Let's Get Cultural: Cycling Causes Importance

(Ever the faithful lieutenant, Armstrong distracts a photographer as I make my getaway.)

If you regularly ride a crappy bicycle like I do, you've probably had the experience of riding a much nicer bike for awhile and thinking, "Wow, this one is way better." Nonetheless, returning to the crappy bike is still a comforting experience, if only because familiarity can be reassuring. Such is the way I sometimes feel when I return to New York City after a prolonged absence. In both cases, even though the new place or bike is smoother, cleaner, and generally more pleasant to look at and to use, there's also something unnerving about being coddled when you're accustomed to adversity. So in the end, like the dog who remains loyal to his abusive owner, I find myself compelled to return to the haphazardness and insoluble grime of both the Ironic Orange Julius Bike and New York City.

As far as this most recent absence, the things I've seen and experienced are currently sitting undigested in my mind like an egg that has been freshly swallowed by a snake. Hopefully my meager mental enzymes will eventually be able to scramble this egg into something edible, but in the meantime all I can do is lie gorged and somnolent. To be honest, I'm not sure whether I've journeyed Beyond the Infinite and am reorienting to the Earth's gravitational pull, or I've simply consumed too much of the food of experience and am currently teetering uncomfortably between satiation and regurgitation. Either way, though, I know I saw this:

Even though I've clearly interrupted him while he's trying to conduct important freak bike-related business on his cellphone, note that he does not seem nonplussed. Instead, he seems to be proffering me something resembling a smile:

Also, he looks quite a bit like Robin Williams:

Actually, it wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that they're related, though I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that the tall biker is Robin Williams's son or that the pressures concomitant with being the offspring of a celebrity drove him towards the sordid world of oversized earlobe grommets, facial tattoos, and freak bikes. However, I would not rule out the possibility that the tall biker was shoaled as a child. Child-shoaling is a subtle yet potentially debilitating form of abuse. Here's an instance of it I observed shortly before my hiatus:

Not only is this a flagrant child-shoal, but the rider has also dismounted in order to perform it, which makes it an even rarer occurrence: The child-shoal-o-cross. A child subjected to any kind of shoaling at an early age will often find him- or herself attracted to tall bikes later in life, since instead of protruding horizontally into harm's way, they are instead positioned vertically where their high vantage point renders shoaling completely unnecessary.

Speaking of childhood trauma, it's worth contemplating what drove Mark-Paul Gosselaar of "Saved by the Bell" fame to a life of Category 2 roadiedom, as described in this New York Times article forwarded to me by Stevil of All Hail the Black Market:

If the tall biker seeks to be vertical due to horizontal childhood trauma, then perhaps the Category 2 roadie seeks to ride quickly in order to escape his past--which, given the fact that this past is inextricably associated with a high school sitcom, is not a far-fetched conclusion. Surely celebrities and publicists all over America are beginning to realize that the simple act of riding a bicycle is sufficient to catapult you into the limelight like a strategically-placed barrier on the Williamsburg Bridge bike path is enought to send a "hipster" flying headlong into the Big Skanky. Take David Byrne for instance, who has parlayed the simple act of riding a bicycle from one expensive loft to another into a position as New York City's foremost celebrity cycling advocate--much to the dismay of Matthew Modine, David Byrne's smirking, floppy-haired Jan Ullrich:

(Modine to America: "We must seize cycling by the breasts and suckle.")

Surely other celebrities will begin to follow suit. It would not surprise me in the least if, in order to rekindle the bonfire of fame, Harry Anderson from "Night Court" is at this moment learning the intricacies of operating a triple chainring drivetrain astride a Specialized Sirrus, or David Faustino of "Married...With Children" is taking up fixed-gear freestyling. Incidentally, I was pleased to note that the Times article about Gosselaar was penned by the same writer who simultaneously profiled me and coined the phrase "weird style diktats." I was less pleased, however, to see that the Times published it under the heading of "Physical Culture:"

According to a futuristic Internet encyclopedia, "physical culture" is an old-timey term that referred to the then-new concept of performing difficult tasks voluntarily for the purposes of physical conditioning. As I understand it, up until the 19th century, most people had to do physical labor in order to live. (Such labor in those days included farming, mining, and the brutal oppression of women and minorities.) However, as time went on, more and more people figured out how to make money without exerting themselves, and a soft, puffy leisure class was born. This leisure class soon learned that, ironically, it had to fend off doughiness and ill health with the very physical activity it had managed to cast off. Thus, they came up with "physical culture" as sort of a work substitute. (Early forms of "physical culture" were farming for sport, home mining, and the recreational brutal oppression of women and minorities.) Eventually, though, the concept became commonplace. "Physical culture" became gym class, or working out, or just plain exercise, and the term eventually died--until the New York Times resurrected it as a pompous catch-all for doing somewhat inane things like riding expensive bicycles in club races and doing yoga with your dog:

I suppose then that the new meaning of "physical culture" is "pretentious exercising." If you're just riding or racing your bike, you're "cycling." However, if you race your bike and you're in an off-broadway play or are quasi-famous, you're engaging in "physical culture" as far as the Times is concerned. Similarly, yoga is just yoga, but yoga with your dog is "physical culture." I wonder then if by the New York Times definition the people who ride their bikes in the park while their poor dogs struggle to keep up with them are also part of "physical culture." Probably not--I have a feeling simply involving a dog isn't always enough, and that it probably also depends on both the type of bike and the breed of dog. Riding your Trek hybrid with your mixed-breed dog does not qualify as "physical culture," but riding a p-far with your prizewinning Braque du Bourbonnais almost certainly does. This is not to say you have to involve dogs in "physical culture." Another way to think of it is that "physical culture" is just a nicer way of saying "doing weird shit:"

Thankfully, the truth is that you can still ride your bike even if you don't aspire to make it into a cultural endeavor. Cycling is simply a way to have fun, get places, get fit, and sometimes even take a trip to "Naked Town:"

Hottt Ass and Hot Cinelli - 23
Date: 2009-10-29, 11:09PM EDT

To the hottie on the sick blue Cinelli track bike, why were you flirting with a guy on an IRO? Why not ride our hot bicycles together to naked town?

Truly one of the most amazing things about New York is that you can live here forever yet have no idea there's a "Naked Town." I've certainly never heard of it, though I did once spend an unfortunate few hours in "No Pants City." Sadly for the guy on the IRO though it seems the Cinelli rider is not interested in accompanying him to "Naked Town," because he's been forced to issue a second mating call:

Hey Hottt Ass and Hot Cinelli!! - m4w - 23 (BK)
Date: 2009-11-04, 4:22PM EST

Hey girl, if you ride your bike past me again with hot little school girl socks on, and don't stop, I'll race you and I'll win. Try me for a saddle and you'll get titanium rails!
JK....but I'm not giving up.

I have a feeling this poster is going to be forced to visit "Naked Town" alone. That's nothing to be ashamed of though. According to the Times definition,"foffing off" can actually qualify as "physical culture"--so long as you do it while watching European films and wearing an interesting hat.

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