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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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Darth vader face

Riding up to a roundabout with the due caution of potential death, disfigurement and, worse, damage to one’s bike, I noticed the peculiar sound of a screeching yobbo projectile vomiting every four letter word that his 24kb brain could muster.  I don’t know what, exactly, he was saying despite his efforts to elevate his thoughts via sticking his ugly foam drooling face out the window of his penis-statement-making SUV, because I was listening to a vastly more entertaining podcast instead. But, I got the gist as he started to honk his horn while wildly conducting a flabby arm and one finger routine through which to choreograph his vocal wit. I was, you see, in his way. For once, I simply ignored the tirade, but I do confess I did slow down even more so that others could more completely savour this scene. Particularly the policeman standing beside his car just over the road. Outside his police station.Watching and shaking his head. Oh well, I guess that kind of behaviour is no longer a crime. I rode on, the troll drove off – seething and fuming over the 0.000006 second delay.

It’s irrelevant that my speed is usually at least matching the pace of the traffic in this car bloated town. Or that, indeed, we cyclists usually negotiate roundabouts with greater precision than the crash derby set ever achieve with their 2 tonne SUV’s. It’s irrelevant (if not horrendously disconcerting to) these NeanderCarls  that we actually have the legal right to be on the road, or that we are saving fuel for them to use, and gassing them less, and taking up less space. No matter.  To their 24kb minds the complexities of the world reduce to: bike bad, truck good. Big important, small not.

I’ve been reading Tom Vanderbilt’s interesting book ‘Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us). While not exactly a revelation of extraordinary insight, the book is a handy synthesis of notions scanned via what must have been years of library trawling (or, more likely, a few intense Google sessions). There’s an anecdote for all occasions. And I was in search of insight to explain my recent roundabout incident, not to mention my other pet cyclist-car driver peeves:

  • why do car drivers always try to overtake serious cyclists when riding downhill; especially when we are at least keeping up with the cars in front
  • why do car drivers always try to overtake cyclists (of any kind) when a car is coming from the opposite direction
  • why do car drivers hate coming up behind cyclists at traffic lights, roundabouts and every other place where we are more than matching everyone else’s speed
  • why the seething hatred some drivers are so keen to display
  • why do car drivers never, ever, give way to cyclists with the right of way
  • how is it possible for drivers to be blind to a cyclist wearing, say, a full fluoro-green Green Edge cycling kit while being completely tuned to cars colour-matched to the road, or to a grey rain challenged sky.

It seems that eye-to-eye communication is a key. Apparently, humans have evolved to resolve the complexities of communication through the proxy of a good old eye-to-eye stare. Think of The Look made famous by Lance Armstrong: a momentary eye-to-eye contact through which to establish who is predator and who is prey. Smash the enemy with a piercing glance. Prick their confidence with a single Look. Better than words, or a neon sign. A simple connection from eye to eye can make your message incredibly clear. Yes, connections from eye-to eye will certify all kinds of messages when you are out on the road. And that is one big problem when it comes to cars, or more precisely, for their drivers shrouded by a wall of sun-tinted glass and opaque tin. Cars filter our capacity for eye contact like a desert sand storm or a veil of hail. How do you make your connection when you can’t see to person to whom your thoughts are aimed? It’s like trying to make eye contact with Darth Vader. Under that disguise, who knew the man within is a feeble damaged mess propped up by an electronic array? Who new that the horn blasting troll giving you a hard time is really a flab-bellied, retirement-aged history teacher letting loose the frustrations of a lifetime of being beaten up by his wife…

With the disconnect of being unable to see eye-to-eye, motorists tend to behave differently than they would when their gaze is more exposed. Humans deprived of eye-to-eye contact tend to interact with less restraint than they would when standing face to face. How many people do you know who would scream abuse over such minor matters as a contested right of way when standing face to face as they might when under the shroud of anonymity afforded by their cars? Eye-to-eye contact tends to keep us civilised. We are adapted to transmit petabytes of evolutionarily accumulated social nuance and context via the electric shock of eye-to-eye contact. Take that away and we revert to social-context disarmed anarchy. Just as can be observed in internet chat rooms and the like. Or anonymous hate messages graffitied on public walls. It’s all to do with firing off our base primitive dysfunctional urges via the safety of being out of range. Of retaliation. Or recognition.

This all goes some way to explaining the behaviour we see on the roads. And bad behaviour is certainly not just targeted at cyclists. It’s all about the otherwise meek and mild awakening their beasts within once inside their cars. Everyone becomes a target of a road-raged tin-shielded troll.

So what happens when a car-shielded road troll encounters the blazingly lighthouse-like beacon of a cyclist’s unshrouded eyes? It’s at this point that Tim Vanderbilt’s book runs out of steam.

Car drivers can be breathtakingly anonymous. Cyclists (and middle-aged open topped sports car drivers) are at the opposite extreme. Not withstanding deep-tinted cycling glasses, helmets or tweed driving caps. It’s as though we cyclists are making an extreme statement of un-anonyminity. Perhaps we are like peacocks with tails to display. When we ride a bike, we are as stripped of a place to hide as a swimmer clad in nothing but speedos on the beach. We become a magnet in search of eye-to-eye communication. The anthesis of hiding under a shield of tin. Provocatively exposed to the communicative possibilities of face directed at face. Could this be construed by the 24kb NeanderCarl brain as something of a threat? Could be we construed as a confrontation; a I-dare-you-to-say-that-to-my-face assault to those who prefer to fire their tirades from the safety of a two tonne automotive shield?

When you think about it, most car driver road rage is executed much more by way of a drive-by assault than as a man-to-man* engagement on the front line. Yes, sometimes road rage unravels to the physicality of fisticuffs, and only then when a cyclist is silly enough to take the extraordinarily unexpected turn to fight back. But that’s much rarer than abuse delivered via a car horn along with a finger out the window. Road ragers would rather hit you with their car than they would with their fists. They are cowards by definition. But irrespectively, if you de-shrouded these people from their cars and put them eye to eye with those to whom their abuse is aimed, I’d bet their behaviour would be cooled quicker than the engines they’d be forced to leave aside.

