In the comments to last Friday's post, I was admonished by a commenter for my use of "off color" references and "bathroom humor," though he was kind enough to say that I was "witty." He felt the "off color" references interfered with the blog, but I personally feel "highbrow" and "lowbrow" go nicely together. This is why I read The New Yorker, but only in the lavatory. As it happens, I recently found myself doing just that when I came across an article about Alain Robert:
If you don't know who Alain Robert is, he's that guy who climbs skyscrapers without using safety equipment, and he's known as "The French Spider-Man." Please note that he should not be confused with Gilberto Simoni, who was "The Italian Spider-Man:"
Or with Dr. Milton R. Spiderman, DDS, who's simply a dentist, and whose daughter just had her Bat Mitzvah:
I haven't finished the article yet (though I'm sure I will since I don't think it will be the last time I visit the bathroom) but I've already learned that the type of climbing Robert does is called "free-soloing:"
"Free-soloing" is the mountaineer's term for climbing alone, without implements or ropes, and Robert is one of perhaps a few dozen dedicated practitioners in the world. "Free-soloing is a very elite, esoteric subdivision for obvious reasons--you fall, you die," Matt Samet, the editor of Climbing, said. It is an aesthetic pursuit, with a moral basis: dying, full-heartedly, is better than a half-assed life. To Robert, safety contrivances are a form of bondage, and the prerogative of self-reliance distinguishes man from marionettes. "I am not a circus animal, not a puppet, but a rock climber who has consciously chosen freedom!"
I would have leaped to my feet in amazement upon reading this passage, but, well, I was in the bathroom. However, I still felt the moment needed to be punctuated somehow, so I simply flushed the toilet as sort of an exclamation point. The reason for my amazement was that the explanation for "free-soloing" is very much like the explanation people give for fixed-gear cycling. After all, riding a fixed-gear is "a Zen thing." Take this "classic" article from way back in 2000. Here are some quotes:
The "track bike" or "fixed-gear bike" is famous among bicycle aficionados for giving its rider a serene, concentrated feeling of unbroken connectedness with everything.
I was intrigued by the reviewer's cautious tones, warning that "suicidal New York bike messengers" like to ride these bikes with no brakes in the street. I was hooked!
I remember how I came to take the front caliper brake off after a year of practice. It was almost a mystical experience...one day I had a deep insight, an out-of-body experience like a flowering realization -- I was watching myself riding and feeling how it was to negotiate on the bike without the brake. It culminated in a very natural and positive feeling of, "I can do this!"
And that was written by a Ph.D., so you know it's true. If you're still not convinced, he even includes testimonials from other riders, like this one:
Riding a track bike is a totally Zen-like experience. You are in total contact with the bike, the road, and everything around you. A track bike is cycling stripped down to its barest essentials.
--Brian Dorfmann, Programmer at a large Manhattan law firm
As tempted as I am to discount Mr. Dormann's testimonials by saying that when you spend your days as a programmer at a large Manhattan law firm even mundane things like making a sandwich or purchasing coffee filters probably seem exhilarating and consciousness-raising in comparison, but the fact is that people from all walks of life continue to cite the very same thing to this day. Moreover, just like "safety contrivances are a form of bondage" in free-soloing, so are they in fixed-gear riding:
So "free-soloing" is basically the brakeless fixed-gear cycling of climbing. And now that brakeless fixed-gear cycling finally has its own anthem (by a band that just happens to have "Spider" in the name), it has officially been elevated to a rolling metaphor and a political statement. Does this mean that people like Brian Dorfmann will now have the courage to cast off their corporate shackles, heave their computers through the windows of their skyscraper prisons (hopefully without inadvertently causing any French climbers who may be clinging to the building to go plummeting to their deaths), and take to the streets in order to make the world a better place? The answer is almost assuredly "No." People have been riding brakeless for a long time now--even longer than they've been recording derivative "punk" songs--and if anything people have only grown more desperate to conform. However, I certainly wouldn't underestimate this song's power to make someone like Brian Dorfmann write a sternly-worded vacation request to his supervisor.
Still, we all want that liberating feeling of danger, and some people get it from climbing buildings without using safety equipment. However, not only is that tremendously difficult, but it's dangerous. Really dangerous. Like "certain death if you mess up" dangerous. On the other hand, riding a brakeless track bike is a little more dangerous than riding a regular bike with brakes, which is to say, in the grand scheme of dangerous things, it's only slightly dangerous. And that's why everyone wants to do it now. Basically, riding a brakeless fixed-gear is only a little more dangerous than walking around with your shoes untied, though it's a little less dangerous than riding a Vespa. So as long as there are people like The French Spider-Man out there you might as well just drop the pretense and put a brake on, since your bike will work a lot better and you're not really fooling anybody anyway.
