Spending Power: Who's #1?

Since the dawn of cycling, humankind has sought to spend as much money on equipment as possible. In the 19th century, hale wheelmen would covet laterally stiff and vertically enormous handcrafted pennyfarthing frames, quasi-legal narcotic-infused brain tonics, and wheels shod in the finest Amazonian rubbers. Decades later, in the era of Fausto Coppi, early proto-Freds would don shorts with mink chamoises and glue tires spun from the silk of debutantes' undergarments to their ultra-low spoke count 36-hole rims using glues made from the hooves of Thoroughbreds. This tradition of gross expenditure continues today, as Category 5 investment bankers quaff quasi-legal energy tonics, straddle $10,000 worth of crabon fribé, and monitor their meager power output with exotic electronic equipment that would shame a Stanford University earthquake researcher.

All of this raises an important question: "What is the most expensive cycling discipline today?" This query is especially crucial if you work for a bicycle company, since it's vital to know which component of the cycling demographic is most desperate to spend too much money on crap that will either break for be "obsolete" by season's end. For many years, the common wisdom was that the biggest spenders were roadies, who would actually pay for snake oil if you told them it was good for lubricating ceramic bearings. Then came mountain bikers and their lust for vulgar Kleins and machined anodized purple boutique componentry. In turn, both of these groups were then eclipsed by the triathletes, who thought nothing of paying thousands of dollars for a slight aerodynamic advantage while at the same time employing a stem riser and riding in sneakers.

However, today a new cycling super-consumer has emerged. He (or she) possess the weight weenie-ism of the roadie, the dirt-oriented geekery of the mountain biker, and the grossly disproportionate dollar-per-mile ratio of the triathlete. This rider, of course, is the so-called "cyclocross" racer, and if someone willing to spend $1,500 on crabon wheels, $150 on a single knobby tire, and 5 hours driving in order to ride a bike for 45 minutes did not actually exist then the bicycle industry would have had to invent him.

At this point you may be saying to yourself: "Wait, I've heard of this 'cyclo-cross.' Isn't that the one where people hang out and drink beer, and where I don't need to buy a new bike because it's OK to race my vulgar Klein as long as I remove the purple bar ends? What's so expensive about that?" Well, there's nothing at all expensive about that--except the "cyclo-cross" of yestermonth bears about as much resemblance to "CX 2.0" as the pennyfarthing does to the latest 11-speed crabon fribé Fred-conveyor. While old-timey cyclocross was about barriers, CX 2.0 is about barriers to entry, as you can see from this list of "What to bring to a cyclocross race" from VeloNews:

As I read this, I had to keep checking the headline to make sure it was actually about cyclocross and that I hadn't been rerouted to some sort of instructional on producing your own music festival. Do you really need to bring a Coleman PerfectFlow to a cyclocross race so you can engage in the time-honored activity of "cooking your own brats?" Is that French press really necessary? Can you get by without the Crazy Legs Leisure Chairs and the Deluxe Bike Cubes and "The Stick" self-massage tool and the stationary trainer and the boutique embrocations with organic ingredients that would probably also taste delicious on your "brats?" Apparently, the answer to all these questions is: "Yes, you do need to bring enough equipment and furniture to reproduce the interior of a San Francisco coffee shop and/or survive 'off the grid' for six months so you can race in the rain for 45 minutes." And don't forget that "Lion of Flanders" flag, since this whole "flambullient" production hinges on maintaining the delusion that you're from another country.

Of course, while following this guide may successfully transform you into the biggest Lion of Flanders-waving, cowbell-ringing, "brat"-grilling cyclocross dork of all time, it says nothing about the actual bicycle you'll need in order to compete in the increasingly competitive arena that is CX 2.0. "Back in the day" (by which in this context I mean last season) pretty much any steel or aluminum bike with cantilever studs was sufficient, but now only the laterally stiff and vertically marketed ride of crabon will do:

By the way, if $2,500 for a cyclocross "module" doesn't sound like a lot of money to you, keep in mind you'll need two of these since it's essential to have an identical bike in the pit. And obviously once you've built up your two "modules" you'll need multiple sets of mud-shedding crabon wheels glued with tires for every conceivable weather condition. As for how to transport two bicycles, multiple pairs of wheels, a Coleman PerfectFlow, a French press, cowbells, nationalist symbols, coffee beans, "brats," chairs, embrocations, a trainer, massage equipment, and presumably your own body, the article doesn't address that either, but something like this is a good choice:

Just be sure to opt for race venues that are conveniently situated near harbors with adequate stevedoring facilities.

