.



For many, having inexpensive gear is a matter of necessity. If you don't have 2 nickels to scrape together, chances are pretty good you're not riding a Cervelo with a Leica M9 strapped around your neck, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a bike ride, or take some great photos. A recent post on a Ecovelo, a bicycle and photography blog that I have enjoyed, polled its readers to find out the maximum price they would spend on a bicycle used for commuting. The range in options, if you don't want to visit the site, was from $500 at the low end to $4000 at the high end. Ask the man on the street, and he'll tell you even $500 is a bit dear for a bike, let alone thousands of dollars, but from the comments on that post it seems there are plenty of people out there who think it's almost necessary to spend above $2000 to get a decent commuter bike. Many even wished for "no ceiling" as an option, which seems a little surprising.


If Contador were a photographer, he'd swing a Leica, guaranteed.

My commuter lately has been the Bridgestone XO-1, a bike that, with all the work and components, cost me a bit under $500, and I still worry about locking it up outside. The XO is an almost perfect metaphor for the pitfalls of our consumerist society - the magazines panned it because it didn't follow the set rules of the game at the time, so they sat on the shelves unbought for years. Now they're rare and chic again, and selling better than they ever did new. The bike rides great - it's comfortable, smooth, pretty, and fast enough for my needs. Looking around at my workplace, and at my commuting friends, I don't see a single person who rides an around-town bike that's worth in excess of $300-$400, let alone in the thousands of dollars. What exactly do we gain by spending $2000 or more on a bike to ride around town and run errands?

Please stay on trail

Parhaps you shouldn't mind spending money on quality, but is that what's for sale here? Most of the equipment the shops and magazines are selling will make little to no difference in your enjoyment of a hobby, and may be of poorer quality than what you are replacing. The Cupcakerator rides on an old Raleigh 3-speed around Chicago, and every once in a while she'll think that she wants a Pashley, or some other dutch bike. A Pashley, in all honesty, is not much nicer to ride or own than her Raleigh - both are big, heavy steel bikes, both have internal hubs for ease of drivetrain maintenance, both have that classic upright style. The Raleigh's brakes aren't quite as nice as the modern bike's but of course that's an easy and cheap fix. Why does she want a newer bike that costs well over a thousand dollars? "Because it has a curved top tube," she says, but I suspect it's also a bit of the consumerism that pulses through the hobby. To borrow some verbiage from BSNYC, you can be a beautiful Godzilla atop a dutch bike, a Fred on your way to the coffee shop clad in lycra and cleats, or a fixie-riding hipster in skinny jeans, but underneath all that highly stylized veneer they're all the same person. Spend all the money you want to buy a lifestyle, and you will still end up with only the illusion of one.

Lady Grey
This bike is something to be scorned in today's society.

A friend brought me over to his place yesterday, and he was excited to show me his new bike. I looked quickly, and chuckled aloud when I saw it - a funky pseudo-mountain bike with a coaster brake, internal hub, and not much else - it's the kind of thing any "serious" biker would very much turn up his nose at. But looking closer, it had a nice set of touring tires on it, a 4-speed Shimano internally geared hub, and the frame wasn't all that heavy either, and besides, if he was excited and happy with it, who the hell am I to judge? I couldn't believe it when I heard it coming from my own mouth - the smug chuckle of vanity. His plan today is to take it on an ~80 mile ride with a friend, and that's something no cyclist should turn his nose up at.


Radiating Smugness

At best, this kind of attitude becomes a bit costly, and at worst, you turn into a connoisseur, a nice word for someone who hoards objects they desire for no practical reason. You get to the point where you look down on people who are actually using nice equipment instead of hanging it on a wall or displaying it in a museum. Before I get to that undesirable end, I'm going to start cutting off the offensive pieces of myself, Craigslist-style. This Bris of belongings will start with the most galling of extraneous objects, a fixed gear Fuji with Campagnolo components.

4 comments:

ecomarci said...

I think you're BSNYC vocabulary is slightly off: Freds are the lycra clad crowd, nu-Freds are hispters/fixters.

Other than that, nice blog post!

Erich said...

yeah, I thought about that when my wife questioned me about it. Changed now.

Michael Barker said...

I've got a Surly Steamroller and to get it all outfitted cost me about 800. This was a while ago. I started riding in the 1970's in Detroit and continued when I came up here in the eighties. After years of humping through traffic, all kinds of weather and about 4,000 miles a year of Lansing traffic, I wanted a treat. I love this bike and I can't imagine not having it.

Fern said...

Thanks for this post too! I tend to get caught up in the latest newest shiniest toys and find myself falling victim to wanting to have impressive belongings. Then I have to remind myself that I enjoy riding and if everything works on my bike, then I'm happy.