Friday, October 30, 2009

This Just In: I Must Away (and Friday Fun Quiz)!

Tomorrow is Halloween, which means Portlanders are quivering in anticipation over the opportunity to ride their bikes while wearing costumes (even though that's what they do every weekend). I too will be "palping" a whimsical outfit, having engaged a noted costumier to dress me as a burrito. So "epic" is this burrito costume that I've already begun the lengthy process of donning it. While I'm currently able to type thanks to a pair of temporary arm holes, once those are sealed off all traces of humanity will be invisible and the illusion will be complete. Then, once I finish trick-or-treating (I will be towed around the neighborhood in a specially-constructed bike trailer by my helper monkey, Vito), the lengthy and daunting extrication process will begin. My costumier anticipates it will take at least four days to get me out of the burrito costume, after which he recommends a period of bed rest. As such, I will be forced to undertake a period of non-blogging, and will return on Monday, November 9th with regular updates.

In the meantime, I'm pleased to present you with a quiz, which given my burrito costume-induced absence you will have over a week to complete. As always, study the item, think, and click on your answer. If you're right you'll know it, and if you're wrong you'll see "Hellbent: Bike Couriers of Vancouver."

Thank you very much for your readership, comments, and emails. I will miss these things as I lay sealed in my burrito costume like a guacamole-covered pupa, and I look forward to emerging on November 9th. Until then, ride safe, and if you see any giant burritos be sure give them some candy.

--BSNYC/RTMS

1) How much for this "Semi-Industrial Burrito Making Machine" on Craigslist?




thanks to the nypd officer who - 30 (East Village)
Date: 2009-10-26, 10:45AM EDT

helped me avoid getting jumped for my bike on astor place sunday afternoon.

"_________________________________" was the last thing i could hear the officer saying to my would-be assailant.

thanks!


2) What did the police officer say to the would-be assailant?






3) Mike Giant has just "dropped" a dramatic new video of himself:





4) Clothing company Castelli recently unveiled a program called:







5) Safety first! What is a "safety meeting?"






6) Safety first! This van has just:






"With BeVideo: Hipster, you'll learn all the basics of the hipster lifestyle, from how to make your own skinny jeans, to how to cruise around on your hipster 1-speed, to how to perfect your hipster attitude."

7) "BeVideo: Hipster" is:





8) Which boutique hotel now has "guest fixies" in collabo colorways?




***Special Double-Decker-Knuckle-Tattoo-Mix-Up-Themed Bonus Question***

When unscrambled, this set of double-decker knuckle tattoos says "Bringing Sexy Back."


Thursday, October 29, 2009

BSNYC Interview: Dave Koesel of Felt Bicycles

(In an "Australian Interview," it is customary for the interviewee to strike the interviewer.)

In yesterday's post, I commented on a pair of new marketing videos from Guru bicycles. I did so not because I have any problem with Guru as a company or because I have any problem with their products. They're just a group of people who make and sell racing bicycles. Similarly, while I often make fun of bicycle marketing in general, the truth is even the most mendacious bike company probably wouldn't register on the scale of corporate unscrupulousness or greed. I mean, there are companies in this world that have sold poisonous baby food, so telling a bunch of recreational cyclists that a bike will make them faster really isn't all that bad. As cyclists, we need people to make bicycles and sell them to us, and marketing is an integral part of that process. There's nothing wrong with it. It's just that sometimes this marketing pushes the boundaries of truth, in which case it becomes offensive, or else the execution of the marketing veers off into the realm of the ridiculous, which was the case with the Guru videos. And as far as the execution of marketing goes, it's a creative endeavor like any other, and I believe strongly that all creative endeavor is subject to criticism and ridicule. Even more importantly, marketing is the art of making people want things that they don't really need, and this is inherently funny.

I'm not really a part of the bicycle industry, but I write about cycling so even I participate in bicycle marketing. Beyond this blog, I write a column for "Bicycling" magazine, and while they let me write whatever I want they are arguably a marketing-driven publication. Also, not too long ago I wrote some text for the "2010 Knogalogue" (Knog are a bunch of Australians who invented the "hipster cyst"), which you can download and read from Knog's website. (Just turn the sound on your computer off first--Knog follow the European Internet tradition of assaulting visitors with music.) You may enjoy what I wrote, or you may be disgusted that I engaged in a "collabo" with Knog. Either way, Knog simply wanted their catalog to be entertaining, so they traveled the world and took a bunch of pictures and then asked me to write some text about those pictures. Making fun of Knog in their own catalog sounded like fun to me, so I agreed. I'm sure some readers will feel differently, but in all, I think it's mostly harmless.

Last week, I wrote a post called "The Irrelevancy of Time," and it elicited a strong reaction. Clearly, while we all have different thresholds for marketing, many of us have strong feelings about the way bicycles are designed and sold. In fact, one reaction came from Dave Koesel, the road brand/product manager at Felt (I used their "Fixie" line as an example in my post) who took issue with some of what I had to say. As we corresponded, it occurred to me that this would be a good opportunity to have a person actually involved in producing both high-end road bikes and urban fixed-gears explain to all of us the process of designing and selling them. So I asked him if I could interview him, and he graciously agreed.