Granted, it's also possible that this list is simply a "red herring," and that it's actually intended to frighten away the "hipsters" who have been threatening to infiltrate cyclocross racing for the past couple of years. No "hipster" could ever amass, care for, and transport this amount of equipment. Even the ones who form the mobile "hipster" strike forces known as "bands" can barely manage to keep a couple of guitar amps working or keep a dilapidated van from getting towed, which makes CX 2.0 as portrayed in the VeloNews piece out of the question.

I'd argue that it's unnecessary to try to frighten "hipsters" away from cyclocross, since at this point it's pretty clear to me that they're only interested in the bicycles--which is why they get excited about idiotic bikes like this. However, there are still those who worry that a few of them might actually attempt to ride their cyclocross bikes (or cyclocross-themed track bikes) in a race. This could also be why the VeloNews article contains a sensational warning about caustic mud:

Dried mud from racing is not the same as a spa treatment and can start to burn or sting as it dries.

Yes, who hasn't headed out on a warm-up lap, only to wind up writhing on the ground in pain and screaming, "It burns, it burns!!!"? Indeed, expensive "performance skincare" is your only line of defense--especially if you tend to race near ports with stevedoring facilities, where groundwater toxicity can be unusually high.

Meanwhile, a reader has alerted me to the fact that, in the KLM airlines in-flight magazine, the Dutch are congratulating themselves for taking over the sidewalks of New York City with their giant bicycles:

For those of you unfamiliar with New York City, it should come as no surprise to you to learn that the Dutch bike riders pictured above are "salmoning" wantonly. Note also that the story identifies someone named "Chris Clement" as a typical example of "the new breed of New York commuter." Apparently before buying a Dutch bike, Clement commuted by car from Brooklyn to Manhattan. "There wasn't any alternative," he explains. "The subway was overcrowded and inconvenient, and dangerous roads were choked with trucks and irate motorists."

Actually, there are transportation alternatives for gentrified dandies who find the subway distasteful, and they're called "Vespas." However, increasingly the Vespa customer base appears to be defecting to Dutch bikes:

Clement’s biking epiphany hasn’t stopped at abandoning his luxury German sedan though. In June, he upgraded his ride to a Batavus stadsfiets, a traditional, two-wheel Dutch bicycle, purchased from Rolling Orange, a newly opened Brooklyn bike shop owned by Dutchman Ad Hereijgers.

Hereijgers intends Rolling Orange, with its array of stadsfiets and bakfiets (bikes with cargo crates) to be much more than a simple cycle store. “I want to bring Dutch biking culture to New York,” he says. “I want to encourage New Yorkers to switch gears, slow down and enjoy their travel time. I call it the Slow Revolution.”

Evidently, whether it's cyclocross or Dutch bikes, the average American is only able to partake in cycling if he can spend a lot of money and pretend to be from another country while he does it. However, not all riders are adopting Low Country affectations--some remain proudly American, like the seller of this bicycle, which I learned about on the Tweeter:

2010 Trek 1.5 - $850 (Azusa, CA)
Date: 2010-10-04, 6:08PM PDT
Reply to: [deleted]

This bike has been a great friend to me but I am joining the Marine Corps and need to sell it. I know that it would be a great shame for this bike to sit in storage while I am away.

1.5 Aluminum Frame
All Bontrager Racing Extras (wheels, tires, handle bar assembly)
18 speed.
Step-up Braking System

Also Including Bontrager Bike Pump, Kryptonite Bike Lock, Giro Helmet and Specialized Gloves.

This bike is more than just a bike, its mechanical poetry.
Riding this bike is like discovering an extinct species still living in some enchanted forest, or making friends with a T-Rex. It is like walking on the moon while eating a funnel cake- like falling asleep on a bed of cotton candy, like slow dancing with Joe DiMaggio.

The frame was forged in the fires of Mt. Doom, and it's handlebars pulled from the horns of a raging bull.

This bike is guaranteed to make you physically capable of doing things that Superman himself dreams of. With its help, you will fly into the night like a white-hot bullet of justice and awesome. This bike will make you three times as likely to win a date with Scarlet Johannson, and twice as likely to make you mayor of your city.

To pass up this work of glory is like not finishing the all-you-can-eat hot wings challenge when you have only one to go.
So please, don't miss this opportunity of a lifetime. It will make you a better person, a better friend, and a better lover.

So help me God.

Best of all, because it's a road bike, you won't need any culinary equipment.

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