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Posts Tagged “Bicyclism!”

Feeling low? Feeling lethargic? Not enjoying life like you used to? Are you a male? Are you a man? If you are a woman, read on and laugh…

Are you ready, willing and able to attend to the servicing of your car and household plumbing but not to the necessities of your own physical health? Happy to clean the plugs of your lawn mower but not the congestion of your heart and lungs? Convinced that the market place is the broker between every problem and its cure? Want to re-charge your health just like you’d recharge your ‘phone? On the market for eternal youth? If so, then take the test on the left*. If you answer ‘yes’ to two or more of these deeply insightful questions, sign up now! Buy a round of pills and become the Superman you always thought you were. Captain America! Iron Man with jets. All yours for a measly $500 per month. $6,000 per year. $60,000 for ten. So long as you don’t die of the side effects…

Yes sir. Answer ‘yes’ and your problem is ‘Low T’. Low testosterone. The latest designer health malady and co-joined cure from Big Brother Pharma. Hand crafted psychoses and associated cures; direct to your door via the fast lane of the marketplace.

Read the questions. What else does this list remind you of? Are these the symptoms of a life let go from too much wallowing in the couch? Aren’t these the symptoms of a bicycle-shaped hole in the life of those afflicted by sloth?

Yes, I could hijack this stupid questionnaire and corral the argument as a pitch for more cycling in your life. All the issues it highlights can be addressed through spending one hour per day on your bike. But, I do confess, there are side effects from the cycling-cure that should footnote any cycling advocacy of that kind. Read the small print that should be attached to cycling your way back to good health. Perhaps these side-effects are enough to keep the mob planted in their couches, sucking pills instead of pushing pedals. I’ll do my community service and spell it all out. Read the following list.

The Small Print… Side Effects of Cycling Yourself Back to Good Health

  • Cycling makes you younger. All your friends who are non-cyclists will age faster than you. Your fat buddies won’t be able to keep up. When you want to go outside to play, all they will want to do is sit in their couches and talk about the war…
  • Despite the fact that the one hour a day you spend on your bike is one hour less than the time your mates spend in the pub, they will claim that you are spending all your life on your bike.
  • As you get fitter than your boss, your boss will start to feel insecure. Soon you’ll be promoted outwards and possibly upwards to places beyond his vision.
  • You will start to tire of the conversation with your non-cycling mates. All they will speak about are the maladies of their ill-health. Their new best friend will be their doctor rather than you.
  • Your mates will all become ever more obsessed about joining a gym. All they want to discuss are wonders of their workouts and the profiles of their personal trainers. You will become bored to tears.
  • Your unmitigated enthusiasm for the spectacular beauty of a carbon fibre frame will gap ever further from your mates’ obsession with open-topped coupes.
  • You will need to start shopping for clothes in young-mens’ stores as your waist size declines below the stock your usual store is prepared to carry.
  • All your one-time mates want to do is watch TV and drink beer. All you want to do now is climb mountains on your bike…
  • Everyone you once knew is now starting to look really, really, old, grey, flabby and bald.
  • Everyone you once knew start asking you to carry their loads and run their errands while they hold their backs in pain…
  • You want to talk about your improving sprint times; they just want to discuss sciatica.
  • You will become fitter than your daughters’ non-cyclist boyfriends.
  • Everywhere you go, people you know, and some you don’t, will start whispering about your no doubt ill-gotten good health.
  • When you visit your doctor, he’ll call probably panic and call an ambulance when he takes your coma-like pulse.
  • Everyone you know will tell you that you have anorexia.
  • Or cancer
  • Or some other wasting disease.
  • Tubby airline check-in twots will spitefully seat you next to the fattest person on the plane.
  • Fat tubbies in cars will swerve and swear at you on your bike; to assert their delusions of manly place.
  • You start to anger over your subsidisation of the self-neglect of others via the scam of health insurance.
  • You will start to notice that statistics and policies will start asserting that you are way, way older than how you feel and probably are.
  • Your mates all start to show an inordinate fondness for golf.
  • While you aspire to whittle the weight from the fame of your bike, your mates seem intent to boast about the mass of their ever larger, truck-like SUV’s.
  • You will become ever more annoyed at the fumes your car-fat friends pump into the air you are relegated to breathe.
  • You aspire to cycle the European Alps. They just want to go on a coach tour of golfing resorts.
  • Your mates won’t understand the clever witticisms and logos on your road cycling gear…

* I am not going to give these turkeys any linklove by referencing this quiz. Just Google ‘Low T’ and ‘quiz’ if you insist on knowing more. Viva və läsə pēd′

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For some strange reason, few people ever want me to drive a car these days. My family suggests that they’d rather walk… Indeed, my kids say that walking is faster.

You see, I have this theory. My theory is that whatever speed is good enough for a bicycle is good enough for a car. I mean to say, I can get most places on a bike in reasonable time.

Which got me thinking, as I do when I’m out on a lovely long ride. What if the whole world could slow down to the speed of a bike? Such a nice thought. Especially considering that this thought of mine happened at just that point when a double trailered cattle truck was overtaking at ten times my speed on that lonely, dusty, gravel shrouded, oh so very very narrow road.

Let me run with this thought play of mine. Assume, somehow, that all vehicles were tied to the maximum speed of a bicycle. Not a kiddie’s BMX. Or some first timer’s wobbly ride. No, let’s assume the speed of, say, Louis Leon Sanchez. Or of Lance, if you insist. What’s that? About 45km/hour average on flattish roads? And about 100km/hour down really nice, steep, properly tarred hills. [That’s about 28m/hr and 62m/hr respectively, for those of you who still clinging to the Imperial system – like a drowning sailor clinging to a raft on the edge of an earth thought to be as flat as a dinner plate…]. But there’s more. Assume as well that your daily dose of travel is also linked to the possibilities of the pedal: about 200km in a really, really, good day. Of about 7 to 8 hours. Before the average punter would pass out.

Imagine a world slowed down to the pace of our pedal powered legs. Instead of 1000km in a day, you’d be looking at 200 instead. Or more likely, about 100 [62 miles]. Imagine what that would imply.

