Thursday, March 5, 2009

Gold Standard: Cutting to the Chase

Thanks to a reader tipoff, I recently found myself visiting the Aurumania website and checking out their flagship fixed-gear, the "Gold Bike Crystal Edition":

I don't know what kind of components the "Gold Bike Crystal Edition" has, and the website wasn't any help. However, it does have some elegant design features, such as the company's logo spelled out in Braille with Swarovski crystals on the "crossbar":

I often get up before dawn to ride my bicycle, and when I do I'm reluctant to turn on the lights because my helper monkey, Vito, gets very irritable if I wake him up before 10:30am. (Trust me, the last thing you want to deal with is an irritable helper monkey.) For this reason, the Braille logo is an attractive touch--that way, if I want to ride my "Gold Bike Crystal Edition", all I need to do is feel it out. This is a nice enough feature that I'd even be willing to pay extra for it. So I checked out the price of the "Gold Bike Crystal Edition," and learned that it costs €80,000.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "That's ridiculous!" Well, I disagree. First of all, there are only ten of these--ten!--which means you'll be one in only 676,462,532.2 people in the world to own one. (And with more humans constantly being born even as I type this, your club gets more exclusive every day.) Second of all, the Euro/Dollar exchange rate is much more friendly to Americans these days, so the bike's a relative bargain at just over $100,000. Also, it has a "ten-year, no questions guarantee" (so if you get wasted on vintage Dom Perignon and crash it into your Giacometti while fixed-gear freestyling in your sculpture garden you don't have to use the old "just riding along" excuse) and it "will be delivered to you anywhere in the world via White Glove Service," which is a hell of a lot more than you can say about a Scattante.

Still, though, you're probably not convinced. Not only is this clearly just a gold-plated SE Premium Ale with the brakes removed, but it's also completely ridiculous to spend this much for any bicycle. Only a complete idiot would possibly even contemplate buying such a thing. Well, maybe, but I really don't think the "Gold Bike Crystal Edition" is all that ridiculous, especially in the context of cycling as it is today. In fact, it's a relative bargain.

After all, when we upgrade our frames and components, what are we really paying for? We're paying for different colors and different names. Take the fixed-gear rider who purchases a $480 Mercier Kilo TT Pro from Bikesdirect:

Well, any "hardcore" cyclist can see that this bike needs some upgrades. First of all, you need some decent pedals, clips, and straps to use with your tattered sneakers. That's at least $50.

Also, that headset's probably got loose bearings. Sure, it might be serviceable, and in theory it will last a long time, but if you're going to be riding around on the streets (without a fender) you really need something "bulletproof." The "experts" on the various bike forums will doubtless vouch for the cost-effectiveness of this upgrade. Plus, as a bonus, "bulletproof" headsets come in a wide range of colors, and you're already a little self-conscious about riding an out-of-the-box bike. So you upgrade the headset.

Cost: $120

Next, you'll start thinking about those wheels. They're machine-built, and if they haven't been touched up by hand they may be going out of true. A little forum research will probably reveal that those wheels are "crap," and that they should be upgraded. Makes sense--after all, they were right about the headset. So you do it, but you only have enough money for the rear right now. First you buy the more expensive, "bulletproof" cartridge bearing rear hub by which everybody swears, and which is obviously way, way better than your current cartridge bearing rear hub:

Cost: $170

Of course, you're not going to put your cheap cog on that hub. Plus, the threading of the "bulletproof" hub is different anyway. So you get a cog and lockring both compatible with and worthy of your "bulletproof" rear hub:

Cost: $80

And it goes without saying you're not going to put that cheap rim on that hub. You're going to get something "bulletproof," and which, as a bonus, is available in colors that match your "bulletproof" headset:

Cost: $65

By the time you've got your spokes and nipples and someone to build it for you figure you've spend around $400. Or $450, since you're going to upgrade your tires too, and there are some cool ones that come in white.