If you doubt the power of eye-to-eye contact to defuse a road raged scene, try this experiment. I have tried it many times. It has worked every time. If you can, pull up beside the troll giving you a hard time (maybe when you are both stopped at a set of lights). Turn you head and give him* the eye. Don’t say a word. Just give him* The Look. Think of Lance Armstrong. Watch the abuse fizzle out. Watch the turkey embarrass himself* out of rage as quick as a punctured tyre. Watch him* flounder in defeat and plant his* foot to escape. This works particularly well if you are commandingly fit and lean; a menace of cycle fitness is ever more intimidating the more you can establish The Look.

Naturally, there will be exceptions to my theory. Perhaps giving The Look will ignite explosive decompression when the road rager’s brain power runs out. It’s probably best to simply ride away from any beer branded red neck ute with penis extension antenna masts whipping fifty feet  up into the wind. Let Darwin do his work instead.


*Road rage is definitely not constrained to men! Some of the worst offenders are women. Cars do something to over-liberate the conventions of femininity as much as they do to emasculate the conventions of masculinity; road ragers become sexless beasts one and all.

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For years I have been advocating, wishing and otherwise dreamed of a world vastly improved through more and more bicycles and less and less cars. Could enough bikes ever be too many? What’s the carrying capacity of our planet for bicycles anyway?

Imagine a world where those who can, and many who you’d think can’t, choose the bicycle as their foremost mode of transport. Imagine our roads supporting an endless business of commerce hauling bikes, shopping cart converted bikes, bikes moving refrigerators, bikes with a family of five on-board, bikes climbing mountains, police on bikes, lycra-racer bicycling elites, counter-culture revolutionary protest movement bikers wearing cleated sandals and Armani suits… Imagine it all!

Imagine the humiliation of those poor residual few who still persist with driving car. Imagine their misery as they head out on to the road surrounded by scornful cyclists out and about like a perpetual Critical Mass parade. Imagine a world where the cycling advocacy zealots of today had won a victory beyond even their most fevered desires. Imagine a world where cycling rules the roost once more (as was once the case in the 1870’s or so).

I am wondering if this fevered vision might have a few flaws. I suspect that there’s one sleeping serpent that we zealots have overlooked as we wish for this promised land.

You see, if we cyclists were to rise to such a giddy height, what, exactly, would those legions of administrators then do when their attentions could no longer be directed at the world of cars? The human urge to plan and regulate the affairs of all others down to match one’s own personal world view is an urge that can’t be curbed. ‘If only everyone could see the world as I see it, the world would be a better place!’ Now if you empower folk who think that way, the thing they need to maintain control are tiers and tiers of rules, policies and processes customised to keeping their views as some kind of Copernican gravitational core. And that’s precisely the way the rules of the road are currently maintained. I am sure you have noticed the multi-tiered bureaucracy that controls the affairs of those who drive cars… Where do the attentions of that manic bureaucracy go when the world runs out of cars? Why, to the brave-new-world of bikes, of course!

There are some signs of this bureaucratic holocaust in place right now. The scaffolding of regulation is already in place. Only there’s still too few of us to meet the full attention of the bureaucrat’s interest; for now.

My local bike shop guy handed be a brochure from the local roads authority the other day. It was an information piece on the rules of road as they are perceived to apply to cyclists. There was a paragraph in there that got me seriously concerned. It was a sign of things to come. If, the brochure proclaimed, a cycling path existed beside any road, any cyclist must use that path rather than the road. This one’s a dormant seed; sown and ready for emergence when the rule makers decide the time’s right.

Let me explain. There’s this hill into my local town. It’s a 2 kilometre descent set entirely within the urban traffic speed controlled zone. It’s hard to check the speed of my bike down to the 50 km/hour restriction that applies. I can certainly keep up with any car along that road. But beside that road, weaving a circuitous path via every local household’s front yard verge, is a gravel goat track that pedestrians and little kids use to be safely removed from the furies of trucks and cars. That gravel track is the local cycleway. I’ve looked at that path once or twice. It would be certain death for my high pressure tyres; it would destroy my carbon wheels. I am not sure I could navigate a track like that on my Pinarello Prince, let alone on my S-Works Roubaix. And of one thing I can be sure; if I did, there’d be more than a few pedestrians who would complain!

But by the rules that currently apply, I should be using that track. Technically, I am breaking the law by riding on the road when I should be using the goat track instead. But practically, right now, no one’s going to complain (except a couple of the most rampantly deranged motorists I have enticed to overtake as I descend at the posted speed limit; only to be fined by police speedtraps at the bottom of the hill…). Right now, this is one of those ‘in principle’ rules that are practically ignored.

But, as cycling takes greater hold; as a more diversified array of two wheelers start to dominate the road, it is inevitable that sleeper rules such as this will be invoked to sleep no more. As the revenue to be raised from speeding cars declines with the number of cars on the road, the attention of our frustrated bureaucrats will turn to us. I can see a time when I will have to ride to town on a mountain bike; just so that I can navigate that terrible cycling track.

And then, of course, how do we fill the till of the bureaucrats who levy registration and compulsory insurance from the currently healthy flock of motoring sheep? Why from bicyclists of course! It’s as inevitable as the sun will rise, that bicycle registration will eventually enter the radar of a bureaucracy finding themselves increasingly with nothing to do. Then we’ll cop the attention of the Mob that runs the insurance game. Compulsory personal accident insurance for cyclists is a certainty as our numbers increase. Our motorcycling cousins are already subject to the tyrannies of this insurance racketeering game. If a motorcyclist can be levied above the level of a 2 tonne SUV, what makes us think we will retain our freedom for long?

No, we cyclists will need to replace the revenues as the motoring mainstream sidelines into Peak Oil decline. These funds are needed to keep the bureaucracy alive! And nothing on this earth matters more than job security for our bureaucratic tyrants.

My vision for a cycling-first future is one that needs to be considered with a more realistic eye. I am not entirely sure that the passions and pleasures of cycling could withstand the excesses of bureaucratic control that are now extended to control the world of cars. I’ve seen a glimpse of how my vision could go so very wrong. You only need to ride a motorcycle to see how dumb our bureaucracies can be when they turn their attention from four wheels to two.

