Posts Tagged “Bicycism”
And the winner is…
After a year of research, dreaming and anticipation, and an entirely spurious attempt to apply the Scientific Method to my selection routine, I whittled a short list of five down to one. The backstory to this search is spread across the previous two Bicyclism Blog posts.
To recap. I created a probably once-in-a-lifetime budget for a no-compromise, largely open choice dream bike by way of legal wranglings and small victories over injustices rendered… to fund a bike that could be ranked as ‘The Best Bike I Have Ever Owned’ (or probably ever will own). I wanted a bike without compromises for my intended purpose of riding fast, long and, simply, to experience abject state-of-the-racing-bike-art. For this brief moment in time, I wanted to know how a perfect synthesis of design and performance might feel on the rides I love, in the places that are meaningful to me. I wanted to taste that top-of-the-line benchmark in the flesh.
Naturally, not everyone will agree with the choice I made, and, therefore, with the reasons for rejecting the other bikes on my short-list as my research progressed. As research is my professional thing (though, admittedly, not usually around the theme of bicycles), I am satisfied that my ultimate choice will not be subject to buyer’s regret over ‘what might have been’.
Especially after the real deal arrived on my dealer’s floor.
Let’s face it. A bike like this is as much art as science. But more. It’s the synthesis of both. And like all syntheses, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Razor sharp technology meets wicked good looks. But this art must also live in the real world. So it has to be good on our crap roads. And, as I ride for pleasure rather than for money (as if…) I want my pleasure rewards to endure, and endure, and endure some more. I want some permanent ecstasy to be going on here. Only a real road cycling nut will understand… I wanted a bike where I’d go out for two hours and come back after five… I want a bike that is totally, utterly and outrageously irresponsible!
I have been caught out before with bikes translating poorly from spec sheets onto the realities of the road. My first attempt at a criterium bike flexed so badly, I literally threw it away. My search for an ultra stiff bike once led me to consider walking instead (that bike lasted two days before I took it back to the store). Up till now, the best bike I have ever ridden on our real world rough as guts rural roads was a Pinarello Paris (I have the Prince too, but it is not as good as the Paris for what I do and where I choose to go). I’ve also spent a year riding a 2012 Giant TCR Advanced Rabobank: a pocket rocket where the magic of stiffness and compliance is artfully under control. The Giant is a great, stunning bike. Until it broke. Yes, all that stiffness ended up with a cracked seat stay. So now a 2013 TCR SL 0 Advanced warranty replacement in on the way. But I am nervous about how this latest generation of silly-light, stiff frames will hold up to keen amateur use. I don’t race these days. But I do ride a lot, seven days a week, 20,000km per year. But I’d happily ride twice that if my family would let me. Which they won’t.
So my short listing of The Perfect Bike needed to account for that magical mix of stiffness and compliance that my Giant, apparently, failed. I want feather light, UCI-illegal light weight, but not at the expense of a bike that breaks. But I also want a bike that I can ride for five hours without feeling all bashed up.
What first caught my eye about the Wilier Zero.7 is its unique use of a composite layered with some ‘secret material’ purpose designed to add compliance and resistance to damage (like cracking!). The reviews I read all indicated that this unique ultra tech composite was indeed equal to a seriously fast but seriously comfortable ride. So I rang the Australian importer and had a yarn. They (DeGrandi) also import Pinarello (the Dogma was also on my short list and I have a long standing Pinarello passion with three in my stable right now). I spoke to a guy who was at the world launch of the Wilier in Italy. His advice was that the Zero.7 would give me a ‘sweeter ride’ than the Dogma. It was genuinely compliant on the road. But also silly light and seriously stiff. A magic mix. The holy cycling grail (hail be to Merckx).
And yes, it really does. Look good. Like art. Nude carbon with flashes of red and strategic bits of white. The pictures looked astonishing. Especially with matching Fulcrum Red Wind XLR or Campagnolo Bora deep rim wheels.
So, I shelved my Dogma plans and cut my short list to four.
Which left me to contemplate the Colnago C59. Which, by pure chance, my local bike shop dealer (Mark of Bullen family track racing fame) just happened to get in for a bit of a look. And look and look I did. Despite being dressed, in this case, in blasphemous Dura Ace. (Italian = Campagnolo. End of). It’s a bit heavy. It’s an interesting mix of old tech pedigree (lugs!) but with a nod to the current state-of-the-art. Retro-current art. Lovely. But it does not punch me in the mouth like the Wilier does. It’s more of a nice warm bath than an electric Zero.7 shock shunted through wet electrodes into the pleasure dome of my mind.
I told you my selection process was rather less than a credible application of the Scientific Method…
Which leaves me with three. The Look 695, the BMC Teammachine SLR 01 and the Wilier.
The Look is great value. But kind of weird. But the deal killer for me is the Look crank. I hate non-groupo cranks. With a passion. Having lived with one on my Specialized S-Works Roubaix and my Pinarello Prince. These things never work as well as the official groupo crank. Plus, I am unsure about the Look stem. It might work OK but you are going to be locked in. It’s as ugly as the stem on my Giant TCR. And the ride reports are rather equivocal. As I said, I don’t race much any more and the Look is looking a bit too purposefully pointed at the racing pro. Plus, I have yet to see one in the flesh. Unlike all the others on my short list. Not that my local dealer can’t get me one if I insist. Nothing is too much trouble for the team in my favourite bike shop. They support me like I support them. It’s a synergy thing…
And so for the BMC. I like it a lot. But it’s not a dream bike. I might still get one. But not today. It’s more Giant TCR than super exotic dream machine. To me, the BMC is higher ranked than the Dogma. I love the way they do efficiency and purposeful at BMC. There’s no gimmicks on this stunning bike. It’s a statement of efficiency but I am worried about the ride. As I said, I have just had a bike crack it’s frame on our local roads. To me, the BMC is the most efficient, value winning bike on my list. It’s $5000 less than the Wilier and the Dogma (both at around $15,000). But just as good and an icon of Swiss purposeful design. This is the bike my economist’s mind would recommend. But my university professorial days are gone three years now (after some managerialist dead beat shut my research centre down). I make less rationalist choices these days.
The Wilier is it for me
After drooling over photos of the Wilier Zero.7 for months on end, I wasn’t prepared for the looks of this machine in the flesh. It’s a bit like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. Great in the pics but a smash in the face for real. How could it possibly look even better in the flesh than it does on paper? But it does. And then some. And some for more. I’ll try to put it this way. The sensation of seeing my new bike for the first time was just like the feeling I got when I personally met my favourite painting (Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights in the Prado Museum in Madrid) for the very first time. And what an analogy through which to describe this bike! Garden of Earthly Delights for sure. If you are a cycling nutter like me. Paradise…in the flesh.
One part of my selection routine is for a distributor that’s responsive to customer needs. DeGrandi is great. I have dealt with them lots of times before (through Mark Bullen at the Armidale Bicycle Centre – that’s them pre-delivering my bike in the photo to the right). No amount of mix and matching is too much of a chore in the Bullen store! So, out went the stock FSA/Wilier branded crank and in with the Campagnolo Super Record real deal instead. Out with the Fulcrum Racing 1’s and in with the Red Wind XLR’s. I want a bike without the need for a future upgrade path. I want everything to be perfect right at the start.
The spec list on this bike is a list of the best bits money can buy. Everything is top of the line. From the seat (Selle Italia’s carbon railed SLR, through to the post and stem (both custom projects by FSA) to Campagnolo’s unimaginably gorgeous Super Record EPS (yes… I did opt for electronic gears). Nothing, but nothing, on this bike is anything but top end. Mt Everest pointy top end. Anything above what’s on this bike has yet to be invented. Or is so impractical to be of suspect use. Which means that yes, it is possible to customise with even lighter parts (freaky light but fragile seat post and seats, skeleton brakes, et al.). But realise this. This bike is already as light as anything available right now. The frame weights 697grams certified by Wilier. The whole bike draped in Campagnolo Super Record EPS and deep rim wheels is still a UCI illegal 6.6kg! So why bother with even more ultra light parts and compromise the strength integrity I can get with stock Super Record? I am not a weight weenie. Did I mention that I have a bike with a frame that has just cracked through use on our local roads??