For starters, people would start thinking more locally than they once might have been inclined. People would stay closer to home. They’d shop, work and play within a radius of a good two hour ride. Local businesses would start to pick up. They, in turn, would start sourcing their own supplies from closer to home. We’d all start becoming vastly more locally self-sufficient. If you insist on getting stuff that’s further away, be prepared to camp out as journeys that once took a day by car would now take up to a week. As our local communities are recharged, so too would be our employment. And that long-promised era of internet commuting would really take hold! More and more of us would start working from home. Think of the CO2 that would then stay in the ground instead.

Globalisation would wither like the dried snake-oiled skin it always was. Globalisation of trade in goods and the globalisation of all the world’s stupidities. The globalisation of culture into some odious amorphous mash. The globalisation of identity. The globalisation of financial crises. The globalisation of impacts further out than our own back yards! Import the goods, exports the bads.

But electrons would still be free to swing at the speed they need. The internet would keep us connected to the globalised crowd sourcing of ideas, creativity and learning. That’d keep us from falling back to medieval times. The best of the past fortified by the knowledge and technology of this internet age.

Our thoughts of distance would start to compress. Distance would recede ever further away. We’d start becoming re-regionalised all over again. Big urban centres would become even more centred around nodes of our now slower paced transport modes. Planes would fall out of the sky! They’d never be able to take off at bicycle speed… Ships would start sailing again. Trains would matter as they once did and always should. Cars would become an even bigger pain. And how many folk will persist with SUV’s when it takes all day to reach the next pit stop for beer?

How could we all go off to war if it took us a year to get to the front line?

If you are going to shoot off a missile at pedal powered speed, you’d better make sure your nuke has got a thousand kilometre fuse…

And just think how much more careful we’d all start being about the garbage we throw out. If our trucks can only cart your junk 100km in a day, in no time at all landfills would leech their return to your back yard fence. It’s harder to ship the stuff off to some distant place when distance is compressed by how far you can ride a bike in a day.

And what if you could no longer depend on instant responses from the ambulence, fire fighters and the police. We’d probably become somewhat more circumspect about the risks we take and the things we do that might cause offence. It’d become easier to catch a bicycle thief when the best he can do is escape at the same pace as you. Just maybe the village doctors might start making house calls again! Imagine.

And what’s the future of the business lunch when it would take those business men all day to reach their wine and truffles bloated troughs?

And what, oh what, would be the future for golf! So long in the commute and so little time on the green. There’d be no time left for swilling at the 19th hole.

Life would slow down and we’d start noticing the details our speed once blurred from view. Journey’s would become a time for living rather than an interruption between destinations. Life lived along the way. The smaller stuff of our lives would grow to become life’s more exciting adventures. A trip to town would become yesteryear’s trip overseas.

Just imagine. And best of all, next time I come across that double trailered cattle truck, I could pass him instead!

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This is not about politics. It’s not really about sheep either. But it is about standing out from the flock; being the only sheep dressed in lycra rather than ubiquitous wool.

It’s also not really about my pathological aversion to that most arcane of socially constructed curiosities: wearing a suit and tie.

But let’s start with a game currently being played here in down town Australia. No doubt the same game is being played where you live too. Londoners will relate pretty quickly I am sure when they consider a certain Mayor called Boris. This is about what happens when we allow the cyclist we are to extend further out into life than out-of-hours ‘private time’. It’s about being unordinary when ordinary is how you would otherwise maintain your position in the flock.

It’s perverse, all this. Just consider the conundrum of someone like a politician grappling with the duality of the need to be noticed while, at the very same time, being a well-behaved member of a team. Stand out and the harsh sharp blades of conformity are likely to take off your head. Blend in too much and the folk won’t notice you are there. Is life really about the art of micro-tuned subtlety? Or can we become the erupting volcano in the room that’s pretty hard to miss?

Segue to Australia’s latest Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott. I have no interest in his politics, or of any other politician for that matter (particularly the towering inanity of our own particular local member…) But something caught my eye a while ago. Picture this. The reporters were interviewing Tony Abbott in his plush Canberra office. Sitting beside his desk was his bicycle. I am almost certain that this is the first time a bicycle has sat beside the desk of such a senior politician in this country, or probably anywhere else as well. Did George Bush prop his Trek beside his desk in the White House? Does Boris do so in London town?

I didn’t hear what Tony Abbott was saying. I was transfixed by the bicycle beside his desk! Then, the next thing we heard was that Mr Abbott was competing in an Iron Man event; the media was apoplectic in shock. Now, there’s this. A Pollies Ride from Melbourne to Sydney. See the picture above (click on it to make it bigger. Follow this link to read the full story). He was going to ride his bike as part of a campaign to meet and greet; to connect and learn. And all on tax payer time! Now I am pretty sure this is getting down to seriously unique. One quote from the story is worth a vote to note:

…no one would be complaining if Abbott were doing the trip in a car instead of on a bike

Exactly. Precisely so. There’s serious difference going on here. This guy’s not playing the lame same game like everyone else. Every hack journalist in the country is laying inane sporting metaphors over the story; which serves to highlight their own insecurities rather than to serve effective derision on the pedalling pollie target in their sights. Take this intellectually disabled backfiring jab:

If the wheels of government only turned when Abbott wasn’t on his bike we wouldn’t get anything done

I bet the turkey who said that is permanently dressed in a suit; porky belly jammed up against his regulation desk. Dreaming of McDonalds and watching Australia’s Greatest Loser on TV.

But this is not just about one politician daring to admit cycling further into the highway of his life. It’s about why and how it is that so few other cyclists are prepared to go so far. Or to go so far in the shining light of the public’s unfiltered gaze. I mean, the car crowd are never shy to park their cars in the public gaze. The CEO of my last organisation even had a sign erected over his parking space so that everyone would know that that sporty little BMW was his. A statement of how he perceived himself, I guessed. (An open-topped, underpowered mini-man car). So why can’t we extend the same egocentric posturing for business hour posing to our bicycles as well?

For good reasons, that’s why! Because there’s more to a bicycle than posing. Anyone can stick a Colnago on the wall. But only a cyclist can ride it to the purpose of its design. There’s no roaring V8 of noise to confuse prowess for pose with a bike. You just look a dork if you can’t ride to match the bike you prop beside your desk. Being a cyclist is a more complete package of a statement to make than any business suit or car can provide.

