Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Customs: Changing Language, Changing Bikes

As I've pointed out in the past, language continues to evolve. Just as we now use certain bicycles for purposes very different from those for which they were originally designed (track bikes for commuting; mountain bikes for delivering Chinese food; time trial bikes for riding slowly around Central Park), so too do we repurpose certain words. Arguably, the track bike of words is "curate," in that it once had a fairly specific meaning but is now applied to pretty much everything--including the act of accessorizing track bikes. In case you're keeping track, the latest thing you can curate is your Twitter account, according to a recent piece in the New York Times:

I guess "Curate" is officially "Choose 2.0."

But there are other words that are changing even faster than "curate." The word "fixie," while generally considered passé, is in the context of language very new. However, it's already beginning to take on a different meaning. Whereas "fixie" once referred to a fixed-gear bicycle, it is now becoming a synonym for anything that is "vintage," which is why hairnets are now called "fixie helmets:"

Fixie helmet - $1 (CT)
Date: 2009-12-29, 2:34PM EST
Reply to: [deleted]

Brand new, never worn, "NOS" VINTAGE DRH LEATHER HELMET size 59 centimeters or 23 inches round of head. the first $100 takes it.....call 917-915-[deleted]

I suppose it's inevitable that, since many younger riders have an affinity for any cycling component or accessory that is "vintage," the words "fixie" and "vintage" would begin to meld in the popular consciousness. This is to say nothing of the word "vintage," which once referred to wine but has since become a word for old crap that is considered "cool," nor of the word "cool," which until we reached the withers of the Dachshund of Time simply referred to temperature. Really, the English language has become almost elusively kinetic, and it's enough to make you want to just forget the whole thing and take up Cantonese.

Speaking of "fixie helmets" and Twitter, I recently came across a photo of a "vintage"-style Pinarello bicycle that appears to come stock with a pie plate:

While ostensibly the pie plate would serve to prevent the derailleur from inadvertently and tragically wandering into the spokes like a Nü-Fred jumping into the Gimbels Ride, in the absence of any sort of rear mech ("rear mech" is Yiddish for derailleur--the "ch" is guttural) I can only assume the pie plate is vestigial. While language is ever-changing and self-pruning, bicycles apparently are not. Incidentally, the model name of the above bike is the "Lungavita," which is of course Italian for "Lung Life." This should not be confused with "Thug Life," the credo of the late rapper Tupac Shakur:

Or with "Hug Life," the credo of the wearer of this famous tattoo:

On the subject of helmets, yesterday we saw Chris Carmichael wearing one incorrectly while riding a Serotta, that marque so favored by those possessed of sizable emolument. As it happens, I was visiting PezCycling News recently when I discovered a Serotta of such ostentation as to make a pharaoh blush:

While some might look upon this bicycle covetously, fantasizing about how handsome it would look hanging from the trunk rack of a BMW 7 series sedan with a DDS vanity plate, I find every shred of crabon, leather, and gold anodization a vile manifestation of frivolity. That said, I probably don't really understand what I want in a bike, unlike the author, who has owned "20+ customs and loads of other high end stuff:"
I would think that going through so many custom bicycles is actually a sign that you do not understand what you want in a bike, in the same way that going through 20+ spouses is probably a sign that you don't really understand what you want in a marriage. Sure, your body and your riding style changes a bit over time, but it doesn't change 20 times--at least not to the extent that you'd require a new custom bike as opposed to, say, a differently-angled stem or a new pair of shorts. However, according to the increasingly defensive author this is the thinking of the poor and stupid:

Also, if you think it's not a race bike, you're wrong. You can "use this in the same way you could any of the superstiff, cheaper stock alternatives and not miss a performance beat." Yes, it does everything an aluminum bike with Ultegra can do--including, presumably, crash, at which point you'll realize that the only real performance difference between the two bikes is the amount of money you spent. And yes, only a "stupid" person would say a Serotta is a "doctor bike"--notwithstanding the fact that they are actually ridden by doctors, as you can see in this article which was forwarded to me by a reader:

Despite what the author of the Pez article might think, it gives me great pleasure to see a health care professional clearly enjoying his Serotta, inasmuch as he appears to be riding it with verve and aplomb and minimal guile or pretense. I wonder if he's owned 20+ custom bikes before this one. (Probably not--I don't see any gold.)

Otherwise, the only other possible explanation is that he's simply enjoying the ride.