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What do I want to be remembered for? What’s going to be in that keynote eulogy delivered on the occasion of my departure? I was thinking about a funeral I went to a few years ago on the passing of a (self-proclaimed) big whig professorial blowhard of a guy noted for the arcane manner of his literary (?) ponderings and pompous (if not ballistically hubristic) lecturing style. ‘Here lies a great professor much regarded by his academic peers…’ For some reason, that chilled me to the bone. Mainly because the ‘peers’ in question were all as big a bunch of dip sticks as the recently departed… Fancy a legacy of remembrance constrained only to one’s workplace endeavours. To be defined by one’s job. That was not for me. I rather be remembered for climbing Mt Everest on a cyclocross bike or something similarly outrageous before being tagged by my contributions as a factor on the economic assembly line. How often do we see the ‘real person’ under the cultural constructions of our workplace communities? Fancy being remembered for the constructed self we wear like masks between the hours of nine to five. Do you want to be remembered as the guy in the polyester suit? Or as the ragged king of your backyard shed?
Nor do I want to dodder off in my retirement years living off the memory of what I once did as a cog in the machinery of commerce. While the past provides context for one’s appreciation of the present, I don’t ever want to actually return there to live out my slower cadence years…
And I am certain that I don’t want to spend my time living a life focused around managing the impressions others might have of me. If everyone is intent on living a life for the projection they might make on the minds of others, we would all ending up living a lie. Other people are too busy thinking what you might think of them for them to think anything much in the way of substance about you. So we might as well all become outrageous individualists and have much more fun. So, if no one really cares what it is that others actually do, then why not do something few others would think to do? Now there is a canvas on which to write a proper testimonial!
With that in mind, I’ve been wondering what it is that I want to do without the constraint of what other people do and how I might fantasise on what they might think I should do.
All of which helps me to ignore the reactions I have had from all and sundry to my most recent plan. It was a simple plan, but a plan to which, probably, only I would desire to aspire. A non-newsworthy plan. A plan that would probably only be meaningful to me. A selfish plan! But a plan that did not impact on others in any way. A plan without a social wake. A plan that would be incremental, accumulative in achievement, and ever so gradual in its execution. I was after a new record.
I decided to ride my bike every single day for at least a year. No days off. Not one. No matter what. There would be a few conditions. No ride would be less than 1 hour 20 minutes. None would use up less than 800 kcal of energy. These had to be serious rides. My other condition was that no single ride would cause distress; Every single ride would be a ride I wanted to take. I wanted to see if my enthusiasm for cycling could hold up, undiminished, across every single day of an entire year. There would be no forced rides. The record would never be allowed to become the driver of this particular show. Plus, I was curious to see that the physiological effects of such a sustained effort might be. Would I fall apart? Would I be weaker or stronger after such a prolonged endurance as that? Would I hit a fitness plateau flatter than the desert plains? Or would I land in race winning form.
The usual meme is that we cyclists should take off at least one day per week. And then a couple of weeks off at one time. All pro cyclists take extended breaks. But I am no pro cyclist! Most cyclists seem to struggle with the other end of this equation. They tend to lament that the number of rides they take is always less than the number that they would like. So, what if I could ride so much that that particular lamentation could never, even once, enter my mind for the duration of a year? Is it possible to become ‘cycled out’? Is there such a thing as too much cycling? Could I end up hating my riding? Is there a limit to my cycling passion?
I will admit that the timing was right. I work for myself these days. So I am in charge of my schedule more now than has ever been the case before. But, then again, when I was in a more regular workplace grind I had the opportunity to commute every day. Commuting is the easiest possible way to tote up the miles and fit a riding schedule into any day. Indeed, for me, commuting was the only way I could stick with my previous teaching career. The riding to and from work was, by far, the best part of the job.
But now the results are in. The year is done. 365 rides (sometimes two per day) over 356 days, 19,211.6km (11,937.5 miles) distance covered, 416,000 kcals used up. 6 tyres, five chains, 669 hours in the saddle.
I am pleased to report that every day was a good day for a ride. Every day was a day on which I rode. No days off; none required, none wanted. This was no forced march; no self-bribes were needed, no little psychological tricks were needed to motivate me out the door. This was a big result! The passion did not pale. My experiment only made my obsession with cycling worse!
While there wasn’t really any particular secret sauce involved in pulling off such a plan, there were some things that helped me along the way . First, I had a nice variety of rides to retain the interest and sustain enthusiasm. All I needed was a simple repeating pattern of five different routes; three on sealed road routes and two in the dirt. The sealed road routes were spread across three road bikes and the dirt road routes were mainly on my cyclocross bike. There were around 20 rides on mountain bikes in the mix as well. It’s good to have a modest stable of machines to spread the load. Mixing off and on-road routes keeps the interest sustained.
But what happened when it rained? Or when it was blowing a cyclonic gale. Or both? There were at least 3 weeks in the mix of days just like that. No problems with my CycleOps indoor bike! I recall more than a few days spent riding in front of the TV when Le Tour was on the screen… Of all the bikes I have ever owned, the CycleOps Pro 300PT is the one I would claim to be really fundamental to my needs. I’m thinking that this is the bike I will probably ride most when I am in my nineties and beyond…
And for all those who might wonder at the loss of those 669 hours, or how it might be possible to find such a consistent space in what we might consider to be our perpetually time oppressed lives, I reckon I have this to say: how much time do you spend watching the TV? How much time do you waste driving to work? How much time do you waste asleep? I remain to be convinced that finding at least 1.20 per day is beyond anyone I know. I’ve heard all the excuses people make, and I hear the sincerity of their delusions that these excuses are actually real. But, I have yet to meet (a cycling capable) someone who could not be creatively re-organised to find the necessary time to put cycling into his or her daily routine. If you spend any time at all at the gym, you have just proved my point. If you work within a one hour ride from home, what’s your excuse? Just like religion and belief in the sanctity of the market place, the mind can believe just about anything it wants and if it wants to believe that there is no time for a ride, then that belief can appear to be pretty real. The problem is that that reality will persist until you take a leap and live a life in the parallel universe usually reserved for your dreams. Then the reality of your previous certainty becomes a certainty that that reality was actually unreal. The key is to take a leap. Just like Columbus. Yes you can!
