Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I Am Highly Specialized: The Right Tool For the Right Job

In the comments to yesterday's post, someone posted a link to the following bicycle:

This is easily one of the most fascinating bikes I've ever seen. Some bicycles make you want to ride them to pieces, others make you want to own them and protect them from harm and scratches, and still others make you want to puke. This one makes me want to puke, sure, but in the way a huge buffet does and not in the way a piece of maggoty roadkill or Larry King does. And like a huge buffet, every time I look at this bicycle I notice something new, and that something doesn't go with anything else on the bike. If you've ever gone to a wedding or something, hit the buffet, and wound up with a heaping and contradictory plate of fried rice, mashed potatoes, a goat cheese omelet from the omelet station, some baked ziti, sweet and sour chicken, French toast, a couple of meatballs, a Caesar salad, and a bowl of Frosted Rice Krispies in chocolate milk for good measure because each item looked good individually but you didn't consider whether any of it would go together, then you know what I'm talking about.

At the same time, this bicycle also evokes one of those performances when a bunch of rock stars of varying ages and degrees of bloat and irrelevance all take the stage to benefit some kind of charity. This bike has everything from the high-tech time trial bar and saddle of today to the bonded frame, 700c road suspension fork, and bladed Spinergy death wheel of yesteryear. It's like Chris Cornell, Dave Navarro, Pete Townshend, Paul McCartney, Korn, a few guys from Dire Straits, and, for no good reason at all, the London Symphony Orchestra all belting out a cover of "Rockin' in the Free World" on some VH1 special to benefit ADD research or something. (And in a case like that, the performance is arguably more harmful than the affliction.)

Most profound, though, is the appearance of both a Spinergy Rev-X and an Aerospoke on the same bicycle.  Notice how similar yet how different they are from each-other in their freakishness.  In a strange way it's like spotting Stephen Baldwin and Frank Stallone waiting on line together to see the Bacon Brothers play.

And of course the whole thing leans on a kickstand:

This bike is what's beautiful about cycling--it is a unique tool assembled to fulfill a unique need.  Personally, I can't imagine a situation that would call for aerodynamics, front suspension, a rear rack, and a triple chainring, but apparently this person finds himself needing to rush places in record time over irregular surfaces while carrying small loads often enough to have built this bicycle.  And apparently there's also a pretty big climb somewhere along the way.  It's also difficult to imagine what you might wear on a bicycle like this--I'm thinking a skinsuit with a pair of cargo shorts, and I'm also guessing there's a beard and a helmet mirror involved.  This bicycle also appeals to me because I happen to have a soft spot for mix-matched brakes.  I find using the same style of brake from the same manufacturer front and rear to be boring, and I'm always touched when two completely different brakes come together in a team effort to bring a rider to a stop.  With the cantilever front and the dual-pivot rear, this bicycle has the road bike equivalent of a mullet, and I like that.

Clearly, this bicycle is meant to do everything, and it does so with extreme ugliness.  It also bucks the current trend towards specialization in the bicycle industry.  We've actually reached a point now where categories are so nuanced that the crappy bike with the hi-ten frame is not only back, but it's also becoming a hotly-contested segment.  First, there was the SE Draft, which has been a staple in neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Brooklyn for the last year or so now:

The SE Draft comes complete with an American bottom bracket, which is to bottom brackets what American cheese is to cheese.  Hey, I don't begrudge anybody their cheap transit, and the supply of Old Crappy Ten Speeds ripe for singlespeed conversion is not going to last forever.  (Moeover the prices for them are still artificially inflated.)  If you need something cheap to pedal around town and lock to poles the SE Draft seems like it fits the bill quite nicely.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before the people at Dorel Industries realized that they own Schwinn (the OG of Old Crappy Ten Speed makers), and that if people are not only turning Old Crappy Ten Speeds into New Crappy One-Speeds but are also paying good money for Pre-Fabricated New Crappy One-Speeds, then they might as well make their own PFNCOS to complete with the Draft.   And so the Cutter was born:

Not only does the Cutter appear to have a threaded bottom bracket shell, but it also comes with a "sticker kit," and it only costs a little more than the Draft.  Again, having two inexpensive urban runabouts to choose from is not at all a bad thing, and it's especially good news for anybody sitting on a supply of 1 1/8" threaded headsets and stems, because that's what the Cutter comes with for some reason and those are about as easy to find as 1" threaded suspension forks.  Most significantly, though, should Dorel decide to sell this bike at Wal-Mart, the cultural ramifications are obvious. I have no idea if that's part of the plan, but if it is you can also expect to see MASH posters next to the Miley Cyrus posters very soon.

There's no doubt that the Cutter is a bit cookie-cutter, especially when you compare it to that Trek.  But no big corporation would ever create something like that.  It takes an individual to create a true monstrosity.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Soft Pedaling: Taking it Easy

(Still crankin' away--no retirement for Perwez Ahmed. Only prayer breaks.)

