Archive for the “Policy & Politics” Category
I wasn’t there when they first invented the TV. But I do recall once watching an early era black and white set before colour broadcasting began. I remember the wooden box-like set. I remember the small glass screen. I remember the single mono speaker and the big fuel tank filler cap-like channel switcher. I remember the turned cylinder legs and the flower pot permanently planted on the top. I do definitely remember that all this felt so amazingly modern. And I do not ever recall thinking that all this technology would be in for much in the way of change. Colour was not something that ever occurred to me. Yes, that little Pye set was bigger and better in every way than its predecessors that more resembled a gramophone set with a window than a Jurassic Home Theatre array. But progress felt… gradual. Not frantic. We didn’t purchase on the knife edge of fast paced imminent redundancy. We didn’t worry that what we might purchase today would become an antique the very next day.
Which is how I feel when I buy a TV these days. Which is exactly how I feel two days after installing the one I have just bought. Two days after purchase, that model has been deleted. But it was current two days before. So now, apparently, I have an antique…
But it’s not just TV’s that give me this riding-a-technology whirlwind feeling these days, And that’s not because I am some kind of grumpy technologically outpaced old man either, I might add…
This latest model Macbook Air I am using here was fresh for five days. Then Apple added USB 3. So now I am a legacy user disconnected from the world of high speed devices to which, it seems, every other Mac user now has access, except me. Now I’m stuck with USB 2.0. One day I was on the cutting edge. Now I am in the dust. Feeling like the victim of technological assault. Inadequate. Left behind. Old. Which is all very odd because before the latest Macbook update, USB 2.0 was just fine. I was happy using the equivalent of black and white TV serial bus technology. USB 3.0 was for PC users and I wasn’t one of them. And that was just fine.
Which is why, and I am sure I am not alone, so many folk are having such fun with LP records once again. Vinyl has become a concrete barricade of protection from the howling gale of technological change. We can tinker and enjoy without any fear of becoming out-of-date. Indeed, in those Jurassic vinyl grooves is a sound that even the highest end computer audio would find it hard to match. But I digress.
If you are a person subject to techno-adadequacies or insecurities of this kind, the whole world becomes a little unsettling. We seem to be tuned to the pace of being left technologically behind. Most of us know that what we have today is not going to cut it by some time mid next week. Some of us don’t care at all (to a degree that improves the closer we get to the nursing home), some are mildly unnerved. And some are in a perpetual state of panic (like those who choose to queue every time Apple releases a new iPhone).
My bandwidth of concern is pretty wide. Relishing, as I do, the technological resilience of bicycles and vinyl LP’s, I can drift off to an island of unconcern. But when it comes to computer IT, I dread every upgrade. I am, after all, that guy who bought into DCC and MD (remember those?) only to watch both music formats completely disappear within a space of two years, along with the media needed to keep that equipment in use. Go on, try to buy a Digital Compact Cassette these days. Go on. Try. I feel like I have been robbed. Dropped. Ditched. Redundant without redundancy pay. And no one cares…
All of which explains why I seem to be permanently carrying a back pack of worry around whenever I enter some kind of electronics store, or search for a new car, or search for a new ebook to download. Will I be left with unusable stuff all over again? It’s like carrying a permanent virus, or having to live with a permanent limp. All the while knowing that, really, it’s all self-inflicted and induced by the evils of modern marketing and a raging culture of consumerism. Which is why it’s so great to know that I can aways drift off to that moated barricade of bicycles and vinyl LP’s when ever I like. In that place, I can overtake anyone’s million dollar cutting-edge super car when all that oil-fuming technology trickles down to a sludge in congested city streets; and from where I can nuance away all I like to the nth degree of fidelity on my LP’s while the techno buffs are all reinventing bit rates and DAC codecs in a battlefield mess of unsettling audio attrition.