All of which is not to suggest that there were no problems with my year without a break. I did have a problem and I have that problem now. I can’t stop riding! It’s time for a day off… Tomorrow. Maybe. As for that eulogy for the end of my days. I have it now. ‘He was a cyclist. A cyclist to the core’.
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Some films are notable more for the premise around which they are constructed than for any degree of artistic merit or associated film making magic. Someone had a hit in this regard with the film Idiocracy. Quite possibly one of the worst films of these, or really, any other times. But the idea underpinning it was inspired!
It’s a well known empirically un-contestable fact (at least according to facts as I perceive them) that those with the least to contribute to society, always seem to contribute the only thing they have to provide; and they do so with astonishing abundance: more people just like them. Otherwise, why would there be so many cars on the roads and, relatively, so few bicycles? Idiocracy (the film) is all about five hundred years of continual dumbing down of society to the point where the generations of the future are barely sentient. So dumb, that they killed off all their crops via watering them with Brawndo (aka Gatorade). Or where the most intelligent person in that future world is the dummy who volunteered for a military hibernation experiment in this, our current era, only to wake when his deep sleep capsule descends via an avalanche of trash into the living room of a year 2500 lawyer with the mental abilities of a cactus plant.
It’s not exactly a deeply insightful movie… But the idea is a winner!
But the reality of the deep future is probably hinged on more convoluted effects than breeding alone.There are more insidious things in the modern gene pool that would flag a dismal future for the human race. I’ll give you a few hints.
Once upon a time, the equation that connected risks with rewards was impressively broad. Big risks often shocked the world into big leaping cultural and/or technology shifts of enduring, positive change. Tinkering at the margin only ever produces marginal change. Big ideas come from big risks of some kind or another. Big ideas came from folk prepared to raise their heads way, way above the mediocracy of a culturally normalised world. Big risks might put careers, personal fortunes or even lives on the line. Payoffs could be beyond one’s wildest dreams, or beneath one’s worst nightmares. Yes, there always have been attractions for not sticking you head out too far. Not too long ago, for instance, the church was rather ready to burn innovators at the stake. But all that just added to the heroism of those flights real change leaders used to take. Consider Galileo. Consider Leonardo Da Vinci, Beethoven, and Henri Desgrange (the guy who conceived of the Tour de France).
But now, the bureau-rats have caught us all under airbags of risk management sludge. We are now surrounded by managerialised nets to keep risk taking firmly under control; contained, castrated, dowsed in the paralysis of the Well-Ordered-Market-Place. We now live in the ‘Consensus State’. That’s a place where the average rules; where outliers are sidelined to loony land, locked up or at least economically marganalised. Loonies extend past the bands of acceptability in our risk-managed Politically-Corrected world of institutionally-asserted, instrumentally-managed mediocracy. The Consensus State is the place where the majority rules. And if the majority are idiots, Idiocracy is the State of play. If politics, policy or other versions of law don’t keep the risk takers at bay, corporate greed will chain saw fresh ideas down to size. These days, ideas are captured and controlled by the legal swill of patent law and the dogma of continually rising rates of shareholder return.
But there are still some sparks to light the night of the dirge of this politically corrected world with which we must now contend. There are still a few flames that prevent idiocracy from taking full hold. By definition, the light can now only come from outside that black blanket warped by politics and wefted by corporate greed. And certainly from way, way outside the turgid sludge of contemporary bureaucracy. People are still rubbing a few sticks together outside the dozy lights of Central Command. People are still doing stuff that makes no sense when judged by the metrics of Bureaucracy’s check-box, risk-managed tinsel fist. Those people are noticed ever more as they become the only light left to see.
The whole world tuned into just such a show this past weekend. 180 individuals all intent on a task that’s so totally outside the metrics of any risk assessor’s boundaries of acceptable practice. 180 individuals all doing stuff that breaks every single rule of idiocratic good sense. 180 individuals all flouting even a despot’s lip service to Occupational Health and Safety! 180 individuals striving to the limit and beyond for rewards beyond the currency of money. And the light they lit diverted the gaze of 300 million plus viewers of an otherwise same-levelled world of consensus conformity. Yes, the Cycling World Championships packed a punch to remind us all that there’s still life outside the idiocracy to which we might all have otherwise succumbed.
Not a video game. No blond bimbos selling corporate goods. No tickets to buy. No scripts set to standardised cultural memes. This was life lived briefly outside the sedation of idiocratic norms. Real, spontaneous, safety-net free exertion for rewards beyond the metric of the market place to understand.
This is socially-destabilising stuff. Unlike most eruptions of this kind, cycling has impact beyond the immediate event at hand. How many of those who watched will now be inspired to take up riding a bike? How many will be re-invigorated to sustain what must be one of the great perversities to this otherwise car strangled world of ours? Some folk just might, maybe, give a thought to looking a bit more through the cracks in their otherwise risk-normalised world. Imagine life without boundary pushing like this? Of course you could go further and take up life in a hill top monastery, or take up axe murdering. But cycling is such an accessible escape. Best of all, cycling is one firm fist in the eye of a world that would otherwise totally succumb to the idiocy of idiocracy.