If you have the sort of gaping hole in your life that gives you the time and inclination to follow professional road racing, you know that this past weekend was the World Road Championships in Varese, Italy. And if you're American, you know that team leader Levi Leipheimer opted not to race. Never mind that Levi finished fourth in the time trial last Thursday, which is pretty good. (Personally I'd rather finish fourth instead of second or third in a race like that, since silver and bronze is kind of lame, but fourth is the best out of all the other non-medalers and is, when you really think about it, technically a win. ) Regardless, it seems Levi "didn't feel up for the leadership of our relatively young team." But I suppose Leipheimer, around whom the "Let Levi Ride" campaign was created, feels that while he should be allowed to ride whenever he wants he should also not ever be required to ride, and that he should be free to let a "relatively young team" eke out a 23rd place while he ends his season and evens out his cyclist's tan on some beach somewhere while listening to the sounds of Malaysian pop sensation Letle Viride.

But who can blame Levi, really? This bike racing thing is exhausting, and it seems like riders can't retire fast enough. Not only is Paolo Bettini retiring, but so is Yaroslav Popovych, who's only like 28 and had at least seven more good years of not living up to the promise of being a future Tour de France winner. Meanwhile, those foolish enough to stay in the sport often find themselves being harassed by the authorities. In fact, Italian police raided the Luxembourg team hotel last Friday, apparently because there were rumors that Benoit Joachim had been sleeping in an oxygen tent. Hey, not everybody who sleeps in a tent is doing so for purposes of performance-enhancement. It's common knowledge in the peloton that Joachim likes to have little hotel room floor campouts while he's on the road, and that he often pitches a pup tent in which he throws little tea parties for his assortment of stuffed animals and then reads them bedtime stories before finally turning in himself. Just because he copes with homesickness a little differently than the other riders does not make him a cheater. (Though I'm not sure what Frank Schleck was doing in there with him, and I don't know if I believe him when he claims that he was just playing "blood transfusion" with one of Joachim's teddy bears.)

Perhaps it was the hardship of being a professional cyclist and living on the road that sowed the seeds of Greg LeMond's lushly-blooming insanity, as manifest by his attempt to hijack Lance Armstrong's Interbike press conference last week. Or perhaps he was simply driven to it by the person sitting behind him wearing a Metallica shirt:

Word has it that LeMond never really got over founding bassist Cliff Burton's death in 1987, and that he refuses to acknowledge any Metallica album after "Master of Puppets." Still, despite himself, he had finally decided to give the band a second chance by purchasing their latest album, "Death Magnetic," just before the press conference--only to find as millions of other fans did that the sound quality was extremely poor. Understandably, after waiting over 20 years to purchase a new Metallica album only for it to be a tremendous disappointment, LeMond was sufficiently on edge to be pushed over it upon noticing the shirt above. At least that's the defense his lawyers are considering using.

It's also entirely possible that Interbike itself is what drove LeMond to it. I wasn't at Interbike (nor have I ever been) but I understand from those who do attend that it can be extremely irritating. This bicycle, which I saw on the VeloNews site, would appear to be a case in point:

I'm not sure what's going on here, but I can only assume that these cables are supplying the bicycle with ugliness intravenously. I'm also not sure why people are always compelled to hide cables on bicycles, or to route them through the frame or through various components. Personally, I prefer being able to change cables and housing without having to first extricate them or remove bar tape, but then again I don't really care how my bikes look either--as long as they're not covered with purple mucus like this one is.

In any case, my advice to Greg and to all the other tired cyclists (active, retired, or coming back) is to take it easy. Just like Levi didn't feel up to the leadership of the relatively young US team, I didn't feel up to riding very quickly on my commute this morning. Instead, I resolved to go downright slowly. One thing I discovered was that the city looks very different when you're slow. You even deal with an entirely different kind of traffic. Instead of the crazed, rushed traffic, you deal with the slow and ailing kind:

Had I been riding faster I would not have had the good fortune of watching a minivan die. This is the moment when the sputtering, smoking hulk finally pulled over and the driver emerged from it. As you can see, he's just about to remove his hat, wave it around in a vain attempt to clear the smoke, and begin cursing in Spanglish. You'll notice also that the visibility has been reduced to almost zero by the emissions. I would have stopped to see if I could lend a hand, but not only am I a poor auto mechanic, but I was also completely unconcerned.

While preventative maintenance is not high on the agendas of many drivers in New York City, cosmetic maintenance certainly is. Here you see a "bumper bully," which is the top tube pad of the automotive world. You can also see the spraypainted lines of what may in fact be a nascent bicycle lane. This of course raises the question, "When does a bicycle lane's life begin?" If you believe it begins the moment the outline is hastily spraypainted on the pavement, as the conservatives do, then this Saab is already guilty of bike lane obstruction. However, if you hold the more liberal view that a bike lane is not a bike lane until the lines are solid and there are little pictures of bicycles in between them, then I suppose the driver has nothing to worry about. (And even if I were to rear end him, at least his bumper would be safe from superficial damage.)