Before I take you out for a test ride on this thing, I need to explain my choice of wheels. Campagnolo Bora’s are the maker’s intended wheels of choice. Bora’s are wheels for tubular tyres. I had tubulars for years. I am done with glue and my tubular sewing kit. I know they ride like flying in the air. But not for around here… Just to get to my house I have to negotiate 200 metres of anti-socially disposed gutted dirt ruts. And ever since our local ‘Council’ decided to opt for the obscenity of automated pot hole patching cyclist-hate machines, nothing less than a mountain bike is really sustainable on the roads I am fated to ride if my desire is to ever leave my house… No, clinchers or tubeless are the only real options so Bora’s are off the menu list unless I relocate to Sydney’s stunningly beautifully West Head road (which, perversely, is where I went to try out my new Wilier for a week of riding the roads where I cut my racing teeth). Hence my choice of Fulcrum Red Wind XLR’s. Which is the Fulcrum version of Campagnolo’s Bullet wheels (same factory, different graphics and spokes). Which, in turn, are Campagnolo’s clincher version of the Bora’s.
Wheels matter. And the XLR’s are great.
Let me get this Campagnolo lust thing out of the way. I have Campagnolo Record on both my Pinarello Price and my Pinarello Paris. There was no Super Record on offer then. I have bikes with Dura Ace and with SRAM Red. I have a bike with Ultegra too. I use them all. I am, apparently, obsessive compulsive about things needing to click with a serious clunk before I can be satisfied I have affected something to be shut. Campagnolo does the trick. Like a bolt into a death row cell door. You know you have changed gear. You know you are in gear. You know you will stay in gear. Dura Ace is a fop by way of comparison. You change gears with an effeminate quasi, mousy, weakling wimpy click. An apologetic click at that. A click that apologises for the apology of a click it represents. A click that has lost its clicker. And it does not stay clicked for long. Dura Ace always starts to grind away in the indecision of its effeminate location on cogs it seems to despise. I hate the stuff. Passionately! Campagnolo for me. End of. But the new Super Record EPS?? I love it for its outrageous contempt to be a contender on the value scale… I LOVE the way Campagnolo built this stuff first and then contemplated the price. Just like engineers rather than accountants always do. Super Record EPS is the group engineers rather than accountants would choose. It is stupid expensive. More than the price of most people’s cars.
Aesthetics and deep clicking aside, this new EPS Super Record is a revelation for me. I had no idea that changing gears could be like this. Hell, I go for rides just to change gears these days. There’s deep love to be had from this EPS. Unutterable perfection. This stuff is like putting a step ladder on the top of Mount Everest to keep all other contenders at bay. Nothing is as good as Super Record EPS except, perhaps, mechanical Super Record after a two month electricity outage (which is when you need to recharge the EPS battery).
And so to the bike itself. How does it ride? I have a few benchmarks to compare. Is it as good as the Pinarello Paris? In other words, how is the Wilier’s balancing act of stiffness and compliance in comparison with my treasured Paris? Better. More of both. Twice.
How about against the Giant TCR Advanced Rabobank (recently deceased)? Less harsh but just as stiff. So better again. Against my Pinarello Prince? Less harsh again. and twice as stiff. And here is a ring-in through which to seal the deal. I have just grabbed the 2013 Merida Scultura Team SL (as issued to Team Lampre Merida in the Pro Tour for this year). The Merida is THE statement for stiffness and compliance in magical harmony. It’s 1/3 the price of the Wilier. It’s a magical bike. I will be reviewing it next. But the Wilier is one step above, again. I had no idea that it was possible to find a bike with such an astoundingly comfortable ride while being so amazingly stiff as the Wilier Zero.7. This is supernatural stuff. After all, the norm is that you can have one or the other, but not both. The Merida pulls it off. But the Wilier turns this magical mix into a technical tour de force. Nothing that I have ever ridden rides like the Wilier Zero.7
It’s not a radical compact frame but it’s also not Colnago conventional diamond either. The WIlier’s top tube gracefully curves like a lazy Italian lunch into a set of Italian super model seat stay legs. The effect is a statement of compliance art. Big muscular (but not fat) chain stays are of the trendy asymmetrical kind. But without smash-you-in-the-mouth curvy Pinarello Dogma over baked marketing machine overstatement. The big frame architecture feature (aside from the secret but ever so brilliant composite mix) is the humungous BB 386 bottom end. When this bike came out only Wilier and BH were using this new bottom bracket (an 86mm extended version of the already large BB30 as seen on so many new bikes these days). This bottom bracket is HUGE. This is where much of the frame stiffness resides. My Merida also has this 386 BB.
Because the head tube is less bottom heavy than many of the Wilier’s competitors (being of a lesser width than, say, the new Giant TCR Advanced SL 0 I am about to receive by way of warranty replacement for my broken TCR). This gives the Wilier a rather engaging steering dynamic. Some might classify the Zero.7’s steering as being too ‘loose’, or of being ‘nervous’. But it is intentionally ‘light’ in this regard to facilitate steering that is quick in a tight corner; perfect for criteriums and for avoiding blue rinse biddies in their motorised shopping cars (or P Plate bimbos attending to their texting rather than to the realities of the road). The steering is very ‘obvious’ when you take your first ride. I wouldn’t be giving this bike to a first time rider or a mountain biker seeking a conversion to the world of tar. But I am not implying any kind of lack of precision here. The steering this bike has is something to be desired, once you have some racing miles in your legs and head. I can’t imagine a better dynamic through which to keep pace in a fast moving peloton. But it is not like riding on rails for those who might prefer to autopilot down steep hills. You need to stay alert and in control and this steering is the tool through which to keep your descents in tune with the vagaries of any road.
I have invested about 4,000km in this machine so far. I have taken it everywhere and then some. So inspired by this bike, I loaded it into my car for a 1,000 km round trip to my old racing roads of Sydney’s Akuna Bay, West Head, just to see how it might ride on perfect hot melt, rather than our local strips of bankrupted Council Contempt. After 25 years away, I was born again! I am the sort who has 30 plus years of cycling log book data to recall. I have all the hills archived and my speeds were all up on those I was getting when I raced A Grade one quarter of a century before. I am wondering how Eddy Merckx or my hero Laurent Fignon (my racing buddies called me Laurent by way of nick name ’cause I looked like him at the time) might have gone on this Wilier Zero.7 back in their day. Perhaps if they had a bike like this no one would have thought of experimenting with EPO…
And so, I will conclude, my mission was more than accomplished. I wanted the bike of my dreams and got something even better after a year of search through research. Perhaps there are bikes just as good, and there will certainly be bikes just as good in the future, if not better still, but for now, right here in the first bits of 2013, the Wilier Zero.7 is at the top of the tree. This one ticks boxes I didn’t know I had. This is, truly, the bike of at least my dreams.
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Last time, I discussed the overflowing-teacup minds most people have these days when it comes to taking on new ideas or refreshed points of view. Now it’s time to consider a few examples to indicate how frustrating and dangerous shallow thinking can become. Naturally, most examples surround the killing fields that car drivers make of our roads.
Consider the case of the oncoming car. You are riding up a hill. A car is coming towards you. A car is behind. The result should be a momentary delay for the car driver behind. But NO! Those seconds lost are a calamity to the turkey behind. That’s five seconds lost of reality TV; or five seconds fewer for the irrigation of his system with beer. So he overtakes into the oncoming car. Either you or the victim in the other car will have to leave the road. And so he sails into total ignorance and contempt for all others who use his road. His thoughts and consideration for others extend to the depth of cling wrap film.
And don’t we all recall the joys bestowed by those drivers who pull out from a side road directly into your path? Car drivers do this to each other quite often. They do it even more frequently to motorcyclists. They do it to cyclists all the time; with a passion and a flurry of psychotic contempt. Here’s a transcript of the mental processes involved: ‘ME, in a car. Him, a cyclist. Me bigger. Him small. Bicycle slow. Me big time fast. Off I go… (me, me, me, me, me, beer, sex, me, me, sex, beeeeeer’ – and how DOES my hair look right now?).
And how about the Charlies who measure their masculinity (or feminine charm) by how close they can scrape their cars into your elbows as they overtake? If they spare any thought to such things at all.
When, exactly, did thought become such an expensive facility to exercise? Why do car drivers drive their cars so frequently in mental power saving mode? If the world’s coal-fired power users conserved their electricity as they conserve the energy of active thought, we’d reverse global warming in a day or so.
Then there’s the get-fit-quick-gymnasium crowd. Ever spotted the car parks outside of your local gym? What spectacular depths of thought does it take to recognise the possibilities for exercise on the way to the gym through ditching the car? What feats of imagination does it take to consider just how insidious the car has become to the culture of our times?
All of which pales completely with the policies our politicians make. Even magpies know that defecating too much in your nest will kill the offspring for whom those nests were constructed. Rats know it. Possums know it. So do dogs and cats. So why do politicians continue to sponsor, subsidise and otherwise actively encourage the murderous, self-destructive treatment of biodiversity through which all life on earth is sustained? Even a psychotic pigeon would pull the pin on an economy built on the toxic non-sustainability of oil, if given the keys to the kingdom for a day.