Actually, I’ve begun to think that the promised land is the land of the here and now. Despite the continual assaults from those mental cripples whose minds are crippled through driving a car, we do have freedoms that are substantial and impressive. Like a freedom from the tyrannies of compulsory insurance; freedom from the extortion of registration; and freedom from the Safety Mafia who’d love nothing more than to determine just how we should be allowed to ride. Yes, some of these freedoms are exercised only through the non-enforcement of currently embedded rules. But they are freedoms no less for us to enjoy. But, they are freedoms that are a big attractor to those more enlightened motorists suffering the oppression of the bureaucracy of cars. These are the freedoms that will attract more and more to the world of two wheels. And they are the freedoms that will fray as these folk swell the now casually moderated ranks in what I now think must be the end-times of cycling’s golden age.

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I was getting a niggling new bike warranty issue sorted at my local Triumph motorcycle dealer (as much as a 400km round trip can be regarded as ‘local’) when one of the local Harley guys turned up for ‘smoko’ to chat over important issues like carburator adjustments with the guy busily tinkering (and swearing) over my faulty starter realay switch – when he turned his attention to my black on black, black is still black rather than white-is-the-new-black fashion statement making of contemporary mercantile modernism – jet black Triumph Tiger: ‘…must have a good power to weight ratio, that’.

That’s a curious feature to focus one’s opening reaction to a machine such as this. It’s surely better than the usual line that car drivers extend by way of observation to their fellow delusional devotees: ‘ow fast can it go?’

Which got me thinking. Here we have a fellow-devotee observation that cuts right across all the machined artifices of marketing-driven superficiality to get right down to the essential core: it is indeed all about power-to-weight ratios for machinery such as this. Especially when the observation was delivered so deliberatively over the painstakingly moderated process of rolling a roll-your-own cigarette to be taken as a statement of anarchical contempt to all the No Smoking! signs displayed so prominently above his head.

One concept I was not going to discuss with my grizzled, leather-layered, motorcycle Harley-Man interlocutor was that, perhaps, such an observation might apply even more emphatically to any bicycle he might choose to inspect. I mean, the big-engined anarchical predilections of the true born-to-ride warriors-of-the-road are not ordinarily drawn to machines wherein engine displacement relates to the power of one’s legs instead of the cc’s pushed by their pistons. He didn’t strike me as the cycling kind.

But it’s true, you know. A top-end racing bicycle is indeed a statement of perfection when it comes to ratios of power-to-weight. I started to wonder. What takes the eye of a cycling enthusiast when they first see a racing bike on display? For me, the first impression is one of power; emphatic performance; a tool of power to weight ratios as justification for all the mega-priced parts delivered through the raw purpose of its design. Could there ever be a purer statement of an intention to climb a performance peak? There’s nothing here that is consequent to alternative intentions; right down to the carbon fibre seat. The racing bicycle is a statement of pared back, sleek engineered performance perfection; wrapped in the mystique of its maker’s heritage, and all the glories of riding the Col du Tourmalet.

Go on, pick one up. Hang it on your little finger to convince about its ultra light weight. Contemplate a rider like Mark Cavendish. Make the match and watch the fury. Power to weight.

Now, technically, my motorcycle is probably going to still outperform any bicycle-rider combination you might choose to represent the case. Technically, according to the calculations scrawled across the back of my envelope, my Tiger can produce a power-to-weight peak of 359 watts/kg. When Cavendish pushes 1,600 watts across the finish line, his ratio is about 235 watts/kg. But! And here’s the thing. Those watts are all his. He’s the piston. He’s the power. Any old pot bellied fool can gun my Tiger to its limit. The motorcycle’s power is captured entirely through the power of its design; rather than being the outcome of that wonderful synergy cyclists unleash as legs and carbon combine.

Which makes me wonder why it is that so many people simply can not see and wonder at the bio-technical perfection that a bicycle can unleash. They usually can’t see what it is that I see straight away. Unlike their first reaction to a big capacity performance motorbike (and yes, I am intentionally not discussing the mangy dog dimension of cars – those things, to me, are simply repulsive in every way). Why not? What’s going on?

Answer that and, I believe, you will find the mother load of psychological insight into what it is that so persistently enthrals the human race with the artificial satiation of that sense of physical accomplishment that, today, only cyclists, runners and like-minded athletes can understand. Once upon a time, back in the days when we lived in caves, if you could not run, leap and otherwise physically excel, you didn’t eat. Nowadays, we rely on the artifices of the marketplace to satiate those primal sensibilities to excel. We consume that need through watching sport; and fantasising physical empathy with the players we observe as we nurse that tinny on our bulging gut. We observe with an empathy frustrated, for circumstances complex, varied and invariably unconsidered to any great degree, and tell ourselves that, but for the sake of choices deliberately made, ‘there also could I go’. And we’d be right. We withdrew from the world where the possibilities to explore the limits to our own power-to-weight are unlikely to ever be tested. Sadly. Tragically.

So many of us don’t see the statement of power that a racing bicycle makes because they have never experienced the mind-body power that has always been entirely theirs to command… They’d rather quench primal urges of this kind through the second-hand side-stand of piston power.

So, that’s probably why so many of us don’t experience the immediate hair-tingling thrill on seeing a top-end bicycle racing machine. We don’t want to see. We don’t want to be reminded of the choices so many of us have made to offload our primal physical aspirations to the crutches of oil-fired motivation or consuming the performance of others on TV.

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I know how to fix the world… But it’s complicated. It will work but it’s not a solution you get from a vending machine; or through sitting all Cargo Cult-like waiting for politicians to deliver their solutions. It’s to do with what I call ‘Car-Mind’; and how to get rid of it…

The story starts with the concept of how ‘big’ might an idea be before it makes our brains hurt and retreat back to watching The Simpsons instead. Let’s start with some mind-hurting ideas like ‘the world view of the infinite’ versus the more localised notion of ‘our finite mental backyard’. Finite versus infinite. What’s the tipping point that separates these two dimensions? Presumably, somewhere along the line, the finite breaks apart to become the infinite. Where’s that point? And why should we care?

Now the mathematical boffins out there will be able to provide some ideas on this. But anything they will say on this would side-track us from the argument I want to present. You see, the tipping point from the finite to the infinite is all in our minds. And every person’s mind will have a different take on that particular journey. Because the concept of the infinite is, as much as anything else, what we might all a ‘cultural construction’ (rather than just a technical mathematical construction).

