Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Too Much Irony, Too Little Time: The Elusive Nature of Bike Culture

In my first post yesterday, I posted this picture, and commented that the owner had more money than sense:


Well, later that day I received an email from the owner himself. It turns out that I've actually referenced another bicycle of his on this site as well:


In the case of the earlier post, I wasn't being particularly dirisive (for me anyway). I was simply comparing Fixedgeargallery and Velospace and therefore juxtaposing two Pista Concepts. But I do admit that the comment about the BMC came off a bit harsh. And, understandably, the owner felt compelled to point out that I had in fact mentioned him twice and that he had not expected to be singled out for simply riding his bicycle to a bicycle race. Not only that, but another reader felt compelled to comment on his behalf as well:

Snob,

The fixster with more money than sense was actually racing that frame at Kissena on Super Sprint Sunday - with lovely carbon fiber track bars. Frankly, I think it's cool that it doubles as his ironic coffee bike.

You actually commented on something of his before - carbon track drops with no tape on them. It turned out that they were special carbon bars with integrated grip texture in the carbon. No wrap needed. You got a hard-on for this guy or what? Two strikes!!!


I'd hate for anybody out there to think that I've got a vendetta going against anybody. (Or, worse yet, a "hard-on.") I mean, the truth is that I do have some vendettas going, but they're all against either quasi-celebrities like Michael Ball or just things that irk me like pie plates and people who lock their wheels and skid in front of you on the bridge bike paths. I didn't mean to single this particular guy out. As such, I think he deserves an explanation.

Most importantly, as I said earlier, the "more money than sense" line was a bit harsh. But, in my defense, it is technically true. Let's take a look:

Sense

"Sense" is hard to quantify. Different things make sense in different circumstances. A radiation suit doesn't make sense at the beach, but it does in a nuclear power plant. (Or at the beach at Coney Island.) Similarly, a BMC Track Machine might make sense at the track, but it's probably not the most sensible bicycle for street use, and that's how I saw the bike being used. I've created a Sense-o-meter to illustrate this:

The top bicycle is a sensible city bike, and the bottom bicycle is Theo Bos's Koga Miyata. As a city bike, the BMC ranks closer to the Theo Bos bike than to the city bike. Obviously, if we were talking about olympic velodrome use, this would be inverted. But since the bicycle was being used on the street, this is the scale that I applied.

Money

Money can be as subjective as sense, but it's a bit easier to quantify since you're talking strictly in terms of numbers. An expensive bike is an expensive bike no matter where you use it. To illustrate this, I've made a Money-o-meter of track bikes. At the bottom is a Bikesdirect special, which goes for $299.95 for the complete bike. (Represented by a half a dollar sign.) At the top is a hand-crafted Vanilla track bike, which starts at $2,800 for just the frame. (Represented by four dollar signs. Yes, there are certainly more expensive frames out there, but you have to cap it somewhere.)



The BMC Track Machine costs about $1,800 for the frameset (depending on where you buy it), and as such ranks pretty highly on the Money-o-meter. It is represented by three dollar signs.

So we've established that the BMC is not the most sensible city bike, and we've also established it's pretty expensive. But does that mean the owner has more money than sense?

Money Vs. Sense

Putting the Sense-o-meter and the Money-o-meter side by side and plotting a line between the two points at which the BMC appears on each, it would appear that the BMC track machine is indeed more expensive than it is sensible given the circumstances in which it is being used:


So, assuming the owner actually paid for the frame (which is likely though not a given), it's reasonably safe to say that he indeed had more money than sense.

Of course, I don't think the real issue is that I wrote inaccurately. I think it's that I wrote glibly. Simply saying he's got more money than sense doesn't take into account myriad other factors. Still, I don't think what I said was so bad. I happened to commute on my road bike this morning, and if I were to apply the Sense-o-meter and the Money-o-meter to myself for my commute I'd definitely have more money than sense today too, and I'd begrudge nobody for saying so. All the same, I suppose when I posted the BMC I could have said something velo-politically correct like, "This person is exhibiting an inverse relationship between bike cost and practicality for the occasion," but you've got to admit that's a little cumbersome.

The other thing that bears mentioning is the commenter's observation that the BMC is an "ironic coffee bike." The owner corroborates on his own blog that he did indeed have ironic intentions. This would not be the first time I've missed fixed-gear irony. I also apparently missed it when I got mad about that King Kog photo, which they went on to explain was actually intended as a joke. I'm actually concerned that I seem to be missing so much irony, since I'd like to think I have a decently-functioning sarcasm detector. I suppose the reason I'm having so much trouble is that I just don't expect the irony to be so darn expensive. I mean, I understand Judah Friedlander wearing a $10 World Champion hat, but $1,800 is a lot of scratch for some irony. Then again, I guess that's just more irony. Also, the owner was surprised I singled him out on the site, yet his bicycle was in fact a rolling ironic statement. My grip on irony is clearly tenuous, but to me that would imply he'd want the ironic statement to be noticed. Wow, this is getting confusing. I may need to take a class or something. In any case, I just hope he rides and enjoys his bicycle, whether it's in sincere mode or ironic mode, depending on bar choice.

