Thursday, July 12, 2007

It's All in the Details: Lessons from the "Real World"

The twin evils of marketing and fads mean that more cyclists than ever are falling victim to extremely poor bicycle, component, and clothing choice. And to be fair, when a technology is marketed very aggressively, or a trend becomes pervasive, it’s hard to separate what actually works from what the marketing department and the fashion victims are telling you works.

Sometimes the simplest way to cut to the heart of the matter is to draw analogies between what you’re doing to your bike and the world outside of cycling. Doing so can sometimes help alert you to a potential mistake. Here are just a few examples of bad cycling choices and their non-cycling counterparts:

Mistake: Carbon-Wrapped Components
The cycling world is in the throes of carbon madness. Carbon is a wonderful material, and it certainly has its place, but wrapping an aluminum part in carbon is like making a pair of jeans out of fur. It’s pointless, it’s more expensive, it provides no performance benefit, and it comes with a weight penalty.

Non-Cycling Counterpart: Gold-Plated Jewelry

Mistake: Putting Too Much Useless Crap On Your Bike

People are using a lot of accessories on their bicycles these days, particularly in the fixed-gear scene. Despite the fact that fixed-gear bikes are ostensibly simple machines, people sure keep finding new ways to tart them up. And while some of these accessories have some sort of basis in performance enhancement, most of them have just become excuses to prolong the superficial joy of buying a bike by putting more things on the bike. Which is fine—until it goes too far, and you're just spraypainting, Aerospoking, stickering, spoke-carding, and top-tube padding your way to a ridiculous ride.

Non-Cycling Counterpart: “The Hoopty”

Mistake: Inappropriate Attire

Style is of course a personal choice. While there are certain customary ways of dressing for various types of cycling, if deviating from that makes you feel more comfortable with yourself, then by all means do so. But just make sure you’re not completely disregarding function and practicality for vanity. Some clothing choices just don’t work. Lycra and chamois exist for a reason.

Non-Cycling Counterpart: Riding a 150hp crotch rocket in your underpants.

Mistake: Losing Sight of What a Bicycle Actually Is

All right, I’m going to come right out and say that bicycles should be upright. Road bikes, downhill bikes, track bikes, BMX bikes, pizza delivery bikes, and even those completely stupid tall bikes all fall under the “bicycle” auspices. If you are a cyclist, you should be able to get comfortable on one of these machines. And you should at least make a very concerted effort to do so before resorting to a recumbent. (Please understand that this in no way applies to the physically challenged or those who, due to an extenuating physical circumstance of some kind, must use alternative machines.)

Non-Cycling Counterpart: Trikes (Uh, you’re one more wheel and a few more cubic feet of trunk space from having a convertible. Perhaps motorcycling is not for you.)

Mistake: Buying the Most Expensive Bike You Possibly Can and Hitting the Sunday Group Ride

Yes, most of the big bike companies make some kind of exotic, limited edition bicycle every now and then. And yes, it’s really expensive, and if you get it you’ll probably have a more expensive bike than anyone else you come across. But here’s the thing. They’re PR stunts. You’re not supposed to actually buy those.

Non-Cycling Counterpart: Being These Guys at the Party


verlaine said...

I often wonder if all these people I see on my bike commute home make too much money. They must, because they obviously are not racers but yet they make sure that everybody sees the Seven/Felt?Orbea/whatever logo.

I hope they feel pretty stupid when a struggling racer who actually has to scratch and claw and eat ramen noodles to afford something nice whips by them on a "cheap" bike like they are standing still.

Bikes are nice, but NOBODY has to spend that kind of money on a bike, particularly not out-of-shape middle management out to ride 5 miles after work to jack up their own self esteem, and then throw the bike in the backseat and drive the car home.

It's a free country (kind of) and everybody is allowed to spend their money however they want, but these idiots have their heads screwed on as wrong as somebody walking down the street with a Nike logo tattooed on their arm.

Hope they feel a bit peeved when somebody on a Surly or a second-hand Bianchi or even a rattletrap old Paramount makes them feel like they are standing still.

You can't buy fast. You have to suffer for years and years for fast.

Fritz said...

"crotch rocket in underpants" hee hee hee.

Keep up the good work, Snob. I like to see all aspects of "bike culture" but you provide a refreshing reality check.

Bravo said...

Usually you are spot on, but I have to disagree with your assessment of gold-plated jewelry—it provides a great deal of performance benefit...with the ladies.

Anonymous said...

verlaine --

What I Think said...

Two fantastic posts a day? How do you do it? I love it!!

GhostRider said...

I feel compelled to holler at recumbent cyclists (a PLAGUE here in Florida...folks like to take their La-Z-Boys on the road or something): "Hey, you're laying down on the job."

Keep it up, Bike Snob!

Kerry said...

You can't completely hate on the people buying the high-end stuff, as we all benefit from the trickle down effect of what these bozos buy. Just stay outta the group rides and I'm ok with it.

Then again, I almost pissed my pants when a guy laid down his Colnago CF4 Ferrari bike on the Saturday PCH ride in LA a couple of years ago and snapped it in half.

If he could afford to buy one, he can buy another.