But all this presents a context through which to frame every visit I choose to make to my local bookstore, my local record shop, or even to my local newsagent. I pick up a book and find myself Amazoning the price of its ebook counterpoint for my iPad. I pick up a magazine and check out the price of subscriptions on Zinio. The latest issue of Peloton magazine is $15.99. An annual sub for my iPad is $12. Knowing these choices makes it so hard to commit. Which translates into a non- commitment to the continued existence of these stores dancing their death throes on the tipping point of relentless change. Every time I buy an ebook, my local book store is one page closer to that final closing down sale. I can’t enjoy buying the latest cycling ezine without reflecting on the abject economic disaster about to dump on my friendly local newsagent. What’s life going to be like without those local stores? Is our community to become an array of disconnected social recluses all hardwired to the internet while the village green transcends to jungle and unemployment reaches 100 per cent?
Stop the bus. It’s time to get off.
I’m done with all those awkward silences of unsaid condolence I feel whenever I visit my newsagent, bookshop or that last, assaulted record store. Is it time to become a technological recluse?
It’s hard to listen to music on my bike with a LP turntable strapped to my handlebars. I want the latest toys but want the social infrastructure of community commerce as well.
It’s hard to put my head in the sand. But I don’t want to put a knife into those gentle decent folk who run their Last Stand book/record/newsagency stores, waiting for the vultures to finally swarm the poverty of their final days.
Where do they all go in these days of 10 per cent plus unemployment and global recession? Too young to retire, too old to begin again. Do they all just go off and die? Do they all just go off to live under a bridge? What happens to the human-centred purveyors of technologies-left-behind. Who’s going to provide the spare parts for TV sets rendered obsolete when the product cycles cycle around to less than a week? Who’s going to service anything when all commerce is transacted by faceless drones in cyber space. What happens when the economic efficiency of technological improvement leaves us all unemployed? Do we only ever reflect on such things when the impacts hit us hard in the face?
Of course, the world these days is not just transmitted in black and white. Fortunately there are lots of shades of grey in between. But I do fear that it’s that grey scale that’s the real issue under assault. Are those shades reducing to a five tone scale? At one end, we have the Made-in-China globalised cess pit of the economic rationalist’s sado-massochistic perverted world view. On the other end we have us cyclists and LP lovers ignoring the assault. But in the middle are all the struggling record stores, magazine sellers and book store purveyors bleeding tears as they reconcile their tills at closing time. I can see a time when the technologies of the recent past reduce to be serviced by niche markets of residual cranks and luddites perverse in their pleasures from stuff from the past. Like readers of paper books and magazines. And cyclists eschewing the bestialities of e-motors and even stupider electronic gears. What’s the ideal market size for a niche of paper books and plastic compact discs? One store per town or one store per million of population? Who’s going to catch a plane flight to visit the nearest record store? What’s the business plan for my local newsagent these days? Or worse, for that local record store? We know that technologies get left behind (remember the Digital Compact Cassette and Mini Disc?). So stuff will fail and markets will crash. They can’t all be sustained by niche markets for the hardcore. The grey scale between no market and the global market place is going to get really thin. And we all need to consider this final point. How many local jobs will there be when the global market place has entirely diverted to an exclusive serenade between the Chinese shop floor and their faceless, country-less global corporate sponsors?
Which is why, maybe, this current post- Global Financial Crisis Crisis is a good thing after all. When the world economy slows to a crawl, the wheels of commerce slow and we get time to work out a better plan. There are some economists who have given this process a name: Creative Destruction.
Which is why, in turn, I have that unsettled feeling of impermanence and insecurity when it comes to making technology choices these days. We are in a world just like we were when black and white TV became mature. We are sitting on the edge of a great tipping point. The grey scale is about to turn into colour. Hopefully the next spectrum of our economy will be displayed in something better than VGA. Hopefully, the middle will fill out and niche markets will return to a broader base; just like the LP industry these days where more and more and ever more people are re-introducing themselves to the latest technical iterations of the good-old turntable and the latest grades of heavy weight vinyl. And, yes, as more and more people discover the whole-of-life enhancement of cycling as a wondrously steam punk synthesis of the old and the new, cycling and re-cycling all over and over again.
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Golf. Noun: a game played on a large open-air course, in which a small hard ball is struck with a club into a series of small holes in the ground…
Cycling. Noun: the sport or activity of riding a bicycle…
…A wave of enthusiasm for cycling is sweeping through London’s financial district as people swap Porsches for Pinarellos, the Financial Times reported…
So how, exactly, is cycling supposed to be the ‘new golf‘?
