Unfit for Life: All Aboard the Pain Train, Next Stop Delusion

Yesterday was a lovely day in Brooklyn, New York.  As usual, I woke up to the sounds of the roosters cockledoodydooing in my chicken coop.  Next, I pulled on my overalls, slopped the cows, milked the pigs, and collected the platypus eggs to bring to the greenmarket.  Then, my chores finished, I decided that I was going to enjoy a ride on a bicycle with those crazy clip-in-style pedals and the curved-type handlebars with the shifters built into the brake levers, because those kinds of bikes can be fun to ride.

There was once a time when, in order to mount such a bicycle, I would have taken great pains to make sure my special stretchy clothes all matched.  Believe it or not, I even "trained" back then--or at least deluded myself into thinking I was riding in such a way that I would eventually get faster.  Now, those days are over, and I've forsaken almost all of the "weird style diktats" to which I once so rigorously adhered.  If I were to name my current on-the-bike style I'd probably go with something like "Mismatched And Hairy," and in fact I'm currently flirting with the idea of opening a cycling café of the same name.  In physics or whatever that kind of science is called (I never made it past Earth Science), they say something like, "All things tend towards chaos."  Similarly, in cycling (at least as I practice it), all things tend towards schlubbiness.

Anyway, there I was, happily pedaling rhombuses through David G. Greenfield's district with one eye open for good places to pee, when I was overtaken by some well-groomed, well-heeled, and matchy-matching riders as well as a gentleman on a Vespa.  It should go without saying that the well-groomed riders did not talk to me, but the Vespa rider did, and at the next light we exchanged pleasantries.  He then invited me to come to Floyd Bennett Field for some motorpacing.  Now, I understand there are people who go in for that sort of thing, but if I wanted to ride around sucking down exhaust on a beautiful Sunday I'd just spend the day "taking the lane" up and down Coney Island Avenue.  Politely I declined, and then he told me I should avail myself of his coaching services, at which point he handed me his card:

It was at this point I realized how profoundly I'd changed, and that I'd now become the sort of sad rider coaches try to solicit--the cycling equivalent of the lonely salesman in the hotel bar being seduced by the local call girl.  Whereas once I looked the part of the racer, now I was clearly an aging and unfit Fred on a vanity bike and teetering on the brink of Lone Wolfitude.

Of course, the truth is that I like it that way, and I'd sooner pay someone to tell me when and how to go to the bathroom than I would to tell me when and how to ride my bike.  Therefore, I tried to explain that he was meowing up the wrong tree, and that my "training" days were long behind me.  Nevertheless, he insisted I could somehow benefit from his services, and when I got home I checked out his website:

(In my case, the answer to every one of these questions is "Fuck no!".)


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I certainly begrudge no honest person his or her livelihood, and certainly if a coach is providing a service that people appreciate and are willing to pay for then I wish him or her nothing but success.  At the same time, it is my personal belief that if you are "frustrated" with cycling because you because you "do not see the results you had hoped to achieve" that you should quit.  Yes, quit!  Quit like the wind!  This is because the correct answer to the question "Are you maximizing your potential as a cyclist?" is that you have no potential as a cyclist--apart from the potential to disappoint and alienate everybody around you as you fritter away your life in the pursuit of a delusion.

Sure, I was never a very good racer.  In fact, I'm like a call on an iPhone, in that I get dropped pretty much every time.  Nevertheless, I have been riding bikes for awhile, and there's one thing I've learned over the years, which is this:

If you're not getting results, it's because you suck.  And when you suck, you suck.

How you deal with that sucking is up to you, but trust me: you suck.  There's no coach, no wheelset, no plastic frame, and no electronic shifter that's going to change that.  I know this because I sucked when I started, and I still suck now.  Moreover, the same people who sucked when I started still suck too, and many of them employ coaches and use equipment that would make a pro team blush.  I'm not sure why bike racers are so delusional; maybe it's just human nature, or maybe it's uniquely American, since we're raised to believe in that whole "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" thing.  But while someone from a humble background may be able to parlay lots of hard work into a lucrative career, there's really no cycling equivalent.  You can't pull yourself up by your Sidis.  If you suck, you suck, and that's that.  You can suck expensively with coaches and equipment and entry fees, or you can suck frugally by just racing under your own terms and having fun, or you can stop sucking altogether, quite the whole sucky rat race, and just ride your bike.

