The Slap of Luxury: Vulgar Displays of Earning Power

If polo is the "Sport of Kings" (and water polo is "The Sport of Moist Kings"), then bike polo is surely "The Sport of Hipsters." (Though arguably it's got an even dorkier challenger in the form of ironic kickball.) Personally, I don't see the appeal of bike polo, since three of my favorite things about cycling are: it allows you travel for long distances; you don't have to carry a stick; and you don't need to push any balls around (apart from periodic crotchal adjustments of course). Furthermore, I find most of bike polo's "weird style diktats" vexing, and I imagine many of the "sport's" adherents spend much of their free time doing bong hits and listening to "stoner metal" while fashioning mallets and painting their wheel covers. However, it seems that the activity may be permeating the thin membrane that separates us from the "cultural elite," since there's a great big photograph of some sweaty bike polo players fighting over a ball in the latest issue of The New Yorker (which, it so happens, also includes a short piece having nothing to do with bicycles by Robert Sullivan, the inventor of "schluffing"):

I was actually pleased to see this photograph since I read The New Yorker expressly to irritate myself, and once again it did not disappoint. As any masochist will tell you, there's sublime pleasure in displeasure, and for this reason it's strangely enjoyable to read about how "Brüno" wasn't funny or how "Inglourious Basterds" was a bad movie, or to savor a disgustingly self-important Sacha Frere-Jones phrase like, "when I was a young boy, studying Elvis Costello's music..." Just because you liked something doesn't mean you studied it, in the same way that just because you installed some lime green grips on your Pista doesn't mean you "curated" it. If only "when I was a young boy" my teachers knew that the reason for my bad grades wasn't a lack of studying, but rather a surfeit of studying important subjects like crappy music, writing on my jeans, and masturbation, then perhaps I would have gone further as a student, and consequently in life. I guess "studying" just means "checking out bullshit," just like "culture" means "stuff you can buy."

Still, the inclusion of a bike polo photo in a publication as august (by which I mean stuffy, boring, and totally last month) as The New Yorker is yet more proof that our popular culture is obsessed with cycling. (Or, as the popular culture insists on calling it, "biking.") Here's yet another New York Times article telling us something we already know, which is that people in fashion love Dutch city bikes:

It's definitely true that monied fops and dandies are taking to the streets astride Dutch city bikes in increasing numbers. Indeed, the only thing remarkable about this photo is that the rider is not salmoning; a Dutch bike rider going with the traffic in New York City is nearly as rare a sight as a fixed-gear rider whose underwear isn't showing, or a roadie enjoying himself. In any case, he certainly seems to be having a good time:

But the article isn't only about Dutch city bikes, and his smile and u-lock erection aren't caused only by "biking," or even by the pleasant manner in which his expertly-tailored suit rubs against his thighs while he pedals. He's also smiling because he's the chairman of LVMH, and like so many other executives before him he's unlocked The Awesome Marketing Power of the Bicycle. Whereas bicycle companies once used health and fitness to try to sell bicycles, now fashion companies use bicycles to sell style, hence all the "collabos" and $2,300 Bianchi Pistas. The standard refrain from cyclists when this happens is, "At least more people are riding." However, when it comes to luxury brands I have to disagree. When I see a company using a $9,000 city bike to promote themselves I don't think, "At least more people are riding;" rather, I think "At least more rich people are shopping." And while ITTET we certainly need people to shop, I'm not especially comforted that people are buying things from LVMH. LVMH stands for "Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy," all of which is overpriced crap that nobody needs.

Maybe I'd feel better about the whole thing though if I looked at fashionable cyclists as "artists:"

Calling living "art" is like calling adolescent masturbation "studying." Appreciating the way people look is fine, and arguably fashion design is a sort of art, but riding a bike in fashionable clothing does not make somebody an artist. "Culture," "curating," "studying;" it's getting increasingly difficult to keep up with our changing language. I guess "living artist" is the new word for "pretentious person." I'll have to add that one to my growing stack of flash cards.

That said, I have no problem with fashionable people cycling; I just have a problem with the self-importance surrounding it. (Though admittedly it is pretty much impossible to separate self-importance from fashion.) However, some people think stylish cycling will lead to accidents:

As a New York City cyclist, I've dodged many a "Beautiful Godzilla." But even though I agree they are bad cyclists, the simple fact is that fashionistas are a "teetery, wobbly" menace regardless of what they're doing. Whether they're on a bicycle coming at you in traffic, or they're jaywalking while on a cellphone, or they're just standing in the middle of the sidewalk with a bunch of Jeffrey bags blocking the other prosaic pedestrians for whom living is not "art" but is simply getting from one place to another so that they can continue to feed themselves and live, the result is the same: they're annoying. The only "Beautiful Godzilla" I've ever collided with was on foot, and she ran out into the street to hail a cab while making a phone call. At least when they're on bikes it's easier to see them coming.

I also acknowledge that it is possible to combine commerce and art, though I don't think that's happening in the world of luxury goods. Instead, it's happening at the "grassroots" level, in the virtual marketplace of the common person known as eBay. Take "BikemanforU," of whom I recently learned from a reader:

BikemanforU looks a bit like that guy with the giant head from "The City of Lost Children:"

Though I suppose he could also be Adam Carolla's older brother:

Anyway, BikemanforU has successfully and elegantly married commerce and art by producing videos to accompany his eBay auctions. Take this one for a Pedro's floor pump:

In it, he interviews the actual pump:

Not only is the interview both hard-hitting and revealing, but he also managed to get comedian Ray Romano to do the voice of the pump. (Either that, or BikemanforU is an extremely talented ventriloquist.) I would very much like to see BikemanforU do a "60 Minutes"-esque news magazine show in which he sits down with inflationary devices of all kinds. Perhaps next he could talk to the mini-pump from the Philadelphia Naked Bike Ride flat fix video I mentioned in yesterday's post:

The cycling world will listen with hushed anticipation as BikemanforU asks the question on everybody's mind: "At any point during your ordeal, did you make contact with the pumper's scranus?" (A reader recently informed me I've been using the word "taint" for males when I should in fact be using the word "scranus." As I said before, it's difficult to keep pace with linguistic evolution, but I'm doing my best.) It will be like when Ed Bradley asked Kathleen Willey, "Was he aroused?" After that, he could interview a Top Tube-Mounted Umbrella, which I spotted yesterday in Manhattan:

Of course, even someone as compelling as BikemanforU probably couldn't fill an entire hour-long TV show, so he'd also need some co-hosts. For this I'd nominate The Bike Shrink, who could do things like psychoanalyze people based on their Republic/Urban Outfitters bike colourway choice:

Or their predilection for wooden handlebars:

Or their use of a PBR can for shimming material:

This would be followed by a gritty exposé on douchebags (or douchebaguettes) who park their Vespas at bike racks:

In the world of rolling dandy perches, the Vespa supersedes even the mighty Dutch city bike, though this gives them no right to take up our parking spaces. Frankly, this person should be ashamed of him- or herself. (Both for riding a Vespa and for blocking a bike rack.) I must confess I did exercise even less chain control than usual when I locked up the Ironic Orange Julius Bike next to this oversized vibrator. It's just my way of saying, "Do not put anything in my flower box."

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