And someone pleeeeeze tell me how it can be that those who feed their faces with chip fat and lolly water can then spend all their time moaning about the injustices of being too fat?
And don’t you dare mention the abject insanity of a bureaucracy that actually believes the inane stupidities of our preoccupation with Occupational Health and Safety these days. Just watch the very notion of riding to work send our OH&S bureaucrats into a mental black hole… When did human kind suddenly decide that hefting bags of ten kilograms or more is too much for the human frame to bear? Especially when most humans are carrying at least that much in excess fat day in and day out; everywhere.
And don’t even start on the idiocies of playing to the tune of being Politically Correct. The rules of this particular game are now so complex that it’s best just to stay indoors watching the TV instead. While there are computer programmes that can master the complexities of chess, there are no analogues with the capacity to master even the most rudimentary rules towards becoming Politically Correct. Not even the best Super Computer has the power to play that game. No wonder that kids these days engage via Facebook rather than He/She/their Laterally Challenged selves having to engage through riding bikes and kicking balls in the street.
Can someone tell me by what astounding depths of thought did it take for every economic egg on this planet to be handed over to the factories of mainland China? What mountain for foresight did it take to imagine that once we have offshored absolutely everything we do and everything we need to the Chinese that we would ever have freedom again? At least we cyclists will have our transport once the Chinese pull the final plug on the troughs of dependency through which we now power, battery-like, the ascendency of the Chinese Machine. No, I am mistaken even there… How many bikes these days are now not made in the PRC?
How blinkered are the thoughts of fundamentalist thinkers of any kind? Fundamentalist economists who still funnel their vision into those very theories that landed us all in the Global Financial Crisis of recent times. Fundamentalist Planners who plan a future only for cars. Fundamentalist scientists who believe that the Science is in (when really, it’s perpetually out – why else then do they continue to seek funding if they already have all the answers they need?)
Then there’s the fundamentalist religious types who each persist in thinking that only their own particular view is the true view and all the rest are wrong. Which view will land their faithful into the eternal Promised Land? Only one can be correct if it’s believed that all others are wrong. Wouldn’t it be fun if the Scientologists or the followers of the Urantian line had the winning ticket all along! But I bet that even then, they’ll still invent religious wars in their Heavenly resting place.
But above all, how deep do we think when we imagine that the contentment of life depends only on money?
Perhaps it’s the pace of modern life. Everything is too quick, including life itself. It’s hard to think thoughts of any depth when you are continually rushing from one thought to the next. Or when thought itself is discouraged as we engage others to think for us instead. You know the solution! We need the space to think at depths greater than the two dimensionality of most people’s thoughts these days. You know where you can stretch your thinking legs. Yes, you know where deeper thinking is free to engage: on every ride; on every run; or even on every walk. No wonder there’s so little thinking done when people opt instead for the mental oppression of the motorcar.
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What character traits link interesting human phenomena like a predilection to world domination, vile arrogance, rampaging road rage, terrorism dressed up as religious fervour, and a passion for the game of golf?
What’s really bugging me about the human race right now and why should you care? Well, it’s in all our interests to understand or you too could end up as traction for the next motorist’s wheels.
I call the disease ‘intellectual bathophobia’. Bathophobia is the fear of depth. Intellectual bathphobia is the fear of thinking too deeply. And boy oh boy have I seen this baby scything it’s way through all that I hold important in recent years! This is the nuclear holocaust of human failings. This is the most pervasive and debilitating of phobias. It effects you, me and everyone else; all at the same time. Every day in every way. It explains just about everything that makes us mad. It explains just about every war and every appearance before a judge. It It explains the failure of international climate change summits and people who drive rather than ride to the local shops.
Intellectual bathophobia is all about surface thinking. it’s the fear of finding out new stuff; the fear of listening to something genuinely new. The inclination to cling to what we know rather than shift our brain into a higher gear. It’s deeply perverse, this intellectual self mutilation, because while most people shift continuously from one fad or fashion to another, so very few of us ever shift our minds. Virtually no one digs into the old mental engine room to seriously question and analyse what it is that we do and why.
And virtually no one will ever, ever, admit that they are afflicted by intellectual bathophobia themselves. Everyone else, for sure. But never, ever, me.
If we spend our whole lives surface skipping across our own private intellectual seas, our minds end up, eventually, stretched out like too little butter spread across way, way, too much bread. We invest whole lives in keeping that overstretched mental veneer intact. It’s a doomed project, of course. Over time, everything shifts. Eventually, our surface skimming minds will stretch too far. It’s like attempting to stretch out the one tube of tyre glue to repair a lifetime stream of punctures. With an ever more stretched supply of glue, each new hole in the harmony of our lives is less and less effectively repaired; until we sink into a permanently deflated state and sit our the rest of our lives in front of the TV. Our responses to everything and anything that happens are voiced with an ever fading sentient hiss.
Consider those who continue to do to themselves what we would never have them do to us. Consider those who continue to shovel food into an ever expanding carcass of fat. Eventually, the dirigible they become will burst or implode. Consider those who believe in the mantra of continual economic growth. Eventually, infinite greed will meet the realities of resources that can’t keep pace. Consider those who continue to believe in theories of life that life itself so readily disproves. Examples are economists who believe in the perfection of the market place and politicians who believe in the righteousness of the polls they pay marketers to shape. Consider those who deny human impact on climate. Consider those who believe that their own view is the only view for everyone else. Consider those who think their religion should be our religion; enforceable by death. Consider those who think that their choices should be our choices, that their politics should be ours.
There is a simple cure. It involves emptying your cup.
Years and many happy years ago, I once wrote a handbook for a PhD programme fortune found me within. Right across the front page was a cartoon of a monk serving tea to a disciple in search of inspiration. The monk filled the cup. And kept on filling the cup until tea started overflowing the table. ‘Master! the cup is full!’ ‘Exactly so’, the sage replies. ‘This cup is as with your thoughts. If you want to take on new thoughts, you have to empty your cup first. Or there will be no room for the new ideas to take hold’. That’s a classic koan from the tradition of Zen. It’s as right for now as it was right for then. The mental blockage from carrying a full mental cup has the same effect as a mind closed to new and different thoughts. You have to puncture that overstretched intellectual skin or unplug our mental drain. But so very few of us ever bother to drill the necessary holes or open our mental taps. We seem to spend our lives perpetually scared by the depths to which our minds have the capacity to dive. So we seek out stuff with which we agree and keep on patching with all the self-referentialised validation we can find. We seek that validation like a thirsty man looking for water in a desert. Every drop of validation is captured and nurtured; every message to the contrary is dismissed. We club our selves to tribes with similar points of view. We avoid those with views outside the borders our tribes protect. We build cathedrals to the ideas we cherish and condemn to hell those we don’t. We put ourselves on pilgrimages of evangelical self-referentialism through which to interpret the messages from the rest of the world. We even appoint priests to help us in that task (figureheads and heroes of our own points of view).
I am just as guilty with all this as you. I believe it’s possible for anyone and everyone to lance the boils of a closed mind – eventually – with the right kind of help. The toolbox to redress the mess can be a pretty subtle box of tricks. Like that butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil connecting to that hurricane in Japan, there are some incredibly powerful, subtle things we can do to inspire self-introspection and the blowing open of minds that were hitherto locked at fortress strength. Simple little stuff can flap towards hurricanes of meaningful change. There are simple little pricks to drag that mental skin away – to open the depths and really let us swim.
Yes, you guessed it. Cycling is a trick of that particular trade. Cycling’s just one little insidious thing to unleash our intellectual springs. Why is cycling a clever tool through which to unleash change? Because it is not a belief system (at first); it’s not a cultural construction we need to explain. It’s not a big investment to make and it does not necessarily require you to quit your job and head off on a sea change. It’s a simple sounding thing with which to become involved. Innocent. Innocuous, it would seem. Almost utilitarian. Easy to start. But it’s a spring, nonetheless. A catalyst to which passions can become attached. It’s a life changing investment via a small allocation of time. Cycling’s a classic catalyst. It’s easy to enter, but has the potential to unleash furies of change when it takes hold. But above all, cycling’s a place. It’s a place off to the side of everyone else’s routine; from where you can observe those you have left behind and contemplate the philosophical journey you have begun. Contemplation is the key. That’s the stuff you need to journey down deeper into your own intellectual depths. Cycling gives us thinking time. It pumps more blood into the brain. Your body will change; fitness will reshape your appearance and your mind. Cycling inspires the opening up of a lateral, deeper swimming mind.