Now all this might sound pretty abstract. But it’s not. This is actually the killer argument that explains everything! So keep reading.

Consider a story through which to illustrate the ideas here. Consider Global Warming (or Climate Change to be more politically correct). Our Globe is a pretty big place. The Earth is bigger than your local neighbourhood. It’s even bigger than your local State. We know this. But do we really know this?

Here’s where I need to define infinite and finite as the cultural notions that they are. In my view, finite is the local reality space our minds can grasp. The infinite is everything outside that zone of localised reality. We appreciate that super-local stuff exists. We can go visit super-local stuff by plane. That’s what tourism is. We might even hop on a rocket and visit the moon, and the moon is hardly in the local zone of most peoples’ mental back yard. The point here is that the border between the locally finite and the otherworldliness of infinity is a changing context thing. It depends on time and place; it’s shaped by the journey of your life.

Returning to Global Warming, I think that this separation between the lived-reality of the locally finite and the abstractions of the infinite explains the mess we are now in. You see, I reckon most people really consider that Global Warming is a notion from the infinities of beyond; beyond our zones of local relevance and lived realities. We know about the idea of Global Warming. But most of us haven’t really adopted the idea as a part of the furniture of the localised-reality of our mental backyard. If it’s outside of the finite, then it’s an idea that sits in the abstractions of the infinite beyond. And that’s always in Someone Else’s Backyard. My sense of responsibility only extends within the white painted picket-fenced boundary of my home mental zone.

Now, let’s extend this argument to cars and bicycles. Let me put it this way. We are told that Global Warming is to do (at least significantly, in part) by the fumes emitted from cars. You might have a car. You might know that your own car is a contributor to Global Warming. But you know that your car is only one of millions (700 million or thereabouts). So the contribution of your car is pretty darn small! So, working the the idea of finite realities and the incomprehensibility of the infinite beyond, you might conclude that your bit is soooooo small as to not be a major concern. It’s all those Chinese motorists out there… Or all those folk in Pakistan. Or pick any other place outside the place you call home. That’s ‘Car-Mind’. Your world is nicely bordered by a reality zone of the finite you can touch, feel and smell. A car is a perfect illustration of a local reality zone contained within a hard, emphatic skin. That tin and glass separates the realities of your space from the spaces of everywhere else. You can touch, see and smell everything within your car. That’s your space. Beyond, is someplace else. Outside is the infinite beyond (unless you crash in which case the infinities of beyond can then become an exercise in instant augmented reality…). Your fumes are, importantly, outside the bubble of that mobile reality zone you might otherwise describe as your car. So, you might not take ownership of the fumes your car emits. Those fumes have become part of the abstraction of the infinite beyond. Just like the idea of Global Warming.

Now, take a bicycle. With a bicycle, there’s no roof. No tin walls. No glass. Your reality is a twisted space. Outside is inside and woven all around. The borderlands of your mobile world are less ‘precise’. Now you can smell, feel, and touch everything around you and, as you are continually moving, you keep on keeping on touching, smelling and feeling places as places merge into other places and then into places beyond. Your mind is relieved of the hard mental comforter of a metallically reinforced skin through which to calm the mental challenges of interfacing with the infinities of beyond. The unsettling metaphysical challenges of opening to the ungrounded infinities of beyond are harder to escape. You can’t air-condition off your mental comfort zones with walls of tin and glass. ‘Cycling-Mind’ is a bigger metaphysical embrace than anything with which the driver of even the largest monster SUV can contend. Cycling-Mind is a more expansively worldly place to be.

Now try this. If we are to really convert the infinite abstraction of Global Warming into the lived-zone of peoples’ finite local reality, you might want to think about this. To insert the reality of their fumes into the backyard of their minds, perhaps you might conduct an experiment. Take a Car-Mind afflicted, constrained reality thinker, sit them in their car, place a tube on the back-end of their car’s exhaust and channel it back inside the cabin. They’d start to notice a few things about the realities of their fumes pretty quick smart. That’s precisely the kind of reality zone twisting that cyclists live with all the time. The borderlands of finite local realities and the un-realities of the infinite beyond would be twisted around pretty profoundly as those fumes pump back inside. The physical barriers of the car would separate from the mental barriers they were once held to be. Consequences would twist back into the actions that gave them cause. Just as is always the case with those blessed with the more expansive possibilities of reality-extending Cycling-Mind.

I bet you this. If we tried this little exhaust re-plumbing twist with the more ‘finitely-bordered’ minds out there (any gas guzzing SUV driver will do), Global Warming would become a more lived reality for those with the most closed-off minds. The tide would then turn pretty fast. As the folk begin to take ownership of the consequences of their environmental actions, progress would make pace at last. Then Car-Mind might open out to the more infinitely-touched realities of Cycling-Mind.

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It’s all a matter of harmony. Some things you can do are in tune and some are not. Bungee jumping is not exactly a seamless transition to playing chess. Butchering meat is not exactly in sympathetic harmony with flower arranging. And so it is with riding a bicycle and driving a car. These things are not the same; not on the same page, not a part of the same story. We can do both, but we would not, if you really think about it, regard cars and bicycles as two manifestations of the same thing.

And what thing, exactly, is it that these two things not the same thing as?

Here’s the crux of my philosophical ponderings of late. Here’s the crux of the argument that bicycles and bicycling are substitutes for raping the earth by car. I’ve come to realise that cycling and motoring by car are not substitutes, after all. As close as these things get to being substitutes is the fact that when you are riding a bike, you are not driving a car. But then again, when you are sweating away in a stinking gymnasium, you are also not (hopefully) driving a car. We don’t suggest that riding the gymnasium fixed bike is a substitute for travel by car, do we?

No. Cycling and cars are not one thing as opposed to the other. Here’s the crux of the argument: when you ditch a car and ride a bike instead, you are not travelling by two wheels instead of four. No, you have transcended the bloat gloat of coffin box asphyxiation with the joyous cultural transcendence of travelling by bicycle instead! There’s some cultural transformation that goes on when you move from one mode to the other.