Be assured my intent here is not to promote Felt; rather, it is to provide some additional insight into a subject that comes up frequently on this blog, and to allow readers to draw their own conclusions. If this is insight you don't want, then I hope you'll at least forgive the departure. And if you do want it, and on top of that it also makes you want to buy a Curbside, all I'll say is I recommend at least taking off the top tube pad. It's basically just the trendy bike equivalent of a pie plate.

Thanks to Dave Koesel for taking the time to respond, and thanks to everyone else for reading.

--BSNYC/RTMS





What's your background in cycling, and what's your favorite kind of riding to do today?

When I was a young boy, my father would come home every summer with a bike he’d collected from the side of the road destined for the city dump. We would disassemble the bike and rebuild the hubs and headsets, free the chain of rust, and even attempted rebuilding a freewheel. My dad always was able to repair whatever was needed to make it functional. He built race cars and made metal sculptures among other fabricating talents, and repairing a bicycle was a good lesson for me he’d insist. My bikes would often have one or two of his custom touches, like handmade handlebars, or welded in top tubes and new paint jobs to convert a girls frame to my own. I remember turning 12 and being given the freedom to leave the neighborhood for the first time. I’d ride all over the county exploring new roads and discovered the joys of getting around by bicycle. I began racing just for fun in an occasional duathlon or MTB race in my early teens. I was seriously hurt on a mountain bike ride and later decided to focus on road racing during my college years. I’ve spend the last 15 years racing on the road and track and I still enjoy competing occasionally, although my favorite rides today are getting out on the local MTB trails with my kids and their friends: introducing them to the same joys I discovered around their age.


What's your background professionally?

I started working in a small mom and pop bike shop in high school and eventually managed the store until moving away for college. I began road racing more seriously in college where I went to work at a high end pro shop in Ann Arbor, MI called Cycle Cellar. It was a great place to work with the very best equipment and mechanics on staff. It was there where I learned steel frame fabricating skills, and while I never sold any of my frames, I did build a couple road frames, and a full suspension MTB frame. I moved on from Cycle Cellar and together with Dennis Pontius, Gary Guzialek, and James Huang (of cyclingnews.com fame) opened Two Wheel Tango. I worked at Two Wheel Tango through the late 90s when I began my own independent sales representative group. I worked with a variety of brands including Colnago, Ciocc, DeBernardi, and Orbea bicycles, several clothing lines from Craft, Nalini, and Biemme, and component brands Ritchey, Tufo, Zipp, and many other small specialty brands. During this time I continued to race on the road, track, MTB, cyclo-cross and even a few tandem events. I had been upgraded to a Category 1 but realized I didn’t have the talent to make bicycle racing my career and stopped racing consistently in 2002.

How did you come to Felt?

In the winter of 2001, Felt had emerged with a line of complete bicycles and I reviewed what their plans were for sales representation at the Interbike show. I had an interview with company president Bill Duehring and began working with Felt in 2002 as a sales rep for Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. After growing the territory and looking to expand my coverage in the area, I was offered a sales management position in Felt’s Lake Forest, CA office. I accepted the job and moved to SoCal in October, 2005. After a year as the regional sales manager, I began to contribute to the product development of some of our emerging categories for Women, Triathlon, and track. One year later I was promoted as the product manager for all the road models and was the product liaison for our professional cycling teams and athletes. As my tasks encompassed areas of product development, sales and marketing, I earned the title of ROAD Brand Manager.

What's the history of Felt, and how large is the company in terms of employees and volume?

We’ve got this covered here on our site.

What are Felt's long-term goals as a company?

From the very same link above:

"Our mission is quite simple: To design, develop, and deliver the best bicycles in the world. Period."

If I'm a road racer, why should I buy a Felt instead of a Specialized, Trek, Cannondale, or Giant?

Now here is where I could get into trouble with our sales and marketing guys, but the fact is you shouldn’t buy a Felt instead of a Specialized, Trek, Cannondale, or Giant if one of those brands makes a model that better suits your fit requirements, better meets your budget, or has a retailer with greater after sale service. Buying a bike is so much more than a downtube decal. Felt makes 4 different geometries in our ROAD line up. F, Z, AR, and ZW models all have different fits, design intents, and a wide range of models, but even our extensive line up doesn’t cover every possible option. Does Felt make comparable model to most of the ones offered by these brands? Of course. I feel the Felt AR1 may be the best example of technology in our industry. The design and execution of that model amazes people outside the bike biz. From the CFD and wind tunnel development of the frame, fork and seatpost shapes, to the Shimano Dura Ace Di2 group, the bike represents what bicycle technology is capable of. I think the Felt Z85 might be among the most versatile and the best bang for the buck road bike on the market. Our women’s line of road bikes range from $700 to $7000 and we offer full carbon models with women under 5’0” tall. I could go on and on going into details about each bike in our line. Despite our coverage in the road segment, it is possible that some people simply want the integrated seatpost of a Giant TCR advanced or the LiveStrong Livery of the Trek, or perhaps the Specialized suits a need for a 105 bikes with a triple crankset. Maybe aluminum is your frame material of choice or Campagnolo your favorite group. Cannondale offers a few high end models with these options.