A little while later I encountered workers actually painting the bike lane. (Though if it is a bike lane I'm not sure why it has a broken line. Maybe it's some other kind of lane.) Monday morning during rush hour didn't seem to me to be an optimal time to paint lines on the street, but then again I don't work for the DOT. I was, however, very careful not to ride through the wet paint, lest I inadvertently set a Pepé Le Pew scenario in motion. (Some overamorous fixter might think the Ironic Orange Julius Bike is equipped with white tires and I might find myself being pursued on the Craigslist Missed Connections.)

Continuing slowly on my way, I experienced a magical moment when I encountered two vehicles moving even slower than I was. They were traveling side by side and the drivers were engaged in conversation as rush-hour traffic backed up behind them. Despite my better judgment, I was curious and so I rode between them. Sadly, I was unable to understand what they were saying, as they spoke in a foreign tongue. However, for a few minutes I felt like I was swimming with a couple of whales--especially since both of them were really ugly, they were spewing forth from their blowholes, and they were liable to crush me at any moment.

Speaking of ugly slow-moving vehicles, as I waited for the light I noticed what appeared to be a covered wagon just beyond the head of the Nonplussed Woman Looking Away from BikeSnobNYC. As soon as the light changed, I gave chase. (And by "gave chase" I mean I resumed pedaling.) Here's what I saw:

According to the URL on the chassis, this monstrosity is the work of Organic Engines. I've since visited the site, where I learned this:

About Me and OE

I am obsessed with Times New Roman, I love coffee, and fabricating. I am a latent motorhead with a sustainability fetish.

I like to mentor, but I play it off like I am just helping out. One of my favorite things is paying wages.

I love music, all kinds, and try to see a show every week or two. I am known for my indie rock and 80’s music dancing. To many people they look the same.

I have a cat, my girlfriend has a dog.

I was born in Canada but I love the USA .

I love to tell bad jokes and meandering stories that confuse rather than inspire.

I can cook and like pints of Harp Ale. Bottle Rockets Rule, and I have the powder burns to prove it.

I love to sew.. fabric-cating, get it?

I am learning all about the Linux Operating System . Commmand line skilllzz!!!!!

Eventually I hope to make one of everything. This is getting easier since I am learning to program and build CNC machines.

A person obsessed with both typefaces and bad puns? Now that's font-tastic!

Of course, some things never change, even when you ride slow. Here's yet another hipster bike locked to a pole on a New York City street. Note the lime green rims and matching grips. I can just see him doing a leg-over-the-bars dismount as he cinches up his messenger bag and saunters over to the playground.

Why won't these people grow up already?

Friday, September 26, 2008

BSNYC Friday Fun Quiz!

(Nonplussed Journalist Looking Straight at the Infinite and Beyond, by Erik K)

Although that Armstrong press conference was like two days ago now, I simply can't shake the feeling that I am still being watched by the Nonplussed Journalist.  Furthermore, I suspect that, in addition to being nonplussed, he may also be omniscient and/or omnipresent.   I'm not sure which publication he works for--it might be the Book of Life itself, or it may just be Cats and Kittens magazine.  But whatever it is, I only hope the Nonplussed Journalist is looking upon my endeavors favorably, and that he does not see fit to pan me, writ large, upon the very fabric of the Universe. 

In the meantime, with the weekend about to appear on the horizon, I'm leaving you with a quiz.  As always, consider the question, look deep into your soul, and choose your answer.  If you're right, you'll see that quite clearly.  If you're not, you'll see something I really don't think you want to see.

Thanks for reading, and ride safe this weekend.


1) What are these pants?

--The new Rock & Republic "Keirin Cut" jean

--The new Hincapie jean

--The new Mario Cipollini jean

--The new Gap "Fixed-Gear Freestyle Jean"

2) Some company has actually copied Old Ten Speed Gallery proprietor Cameron's PBR fixed-gear (above).



3) Who brought a big bowl of crazy to the Armstrong press conference in Vegas yesterday?

--Fat Cyclist

--Greg LeMond

--Betsy Andreu

--David Walsh

4) The non-concealable tattoo fad (including, of course, the knuckle tattoo) has been validated by which publication?

--The New York Times


--The Wall Street Journal

--Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

5) Which gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood is getting its own t-shirt from J. Crew, and what does the logo say?

--Bushwick ("The Trophy Tavern")

--Williamsburg ("Fratelli Auto Body")

--Greenpoint ("Fixed Greenpoint")

--Canarsie ("Where the Goys Are")

6) A lock is only as strong as its weakest part. What's the weakest part of this lock (spotted recently by a reader)?

--The curved "U" portion

--The keyed portion

--The bracket

--The owner's brain

7) According to a post on the Bicycling website, what may determine how much you ride?