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I am beginning to doubt the laws of evolution. And always those pertaining to religion. But in relation to the first, here’s why:
Now we are supposed to think that evolution favours the intelligent and the fit. Over lots and lots of time, traits that improve environmental adaptation tend to be favoured and replicated until they become the norm. That’s the way it works for trees and for ladybugs. But it doesn’t seem to work for humans. If humans are supposed to be part of nature’s rich fabric, then humanity’s evolutionary server seems to be off-line. Of course, the religious types would immediately contend that humans are above evolution as we are above nature; being selected by higher powers… But, given the choice of animal, vegetable or mineral, most folk I know are closer to animals than plants (though they do tend to enjoy emulating potatoes when they take seed on the couch…) We follow the herd just like all the other bison on the plains. How else could you explain the prevalence of football, country music and the latest Australian election results…
No, humans are animals too; squabbling, bickering territorial aggressors just like every other species I could name.
Here’s where the theory of evolution breaks down. Here’s the nail in the evolutionary coffin.
All other animals seems to possess higher levels of cautionary behaviour than people do. Not too many animals throw themselves into harm’s way. Not too many animals are persistently oblivious to threats. If they were, they’d soon become extinct and so that evolutionary sub-routine is served. But not so with people! It seems that most humans choose to thrill seek in the face of death. Or maybe it’s just because they are chewing the cud of consumerist excess to spare the space to notice all the evolutionary signals out there. Especially when it comes to all those life and death threats with which they participate as an everyday unthinking routine. Take this example. Take the drivers of SUV’s (or 4WD trucks as some would describe). There’s plenty of these where I live. As a matter of fact, that’s all that seems to be on the rural roads around here.
Here’s the game. The roads are 1.2 times as wide as the average SUV. The roads are unmarked with centre lines. Our roads have more bends than a bird harassed snake. Here’s the scene. Lady in silver Landcruiser off to town. She drives in the middle of the road. A hat wearing local bloke is coming the other way. That one’s in a 4WD ute with dogs happily face surfing the wind. Neither moves off to one side when passing. Both are doing over 100km/hr (60 miles per hour). Both fix their glassy gaze into the realms of some other place. The same place their minds are always in when they drive a car. Defying physics and, probably, the laws of chemistry as well, they both pass with only friction burns to their driver side rear view mirrors. Not a thought. No inclination to evolution’s proposed laws of evolutionary caution.
Now, let’s spice this scenario up a little. Add in a cyclist using the road. Of course, our sainted peddler uses vastly less space than the width of the road, but using the road is still in his or her set of rights. Just a little bit of road. Now, consider this death-defying maths. One road equal to 1.2 times the width of an average SUV (not including the snouts of overhanging dogs who, unlike their masters, do indeed pull their heads in when passing another car). Two SUV’s passing each other equals 80 per cent more than the width of the road they seek to both employ. Add in the cyclist at, say, another 20 per cent and the total demand for the road is now 100 per cent more than the road that there is. But does this stop those moto-loco’s from attempting to pass at the same time as the cyclist who is now in their way? Nope. Nada. Forget it. In a blinding feat of defeat to the laws of evolution, pass is what they do; probably without even a thought (because thinking seems to be a vestigial mental appendix on the killing fields of our local roads).
And who, might I ask, is the likely victim of this feat of perversity to the hard wired caution that’s built into every other animal’s evolutionary routine? Why, the cyclist, of course. And that’s where evolution is proved now, definitively, to be wrong. The survival of the fittest? The two couch potatoes in their mind-souping SUV’s survive. The fit cyclist is the first to go. Evolution has become a warted parody when it comes to this evolutionary freak show we call our roads.
If evolution worked, the future of the human race would be a universal peloton of fit, resilient evolutionary cycling success. Whatever mental derangement that inclines people to drive cars should, eventually, take them out of the evolutionary game. Car drivers should, by rights, eventually become extinct. With SUV drivers the first to hit the evolutionary exit lane. Where’s the evidence for this? Evidence for the contrary is all it seems we get to see, in these days of oil-fumed insanity.
But, I am not taking evolutionary time scales into proper account. Evolution takes eons of time to play. Cyclists were around long before the first automobile. Cyclists will, it is in all our interests to hope, still be there when the oil runs out. So, will cyclists ultimately prevail? We’d need to wait a millennium or two to check the cadence of humanity’s progress in this regard. But I am, when it’s all said and done, confident that if only just a few of we cyclists survive the holocaust of this, the Morlock generation of human kind, we should be there to regain the evolutionary ground when the cargo cult of this age of the car is finally relegated to the evolutionary scrapping yard.
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Do you ever stop to wonder at the astounding degree to which money and the machinery of its making, the economy, rules our lives? The economy is like electricity. Turn off the power and we stand around blinking as the world around us spins down to a stop. Turn off the economy and we become extra’s along The Road to post-holocaust oblivion. Even if you reckon you can ‘escape’ by going to live in a tree, can you really escape from the machinery of money? Are you sure??
The economy connects our dreams and desires to the dreams and desires of others. The world always seems to be shifting to a wobbly balance between those who create and those who take. Pollen makers and pollen takers. Together they sing the song of equilibrium! There’s an infrastructure to support the servicing of our birth. There’s an infrastructure to support when we go to school. There’s an infrastructure to support when we set up a business or get a job. And there’s a whole industry devoted to servicing our death. But it’s not as simple as that. We are each takers and givers at the self same time. Even if you are a bureaucrat on the public teat. Or a recluse living out your life on a self-sustaining farm. You need stuff, you give stuff. Stuff is shifted via the lubrication of money.
Sometimes this can get pretty oppressive. The economy’s also a bit like the atmosphere. Breath in, breath out. Turn off the economy and we run out of air. So, perhaps, it might be nice to head off with a backpack into the hills. But we are then just a battery off for a holiday. Eventually, we need to re-dock and recharge our way back into the Matrix of the economy. The experience lives on only as an asset of memory.
I was once an economist (fully paid up and qualified). So I am always intrigued with the cleverness with which the economy can seep into places you might have imagined as some kind of sanctuary. ‘The wilderness experience’. Big business these days. Water? You have no idea! Trees in a national park? Amenity, Option, Bequest and Market values can all be used to configure their place in the ecology of commerce. What’s the value of your life? Just ask your life insurance actuary for an estimate. What’s the value of a flower or of an hour beside the sea? No worries. There’s a Willingness to Pay measure to value their worth; the market places rations the experiences we seek to consume. The value of a view? The value of art. Easy to do, easy to tax. Fringe Benefits, Capital Gains; they will get their Take.