And why do people keep on making this seemingly absurd claim?
Are we to believe that golfers are downing their clubs and taking to riding bicycles instead?
Or is it, possibly, because those corporate knights who once, in theory, conducted their strategic interactions on the golf course are now busy plotting takeovers and tax avoidance stratagems on bicycles instead?
Have you actually witnessed power meetings in the peloton as opposed to the more usual Board Room or Michelin-starred restaurant?
Have you actually witnessed creative corporate strategising as the echelon rotates to the cadence of monetary greed, world domination and the head wind of the market place?
Or is it that cycling is now the way to get to know a new client or the character of your employees? If so, what’s to be gained if the client can’t keep up or escapes into a breakaway? How does an executive impress if his underling drops his boss on the very first hill. What kind of management pecking order can be established on a ride rather than via the machinations of bureaucratic policy? Imagine if one’s position in the office hierarchy were to be determined through a 300m sprint? Or by arrival order over the Stelvio Pass?
But golf is not just about open-aired corporate interaction. Some people play golf because they enjoy hitting a ball with a stick. How, exactly, is cycling supposed to superscede the supposed thrills of hitting a ball with an over-priced stick? I’m struggling to find some kind of pathway here. You’d be as likely to convince a pro-footballer to shift into pro-chess as a career upgrade path. What’s the natural transition for those who would wear golfing jumpers while driving a golfing cart to take to lycra and pedals instead? Maybe the affinity is that we both wear strange shoes…
Will the St Andrews clique be transforming themselves into some kind of exclusive membership cycling club instead? What will become of their tweed suits and caddy slaves? Maybe they’ll dress in Rapha cycling tweed and re-enlist their caddies as domestiques.
Or are we talking about the transformation of pro-golf into pro-cycling? Are we to see all those pot-bellied cycling pros taking to the peloton instead? Is Tiger Woods about to challenge Andy Schleck on the Col du Galibier?
Or is it that the golf buggy is a natural progenitor to the post-bank crash era e-bicycle? Now that I could believe. If so, are we now supposed to run e-bike criteriums around the golfing greens? Or are we supposed to play e-bike polo into those now re-purposed 18 holes?
I suspect that what’s actually implied by this supposed transformation of golf into cycling is, rather, more to do with a cultural shift than with the shifting of gears. And that shift is nasty.
Let’s try a word association game. When I think of golf, here’s a few instant word associations:
- conspicuous consumption
- delusions of exercise
- green cancer
- golf carts for people incapable of walking more than 10 metres
- exclusive clubs
- servants carting clubs for big bwanas
- the world’s only obese professional sporting heroes
- an ultra expensive way to play marbles
So, when they say cycling is the new golf, do they mean that our sporting passion of hard-won physical prowess-driven achievement is to be replaced by a consumerist culture of pretentious posing and faux-everything? Is the humble post-ride latte tradition to be replaced with vintage wine sipping at some stately exclusive membership arpres cycling clubhouse? Are we now supposed to start paying membership fees to ride with a group? Will our various cycling clubs now be sorted via some kind of psychopathically imagined scale of social/material exclusivity?
Or are we talking about the transcendence of one of the world’s most pretentious twattages of a faux-sport into an activity that actually involves the application of genuine exercise and classless interaction? In other words, is the evolution under question one where the values of cycling somehow rewrite the code of the culture of golf? I suspect that that’s not what’s being implied.
There’s evidence of a hostile cultural takeover happening to our beautiful two wheel passion. The golfing hoards are indeed spewing their values into a place where these things should not fit.
I remember a time where spending up big on a bike was an expression of one’s dedication to winning more races and riding ever harder. A top end bike usually meant going without ever more by way of other stuff. Like food. Or a car. I remember when buying a bike like a top end Colnago, Vitus, Look, or some custom crafted job was a commitment to the sport rather than to some kind of image to be conveyed. Spending big meant more hurt. More pain. More sweat than ever before. And to winning races, or at least losing less.