--Whether or not you've upgraded to the new Madone

--The modulus of your frame's carbon fiber

--Finger length

--Fofonov frequency

***Special high-tech bonus question***

According to the "secret website," what is this seatpost made out of?





Thursday, September 25, 2008

Coming Back to Haunt You: Scary Faces and Spiky Bikes

In case you're keeping track, here's the Official BSNYC Pro Cyclist Retirement/Comeback Status Update (brought to you by the American Cheese Society--now celebrating 25 years!):

Lance Armstrong--coming back
Viatcheslav Ekimov--not coming back
Bobby Julich--retired, comeback pending
Dmitry Fofonov--missing, presumed pleasuring himself
Mario Cipollini--contemplating comeback to finance new bathroom vanity

Thanks American Cheese Society!

Of course, there are two types of retirement: there's the voluntary kind; and then there's the compulsory, drug-related kind. However, there's only one kind of comeback: the voluntary kind. Until now, that is. With all eyes on Armstrong it appears that there is a magenta-hued groundswell to bring his arch-rival and comic foil Jan Ullrich back to the peloton as well (not to be confused with the magenta-clad swell that is Ullrich's stomach):

I'm not sure Ullrich actually wants to come back, or if they'd even allow him to if he did, but I do like to imagine that one day we really could have a system whereby any retired cyclist who gets enough votes from the public would be forced to return to racing, no matter how long they've been out of the game. Just imagine an arthritic and very reluctant Eddy Merckx swinging a leg over the bike once again and dropping through the peloton and out the back like a hex bolt through a hamster's digestive tract. Imagine also the excitement of forcing Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon to square off against each-other one more time. (An idea all the more appetizing to many since LeMond/Fignon sounds like a particularly succulent cut of meat.) As of right now the Ullrich petition already has 80 comments. I feel like 100 should be enough to require him to put his juicy LeMond/Fignon sandwich down, saddle up, and start training for Le Tour '09.

Meanwhile, when Lance Armstrong says he's coming back, he means it. After yesterday's press conference he busted out of his suit like Party Boy, shouldered his Trek, hotfooted it to the Jet Blue terminal, deplaned in Vegas, and rolled right up to the Cross Vegas cyclocross race, where he finished in 22nd place out of 69 finishers:

Some may scoff, but in my book 22nd place is a solid "pass" and therefore an excellent result. 21 guys may have beat him, but more importantly he beat 47 guys, which is more than double the number of people who beat him. Also, one of the people he beat is Carl Decker, who is the reigning Singlespeed World Champion. (I am the World's Worst Bike Racer but the World's Best Rationalizer.) Moreover, Armstrong was battling not only lack of sleep, exhaustion from a day of press, and a stacked field, but he was also dogged by the haunting visage of doping expert and Carl Reiner stunt double Dr. Don Catlin:

Catlin's constant presence must be irritating to say the least. As Armstrong noted at the press conference, he must do whatever Catlin asks of him, and I can tell by the piercing look in his eyes (if you're not sure which one's Catlin, he's the one with the glasses) that his testing methods probably go beyond simple diligence and cross over into maliciousness. I can imagine Armstrong striking up a coversation with an attractive woman, and then, just as they're about to hit it off, a jealous and vindictive Catlin approaching and demanding he provide a urine sample on the spot. (In the medical profession, I believe this is called "cockblocking.") Just imagine stepping out of the shower, wiping the condensation off the medicine cabinet mirror, and seeing not only your own face but Catlin's as well. That kind of shock can't be healthy. Also, he's getting paid but Armstrong's not. I think that puts the 22nd place into perspective. It wouldn't suprise me if Armstrong also had to pit every lap at last night's race--not to switch bikes but to produce urine for the insatiable Dr. Catlin. I bet Ryan Trebon doesn't have to do that.

And let's not forget the other visage Armstrong is doubtless haunted by, that being the one belonging to Nonplussed Journalist Looking Straight at BikeSnobNYC:

Plus, from Armstrong's vantage point on the podium, he was confronted not only by Nonplussed Journalist Looking Straight at BikeSnobNYC, but also by BikeSnobNYC him(my)self, who was wearing not only dirty cycling shoes but also a sweat-stained cycling cap. It must have been like looking at a two-headed Medusa.

But as I said yesterday, cycling is full of irony, and apparently it's not "cool" to be down with Armstrong's comeback. I mean, he won the Tour seven times--how lame is that? Victory is sooo tacky. You're only supposed to win it like once and then get implicated in a scandal. What is "cool," of course, is all the cutting-edge stuff happening in the world of fixed-gear riding. Check out this Bianchi Pista, which I saw over at Trackosaurusrex:

This "artistic interpretation of a track bike" indeed captures the contradictory nature of the fixed-gear scene in that it not only appropriates the Crass logo (fixed-gear fans just love the way that logo looks, don't they?), but it is also, quite literally, unrideable. I was curious about the artist, so I popular search engined him, and came upon this article in Time magazine from way back in 2002:

"'Takahashi doesn't think about originality,' carps fashion critic Takeji Hirakawa, 'only about copying.'