I must confess to being overwhelmed. Having just set up a new business, I was amazed at how quickly the economy of others started to oil slick its way into our pocket. Two days in business and the stand over men started to arrive. Solicitors and their craven kin wanting payoff for setting up our connections into the bureaucracy of Take. And then the local council caught the scent! Fees for daring to start something new. Fees for existing in their tin pot territorial turf. For what? It’s not as though they offer any known service that we could ever detect… Registration fees, name change fees, rates. Even the local power company wants a bucket of cash to simply register our name! Odious oiks on every side; flabby warty hands extending from every side. Fingers, fingers, everywhere. There’s a blood lust going on around here.
Is there any asset in which a person can invest that can be protected from the avarice of an economy on the take? Is there any asset in which we might invest that returns a dividend only in proportion to effort directly given? Is there any asset that can ever be totally ours! Tax free. Is there any asset that can not be directly converted into cash? That cannot be bought and sold? That’s safe even from the most devious of plans from that vulture-draped tree of local government? Is there any asset in which to invest that exists outside this economy?
Yes there is! There’s an asset of ultimate refuge from a world otherwise owned by greed and the culture of Take. It’s an asset accessible to just about anyone. It’s the one asset that, while operating in a state of perpetual undersupply and over demand, still remains immune to the economy! It’s the one asset just about everyone wants; but no one, even the super rich, can ever buy! Cash will not do the trick. Pretence will not do the trick. Aspirations without effort will go unmet. You can’t delegate it’s acquisition to someone else. It’s even beyond the purview of the quackery of pills! You can have it, but you can’t sell it. Even if you wanted to.
Serious cyclists know to what I refer. Serious runners, swimmers; athletes of any kind. It’s a simple thing. It’s ever so rare.
Fitness. Athletic prowess. Health. That’s my safehouse from the economy. Go on you odious little oiks from the mafia of local government. Go on you legal vultures; you on the take of the government teat. Just try and make me pay! Go you accountants, you who seek registrations for all the other details of my life. Just try to hitch a licence plate on this asset of mine. Shove your fringe benefit tax where it fits. Just try to tax this refuge of mine. It’s all mine! Go Mr business tycoon. Go Mr CEO man. Try to get what I have got through some kind of bypass with cash. Get out of here! It’s my safe house from the Global Economy of unhinged insatiable greed.
Cycling did it. Cycling does it well. Ride and ride some more; day in and day out. And on it comes. The more you do the better it gets. It’s a fragile thing. We have it only as long as we put the effort in. Freedom from wheezing up a hill. The forestalling of the ravages of age. Freedom from the noxious pretensions of the gym. Cycling does it, cycling is the key. I love this ticket to economic escape.
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Following my tradition of seeing the world through the spokes of my bike, I have come up with a clever plan! I have a plan that could shift our ecological-economic chains onto an easier cog. It’s a simple plan with which to start a Big Bang. Here it is: allow us all to claim cycling and everything to do with lifecycling ourselves into a more sustainable future as a tax deductible expense! Imagine what would be unleashed if only cycling were so proactively encouraged? Lower buying and running costs. Encouragement to ride; endorsed by the State. Think what that would imply. That cycling is recognised, formally, as a strategic solution to a world engorged by the Oil Spilled obesity of our contemporary culture of cars.
It’s one of those simple plans; a simple plan that leverages a single chain to a chain reaction of goodness that will propel us all to a vastly better place. A catalytic explosion of strategic brilliance. All we need is an intelligent politician to recognise the potential of such a plan. But that’s the problem. Where do you find an intelligent politician these days?
It’s a timely search considering the political games now playing for our entertainment here in the Land of Oz. Here in Oz, it’s election time! And never, ever, has the prospect for clever politics been more bleak. I can’t decide between the outrage I feel over the platitudinous inanity that our political candidates are now regurgitating over us or the outrage I feel that anyone – any person at all (even the car drivers amongst us) – could ever possibly be deranged enough to vote for any of those who now seek our support. Or for the system that props them up.
I have sheep. I have lots of sheep (about 8,000, last count). But my sheep are more intelligent than the general voting public. My sheep won’t follow each other over a cliff. They will resist. Which is more than I could say for those who would enthusiastically vote for what’s on offer here in Australia right now. But if we refused to vote, anarchy will prevail. So, should we vote for the least worst and encourage the continuation of this game? Or should we think up a better plan? Lots have tried, many have died! Perhaps it’s best to simply improve the chain of command; a well-managed chain shifts so much better than one rusted into a single gear… And better still, it only takes a few sharp teeth on the cog of command to summit the hills of these troubled times. So, maybe we should aim to upgrade the chainring of State and conquer those Cols rather than ride the broomwagon of empty political rhetoric.
But that’s just one side of my concerns. The bigger side is why we all are so taken in by this charade. How did politics ever get this bad? Who, precisely, is taken in by all that baby kissing stuff? Or by that odious shopping mall meet-and-greet? And who could possibly be taken in by the inanities of contemporary political debate? We KNOW that they lie. We KNOW that election promises are as insecure as tubulars attached without the grip of glue. The first corner they find and their willpower all comes undone… The cycle of State heads off a cliff…
Politics is all about sensing and skimming the froth of collective opinion; it’s all about capturing bubbles rather than dealing with the real deal of malingering sediment beneath. Skim the bubbles and all that sediment will ferment a new crop of gas for the next electoral round. Politics draws the gas and escapes the mud. Perhaps those vapours are an alcoholic charge to those who prefer to float rather than send down roots into the real matters at hand. Our politicians have no grip.