Actually, I think it’s wrong minded to think that cycling is a substitute for travelling by car. The danger is that when you propose such things, the car folk kind of expect that cycling is just an alternative mode of transportation. It’s not. So, when you try to convince then to transport themselves by bicycle instead of a car, they soon discover the realities of exercise. And that discovery is probably something they’ve not experienced before… So, when they discover bicycling, they discover their physicality as well. But that’s not all! They discover that journey’s can be fun. That travelling slow is a concept that only makes sense from the context of a car. When you travel by bike, speed is the speed you do. When you travel by car, speed is what you want most to end the trauma of travelling by car! When you travel by car, you want to get somewhere. Getting somewhere is what you are focused on when you travel by car. Whereas, when you ride your focus is on the journey. It’s the experience of travel that matters now. And what a metaphor for life that really is!

Yes, cycling is in tune with the glories of life. The journey is the only game that matters. Our ultimate destination is, after all, death. And who wants to reach that final terminus before our time; or, really, to focus our lives on the ultimate destination of our ultimate departure!

No, dear reader, the journey’s the thing. And cycling is an instrument through which to enjoy the trip. Cars are tools through which we detour the rich rewards of a life lived well.

But! And this one has always been a challenge. What if we could combine the necessities of travel with the joys of riding a bike? That’s a two-for-one deal that would seem to be rather attractive in these days when all things, otherwise, are all about putting life on hold while we get on with the business of money. Some of us are so devoted that that purpose that by the time our pile is big enough, we sadly find that life is something that’s passed us by. Enjoy the journey… That’s the more important task.

But! if we were wanting to replace the transportation functions of cars with the joys of travelling by two wheels, some of us might find that we end up time warped out of the frenzied stream where everyone else seems intent to play. If we want to keep pace while living a life for the journey that life provides, we can either try to persuade everyone else to slow down (a terribly good idea), pedal really fast (terrific if you are training for sprints) or, and here is the point, buy a motorcycle to augment the bicycle we’d use when our pace is more our own.

A bicycle and a motorcycle are, unlike cars and bicycles, two versions of the same thing. Bicycles and motorcycles are on the same page. They are in tune. The motorcycle, as I said at the top of this diatribe, amplifies the sensations delivered raw by a bicycle. There’s two part harmony going on here. I have a proposition. If you love cycling, I think you’d also love motorcycling. If you love motorcycling, I suspect you’d love cycling too.*

If you want proof of my curious contention, try this. I faced this dilemma myself. Consider this two-cornered contest. Consider this contest of ultimate statements of two-wheeled choice. Consider this cage match of blissed-out delectation: the 2010 Pinarello Dogma (re-born for your devoted attentions via the latest and greatest manifestation of carbon strung to 60HM1K) vs. the 2010 Triumph Daytona 675! Two toys of (over-the-top) engineering perfection through which to fuel one’s two-wheeled addiction. Both have the same design brief: to proceed via the ultimate in two-wheeled efficiency to the highest possible passion of speed for the sake of speed rather than speed as the tool through which to get someplace. Two toys that cost almost precisely the same! Two toys that would satiate anyone’s techno-lust to precisely the same degree. Two toys that provide the same buzz, via tracking different lines on the same page of one glorious song sung in two part harmony.

One sings the tune in the treble clef and the other via the harmony of the bass. I think I will sell the house to indulge in both… but then I’d have no place to live.. Then again, it’s virtuous to avoid comsumerist addictions of this kind! So in virtue I will proceed along more modest lines. But then again, you can’t admire the alpine peaks of technical perfection if you never take your gaze above the plains wherein our attentions might otherwise perpetually reside.

*My argument applies above that level of destitution wherein some folks travel by clapped-out motorbike or steel pipe bike for reasons of a lost licence or some other fate related contrivance of penury that fits its victim to the ceiling of bikes supermarkets sell…

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Lots of things enrage those who are easily enraged. Life’s little wars, them-against-us. Why can’t people see what I see? And so it goes. The game of context; my context, your context, the car-Borgs’ context. Everyone with their own context and all seeing things in never, ever, quite the same way. Tell it to the judge (who has her own context to apply, even then). Go tell it to the guy who just ran over your $10,000 bike thinking a muted ‘sorry’ might suffice; or that you weren’t even worth stopping for, lying there in a pool of blood and broken carbon fibre.

How many of those daily assaults to the safety of the cyclerati are deliberate intentions to destroy; or how many are just the result of unthinking, unknowing, self-obsessed delirium? How many of those car-carriaged hits and near misses possess any more intentionality than a meteor compelled via gravity to construct a big hole in the ground? Or have more malicious intent than a tree falling onto a seedling; or indeed, falling onto a human hiker’s head?

But even when you, the cyclist are the target for a car-Borg’s fury, does that blighted coffin jockey know you name? Does he know you personally? Consider that motorist who veers intentionally into your path; who throws a can at your head, or screams tirrades of hate at you when you both pull up to the traffic lights. Why would a motorist hate a cyclist he/she has probably never met? What’s that rage all about? Is it about the inconvenience the cyclist momentarily represents? Or is this fury fanned by jealousy? Or is it some kind of tribal thing? Who knows how to disentangle the S-bend sludge that clogs motorists’ minds. Is the freedom, efficiency and joy with which we cyclists apply ourselves an affront to the miseries of driving a car? Do they object to two legs out gunning the 300 horses their wallet-draining, screaming, environmentally-defecating engines command? Do we make them look and feel stupid for all the money they spent and continue to spend via enforced contributions to the insurance and registration Mafia?

Or are we simply in their way? Even Alberto Contador could get in the way of a car-driving grannie off to lawn bowls or boule at the village pub. Are cyclists really just another road furniture hurdle to be avoided in the never ending array of distractions that confuse the modest minds that are a prerequisite to driving a car? For sure, finding a cyclist on the apex of a hill-cresting blind corner can be kind of exciting for some. And yes, an on-coming cyclist holding mid-lane can get in a road raged overtaking motorist’s way. I understand these things. But then again, other motorists using the road are as much a nuisannce to that kind of driver as any cyclist. We are all in the way of raging kings-of-the-road.