Five years ago that may have been true. But with age and experience, Takahashi's work is growing beyond simple expressions of rage and becoming more sophisticated and nuanced. "

Yes, it's nice to see that his work has continued along that trajectory of sophistication and nuance during the six years since that article was written.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: The Dignity of Attending a Press Conference

If you're in New York City, you may have noticed a bunch of black SUVs with police escorts around the Sheraton Hotel on 53rd and 7th this morning. This was due to the Clinton Global Initiative, at which a group of dignitaries and world leaders (and Bono) gathered to, as far as I can tell, solve the problems of the world.

Ordinarily I wouldn't be concerned with a gathering like this since it doesn't really fall under my purview, which is cycling and making fun of it. But it just so happens that this was the place where Lance Armstrong (the Bono of cycling) would be announcing the details of his return to professional cycling. So I figured I might as well attend.

I weaved through thicker-than-usual traffic, arrived at the Sheraton and fastened the Ironic Orange Julius Bike to a nearby pole as securely as possible.

Affixing my press credentials to my pants (fortunately I was wearing pants) I ran the secret service gauntlet, the metal-detection gauntlet, and the temptingly sticky pastry platter gauntlet.

I then entered a plush, carpeted room which I was warned would soon be filled to capacity. I took a seat at the front (in case Lance did any magic tricks, I was hoping he'd pick me as a volunteer) and passed the time watching the Clinton Global Initiative proceedings on the video screens at the front of the room.

Bono talked a lot about starving children, which made me feel really guilty about not eating anything from the pastry platters. (I made a mental note to eat a danish for the impoverished peoples of the world on my way out.)

By the time Al Gore started speaking, I felt acutely aware of my growing need to relieve myself. However, I was reluctant to leave my seat in the increasingly crowded room lest it be taken. I'd like to believe there's a "siblinghood of journalists" and that they'd save my chair, but firstly, I'm not a journalist, and secondly, this was a shifty-looking bunch. Nonetheless, I put my bag on my seat and hit the head. If you're wondering what the urinals at the Sheraton look like, here they are:

I returned to my seat, which was fortunately still mine, and alternated between staring at the video screens and staring at my feet. (Despite the fact a cyclist was about to speak, I was the only person in the room with clipless-compatible shoes.)

At this point the room was full, and anything with a lens was trained at the podium in anticipation of Armstrong's entrance.

Armstrong was introduced by Doug Ulman, the President of LiveStrong, who is the guy in the yellow tie. Doug is flanked by John Seffrin, the CEO of the American Cancer Society on his left, and by Taylor "Mini" Phinney on his right. On the far left is Dr. Don Catlin. Lance Armstrong is the guy at the podium gesticulating meaningfully.

Armstrong's comments were very straightforward, and I'm sure you'll be reading them on various other blogs, websites, and periodicals in the coming days. Basically, he said that Leadville reminded him how much he enjoys spending hours at a time on a bike, and that he's returning to the sport to implement his global cancer awareness strategy. His number one goal, he emphasized, is the message. He also said that he'll ride for Astana (which was a tremendous disappointment to me, as I was hoping Mellow Johnny's was about to become the world's wealthiest shop team) and that the races he'll definitely be doing at this point are the Tour Down Under, the Tour de France, and of course, the Leadville 100. (Which, as far as I know, will make him the first-ever cyclist to use the Tour as a training race for Leadville.) He also called 18-year old Taylor Phinney the "future of American cycling," though he failed to comment on his more-than-passing resemblance to Andy Samberg from SNL. (Here's what Phinney looked like as Armstrong anointed him):

Speaking of people who look like people, that Dr. Catlin guy who looks like Carl Reiner on the left is the guy who will be testing Armstrong constantly for performance-enhancing drugs. Word is that absolutely nothing gets past this guy, and that he can't be bought. (I'd have to say this appears to be the case, as he wouldn't sign the photo of Carl Reiner I always carry with me in my wallet, even after I offered him ten bucks.) Armstrong said this will be the most intense testing program ever ("suck on that, Vaughters," he failed to add), and that he will "do whatever [Catlin] asks me." (I observed this to be true immediately after the press conference, when Catlin sent Armstrong to a nearby deli for a corned beef sandwich.)

By the way, if you're wondering who's paying Catlin, it's Astana. Meanwhile, Armstrong is riding for free. I find it interesting that cycling has reached a point where the world's most famous cyclist must ride gratis while a doctor whose sole job is to look for drugs is receiving what I would guess is a pretty substantial salary.

Essentially, though, Armstrong summarized, his return to professional cycling is centered around: 1) spreading the LiveStrong message; 2) developing the sport (through a U23 team which Phinney will lead and which Axel Merckx will direct); and, 3) being the anti-dopingest and most tested rider in the known universe.