I want my leaders to possess at least some degree of leadership! To lead, you have to be out front. Or at least prominently leading from behind. You can’t lead if you are invisible inside a flock. Leadership requires demonstrable qualities of distinction. Otherwise, just let the flock make it’s mob-meandering emergence like the happenstance of driftwood floating on a river. Like a mob of sheep, the flock will eventually end up in some place other than where they started. But they are still going to get shorn, in the end.

I know there’s some good qualifiers to all this, of course. You don’t necessarily need to voice your distinctiveness by stepping out in lycra and parking a bicycle beside your desk. It’s possible to use other means to escape the black hole attractions of floating with a flock. You can be distinctive via intelligence, for example. Or inventing stuff that’s totally new. Or by being immune to anger; or sticking to your principles, or anything else that maintains your orbit around the gravity well of the otherwise inane.

And yes, I am assuming it’s leadership that Mr Abbott is demonstrating here rather than just a predilection to pedal while his tax payer funded metre is running. Not all cyclists are leaders and not all leaders are cyclists (unless you are in a pro-cycling team). But his notions of pedal powered community mingling do have huge appeal; you can’t be more open to community access than that. They don’t make bullet proof cycling vests and it’s ever so hard for security hit teams to keep you under control when you are out on your bike. Especially when you are Iron Man fit and your security goons can’t keep up…

But I like the cut of this politician’s leadership suit. The message is clear. He’s in command of his security to be different; distinctive and assured. It matters not if his politics are different to what I’d ordinarily choose. That’s not the point. This person stands out. We can read him with greater clarity than is usual in the flock that goes for leadership these days. If someone is prepared to stand so high; to stand out so far; then we can at the very least admire him for allowing our judgements to be so easily made. His orbit may be heading off into outer space. But at least he is in orbit rather than decomposing at the bottom of the bog.

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I blame the Two Johns (of the Two Johns Podcast; my favourite cycling commentators who hold nothing back in going forward to present opinions on absolutely everything; irrespective of anyone else’s facts). A listener brought up the intriguing notion of ‘weightism’. I’d not heard of this one before, given that I tend these days to just cycle around society rather than through its midst. Social memes are slow to arrive – as though by carrier pigeon delivery to the velodrome in the clouds of my mind…

John G and John K (the Two Johns of aforementioned Pod Casting fame) chewed over this weightism thing. One claimed to be fighting the allure of this apparently elitist meme. The other (John G, of course) was, he said, a ‘rampaging weightist’ without recourse to remorse. Now I was intrigued. Step one was to Google the word to see what it’s all about. The first hit revealed this intriguing link. Fat people need to fight this latest racist curse!

Being a victim of… weightism, or …fatism wears on your self-esteem and confidence. Teasing and hurtful comments stay with an obese person forever as they [sic] replay the comments to themselves

Then I found another (John Ridley via the Huffington Post) to argue the opposite cause: fat people deserve the fate they have inflicted on themselves – the solution is in their own hands:

I can… (after all, said he) … moderate the number of Big Macs I shove in my pie-hole

So what’s it all about?

It seems that everyone wants to exercise an unwritten inalienable right to feel perpetually good about themselves – even if that’s a right they might not have exercised yet (along with any other kind of exercise, apparently). Which, it seems, must rather imply that fat people feel bad about themselves; or perhaps are made to feel that way via the taunts of those with a BMI at the fashionable end of 22 or less. Fatties, it seems, demand the right to feel great about the state they are in.

With just a touch of deeper reflection, there’s something rather troubling here. There’s something in the psychology of all this that might cause we cyclists some harm. Think about the arguments being applied. ‘We want to feel great about ourselves – even if we are fat’. What does that mean? What does the qualifier ‘even’ mean? ‘We want to feel great about ourselves – even if we know we are ugly and unhealthy?. Does anyone ever actually like being fat? As in, would you intentionally go out of your way to become fat when once you were thin? Is the implication that we would like to feel great about ourselves without knowing we are fat? Or to feel great and simply forget about being fat? That’s possible if absolutely everyone in your village was as fat as you and you had never, ever, seen someone who was thin. The blind leading the blind so long as that one-eyed thin man who would be King would stay the Hell away.

Because unless our assaulted fatties could live in such a place, they will always feel out of place – in a society that seemingly reveres the fit and thin. But what if we lived in a place where most people were fat and only a few were thin? Then we the thin folk would be the ones out on the edge. Perhaps the ‘thinnies’ would start to feel the hate. When fat becomes the new thin, thin might become the undernourished and sickly look when the ideal is flabby with a pizza-guzzling-chip-fat-streaked bloated replete kind of look to which we would all then aspire. What if all the fashions were geared to those whose personal pride extended out with the width of their personal girth? What would the thinnies be left to wear? To become anorexic waifs left to drift on the outskirts of a society where Sumo-glamour is king.

But for now, the meme is tuned to the polarity of thin. Thin is in. Fat is a statement of self-harm and personal neglect. Reality TV parades fatties like freaks. The Biggest Loosers dress in cossies designed to humiliate the most. The winners are those who cease to look fat the fastest fat can be lost. Winners are thinner. Loosers still have too much flab. I do admit being fat must attract a pressure from the peers that’d be pretty hard to take. I remember the fattie with whom I shared a set on the last flight I flew. She needed an extension on her belt extension and could not lower her tray table because the dirigible she’d become had filled in all the available space (up to the bicycle seat space with which I was left to contemplate my own entrapment from thereon in). I am not entirely sure she enjoyed the ride…

Yes, the tide is out for fat right now. And the sense of humiliation and anger is a magnesium fuse lit by the light of the oversensitivity that such a state must induce.

So I ask you, fellow cyclists, who do you fear most when you are out on the road? Why those big fat four wheel drives driven by thin-resenting fatties with a point to prove, of course! I have a theory that our inclination to ride around in our unashamed lycra-gear is a red flag to a bull wounded by a lack of social pride. Why, if we are to take the sensitivities of these poor souls to heart, are we not just the essence of political incorrectness personified in the extreme? It’s only a testimony to their greater maturity and to a benevolence to society’s other residual norms (and, perhaps, to fear of being locked up), that any of we cyclists are still alive.

