Photos continue to pour in from this past weekend’s handmade bicycle show, and like most of the cyclists who weren’t there I continue to pore over them. Yes, many of the bicycles were beautiful. Yes, we are truly fortunate to be alive during a handcrafted bicycle renaissance. Yes, it’s great to see so much innovation from so many independent builders. And so forth.
Frankly, after gorging myself on pictures I thought I’d gotten the whole thing out of my system already, but I haven't. There’s still something about the show that’s bothering me. It’s like a slight ticking from your bicycle that you still can’t get rid of despite multiple tear-downs and re-builds. Certainly I’d like to just sit back and appreciate the bikes. But as the sort of person who sees a child smiling and wonders, “What the hell are you smirking at?,” sadly I am just not able. Here are some of the ways this figurative ticking has manifest itself:
It Makes My Bikes Seem Crappier
I’m a strong believer in bicycle modesty. I don’t like flashy bikes, or precious bikes. I don’t believe in pampering them, upgrading for vanity’s sake, or spending extra money for incremental differences in quality. Still, though, after looking at show pictures I catch myself resenting my own bikes just a little bit. And that’s dangerous. First you’re coveting some DeSalvo and not bothering to keep your own bike in good working order, and eventually you’re throwing your bike down the steps for missing shifts and being ugly like you’re some kind of lycra-clad Ike Turner.
It Makes Me Feel Guilty
Handmade bicycles are built voluntarily by people who are passionate about cycling and have studiously unusual facial hair configurations. Mass-produced bicycles are built by slaves who don’t know the Maillot Jaune from the Khmer Rouge. Probably the only thing that differentiates my most expensive bike from my cheapest bike is that the people who built the expensive one were over 13 years old and were fed that week.
It Makes Me Feel Like I Have To Do Routine Maintenance
You can only look at so many close-ups of pristine drivetrains before you finally admit your own needs overhauling. If it wasn’t for the stupid bike show I could have left mine alone for another few months. Did I care before that my chain links are so gritty and sticky that spinning my cranks sounds like a bongo solo on a scratchy record? No. Do I care now? A little.
It Makes Me Resent Portland
As a New Yorker my image of Portland is that it’s some kind of moist cycling paradise, and this was furthered by the handmade bike show coverage. Apparently, the streets are lined with custom bike builders, and you can get one made while you wait. Just pop in, place an order, go next-door and spend 15 minutes shopping for organic hemp underwear or whatever it is that people wear out there, and then come back and pick up your new frame. Between the emails I get and the articles I read it seems like Portland is a place where cyclists frolic in ample bike lanes, race cyclocross in dresses, and lock their exquisitely-crafted bikes not with chains and u-locks but with trust and love. Of course, I should be happy for them, but instead I catch myself wanting to bring them here so they can choke to death on some reality.
It Makes Me Resent Portland
And what’s with all those townies and commuter bikes? Sure, I’m all for the marriage of craftsmanship and practicality, but is there a city on Earth where you can actually leave a bike like that outside? And if so, is it Portland? I think any city benign enough to ride bikes like that in would eat me alive—with kindness. Here in New York we’ve learned not to grow attached to our bikes in the same way that the gazelles of the African savanna know not to get too attached to their young.
It Makes Me Resent Robin Williams
Apparently Robin Williams was there checking in with Independent Fabrication about his new bike made out of 953 tubing. Good for him. I can see him admiring it as he combs his shoulder hair. I hear he styles it with Phil Wood’s Tenacious Oil.
I admire these beautiful bicycles as much as the next cyclist, but it’s enough already. Sacha White’s wait list is so long that if head tube diameters keep increasing at their current rate they’ll be at least five inches wide by the time you can expect to take delivery. Vanilla has become so popular that I think we're about due for the inevitable backlash for backlash’s sake. So be careful. By the time you get your hands on a Speedvagen they could be more out of style than REO Speedwagon.