I posted my contention on Twitter the other day. I said I’d figured out a meme that works for me: I’ll vote for whoever allows me to claim my cycling as a tax deduction.
Think about that for a moment. What would it take for a politician to enact a change such as that? it’d take someone prepared to dig deeply into the workings of the Social Machine. It would take someone ready, willing and able to seek out some clever catalysts for change. It’d take someone with a canny intellect for strategy. Think about it. Why would a politician ever do anything to apparently favour a minority group like us? When all politicians ever do is contemplate the detritus of consensus via the artificial construct of the ‘majority view’. Why would any politician ever favour a group such as we cyclists who are so roundly marginalised by the car-driving majority? Why? Because by tickling that seemingly ‘specialised’ group, he or she would unleash a wildly chaotic catalyst for change that would sweep right through the bog of a society emasculated via its dependency on Oil. That’d be pretty clever. And clever is pretty rare! I want a politician who can dig more deeply into the system he or she seeks to govern; to find these great catalysts for change;to find the best cog and work the best chain; to unleash agents that can blast us out of those complacencies that blight contemporary society and the environment upon which our overstuffed lifestyles are inserted way too deep.
I want politicians who pay more attention to the health of society rather than to mustering it towards the electoral shearing shed. I want politicians who are genuinely clever and who are prepared to do stuff that will, at least initially, confound the cud chewing masses who drive their lives with only one finger on the wheel. I want politicians who earn respect through actions rather than words. I want politicians who dive beneath the foam of consensus. Give us leaders like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. I want to be inspired! Right now, my inspiration is only to go for a really long ride on election day – way, way too far from any local polling booth.
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I can see and hear him now; even after all those years.
He was working up to his point; a verbal victory of wit. The delivery of a decisive score of intellectual perspicacity to be absorbed like water into a dehydrated sponge. His triple chins quivered in excitement. His rotund button-popping belly was thrust outwards towards us along the lines of a peacock’s tail flourish; at least to the delusions of his own mind’s self-attracted eye… His considerable bulk was, somehow, testimony to the weight of his authority.
‘No…you would never get me on one of those death traps…’ ‘Bicycles are the shortest path to suicide’.
Said and done with all the authority of one who had so very obviously never, ever, ridden a bike. Even in his porky play station stationary youth. And off he went on a rampage to recount every incident observed through his piggy windshield shielded eyes that could contribute to his cumulative log of irrefutable evidence.
‘Only yesterday I just managed to avoid hitting a cyclist. Riding along the road as though she owned it. How do those morons expect us to see them? Worse than kangaroos on the road. Just as dumb…’
Yes, cycling is deadly. We are temporary phenomena waiting in a queue headed Stage Left to an early death. Road Kill to dent the polish of car polished minds. Road kill that needs the inconvenience of Police to explain. Road kill that can put innocent car drivers in court; that can put them in jail! Nasty lycra loonies.
Yes indeed! We are hard to see. Then again, so is every thing else when so many car drivers drive with their eyes directed to anything and everything other than the road. Driving these days is such a busy chore. What with attending to the phone, dialling in the latest news, checking the GPS, checking speed to avoid a fine. All those buttons, dials, air conditioning controls – graphic equalisers, heads-up displays. Econo-meters, temperatures to check and calibrate, iPod controls, rear view cameras, radar displays. Nose hair or eyebrows to pluck in the rear view mirror. Lipstick to apply. Teeth to check. One finger on the wheel. One finger out the window to let them know your contempt; if only the control for that pesky electric window winder could be found… Burning cigarettes to find, lollies to unwrap. Rear seat conversations to conduct. Children to control. Five per cent attention on the road. Pot holes! Speed bumps. Old women wobble-driving off to bowls. Yes, it’s deadly out there… It’s amazing the road’s not painted red with cyclists’ blood.
They listen to the shock jocks jack up their contempt for the lycra loony crowd. A disease of the road! Should be banned. Make them pay to use the road. Keep them away. Psychopathically deranged. Who said they have rights?!
Ah, the challenges for moto-terranauts bravely directing 200 mechanical horses via the whims of a distracted finger; fired by chemistry and physics few if any motorists could ever comprehend. 200 mechanical horses under the control of arthritic or hormonally distracted fingers and high heeled fashion distracted feet. All kept under control via some painted lines on the road. Paint! Visual queues. Visual queues for those moments when the vision is directed at the road. Queue’s to be processed in a queue of discussion, musical entertainments, ringing phones, screaming kids, that sassy Holywood-voiced GPS… Hot babes to impress with the 200 horse power penis extension their cars are imagined to have become.
Road kill everywhere. Dead animals littering the road. Testimony to the safety of being in a car… Testimony to the stupidity of all animals that don’t get out of their way. Possums, kangaroos, cyclists. Road kill to litter their way. Death happens outside the car. Safety resides within. What happens outside is an abstraction from the reality of this modern mobile living room on wheels. Outside has become the virtual reality of a video game. Somehow, if something goes wrong, the game will reset and they can pick up a new life; take on new ammunition and an extra dose of health. Life outside has become unreal. Until they come up behind a lycra loonie meandering all over the road.
Yesssireeee. Bicycles are dangerous! Cyclists are crazy. They are not safe to be on the road. They get in the way of cars. One more distraction with which the poor driver must contend. Plucking nose hair. Avoiding cyclists. Watching that in-dash DVD. Life is such a chore… Clearly, cyclists should be pulled from the road. Licence them. Register them. Hell… just get them out of our way! Deadly Treadlies. The biggest danger on the road.
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Life seems just like a rubber band stretched around the elastic pull of the Market Place. Our task is to travel the rubber rail of delusion, kept comfortably numb to the more spiky realities of life lived real – a place where the glare of the marketplace stuns us less. The Novocain of our times are the fantasies of marketing spin; the oh-so-intentional social constructions of those who seek our cash and our submission to the True Religion of the marketplace. We are all headed off on some endless cattle ramp into the bowls of a destination we know is wrong; a destination that will make a holocaust of times to come. But as long as the destination remains elusive, all we have to do is check our progress against the reference points of those immediately behind, and with those just ahead. Then we don’t have to worry about all the rest. We are seemingly drawn along this line of time on the scent of shiny toys and by a life miraged though the constructions of marketing spin.