But I confess to innocence. A long long time ago, I let too much dust dust my Vitus 979 from the core of my cycling life. I took up mountain biking instead. Gradually, over the years (ten), I put on the pounds. Slowly slowly, I became big and fat. I only knew I was fat after I then became seriously thin. Which was after I took up road bikes all over again. Now, people keep asking if I have some horrible wasting disease. So, while I didn’t recall being fat, I can recall the freedoms that have now been restored. Now I am a weightist; but a weightist inspired by the stupidity of how tough fatties think it is to become thin. I am a weightist by fury to the charlatans and scheisters parasitically leeched to the insecurities fat people ferment. I detest with a fury the monstrosities of our culture of pills. Fat cures: fat potions, fat pills, fat quacks. Big Pharm Scheisters. Rot in Hell.

I also detest with a revulsion the stupidities of the gym. Gymnasium subscriptions are like a snake-oil cure for fat. Fatties pounding treadmills to the screeches of pill-toned, tooth-whitened hedonist personal trainers interested in nothing but their own personal tank-topped reification via the miseries of dejection on which they feed. All at a cost to which most third worlders could only aspire after two lifetimes of slavery just to keep themselves fed.

But there is hope. Like I said, I did not seek to become thin after becoming fat because I only knew I was fat after I’d become thin all over again. It is not actually hard to loose weight! There are no pills and potions or noxious personal trainers to employ. No supplications of devotion to quacks who would cut and tie knots in gullets that pass too many pizzas and Coke. No. It really is simple to loose all that fat; virtually for free. You guessed it. Ride a bike. And ride it some more. Ride a life and ride for life. When cycling becomes part of a life and not just something that needs to be done, fat is an issue you can safely ignore. I am not talking about purchasing some dodgy el-cheapo bike to ride as though you were at the gym. No I am talking about bicyclism! I am talking about taking on the culture of cycling as a culture for living. Lifecycling. Freedom. Escape.

Photo is from the ‘all my jiggly bits‘ blog

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This photo is a stunner*. It should win an award. Talk about one photo telling a tale of 1000 words. Let’s face it, humans love to subscribe to tribes; to belong to some kind of identifiable group. That’s the way that we can express the identity with which we might wish to be associated (or disassociated for more creative anarchical types). It’s often about religion, of course. But not always.

This dedication to proclaiming our cultural ties via the dressage with which we engage is pretty emphatic in the story the photo tells. Add in the Pope with his pointy hat and you’d have the religious trifecta that corners each of these warring tribes.

Not all our tribal attachments are so self-attached to the sleeves we wear; some of us like a bit of mystery with which to keep the punters guessing. But there’s little subtlety of sartorial nuance in evidence here. The people in this picture are screaming their conformity and uniformity of belief. Their gear is as subtle as wearing a national flag. The more distinctive the dress code, the more emphatic the tribal message they’re trying to proclaim. This mob are as subtle as an oncoming train. The lady in red is watching a tribal wave surge past her door. Black and red. Two tribes of emphasised difference. There’s a war of difference going on here.

Uniform wearing is a wonderful social construction to observe. It’s vastly more fun than train spotting, in my view. Just think how elaborately this game can be played. There’s easy wins for beginners to enjoy (guess which tribes the folk in the photo represent). Then there’s a never ending cascade of subtlety as some of us mix our associations with more tribes than one. I just love turning up to business meetings wearing a tee-shirt emblazoned with the deliciously cryptic message ’50HM1K’. Fellow Pinarello Prince riders will decipher that message, I am sure. It’s a secret handshake for the inner-Pinarello crowd.

But let’s take the more obvious cases to get started with Uniform Spotting 101. First up, there’s that most astoundingly absurd social construction of the business suit. I mean, who thought that one up! Consider the tie. Consider the straight-jacket these get-ups impose on natural human manoeuvrability. We were born to run; we were born for wind in our hair. With a suit on, our freedom is taken away. Is this some kind of a meme to acknowledge our accession to the slavery of the workplace? What a thing to proclaim via the clothes we choose to wear.

Uniforms can take many forms. From the uniforms Neolithic educational tyrants impose on school kids (they don’t wear uniforms at Steiner schools…) through to the oh-so-studied planned intentional sartorial chaos of the nevertheless unrelenting conformity of anarchical beach bums…I mean, just try to wear ‘last year’s’ fashion board shorts’ if you want to associate with those dedicated to perpetual shoreline residence. There’s a uniformity of uniforms car mechanics wear. There’s an amazing conformity of the clobber that farmer’s wear. Academics spend endless hours refining a studied look of purposeful non-fashion (which is still a fashion statement, nontheless). And just about everyone who wields tools these days is dressed in fluoro jackets of some kind. Football followers wear the jerseys of their team. Big fat hairy bikers wear their big hairy biker ware (and biker chicks wear hardly anything at all). Feminists dress like men. Schwartzenegger’s ‘lady boys’ dress like women. Schwartzenegger types dress like they are permanently at the gym. Nudists wear nothing as a uniform to proclaim sartorial inclinations of an entirely different kind. But of a kind nonetheless. Geeks wear white shirts with pocket protectors. The middle-aged crisis crowd wear anything and everything that can be purchased in teen surfing shops. The super rich wear their baubles as a surrogate for the bank statements that they’d probably much rather hang around their tragic necks. And Madame President dresses in power-suited red.

And of course, there’s a bit of this attached to cycling as well… Could there ever be a grander sight than the all-conquering, world-beating Caisse D’Epargne squad splendifferously attired in their basic red and black? Or as uncompromisingly repellent than what those poor guys on the Liquigas squad have to wear? Or as board-room boring as the new Team Sky kit of Mr Wiggens et al. And then there are the fans… The screaming loonies in orange lining the roads in the alps. That’s their signal identifier to being crazy and Dutch. Or that other orange the Basques wear on the passes of the Pyrenees. And, of course, there’s those who ride for pleasure decked out in the kit of their favourite team. Or, really, in road cycling kit of any kind. Is there any more distinctive uniformity of difference than the lycra suits we cyclists wear? I don’t mind screaming my own allegiance to that particular tribe! But the fixie, urban commuter set are definitely not off the hook. Their anarchical choices are as uniform in non-conformity as any uniform will proclaim.