Then came the questions, fastly and furiously. Here's what journalists look like while they formulate questions:

And here's the mess they leave behind them when Lance Armstrong finishes answering their questions, leaves amidst the sound of camera shutters (I didn't even know cameras still had shutters) and they depart en masse:

I've not written much (or really anything) about Lance Armstrong's comeback up until now, mostly because so many other people are too and I don't like to do what everybody else is doing. However, as I've often said, cycling is rife with irony. And one of the most ironic things about cycling is that cyclists hate winners. (Even I have said that "winning is for dopers sandbaggers," though that's only because I never win.) I suppose this is why Armstrong's comeback has been met with so much skepticism in the cycling world. I mean, everybody knows he cheated, right?

Well, as I said, I don't like to do what everybody else is doing. I would, however, like to thank the cycling press for getting me into this press conference. Of course, as much as I'd like to, I can't, because they didn't.

I suppose that's because I don't like to do what everybody else is doing.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Evolving or Devolving? From Comebacks to CamelBaks

(Image by Greg)

Few things are as rewarding as helping to embroider an idea onto the cultural fabric. As such, I was very pleased to receive from a reader a piece of art incorporating the beloved "All You Haters Suck My Balls" rim.

In these troubled times, we need an inspirational slogan to rally around, and I feel that "All You Haters Suck My Balls" may very well be that slogan. Yesterday, a number of commenters even suggested emblazoning it on merchandise, and indeed the artist who sent me this image also suggested that I register the URL. However, I refuse to do either. Firstly, the slogan doesn't belong to me. I like to think it belongs to all of us, though technically it belongs to the person who first expressed it on his lime-green rim with twenty-three vinyl stick-on letters. (I can't help imagining that, as he applied the second "L" in "balls," he shivered slightly with the dawning awareness he was doing something great.)

Secondly, our culture is far too commodified as it is. As soon as anybody expresses any interest in anything, someone else comes along and tries to package it and sell it. Worse yet, all too often we are willing to buy, as though an idea isn't legitimate until we've paid money for it. And that's simply not true. The AYHSMB sentiment is priceless, and as soon as you affix a price to it you cheapen it, no matter what that price may be. And I refuse to participate in the cheapening of "All You Haters Suck My Balls." Instead, I choose to meditate on it. If you find yourself with a free moment today, close your eyes and imagine actor Morgan Freeman's voice intoning the mantra "All You Haters Suck My Balls." I think you'll find it surprisingly transformative.

Unfortunately though, it may be naive of me to think we can share a slogan when we can barely share the bike path. I came upon this distressing accident report yesterday on Craigslist:

Bicycle on Bicycle on Runner Collision, West Side HWY - 35 (Midtown West)
Reply to: pers-[deleted]
Date: 2008-09-22, 4:11AM EDT

Me, riding North on West Side bike path, white helmet, black jersey.

Other cyclist, red jersey or helmet, big guy going South in North-bound lane. Dude, are you OK? You nailed me! I turned around after a sec and I think you were gone. I realize that it was crowded, but if you are going to pass people by straying into the oncoming bike traffic, you better be able to pull it off. Also, you didn't stop to see if I was OK. I hit a runner jogging next to me!

Runner, jogging next to me. You were a mean super bitch! I just got hit head on by another rider! What the fuck is YOUR problem? Yes I bumped into you while trying not to do a faceplant on the pavement. You acted like I raped your baby. I apologized and asked if you were OK. You gave dirty looks and huffed and put your precious earbuds back in. Homework: be nice to a random stranger tomorrow.

While this was posted in "Missed Connections," it would appear that they connected quite effectively. Indeed, this sounds like a textbook example of bike path clustercoitus. While ostensibly a car-free haven for bicyclists, in reality the bike path presents a whole new set of dangers which, in its own way, is even worse than what you encounter on the streets. For example, when you're in city traffic, the bike salmon coming straight at you is often at least some grizzled messenger with a steely gaze and sharp bike handling skills with the wherewithal to avoid you. On the other hand, on the bike path, it's usually some saucer-eyed novice who's in that dangerous stage of road bike ownership when you want to start playing with speed but you haven't quite mastered things like which which lever shifts the bike and which one stops it.

Similarly, on the streets, the most common non-bicycle you're forced to interact with is cars. They can be frustrating--deadly in fact--but at least their turning radius is limited and they don't tend to abruptly about-face right into you like runners do. The car-vs-bike thing may get all the press, but anybody who's been forced to share the road with a runner knows that's where the real acrimony lies. And the fact that runners are constantly turning around in front of you as though they forgot something important they had to do at home is compounded by the fact that they're also always wearing headphones--mostly because running is the most boring thing you can do on two feet besides standing still.