When we first take up cycling, we’re like a puppy out for its first exploration of the world. Everything’s new from our unaccustomed new vantage point. Cycling shakes us into a different space of mind. We come to experience the experience of doing something outside the box within which we might otherwise have become permanently enclosed. Cycling, or other experiences of that kind shake perceptions that otherwise might cement our world views into the singular perspective of the couch. But cycling is such a seemingly innocuous choice. It’s seemingly more benign than taking on an Everest climb, or joining the Foreign Legion for a five year spell. It’s the catalyst we are looking for here. It’s a catalyst to shake things up – easy to take up, but with the potential to unleash a chain reaction or two.
We all need is to be catalysed into the chaotic potential of deeper, more reflective thought. Once that takes hold, life and living is renewed from the inspiration of a wakened mind. Cycling is, to me, the act of emptying a teacup that’s become too full. If I were to lead the world for a day, I’d be giving out bicycles to everyone who could join the queue – before the economists, accountants and bankers could start to object. Bicycle butterfly wings flapping their way to a hurricane of individual -then social renewal.
Next time, I will wade through the perils of shallow thinking via some examples with which I am sure most of us can relate. Yes, it’s time for another Bicyclism list! Stay tuned.
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It might sound a little hysterical at first, but Alberto Contador’s now disputed 2010 Le Tour victory really does portend the end of civilisation as we know it.
Given my inclination to see the world through my Rudi Project lenses, I can’t help but interpret things via the chain rings of my cycling mind. I also can’t completely lose the perspectives gained and sanity lost from spending 25 too many years as an academic supervising way too many PhD research projects in the area of sustainable futures for the human race and the ecologies upon which we depend. It’s amazing how the mish mash of ideas and insights pertaining to life, the universe and everything else blend together into fascinatingly disturbing patterns via the slow grind tumble of way too much cycling time.
Here’s what I have come up with by way of a conclusion: as one Tour de France victory after another descends into the hands of the legal profession for resolution, there’s precious little potential for our civilisation to inspire (at least me) any more.
Let me explain this seemingly weird thesis (that Contador’s current issues spell the final kicks of a civilisation in speedy decline) in a manner more akin to Twitter-concise than deep compost academic diatribe. Relatively speaking, of course (I promise not to exceed 200,000 words).
Consider the bicycle.
Was there ever a mechanical contraption that is as pure and total a convergence of function and form? Every part has a visible purpose and every purpose is obviously connected to the purpose of every other part to describe a totality of function evident with breathtaking clarity from every conceivable angle. The bicycle is a masterpiece of comprehensible complexity. We can understand the bicycle as a system through simply observing it in action. Few people would require an instruction manual to enjoy the ride. A bicycle is a stunningly resolvable engineering fractal. Focus in on some part or another, and you can continue to understand and interpret the purpose and operation of each bit as we continue to delve deeper into the internals of each bit we can see. Look at the rear cogs. We can figure out what they do without much in the way of explanation. Now deconstruct the cluster and inspect each bit within. The deeper we go, the more we see, but the patterns of logical connectivity are sustained – even down to the springs that keep the freewheel pawls engaged. Even there, form and function are clear, connected and concise. There are no black boxes within. Parts mesh with parts and all the parts are as self-evidently purposeful at any level of resolution we might seek to apply.
I like to imagine the bicycle as the most complex device we can conceive while still avoiding the mental dislocations of complexity. Anything more complex than a bike begins to require partial views and increasingly specialised knowledge for interpretation. When we try to interpret systems more complex than a bike, we start to loose our view of the forest as its trees come into ever closer view. Like, say, would be the case for a car. Or even a motor bike. As complexity rises, our dissections review ever more confounding details; the fractal transforms into perspectives drawn from different places and spaces. Just try to interpret the machinations of a CDI unit from the perspective we might use to understand the workings of a motorbike chain. As we dig into engines, the colours of our understandings shift from engineering to chemistry; from solids to liquids and the behaviours of gas.
We don’t have these problems when we seek understandings of a bicycle. That’s why, for me, the bicycle represents the upper limit of ‘comprehensible complexity’. At this level, complexity is interpretable via logical intuition alone. There are no surprises or chaotic behaviours likely at less than or equal to the complexity rating of a bicycle. Chaos soon kicks in when we escalate further up the scale. No one person can see and understand all as complexity goes deeper than the level of a bike.
As so it is with the workings of society as well. Consider a business, or other organisation with which you might be involved. Managing a small independent bookshop (with a good cycling section, please), is complex enough (just try balancing the fickle nature of fad following customers and the never ending desperation of wholesalers seeking your wholesale devotions; without even considering the dimension of demented Greed Is Good bankers breathing down your neck). But add a few floors and another fifty staff or so and the can of worms becomes an ocean of maggots. Layers upon layers, and then even more. The complexity builds to preclude even the vaguest possibility that any one person can ever know all that’s going on, let alone to remain sensibly ‘in charge’.
But managing complexity is definitely not a lost cause; or even a cause without merit! No, managing machinery with greater complexity than your average bike is a challenge with huge rewards. Really, just about everything we might ever seek to manage is more complex than we might ever think.
And there’s the problem. You’d be stunned and surprised to know how huge is the gap between knowing that a system is complex and really knowing the realities of complexity as a living, dynamic thing. The almost invariable response of ‘management’, everywhere, is to suggest: ‘yeah, it’s complex and I am so unutterably talented at managing complexity that the issues therein won’t affect me!’ No worries. You see, the problem is, most managers and politicians and policy makers and academics, car mechanics and wholesalers of fruit that I have ever met or known always insist on managing the systems with which they are entrusted in the same way and with the same depth of perception as a mechanic working on a bike. As I said above, the bicycle is, in my view, the limit of comprehensible complexity. Which means that for most people, systems as complex as a bike are as complex as any person can imagine, working alone or while seeking to ‘stay in control’. So… most managers mouth a few platitudes about ‘recognising the realities of complexity’ and then proceeding as though they are tuning a derailleur rather than managing the fermenting ego turmoils of those 500 people under their command.
You might think that only ‘dumb’ managers would manage complex systems in the manner with which they’d play with Logo blocks. But no, that’s definitely not the case. If there is one generic, overwhelming, mass embedded talent in short supply, it’s talent with perceiving, interpreting and responding appropriately to complexity. Which, dear and patient reader, is why the world is in such an almighty mess.
An anecdote from my recent past might illustrate the point. Now you’d reckon that the most likely place where the theory and practice of clever management in relation to complex organisational challenges might take place in a university. Take an academic who’s familiar with the theories, who might have even written a paper or two dissecting the failures of other managers in this regard, and put them in charge. That’s what happened at my local university where my own group of ‘complexity evangelists’ had taken a firm and passionate hold. Then along came the thing we had always feared the most: a reforming professor with an intent to reshape at least this bit of the world into his own image. The image of unrelenting ego backed up by a total absence of talent. Yes, the agenda was as you might guess. ‘This place is way too complex. Why, I think I will clean it all up and put everything into a box of best fit; all pegs to go into one of two shaped holes’. ‘That’ll make the place easier to manage!’. So groups like mine, hexagonal to the round or square shaped holes on offer, were thrown out the door. Into the street. Literally. Five PhD students suddenly had no place to study! And my 25 year career was over; ‘leave your keys on the desk, return your library books and thanks for your time… Turn the light off when you leave’. So long and thanks for all the fish… Naturally, that venture of squaring the edges off an organisation naturally inclined to curves was doomed to fail. The turkey in charge was shown the door, as was his second in command, but too late for us. And for the thousands of students who are now forced to select from individually wrapped, partitioned educational offerings along the lines of a breakfast menu restricted to a Kellogg’s Variety Pack.
No, the capacity of managers to really, truly, intuitively understand complexity is as rare an attribute as the ability to win the Tour de France. But no where else are the delusions of capability in that regard so fundamentally endemic. It’s as though every person who commutes on a hybrid to work genuinely believes that a Paris podium finish is theirs for want of only buying an air ticket to France.
So what are the signs of such misplaced management expertise? How can you tell when delusion rather than talent is really in charge? Easy. For starters, beware the reformist administrator who seeks to ‘simplify and put everything into its more orderly place’. That’s what killed my own group’s passionate crusades. Next, beware the bandaid. Beware that one above all.