There’s signs all around that our track is a road across a void with rails as flimsy as the edge of a Pyrenean mountain descent. If only we can open our eyes. The reality of that void all around would cause us to slow. It might cause us to stop! It might cause us to walk our bikes down that hill instead.
Here’s a clue. The fabrications of delusion have caught up with the world of cycling; even cycling! That’s a place that should be immune. But it’s not. Not even here.
My flag of concern concerns the oil spill of marketing sludge into the Sacred Central of the High Temple of Pinarello! Yes, even there. The rot’s set in. Nothing is sacred any more. Consider the new Pinarello Dogma 60.1. A fine machine. Technically. But a bike for which I now have unending contempt. Pinarello has sold out. They are now busy ingratiating themselves onto the flabby Dentist egotisms of lives stretched past the border of fashionable youth. Pinarello’s Dogma has become the Botox solution for those who would cling to the fantasies of a youth long gone. It’s become a cosmetic appliance for those who can afford its ludicrously inflated price. $20,000 for a bike that’s worth half as much in terms of the performance it provides. If it were only an instrument of cycling rather than as an appliance of personal vanity. $10,000 for the bike; $10,000 for the pose. I am disgusted. Waiting lists apply!
Consider this. For $10,000 you can attach yourself to a BMC or a Scott Pro Tour machine. Either will perform at least as well. Either are at least as well made. Either have captured all the functionality even a Tour de France winner needs. I love the Dogma. I want a Dogma. But I am not going to pay a premium for pretence. I am not going to join the ranks of the Open Top Sports Car brigade who now seem to be turning their pudgy poncy ponderings to the world of two leg-powered wheels. When did cycling become the new Golf! When did our bike shops start stocking size XXXL knicks? When did the fuel of choice turn from water to double whipped cream latte? When did the bicycle become a shield of pretence for the cafe crawling crowd? Bah! A pox plague on the flabby over-cashed middle aged. They are driving prices beyond my reach!
Once cycling was a place through which to escape the stupidities of culturally constructed delusions. Now it’s a destination. Once we were impediments on the road of those travelling the sports car delusions of their past-it lives . Now we’ve become the playground for their cosmetic cash. I think I will take up banking or the stock market trade. Now that the Pre Global Financial Crisis set have moved on from the world of finance into the financing of pretentious cycling instead.
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This post is, of course, already out of date. I am watching Stage 3 of the 2010 le Tour. That’s the one with the pave. The cobblestones in the road. That’s the stage that followed on from the carnage of Stage 2; the stage of the BIG CRASH. You know, the stage that most of us are embarrassed to admit we enjoyed; being the sadists that we are…
So, we are now four stages in. That’s enough to note a few things.
I must say that Christian Prudhomme’s attempt to relieve the usually underwhelming opening week sprinters’ stages has worked! But at what cost? Certainly at the cost of a few bruises, some broken bodies and LOTS of broken bikes. From the riders’ demonstration parade at the end of Stage 2, it’s obvious that at least most of the them aren’t particularly impressed. But what was the alternative?
You see, in my view, Le Tour has outgrown itself as a rider’s race. It’s outgrown itself as an icon for the cycling community to admire. Now it’s all about the show. Now it’s all about impressing the masses who do not ride; impressing the car-driving Charlie set who drink 2363kj Green Tea Cream Venti’s at McStarbucks. It’s all about impressing those who like blood. Someone else’s blood. Not theirs…
Which, I think, is why the new self-appointed le Patron le Peloton, Fabian Cancellara, decided to make his point. The vision of that Swiss superstar herding his flock as a protest parade across the finishing line was something of a downer for all those who can’t really tell the difference between football and cycling; except one involves a ball and the other being the sport without one…Pass the MacStarbucks please…
Was that a spectacle of angst against an overly hard ride? Hardly that. No. It was a display against the gladitiatorisation of a sport that requires more brains to follow that with which the football crowd are usually equipped. I don’t think le Patron was concerned about the narrow roads, or the crashes, or even leaving poor old Andy Schleck sitting beside the road. No, I think the concern was to do with the spectacle of those events becoming the reason for the show. Is this the way Prudhomme intends to boost ratings growth? Le crash, le burn. The footballisation of le Tour. Appealing the the deadheads who love gladiator sport. Appealing to those who love to watch pain and hurting – unless, of course, that pain’s their own. Cowards of the couch. Non-cyclists to be sure. No wonder Fabian decided to react. I am on his side.
Onwards to another observation of mine. If the Belgians love cycling THAT much, I’m off to Belgium to live… What a crowd! They were Alpe d’Huez crowd crowds along the entire route. The God of God’s must surely favour Belgium with passions such as those.
Which leads me to the laws of physics. Bernoulli’s theorm to be precise. That’s the one that says the pressure in a fluid decreases as its velocity increases. Velocity is high when pipes are tight and flattens out when the pipes get wide. Which must mean that pressure goes up when the pipes funnel out. Consider Figure 1. During any given time interval the same volume has to pass through the narrow section A1 of the pipe with diameter 2h1 as through the wide section A2 (V1 = V2). Therefore the velocity v1 is larger than the velocity v2, and the pressure in the narrow part is smaller than in the wider part. Now, was it just me or did someone else start thinking about Bernoulli’s theorem while watching le Peloton negotiate those incredibly narrow Belgian roads? This explains why there were so many crashes! Those Belgian pipe-like roads are pretty narrow. And the same volume of bikes has to pass the narrow bits (like A1) as has to pass through the wider roads, like at the finish line (let’s say, A2). Watching Stage 2, we sure could see the pressure at a peak when the pipe got wide! At the finish line…
And finally onto bikes.