But if we are to extrapolate the ‘golfing culture’ to such a game, spending up big is what you do when you want to consume the image of decreased age or your preferred position on the emperor-has-no-clothes sporting hero scale. Money is a tool through which to aspire to an intended image. Even if that image is an image exclusive to your own mind. To a golfer’s mind, perhaps, cycling has the appearance of a proper post-global warming warmed, post-banker-wanker image. And to a golfer, perhaps, image is something to be consumed rather than earned. And which pro-level bike maker is going to deny such people an exclusive cycling-poseur pricing scale? Is it a total coincidence that those shops that specialise in top end bicycles are almost always located in urban baby-boomer-dentist-neo-golfer locales where real estate prices barely match the pretensions of their self-image obsessed residents? Swimming pools, Ferrari’s, exclusive gym membership, golfing … PInarello Dogma owners…
I definitely do not deny that there are many golfers who simply play golf because they love that game. To these happy humble types, the Pinarello Dogma golfers are as much an affront as they are to us.
So, I am wondering if the source of this new social meme of cycling as the new golf are those humble golfers hoping – seeking – to rid themselves of that pretentious faux-golfing clique through cunningly convincing them to take up cycling instead…
To which I have a cunning counter plan. Let’s set up some exclusive membership cycling clubs for the well-heeled latte Dogma owners recently dispossessed from their Ferrari powered golfing carts. Then we need to convince those elites to concentrate only on the clear social superiority of single speeds and the like. Custom bikes for the custom elites. Bike makers can apply those profits to subsidise the grubby pro-biking tools that only those in the trade would ride… We cyclists could then afford to buy top-end bikes once again. Like Pinarello Dogmas.
But, having run through my argument, I still think this social meme is entirely wrong. Cycling is NOT the new golf. Gymnasium memberships are the new golf. Let’s try and keep it that way!
A Cycling is the New Golf Reading List
Sydney Morning Herald
Bloomberg Business Week
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My one surviving association with the university to which I have devoted 25 years too many of my strictly rationed non-cycling time, is to ride straight through to better places with peaceful lakes and the like. Blissfully knowing that the time of my ride is my own time, and my direction is one dictated by tail winds rather than via the wind of some managerial academic dressed for death in a black polyester suit. But there’s a bit of a buzz going on around the leafy tracks, roads and ruts of that academic mini-town. Just like a bunch of flies, or a trail of ants, the highways, bi-ways and one-time walking tracks are now perpetually plastered with twenty-somethings riding e-bikes.
I am one of those who once declared that these things would never, ever, take off. An obesity of sub-contemptable chain store e-motorised two-wheeled bloatware with all the aesthetics and performance of a trolly-wheeled farm gate. Who would ever want to insult cycling with one of those! But taking off they are; just like a fly-by-wire Airbus full of people sipping gin rather than contributing to the dynamics of their ride. Cycling without aesthetics. Cycling with the chain broken between physical prowess and performance. Cycling without cycling. eCycling is cycling for those who don’t understand cycling. eCycling is a foot propelled toy car to daddy’s Ferrari parked alongside.
There’s a deep perversion at work here.
I am reminded of scientists dissecting brains in search of the mechanics and chemistry of pleasure. If we extract this bit of the brain, and short circuit that bit over there, we might isolate out the bits that make us appreciate art and the irrationalities of sport. If we unhitch a few neurones and kill a few synapses here and there, perhaps we can construct a kind of cycling that a zombie, or an economic rationalist, might appreciate! Let’s take the utilitarian essence of cycling and remove it from all the I-Love-Campagnolo, I-Love-Shinano Tour de France hysteria bits. Let’s reduce cycling to the level of what the Tax Office might appreciate!
There they go. Every e-cyclist seems to wear exactly the same benign, disassociated frown. I know that look. I have seen it plenty of times before. It’s the look car drivers have.
e-bikes are the bikes a car driver might ride! When they loose their licence after being caught with drink on their breath.