No, cycling fashionistas; I think we need to consider a more cunning plan. We need more subtlety for the fashion-spotters to unravel. I’m quite taken by this latest offering from the fashion-making house of Rapha. Now that’s a kit designed to confuse! A business suit for cyclists with a penchant for idiosyncrasy. But then again, perhaps that’s just another sub-tribal affair. Difference becomes a uniform of conformity when you go too far. Is there anything we can wear that does not proclaim some kind of tribal-cultural link? Even if you mix your gear and just look a fool, all you’ll do is proclaim you’re a Fred. Which is, of course, a tribe all of its own. Wear an astronaut suit or ballet gear on a bike and you’ll just be shelved as an exhibitionist. Dress like a cowboy on your Colnago and all you’ll do is shout your insecurities for attention to a crowd that probably won’t notice as they’re all busy trying to do exactly the same thing right back in return. Fashion spotters can probably read us like a book.

Unless, of course, car drivers would suddenly take to riding a bike. Now there’d be a scene that no one could read! They’d be riding around abusing themselves, throwing bottles at their own heads and trying to cut themselves off at every corner they cross. Just picture that loud mouthed SUV driver shouting anti-cyclist rage at himself as he rides in self-loathing all the way down the street! There’s no uniform that could tell the tale of a story like that…

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*The photo appeared against this story in its paper-print version on March 13, 2010 (an AFP photo).

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I was poking around in my local bicycling emporium the other day when I came across my first in-the-flesh impenetrable technology frontier. Now you, and certainly I, would probably relate the world of bicycles to technological conservatism; or at least with a considered pace of technology advancement that admits change only when change is for the good. Unlike just about every other dimension of a world gone mad, cycling is the place where stuff happens only because stuff needs to happen rather than just because it can. Except, of course, when it comes to the wondrous world of wavy system carbon decorating the mad Dali melted clock-like frames from the House of Pinarello. Or those zertz inserts in my precious Roubaix. Of course.

A bicycle is a bit of a refuge from the plastic deceptions of consumer trash that bloats the rest of the world in which we ride.

I mean, when was the last time you checked out the astounding junk that the automobile makers regurgitate into inanities of their designs? Fake wood plasti-dashboard panelling, ikky-yuk plush pile seat covers that even the mice won’t touch, ludicrous flashing lights to distract attention from everything – including the road, ipod docs, mobile phone cradles, and cup holders! Lots of cup holders.

When was the last time you checked out the honesty-of-purpose of stuff like stereo systems (designed by marketing departments rather than audio engineers), automatic washing machines and espresso coffee machines that work worse than the manual designs they replaced – and electric razors (do we really need an LED readout to tell us to wash the stinking thing out?).

No, dear and gentle reader, the bicycle is one of the few icons left for honest goods that meet simple needs without the distractions of pretence. The bicycle provides absolutely no apology for the fact that to make this thing work as per its design, the onus is on you, the rider, to perform. Bloaty baldies riding their middle-aged fantasies of youth will still just look like bloaty baldies having themselves on… Which explains the allure of tinted windows, loud colours and a roaring engine as the preferred vehicle of choice thorough which to automate those particular fantasies.

Until now.

I’ve found my cycling technology frontier. I think I have become a Luddite. I certainly felt like smashing the newfound object of my scorn. Like a cancerous growth on an otherwise sound limb – there it was. A festering joke told by accountant-traumatised engineers intent on having a good final laugh. An April Fool’s joke spelt out in plastic and wires.

I refer, of course, to Shimano’s new electric gruppo. Little electric engines to shift our gears. Like a parasitic growth, the battery to make all this work attaches like that nasty cancerous disease afflicting the mouths of Tasmanian Devils. And there are wires everywhere. And for what? So that instead of a simple push on a traditional lever, these whirring engines of a culture gone mad can take up that miniscule effort instead?

I played with this thing. I pushed the buttons. Push them and the derailleurs move in or out. Like a sewing machine. About as useful as one of those blower machines people use these days instead of brooms. Brooms work better. And so do the now old fashioned push buttons of SRAM Red or Campagnolo Record.

I tried to point out to my over enthusiastic comrade in his local cycling emporium of machinery and culture that the push I provide to make my SRAM Red move is actually less of a push than is needed to move these new electronic gears. And I can push, and push and push some more and not have to worry about a battery running out. Or having to live with a battery cancer-attached to the flowing (yes, wavy carbon) lines of my bike. So what’s the point? No cable maintenance he said. Says he while I am looking at all those stupid electric wires fouling the lines of this bike he’s trying to sell. It self-centres it’s shifts, he proclaims. So does SRAM Red. So does Campagnolo Record. Or the old Dura Ace.

So what’s the point?

Ha! I think I have it sussed. This is the gear that it’s going to take to get those bloaty baldies into exorcising their fantasies of a long lost youth via two wheels instead of four. This is the gear a golfer would buy!

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I ran an experiment on people without any kind of ethics approval… Mainly because I don’t have an ethics committee around here (or a risk management committee, an equal opportunity committee, a work place safety – occupational health committee, or any other kind of committee – thanks be to all that’s still great in this managerialised world of ours). My experiment was pretty disturbing in terms of the results I derived.

There’s this bridge in a nearby coastal holiday town. It’s really the only way into and out of the town if you ever want to head north. It’s a bridge that carries Australia’s National Highway (the Pacific Highway). But you’d be thinking on too grand a scale if you had in mind the profound engineering statements that such bridges might imply in other parts of the world. No, this one’s a simple two lane, cement covered horse and cart bridge that would embarrass many a local village in the third world…

The context for my experiment is that I keep on getting (almost) killed every time I ride over this bridge to sally forth on my daily holiday rides in this otherwise wonderful place (it’s called Urunga, if you really want to know). I have never experienced more of the full frontal fuming anti-cyclist hatred from motorists than I have experienced on this 300 metres of concrete hell.

It’s a busy road, quite unlike absolutely everywhere else I get to ride in this place. Mainly because I only need to ride 500m of that deadly highway (including the bridge) before I head off to the scenic river trails and happy hippy town rural by-ways that makes this area such a great holiday riding place. I crossed that bridge twice each day for an entire week. Only once did I manage to cross without being the victim of some kind of intentional assault. Side swiping, abuse, serious tail gating, horn blasting, and, on one memorable occasion, being physically pushed off my bike by a piece of toxic sludge guffawing like a moronic loon at a ‘I-Love-Holden-I-love-Ford Yippee Fringe binge jamboree’.

