Wednesday, August 26, 2009
For Once and For All
My housemate Charlie was telling me about his recent experience at a bike shop in Boulder, CO... I suppose first I should introduce Charlie, at least in the context of his relationship with bicycles. He has one, which he uses to ride places sometimes, usually to bars or parties, but he likes waterfalls and books more than bikes...though I think he genuinely thinks bikes are neat, and I certainly did see his eyes light up as I went into detail about all I had just learned about wheelbuilding. In other words, I think Charlie has a very healthy, self-aware relationship with bicycles.
Anyway, he was telling me about going into a bike shop with a friend, to do something innocent, like pick up new brake cables or something, and, also in the shop was a father with his daughter, presumably an incoming freshman at CU-Boulder, looking to buy a bike as part of the girl's back-to-school shopping list. The father said, "What do you mean? The more gears the better, right?" And the girl, rolling her eyes in the way that only spoiled 18 year olds can do to their parents that are just so uncool, said, "No, dad! I want a bike with just the one gear! Just the one!"
Charlie told me this story because he thought it was odd, verging on hilarious, and I'm repeating it because I think it's fully on the side of hilarious. And also because, a couple Saturday nights ago, I was riding downtown, I blew a red light turning left, and someone, from their car yelled, "Fucking hipster!" I looked back, and realized it was my ol' buddy Ian. And I wondered, (and I still wonder, because I haven't seen him yet to ask), if he knew it was me and was yelling that to be ironic, or if he didn't know it was me, and was yelling that because he really hates hipsters. Or maybe, worst of all, he knew it was me, really thinks I'm a hipster and was yelling that to be mean. I was, afterall, riding a fixed gear with a chrome bag, cycling cap and pants that I'd cut to make into shorts (which, to my credit, happens every summer, anyway).
Oh, god. I disgust myself.
But then another day, another ride, I got passed by an older-ish man in a car, and he slowed down to yell out the window, "Fixed hub! You don't see too many of those these days!" And I thought, "oh, if you only knew, buddy...if you only knew." But I was charmed by what, I assumed, was a genuine and long-lived appreciation for the fixed gear bicycle.
And so I'm admitting, right here and now, that I absolutely love fixed gears, I love them for many reasons, many reasons that are my own, and one, because like the Chuck Klosterman article I wrote about in my last Blahg post--how the over-abundance of choice ultimately makes us depressed, so you might as well keep it simple, at least for commuting and running errands and going from here to there. Nothing gets fucked up on a fixed gear. Every once in awhile my chain gets a little stretched and I need a 15 mm to shove my wheel back a little further, and sometimes I add a little bit of air to my tires, but that's it. Plus, if you've ever gotten up to speed on a downhill, did a half-assed skid to slightly slow down and a half-assed look to the left so you could at least tell yourself you made an effort to make sure no cars were coming, and cornered faster than you thought you were going to, didn't clip a pedal, came out of it smooth and at almost as much speed as you went into it, and your legs are going so fast, and the winds blowing against your cycling-caped head bedecked with the biggest smile you've ever smiled, and you have no where to go that evening except for some place you decided you had to go to just to give yourself an excuse to ride into town, and that's love. And that's why I love my fixed gear.
And I worry for the younger generation. I worry that they like fixed gears because they're cool, but they couldn't even tell you why they're cool, they just remember reading it somewhere, or they saw someone else with it, and that made it cool. They've never truely felt it. They're not in love. They just want to like it, but they're not even sure why they're supposed to like it.
And then there's the problem that I call Dave Matthew's Band Syndrome, which is when you know something is really awesome, but you can never bring yourself to like it, because everyone else is obsessed with it, and that turns you off. I've got bike-rider friends who will never go anywhere near a fixed gear because of their association with hipsters. Singlespeeds galore, but not fixed. They don't want to be lumped in with those losers.
But if you love it, love it. If you hate it, hate it. But do it for you own sake, and your own sake alone. Don't do it because it's cool, and don't not do it because it's too cool.
Do it because you never want to stop pedaling. Then shut up about it.