For many years, I used le Tour as my shopping menu for new bike dreaming or purchase depending on degrees of freedom available through the constraint of familial impediment… Pinarello’s are ceasing to appeal; now that the makers of that mark seem so intent on supplying the flabby dentist set with overpriced equipage through which to satisfy a tragic predilection to conspicuous consumption… No, I am looking more subtle these days. I’m becoming impressed by the subtle, yet ruthless technological statement-making by firms like Scott and BMC. Team Columbia HTC’s Addict RC is an astounding achievement more likely to appeal to riders who could actually tell the difference through use rather than pose. Likewise, the new BMC SLR01 is a design for a purpose where the purpose is winning. And did anyone else notice the bike Contador chose to ride the pave on Stage 3? He chose Specialized’s S-Works Roubaix! The bike blokes choose when the road gets rough. The bike I choose because all our roads are rough. I am taken by the BMC. Particularly because Team BMC is using Campagnolo and not that poncy electro-nonsense from Dura Ace… And finally, is it just me or has Trek finally, at last, discovered a colour scheme for their Madone’s that could – almost – encourage attention from people with taste… Thanks to Team Radio Shack for that.
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Most of us would like to reach some sort of position in society; hopefully higher than where we might be now. President, general, corporate CEO. Or maybe just a councillor on the local school Board. Maybe it’s a position of status you’re after. Fastest, richest, loudest, best shot or most notorious; anything at all so long as you’re better than your neighbour, sibling or worst enemy. The games people play to out rival others can be the most exciting spectator sport of all!
It doesn’t matter if your game is delusory. What matters is that at least one other person shares some enthusiasm for the endeavour with which you seek to engage. Competition to be the grower of the biggest potato in the village matters if at least just one other person is also after that crown. That battle to be the best can be just as hard fought with passion as any other war.
I’m thinking back to one status war with which it was my pleasure to engage. A truly wonderful spectacle of pointless endeavour! It was to do with wicker chairs. A row of wicker chairs to be precise. You see, to sit in one of these chairs was true sign of success. They were a row of chairs circling inner sanctum space landscaped to define a devotional space of splendour through which to acknowledge (our collective antagonisms and jealousies for) the big boss man in charge. Just like a row of water fronting villas on the edge of some over developed bay, these wicker chairs fronted – and held back – echelons of lesser chairs behind. They girded his royal elevation from the swill of lesser plastic chair sitters behind. Rows and rows of envious wannabes. To sit in a wicker chair at the front, you needed to be at the front of your own career. You needed to be a professor who had published lots and lots of papers in journals that probably no one else in the world would ever – or could ever – read. The more abstract and impenetrable your arguments might be, the more chaotic and abstract your numerate/arcane dead-language purple prose, the more empathic you’re journey to a possie on one of those front row wicker chairs. You must indeed be clever and superior if no one else could understand a word! The more arcane your writings, the less the chance someone else would dare to admit they didn’t have a clue! Yes, the furies of incomprehensibility were a hard fought war of words and portulent posturing. The prize was to sit in one of those wicker chairs! And listen to endless drivel surrounding the administration of exactly nothing for a group of people blissfully anchorless to the practicalities of the rest of the world.
I never got to sit on one of those chairs. I had much more fun watching the sport from the hard plastic chairs behind. It was a sport of pontificational fury with a subtlety of innuendo and vacuous point scoring that would bore the otherwise comatose audiences of championship snooker, the zombie thrill seekers of world championship cricket – or lawn bowls enthusiasts; all words and wind, signifying ultimately, nothing at all. So I took up farming instead!
Now I’m wondering about the very concept of fame. Is life’s biggest goal really to occupy some dodgy wicker chair, or to gravitate to that corner office; of simply to be called ‘sir’? Is it ever just about the height of your pile of cash? Is it about the size of your house? Or yes, about how fast or far you can ride a bike?
It’s the rules of engagement rather than the nature of the games we play that matter most. If your game is to lead, but all you’re trying to lead is a bicycle race, then the tool of engagement is just your legs. If your game is to lead an empire, the tool is an army of guns or diplomats. If your pathway is through war, not everyone’s going to be equally impressed. Someone’s going die. Or at least loose their house. That battle for the wicker chairs was pretty tame. The fallout was just envy and spite; rather than much in the way of blood. The game to assert individual beliefs is much much worse. Mad mullahs empowered via the compulsion of bombs is a different kind of engagement to be sure. To have our view of the world be constrained via the slit-visioned veils of some one else’s prejudiced beliefs is a tough shroud to wear.
Which is why we should all sit back and reflect on the harmless glory of sports that engage only through personal fitness and the capacity to play well as a team. That’s why cyclesport is a model for the sustained future of our race. Consider the energy of a prospective corporate tyrant or of one who would become the chief faschist in charge. How much better for all if those compulsions to grind could be diverted to pedals instead!
I have a vision! Imagine a word where all wars of ego could be resolved through summiting a col rather than mountains of underlings. Where the energy of success is measured by personal power meters rather than by the energy of other people’s resources if not by their blood and misery. Board room brawls should be resolved through heading out for group ride. Military summits should be negotiated through climbing a hors cagegorie hill rather th through poker play with a stock of nukes. At least let’s restrict our quests for personal supremacy to thrones of no greater stature than a row of wicker chairs.
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I am sick of it… Brassed off. Fed up. If it doesn’t stop I’m going to become a recluse. I’ll just cycle off into the distance on an endless solo ride…
Everywhere you look, up, down, sideways, frontwards, backwards – people keep telling me what to like and what is best. They tell me what is hot and what’s not. They tell me how stuff should be done and how my approach is always wrong. Let’s face it. Everyone is their own little island of perfect advice. Every single human being is a big bundle of prejudices wrapped up in the veneer of their own delusions of good taste and omniscience. Most people spend their entire lives searching, seeking, exploring, digging and hoping for validation; any validation will do. Which is why you find like-minded folk clubbing together like castaways clinging together as their boat goes down.
