Backwards and Forwards: Old Socks, New Hat

Further to yesterday's post, in which I mentioned that fixed-gear bicycles may be giving way to the moped, there is another vehicular trend which is far more troubling. Some time ago, in an online publication I can no longer recall, I read an article which claimed that the hipsters of Williamsburg were purchasing Cushmans at city auctions and repurposing them for personal use. Well, yesterday evening I once again found myself traveling the Great Hipster Silk Route and I'm dismayed to report that this indeed seems to be the case:

While I was unable to obtain a photograph of the driver, I did make a visual inspection of the cabin, and I can report with 99% certainty that the driver of the above conveyance was indeed a hipster. I would have tried to catch up with him again, except I got stopped at the "Facial Hair Checkpoint" on the Williamsburg/Greenpoint border. Unfortunately, the hairway of my visage was deemed to be insufficiently unironic. Not only that, but I didn't have an official Williamsburg resident identification card. (A Williamsburg resident identification card consists of either a California driver's license or else a student ID from a qualifying college or university such as UC Santa Cruz, Wesleyan, or NYU.) As such, it was only after I paid a toll and assured them that I was only passing through with no intention of stopping that they finally let me go.

Between Cushmans (otherwise known as "Hipster Smarts") and mopeds it may very well be that hipsters are rediscovering the joys of ironic fossil fuel consumption. Furthermore, the moped is an especially potent motorized "gateway drug" for them, since it allows them to keep using most of their fixie accessories, such as messenger bags, chain locks, and sneakers. Really, the only thing hipsters give up when they move to mopeds is the constant pedaling, which they never really seemed to be enjoying that much anyway.

Incidentally, a number of people pointed out yesterday that New York City seems to be late to the moped craze, which has apparently been in full swing in cities like San Francisco and Chicago for some time. However, this is less an indication that New York is behind the times than it is proof of just how seriously people take hipsterism here. It's standard practice among hipsters to hone their city living techniques and "personal brands" in other, smaller cities before moving here and taking part in "The Big Show." Yes, New York City in general and Brooklyn in particular is a vast field of hipster dreams, and a breakout season here can mean the difference between making a down payment on a condo and skulking back to Portland with your tiger tail between the legs of your form-fitting jeans.

Anyway, while the Cushman did have a hipster at the helm, it did not have vanity plates, unlike this trike I encountered yesterday on the Manhattan bridge:

As you can see, the vanity plate reads "Musher-1," which obviously means the rider pilots a dogsled. Moreover, she's obviously preparing for the Iditarod, since triking is a popular form of cross-training among competitive mushers. Eddy Merckx famously said, "The Tour de France is won in bed." (This explains why Lance Armstrong spent the years before his comeback to cycling hanging out with Ashley Olsen.) Similarly, it is also said that "The Ididarod is won on the trike." I only hope the hipsters don't take up dogsledding, since I'd hate to share the bike path with people wearing tight jeans and ironic fur hats being pulled around by pitbulls they found on Craigslist.

In any case, the Ironic Motorized Revolution appears to be yet another indicator that the fixed-gear heyday is over. And if you're still not convinced, consider this JCPenney commercial, forwarded to me by a reader. In it, you'll not only see a brakeless fixed-gear bicycle used as a prop, but you'll also see a model "portaging" it in such a manner as to get drivetrain grime all over his salmon-hued fleece:

Not only that, but if he's going to actually ride that thing (the bike, I mean) he better get some pant-cuff retention or it's going to get caught in his chain. The leg of his trousers is as unruly as his libido.

Meanwhile, in the world of streetwear, it's been a long time since fixed-gear fashion married into the world of hip hop fashion, and now they're having children. Consider this hybrid flat brim/cycling cap, forwarded to me by another reader:

Thanks to the shortened brim, fixed-gear fashionistas will no longer have to suffer the indignity of their hats flying off their heads on those rare occasions when they travel faster than 10mph. However, they must still suffer with the indignity of looking like people who watch drifting videos, drive their Pista Concepts to freestyle spots in customized Scions, and camp out for sneakers. (Camping out for sneakers is like making reservations at Burger King.)