While I'm on the subject of fixed-gear irony, I'm not sure how much is intended in the following video, which is a promotion for a new book called "Rain City Fixed:"



I've actually been in touch with the person who put this book together, and I congratulate him on finishing it and wish him the best of luck. I do admit I'm sort of baffled by the "bike culture's" compulsion to preen and model and to photograph itself and its fashions and thereby emulate some of the more disappointing aspects of the larger culture, but I'm sure someone out there can tell me what I'm missing. I'd hate to put my cycling shoe in my mouth two days in a row.

232 comments:

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ant1/the chuck yeager of comments said...

There we go, the 200 comment barrier has been broken. It may look like I stuffed a couple in there just to get to 200, but I was just preemptively posting for the posts that are sure to follow. It's what we accountants call accruals.

J.D. Hollerson said...

I ride a fixed gear with out handle bars, yup I just steer with the stem (pics on the way). "i just like the simplicity of it"
Holy shit that rain city fixed video made once again thank my lucky stars that I never got a tattoo.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this outpouring of contempt for people who ride no brake fixed gear bicycles on the street will make this bad chapter in cycling history pass on. I already have a problem with tatoos...as do most decent folks who see tattoos as a sign of weakness. So, the sooner these weak ass MFK'rs leave cycling the better...thats the way I see it

Johnny Sprocket said...

If only Financial Review had pictographs like those, I'd read it more often.

Anonymous said...

'decent folks'? Oh.. you mean, white, god fearing conservatives.

Central Valley Project, Project Manager said...

Dear Mr. Snob,
What's a "track" bike? The only bikes I see out here in Exurbia, Maine are them Harleys driven by an apparent increase in middle-aged white guy (well, I am in Maine)gang membership. Oh, please send a burrito if you're bored.

Buck

AFC said...

Hey guys,

Actually two teams finished RAAM this summer. One was Grand Fixies and Adventures For the Cure. Adventures for the Cure kept >19 mph average and other team was around 15 mph.

Here is link to Adventures for the Cure: http://adventuresforthecure12.blogspot.com/

Two of the guys used 48x16 and two used 48x17 the whole way across for AFC.

Adam

Commiecanuk said...

anon 1:36
Yes, I'd like fries with that.

Cody said...

that video was stupid, and none of those bikes were even good looking bikes. risers are ugly and impractical. And the guy saying that all the customization is awesome, all the bikes look the fucking same.

there is like a few certain set components that everyone has to have to be cool, get stuff that works, thats good, not whats cool.

oh and the guy speaking german, the girl afterwards didnt translate correctly.

Mountain Bike said...

200 comments huh? Not bad!

Michael said...

even in track mode he is rocking mtb pedals. what a tool.

Pazrul said...

Saying that all "track" bikes look the same because they have riser bars is like calling every racer a 'poser' because they use drop bars and ergo shifters. Rain City Fix was a way to celebrate people riding bikes on city streets in a way they weren't originally intended. To some degree it is silly to ride bikes intended for the track on city streets, yet I ride a track bike on the streets of Seattle every day, have yet to hit a pedestrian or car, and have only been hit by cars because of their obliviousness to bikes in general.
I have customized my bike with things like new pedals, new wheels, and new cranks so that I can perform better when I'm riding. Much like any rider who has outgrown their original stock setup and decided to 'customize' their bike with things like a dt 240 hub set laced to low weight rims, or a cassette range better situated to their personal riding style. Celebrating the uniqueness of bike riders is a tradition dating to before track bikes were on the street.

Anonymous said...

Rain City Fixed: That shit is so lame there are barely words. I think it's finally time to build up a wheel w/ my 2-speed kickback/coaster brake tornado hub and leave it at that...and start driving a cab w/purpose. Wow, you fuckers suck...

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The Waste Project said...

this gives me a brain boner

Anonymous said...

woe is me for googling "deep v rims." i didn't even know what they were, i just was curious about why all these fixed gear kids had such deep rims. now i'm afraid to ride my giant perigee 14 speed to work anymore, what if people see my flat bars that i put on? jesus. i guess i will just drive from here on out. fuck it right? bicycles are too cool for me, and i didn't know it until know.

Phil said...

Hey Purists -

Get to the heart of it - whether you are concerned about style or your intent to keep Fixie Culture chronically misunderstood, these people are NOT rolling in Hummers, clogging streets, or belching fumes. That a couple of mooks wanted to take vacation pics of their rides isn't a bad thing.

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