Which is not to deny that there is a kind of a pleasure to be derived here. If only the pleasure an economic rationalist might derive through knowing how many cents are saved from not having to drive their car. But how much insight could an e-bike rider get into the pleasures of riding a real bike? As much as you could get from only ever watching cycling on TV? Which is not to deny that there are pleasures to cyclists watching e-bikers riding the hills. Have you seen the way they always parody pedal while their motors work hard against gravity? It’s a kind of faux pedalling; pretend pedalling just like the grown ups do when they ride a real bike up a hill… You have to do something with your legs when the gradient heads north. Else you’ll get deep vein thrombosis from lack of use. But it’s the look on their faces that gets me every time. Determined detachment; austere un-pleasure. Robot faces. Faces of people neither here nor there; unknowing the pleasures of muscle powered pedalling or the thrill of riding a real motorbike.
And how must they feel when real cyclists dump them on hills? Or away from the lights, or on a flat in-the-drops stretch. How must they feel? Why, with no feelings at all. Someone who would ride an e-bike would not feel any of these important cycle-snob, psycho-social compulsions at all. They’d not even understand the critical nuances of mountain bike-road bike competitive mutual disdain, let alone the intricacies of masterful race facing et al. Hell, e-bikers probably don’t even know about fixed gear/hipsters let alone the perversions of Shimano on an Italian master-built bike!. They are the kind of riders who, if they were ever to ride in such a thing, would think nothing of wearing their cycling nicks with the chamois on the outside…
OK, so e-bikes are not for me; and probably not for you. But should I be so smugly dismissive of a device that takes patronage away from cars? Isn’t it better that we have e-bikes on the road when otherwise these folk would be driving cars? Could e-biking be some kind of front door into the world of cycling? Possibly, but there is a big problem here. And it’s all to do with the disconnected dementias of the car driver’s brain. Can the simian sensibilities that combine to condemn an individual to a car possibly be sufficient to distinguish an e-biker from a muscle-powered cyclist? Probably not. In the two-way switch of the car driver’s brain the world reduces to the simple polarity of bikes bad: cars good. Anything more complex than that and their brains would fuse…
So with all these e-bikes wobble riding the roads just like motorcyclists who aren’t and cyclists they perhaps might vaguely resemble, the poor old car driver is getting seriously confused. This is worse than the hybrid/chain store no-mountain bike commuter plague. Motorists are used to hybrid commuters treacle pacing up hills. They are tuned to overtaking when ever and where ever they encounter a bike on the road; no matter what. But these e-bikers, while riding with even less than the prowess of their hybrid rider kin, are riding the hills with speeds approaching that of the lycra-carbon clique that at least some car drivers had hitherto come to realise were cyclists otherwise to avoid. Perhaps. At the advanced level of the car driver brain domain.
What will be the consequences of e-bikes should they really take off? While a real cyclist learns handling and road skills through the progress of hard won muscle-tuning time, an e-biker flicks a switch and joins straight in. An e-bike, remember, is still a bike. It was not conceived or designed as some kind of de-powered motorbike. It’s a bicycle with electric motor assist. To ride a bicycle, you need to develop a certain set of physical skills. A cyclist wears into the riding game. Our bodies adapt to the design realities of the bike. Bikes are designed to be pedalled. pedalling requires muscles and muscles provide the balance. Bicycle dynamics are a synergy of mechanics and biology. That’s why a first-time rider usually pains-out after a few miles or so. We need to break our selves into the cycling game. If we were born to ride we would have been born with wheels attached. e-biking takes all this evolutionary adaptation away. It’s like throwing a non-swimmer into the deep end of a pool. e-bikers are now mixing it with car drivers without the armour of physical-skill adaptation. How can you direct a pedal power dynamic-derived machine out of the danger zone when you have yet to master the dynamics of simple control?
We are all going to wear the consequences of heightened car driver rage. We are all going to be relegated to the cycle paths. Get ready for the re-regulation of cycling on our roads. It’s not going to be nice.