Felt has a long history of making high performance road bikes, if one of our models suits your needs, you’ll be very pleased and soon agree we’ve done our homework. Felt isn’t the only brand making innovative bikes. Nor is Specialized, Trek, Cannondale, and Giant. It is crowded at the top and emerging brands like Kuota, Ridley, Focus and others are making nice bikes as well. It is a great time to be shopping for a road bike. Consumers have plentiful choices, each with their list of advances.


Felt started out as a pretty specialized brand but now has as wide a range of bikes as any of the big bicycle companies. (Felt has a café and a cruiser line!) What's behind this approach?

You can sit on a one-legged stool, but 4 equal legs offers a much more stable platform. With a line of high performance road models, we only appeal to the dealers that can support a full line of bicycles and a 2nd high end brand, or a dealers that only focuses on ROAD, limiting our dealer base and sales options. BMX and Cruiser sales are a big part of our brand, and the beach communities and the shops these models are sold in are often a different outlet that our performance models. When we introduce a line of bicycles, we make them uniquely Felt. That is to say, even our aforementioned cruisers and Café models use our own frame designs, with our frame shapes, tubing profiles and wall thicknesses, and other proprietary parts.

You had some issues with my post called "The Irrelevancy of Time." What were they?

I was surprised to see you come down on the brands and guys that market and grow their brands, while you embrace other products that seem stagnant and use some clever spin to explain why they only offer one model or one product altogether claiming they are “keeping it real”, when it may be just as accurate to say they are “keeping it undercapitalized."

There are countless examples of annual innovations in cycling and the jump in selling price only reflects the technology used to produce and develop these bikes now. 10 years ago there were a handful of guys designing with FEA [Finite Element Analysis], now it is commonplace along with CFD [Conceptual Fluid Dynamics], Fibersimulation Layup, wind tunnel testing ($15/minute in SDLSWT), and advanced composite materials.


The most important thing written about the bike biz in 2009?* From an unexpected source: Bikesnobnyc. He's not his usual cynical-comic self here. Rather, it's his take on something that has long driven us batty: The bike industry's annual need to issue new model years on everything. Please, industry, quit devaluing our inventory investment in August every year!

*[This strikes me as kind of like making the best burrito in New York City.]

It would seem at least one retailer feels that a yearly cycle works against them. What do you think?

Model years seem to be a necessary evil. We suffer the same fate as the guys in retail stores with carryover inventory being sold below our cost at the end of the year. While many of our models do not change year after year, we do update most of our performance line as the component brands introduce new products, technology advances, and market conditions evolve. It would make more sense to me to introduce new models in January of that model year, not June/July/August. Sales are soft in January for much of the country and inventory levels could be kept low for reduced overhead in the slow months and ease of inventory for tax reasons. Stopping the influx of new models during the busiest part of the selling season is logical, but it takes a unanimous effort on the part of everyone industry-wide. We can’t seem to agree on a bottom bracket standard, let alone a universal product launch date.

In 2007 Felt introduced the Curbside. How did that bike come to be?

The Curbside was a creative exercise executed by collecting ideas from a couple decades of fixed gear riding and emerging color, fashion and cycling trends. Felt has made a track bike for about 15 years. Jim Felt used to hand build custom oversize aluminum rigs for customers in the 90s and when it came time to launch the Felt brand globally, the Tk2 was a great addition. The Tk2 developed a fan base among fixed gear riders, but it was never intended to be a well mannered bike on the road. With ample toe clip overlap and super steep angles, the bike just wasn’t suited to novice riders. As single speed mountain bikes grew in popularity and many Felt employees spent their off-season on their fixed gear road rigs, we decided it was time to make a purpose built single speed road bike. We blended the handling of our F-series road bikes with a slightly taller BB and the sloping top tube of our Z-series frames. We developed an FSA road crankset with the outer chainring replaced with a cyclo-cross style guard. Wheels were assembled with flip-flop sealed hubs and bulletproof ACS Chrome-moly BMX freewheel and genuine Dura Ace track sprocket running on a KMC Rustbuster chain. Long reach front and rear brakes were added to the frame to allow for huge tires (up to 35mm) or fenders. We added our BeerNuts tool so the lack of quick releases didn’t prevent a speedy flat tire fix.* Finally we sprayed on matte gray paint with small understated graphics, the perfect camouflage to blend this new bike in with the rest of the urban landscape. I had ridden a variety of fixed gear “Franken-bikes” for commuting and logging winter miles for 15 years and never had a bike with so much utility. My Gitane Track bike was never drilled for brakes and was plagued with French threaded everything, My 3Rencho couldn’t fit tires bigger than 22mm tubulars, My Panasonic rusted through those super thin Ishiwata 019 tubes after only a couple Michigan winters. This new Felt model was named the Dispatch, and the initial reaction from our dealers was mixed. All of them understood the concept, but many of them asked for a version that was closer to the bikes they saw in downtown SanFran, or Chicago, or at the beach in SoCal. The Curbside was the evolution of the original concept and used the bright contrasting colors, cut down MTB handlebars, and as an homage to our Slipstream Argyle, a custom saddle and matching top tube pad.