No, this war of contempt is a complex litany of cause and effect; just like surfacing the causes of World War I. And let’s not overlook the reality that many cyclists deserve the contempt they receive. Wobbling around the highways on a mountain bike without sense or sensibility is hardly an endearing trait. And I can’t imagine curb hopping, urban single speeders weaving in and out of traffic lights, crowded pedestrian walkways and through sidewalk cafe’s would endear those riders to any but the most sociopathically insane.

I have an observation to blow the air out of the argument that cyclists enrage the rage-gorged psychoses of drivers-of-cars through simply being in those drivers’ way. I am a motorcyclist too. Car drivers react to motorcyclists just as do with cyclists; if not worse. All the astonishing ignorance directed at cyclists is directed at motorcyclists too. All two-wheelers are subject to that great car driver’s delusion that all the rules pertaining to giving way don’t apply to anyone proceeding on fewer wheels than themselves. Or, that mad, bad, astonishing urge to overtake anything more diminutive than the mountain of oil-fired tin they’ve chosen to promote their fantasies of self-worth.

Picture this. A few of us know that some motorcycles can go pretty fast. Faster than any car, in fact. If not faster than a missile, or even faster than teenage fashion shifts. But, does that stop that fat age-faded, he-man in his hero-2 tonne SUV wanting, needing, to overtake? No chance. Old fatty is going to overtake. No matter what. ‘Overtake…overtake…me biggest Tarzan in the jungle…where’s Jane at’? I am always amused at the sight of a loaded Landcruiser pulling out to overtake the likes of an MV Augusta being nursed diligently to within a micron of the almost-at-a-stall posted maximum legal speed.

No, dear cyclist comrades, motorcyclists get it all too. So it is not about our speed. It’s all about us having less wheels. And being smaller. Or being smaller period. We two wheelers present less of a threat in the jungle of the road. From the motorists’ point of view, we are in the leaf litter of the jungle pecking order.

I have an additional theory. Perhaps it’s a bit controversial. But I’m sold. Cyclists, you see, are more intelligent than any car driver on the road. You have to be, fundamentally, intellectually-blighted to drive a car. So, it’s hard for us cyclists to interpret the behaviour of those who persist with four wheeled coffin-box predilections. You can’t judge them from the context of what and how we more enlightened souls think. You’d need to euthanise half your brain to understand…

But we do need to understand if we are to survive on roads infested with those crippled by car-mind; by the mental desolation of the car-mind-car-Borg.

Here’s my tips for surviving the cycling-challenged contexts of those-who-drive-cars:

  • Don’t take anything car drives do, say, or throw at you, personally. They no not know what it is that they do…They don’t think like us. They usually don’t think at all.
  • Don’t assume the car-Borg will ever see you, even if you are wearing the fluorescent-green kit of the Liquigas team. You are invisible until just after that point when they’ve run you down (and sometimes not even then).
  • Let them go. They disappear fairly quickly; out of your way and out of your mind.
  • Pity them. They travel in a festering box breathing their own toxic fumes. That’s why they are so angry. Where would you rather be: at the top of a scenic mountain purveying the view or rotting in a box exorcised from the sounds, smells and freedoms of the open-air? We don’t travel in coffins. Pity those who do.
  • Smile a lot. This might encourage them to escape the market-driven, sheep-flocking follow-the-leader-over-the-cliff automotive purgatory entrapment to which they have succumbed.
  • Never throw the flaming match of response to the tinder dry grassy plains of their minds. Anything a cyclist says or does through which to redress wrongs committed will be interpreted from the context of their car-Borg minds. The language of reason is beyond their capacity to understand (or why would they be driving cars?)

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Because cycling and living are like strands meshed within a woven steel rope, I ain’t going to no nursing home…

I’ve been reflecting on this concept of lifecycling of late. I’ve been reflecting on the reactions of people to my riding behaviour. I’ve been reflecting on what it must be to lead a life without cycling woven into the core. So, I started thinking what it must be like to be an astronaut, politician, or to get really really surreal, a cricket player. Imagineer living the life of a total alien. Not so alien as to be from Planet Xinguishposh, but alien enough to be using words, language and meaning I simply don’t understand. What’s it like to be in shoes such as those? Shoes without cleats; a person with hairy legs!

To those mainstreamed into the pre-programmed socially constructed highway of life, I suppose, it must seem a bit unusual, if not intimidatingly over-enthusiastic to ride 60km to pick up the weekend papers, to ride a daily ride, every day, every single day, for two hours a go. Or to house bicycles in every room of the house. Strangeness badged with lycra, singing to the hymns of Italian crafted carbon to a score no one else seems to understand. It must seem, I suppose, a little unusual to those unused to such things. Unusual, orbiting the fringe, posted to mental compartments reserved for loonies and assorted over-individualistic antiestablishment types.

But to a cyclist, so what?

Now if I were an enthusiastic cricket player, or stylist of the boardroom, my devotions to the slow motion rituals of hitting a bat with a ball and/or endless entertaining in the leather upholstered ego chambers of the corporate BMW, I’ve no doubt I would lead a life to which more people could relate. And, when my knees became as stiff as a cricket bat, and my fancy Italian suits could no longer fit, they’d know, and understand. That’s the way it ought to be. When my conversation descended to the tribulations of doctors’ waiting rooms and never, ever, again being able to see my feet over a rising mountain of midriff fat, they’d know and understand. They’d know and understand a standard hard-railed journey to the tune of off-the-shelf lifestyle goals: aspiration to wealth, realisation of wealth, senescence on the foundation of wealth and … end-of-days in a plush nursing home. With a few games of golf, cricket, football and over-fancy eating along the way. Whether a person hits that curve or comes in permanently below, they’d understand that too. Life’s a band of existence at or under that wealth accumulating curve.

What I have trouble with is the inevitability most folk place on conventional lifestyle plots plotted out to follow the wealth aspiration curve. More specifically, I have trouble with the fatalism most folk apply to the various hits and misses they suffer as they follow the curve. Even more specifically, I simply cannot comprehend the inevitability most folk seem to place on the health impacts of following the curve. I listen like some kind of alien trying to understand the mentality of folk who talk about the encroaching enfeeblement of age. They talk about visits to medical quacks like a necessity of life. They talk about pills and potions, remedial this and remedial that and the inevitability be being unable to bend over to tie their shoes. They laugh about aching backs, and the inevitability – the sheer unmitigated predestination of folk to become fat, sedentary and enfeebled.