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Centuries ago, I used to teach business management at university. I recall all the excitement of keeping up with each New Big Idea or Latest Big Thing in the management scene to deliver to my students. Management fads fade in and fade out on a daily basis; what is in today is likely to be out in a month or so. So the plan to swim with the gurus is a permanent preoccupation. I recall the excitement of Chandler’s ‘Visible Hand’, of Porter’s Competitive Advantage and Strategy, of Horizontal, Vertical and Sideways Organisations, of Learning and Restless Organisations, of Chaos, Complexity and Fifth Disciplines. You name it, the management fads maintain the corporate speaking circuits as a lucrative and well oiled machine. We learnt about mission statements, visions, and throwing yourself off platforms into the hands of your colleagues to build trust-based teams. Fads defined schools; and schools compete against each other like zealous missionaries after heathen souls.
I always recall the amazing seriousness that some managers placed in things like vision statements; and of just how important the distinction between a mission and a vision statement is to a fundamentalist visioneering type. And how frustrated they get when the rest of us fail most un-text book like to be impressed and inspired by their visionary gargle.
I also always remember a sign a colleague of mine once had over his desk: ‘it is hard to soar with the eagles when you are surrounded by turkeys’.
I think I liked that as my own vision statement…Or is that my mission statement??
On my ride in to work today I heard a talk by Guy Kawasaki on, of all things, an IT Conversations podcast (a presentation to the 2007 MySQL conference to be more precise). I’ve been a fan of Guy’s writing for years. He was the original Macintosh evangelist way back when the Mac Plus was new and we were all Apple fundamentalists (I still am). Since then he has morphed into the venture capital business and is a sharp judge of what it takes for an innovation to sink or swim and of what separates reality from spin.
Guy’s basic argument is that there is a wall to be climbed or a moat to be swum when imagineering an innovation into place. That wall is the bozo barrier. There are two types of bozos: the nurdish kind who think in funnel vision (aka reductionist scientist types) and the once successful innovator now fortressed by his or her own ego into a permanent condition of intellectual stagnation (or as Guy Kawasaki puts it, is locked forever on that same curve that took him to the innovation that made him famous, once upon a time in the past). The once-were-innovator types are the most dangerous; mainly because they are generally more empowered. These are the CEO’s, President’s or Vice Chancellors who tend these days only to inspire their own reflections. They are usually advocates of strict organisational heirarchies, with them firmly on top. Even if they do tend to sprout sentiments about horizontal organisations and distributed leadership. And urgently seek to be ‘one of the boys’. The bozos will always try to grind the genuine innovator down. They are very good at telling us why we can’t do this or do that. What, they ask, is the ‘value proposition’ for what you propose? Tick the boxes: can it be done? Should it be done? Why will this add to the glory of this organisation? Give me the finely detailed, 20 year cash flow projected business plan! These bozos live in the negative. They are advocates of all the latest in managerialist fads. They read about such things in the executive summary versions of their designer, inner sanctum, subscriber only ‘secrets of the successful manager’ newsletters. They are finely dressed in their own hubris. Armani hubris, powered by Porsche…They love the sweet sound of those vision and mission statements that they themselves compose by candlelight in remote imagined cabins on the banks of inspirational lakes.
So, dear fellow bozo afflicted victims, listen to what Guy has to say and cycle right over the bozos in your way. The ascent is hard work, but then the decent is sweet!
Listen to his complete 40 minute talk by following this link
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Economists have this cult of bigness; it’s called globalisation. Another name for it is ‘letting the market work’. What this usually means is that we all need to sit back, cargo cult like, and just let money talk and walk us to a better place.
Now quite a few years ago, an enlightened chap called E F Schumacher wrote this really great book: Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. The rough idea is that while its really cool to let resources do their thing in the most efficient ways, we need to be a bit creative in how far we let the market place dominate. Basically, there’s a lot to be said for promoting local production, building local community identity rather than just all merging into a mind blowingly cosmopolitan single global community. Where the mega global corporations rule and each community, region and nation just moves into that single thing or two that it or they do best and cheapest. No, Schumacher suggests that what matters most is the sustainability of the communities. If that means that some things cost a little more; so be it. A community-supporting, community embedded local business or industry has more to offer than its replacement by just another node of a mega corporation.
What’s this got to do with cycling?
Well, lots as it happens.
I can see two lines of connection between cycling and Schumacher.
The first is to do with philosophy and the second is to do with cycling businesses.