*[When it was introduced some people pointed out that the design of the Curbside's track end required either a socket wrench or Felt's special tool to loosen or tighten the axle nuts.]

Felt's "Fixie Series" now consists of four bikes and a frameset. One would assume this is due to substantial sales. Can you share any numbers, or at least give us a sense of the growth in this segment?

Like the first two models, these later models were built on the demands of dealers and consumers. Our Brougham provided a Chrome-moly frame offering with real cold-forged 144mm BCD track cranks. The Gridloc was the culmination of two years of working with Sturmey Archer on the development of the re-introduction of their 3 speed fixed gear hub.

Who buys Felt's "Fixie Series" bike? Is there a particular age, gender, or city with which they are especially popular?

I think like most of our models they appeal to a wide audience. They have been well received by our dealers in all of our major markets in the USA as well as Japan, Australia, Germany, UK, Canada, etc.

Part of the fixed-gear trend's appeal seems to be that riders enjoy customizing their own bikes, and the Felt line-up would seem to pre-empt this behavior by pre-customizing the bikes. Do you think this is a danger, or is this what the market seems to want?

Our complete bikes are an out-of-the-box alternative for retailers and consumers that would prefer to buy a packaged product. For those that want to build up a frame with their own parts, we make our Brougham, Gridloc, and Tk2 as a frameset. I understand that a large part of the fixed gear market is creating something unique. I admire the guys that spend time finding a vintage Masi or Merckx frame and adding their own creative touches. I know that for some a new frame doesn’t appeal to them and the thought of a complete out of the box bike is out of the question. Some people are the same way with their computers or houses or hamburgers. I am thankful there is room for both.

It would seem that a bicycle as simple as an urban fixed-gear doesn't necessarily need to be updated as frequently as a competitive road or mountain bike, and aesthetic changes are easy and cheap for the rider to make. Do you think that allowing a bike to become "venerable" or "classic" by leaving it unchanged for a few years can increase it's appeal in that the bike does become "dated?"

The fixed gear models do not follow the normal pattern of Interbike introduction and 10 month model years. Our Curbside went two years without a color update, and the Brougham has only ever come in gloss black, although we are adding a raw color later this winter, but the black bike remains as it was introduced a couple years ago. I’m not sure a bike can become “classic” without other historical factors. A 1972 Chevelle SS could be considered a classic, so could a 1972 Corolla, but I doubt the same person would find them to be equally representative of a classic 1970s performance car. There is little chance anyone would consider a 2007 Corolla a classic.

What do you think the future will bring for urban fixed-gears?

I expect the growth to continue and for more brands to use these models as a medium to express a more creative outlet. Initially there was a “race to the bottom” it seemed with many brands trying to find ways to create a $259 fixie. Now there are new bikes like the Gridloc, Roll, Ritchey Breakaway...

Are you noticing any new trends now?

I am pleased to see the variety in the offerings and the influx of new brands making Urban Fixed Gears their medium for creativity.

Will Felt make a fixed-gear freestyler?

Felt is fortunate to work with amazing BMX street riders like 2 time X-Games Gold Medalist Scotty Cranmer and Josh Betley. Both of these guys are riding Felt fixed gear bikes for some high speed urban transportation. If we were to tackle the freestyle segment, you can be sure our experience with BMX, Street and Flatland bicycle production the last 10 years will pay dividends.

What are a few of your favorite bikes ever?

That’s a tough list to create. I’ll narrow it down to just bikes that I’ve owned. I could name hundreds of models that have inspired me and that I’ve admired over the years.

Royal 3 speed (made in England by Raleigh IIRC)
Gitane/Omelenchuck mid-1960s Track bike
Eddy Merckx 7-11 Track bike ridden in ’92 Olympics
Croll Custom 853 Road bike
Jim Felt T2 TT bike
Coppi Galaxy Altec
GT Superbike III prototype
GT Titanium Edge Track frame w/ Hooker Fork
Colnago Custom Rabobank Dream Cross bike
Ritchey BreakAway Steel Road bike
Felt DA Track prototype
Felt Tk1 prototype
Felt F1 2009 Tour de France edition
Santana Fusion Tandem

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Contre-La-Mantra: Streamlining Your Sales Pitch

The bicycle is a simple machine, and the significance of incremental improvements that are made to them every year is both debatable and relative. Sure, infinitesimal improvements in aerodynamics may, in theory, gain one seconds or fractions of seconds in competitive events, but in the end what matters is how much this supposed gain is worth to you. If you're a professional athlete this gain might be worth millions; if you're everybody else, it's probably worth nothing.