To me, the nursing home is the ultimate coda to lives lived on the social construction of a wealth-curved lifecycle path. I know we all get (or hope to become) old, and I know that the body breaks down. I can even accept baldness and wrinkles as being something other than a disease. But I can not accept the unrelenting predictability of a life lived out like a journey pre-programmed to follow a set of rails. I can’t understand the mentality of those who succumb to a trajectory guided life, plotted out with hard targets of increasing decrepitude; funnelled like automatons into the programme-planned inevitability of a nursing home. I can’t understand, empathise or comprehend those who talk about all their bits falling off as they journey to a nursing home room reserved in their name from birth.

There’s a name for a hard-railed, pre-programmed concept of a life. It’s called managerialism. I know all about managerialism. It’s the disease of all diseases I loath and detest most. That’s a disease that kills innovation, destroys lateral thinking, and smothers the inspiration of difference. It’s the disease of those who believe life can be lived, organisations can be managed and society can progress like the engineered confection of a train. A managerialised life is a life hard-wired to targets and programme plans. Life there is about staying on the rails. Rails deployed on routs visioned by experts; in directions determined through the accumulated baggage of societal mores, prejudice and superstition. If we accept life-on-the-rails, we accept the targets posted along the way and that final shunting yard in the nursing home. Life reconfigures to a process to keep us on those rails. What we do and what we think is all about keeping our lives attached to rails constructed by psychopaths who truly, really, believe in their rights to direct a command-and-control approach to life.

Going off the rails is, I would contend, something to which we all might usefully aspire! This might usefully be catalysed by simple-seeming diversions. Like cycling; mountain climbing or heading off like Forest Gump on an endless running spree. To step off the rails you have to take that first step. Step off onto a bicycle and you never know, you might end up entirely someplace else; a place where the detritus of a socially-normed, managerialised life falls someplace else other than on your head. Perhaps I might end up like Tom Simpson and die asking to be put back on my bike, on the side of Mont Ventoux. Now that’s better than fading away in some home…

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Territorialism. That’s what driving a car is all about. Think about it and perhaps you will agree with me. People stick with cars because they need the protected space cars provide.

It’s no fluke that cars have windows and doors. Locks too. Cars keep drivers in and everyone else out. Cars protect and assert your private space. A space you have customised to your peculiarities, eccentricities and valiant statements of individualism. Seat covers, rear view mirror fluffy dice dancing about. A nodding toy dog on the rear shelf. The music you play. Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries or Rap boom boxing for assaulting pedestrians. Car colour, carpet on the dash board. Religious symbols and symbols of rebellion pasted to your rear end. Perhaps a picture of a loved one strategically displayed. Or perhaps an entire temple shrine to fringe the windscreen, or a miniature Eiffel Tower blue-tacked to the instrument cowl. A machine gun mounted to your door as an expression of the road rage you feel is your right to assert. That’s your space in there.

You take your personalised space out onto the road. Wherever you go, your space goes too. Your mobile, individualised territory of glass and tin. Have you ever noticed how a car tends to reflect the character of it’s driver? Pedantically polished mirrors of the soul for the prim and properly permed. Trashy mobile muck for the hairy armed, singlet wrapped, beer can chucking yobs. White, polished and saintly for the godfull. Black and evil for the sneering one-finger-at-you punk establishment haters. Workabout for the work-a-days. Dog adorned for the canine walkies poop-scooping set. Tiny, rounded, pastel plastic for the girlie-texting, image-manicured trendies boot-loaded with Body Shop bags. Loud and overpowering for insecure doubtful males. Bag-of-cement and self-sown grass sprouting tray back utes for the DIY utilitarians. Prestige polished badge-badged wallowing barges for those with ego-aspirations to mobile penthouse display. Mouldy, rusty for the rusted-out wrecked and dented crowd.

We take these identity displays out on the road. The space within is your kingdom; your coocoon. If someone cuts you off, refused to give way, takes your space or overtakes without deference to the messages you are at least subliminaly seeking to display, your territory has been violated. You are under attack. Your steel and glass shields are raised. You descend to rage. Or perhaps you retreat to the corner of your mobile cave – behind the security of tinted glass. You hide; you confront. You might be a balding lardy bellied ageing git, but hey! …when you are behind your wheel, you are the king and your petrol powered horses are like the hair piece you just purchased off eBay. Surround yourself with polished, sparkly, rippled-with-power and look-at-me exhaust-enhanced bellow, you can pretend a presence lost only when you step out of your car. That’s why you probably use it everywhere; down to the letterbox at the foot of your drive or to the look-but-don’t-touch freeway promenades. Moving castles, fortresses and battering rams. That’s what cars can become. A personalised space. Your personalised space. The space of your delusions to grandeur.

If my theory’s even 10 per cent correct, you can kind of understand how the egotistically less secure amongst us might react to the concept of riding a bicycle on the road. That prospect must be something akin to the X-Ray revelation of your inner most secrets, or going nude on a public beach. A holocaust of fallen security barriers; a globally warmed hurricane tidal erosion of your beach front yard. To step from a car to a bicycle is to loose at least 90 per cent of your territorially stamped personal space. Exposed! Dragged out into the light. Removed of your security zones. Stuck like a shag on a rock on a bicycle instead.

If my theory’s even 5 per cent correct, this notion of the automotive territorialism explains a few things. It explains the abject contempt so many motorists display towards cyclists attempting to share the road. Cyclists have no territorial assets to display! They have no territorial rights. They must be below and beneath the baseline of what matters in this modern freeway world. Run them over. Who cares! It’s the primeval rutting rights of aggressive display. He with the biggest bellow wins the respect of the rest of the flock. Run ’em over and blast your petrol-megaphoned horn as a victory display! Big man … biggest bullfrog in the pond.

Or is it a bit more complex? Could it be that the sight of a cyclist on the road puts these primal territorial urges into some kind of black hole sucking logic loop spin? Clearly, that cyclist ahead is a lesser being than you in your 2 tonne metallically enforced V8 mega space. But…you can see that he/she is so evidently fitter than you. You, with your balding, flabby, lardy, lounge-cringing frame. Where’s the logic in that? To resolve that conundrum takes more brain power than answering that bleating mobile phone, or checking directions with your matron-voiced GPS autopilot. So you answer the phone, check your directions and run him down. Superiority asserted. Personal space defended. Darwin 2.0.