Not fun. Dangerous. And fatally depressing to any optimism I might have ever had with regard to the genetic future of the human race.

So, I decided to run this experiment.

I wanted to find out just what it was that caused these vitriolic paroxysms of aggravated anti-cyclist hatred that seems to epi-centre over the span of this noxious bridge. I started with some empirical facts. It could not be my speed. I was always riding at the speed limit that applied (the bridge is in an urban speed restricted zone). My scary hypothesis is that something deeper, nastier and more odious was driving the behaviour I observed. My hypothesis is that there is a kind of racism going on here: a pathological shared sensibility of contempt for cyclists with all the delusions of tribal typecasting that festered the cross-burning antics of the Ku Klux Klan.

Here’s what I did. I swallowed my pride and borrowed my wife’s car. I headed for that dreaded bridge. I crossed that bridge to see if I could attract any road user abuse after I’d swapped two wheels for four. None.

So then I attempted to drive at half every one else’s speed. Over the bridge and back again. Over and over again. Repeat and observe. Nothing! Those who dove cars just slowed down and endured. No one-finger salutes from drivers’ doors, no horn blasting. Nothing at all. Ten repeats spread out over a period of days. Nothing.

But every time I crossed on my bike, the abuse returned. Every single time. Without fail. Well… except once (when a driver carting a Cannondale Synapse on his roof deliberately fended the hoards over the span of that one blessed crossing. He knew! It was not just me…)

So what’s going on? I was not holding the traffic up. I was not inconveniencing the passage of any car. The abuse was sparked only because I was a cyclist and dared to assert my presence by sharing the road. I could not do otherwise without a deep river channel swim.

If there’s one thing we cyclists do really well, it’s to provide motorists with all the ammunition they need to tribalise and separate our ‘kind’ via the props of difference our clothing and vehicles seem to allow. We look different. We act different, we convey ourselves with difference. We are different. ‘We’ become a comprehensible ‘group’ in the vast spectrum of human communities that aggregate to the single species we all still remain. Perhaps because ‘we’ are so vulnerable, or perhaps because ‘we’ always seem to be having such fun, or perhaps it’s because of our lycra shorts – who knows what sparks the machinations of the typecasting mind. I can’t think in such shallow terms (the tide is always out in the intellectual seas within which that type crawls). So I can shed no light. But ‘Different’, in ‘our’ case, is bad. Difference attracts the social construction of ‘racial’ stereotyping and separation. Difference attracts fear and anger among those with less than comprehensively accommodated intelligence and breadth of mind. It’s racism. Nasty, ugly racism.

Of course not all car drivers succumb to such things. By my count it was one in every 20 or so who crossed that bridge. But that’s an overly large proportion, don’t you think?

And unlike most other kinds of physically defined racism, we can shed our guise if we were to dress and drive as motorists do. But could we? Would we, really, ever be the same as those who hurl abuse and rage at cyclists from the seats of their cars? My second hypothesis is no. Not ever.

My third hypothesis is that to cure this ugly social behaviour, ‘we’ need to dual purpose ourselves into the motoring crowd as much as we can – to configure a more tolerant archetype for the others to follow. Infiltrate, not by cyclists having more to do with cars but by car drivers taking up bikes! Change the norm. Squash the bad memes and replace them with others more suited to the realities the broader visioned of us perceive. Get more car drivers to take up bikes. Even if only for one ride a year. The more motorists who cross-over into the world of cycling, the more diffused the hatreds will become. And we were getting so very close when the price of fuel last started to soar. I’ve taken to watching the fuel price signs at petrol stations like some kind of metre readout of the prospects for our future. The higher the number, the better those prospects might become.

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It’s national Occa Day! A day to celebrate the dumping of convicts on a coastline that’s now the most expensive real estate in the country. It’s also the day to celebrate the big invasion of an ecology hitherto relatively untroubled by far too many people. But that’s all OK. Boot scooting in Tamworth’s Country Yokel festival aside…

I have nothing against the place where I live. I don’t want to live anywhere else and I have seen many of those someplace-else places where other people live (I like the region of Provence in France almost as much as here). Nothing against Aussies either; but I am a global citizen rather than an adulator of human culturally constructed boundary making; especially when most Aussies persist in pretending they are Americans to a degree that would indicate pathological cultural insecurity. Folk here are like folk anywhere else. No better or worse. They are all folk; many of whom drive cars which makes them lesser folk to me. If you are going to claim nationalistic individuality, at least tie that individuality to the ecological realities to which you deign to attach yourself. Flowing robes for desert places, floral shorts for tropical islands. But where-oh-where do polyester-suited tie-wearers and grunge kitted ‘hey dude’ high-fivers fit into this big brown land? And who said ‘we’ own it anyway? I am universally pleased that there are still more kangaroos than people jumping about the place just to remind us that the reality of the non-human world persists outside the city gates.

No, the true identity mark of a man, or of a woman, is not the place they occupy but the bicycling they do. I’m not prejudiced. I just don’t like non-cyclists…

But, even that’s getting a touch tenuous these days. Via my ride out to a local dam on this day of way too many degrees on the Centrigrade scale, I managed an epiphany. Something occurred to me that never occurred to me before. It’s a simple observation, probably overly apparent to every one else but me. But that’s what epiphany’s are for. They power the old light bulb moments that linger in the memory and inject our world views with added layers of peripheral vision.

The setting for my illumination was this long hot road out to that scenically splendid, though caravan infested dam. I ride this ride every Tuesday. 80km of nice fast pace making with a few good hills thrown in to wake me up. Today, being Occa Day, there were lots of Aussies out driving their cars with flags waving from roof racks and bumper grills. And there were lots of mountain bikers out for a ride. They were the source of my inspiration.

You see, anyone can buy a mountain bike. Some even take them off road! But most don’t. And most of those only ride a few times a year. But good on them I say! Better to be out on a bicycle vastly unsuited by design to the application to which it is being applied than to never ride a bike at all. But with this many sandshoe-teeshirted-hydration packed riders out all at once, it’s only natural that they’d end up collating into tribal packs. And that’s where things were coming unstuck.

