Going One, Going Twice: The Parity Disparity

This past weekend, I was reading the following article in The New York Times about people buying motor vehicles at city auctions, often for extremely low prices:

While this article is clearly just a lighthearted glimpse at one of the ways both the city and its residents are making do ITTET, I could not ignore the undercurrent of menace. Sure, part of this menace involves the fact that hipsters are probably purchasing Cushmans at these auctions, but it also runs far deeper than that. Consider this excerpt, for example:

Meanwhile, a big white van crawls along a few paces back, with a sign in the window that says “cash only.” Slumped low in his seat, the driver, who is also the auctioneer, calls out each new lot on a scratchy, overamplified public-address system. “I got $300 in the front, three in the front, three in the front ... Sold! For $300.” The winner goes around to the side of the van and throws in his deposit. The mechanic’s truck rolls ahead a few feet. The crowd shuffles onward.

I suppose I might find this little vignette charming if it were about someone purchasing a croquet set at a stoop sale, but it's not. It's about someone buying "a big white van" for $300. Presumably, this van will soon be put into some kind of service, perhaps as an integral part of some Craigslist "Man with a Van" operation, or as a retail store delivery vehicle which will be driven by an employee, or even as a means of toting some crappy band's amplification along the Great Hipster Silk Route.

While it's entirely possible this van will be properly inspected and insured and operated in a responsible fashion, it's also possible it will join the ranks of the many other crappy white vans with graffiti tags on them which are registered out of state to save even more money and almost hit me on a regular basis as their drivers make u-turns while having cellphone conversations with their employers or search for addresses on invoices.

Also, these auctions are a wellspring for Crown Victorias:

This particular week was heavy on Crown Victorias, which several bidders hoped to turn into taxis.

If you have not had a life-threatening run-in with a Crown Victoria in either yellow or black taxi form then you have not been riding in New York City for very long. For this reason, the following sentence horrified me:

Mike Rodriguez got two Crown Victorias, for $600 and $700.

To put this in perspective, let's take a look at the PistaDex in New York City. Currently, there is only one complete Pista for sale on Craigslist in New York City, and the price is $700:

Date: 2009-09-17, 12:52PM EDT
Reply to: [deleted]

Bianchi Pista for sale:


It's a fixed gear.

Size: 61cm (you should be 6''00 minimum to ride it)

Front break furnished.

New bike (ride only once!)

Email me for further information.


While this ostensibly puts the New York City PistaDex at $700, ITTET it's especially important to also consider what the market will actually bear. Sure, people might not have hesitated to spend $700 on a used Pista two years ago, but what about now? Even though the "front break" is "furnished" (which I take to mean it comes with a sofa), it's possible people will still balk at the cost. However, it's pretty safe to say that the bike should fetch at least $400, since that's what at least one Craigslist shopper is willing to pay for one (albeit in a slightly smaller sizeway):

WANTED 56-58cm BIANCHI PISTA (Midtown West)
Date: 2009-09-22, 6:31PM EDT
Reply to: [deleted]

Hi All,

I am looking for a BIANCHI PISTA within the NY/NJ Metro area. I would do just the frame or the whole bike. I prefer CHROME but would consider any color really.

I am willing to spend up to $400.

Please send me a link or a pic with what you have.

Thank you....

Given this, I think it's reasonable to take the average of these two prices and state that the adjusted New York City PistaDex (or ANYCPD) is 550--which, I might add, is quite strong, considering the sheer volume of new mass-market fixed-gear bicycles that have been introduced in the two years since the PistaDex was introduced. Furthermore, the PistaDex represents the de facto cost of entry into the fixed-gear scene (or at least it did until the fixed-gear culture closed). So consider now that Mike Rodriquez was able to obtain two Crown Victorias at auction for $600 and $700--which puts the New York City CrownVictoriaDex (NYCCVD) at 650. Essentially, this means it only costs $100 more to start a car service business than it does to become a fixed-gear "hipster."

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "There are lots of other costs associated with starting a car service. There's fuel, registration, insurance, licensing, inspection, and vehicle upkeep." Well, these are factors, though that of course assumes the driver is operating legally and meeting all the requirements for a livery vehicle, which many thousands are not. Also, keep in mind that fixed-gear hipsterdom too is not without its associated costs, which can be considerable. Besides necessary upgrades such as Phil Wood hubs and $100 H+Son rims, there are also $220 "collabo" backpacks, and $180 pants, and $90 sneakers, and $40 DVDs, not to mention general socializing costs such as beer. Trust me, it adds up--minimalism is expensive.

This means that it's just as easy to buy a Crown Victoria and drive people around for money as it is to become a fixed-gear hipster. The difference, though, is that while the fixed-gear hipster is mostly just a danger to himself when he removes his "furnished front break," the Crown Victoria driver is a danger to himself and to the fixed-gear hipster and to his passenger and really to just about everybody when he's been driving for 20 hours straight, passes out behind the wheel while in reverse, and speeds along for a full block until he finally crashes into a row of parked cars. Trust me--I've seen it.

Of course, fixed-gear hipsters are not without their own transgressions. These include the "Business Casual By Way Of Chippendale's" look, which consists of sockless loafers, snug short-shorts, and a button down shirt--topped off of course by the ubiquitous skater helmet:

The designer fanny pack:

Chopped bars that are actually shorter than the brake levers:

And of course the Hipster High-Lock, complete with top-tube pad:

(All You Brunchers Ogle My Croll)

But while all of these things annoy me, they are unlikely to kill me, which cannot be said of the "City's Castoffs." And while the fact that the ANYCPD and the NYCCVD are so close might mean that bicycles are too expensive, it might also mean that motor vehicles are too cheap. It's bad enough I'm already "sharing" the bike lane with the city's new vehicles--I don't want to have share it with the used ones too. As it is, I can't shake the nagging fear that the government is auctioning off my fate at the Brooklyn Navy Yards on a bi-weekly basis. And while I'd hate to sound arrogant, I'd like to think it's worth more than $300.

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