But not everybody is trying to reject "safety contrivances" in the name of true freedom. This photo, forwarded by a reader, shows that some people have decidedly more prosaic motivations. Not only that, but they also announce them plainly on their front wheels:
Hey, whatever works for you.
So in a complicated world where rebellion is conformity, irony is sincerity, and omitting "safety contrivances" on your bicycle in order to rebel is in itself a contrived act, out-and-out marketing is almost a relief. That's why once I was finished in the bathroom I went online and checked out the Sea Otter product coverage, where I was excited to see this:
Rumors have long been circulating that the SRAM Corporation was going to try to enter the fiercely competitive sandwich-making market, but this is the first time we've seen actual proof that a SRAM deli slicer is about to "drop." Clearly, they're not just sticking a toe in the sandwich water either. Instead, they're going in with both barrels blazing, and it looks like they're going to mix things up as aggressively as I just mixed metaphors. The new SRAM deli slicer incorporates a hydraulic lever which modulates the speed of the blade as well as a quick release for easy lunchtime rush blade changes, and it is compatible with meats, cheeses, and even vegetables and bread. It remains to be seen if SRAM will be able to compete with industry giant Hobart--especially at this price point--but if they're successful we're almost certain to see a more affordable Rival version later in the season.
Meanwhile, speaking of competition and sandwich meats, a scandal erupted during the final stage of the Presidential Tour of Turkey when track sensation Theo Bos appeared to grab the yellow jersey of Daryl Impey and throw him into the barriers like a hurried deli worker throws a new Boar's Head ham into a Hobart deli slicer. You can see the shocking video here:
Naturally, each rider claims the other is at fault, but even if Bos did do it intentionally I would not expect him to be sanctioned by the UCI in any way since while flinging someone into the barriers may be cheating, it isn't drug-related cheating.
And closer to home, the "hipsters" of Williamsburg seem to be emulating their track idols by taking each-other down as well:
BIKE ACCIDENT NEAR MCCARREN PARK (THURS.) - 37 (WILLIAMSBURG)
Reply to: [deleted]
Date: 2009-04-19, 9:47AM EDT
I'M LOOKING FOR THE GENTLEMAN WHO CRASHED INTO MY BIKE WITH HIS BIKE AND DESTROYED MY FRONT RIM IN THE EARLY AFTERNOON ON 4/16 AT BERRY AND N.14TH.
NO HARD FEELINGS. WE BOTH AGREE, HOWEVER,THAT YOU WERE AT FAULT.
I WOULD APPRECIATE IT IF YOU COULD CONTACT ME AND PAY FOR THE DAMAGES. MY NEW RIM COST $65. DO THE RIGHT THING. IT WAS A MISTAKE FOR US NOT TO ADDRESS THE IDEA THAT YOU SHOULD PAY FOR DAMAGES.
MY NAME IS LUCAS AND I LIVE IN WILLIAMSBURG.
Sadly, it does not appear that restitution will be forthcoming:
Bike Accident (The Park)
Reply to: [deleted]
Date: 2009-04-19, 10:08AM EDT
Hope all is going well, however I've changed my mind.
I don't agree. I NEVER did!
I now believe YOU are responsible for that accident!
You want to squeeze me for $65??
You'll have better success squeezing blood from a stone!
The "mistake" was ever getting mixed up with you in the first place!
P.S. - No hard feelings.
I'm sure someone will recommend that the victim take the opportunity to upgrade to the new Velocity Chukker.
But it's not all acrimony out there. There's also some lust:
girl on bike crossing bridge - m4w - 25
Reply to: [deleted]
Date: 2009-04-17, 1:43AM EDT
to the girl on the fixed gear bike riding confidently across the bridge.
i did not mean to come wizzing by like some pretentious punk, but it was just that i was to close to you because i was starring at you every so shapely ass with the lovely thong not covering your creamy white buttocks. so you see when you slowed down with all right to be doing so, i had to pass you. bummer for me, great for you.
cuz really who wants a dirty boy to admire there lovely ass
While poor Lucas seems to have encountered Theo Bos, it seems that this poor woman may have been a victim of the dreaded "Milf Hunter:"
I'm not sure why this woman was cycling across the bridge in a thong, since they're certainly far from ideal cycling apparel. (Though maybe you'd be comfortable in a thong on a Dutch city bike, since according to their proponents it's apparently impossible to be uncomfortable on a Dutch city bike.) However, there is precedence for the thong as cycling apparel:
Please note that I've duly Larry Kingified and sepia-toned this image in deference to Friday's commenter, though you can also see the unadulterated version here. Personally, though, I think this one's far more offensive. And while they both make you want to go to the bathroom, it's for totally different reasons.