Riding up behind, it was more than a little disconcerting to notice that these distant relatives of the cycling tribe were riding like wheat farmers topping up on a two-day end of harvest binge drinking spree. Someone had the idea that they should ride in the formation of a peloton. Two abreast and lined out down the road. Except that no one had the vaguest idea of how a peloton might actually work. Except as a strategy devised to totally infuriate every car driver who might come up behind. On every hill, they were weaving around from one side of the road to the other. On hills or the flats, they filled the whole road, to the overheated chagrin of all the caravan toting motorists also out for a visit to the dam. Overtaking them is exciting. Get in close and they loose their brains; it’s like playing Russian Roulette. Maybe they will hold a line so you can pass. But maybe not. My ride became like riding a needle through a dizzy drunken basket weaving frenzy. I’ve never encountered such dangerous road skills from any kind of road user before.

And here’s my point. What do you think the average car driver is going to perceive when they come across riders such as these? Confirmation for their anti-cycling biases for sure. But shock and awe as well. Shock at the scare their random riding reactions invoke. Awe that they’d be allowed on the road at all. But here’s the thing. To the general motorist, these folk are perceived to be cyclists! To their simple car driving minds (how else could they accede to belong to that particular tribe?), these are cyclists, I am a cyclist, I am like them! No wonder I keep getting shouted at by the car tribe as they pass me by. No wonder we roadies keep getting road raged by those coffin-boxed jockeys of fuming tin.

Honestly, to my mind, our causal mountain biking counterparts are more like car drivers forced into penitence served out on two wheels. It’s a forced fit that really does not work. Some might progress to better things; but most will not. But it suddenly occurred to me that these are the folk for whom all this suddenly politically prioritised cycling infrastructure is being constructed wherever we look. I can now see why car drivers want cyclists off the road! I can see why they advocate the construction of cycling paths and the like. And I can see that if, to their eyes, I am a member of that same fraternity, that they’d expect me to cycle in those places too. My source of anger is not directed at these casual bikers, but at the incapacity of car drivers to apply the same nuance of difference and distinction that they apply to their own world of cars. In that world, there’s little cars, big cars, SUV’s, busses, trucks, sports cars and motorised shopping carts; all different and recognised for their various distinctive needs and capabilities. Why can’t we cyclists be given the same rights to distinctive difference? On this day of nationalistic fervour, I demand the right to be called a citizen of the road cycling fraternity. I demand the right to be treated as such. And not lumped into that camp of misplaced car drivers experimenting with chain store mountain bikes on public roads. I demand the right to ride on the road and be given my space. Let it be known that folk in my tribe travel as fast as cars in town. Let it be known that we can descend hills at near the posted legal limits. And spare us from those horrendous cycle paths! I want my own flag! A full-on Caisse D’Epargne kit would be just perfect for the identity I’d be keen to proclaim!

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I live in the clouds. For years, as an academic, that was figuratively true. But it’s also literally true. To go just about anywhere else in this vast continental country of Australia, the journey is always down hill.

Now, of course, this is no Tibet. Or the Canadian Rockies. It’s only 1,150 meters here. But that’s still way up there in a country that peaks out (on Mt. Kosciuszko) at 2,228 metres. But no one lives on that (albeit road trafficable) peak. The elevated tablelands where I live is home to people, lots of sheep, a couple of Koalas and vast tribes of Kangaroos. Kangaroos still, fortunately, outnumber humans around here…

There’s some choice of escape routes to the world below. My favourite just happens to be via what I think of as one of the world’s most spectacular bits of road. That’s the ‘Waterfall Way’ that literally leaps off the cliff face of the rural village of Dorrigo. Down, down, down via a windy, twisty motorcycle hooning road. Down from the rolling virulent greenness of Dorrigo’s potato farming and dairy lands into the lush temperate rain forest that girdles the escarpment’s edge like some kind of verdant moat. And, within a space of only 20 minutes, you exit, brakes smoking, into the lush tropical nectar-drenched, blossom fuming coastal hinterland of the wondrous Bellinger Valley. Alternative Lifestyle Capital of the Eastern Seaboard. There are few places where geography changes so rapidly as you descend this hill. Open grassy sheep country to mangoes and illegal weeds; all over a classic, world class drive.

Unless, as is usual, you end up banked behind the caravan lemming parade, gray nomading off to – or away from – the coast on an endless pilgramage to rediscover the imagined pleasures of freedom from a long-lost youth. Which really would have to be one of the world’s most exasperating frustrations to those who choose to fly by bike; motorbike or bicycle.

Which leads me to the fruits of my contemplations on my most recent trip down that illustrious hill. This bit of road is custom-tuned to the maker’s intentions for my cherished Triumph Tiger 1050. But it is an even closer fit to the song sung by Msrs Pinarello as they visioned my Pinarello Prince into this car-clogged world of ours. Up or down. The ride would be a classic.

But I have a problem: all the tin-topped traffic that vermin-plagues this road. The wobble weaving of drivers with skills extended just to maintain a straight line. Clearly, driving round corners is a skill beyond the basics with which they are licensed to comply. Or, infinitely worse, is a skill that they think they possess but clearly don’t. You see, with so many tin box Don Quixotes, corner hooning is a misplaced test of manhood to which they aspire like jousting with knights dressed as windmills; without hitting we two-wheelers as a by-product of their ineptitude. They ruin all the fun! They’d turn what should be the last bastion of road riding pleasure into a plague-centre of mangled death.

My dream is to ascend this wonderful 11 km of Onda fork-wavy twisted curvy road. Then, ride straight back down again. Refill with fat-loaded treats at the Post Office/Petrol Station/General Store/Local Pub/purveyor of frozen goods store in the hill bottom, one-horse Village of Thora, and do it all over again!. But I can’t. I would succumb to blind-corner broadsiding by the talentless tin-entombed throngs who infest the hill. What a surprise for a teeny-pimpled/balding be-bloated mid-life crisised Holden V8 hero to encounter a bicycle enroute to disrupt their fantasies of race track manly glory. That’s outside the death-band of my personal risk seeking profile, I am saddened to say. That and sky diving, ascending Mt Everest in the dark and wrestling brown snakes for fun.

