High Times: Suspending Bikes and Disbelief

If you're one of those compulsive people who feels the need to label everything, then today is Wednesday. And if you're one of those people who tends to spend Wednesday under the influence of the "Wednesday Weed," you might find things seem even more peculiar than usual today. Even if you're not, the weight of the work week is always heaviest in the middle, and this weight can sometimes alter your perception. For example, you might notice strange people aiming telescopes into shrubbery:

Or, you might encounter a typical normal-sized New York City food delivery bike:

Only to round the corner and encounter a distressing miniature food delivery bike as well:

Most disorienting, you might start seeing double. This happened to me some time ago, when I encountered what appeared to be two riders, identically clad in pink shirts and green trousers. It so happens that, when I went to take a photograph, I accidentally set my camera to video mode, and what follows is an actual (though brief, since I didn't realize I was filming and instead thought something was wrong with my camera) movie of this mind-bending encounter:

I would have followed them, but I'm relatively certain that they headed into the Holland Tunnel and there was absolutely no way my fragile psyche could have handled the "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"-esque phantasmagoria which no doubt ensued. Instead, I simply pocketed my camera, rubbed my eyes, and set out in search of a "freak-out tent" like they had at Woodstock. If New York City were truly bike-friendly there would be a "freak-out tent" at least every ten blocks, and they would be staffed by preternaturally calm and lushly-bearded randonneur types who would gently talk you down after distressing encounters such as this. Unfortunately, despite all the lime green bike lanes New York City is not quite that bike-friendly, and there were no "freak-out tents" to be found. However, there were plenty of Starbucks, so I purchased a Venti White Chocolate Mocha and poured it over my head in the hope that it would restore my senses.

If you're a "responsible" cyclist, I know what you're thinking: "Well, at least your hallucinations were wearing helmets." Indeed, when it comes to cycling and the Internet the helmet debate has been responsible for more irritating, pointless, and overwrought threads than the sewing machine operators at the Rapha factory. Clearly a helmet will protect your head more than not wearing a helmet (unless you regularly wear a shellacked Afro), but clearly also a helmet will not protect the rest of your body or serve as a substitute for smart riding. As I've said before, the helmet is less a panacea than it is a "safety kippah" which indicates that you worship at the Synagogue of Safety. Furthermore, just like the absence of a kippah doesn't necessarily mean someone's not Jewish, the absence of a helmet doesn't necessarily mean someone's not safe. In any case, I mention helmets not only because my hallucinations were wearing them, but also because on Monday I commented on the subject of women and cycling, which prompted one reader to forward me his documentary of a woman who is fighting the mandatory helmet law in Australia:

According to the video, when helmet use became mandatory in 1990 bicycle use (at least in the oddly-named places in the film) dropped faster than a dead wombat from a eucalyptus tree. The filmmaker has also made a second video. Not only does it include this thrilling low-speed encounter between a bicycle and a motorcycle:

But it also makes the point that, whereas Australian cyclists have not necessarily benefitted from helmet laws, people in Europe who don't wear helmets remain happier and thinner and better-looking and generally superior to everyone else in the world (as any devotee "cycle chic" will happily tell you) because their governments put the safety all around cyclists in the form of a bicycle infrastructure instead of concentrating it in tiny pieces of styrofoam and forcing riders to put it on their heads. In this sense, the message mandatory helmet use sends to cyclists is, "Cycling is really dangerous, but your safety is your problem. Good luck!"

But while this filmmaker and his subject claim mandatory helmet use is discouraging cycling in Australia, closer to home (or at least to my home) some people are getting discouraged by their own bicycles. Here's one rider who is selling his fixed-gear because he's "not very good at riding" it:

Fixed gear mountain bike - $145 (Prospect Heights)
Date: 2009-10-11, 4:37PM EDT
Reply to: [deleted]

Hello. I bought this fixie mountain bike, but I'm not very good at riding fixed gear, so I'm selling it. It is a Miyata Shredder mountain bike custom built into what you see below. It has a upside down road bars, quick release seat and front wheel and a cantilever front brake. Should fit someone 5'4" and taller. It rides well.

While I have mixed feelings about the fixed-gear trend, I would also suggest that this person not abandon the fixed-gear thing simply on the basis of his experience with this bicycle, since I really can't imagine anybody actually enjoying riding it. Between the gearing and the handlebar position riding it must feel like pushing a loaded grocery cart up the stairs. Swearing off fixed-gears because of this bicycle is like swearing off sex because the first time you did it you used a sweatsock instead of a condom. At the very least, I'd recommend he rotate the bars back down--that should restore some sensation.

Still, some people seem to enjoy making things difficult for themselves. Take this rider, who's looking for a fixed-gear cog:

Need a 17/18T fixed gear cog
Date: 2009-10-07, 9:10PM EDT
Reply to: [deleted]

I'm looking for a 17 or 18 tooth fixed gear cog. I would prefer a 17T, though. Would like it in good or excellent condition, not willing to spend more than $30.


If he's willing to spend up to $30 on a fixed-gear cog, why doesn't he just go to any bike shop where he can easily purchase a brand-new one for less? Perhaps he can't resist the thrill of the Craigslist hunt, and the opportunity to exchange emails and mingle with authentic fixed-gear riders. I guess this is the same impulse that drove Hugh Grant to solicit oral sex from Divine Brown when he was living with Elizabeth Hurley. Some people just love to pay extra for things that have been used by strangers.

Another way that people like to make things difficult for themselves is by employing the "Hipster High-Lock" bicycle parking technique. Here is yet another example, complete with adjacent café racer-style moped:

Clearly, hipster mopeds are encroaching upon the fixed-gear bicycle's territory and forcing them to seek new habitats just like the early tree-dwelling vertebrates once did. (Either that, or pre-ride bottom bracket inspection is the new elephant trunk skid.) Here's another scene in which a brace of bull hipster mopeds are taking over a bicycle's grazing area:

Unfortunately, this is only going to get worse. In France, where mopeds are as common as berets and suitcases of courage, a reader informs me that the "Hipster High-Lock" has become more baroque than a 17th century courtesan's underpants:

Sure, American hipsters' bikes may be slightly out of reach, but they can still get to them without gondolas.

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