Link to photo used above

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The seed for today’s musing was sown on my first road bike ride after a gap of 20 years. 20 years ago, I rode a Vitus Duralinox 979 aluminum top-ender decked out in Campagnolo Super Record – 50th Anniversary Edition, no less. It was my 20-something-and-single reckless pride and joy.

20 years later, I renewed my faith with the cheapest, lowest-end Giant my local bike store could offer. It was, I think, an OCR3 dressed in Shimano Sora. I’d been riding mountain bikes all through that deep frozen 20 year wilderness of untracked roadless rides. So, while I guess I had not forgotten how to ride, or lost the strength to pedal, that road bike was a revelation with a deep trenched imprint to remain on my mind. I only had the bike for one day… As long as it took to ride right back into my bike store and order an upgrade.

It’s that particular tipping point back into the road biking scene that’s giving me pause now to reflect; that and an email I received today as a comment on my Pinarello Prince review on Bicyclism Blog. Let me explain.

There was nothing wrong with the Giant OCR3. Nothing whatsoever! Indeed, I was stunned. Having not ridden a road bike for 20 years, my first kilometer was an utter revelation. Where, I was wondering, is that engine that seemed to be giving me such a kick? Entrenched mountain bikers will not understand until they try it for themselves. Step off a fat wheeler and ride the road on skinny wheels and your sensation will also be one of speed and power unknown before. No suspension to wallow away your power. No fat tyre drag; riding a bike half the weight or less. That first ten minutes of acclimatisation to the road is a sensational experience to store in one’s mental gallery of life’s momentous adventures.

No, I went in to upgrade my OCR3 on the premise that if this thing is THAT good, just imagine how insanely great a truly decent road bike must be! That rather sounds like the foundation for an addiction and for sure, it was. I upgraded to a Specialized Roubaix (2006 model, a bike I sold only a few days ago). For reasons construed within the fever of my inflamed re-addiction, that bike was then upgraded via an overhaul that cost more than the bike itself (all within the space of a month). I was hooked. Six months later came my Pinarello Paris, then my Prince. Then a Pinarello CX and most recently a new S-Works Roubaix. But the flame of my addiction is starting to fizz. The passion is still there, but the desire for more, and more and more is gone. Maybe it’s time to step down from the Hors Categorie technological Col…

The thing is, the gap between my mountain bike and that OCR3 was a bigger chasm than between the Giant and the first Roubaix. Yes, improvements were obvious all over, through and under. But that sensation of stepping off a fat tyre bike onto my first set of road wheels in 20 years was not to be repeated to the same degree; seemingly, ever again. It’s all been a classic economist’s curve of diminishing returns ever since. All good, always better, but better by less and less of a margin each time. The biggest bang for the buck was for the first few paltry bucks I spent!

Indeed, I can propose the prospect of a descending curve if I play the improvements game any more. I’ve found something interesting to report. Maybe it’s obvious to you, but I had to discover this for myself; catalysed by that email I mentioned above. I have a theory!

Here it is: Once you hit the level of a Pro-Tour bike, you enter a flatland of technological stress. The trip to the top is the trip to revere; the destination is a cul de sac.

Any engineer will know that the ascent up the bike-tech pedigree curve is one of decreasing weight, increased performance and increasing fragility. That last bit is the bit to ponder. How robust are these modern super bikes to the stresses of riding every day? Pro Tour riders get theirs’ replaced at least once a year. We mortals, on the other hand, ride our rides into the more Autumnal limits of the intentions – or interest – of their design engineers. Our roads can be worse, our maintenance maybe less than the full professional routine. Perhaps some of us might weigh more than the likes of Andy Schleck. And last time I looked, they certainly don’t close off my roads to cars whenever I choose to ride! Yes, my theory is that the use to which we mortals place our superbikes is not necessarily a situation of cosseted floodlit pedestal admiration for the glass case adornment of our living rooms. These things break! These pernickety thoroughbreds creak, groan, and generally spit tanties of temperament more often than we, their addicted devotees might admit.

Take this emailed response to my Pinarello Prince review:

I wish I had your wonderful experience with Pinarello Prince but in my case the frame cracked after 6 months of normal rides (not races). I’m still waiting on GITA and Pinarello to give me an answer to warranty replacement. I have a 2008 Prince and I’m not a heavy rider, I think, @ 161 lb so I can’t explain the issue. In any case after dropping $5k on a frame like this I learned a very expensive lesson 🙂

I was chatting to an insider in the bike retailing game (I don’t want to get him sacked, so I’ll keep the details of his identity close), who had also purchased a Pinarello Prince. His cracked too. ‘It’s what you expect from a bike this light’. It seems it’s what you have to expect when you reach the limits technology can provide. It’s what you want least when you spend this much! Added to that, though, is what I said before. If the bliss curve of improvement flattens out as you peak the Hors Categorie Technological Col, you might find that airy place a less accommodating spot to say than, say, the more timbered valley a few hairpins down. Which is where I can finally rest my point. A more modest, slightly heavier, slightly lesser-specced bike might present a rounder, more sustainable space to stay. It gets really cold and windy on the top of Mont Ventoux. The valleys below are full of grape vines and a more accommodating climate to reside.

Which is why, I was reflecting on this very day, I am so totally content with my Pinarello Paris and why I am so hesitatingly cautious with the Prince that costs $2,500 more. And why I am even more content with my heavier still, go-anywhere Pinarello CX (all yours for only $5,500). And why I can’t help regretting selling that Giant OCR3 (robust pleasure for only $999, but don’t buy it to race). Yes, I do admit that these insights are formed via the experience of ascending the Col of hedonistic bicycling pleasures first. Perhaps we can only appreciate the more reasoned options of the market place on the subsequent descent. I wonder what sort of bike my correspondent purchased to replace that cracked Pinarello Prince?

Oh, and what of the picture that heads this post? That picture of a trashed Pinarello Prince? That’s a scene from another story you really don’t want to hear… It’s not my story but it’s sobering nevertheless. It’s a reminder that these expensive things can break.

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