Until, that is, I was leveraged out of my car-oppressed state by a sight to behold! As I was re-fuelling my Triumph at the Jacaranda-festooned Thora Store, I noticed something rather strange. Something unexpected and certainly inspiring. I noticed one of those ‘hippy vans’ pull up beside the road. Hardly unusual around here… But the surfer dudette at the wheel stepped out to wait for someone else to arrive. That someone else turned out to be her twenty-something surfer dude mate on a rigid mountain bike! A board shorted, sandal wearing, surf shirted, surfer dude who had just ridden the ride I’d been moaning for, for so many years. He was all smiles. The image of stepping off a perfect wave. They threw the bike in the back and drove off to hit the beach. Now that made me feel strangely dislocated like an ageing phobic contemplating impossibilities which, for others, are at a vastly closer reach. For the first time ever, I contemplated my big-engined motorbike with disdain. I wanted my bicycle, right now! Right there and then, I would have launched off to take on that ride. Next time, I will. Now that someone else has shown me how.

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There’s probably no doubt that someone like Jens Voigt, Heinrich Haussler or Andy Schleck could win a bicycle race on a lesser bike than the one they’re sponsored to use. There’s also no doubt that we can enjoy other things like listening to music and going for a run and enjoy the experience without spending up big. But, I have a theory that finding the precise balancing point of form-function-price is going to be as elusive as finding an alien signal via SETI, so long as we allow the death grip the marketing profession continues to inflict on these trying, post-Copenhagen times.

As we launch off into the teen years of this new era where ecology and economics have, finally, declared open-war, the search for more modest consumerist satisfactions will become ever more important. Sometime soon, the all consuming flood tide of culture change will start to recognise excess as the new ultimate social fopaux. Conspicuous consumption will become the baggage of the ‘naughties; that odious era of the Global Financial Crisis and government bailouts for those who should, more reasonably, be left to float in the bilge of their own vile excess. Lean footprint consumption should be the meme for these new teen aged years of this, our 21st Century.

But the challenges presented by the necessary purge-we-have-to-have, have me worried. You see, marketing can corset flabby reality under the disguise of an iron spun PR girdle. To play the new ‘lean is keen’ game of what should be a genuinely enlightened new era, we’re going to have to shove the virus of marketing hype and vacuous spin into the airlock and open the door. All those marketing campaigns proclaiming ‘eco-sensitive’ SUV’s, the virtues of weight-loss pills and zero-footprint bottled mineral water: out they go! Into the airlock. It’s going to be harder to insult our intelligence with junk like this as we enter these more jaded, post failed-Copenhagen years.

But, never underestimate the cleverness of the dark marketing arts. These black witches work on the very gravity well of our souls: our ego’s. Those master-builders of fallacious social constructs are out there and looking for prey. How many fell for the clean-green claims for enviro-fouling SUV’s? How many sucked the slop of Emissions Trading Schemes as the panacea of all our collective, accumulated enviro-evils? And who fell for the abject nonsense of carbon-offset air travel?!

I declare that the overriding sign that we are ready willing and able to grow up and face the consequences of our environmentally-destructive actions is a new-found cynicism for ALL marketing campaigns. Will the human race evolve to become self-aware of the manipulations of the marketing machine? Our progress will pace that emergence via the rise of a degree of cynicism that has, hitherto, been a commodity rarer than diamond and more valuable than fresh air.

So, to return to my opening point, the new crusade to launch at the dawn of this new decade is a new search for truth; the truth of our real needs as opposed to the needs we think or are told we should have. To focus on an example close to the home zone of my own obsessive pile: how can and should I choose my next bicycle? If I need a next bicycle at all.

As a rampaging subjectivist (truth is in the eye of the beholder), it’s a little perverse that I am about to contemplate objectivist choices all of a sudden. But perhaps mathematics can, indeed, help us out. Imagine an equation wherein we could measure up all the attributes of a bicycle (or a new refrigerator, a new car if you must, or a new TV…) that best suits the needs we might claim are in need of a fix. There’s two sides to this equation. On one side are the attributes of the thing we want. On the other are attributes of the needs we are attempting to fulfil.

Let’s take the attributes of the thing we think we need. If it’s a racing bike that’s desired, and racing is the thing you want to do, then the key elements are weight, mechanical efficiency, reliability and handling. All these attributes are somewhat hazy and imprecise for sure, but we can at least have a go at filing our facts on the decision tree. Notice what’s missing here? All those bits to do with ‘image’ and apparent prestige. Forget those bits for now. Do as wine tasters do and white out the brand. Taste our choices blind to makers names and the like.

Now let’s look at the mathematical bits on the other side. Let’s look at needs. This is the wild side of just about any of the choices we make. Extract, with the dedication of a surgeons knife, the tumours and related extraneous growths our egos tend to impose. What are the real needs? The real needs… other than for meeting the demands our tyrannical ego’s usually impose. If your need is to go fast, suffer a minimum of mechanical failure and to be as unimpeded by technology to put all the power you genuinely command onto the road in the form of speed, we can start to fill in the equation with some realistic facts. If, on the other hand, the real need you have is to look like a Fred, that’s revealing too. In that case, do us all a favour and buy a car instead.

OK. If we populate our equation with as much in the way of measurable or at least vaguely quantifiable data as possible (which means that the machinations of our egos and the related panderings of marketing spin have been removed), we can get down to work. The results might prove to be a surprise.

I’d be willing to make a bet. If we could take such a clinical calculation, unclouded by the fictions of marketing spin, most of us would be best served by significantly more humble choices than the choices we’d ordinarily make. I’d probably be choosing a mid-range Giant instead of a top-end Colnago. Ultegra over Dura Ace. Chorus over Super Record. In a different space, that might mean a 40 inch TV over a 50 or 60. K-Mart shorts over Gucci … Blundstones over Prada. You name it. Once we de-spin the choices once poisoned via that odious orgy of marketing in perpetual copulation with ego, these new lean, more enlightened times should, indeed, be freed to take a firmer hold. I am going to proclaim this new post-Copenhagen, post-top heavy governmentalism, post-consumerism era to be the dawn of our necessary ‘Ultegra-Chorus Years’. Hallelujah.

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