However, some people are willing to pay for the perception that their bike is the best, and since they can't actually prove this is true themselves because they're not capable of riding fast enough to make those incremental improvements count, they instead rely on the bike's manufacturer to create marketing campaigns that prove it for them. As such, these marketing campaigns must be effective and reliable; really, they've got to be even more effective and reliable than the bicycles themselves. In practice, it's far more important to create a "bulletproof" marketing campaign than it is to create a bulletproof bike.

Recently, a reader forwarded me a pair of new videos from the Canadian bicycle company Guru. Every so often, you see a genuine advancement in bicycle technology, such as clipless pedals, integrated shifting, and, in the world of offroad riding, the "gravity bong." Well, I'm not sure Guru have advanced bicycle technology any further, though these videos show they've certainly taken bicycle marketing in a bold and revolutionary new direction. This one is for the Crono 2.0 tri bike:



While clipless pedals changed cycling in many ways, the mechanics behind them were not new, since they'd already been employed for quite some time in the form of ski bindings. The big leap was applying them to bicycle pedals. Similarly, the "self-congratulatory windbags sitting around a dinner table" format is nothing new either, since Jon Favreau has employed it for years with the TV show "Dinner For Five:"

What Guru have managed to accomplish though is: 1) adapt the format to bicycle marketing; and 2) completely strip it of interesting people and entertaining conversations. This is quite daring. A talk show set in a restaurant makes sense, since entertainers often work in such environments and share ideas over food and drink. Therefore, watching them interact in such a setting feels natural and informal. However, when Guru depicts their principals at a dinner table drinking wine and talking about how wonderful they are, it gives the impression that: 1) the act of bicycle design is less like engineering and more like wedding planning; and 2) that when you buy a Guru, you're not jut paying for top-notch technology and materials. You're also paying for lavish meals and the filming of those lavish meals.

Don't get me wrong--when it came to filming the meal Guru held nothing back, and I'm convinced that this meal and the conversation that took place during it were both state-of-the-art. Here's one incredible moment where the filmmakers actually illustrate the aerodynamic properties of the BS emanating from the designer's mouth:

Note how streamlined it is, and how it passes to the listener virtually unimpeded.

I also learned something, which is that the "character" of a bicycle is apparently in the headtube. This surprised me, since I had previously thought a bicycle was defined by the "beefiness" of its bottom bracket. I suppose ideally you want both of those things, and that the perfect bicycle has both a beefy bottom bracket and a charismatic headtube. Also, at four minutes and 29 seconds one of the owners utters the phrase, "The pregnant word would be 'symbiosis:'"


As somebody who enjoys the written word (as opposed to the puffed word, which I'm not all that crazy about), I've come across a few wonderfully mellifluous phrases over the years. Just a few of these include: "All You Haters Suck My Balls;" "Don't Put Anything In My Flower Box;" and of course my all-time favorite, "Your money's no good here at Chili's--that second order of fajitas is on the house." So I like to think I know a catchy phrase when I hear one, and to me "The pregnant word would be 'symbiosis'" is as delightful as any ever penned by Shakespeare or stuck to a deep section rim with adhesive vinyl letters. Surely, it's as succulent as any dish that was served to them at that restaurant--which, if you're unfamiliar with Canadian cuisine, is the world's fanciest Tim Hortons. Speaking of class, nothing says "class" like a thumb ring, as you can see from this still in which the wearer mimes the act of helping a pregnant symbiosis deliver a healthy Guru:

I have a recurring nightmare in which I'm fixing a flat on a cold and rainy night and an Acura TSX comes to a stop beside me. As I turn to it a tinted window rolls down and the sound of techno music grows louder. I can't see the driver, but a hand with a thumb ring extends from the blackness and beckons me. Then, a Canadian accent says, "Why don't you come in here where it's warm, eh?" I awake in terror. I don't know what it means, but I'm pretty sure this guy is the figure from my dreams.

