Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bikes, fixies, and post-modernism

Oh, man. I bought a bike this week. Unlike my past purchases—a biannual parade of Huffys (yeah, I think that’s how you pluralize that . . . and I am referring to the every two years, not twice a year, form)—I got a real bike. Not a new bike, but a real bike.

I am the proud owner of a 1987 Trek 560 Pro Series. I have no idea what it means, but all I know is that the tires are skinnier than my ring finger, and I had no idea I could go that fast without my quadriceps going up in flames.

The guy I bought it from, of course, knew way more about bikes than me and was really talking it up. In fact, the only reason I knew it was a good bike was because my buddy (and proud owner of several quality road bikes) was on the lookout for good bikes on craigslist.

The seller wanted to know if I wanted to make it into a fixie. And as fate would have it, I learned the meaning of that word just in time to have an informed conversation about it. “Oh, a fixed gear?” I asked, feigning contemplation. “Naw I just wanted a retro bike. I will probably keep the derailleur.” Read: I need a bike that I can actually ride decent distances before I drop my car off to the collision shop for an indefinite period of time.

In order to appreciate the bike, I think you may need to take a glance at the craigslist ad. Just know that the handlebars you can barely make out actually reconnect at the top. They are like a pair of bike antlers, apparently made to impress other road bikes, or appear on the wall of a biker’s mountain lodge someday. They are ridiculous.

Another nuance I had not prepared for as well as my fixie and derailleur vocabulary were the petals. I don’t know how to describe them, except that instead of placing my feet on top of a pair of friendly black pads like most bikes I have known, I had to slide my feet inside these metal sort of U-cup things.

Needless to say, when I took the bike for a test drive, I could not fit my feet inside of these things. To make things worse, in order to put your feet in these things you need to be moving at the time the second foot enters. So, instead of riding the bike down the street, I Fred Flintstone-ed it until I got out of sight and just jammed the second foot in. Note to self: in order to ride I will need to be wearing aqua socks.

I am digressing from what I originally intended to write about, and that is the phenomenon of the “fixie.” For those of you who don’t know, there is a recent trend to convert a standard ten-speed bike into a bike where there is only one-speed. This is done by extracting the derailleur and shifters. The result is a bike that is a single gear and in order for the wheel to turn, the pedals must turn. This also allows for the rider to brake merely by pedaling backwards (yeah, my first huffy had that feature as well). Apparently this appeals to the PBR, skinny jean wearing, subculture known generally as hipsters.

If you are like me, your first reaction is why? I mean, I would conceivably argue that every bike is a fixed gear if one can resist the temptation to shift. I mean, I know this allows for coasting down hills without pedaling, but I am still not sure how there is a downside to that part. Nevertheless, I have heard some theories about their advantages: less maintenance, better feel for the road, and the like.

However, I believe this microcosm phenomenon can serve to illustrate a greater rebellion against a post-modern world. Rather than be forced to take part in an ever changing series of speeds and resistances, why not just turn to one absolute and eliminate some choices. That way, when I pedal, I know how far one turn will take me (exactly the circumference of my rear wheel).

Rather than be subjected to some arbitrary reality where once pedal cycle is converted by a complex series of pulleys and levers—leave those simple machines behind and just ride. I may be extrapolating a bit too much here, but I do think there is something to the concept of limiting ones options.

I once came across an interesting book on the topic as well. The Paradox of Choice essentially argued that less is more when it comes to options and that by overwhelming ourselves with options we walk away less satisfied (I would go into more detail but by “came across” I mean, I took it home from the library for three weeks, read the jacket multiple times, and started the introduction).

All that to say, I am not converting my bike into a fixie. Mainly because I like having the options there, but also because that seems like an awful lot of work. And I'm still trying to figure out how to get my feet in the pedals.

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