Anyway, it's for this reason that I've long abandoned the notion of on-the-bike accomplishment.  But that's not to say I don't still like to get out there and suck in a race once in awhile, or that I don't apply the concept to other areas of my life in which I suck.  For example, as a book author I like to think I'm the equivalent of a mid-pack Cat 4, which is why my idea of literary accomplishment is this, which was forwarded to me by a reader:

See that?  I'm right next to the deodorant!

Yes, travel bag placement doesn't get much more auspicious than the mesh compartment, even if you're almost certainly going to be joined by the dirty underwear on the return trip.  Anyway, it's no West Elm catalogue, but I'll take it, and I'm fully reconciled to--nay, proud of!--the fact that have produced a (barely) prop-worthy book, and that as a competitive cyclist I barely rate as a pity case for enterprising coaches trolling the backstreets of Brooklyn on Vespas.

Speaking of delusion, perhaps the grandest of all cycling delusions--grander even than the "athlete" delusion--is the one that you can somehow revolutionize the commuting bicycle.  Here's a vision for the future of commuting that appeared in the New York Times and was forwarded to me by another reader:

All of these concepts fall under the seems-like-a-great-idea-until-you-think-about-it-for-two-seconds-and-realize-it's-pointless category.  For example, consider this:

Anti-theft handlebars

Here’s an old idea whose time has come again. The bearing system that allows the bike to turn can be locked so that a thief can’t steer his stolen bike. The lock is internal, meaning that he’d have to destroy the bike to ride it away.

Sure, motorcycles have this, so why not bicycles?  Well, because thieves don't care whether or not they can ride the bike away, and they're perfectly happy to destroy it.  If they don't feel like "schlepping" it they'll just take their favorite part of it and leave you to deal with the rest, as I'm all too familiar with:

Anyway, go ahead and leave your bike with its locking steering column sitting outside in a big city for more than 30 seconds and see what happens.  I assure you you're not going to come back to a frustrated thief riding around and around in circles.

Then of course there's the eternal pursuit of the greaseless drivetrain.  Some marketers seem to think if they can create a clean alternative to the chain than the last impediment to cycling will be lifted and the entire population of the United States will abandon their cars and flock to bicycles in clean-legged, chainring tattoo-free droves.  For awhile the pet drivetrain of such marketers was the belt drive, but now apparently it's the shaft drive:

No more greasy chains

An updated shaft drive — which replaces the chain with a rod and internal gear system — would be perfect for urban riders. They’re popular in China right now, but new versions will be lighter and have more sophisticated gearing.

Like the belt drive, the shaft drive concept fails to take into account that you can accomplish all of this with a simple chain guard or chain case.  If it helps to think of it in motor vehicle terms, consider that no motorist cares about all the oily and grimy components in their motor, and that's because they have this thing called a "hood."  This allows them to not see stuff and not touch stuff and to simply bring it to a garage when something goes wrong--which is exactly what the sort of person who's afraid of a little chain grease is going to do with a bicycle with a fully-enclosed chain anyway.

But what about frame materials?  Surely we can do better there:

One-piece plastic and carbon-fiber frames

Plastic frames were tried back in the ’90s, but they were too heavy. The materials and technology have improved. Thermoplastics are cheap and practically impervious to the elements.

Now this makes sense for commuting, since any cyclist knows that crabon fiber frames are exceedingly cheap:

($3,000 doesn't include the coach you'll need to hire to maintain your delusions.)

Whereas everybody knows the metal frames most people commute on now are grossly expensive, incredibly delicate, and melt in the rain.

I'm looking forward to America's ideal commuting future in which we all ride one-piece thermoplastic bicycles with shaft drives in cities with mandatory helmet and airbag laws:

Ah, fuck it, I'm leasing a Hyundai.
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