In music the critics -and everyone is a critic- tell us what’s good and what’s not. If you only ever chose what the critics might recommend, you’d end up with a collection of Top 10 McSwill. See! I am being a critic now… my game is to seek out stuff that people generally reject and reject the stuff they don’t. That way I can enjoy my sense of cultural victimisation as a perpetual masochist pain!
Let’s enter the shallow end of this mirky opinionated pool. Take musical choice for a start. Let’s pick a critically dammed musical recording of note. The Stone Roses’ second album, Second Coming, is a good start. Consider this glowing review: ‘this is a turgid, interminably boring record…’ I love every second, so there! We ‘Classical Music’ buffs are not supposed to rate Respighi above Verdi. I do. So there! Take that! We are supposed to admire Schoenberg. Nuts. Mozart was a god. Not in my book. Give me Bach any time… And why can’t I give equal time and value to the works of Devin Townsend and Mendelsson? Have you ever heard Townsend’s Accelerated Evolution album? Play it loud. Ride to that and you would win any cycling race – or crash. Wow!!
Then there’s my choice of cycling teams. The cognoscenti is all for Team Sky. Or Radio Shack. Or whatever and which ever except the one I go for: Caisse D’Epargne. Everyone is an informed critic on the best team and the best rider. It’s all part of the fun. But is there anyone else out there who cheers for Louis Leon Sanchez other than those from his local town?
Choice of bike? Choice of component group? Stand back and watch the rival camps scream. One man’s choice is heresy to at least some.
Choice of a favourite author? Watch the learned critical pontificators connect your choice with Mills and Boone…
Because there are so many opinions out there, it will usually be possible to find someone else with whom you agree. So seek them out and quote their support; soon you will have a cult or a quorum of support to validate your choice. The internet is helpful here. Search for your choice, qualify it with the keyword ‘great’ and populate your club. Replace that keyword with ‘bad’ and pile up the evidence against whatever it is with which you might disagree.
All this gets really fun when your choice has some foundation in an ethical or value position. There you will find choices that simply cannot be argued for want of social exclusion; or jail. Consider religion! Islam, Christianity or Judaism. Only one can be true. Which one? Prepare to burn when you choose against the choice of your mates or what’s standard for your culture. Open up any of these Big Three and watch the fun. Sunni or Shiite? Catholic or Presbyterian. Orthodox or Reformed Judaism. Take a choice and man the barricades. They are all cess-pit contagions of self-referentialised prejudice. And don’t even get me started on the new religion of Atheism as ruled by Saints Dawkins and Hitchens et. al. They are as bigoted and ego-driven as all the rest. That’s why I pump for Tarvu (the world’s greatest comic relief). Or the book of Urantia. No one can argue against you when your choice is off the scale. Except to say that you are mad. Or deluded. But free of those infernal mainstream clans…
Politics is almost as bad – or probably worse if you happen to live in a country ruled by the Taliban…
So… given that I am (perceived to be) wrong in everyone else’s (clearly deluded) eyes and everyone else is wrong in mine… here’s my own personal universal proclamation of good taste and informed choice. If you don’t agree, you are wrong and un-informed. If you agree, you are indeed an elevated being! There’s just one catch. Because my choices are informed by a perversity to think the opposite of everyone else, no one else is allowed to agree. If you agree, then I must be wrong. Which means that I have to think upon this all over again. Which explains why I really, truly, enjoy my solo bicycle rides – arguing with myself all the way…
So, here’s my list:
World’s greatest bicycle maker: Pinarello
World’s greatest bicycle component group: Campagnolo
World’s greatest cyclist: Louis Leon Sanchez
World’s greatest cycling team: Caisse D’Epargne
World’s greatest composer: Gustav Mahler
World’s greatest artist: Goya
World’s greatest contemporary band: Green Carnation
World’s greatest bicycle ride: my next ride!
World’s greatest country: Antarctica (no people with whom to disagree)
World’s greatest politician: the Dalai Lama
World’s greatest religion: the Cargo Cult
World’s greatest leader: His Majesty King Khesar, The 5th Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan
World’s greatest work of fiction: Dianetics by L Ron Hubbard
World’s greatest work of non fiction: Dianetics by L Ron Hubbard
World’s greatest ever computer: the Macintosh Portable
World’s greatest bicycle race: Paris Roubaix
World’s greatest corporation: Apple Inc.
World’s greatest genius: L Ron Hubbard (I mean, he got away with it!!)
World’s greatest idiots: those who follow L Ron Hubbard (or any other religion…)
World’s greatest tourist destination: Consuegra (where Don Quixote exercised his lance)
World’s greatest moron: equal honours for Robert Mugabe and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
World’s greatest scientist: The Dalai Lama
World’s greatest economist: former King Jigme SIngye Wangchuck for the idea of Gross National Happiness
World’s greatest idea: J M Keynes for ‘In the Long Run, we are all dead’
World’s greatest stupidity: football
World’s greatest con job: golf
World’s greatest perversion: religion
World’s greatest problem: human ego
World’s greatest joke: the game of cricket
World’s greatest mistake: listening to academics
World’s greatest evil: the Chinese economy
World’s greatest stupidity: buying Chinese goods
World’s greatest movement: misanthropy!
World’s greatest peril: human overpopulation
World’s greatest delusion: the concept of sustainable economic development
World’s greatest dangerous idea: economic rationalism
World’s greatest saving grace: cycling, bicyclism!
World’s greatest fable: altruism and selflessness
World’s greatest movie of all time: 2001 – A Space Odyssey
World’s greatest and rarest phenomenon: critical thinking (on anything at all…)
World’s greatest proof that critical thinking is rare: dependency on the car and the re-election of George Bush for his second term
World’s greatest website: click here…
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