You wouldn't think Guru could possibly produce a second video to rival this one, but amazingly they do. Moreover, it's even more brazen, and they start off by explaining that light frames are just marketing tools--so, naturally, they've just made the world's lightest frame:



Then, the guy in the blazer exuberantly describes how they can talk to the people who made the bike, as though Guru somehow invented the idea of a company actually making what it sells:

In fairness to Guru, though, a bike company that actually manufactures what it designs is increasingly rare. In fact, it's so rare that companies like Guru can now use it as a selling point, just like riding a track bike on an actual track is so rare that velodrome races must now be specified as "fixed only." Certainly, though, Guru are justified in touting their process since doing things in-house probably does afford them a lot more control, whereas sending designs off to some factory requires trusting matters to a bunch of disembodied hands. Speaking of disembodied hands and aerodynamic bicycles, I love a good disembodied hand (and I'm not talking about "stranger" administration), so I was pleased when a reader sent me this eBay listing:


The best disembodied hands are the ones that come from on high, because they suggest divine intervention:

But as much as I delight in eBay listings and makeshift bike support techniques, it's not always enough to cleanse my palate after both a literal and figurative meal of road and tri bike marketing as seen in the Guru videos. After sitting around a table for a long time sipping wine, picking at tiny servings of expensive food, and listening to people hold forth and sermonize, sometimes all you want to do is sit on the couch with a pizza and a beer and watch reruns of "Three's Company." Here's the marketing equivalent of that dining scenario (which I saw on Busted Carbon, which is sort of the bike porn equivalent of S&M), and while I'm not sure how scientific it is, it's certainly lacking in pretense:



While Guru clearly put a great deal of thought into their staged dinner conversation, the people at Niner obviously made a spur-of-the-moment decision one Wednesday afternoon to grab a camera and pound the crap out of a fork with a hammer. I'm disappointed that after pounding it he didn't also demonstrate how to use the fork as a bong, though chances are that's what they were doing when they conceptualized the video. Incidentally, while he says he's going to "clear up a few myths about carbon fiber," by my count he only cleared up two: that you can't hit it with a hammer, and that you can't use it to get stoned.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

From the BSNYC Culture Desk: "It's About the Bike" Auction

While I usually commute by bicycle, once in awhile I will use New York City's public transit system instead. Generally, it takes a pretty severe confluence of circumstances to get me to do this, since when it comes to transportation I'm a bit of a control freak and get very, very impatient when subject to delays which are beyond my control. While rain or foul weather by itself is usually insufficient to force me into the time-sucking grip of the MTA, it does occasionally play a role in my decision-making, and if other factors are involved as well then the addition of water can sometimes drive me underground. Today was one of those days.

While riding the subway does provide me with the opportunity to catch up on my subway advertisements, it also deprives me of seeing New York City's street life unfold before my eyes. However, today's ride did at least provide one photo opportunity in the form of this decidedly non-Motörheady looking person engrossed in a "Rolling Stone" article about Lemmy Kilmister:


As an unabashed Lemmy fan, the article caught my eye halfway across the train car. Unfortunately, the reader did not seem pleased to encounter a kindred spirit. Instead, he seemed rather nonplussed:

Anyway, since it was raining and I was depressed from the surprisingly potent combination of being underground and being scowled at, I decided to buoy my spirits by taking in some art. Ordinarily to see art I'd go to a museum, but the problem with museums is that if you see something you like you can't buy it; instead, you have to go to a gift shop and buy a facsimile of it, or else download it from the Internet and use it as wallpaper. No, now that I'm flush with cash thanks to Heywood Jablome's cousin, I figured I'd go to Sotheby's, the august auction house, since they're currently exhibiting all those arty Lance Armstrong bikes from this past season, which are going to be sold off at private auction this coming Sunday to benefit LiveStrong. This is highly tempting to me, since not only was I interested in seeing and possibly buying some art, but I've got a gaping pop art-adorned time trial bike hole in my "stable" of bicycles that can only be filled by a Lance Armstrong theme bike. So in I went.

The first bike I saw was the one which was stolen and subsequently recovered during the Tour of California, on display in the lobby:

While it's got an intriguing backstory, it's also lacking in artistic pedigree, since it was designed by Trek. As any connoisseur knows, in the art world a Trek original ranks somewhere between a velvet painting and a doorstop shaped like a dog. This could be why Sotheby's put it this one by the front door instead of safely upstairs with the rest of the bikes. (Incidentally, there are no doormen at Sotheby's. Instead, they use dog-shaped doorstops.)

Things were different upstairs though, where upon exiting the elevator I was greeted with a dazzling assembly of bikes rendered by a "who's who" of artists as well as a friendly and helpful publicist who, foolishly, let me in. (By the way, when I say "who's who" of artists I meant that literally, since I don't know anything about contemporary artists.) There was the bike by KAWS which Armstrong was riding when he broke his collarbone in the Vuelta Castilla y León:


The Yoshitomo Nara Rolling Death Machine, complete with morbid gothic imagery:

(As well as this top tube-mounted quote, which I believe is from Machiavelli:)


This yellow-on-black time trial bike, which is similar to the Tour of California bike, only by someone more "collectible:"


The "Scharfenator," by Kenny Scharf:


This bike by Shepard Fairey (creator of that controversial "Hope" poster) which I believe is called, "Hope I don't get in trouble for this one too:"


And of course the Damien Hirst Dead Butterfly Freakout, complete with real dead butterflies:

After giving the room the once-over, I headed over to the breakfast table, where there were, among other offerings, bagels. Just as people in California spin "epic" yarns about burritos, people in New York from the five boroughs to the Five Towns rhapsodize about bagels. Sadly, the bagels at Sotheby's were far from "epic" (unless by "epic" you mean "rubbery") though I did attempt to express myself artistically through my cream cheese application:


I also tried to feed it to one of Lance Armstrong's time trial bikes:

The bike, however, must have known from good bagels, since it refused to so much as taste this one. As such, I was forced to consume it myself. Once I was finished, though, I started feeling acutely aware of the fact that I was basically just a schnorrer taking advantage of both Sotheby's and LiveStrong for free food and shelter from the rain. So I figured I'd better pretend to work--at least until the rain stopped. And I figured a good way to pretend I was working was to take pictures of the bikes. Here's one of the bone-breaker's seatpost:


Here's another one of the Rolling Death Machine:


At this point, I started contemplating just how poor a photographer I am. I also started to notice that every time I took a picture there was also a "real" photographer directly opposite me. It was then that I had a revelation. Like George Constanza, I realized the fact that I was always opposite an actual photographer clearly meant that every single photographic impulse I have is wrong. Therefore, if I followed the photographer around instead and photographed exactly what he did, my photos would be good. So that's what I did:

(The oversized bottom bracket...is artsy.)

Unfortunately it didn't seem to help.

Since I wasn't getting anywhere with my poor photography skills, I realized I was going to have to rely on my people skills (which, if you can believe it, are even worse) as well as my journalistic skills (which don't exist, because I'm not a journalist). And since this was an actual "Press Preview," some of the key people were there to talk to the "press." Here's curator (in the more traditional sense of the word) Jamie O'Shea on the right, and artist Kenny Scharf on the left:

My journalistic nose told me that beneath all the art bikes and the bagels and the charity fundraising and the ponytails there was a sordid story somewhere, and I was determined to ferret it out by getting somebody to say something bad about somebody else. I asked Kenny Scharf if he had dealt with Lance Armstrong at all in producing his bike, and if so whether Armstrong had behaved deplorably in any way. Scharf insisted he hadn't--which of course was tremendously disappointing to me as a fake journalist. Scharf then explained to me how Trek had applied the graphics to the bike, so I figured maybe Trek had screwed up somehow and that there was a story in that. As it happened, there was one thing Scharf was displeased with, which was the decals on the wheels:

Specifically, the edge was visible and did not blend into the black background:

Scharf then said he could fix the wheel with a Sharpie. At last, a project! However, I didn't have my trusty Super Staunion, and nobody else seemed to have a Sharpie either. In fact, I was halfway out the door to Duane-Reade when Scharf finally found one and got to work:

It did make the wheel look much better:

(The wheel regains its artistic integrity.)

In fact, I would go so far as to say that I am directly responsible for increasing the value of this art bike since not only does it look better but it's also hand-drawn (albeit only partially, and with a Sharpie). I like to think I'm also responsible for sending an artist into a compulsive fit, because he continued to work for quite some time:


I'm glad I didn't say anything about the frayed rear derailleur cable on the Hirst bike:

If you do end up bidding on that one, you might want to factor a new rear derailleur cable into your costs.

At any rate, having caused enough trouble, I decided it was time to head back into the rain--though I did stop long enough to copy another shot from the "real" photographer:

I stopped short of attempting to steal the bike, though. That door stop looked dangerous.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: Shoals of Idiocy

Even in New York City, cycling can be a blissful experience, and even without a fixed-gear bicycle you can sometimes feel as though you are one with both your bike and your surroundings. Such was the case for me recently on a lovely day when, traversing a bridge which spans another body of water that is not "The Big Skanky," I was briefly joined by a seagull. For just a few moments it was as if I too was flying, and while the sensation didn't last all that long, it didn't end quite as abruptly as it might have if the seagull had relieved himself on me.

Ideally, I'd like to infuse all of my cycling endeavors--indeed, all of my endeavors--with this pleasant feeling of oneness. As such, I do my best to open myself to the possibility of joy on even the most mundane commute. However, I am seldom successful. While the weather often cooperates and does not distinguish between weekends and weekdays, and while even the birds might see fit to join me (though more often they are pigeons, or sometimes geese, and occasionally other types of animals too, such as raccoons and rats), the main problem seems to be that humans behave differently. For example, on my weekend ride, I encountered not only seagulls but other humans, such as this one complete with tzitzit and pendulous saddle bag:

While I don't understand why some people do not cinch the straps of their saddle bags and instead let them dangle half a foot beneath their saddles like truck nutz, the fact is that it really doesn't inconvenience me and any displeasure I derive from it is really my own problem. Furthermore, if I want to rid myself of this displeasure, I cannot expect the world to refrain from riding with low-hanging saddle bags; rather, I have to look deep within myself and understand why it bothers me and then address that problem. It's foolish to think I can geld the bicycles of the world, and what is an irritant to me may simply be "scrotastic" to someone else.