Imagine a complex organisation along the lines of a water filled inner tube. If a leak takes hold, you put a patch in place. When the next leak appears, another patch is applied. Then another, and another, and another again. Until the tube is more patch than tube. Then the whole mess starts leaking between the patches that start to fail with time. So you start applying patches between patches and maybe even some latex paint as well. The whole mess starts to balloon like a a dirigible on heat. When the whole show ultimately starts to fail, enter the reforming manager and the inevitable ‘restructure’ or two. So now, the game is to experiment with liquid sealants, say. So the tube that was once filled by air is now a concentrated mess of chemistry writhing under patches that are increasingly loosing their grip. Time to take early retirement, I think!
And that is precisely how policies are increasingly made. Policies, like laws, are all like bandaids in search of a hole. Rarely, if ever, do we see policy that takes the big picture into view. That would take much too much in the way of perception for most managers to comprehend. That would require taking a few steps back to see the forest again. That would require teamwork to realise. And teamwork requires the setting of our usual manager’s egotistical control freak tendencies to one side. How often do we see leadership that genuinely embraces collective vision making and taking rather than just lip service and platitudes instead? Why, that would involve a totally different culture of control than most control freaks would be comfortable with. Sharing your power is a hard thing for most ego’s to really enact. Good management under real world complex settings becomes much more a task of facilitating communication amongst all the stakeholders who might be involved than pretending omniscience and control where control is a delusion in the first place.
Unless your task really is nothing more than the management of a bicycle, the management game is a game in need of a global overhaul. Unless we want to continue to witnessing the wholesale failure of initiatives like that dismal, recent Climate Change Summit (more like a policy patch trade fair than the genuine summit it should have been) and the so-called war on terror (the recent psychotic policies to strip search all air travellers via new radiation machines is one particularly lousy glueless patch), it’s time to recast the real terror of these times as the terrorism of misguided management to conceive of every policy issue and every management plan as simplistically as the organisation of a bicycle or two.
Yes, this malady of misguided management is hitting cyclesport too. Once we accept the transfer of the organisation of our sport from our cyclist hands to the greased hands of lawyers and their warty sort, the sport is doomed and done. Admitting the lawyers into our domain is just like the terminal stages of managing that overpatched bicycle tube. Shifting authority to lawyers is the paradigm shift of playing with sealants after the patches all have started to leak. The whole show is doomed to sink; and stink. Time to buy a new tube instead! Share the leadership on an issue such as this more completely with the riders and their supporters, in turn, and the opportunities for opening up some lateral thinking and enhanced perspective will soon reveal improved opportunities for action and reaction than the psychoses of failed conventional leadership that are now blighting our sport. It’s time to dethrone the current management regime! The UCI are trying to manage our sport with nothing more than a tin of perished patches. Time to reinvent the glue we choose and the very nature of the tyres that drive at least this small part of a world more widely going mad.
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It’s probably just me, but the whole world seems intent on squashing us into smaller and smaller places and the furnishings with which we pad our lives seem to be following suit. Remember the days when big was better? Big cars with fins. Big mega houses were a symbol of status. Big fat people were healthy people (or so my mother always maintained: we pudgy kids just had big bones, you see…). Big surfboards, big hair; big expeditions into the wilderness, big spending.
Big equalled grand. Big was achievement. Big talent. Big success. Being a big sponge for resources was appropriate; all backed up by economic theory and the machinations of marketing wisdom.
It might be easy to blame the Japanese for the shift. Remember the Sony Walkman? It’s appropriate to reflect on that momentous technological achievement on this, the occasion of Sony’s official proclamation of the Walkman’s demise (just last week). The Walkman was what the boffins call a paradigm shift. With the Walkman, the world shifted a bit to one side of where it was before. The Walkman was a catalyst to miniaturisation and the henceforth inevitable pairing of the concepts of ‘small’, ‘convenient’, ‘desirable’ and ‘high tech’.
Look how small our convenience toys have become these days. Check out the latest iPod nano. Nano indeed. Check out the computer on which I am writing this post: the new Apple Macbook Air! It would take around ten of these dinky little things to fill up the space of the very first Macintosh portable computer, (6,000, 1989 dollars’ worth of what seemed like 20kg of wishful thinking portability). There’s more power squashed into our modern miniaturised devices than the design briefs for their predecessors could have ever dreamed.
What’s at the top of the pecking order these days? Look how small Ferrari’s have become (lifeboat size to the ships most of us still drive). The further up just about any product range you go these days, the smaller the top-end stuff becomes (except farm tractors and television sets, it seems). Smaller and lighter is the mark of technological progress these days.
But you have to have a laugh. Because while our toys are shrinking, most of us who use them are not. Bigger fatter, larger, taller. We humans are gaining the heft we eschew for what have now become the devices of our delusions. There’s something vaguely tragic about the way our fingers and thumbs struggle to fit the devices the boffins are designing for us these days. It’s almost as though there is some kind of universal plot to inflate our sense of insecurity through deflating the things to which we aspire. I wonder if our self-image somehow becomes more … concise … as we seek to join in this modern miniaturisation crusade. After all, the marketing guru’s can hardly be wanting us to self-imagine ourselves as King Kong struggling with toys too small by half – if they want us to buy their goods. Maybe the ever increasing density and compactness of technology is cunningly conceived to drag our personal identity of space down to a more amenable size. If small is good, and smaller toys make us feel smaller too, then what we have is a cunning marketing plan.
If our self-perceived sense of personal space becomes small enough, then we will all start feeling better about what the airlines offer us these days by way of seating space! Maybe we might feel better about living in ever the more compressed living spaces to which most of us are compelled by finances and urban planning design. Our aspiration is to reduce the size of our environmental footprint; despite the fact that every new generation seems to exhibit larger and larger feet. I wonder if the act of buying a small compact car makes their big flabby drivers feel, somehow, more petite?
All of which contexts my recent foray into the world of 29 inch wheels. Roadies might wonder at all the fuss wheels this size are making in the world of mountain bikes. After all, 29 inches is (roughly) what we have on our road bikes and have done for years. But for mountain bikes, 26 inches was the traditional call. Largely via the inspiration of mountain bike visionaries like Gary Fisher, the 29er mountain bike has been simmering away for a few years now. Only very recently has the simmer started to boil. Nowadays, we see bike retailers specialising in these things. They are making a claim to around 60 per cent of sales in some places (mainly in the USA and now, here in Australia).
29er mountain bikes are big. They look big. Counter-culturally big (in these times when every thing else is getting smaller). Intimidatingly big, perhaps. Even to a roadie like me, these things look big. The forks are longer to take up the extra inches of wheel. Chainstays are longer, and sometimes bottom brackets are further up from the ground. The wheels are definitely big. With those big fat mountain bike tyres, the actual outer wheel circumference dwarfs any road bike hoop.
So, consider the challenge to your average smaller-is-good indoctrinated punter these days. 29er’s break the mould of just about every social meme out there these days. Going bigger is entirely a journey away from the promised land of contemporary marketing spiel. That’s even more the case when you consider that one of the biggest advantages of 29er’s is their relatively more compliant ride; they particularly suit the hardtail form. With our almost pathological fixation on suspension these days, moving upwards and outwards back to a hardtail bike seems like an odd step to take.
But, based on my experience with the just released 2011 Felt Carbon Nine Team hardtail 29er, the journey is the best one I have ever taken away from sealed roads. It only took one ride to convince. That extra 2 inches is 2 miles of difference to the way these bikes perform. The hardtail packs the punch of power to the ground and the extra wheel size gloves that punch with the feel of a couch. The ride is a revelation. Fast, secure, precise, comfortable, dynamic. Everything my exotic 26 inch, fully (cross country racing) suspended Fisher Procaliber is not. If you, like me, are used to riding your mountain bike with the suspension dialled out when the going becomes faster and smoother, you will love what a hardtail 29er can do. But you might also love what happens when the trails turn rough.
I never did get used to riding tight, rough tracks sitting down. That’s from my road bike heritage, I guess. I like to stand and power over bumps and sharp short hills. A 29er rewards preferences like that. Or at least, this one does.
Let me summarise it this way. The 29er mountain bike is the hybrid vigour you’d get from crossing a cyclocross bike with a cross country racing mountain bike. All good, nothing bad. A winning genetic improvement all around. This mutant is acceptable all around.
My task here is not to review the Felt Carbon Nine. Rather, it’s to contemplate the breathtaking adventure that the 29er mountain bike represents in terms of today’s cultural and technological norms. It’s a trip sideways and outwards from the usual path (which, by the way, is called ‘lateral arabesque’ in marketing speak). I love stuff that pushes the groove of life into a space two steps removed. Those two inches of extra wheel represent a mighty leap into a place from which we can refresh and reinvent all those things that attracted us to mountain biking in the first place. I recommend the trip.
