Sunday, November 22, 2009

Shiny, Shiny Things

My bike is nothing exotic as it is neither super fast, feather light nor made from carbon or titanium. The paint scheme is pleasantly retro and the material is old-school steel and as such I think it rather nice. It is designed for hacking about and it suits me fine. There are details that make it interesting, for example you can see that the designer came from mountain biking and the wishbone seat stays make it look like an overgrown mountain bike frame from about 1990. But that is not important - all that matters is that it rides quite well.

The only reason I mention this is that last week it sparked an interesting conversation. I was cycling through the industrial area, near the end of a ride when the driver of an Audi slowed down and indicated that he wanted to ask me something.

“I see you are riding a Plane X bike” he said “How do you find it? Only I am going up to their place at Doncaster today and was thinking of getting one of their bikes”

So I told him about the bike and what I knew of the company and then we started talking more generally. He had recently come back into cycling and wanted the excitement of some new equipment. His existing bike was custom made steel but he thought it a little large and it was old and he was tired of it. Sometimes I think when we go back to a passion after a break we need the stimulus of the new, the sense of a fresh start.

“You know that ever since I decided to get a new bike I am always looking at what people ride and noticing.” I could relate to that because the same thing happens to me: if I am buying a new toy one of the pleasures is the anticipation stage when you look and compare and gather enough information to allow your heart to make the decision.

We then moved moved from equipment to more general things like motivation and objectives. As he had just started back he was full of the enthusiasm that comes with rediscovery but what was keeping him focussed was a challenge. He wanted to cycle, with a friend, from their home near Newcastle to Edinburgh and back in a day; approximately 230 miles, with hills. A serious enterprise that made me realise how limited my own ambitions, or capabilities, are -if I did the trip one way, in a day, I would be extremely happy. But we all have to have our own horizons.

We then parted ways, him to Doncaster me to home but it had been a cheery conversation, all the more enjoyable because it had been unexpected and random. It left thinking that the big difference between running and cycling is the enjoyment of cycleporn, ie an obsessive interest in well designed objects, a hierarchy of desirability and a susceptibility to brand image. There is both good and bad to it. The bad is consumer ism, whilst the good is an aesthetic sensibility: the appreciation of the beauty of something that works both well and elegantly. No matter how hard running magazines and manufacturers try to push the latest developments it is not the same. The kit is still no more than: shoes, shorts, socks and a top. A bike can look stylish all by itself but a runner….Well actually I prefer not to look at my reflection if I happen to be passing a shop window.

No one has ever stopped me and said “I see you run in Asics, how do you find them?” and no one ever will. The manufactures might claim the all sorts of technological advances for their trainers but the main criterion is whether they fit. In other words it is all about the human body and how it moves, not how well the equipment works. In that there is a sort of purity and that is why I run.

But I like shiny things as well - so I also cycle.


Hauling My Carcass said...

I love my bike. An extremely pretty single speed Genesis. I love it's Englishness. I love it's simplicity and I love that with my tinkering, it's an individual too! Before I got it delivered and still today, I look at what everyone else is riding and compare and contrast but when I run, I just look to avoid the potholes and puddles!

Anonymous said...

If I win the lottery, the garage i'll buy will be so full of bikes I must have, there'll be no room for antique woodworking equipment! Must get the house bought and get that Pashley Guv'nor!