C said...

What cracks me up are the people who pull into the shop parking lot driving an Audi or Porsche and then want to haggle over the price of the bike. I used to ask these asswipes if they'd be willing to drop the price of what they do. Typical response was "I'm a software engineer/doctor/lawyer/CPA and we don't do that" WTF??? So it's OK for the shop employee making less than the java slinger at Starbucks to take a hit on their income but not OK for the guy making 6 figure to give a discount?? I usually told these whack jobs they should go buy a Serotta.

Fxdwhl said...

Good stuff. Gold plated jewelery only gets better once it corrodes. Makes it look more street.

Top tube pads are pretty silly. Most of my scratches are on the downtube at the wheel from locking up. Homemade spoke cards are even better.

People have to realize if they want to show how much money they've got they should just hand out copies of their W-2's.

Ed W said...

So...if I really wanted to score some style points, would I have to ride an old Schwinn Varsity - the Norway rat of bicycles - converted to a fixed gear? With some luck I might find one with the original plastic handlebar tape, the stuff that seemed to become Teflon as soon as it got wet, so I won't have to ride it with a 'naked' handlebar. I'd still want to ride it in my underwear, though. Maybe the Sponge Bob boxers.

Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

i have effectively turned everyone i know on to your blog, can i buy stock? it would be quite an accomplishment to singlehandedly take down the spoke card craze... just a little. some are cool some are not, i can't tell anymore.

Anonymous said...

You call that mixed up drivel a thought?

Anonymous said...

casual entropy said...

hey bike snob, you know what i'm curious to hear your thoughts on?

park loop etiquette. all these elements coming together, all these unsaid things - "hi i'm friendly, cyclists are nice people," "i don't feel like smiling at you, i'm on my way home from work," "sir on the very expensive TT bike, must you draft me and my beater commuter up an incline and then blow by me on the downhill, just so i can catch you a few hundred meters later... only to have you cling to my wheel again?" "did you think i was trying to prove something to you? i was just challenging myself against you. nice cadence."

Anonymous said...

Recumbent bike: the answer to the question that was never asked.

Dan said... what is it about recumbents that makes them less worthy to be ridden than x-bikes, tallbikes, unicycles, penny farthings, recycled road bikes, mountain bikes, choppers, utility bikes, commuters, hybrids, comfort bikes, or carbon-fiber wonderbikes?

It's all cycling, people. Let's save the hate for something important, like politics, religion, or American Idol.

Ride 'em all, see what works for you, and use whatever makes the most sense for you and your needs.

Jim said...

Great post, snob.

Recumbents aren't bikes. They are Human Powered Vehicles. A helicopter ain't an airplane even though it flies, a penguin ain't a fish even though it can swim. Stroke yer beard, have a hit on your pipe, and get over it, 'bent boys.

I don't really get the slow-guys-on-bling thing, since the engine is what matters. God, I'd die to be on an Orca and get crushed by some dude on a flat bar commuter bike. For instance, a couple very *strong* racers in my area seem to train mostly on raggedy ass Cross Checks - doesn't hurt them. As a sufferer of Affluent Adult Onset Racing Syndrome I ride a semi-upscale bike, but my Giant TCR, with a negative bling factor is a great bike that does more than I need it to. Meanwhile, the fools on some of the high end Euro bikes are actually riding Giants, only they're called something else because the "manufacturer" painted them in Italy or Spain or France, or San Diego. I hope that paint job is sweet, because they paid $2k for it... This is like buying a costly Euro Car only to find out the frame and engine are made in Michigan.

Another thing I don't get is blingy gruppos. Sora and Tiagra suck, but if you can get it done on 105s, more power to you. I can't, but find Ultegra more than adequate. After riding an identical D/A bike for a couple weeks, the only differences I noticed were a couple hundred grams (not like you can tell while riding), and about $800 bucks. Plus, some strong boys I know have actually found the Ultegra to be stouter under really extreme conditions. D/A? No thanks. I'd rather lose a pound of fat, shut up and spend the $800 I saved on my sweety... D/A is like those spinning wheels.

e* said...

another fantastic post.

one request: can you make your pictures a little bigger? they add a lot to the posts, but are hard to see.


BikeSnobNYC said...

Anonymous 7/13/07 12:05am,

Thank you! One day perhaps I will be in a position to repay you--if not with money, then by erradicating some hateful trend or fad permanently from this Earth.


Thanks--I realize the visual element of the site leaves a bit to be desired. It's something I hope to address in due course. In the meantime I hope it's not too much of an inconvenience...

Thanks for all the comments and feedback everyone,


Anonymous said...

Recumbent bikes are the Linux of cycling with the same beardy, libertarian contingent of users.

The Fixed Commuter said...

I love it when they rattle past on their rusty old 20 year old bike wearing a full pro team, kit and a pair of 'casual' clipless shoes. The lycra costs more than their bike and shoes combined, cos it's all about how you look.

Ted said...

Mistake: Bike Snob NYC

Better title - Bike Fundementalist NYC

Non-Cycling Counterpart: Jerry Falwell

Reading the comments here make me want to buy a recumbent, at least bent riders seem to be having fun.

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