That may be why Lance Armstrong is consigning his running shoes to the back of his closet and getting back on the bike. And while the world waits for him to announce his plans, all eyes turn to Viatcheslav Ekimov--who, it turns out, has no comeback plans whatsoever:

I'm not sure why VeloNews felt that Ekimov's non-return to the peloton was newsworthy. Certainly nobody actually thought he might actually be coming back in the first place. I mean, that guy's old. In fact, if you check his Wikipedia page you'll see he actually won a stage of the Tour of Pangea. I suppose next they'll track down Lance Armstrong's eighth grade social studies teacher and find out if she's considering putting the knitting needles down and returning to the chalkboard. I heard that after a lengthy discussion with her cats they all decided it was the right thing to do.

Of course, the real breaking news is out on the streets. A reader has forwarded me this vexing picture of a bicycle which appears to be in the process of evolving (or devolving) into a fixed-gear:

This is a fascinating find, and is in many ways the equivalent of spotting a yeti or a sasquatch--it's a bridge between two related species. Yet it also bears hallmarks of the platypus, in that it also has traits of completely unrelated species. Take a closer look at this diagram:

The 700c rear wheel and the lack of a brake indicate that this bicycle is on its way to fixed-gear country. This would appear to be reinfored by the fact that it's an older Klein, and as such is equipped with rear-entry horizontal dropouts, which is not nearly as sordid as it sounds and makes it ripe for fixed-gear conversion. The flop-and-chop bars also speak of a fixed future. However, one loses the fixed-gear scent when one comes to the levers. Certainly nobody would invest in costly STI levers if they were thinking of going fixed. Yet if this is the case, why no rear brake? I mean, sure, you probably couldn't get the brake pads to line up with the 700c rim, but in that case why not go back to the original 26" setup? Perhaps this bike is not evolving, and is in fact an evolutionary dead end--kind of like the Neanderthals. Alas, we may never know.

Personally, though, if this bike is on its way to becoming a fixed-gear I would stop and reverse the transformation if I were the owner. That Klein is a vintage mountain bike, and vintage mountain bikes are all the rage. Indeed, an old Breezer recently cracked the $10K barrier on eBay (without even meeting the reserve!):

If you're reading this outside of the United States, US$10,000 is almost €200. So we're talking a lot of money.

But how to hydrate yourself on your new/old mountain bike? Sure, bottles are period-correct, but they're so unwieldy. Why not be a rolling anachronism with the CamelBak RaceBak?

A reader recently brought this to my attention, and while I have absolutely no problem with hydration systems in principle, in practice they frighten me. In this case, it's partially the copy: "You've got a hydration hose just inches from your face, there are no dodgy moments...," it says. Well, I'd argue if you've got a hose just inches from your face then things have gotten quite dodgy indeed. Plus, I have an irrational fear of carrying fluids on my body. Not only because I feel like a giant blister, but also because I fear it hastens evolution and that really scares me. Even though there's no scientific basis for this fear, I still think that if people continue to wear hydration systems we'll ultimately be born with them. Aero gear scares me for the same reason--it's only a matter of time before somebody somewhere is born with a completely hairless, pointy, faired head.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not a techno-phobe. I'm perfectly fine with the fact that the Internet is becoming our collective memory and consciousness, even if that collective consciousness does contain a disproportionate number of YouTube videos. I guess I'm just fine with the mind changing but not the body. I think that (for the most part) we've got a nice balance of hair and smoothness, and of teeth and no teeth. I just don't want us getting all Pillsbury Doughboy-ish.

Then again, CamelBak may be wisely banking on a Dune-like future. The RaceBak is eerily similar conceptually to the "stillsuit" Kyle McLoughlin wore in the movie, in that both are basically suits filled with water:

Except at least the CamelBak thing doesn't involve drinking your own pee. That could be why Sting opted for the winged codpiece instead:

In any case, I find hydration systems scary no matter which way you look at them. Check this out, from CamelBak's own site:

Like the Klein above, I can't decide of hydration systems are evolution or devolution. All I know is, I'm scared.

Keep Dreaming: From Fantasy to Reality

If you work a traditional Monday-to-Friday work week, you know that Monday can be difficult. Even though I don't have a soul, I think that most people do. I also think that the soul is kind of an amorphous blob but that during the work week many people are forced to cram that blob into the Jell-o mold of structure and pretense, which is why it feels so good to pop out of it for a couple of days. Of course, conversely, it hurts that much more when you have to stuff it back in on Monday. This is especially true for cyclists, who after a couple of days of epic two-wheeled conquests must return to the mold, their legs sore, their appetites raging, and their pride back in check. (Obviously this doesn't hold true for people like messengers, who ride all week long. Or for the unemployed. Then again, what's the difference between the two, really?)

In the spirit of kicking off a weekend of fantasy, this past Friday was PARK(ing) Day. Basically, what this meant was a bunch of people in different cities took over parking spaces and turned them into little temporary parks. (Or, more accurately, just did weird stuff in them.) The idea as I understand it was to help people imagine all the other things you can do on the side of the road besides just leaving cars there, and how much better the world would be if the streets were lined with freaks instead of Hondas.