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What do I want to be remembered for? What’s going to be in that keynote eulogy delivered on the occasion of my departure? I was thinking about a funeral I went to a few years ago on the passing of a (self-proclaimed) big whig professorial blowhard of a guy noted for the arcane manner of his literary (?) ponderings and pompous (if not ballistically hubristic) lecturing style. ‘Here lies a great professor much regarded by his academic peers…’ For some reason, that chilled me to the bone. Mainly because the ‘peers’ in question were all as big a bunch of dip sticks as the recently departed… Fancy a legacy of remembrance constrained only to one’s workplace endeavours. To be defined by one’s job. That was not for me. I rather be remembered for climbing Mt Everest on a cyclocross bike or something similarly outrageous before being tagged by my contributions as a factor on the economic assembly line. How often do we see the ‘real person’ under the cultural constructions of our workplace communities? Fancy being remembered for the constructed self we wear like masks between the hours of nine to five. Do you want to be remembered as the guy in the polyester suit? Or as the ragged king of your backyard shed?
Nor do I want to dodder off in my retirement years living off the memory of what I once did as a cog in the machinery of commerce. While the past provides context for one’s appreciation of the present, I don’t ever want to actually return there to live out my slower cadence years…
And I am certain that I don’t want to spend my time living a life focused around managing the impressions others might have of me. If everyone is intent on living a life for the projection they might make on the minds of others, we would all ending up living a lie. Other people are too busy thinking what you might think of them for them to think anything much in the way of substance about you. So we might as well all become outrageous individualists and have much more fun. So, if no one really cares what it is that others actually do, then why not do something few others would think to do? Now there is a canvas on which to write a proper testimonial!
With that in mind, I’ve been wondering what it is that I want to do without the constraint of what other people do and how I might fantasise on what they might think I should do.
All of which helps me to ignore the reactions I have had from all and sundry to my most recent plan. It was a simple plan, but a plan to which, probably, only I would desire to aspire. A non-newsworthy plan. A plan that would probably only be meaningful to me. A selfish plan! But a plan that did not impact on others in any way. A plan without a social wake. A plan that would be incremental, accumulative in achievement, and ever so gradual in its execution. I was after a new record.
I decided to ride my bike every single day for at least a year. No days off. Not one. No matter what. There would be a few conditions. No ride would be less than 1 hour 20 minutes. None would use up less than 800 kcal of energy. These had to be serious rides. My other condition was that no single ride would cause distress; Every single ride would be a ride I wanted to take. I wanted to see if my enthusiasm for cycling could hold up, undiminished, across every single day of an entire year. There would be no forced rides. The record would never be allowed to become the driver of this particular show. Plus, I was curious to see that the physiological effects of such a sustained effort might be. Would I fall apart? Would I be weaker or stronger after such a prolonged endurance as that? Would I hit a fitness plateau flatter than the desert plains? Or would I land in race winning form.
The usual meme is that we cyclists should take off at least one day per week. And then a couple of weeks off at one time. All pro cyclists take extended breaks. But I am no pro cyclist! Most cyclists seem to struggle with the other end of this equation. They tend to lament that the number of rides they take is always less than the number that they would like. So, what if I could ride so much that that particular lamentation could never, even once, enter my mind for the duration of a year? Is it possible to become ‘cycled out’? Is there such a thing as too much cycling? Could I end up hating my riding? Is there a limit to my cycling passion?
I will admit that the timing was right. I work for myself these days. So I am in charge of my schedule more now than has ever been the case before. But, then again, when I was in a more regular workplace grind I had the opportunity to commute every day. Commuting is the easiest possible way to tote up the miles and fit a riding schedule into any day. Indeed, for me, commuting was the only way I could stick with my previous teaching career. The riding to and from work was, by far, the best part of the job.
But now the results are in. The year is done. 365 rides (sometimes two per day) over 356 days, 19,211.6km (11,937.5 miles) distance covered, 416,000 kcals used up. 6 tyres, five chains, 669 hours in the saddle.
I am pleased to report that every day was a good day for a ride. Every day was a day on which I rode. No days off; none required, none wanted. This was no forced march; no self-bribes were needed, no little psychological tricks were needed to motivate me out the door. This was a big result! The passion did not pale. My experiment only made my obsession with cycling worse!
While there wasn’t really any particular secret sauce involved in pulling off such a plan, there were some things that helped me along the way . First, I had a nice variety of rides to retain the interest and sustain enthusiasm. All I needed was a simple repeating pattern of five different routes; three on sealed road routes and two in the dirt. The sealed road routes were spread across three road bikes and the dirt road routes were mainly on my cyclocross bike. There were around 20 rides on mountain bikes in the mix as well. It’s good to have a modest stable of machines to spread the load. Mixing off and on-road routes keeps the interest sustained.
But what happened when it rained? Or when it was blowing a cyclonic gale. Or both? There were at least 3 weeks in the mix of days just like that. No problems with my CycleOps indoor bike! I recall more than a few days spent riding in front of the TV when Le Tour was on the screen… Of all the bikes I have ever owned, the CycleOps Pro 300PT is the one I would claim to be really fundamental to my needs. I’m thinking that this is the bike I will probably ride most when I am in my nineties and beyond…
And for all those who might wonder at the loss of those 669 hours, or how it might be possible to find such a consistent space in what we might consider to be our perpetually time oppressed lives, I reckon I have this to say: how much time do you spend watching the TV? How much time do you waste driving to work? How much time do you waste asleep? I remain to be convinced that finding at least 1.20 per day is beyond anyone I know. I’ve heard all the excuses people make, and I hear the sincerity of their delusions that these excuses are actually real. But, I have yet to meet (a cycling capable) someone who could not be creatively re-organised to find the necessary time to put cycling into his or her daily routine. If you spend any time at all at the gym, you have just proved my point. If you work within a one hour ride from home, what’s your excuse? Just like religion and belief in the sanctity of the market place, the mind can believe just about anything it wants and if it wants to believe that there is no time for a ride, then that belief can appear to be pretty real. The problem is that that reality will persist until you take a leap and live a life in the parallel universe usually reserved for your dreams. Then the reality of your previous certainty becomes a certainty that that reality was actually unreal. The key is to take a leap. Just like Columbus. Yes you can!
All of which is not to suggest that there were no problems with my year without a break. I did have a problem and I have that problem now. I can’t stop riding! It’s time for a day off… Tomorrow. Maybe. As for that eulogy for the end of my days. I have it now. ‘He was a cyclist. A cyclist to the core’.
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Life seems just like a rubber band stretched around the elastic pull of the Market Place. Our task is to travel the rubber rail of delusion, kept comfortably numb to the more spiky realities of life lived real – a place where the glare of the marketplace stuns us less. The Novocain of our times are the fantasies of marketing spin; the oh-so-intentional social constructions of those who seek our cash and our submission to the True Religion of the marketplace. We are all headed off on some endless cattle ramp into the bowls of a destination we know is wrong; a destination that will make a holocaust of times to come. But as long as the destination remains elusive, all we have to do is check our progress against the reference points of those immediately behind, and with those just ahead. Then we don’t have to worry about all the rest. We are seemingly drawn along this line of time on the scent of shiny toys and by a life miraged though the constructions of marketing spin.
There’s signs all around that our track is a road across a void with rails as flimsy as the edge of a Pyrenean mountain descent. If only we can open our eyes. The reality of that void all around would cause us to slow. It might cause us to stop! It might cause us to walk our bikes down that hill instead.
Here’s a clue. The fabrications of delusion have caught up with the world of cycling; even cycling! That’s a place that should be immune. But it’s not. Not even here.
My flag of concern concerns the oil spill of marketing sludge into the Sacred Central of the High Temple of Pinarello! Yes, even there. The rot’s set in. Nothing is sacred any more. Consider the new Pinarello Dogma 60.1. A fine machine. Technically. But a bike for which I now have unending contempt. Pinarello has sold out. They are now busy ingratiating themselves onto the flabby Dentist egotisms of lives stretched past the border of fashionable youth. Pinarello’s Dogma has become the Botox solution for those who would cling to the fantasies of a youth long gone. It’s become a cosmetic appliance for those who can afford its ludicrously inflated price. $20,000 for a bike that’s worth half as much in terms of the performance it provides. If it were only an instrument of cycling rather than as an appliance of personal vanity. $10,000 for the bike; $10,000 for the pose. I am disgusted. Waiting lists apply!
