Parroting: Continual Conversations with the Road

With "Bike Month" having long since dropped back to the "autobus" of memory, it's been quite some time since a mainstream newspaper has published an article about "cycle chic." This is of course a matter of some concern, since consuming this sort of easily-excreted intellectual roughage is essential for maintaining mental regularity. Fortunately, the Wall Street Journal has come to the rescue with a great big bowl of "bike culture" bran flakes:

Interestingly, though, the headline refers to "biker chic" and not "cycle chic," presumably since Copenhagen Cycle Chic proprietor Mikael Colville-Andersen has trademarked the phrase:

As an introverted lurker and surreptitious photographer myself, I find it tremendously inspirational that Colville-Andersen has parlayed into a global movement the act of skulking around his hometown and taking pictures of women in short skirts for his blog. Indeed, thanks to Colville-Andersen's groundbreaking work in the field, it is now acceptable to slide on a dolly under the skirt of a "Beautiful Godzilla" like you're an auto mechanic examining the struts on a Monte Carlo, just as long as you invoke that alliterative phrase and take plenty of pictures.

Of course, the "cycle chic™" (or "biker chic" if you can't afford to pay Colville-Andersen a royalty) concept is especially important for Americans, who have an extremely difficult time shopping for activities and lifestyles that don't have catchy names. Whereas some cultures might find the concept of simply hopping astride a bicycle and riding it in regular clothing so simple as to not even warrant discussion (much less additional purchases or a newspaper article), here in America we need an attitude, a philosophy, a style--and, most importantly, a bunch of new stuff we can buy. For example, just riding your bike doesn't require buying anything (except for perhaps a bike), but "biker chic" allows you to buy a helmet that looks like a hat:

This is why it's essential for "cycle/biker/whatever chic" articles to treat competitive cycling and attire with a mixture of befuddlement and disdain, as though it has anything to do with everyday cycling in the first place. For some reason it's okay to write about, say, minivans without once mentioning Formula 1 or flame-retardant suits, but an article about everyday cycling has to include plenty of mentions of "handlebars curled low like a ram's horns," "seats so hard that people wore foam-padded bike shorts," and looking "like a refugee from the Tour de France." (I'm not sure what a "refugee from the Tour de France" looks like, and I can only guess that the author is referring to Raimondas Rumsas.)

I certainly don't mean to suggest there's anything wrong with reminding people that they can use bicycles without sacrificing their personal ideas of fashion. I also realize plenty of people do think you need to wear a full racing kit in order to get anywhere near a bicycle. Still, it is worth noting that, to some extent, the American interpretation of "chic" cycling is buying a whole bunch of stuff in order to ride a bike so that you can look like you don't ride a bike.

In any case, the standard-issue mainstream periodical "cycle chic" article is far more edifying than the standard-issue mainstream periodical "fixed-gear" article. Speaking of fixed-gear articles, I noticed the following comment on the New York Times "Midnight Keirin Club" article I mentioned in yesterday's post:

One of main lures of cycling is to have FUN. The races look like a BLAST.

George’s comment, “They could work within the system but choose not to do so.” reeks of what was frequently said to those who engaged in civil disobedience during the Civil Rights movement.

— warrior ant press

Yes, people who don't want to be hit by brakeless "hipsters" racing each other for $30 and the world's lamest "bragging rights" are exactly like the Klan, and racing your bike around a public park mere miles from a velodrome in a city that is adding new bike lanes for you almost daily despite vocal and powerful opposition is exactly like Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the back of the bus because she was a black woman in the racially segregated south. Convincing yourself that your own form of inconsiderate recreation is an agent of social change may be the final frontier of self-importance, and between the "hipster culture" and the "bicycle culture" I'm sure it won't be long before the simple act of waking up in the morning and defecating while smoking your American Spirit is considered a revolutionary act. (Actually, I think it already is.)

Also, in the comments to my own post yesterday someone posted a link to a near-perfect example of an article that follows the fixed-gear journalistic template. Frankly, I thought the traditional fixed-gear article was now extinct, like marine life in the Gulf of Mexico, but it is apparently very much alive in Calgary, where a healthy and robust specimen appeared just last month. You can read the complete article here, but I think it's even more enjoyable when you read only the quotes:

“It’s the bike stripped down to its bare bones,”

“There’s less going on, less moving parts, less to fix,”

“They’re unique and identifiable,”

“And not anyone can just hop on and ride off, so they’re less likely to get stolen.”

“It’s 50 per cent about style and 50 per cent about riding,”

“It’s also a throwback to extreme sports, not just using a bike for commuting.”

“You need to be physically fit, because you have to pedal the entire time.”

“You almost superman over the handlebars,”

“It is safe, some just choose to be unsafe.”

“feeling more connected.”

“It’s a continual conversation with the road,"

“It’s a Zen sort of thing.”

“You really have to be in touch with your speed and predict everything up ahead,”

“It’s way more involved.”

“Fixed gears have definitely been made out to be a trendy thing to try, like big sunglasses.”

This article contains more "greatest hits" than the Neil Diamond Collection (or his infamous "Storytellers" appearance). It's certainly been awhile since I've heard the old "fixed-gears are harder to steal" rationalization, which is of course based on the hubristic belief that only those with esoteric and Zen-like bicycle mastery are able to ride them, yet is totally at odds with the fact that they're stolen all the time. I was also fascinated by the claim that riding a fixed-gear is a "continual conversation with the road," as though bicycles with freewheels or multiple gear ratios somehow hover above the pavement. Perhaps there's something to this claim, though, for yesterday I noticed the following poster:

Subsequently, I checked out the video, and Jamil Kayin does indeed not only a track bike, but he also maintains a "continual conversation with the road" in rap form:

Far more fascinating though is his song "Bike" from 2008:

Not only does he ride a road bike in it:

But it turns out that he's also a road racer, and this is almost assuredly the first hip-hop video ever to include footage of the artist competing in what looks very much like the Grant's Tomb Criterium in New York City the Philadelphia Phlyer circuit race (thank you "Matt's Library" @12:34pm):

The potentially dangerous urban cycling advice contained in the video notwithstanding, I enjoyed this considerably, if only for the novelty factor of a road-racing rapper. Of course, we've seen road-racing rappers before in the form of the popular "Performance" video by MC SpandX, but that was parody. Plus, a reader recently forwarded me his newest song, in which he announces he's moved on to mountain biking:

I predict a randonneuring parody by 2020, which should give him plenty of time to compile a bunch of words that rhyme with "brevet" and plan a "collabo" with Velo Orange.

But what do you do if you're unable to hold a "continual conversation with the road," either because you don't own a fixed-gear or because you lack sufficient rapping "skillz" and "flow?" Well, I saw one rider yesterday who has found a creative solution to this problem:

As you can see, he has a loquacious conversation partner in the form of a macaw:

I'm sure someone in Portland will criticize the rider's bird-portaging technique and point out that the acceptable methods are either shouldering the bird cyclocross- (or, in this case pirate-) style, or else employing some sort of handlebar-mounted perch, which I'm sure you can buy from the same people who make that leather jar cage.

In any case, I'm not sure about the rider, but with his magnificent plumage that bird is certainly the height of "cycle chic."

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