Now that you're ripping around town on your increasingly "bulletproof" bicycle (total cost of bike to date: $1,100) you're starting to realize that drop bars without brake hoods aren't especially comfortable. You're also not going to go "flop and chop" on an increasingly color-coordinated and "bulletproof" bicycle. No, you're thinking you might want to go with some flat bars or risers. Since your "whip" is growing increasingly "tight," you figure you'll spend a little extra on something with some flair--and which, happily, is available in a variety of colors to match your increasingly color-coordinated bicycle. And $65 isn't that much to spend on a bar, is it? Crabon bars are way more expensive. This will not only require new bars, but also a new stem, since you've got to dial in your reach. And of course inexpensive aluminum stems fail all the time. You need something "bulletproof" that's "beautifully machined" and will complement your bars.

Cost (bar, stem, and grips): $130

Oh, and around this time you see an almost-new front mag-style wheel on Craigslist for only $200. Your front wheel has been holding up fine, but it doesn't really match your rear. And this wheel matches perfectly. Plus, you figure it's always good to have a spare front at home. Sold.

You've now crossed the fixie rubicon. Your whip is "tight" enough that you're becoming more involved in the "scene," and you're starting to get compliments. However, certain things are starting to bother you. You've got a sweet machined "bulletproof" stem but just a cheap aluminum seatpost. Sure, it's holding your seat in place just fine, but your stem's companion post is just so sexy. By this point you've realized you can't keep paying full retail at bike shops, so you're watching eBay constantly. Finally, you snag a practically new post with "minimal insertion marks" for $50. The money you've saved also justifies the purchase of a new seat, since the idea of clamping that cheap stock piece of foam on your sexy new post has secretly been driving you crazy. You manage to get a vintage used Italian saddle for only $45, as full of soul as it is of a stranger's ass sweat.

Cost (post, saddle, shipping): $100

Around this time, you find yourself shopping for a new chainring since you need to be able to change your gearing and sometimes you want to change chainrings instead of cogs. Chainrings are relatively inexpensive, so you don't feel guilty about it. But you start to realize that there aren't quite as many 1/8" chainring options for your 130bcd cranks as there are for 144bcd cranks. And anyway, you've got a pretty nice track bike now--shouldn't it run the track standard? Plus, a new crank is an investment in the future, since when you wear out your chainrings you'll have a much wider selection next time you go chainring shopping. Oh, and it has to match your "bulletproof" anodized componentry:

Cost: $300

By now the total cost of your Bikesdirect fixed-gear is $1,830. This figure does not include the money you've also spent on a bag, and on hats, and on clothing. And it's really bothering you--not because you've somehow quadrupled the price of your bicycle in three months, but because you've now got all this great "bulletproof" componentry on a "cheap" frame. At this point, if you just move all that stuff over wholesale to a "better" frame, you'll really have yourself a nice bike. A bike you can be proud of, and which will serve as a flag to the "scene" that you're on the premises when it's locked up outside the bar. So you spend $1,500 on a new steel frame and fork.

You've now spent $3,300 for a $480 bike. Sure, it's a different color now and it's got a different decal on the downtube, but philosophically speaking it's the same bike. Yet you don't realize this--until it gets stolen from the front of the bar because you locked it to a chainlink fence with your u-lock.

If you're lucky, you kept most of those old parts as well as your old frame and you can cobble a "new" bike together--which is actually your "old" bike, but which of course cost you $3,300. Or, if you're unlucky, you'll go through the whole process again and by the end of the year end up having spent $6,600. (You can't go back to "cheap" bikes now that you know what "quality" is.)

So really, "upgrading" isn't upgrading at all--it's inflation. It might take you years to spend $100,000 on a bicycle, but don't worry, you'll get there. Since you're really just buying looks and status anyway, so you might as well get it over with.

By the way, if you don't have access to $100,000, you can still get in on the Aurumania action, since they have a less expensive model that's only €2,000:

At roughly $2,500, it's still way cheaper than that Mercier, and the shock-and-awe tactic of putting a $100,000 bike at the top of the range makes the price go down that much easier. You'll even have money left to buy more clothes--though as you can see from the site you'll look better riding it naked with just an Afro:

No, I'm convinced that the "Gold Bike Crystal Edition" is the way to go. Actually, I'm so convinced that I placed an order:

I figure that by the time they get back to me (or to 1-800-LAWYERS, since that's the contact number I used) I'll have figured out how to get the money. Maybe a cycling publication will foot the bill so I can do a test. In any event, the order's in:

All I've got to do now is sit back and wait for my dream bike!

First thing I'm gonna do is change that headset...