Flashbacks: Sartorialism and Psychedelia

Like a pet owner wrapping Rex's heartworm pill in a piece of salami, or a hippie trying to "turn on" some "square" by baking some Wednesday Weed into his brownie, the Forces of Smugness continue to attempt to trick people into riding their bicycles to work. Generally, these ploys follow a seasonal pattern. First, they prey upon a populace still suffering from the residual effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder by designating May as "Bike Month" and some week in May as "Bike To Work Week." This gets new people on their bicycles for anywhere from a day to a few weeks, and they generally stop riding again when it gets too hot or they have their first brush with death, whichever comes first. The Forces of Smugness then lie in wait for the rest of the summer, lulling the populace into a false sense of security until they pounce once more in September by issuing some kind of "challenge:"

They also pair this with imagery of sport jackets, flowing scarves, and riding through fallen leaves, so that people think riding to work in the fall is like traipsing across some prep school campus in New England and not the smog-sucking, death-defying, sleet-soaked slog that it really is. Consider this blog post, forwarded to me by a reader, which promises that, "no, you do not need to change your clothes to ride to work," and then presents as an example this image from that insufferably foppish "Sartorialist" blog:

No, you don't need to change your clothes to ride to work--unless you're this guy, in which case you really should. As Paul Newman's stunt double uncomfortably straddles his midlife crisis-inspired "fixie" conversion, his sleeves ride up to the crooks of his arms and his pant cuffs hover at about mid-calf. One can only imagine the strain on the crotchal seam of his trousers, which is almost certainly about to burst. As he casts his eyes pensively eastward, hoping to be noticed, he claws at the bars awkwardly like some morbid hunchback playing Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in some forgotten church basement. And whither socks? Banished, it would seem, in favor of blisters and swampfoot.

If he refuses to change his clothes in the name of sartorialism, he should at least consider changing his bicycle. Perhaps he should try one of those hefty Dutch numbers so popular with his ilk--or, if he wants something he can actually hoist now and again without incurring a hernia, he might try an Electra Ticino, for the one I have been testing has been quite dandy. (And by "dandy" I mean that it is befitting of one who pursues "the appearance of nonchalance in cult of Self.")

Meanwhile, the reality of urban cycling is considerably less refined. Consider this scene I passed while cycling through Midtown Manhattan at the end of last week:

Please forgive the jaunty tilt of this image--I was, as always, hunched over my aero bars in full-on "TT" mode (I commute on a Cervelo P3 "fixie" conversion) and this was simply the angle at which my head was oriented. In any case, you'll notice that, in addition to the somewhat Ditka-esque gentleman riding his mountain bike on the sidewalk, there is also a pedestrian in the background using stilts and wearing a "banana hammock" in a patriotic "colorway:"

For a moment I thought I might be laboring under one of those LSD "flashbacks" they always told us about in school. ("Back in the day," they used to try to scare you away from psychedelics by assuring you that, if you tried them as a teenager even once, 20 years later you'd be driving your Volvo with your wife, 2.5 children, and Golden Retriever on the way to your weekend house, at which point you'd suddenly be stricken with a "flashback" in which you hallucinate a giant lizard fighting with a giant raccoon in the middle of the highway. Swerving to avoid them, you'd then send yourself and your entire family plummeting into a ravine.) Ultimately, however, I ruled this out, since when I kicked out the stilts from beneath the guy in the bikini he came crashing down in a heap instead of exploding in a hail of petunias and candy corns like my hallucinations usually do.

Still, I am always waiting for that potentially fatal fixed-gear freestyle "edit" of the mind to "drop," and if the possibility of seeing lizards fighting raccoons, or nearly-naked men on stilts, or Mike Ditka is not enough to dissuade you from cycling under the influence of hallucinogens, then perhaps this cautionary tale from an LSD-addicted messenger which was forwarded to me by another reader is. Consider the following excerpt:

(This screenshot is legible if you're on acid.)