Consider this. For $10,000 you can attach yourself to a BMC or a Scott Pro Tour machine. Either will perform at least as well. Either are at least as well made. Either have captured all the functionality even a Tour de France winner needs. I love the Dogma. I want a Dogma. But I am not going to pay a premium for pretence. I am not going to join the ranks of the Open Top Sports Car brigade who now seem to be turning their pudgy poncy ponderings to the world of two leg-powered wheels. When did cycling become the new Golf! When did our bike shops start stocking size XXXL knicks? When did the fuel of choice turn from water to double whipped cream latte? When did the bicycle become a shield of pretence for the cafe crawling crowd? Bah! A pox plague on the flabby over-cashed middle aged. They are driving prices beyond my reach!
Once cycling was a place through which to escape the stupidities of culturally constructed delusions. Now it’s a destination. Once we were impediments on the road of those travelling the sports car delusions of their past-it lives . Now we’ve become the playground for their cosmetic cash. I think I will take up banking or the stock market trade. Now that the Pre Global Financial Crisis set have moved on from the world of finance into the financing of pretentious cycling instead.
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I am sick of it… Brassed off. Fed up. If it doesn’t stop I’m going to become a recluse. I’ll just cycle off into the distance on an endless solo ride…
Everywhere you look, up, down, sideways, frontwards, backwards – people keep telling me what to like and what is best. They tell me what is hot and what’s not. They tell me how stuff should be done and how my approach is always wrong. Let’s face it. Everyone is their own little island of perfect advice. Every single human being is a big bundle of prejudices wrapped up in the veneer of their own delusions of good taste and omniscience. Most people spend their entire lives searching, seeking, exploring, digging and hoping for validation; any validation will do. Which is why you find like-minded folk clubbing together like castaways clinging together as their boat goes down.
In music the critics -and everyone is a critic- tell us what’s good and what’s not. If you only ever chose what the critics might recommend, you’d end up with a collection of Top 10 McSwill. See! I am being a critic now… my game is to seek out stuff that people generally reject and reject the stuff they don’t. That way I can enjoy my sense of cultural victimisation as a perpetual masochist pain!
Let’s enter the shallow end of this mirky opinionated pool. Take musical choice for a start. Let’s pick a critically dammed musical recording of note. The Stone Roses’ second album, Second Coming, is a good start. Consider this glowing review: ‘this is a turgid, interminably boring record…’ I love every second, so there! We ‘Classical Music’ buffs are not supposed to rate Respighi above Verdi. I do. So there! Take that! We are supposed to admire Schoenberg. Nuts. Mozart was a god. Not in my book. Give me Bach any time… And why can’t I give equal time and value to the works of Devin Townsend and Mendelsson? Have you ever heard Townsend’s Accelerated Evolution album? Play it loud. Ride to that and you would win any cycling race – or crash. Wow!!
Then there’s my choice of cycling teams. The cognoscenti is all for Team Sky. Or Radio Shack. Or whatever and which ever except the one I go for: Caisse D’Epargne. Everyone is an informed critic on the best team and the best rider. It’s all part of the fun. But is there anyone else out there who cheers for Louis Leon Sanchez other than those from his local town?
Choice of bike? Choice of component group? Stand back and watch the rival camps scream. One man’s choice is heresy to at least some.
Choice of a favourite author? Watch the learned critical pontificators connect your choice with Mills and Boone…
Because there are so many opinions out there, it will usually be possible to find someone else with whom you agree. So seek them out and quote their support; soon you will have a cult or a quorum of support to validate your choice. The internet is helpful here. Search for your choice, qualify it with the keyword ‘great’ and populate your club. Replace that keyword with ‘bad’ and pile up the evidence against whatever it is with which you might disagree.
All this gets really fun when your choice has some foundation in an ethical or value position. There you will find choices that simply cannot be argued for want of social exclusion; or jail. Consider religion! Islam, Christianity or Judaism. Only one can be true. Which one? Prepare to burn when you choose against the choice of your mates or what’s standard for your culture. Open up any of these Big Three and watch the fun. Sunni or Shiite? Catholic or Presbyterian. Orthodox or Reformed Judaism. Take a choice and man the barricades. They are all cess-pit contagions of self-referentialised prejudice. And don’t even get me started on the new religion of Atheism as ruled by Saints Dawkins and Hitchens et. al. They are as bigoted and ego-driven as all the rest. That’s why I pump for Tarvu (the world’s greatest comic relief). Or the book of Urantia. No one can argue against you when your choice is off the scale. Except to say that you are mad. Or deluded. But free of those infernal mainstream clans…
Politics is almost as bad – or probably worse if you happen to live in a country ruled by the Taliban…
So… given that I am (perceived to be) wrong in everyone else’s (clearly deluded) eyes and everyone else is wrong in mine… here’s my own personal universal proclamation of good taste and informed choice. If you don’t agree, you are wrong and un-informed. If you agree, you are indeed an elevated being! There’s just one catch. Because my choices are informed by a perversity to think the opposite of everyone else, no one else is allowed to agree. If you agree, then I must be wrong. Which means that I have to think upon this all over again. Which explains why I really, truly, enjoy my solo bicycle rides – arguing with myself all the way…
So, here’s my list:
World’s greatest bicycle maker: Pinarello
World’s greatest bicycle component group: Campagnolo
World’s greatest cyclist: Louis Leon Sanchez
World’s greatest cycling team: Caisse D’Epargne
World’s greatest composer: Gustav Mahler
World’s greatest artist: Goya
World’s greatest contemporary band: Green Carnation
World’s greatest bicycle ride: my next ride!
World’s greatest country: Antarctica (no people with whom to disagree)
World’s greatest politician: the Dalai Lama
World’s greatest religion: the Cargo Cult
World’s greatest leader: His Majesty King Khesar, The 5th Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan
World’s greatest work of fiction: Dianetics by L Ron Hubbard
World’s greatest work of non fiction: Dianetics by L Ron Hubbard
World’s greatest ever computer: the Macintosh Portable
World’s greatest bicycle race: Paris Roubaix
World’s greatest corporation: Apple Inc.
World’s greatest genius: L Ron Hubbard (I mean, he got away with it!!)
World’s greatest idiots: those who follow L Ron Hubbard (or any other religion…)
World’s greatest tourist destination: Consuegra (where Don Quixote exercised his lance)
World’s greatest moron: equal honours for Robert Mugabe and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
World’s greatest scientist: The Dalai Lama
World’s greatest economist: former King Jigme SIngye Wangchuck for the idea of Gross National Happiness
World’s greatest idea: J M Keynes for ‘In the Long Run, we are all dead’
World’s greatest stupidity: football
World’s greatest con job: golf
World’s greatest perversion: religion
World’s greatest problem: human ego
World’s greatest joke: the game of cricket
World’s greatest mistake: listening to academics
World’s greatest evil: the Chinese economy
World’s greatest stupidity: buying Chinese goods
World’s greatest movement: misanthropy!
World’s greatest peril: human overpopulation
World’s greatest delusion: the concept of sustainable economic development
World’s greatest dangerous idea: economic rationalism
World’s greatest saving grace: cycling, bicyclism!
World’s greatest fable: altruism and selflessness
World’s greatest movie of all time: 2001 – A Space Odyssey
World’s greatest and rarest phenomenon: critical thinking (on anything at all…)
World’s greatest proof that critical thinking is rare: dependency on the car and the re-election of George Bush for his second term
World’s greatest website: click here…
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To most people around here, I am just that ‘cyclist guy’ who fluffs around the place on his bicycle like a kid who never grew up.
Which is, to be blunt, nonsense. Kids don’t ride bikes these days. Kids don’t do anything at all!
It’s school holiday time at the moment. Today’s a fine, warm early autumnal day. I went for a lovely long ride (which means that I have to work later into the evening, but that’s the price that’s got to be paid…). I rode through a nearby town, enroute to a big recreational dam. But there’s no way that anyone would notice that it’s school holiday time. Because there are no kids. Anywhere. I mean, it’s as thought they all up and died. Or that some Pied Piper carried them off. There were no kids playing in the gardens of their homes. There were no kids skateboarding on the road. There were certainly no kids out riding bikes. There were no kids at the dam. There were no kids walking, there were no kids just talking. They are all indoors. Watching the TV or wired to the internet.
I know this because my internet connection has slowed down. The local demand for broadband is way too high. All the internet tubes are full with the prattle of kids who would, these days, rather talk on-line than face to face on the street.
Ah! kids these days… Go on. Google the title for this post. Altakaka*. Is that what I’ve become? Well, if I am, I may as well play to form.