But as much as I hate to see the classic cycling cap integrated with the latest conformists' hat of choice, I stop short of attributing some kind of profound spiritual significance and meaning to cycling's wooly, tubular past. However, if I didn't, I would be slavering all over the latest issue of Rouleur, which the good people at Rapha were kind enough to send me:
This is not to say I don't appreciate Rouleur, because I certainly do; nor is it to say that the magazine is not well put together and pleasant to look at and read, because it certainly is. However, I also don't subscribe to the central tenets of Rouleur, which is that there's a fundamental romance in the rarefied aspects of cycling, and that old stuff is more "soulful" than new stuff. Actually, I don't think any "stuff" is soulful. Granted, I'm not the most romantic person, but I don't find elusive and complicated things seductive, and I especially don't believe that "the tubular tyre has an unquestionable romance" (as Guy Andrews claims in the second installment of his "epic" sew-up report). I certainly understand that tubular tires have their benefits, and I'm even interested in reading about how they're made. But as soon as the prose starts sounding like it was composed on laudanum I can no longer remain engaged. In this sense, the tubular tire is sort of the burrito of the cycling world, since people seem compelled to rhapsodize about both, even though essentially they're just stuff wrapped in a skin with varying degrees of quality.

However, as someone who does not believe in the "soulfulness" of stuff, I was honestly fascinated by this interview with two bicycle collectors, Kadir Guirey and Rohan Dubash:

Here they are sharing an inside joke about a Simplex derailleur pulley:

While I'm not especially interested in "vintage" stuff, I do find other people's bizarre obsessions compelling, so I was amazed by much of what they had to say. For example, here's Rohan on memorabilia:

One year this little boy went to the Kellogg's Tour in Newcastle. It was raining and Maurizio Fondriest had won the time trial. He was just sitting in the car, peeling his wet socks off, and he just dropped them on the floor. His dad was like, just run over to him, and he looked at the socks and Fondriest looked at him, all puzzled, and he said, "Can I have them?" And Fondriest went, "Yeah, take them." So they took them home, washed them and brought them into the shop for me.

Apparently this is supposed to be charming, but personally I find the idea of handling anybody's wet, dirty cycling socks disgusting. Kadir further explains this by saying that things like used water bottles and dirty socks are "tiny little snapshots." By that logic I wonder if there's someone out there holding on to Eddy Merckx's dirty chamois. To me it's just bacteria, pubes, and vintage "frumunda cheese," but to them I guess it's a "tiny little snapshot" of victory--albeit from a crotchal perspective.

Predictably, Rohan is also quite smitten by Campagnolo:

That's why I buy Campagnolo--because I can think of a person making it. I can't think of a person making a Shimano derailleur. I'm not saying they don't, but I can't envisage it.

Why is it so hard to imagine someone making a Shimano derailleur? Is it because that person is Japanese? They have crafstmanship in Japan, too. I guess it's because things made in Italy are somehow imbued with "passion" and are therefore "art." But a derailleur, regardless of where it's made or by whom, is not art--nor is the absence of a derailleur art, despite what the fixed-gear fetishists would have you believe.

And these guys don't just love stuff; they also love the stuff in which the stuff is packaged. Says Kadir:

I like empty boxes.

Well, I guess you could consider an empty box conceptual art.

Having said all that, I certainly do agree that there's beauty in cycling and in the sport of cycling. I also realize that my cynicism with regard to much of what the rest of the cycling world finds "romantic" is probably due to the fact that I ride a Scattante, and everybody knows cheap straight-gauge tubes do not properly conduct those mystical, spiritual vibes. Maybe a new cyclocross bike will remedy the situation. A reader recently sent me a photo of a rider "slaying" some 'cross on a Pedersen, and I'm thinking it might be the way to go:

Winning a cyclocross race on a bike like that would doubtless bring instant fame. I wonder if he'd let me have his shorts.

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