Let’s look at trends in the cycling business area first. While it is not happening to cycling as fast as it is happening to most other things (like consumer electronics and cars, say), the bike business is trending slowly towards the domination of the mega corporation. Not mentioning any names, like the appropriately named Giant Bicycle Corporation…I reckon we are in the last era of the small, craft-orientated bicycle builder. Not too long ago, there were bicycle makers in every serious bike shop. I still recall the era when we all got so excited about the latest bits of cycle building artistry; remember lug designs?, the latest paint jobs, creative logos on head tubes etc etc. Then there was the total mystique of the Italian bicycle craftsmen. Remember all those great Italian builders from the past? How many remain? And of those, how many still actually handbuild in Italy? (Pinarello does, may it prosper forever…)
I don’t have the statistics as they are commercial hot property, but it seems that the vast majority of serious bikes these days are now made in Taiwan. Mostly by a handful of makers. One is Giant (of course). The others make bikes for just about everyone else under contract. Specialized are built in Taiwan, for example, as are Ridley and, I believe, some Colnagos! The one factory makes bikes for lots of different brands.
The problem is that we are on the fast track to centralisation. I do not doubt the quality of some of the higher end Taiwanese offerings (I do own a Specialized Roubaix and it is certainly a brilliant bike). The problem is that, like a giant magnet, the craft skills that once defined the cycling industry are being all dragged into the one place, where they are reinvented by that one profession that should never be given total control over any artistic endeavour: the warrior accountants. You see, my contention is that the industry is slowly being taken over by this dismal profession. The bike business is now one where choices relating to things like this derailleur over that derailleur are almost entirely resolved by accountants and marketers; not by cyclists. Committee meetings happen over whether to splurge over this valve cap or the other one that is 0.0005 cents cheaper per unit. Where bike aesthetics are decided by those who see beauty only in money and shareholder dividends.
Getting back to Schumacher again, what’s so great about the old model of local community-based bicycle makers? A lot as it happens; and mostly for things that no warrior accountant would recognise as being important. You see, a local bike maker is a hub for keeping a local cycling community energised. Look what Pinarello does in its home community of Treviso. Every year, Pinarello holds what can only be described as an annual pilgramage for Pinarello-enthused bike nuts (like me). Once a year, people from around the world go on pilgramage to Treviso to be part of the Grandfondo Pinarello – a massive bike race/tour/social gathering. Thousands of cyclists get together to reconnect and inspire the perpetuation of this most wonderful of cycling cultures. While this is certainly great for the local community, the main value of this kind of thing is its perpetuation of cycling culture itself. An asset outside the ledgers of the warrior accountants who are seeking world domination from Taiwan.
So, while makers like Pinarello persist, probably against the odds, their wonderful community-building contributions will also persist. These community-embedded makers are THE engine room of our cycling culture, of our cycling community. The warrior accountants in their mega corporations seek only our cash.
On the more philosophical front, the other interesting link from Schumacher’s thinking into the cycling world is to do with the very settings of thinking locally. I reckon that cyclists are more in tune with a local thinking world view than those whose personal sense of space has been expanded by the big distance-reach of the car driving brigade. We cyclists explore the minutiae of our local places. We spend more time getting to know the domain we can travel by pedal alone. We get a connection with these more compact domains. Even if we were to take our bikes on an overseas trip, once we get there we are off again, exploring places in a detail that the engine brigade only sees peripherally as they speed by and past. We connect into our local places; whereas car drivers tend to just fly by.
Here’s my theory. I reckon that this cycling world view of connecting locally transfers to every other aspect of our lives. This could be controversial. But here it is. Cyclists become tuned to seeing detail; car drivers are observers of wider domains. We observe and are perpetually contented by observing the shifting details and subtle patterns of a regional place than a car driver could ever be. This world view is the central catalyst of the small is beautiful culture that Schumacher advises is so important to realising a more sustainable world. Small and beautiful is more sustainable than big is better. The resilience of our local places is enhanced the more we ride bikes and support local bike makers. There you have it. Don’t be modest. We cyclists really are the front line to a sustainable future.
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