To describe the experience of putting my life in the hands of the San Fransisco Traffic God's while the sky melds together in an amalgous orgasm of blue and magenta and while cars leave such profoundly solid tracers behind them that I can't tell whether they're limousines or not is, essentially, impossible. The experience is just fucking ludicrous. I've been bombing hills at 35 miles an hour before only to have taxi cars open their doors in front of me with only ten feet to brake. I've been within inches of been piledrived by several ton cars in direct oncoming traffic. On one occasion, the quick release on my primary brakes snapped while I hauled ass down one of the steepest streets in the city (which is really saying something, if you've ever been to San Fransisco before), forcing me to simultaneously wedge my foot between my front wheel and my front forks to slow myself down while navigating my bike through two massive four way intersections. I was a half second away from getting anally raped between a bright silver Hummer and a half lime-green/half hot-pink sedan. I suspect that this was not the actual colour of the vehicle.

While the idea of a lysergic acid diethylamide-addled messenger plying the streets of San Francisco is disconcerting, I was impressed that he apparently had the wherewithal to install some sort of auxiliary braking system, since he refers to his "primary brakes" malfunctioning. Unfortunately, he doesn't explain what this auxiliary braking system is, so it could be his fixed-gear drivetrain, or a coaster brake, or a parachute in his Chrome messenger bag, or perhaps even some kind of braking system of the mind in which a phalanx of Care Bears descend from the heavens and wrangle him to a stop with a rainbow of friendship. In any case, it's more than the typical NĂ¼-Fred is using, and our hero would like us to know that he's got things under control:

I've since gotten used to getting my shit together on acid. To be honest, though, it's pretty effectively kept me from ever being able to relax on psychedelics, even if I'm not on my bike. When trip-cycling, I have to devote every ounce of my mental capacity to keep my mind on the road and my reflexes. It's a combination of letting my mind trust myself so completely that I don't have to think about hitting that brake fast enough to avoid that taxi door or turning my wheel just enough that I neither plow into that pedestrian OR get clotheslined by that pole, and forcing my mind to be on the edge constantly.

So in other words, it's taken him gallons of psychedelics to learn that he needs to pay attention while riding his bike. In many ways, this is the very essence of the drug experience: wasting years of your life on a mythic journey in pursuit of the sorts of revelations that are, for everyone else in the world, simply common sense. It's like going through the trouble and pretense of becoming a minimalist in order to figure out that, yes, you don't really need that second fondue pot.

But at least he seems to have things in perspective:

Then, I have to live with the ramifications of dosing large amounts of psychedelics up to five times a week for multiples years on end. I'll be just like one of those burned out hippies on Haight and Ashbury that can't finish a sentence, mumbling to themselves about UFO's and how cheap weed used to be.

Or, in other words, he's going to be the next Dogpaw:

You could certainly do a lot worse for yourself. Anyway, I'd rather share the streets with thousand Dogpaws (Dogspaw?) than with one salmoning tourist:

At least, I'm assuming he's a tourist, since he was riding one of those "Bike and Roll" bikes:

As the Book of Fred predicted, "And you shall know them by their handlebar bags, and they will salmon towards you wearing expressions of cluelessness and sandals of nylon:"

I like tourists, and while cycling I do my best to treat them with respect--even when they study maps while standing in crosswalks or ask me for directions to streets on which they're currently standing. (I'm referring of course to the short-term tourists and not the ones who stay here for two or three years, are called "hipsters," and occupy that giant extended stay theme hotel known as "Williamsburg." They're similarly clueless, but instead of asking for directions they use their iPhones.) However, coming here and salmoning is very disrespectful--it's like visiting the Wailing Wall and having a pig roast, or like visiting Portland and showering daily. One wonders if they behave as poorly back home in Salt Lake City--where, as it happens, yet another reader spotted this Ford GT in the Gulf Racing "colorway" complete with trunk-mounted triple-chainring Trek:

Clearly he is the World's Fastest Fred.

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