I remember when I was a kid… I remember my proto-bicycling as though it were yesterday. Which is perfectly true as every day my tongue hits the back of a tooth that I bashed out when I rode into a branch; when I was 10. That stainless steel backed replacement tooth reminds me of all those rides we used to do; my mates and I. We went ‘exploring’. Which meant that we’d be off for hours and hours, riding through places not meant for bicycles at all. I remember carrying our bikes through rivers and creeks. I remember dragging them up scrub covered hills. I remember getting lost. I remember getting rescued. And it was not just me! Kids rode bikes. Bikes were everywhere. Kids riding on footpaths, kids riding on the road, kids piling their bikes up like crash sites at shops, kids at local sports grounds, kids riding to the beach, kids, kids, everywhere. Nowadays, though, it’s like some post holocaust world of cringing, hiding, terror-filled retreat. The only kids you see these days are the ones out to steal your wallet. Or mug senior citizens in the street.
Or so it seems. It must always seem that way to altakaka’s ruminating their grumpy displeasure at the fading tide of a youth retreating faster than they can run – they spend their time reconstructing the past as the ideal platform for a future where the past will be reborn as it once could have been, but really never was. [Were the days of Hitler, the Great Depression, George Bush and steel drainpipe bicycle frames really that great, after all??]
To risk joining that park bench ‘get off my lawn’ mean muttering crowd, I wonder, though, if the kids really have all gone. I wonder if cycling really has died, along with any other kind of physical endeavour. I mean, who are the role models these days? Our nation of couch-potato, super sporting-hero, footy-watching, pizza-chomping, golf-numbed, SUV-driving, mind-body detached blimps? Our nation of gymnasium fatties in a permanent Occupational Health and Safety neutered, prescription-drugged Nanny State daze. In the old days, the vistas that mattered were the landscapes through which we walked. These days, the vistas that matter are measured by the diagonal of our flat screen TVs. Manliness was once measured by how high you might have climbed, by how far you might have ridden, or by how far you could throw a ball or a weighted line. These days, manliness is measured by the size of the engine in your SUV. [Or for the post-modern post-baby boomed metrosexual banker boy set, by the carbon footprint of their Gucci indoor-outdoor eye-colour coordinated loafing shoes]. As for women, it’s no wonder they stay indoors…all those super deluded heroes must be a pretty depressing sight.
Role models. It’s all our fault. That our kids stay indoors. Coddled and cosseted, connected and sacrificed to their broadband screens. So what’s the NEXT generation going to be like if the youth of today are left to design the future of our race? Why bother with a body at all! Jump through the wire and swim in the digital stream.
But you can’t agree with this; because then you’d be an altakaka too. You’d be joining me on my grumpy solitary rides observing a world where the outdoors is generally experienced only indoors through the vents of an air-conditioned car. But there is one irony left to enjoy. We grumpy old altakaka’s: dentists, doctors, accountants and all and sundry cyclists/runners/swimmers and the otherwise self-propelled are probably fitter than most of the young upon which youth is so wantonly wasted these days… But an altakaka would say that, don’t you think?
* altakaka. Grumpy old f&^t living in the past. From the Yiddish.
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Bicycle mechanics… there’s more garbage swilling around this theme than just about any other. Let me contribute some more…
For something so astoundingly and magnificently simple as the workings of a bicycle, it’s a wonder that there can be so many controversies surrounding the operation of every part. There’s more mythology around how we should set up and maintain a bike than there were dramas in Valhalla on the morning of Gotterdammerung…(when the gods set fire to their palace).
You’d reckon that playing the game of wrenches on a car would be more complicated than playing around with bikes. But as cars get more and more complicated, car mechanics just gets more specialised. Dodgy gear boxes get sent off to gear box technicians, engine diagnostics are diagnosticated by dedicated computers lorded by factory certificated boffins wearing white lab coats with pocket protected pens. Electrics are the job of auto electrical experts, tyres are done by tyre places, body work by body work folk. There’s airbag specialists and repairers of windshields. Upholsterers and exhaust specialists. When you take a car in for repairs, it’s like setting off a chain reaction of cogs meshing with cascades of other cogs all the way down the line. It’s like springing an elaborate mechanical clock. Whirl the cog and pay the bill and hope that the job, somehow, gets done.
But it’s different with bicycles. For a start, one mechanic usually does it all. Not to mention also being bicycle salesman, chief public relations officer, complaints desk operator and a cyclist in permanent need of a ride. It’s tough being a bike mechanic! I mean, can you imagine putting in all that love and devotion needed to tend to some kid’s latest toy while also attending to the even bigger toys the grown up kids like to enjoy? How many punctures can a fella be expected to repair for owners who do not have a clue?
Bike wrenching is not just about spanners and chain lube. There’s also a kind of priesthood thing going on as well. Like everywhere else but only more so than in any other place, bike mechanics like their biases and myths. So when the customer fronts up for some work, she may be getting more than he may have ever bargained for.
Underneath most bicycle mechanics are some pretty entrenched points of view. Take the die-hard roadie forced to work on mountain bikes. Or, worse, having to sell fat tyres when his dreams extend only out to 700x23c. Watching a performance like that is worth the trip to my own local bike shop…Study his words, so carefully chosen. So cautious and guarded to not let his biases slip…’Yes, that’s a truly great Cross Country steed…’ if you are demented enough to want to ride a truck like that…
Then there’s the bike set-up game. This is the orgy room of Valhalla’s tempestuous neon-plush draped halls. How many frame sizing formulae are currently in vogue? How many bike mechanics are there in the world today? And let us not even get started on the concept of setting seat height. Like an inquisitor judging an heretic’s future in heaven or hell, all depends on accepting only the gospel of his own singular point of view. No matter what the ailment of any bike I take in for my own mechanic to see, I always come back with a seat deflated to half mast and no torque wrench to right his wrongs so that I can get home again. He’s a track specialist, you see…
And let’s not even touch that greatest of bicycle apostolic laws: Dura Ace vs Campagnolo vs SRAM. If your man has a determined attachment to one and not the others, you can be sure that he won’t know how to set up the offerings of the devil he hates. I spent a whole year trying to unravel the subtle insecurities of my SRAM entourage that he’d set up as per the dictates of Dura Ace. These things are not the same! There’s huge finesse involved in tuning the gears of the upper-end. Just like piano tuning or finally catching the art of fishing with a fly.
I’d hate to think how much money I have wasted over the years from accepting the advice of mechanic-salesmen who persist in seeing the world in black and white. I remember the first aluminium racing bike I ever bought. I remember my man telling me that aero was the place to be. I remember watching my bottom bracket rise and fall like a pendulum with every pedal stroke. I remember throwing that bike out in time for the very next race. And I remember a mechanic with the self-assurance of Lance at a victory press conference race review. ‘Yes …he said … these tyres really, truly, are puncture proof!’ Do you remember the Wolber Invulnerable from the mid ’80’s scene? I do. My NSCC club mates do too. We aimed to collect all our punctured tyres to wrap around his smug know-it-all neck.
And how about that guy who is yet to discover the virtues of the torque wrench for fixing a seat post in place? I recall a ride back from a race after my post had finally snapped. 50NM really was too much when the specs call for 6.5…
And, do I really need a fully decked monster suspended mountain bike for downhilling in the Himalayas when all I really want to do is ride the dirt roads surrounding my home? You try and convince a Bike Shop Expert on the virtues of a cyclo-cross bike when all he’s ever heard of are fat tyred mountain bike tanks. ‘No Sir’, said the man in the big city bicycle shop… ‘there’s no such thing in this country of ours’. ‘Cyclo Cross is only in Europe. Why not take this Trek Liquid 55 instead’. So I did. And it broke in half. And I went to war with the Factory until they honoured my warranty at last. Until my local bloke mentioned, ever so casually, that he could get me a Pinarello cyclo-cross bike in just a day or so… So now I seem to be the only person in this whole country of ours who rides such a bike exclusively on dirt roads. Loving every second. And wishing I had ever more seconds just like that to spend. And lamenting all the time and money wasted on mountain bikes. When all I wanted to do was to ride on dirt roads…
But it’s not all their biases over mine. Mine are just as ingrained (I am not making this up, you know…). Pity the bicycle shop man who has yet to discover the pathologies of my own particular points of view… Just say one word against Campagnolo and I’m out of his shop. Just mention Pinarello with any tone other than spiritual revelation and ultimate human attainment and off I go. And just try to argue for electric shifting Dura Ace! AND never, EVER! say anything at all against the unmitigated eternal glory of the Caisse D’Epargne cycling Team! Come to think on it, it’s kind of strange that every time I visit my local store, there’s usually no one there. I can sometimes hear whispers from somewhere out the back…
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