Friday, February 5, 2010

The Joy of Gear

The combination of late winter and long posts about my childhood can only mean one thing: I'm dwelling on my mortality. (I believe the rent-a-doctors on TV call this Seasonal Affective Disorder). Sure enough, it seems to happen regularly around this time of year, but even more so since I started the process of re-building myself athletically a couple of years ago. That's because this is the time of year when I set my fitness goals and athletic events for the coming year and, of course, muse fretfully about my accomplishments, or lack thereof, in the past year. So, no, thank you, I'm not going to "ask my doctor." Pills can't fix athletic ability, at least not any pills I can get my hands on. Besides, I much prefer performance-degrading substances.

Obviously, late winter is the best time to address goals, because by February I have typically forgotten what it's like to suffer in the summer on overly ambitious bike rides like a german tourist on a Tagwanderung in Death Valley. Thus, I can come up with all sorts of schemes for improbable rides, in which I recall only wildflowers, widdle bunnies and the endorphins that come after 6,000 feet of climbing in a day, completely forgetting the 6-8 hours in the saddle slowly turning over the pedals with numb, rubbery legs, the bleary, ongoing nausea, the surprisingly vile weather and the occasional weeping. Not to mention the saddle sores, which would be gross.

This year in particular I've been thinking of rides and mortality because I've decided to get a new bike. Slogging through the sleet recently I realized, at 46 years old, that I only have another fifteen or twenty years of good riding left in me. (By "good" I mean "not on a recumbent.") Twenty-five years is about the life of a good steel frame, so my next bike is my last one.

As a Fred, buying new gear is very important to me. In fact, it's one of the defining characteristics of Freds, at least according to some definitions, that we own and obsess over gear whose performance and quality is massively beyond our abilities (which are typically somewhere between Napoleon Dynamite and George W.). For me, new gear is a form of bribery, it's the currency in the grim capitalism that drives the market of my motivation. In other words, I always ride more after buying a new toy in order to prove I needed it. This at least has a self-limiting effect; I can't buy a lot of really, crazy high-end, fancy-pants stuff because that would force me to ride at a level I cannot possibly hope to attain thereby unmasking me forever as truly, irredeemably a poser. I'd rather let my riding ability do that, not my gear.

But it's not just about the bribery, there's also the lust. I love beautifully made things like a vegetarian loves bacon. As my marxism professor said once, "Capitalism sucks, but you gotta love the toys." (For the record, I am a post-structuralist marxist, which is an expensive way of pointing out I am both under-paid and over-educated.) And it's true, I do love a shiny, precise, CNC-machined or Imron-coated plaything, especially if it comes with a long manual and requires programming and a torque wrench. Since I got that first BMX bike, I've enjoyed ogling my bikes almost as much as riding them. I have nick-names for them and sometimes, when sloth has overtaken me and they have hung on their hooks in the basement for too long, I apologize to them and give them a little pat. God, help me.

Let's not think about that. Let's think about my new ride: the Last Bike. The frame will be built by Paul Sadoff, who runs Rock Lobster bikes in Santa Cruz, CA. I've known about Paul for years, and he seems curmudgeonly and slightly jewish, which are admirable traits in my book (granted my book is an unpopular tome that is equal parts judgmental ranting and arcane technical specifications). He's going to build a frame based on faithful Steakfire, but with his own refinements and ideas.

A custom steel frame is something I've lusted after for years, ever since I lucked into a mountain bike with a frame built by Keith Bontrager back when he was working out of his garage, rather than the glistening corporate headquarters of Trek. In one of those small world moments, Paul used to work with Bontrager and he actually fixed that old MTB's frame after my friend Rich borrowed it and crashed it into a small cliff at a high rate of speed, bending the down- and top-tubes at the head-tube and possibly also damaging Rich in some less interesting way.

Despite my proleterian protestations above, I'm well aware that a custom frame is a disgustingly bourgeois thing to buy. Hey, lust isn't pretty. Just look at Roman Polanski (but not for too long or you'll feel grimy). I justify this to myself as most folk do, by pointing out that it could be worse and I could be spending three-times as much for one of those disposable carbon-fiber wonder bikes that are so popular with urologists and, similarly, actors.
(By the way, I'm very pleased to see Mr. McConaughhey is employing the Full Fred elbow-lock posture for maximum ability-to-bike contrast.)

Also, I have imposed draconian new anti-clutter rules in my life, so by statute I have to fund all new purchases with Ebay sales of old, useless stuff. I've already sold enough bike parts to buy an analog oscilloscope! I'm confident I'll be able to find enough forgotten possessions and castaway projects to fund my new frame. That makes it less like self-indulgent consumerism and more like recycling, right?

Issues of bourgeois buyer's remorse thus easily dispensed with, I'm left with the question of what I'll have to ride to justify the purchase. It was thinking about my own mortality that gave me the idea: in 2013, the year I turn 50, I'm going to ride the Everest Challenge. Not the race mind you, just the course. I'll be riding the new bike by then, but I guarantee I'll be suffering enough to wish I was dead several times over. And that's the kind of dwelling on mortality I can live with.


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