Riding Lessons: Ugly Truths and Loose Balls

As I mentioned yesterday, one of the most difficult things about cycling is that it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that you're not special. However, while I strongly believe none of us are special in relation to each other, I do sometimes feel as though, as cyclists, we may be a tiny bit special relative to humanity as a whole. This is not because we ride bikes as much as it is that we've found something that we truly love to do, and that's not something everybody in this world can say. Having something you love to do that's actually good (or at least not bad) for you can help you learn more about yourself and the world around you. In a sense, you can use your bicycle as a scalpel to cut through the sinew and flab of life in order to catch a glimpse at the beating heart of truth.

Again, this isn't specific to cycling; you can also gain insight into life from baking, knitting, or even dog grooming. (Enlightened dog groomers often spend weeks creating elaborate hairstyles which represent the cosmos; then, like sand mandalas, they whisk them away.) But cycling does have its advantages over these pursuits in that you can also ride your bike to work, which is something you can't do with a cake or a pair of mittens. Sure, in theory you can ride an elaborately groomed dog to work, but then you risk running afoul of PETA.

Unfortunately though, the beating heart of truth isn't always beautiful or attractive. Like an actual heart, people like to portray it as pretty and symmetrical (as in this charming dog shirt), but the genuine article is quite disgusting. You may find this as you wield your scalpel through the sinew and flab of city traffic, and you glimpse the ugly heart of truth in the form of a driver who nearly kills you. In this case, the ugly truth is that people are grossly self-important, and that for many people your life is not worth the effort it takes to pay attention or the extra few seconds they may need to wait before they can safely get around you. It's at these moments you wish you could somehow choke them to death on their own self-importance. You also realize how tenuous and minimal our collective regard and compassion for one another really is. We're like tapioca pearls in a watery pudding of indifference that is barely sweet or cohesive enough to qualify as a dessert.

But there are beautiful moments too, or at least ones that aren't deadly. Who has not set out on a bike ride feeling angry or stressed, only to witness some almost impossibly perfect moment, like a sleuth of bear cubs eating together from a honeypot? (Actually, I'm sure almost nobody has seen that on a bike ride, unless they were reading "Winnie the Pooh" at the time.) Then, there are also the moments of inspiration. It's well known that the saddle of a bicycle is the third most inspirational place to be, just behind the place between wakefulness and dreams and the toilet. I had just such a moment this morning, as I palpaged ("palpaging" is to riding as "portaging" is to carrying) my Scattante Manhattanward and a leaf alighted on my shoulder. There it sat, held in place by my forward motion and the wind. Intrigued, I moved it to the face plate of my stem, and it stayed there too. Then, I moved it to the head tube:

It was then I realized I had just invented the world's first totally "green," environmentally-friendly power meter. As long as I maintained my speed, the leaf would stay in place. Surely then, all I needed to do was calculate the speed relative to the size of the leaf and create some unit of measurement. (Or else use an existing one, like the DFU.) Then, I could market a whole bunch of different sized leaves which you'd use depending on how hard you wanted to train. For a recovery ride, you'd use a big leaf like this, and for a really hard ride you'd use something tiny. Or, for the fixed-gear set, you'd simply use a leaf that ensured you maintained a speed most conducive to that oft-cited state of "zen." (Though I suppose you could also consume a leaf like this for a similar effect.) As for my own serendipitous prototype, it eventually blew away in a crosswind (I'll have to figure out how to prevent that on future models) but not before telling me something about myself I already knew:

Now that's the truth.

But if the bicycle is a truth-seeking tool, is the act of "customizing" a bicycle simply a way to highlight the profound usefulness of the machine, or is it simply vanity? Well, I guess that depends on the rider. Either way, many people feel compelled to adorn their bicycles with expensive components. Furthermore, sometimes adorning the bicycle with components isn't enough, and they also have to adorn the components themselves:
A number of readers alerted me to these custom Brooks saddles, and while I'm not sure if Eric "The Chamferer" Murray would be impressed or nonplussed, they certainly attest to the nearly universal human compulsion to decorate the things upon which we rest our asses. In the interview, Kara Ginther also says something which has been uttered by many a mohel before her:

Speaking of castration, it seems from the comments on yesterday's post that the issue of cycling and gender is a controversial one. However, I'm sure we all agree that the joy of cycling should be available to everyone, regardless of genitalway. That said, perhaps some of the language surrounding cycling is a bit off-putting to women. Take this Craigslist ad, which features a bike with "loose ball nutted" hubs:

Surely one can understand how a woman might feel uncomfortable taking up cycling when there are loose balls nutting all over the place. Incidentally, the company that can't seem to keep its balls under control is called "Red You R Dead," and to their credit even though the fixed-gear culture is "closed" they're still sneaking people in:

At first I thought Seat Coats had been riding fixed-gears since 1995 until I realized this was actually his birthdate, and I must say that fixed-gear freestyling seems a lot less ridiculous when it's actually performed by teenagers, in the same way that Dutch city bikes seem a lot less pretentious when they're ridden in Amsterdam and that time trial bikes seem a lot less pointless when they're ridden in professional time trials and not in Prospect Park at 13mph with aero bars that are higher than the saddle. I was also intrigued to learn that hipsters who trackstand at red lights are actually inspiring a new generation of cyclists:

Sadly, one day Nick Narachi will learn the answer to his question, which is that hipsters trackstand at red lights the same way they do everything else: Half-assed, and on equipment purchased for them by their parents.

But while Coats and Narachi may be able to sneak into fixed-gear "culture" due to their youth, others are able to do so due to their celebrity. A reader has informed me that actor Jared Leto will be palpaging one in a short film for a song by his band, 30 Seconds to Mars:

Not only that, but he unleashed the awesome power of his fame to recruit Los Angeles's "Midnight Ridazz" for extra duty. Even though they are still smarting from the "The Midnight Ride" short film, many riders apparently showed up to appear in the film, which (according to the casting call) "will be celebrating the world of night rides, fixies, tall bikes, short bikes, weird bikes, costumes and most of all, the incredible community and unique individuals that make up this world. This short film is a lyrical journey from downtown to the Santa Monica Pier." (Which is just another way of saying, "We need a bunch of freaks.")

Clearly, Leto is learning an important lesson from the Flaming Lips, which is that if you need large groups of people to look foolish on camera for free, then the world of cycling is an inexhaustible resource.

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