Frankly, I don't have much of a problem with parking cars in parking spaces (so long as drivers enter them carefully and don't heedlessly fling their doors open into traffic), so I wasn't especially moved by PARK(ing) Day. As far as I'm concerned it's the people who park in the middle of the street that are the real problem. If every driver parked in an actual parking space that would be a tremendous improvement in itself. Unfortunately, in New York City that's not the case, and there is absolutely no place here that a person will not leave a car. It's actually quite common to see someone stop an Escalade in the middle of the street and leave it running with the door open while he runs into a bodega. (In New York, this is an expression of self-importance--it's the motor vehicle equivalent of sitting with your legs wide open and taking up two subway seats.)

Still, though, I suppose I can kind of see the appeal. After all, every day in New York is Bike Lane Appropriation Day. Among the activities taking place in New York City bike lanes this morning were moving into (or perhaps, given the economy, out of) expensive Brooklyn brownstones:

and riding stupid mopeds. (I thought I was being attacked by a lawn edger when this contraption overtook me.)

And as far as stopping your car wherever you want, there was this guy from Jersey, who sat camped out on the divider between Sands Street and the BQE entrance ramp near the Manhattan Bridge while he got directions on his cellphone:

So I'd like to get behind PARK(ing) Day, if only to force people to drink the same swill of liquid annoyance and inconvenience they make us chug every day. Unfortunately, having now viewed the Streetsfilm of PARK(ing) day in New York City, I can find very little around which to rally. In fact, if I'd encountered one of the appropriated parking spaces shown in the film I'd probably have been horrified and made every attempt to get as far away from it as possible. Here are some examples:

Here we have a greenhouse or a nursery or an arboretum or something. I realize a lot of people get tremendously excited around plants for some reason, but in this case I mostly just see a leafy obstruction. It's bad enough I have to worry about getting "doored" all the time; this installation opens up the possibility of getting "planted" as well.

These people took over a parking space up by Columbia University to have a "fancy party." If there's one thing New York has way, way too much of it's overpriced "brunch" spots serving eggs Benedict to hung-over wealthy people. It's also bad enough that many of these establishments don't have the decency to keep their clientele inside and out of sight, and instead set up tables for them to dine on the sidewalk. So the thought of "brunch" actually spilling over past the curb and into the street is almost too sickening to bear. Then again, it is kind of nice to see them in the gutter. Still, though, I'd much rather have streets lined with cars than with rich people dining decadently. At least stray cats can sleep under cars.

Unlike normal entertainers who are actually sought out, street entertainers do stupid things nobody wants to watch, and as such they must perform in crowded public places so people who don't particularly want to be entertained are forced to look at them anyway. And when it comes to people who make you watch what they're doing, jugglers rank just a tiny bit above mimes and flashers. Creating spaces in which jugglers are free to congregate and fling things up into the air publicly instead of in their homes where they belong can only lead to an explosion of mimes, flashers, hacky-sackers, human statues, naked cowboys, and people who drum on buckets that will facilitate New York City's transformation from a cultural capital into a giant liberal arts college campus.

I don't understand tea. I know people say tea is relaxing, or soothing, or healing, but that's not true in my experience. To me, it's just hot water that tastes vaguely like something else. Of course, I realize it's possible this is because I don't have a soul to soothe, but nonetheless I suspect the power of tea is something people believe in just because other people believe it too. Drinking tea is kind of like when you buy a hallucinogen, aren't sure if it's real or not, and sit around waving your hand in front of your face waiting for something to happen. (I think I saw a trail!) If I drink something I like it to have an immediate and irrefutable effect, like liquor does. I suppose there are certain laxative teas that might have an immediate effect, but that's something else entirely. In any case, I wasn't "moved" by the tea party. (Laxative teas notwithstanding.)

As ridiculous as some of the other parking spaces were, at least they didn't involve motor vehicles. I'm not sure what the point of this one is--it just looks like a car wash. Then again, you have to feel compassionate towards the people of Queens, who have been so molested by cars over the years that it's probably impossible for them to conceptualize anything that doesn't involve them somehow. They can't not think about cars. It's sort of like how the theme of death inevitably appears in the films of Ingmar Bergman.

Ah, yes, public meditation. How spiritual. This is perfect in Williamsburg, where you aren't doing something if the rest of the neighborhood can't see you doing it too.

Finally, something I can get behind! This parking space even had an internet connection. That's me waving on the right.

I can also get behind the "Green the Ghetto" concept, though my own green-themed parking spot in Park Slope didn't go over so well. Of course, that might be because I put a different spin on "green." No sooner had I finished setting up my space than my bong was confiscated, my inflatable lounge chair was deflated, and my cable TV hookup was disconnected. (Emboldened by visions of a car-free future I had taken the liberty of splicing into someone's line.) I was right in the middle of "Family Guy" too! Man, those Park Slope mommies can be sooo touchy.

Thank goodness for that free wi-fi over at the Park n' Write, where I spent the rest of the day watching YouTube videos, being green, and partying like it was a Wednesday.