On the other hand, during the week other riders do engage in behavior that is an affront to their fellow humans, and one such behavior is "shoaling." As I've explained before, no rider, no matter how slow or diminutive, will ever come to a stop behind another rider at a red light. Instead, it is standard practice to pass that rider and stop in front of him, even if this involves doing so in the middle of the crosswalk or in the actual intersection, well ahead of the traffic signal. "Shoaling" is an incredibly rude practice, and it's tantamount to cutting in front of someone at an ATM, supermarket checkout, or urinal line. Yet while people will speak up if someone cuts ahead of them in line, nobody ever speaks out against the equally offensive practice of shoaling. Even I have never had the temerity to address a shoaler, even though I was flagrantly shoaled just this morning, as I headed towards Manhattan and found myself at this intersection:

The light was red, and there was a line of cars waiting, so I rolled up to the crosswalk and came to a stop:


As I waited, a woman on a bicycle with an empty child seat I had passed a few blocks back approached from behind:


I sensed a shoaling was imminent, but due to the cars on my left and the sidewalk on my right there was no room to pass me, so I figured she would be forced to adhere to the rules of human decency and deign to come to a stop behind me. I was wrong. Instead, she actually mounted the sidewalk, rode around me, and entered the crosswalk:

Naturally, just as she did so and put her foot down, the light changed and traffic started moving, and I was in turn forced to go around her as she struggled to regain her footing:

Now, a regular shoal is one thing, but actually mounting the sidewalk in order to shoal somebody who was riding faster than you is like pushing your full shopping cart through a floor display so you can beat the guy with just a loaf of bread and a tube of toothpaste to the express lane. Of course, the truth is that some people are faster than others. This can be because they're carrying less stuff, or they're in more of a hurry, or they're simply more physically fit. As such, it's tempting to think that we can set parameters for what constitutes an acceptable shoal. For example, you might say that a Cat 2 racer should be allowed to shoal someone riding a laden Xtracycle, since obviously he's going to get off to a much faster start. Well, theoretically, this makes sense. However, in practice everybody thinks they're faster than everybody else. What happens when the Cat 5 who thinks he's fast shoals a Cat 2 who's on the way home from work in street clothes and thus appears to be just another commuter? Well, we all know what happens--the Cat 5 has trouble clipping back into his new road pedals, the commuting Cat 2 is forced to go around him, and then the Cat 5 spends the next three blocks doing his best to pass him again. It's a tragic cycle, and it's one that can end if we're all prepared to bid a collective farewell to the practice of shoaling.

Of course, if you're a bike messenger, you probably don't shoal because you don't stop at all. Speaking of messengers, I was pleased to receive from the author the cover of a book called "Messenger Poet" by Kurt Boone, which he informs me will be available in the fall:


I employed a popular search engine to find out more about Kurt Boone, and was intrigued to learn from this New York Times article that not only is Boone a messenger himself:

But that, more specifically, he's a foot messenger:

For 13 years, Mr. Boone, 49, has delivered his packages not by bicycle but the old-fashioned way — by foot and by subway.

Yes, in an age in which the bicycle messenger is revered and imitated, people would do well to remember that there are other sorts of messengers too. Not only that, but while bike messengers may have been riding track bikes since "back in the day" (in the world of track bikes, "back in the day" refers to any time before the person you're addressing bought their first track bike, and can be as recently as yesterday), foot messengers were out there before bicycles were even invented. (Actually, if you look at the messenger god Hermes, you'll see he was out there before even pants were invented.) Sure, part of the reason bicycle messengers are romanticized is that people think it's difficult and dangerous, whereas foot messengering seems hopelessly, well, pedestrian. This is completely untrue. Firstly, cycling is much faster than walking, and therefore easier. Secondly, foot messengers also use the subway, and while riding a bicycle may be a bit more dangerous than either of those things now, people forget that "back in the day" (which is any time up to the day before the person you're talking to first moved to New York City) people here carried guns and knives instead of iPhones and Frappucinos. Really, you were much safer flying down Broadway on a brakeless bike at 20mph than you were sitting on the A train with a bag full of stuff. Even today, if you think bike messengers must fight motor vehicle traffic while all foot messengers have to deal with is other pedestrians, think again. Unless you've walked briskly into a shwarma cart or been scalded with hot Starbucks by a texting cubicle jockey, you have no idea what it means to be a foot messenger. Also, just like the hardcore bike messengers often ride track bikes, the hardcore foot messengers have a special walk:

I get around by train and by foot. The messenger business is slower now, but at my peak, I could ride 22 subway lines a week easily. I could go seven or eight subway lines a day and walk maybe 7, 8, 10 miles a day. It’s not running, but it’s a fast kind of walk that messengers do that pedestrians don’t generally see.

Just like fixed-gears, this special walk used to be the exclusive domain of a small group of people, but now that the "hipsters" have latched onto it it's all over:



And I shouldn't even have to mention the possibility of getting hit by a shoaler.