Friday, 22 March 2013

AN APPROPRIATE BICYCLE - Pt.16: CYCLING AS A METAPHOR FOR CAPITALISM


The 2013 London to Brighton bike ride is what I intended An Appropriate Bicycle to be all about – the opportunity to savour mass riding on clean roads and how I might approach that – and I’d always envisaged a more pronounced focus toward the actual act of cycling. Instead this project has almost developed into some sort of ‘budget cycling advice bureau’. Not only do the accoutrements of this topical sphere interest me as much as the physical endeavour, but I've come to conclude that this attitude is not actually out of keeping with the… scene.
It’s not unreasonable to suggest that I have acquired something of a feel for what motivates the cycling enthusiast, and I have concluded that consumerism appears to play its part. I'm not the sort to normally embrace or approve of such material machinations, but – if it’s to be entered into whole-heartedly – it is obvious that the pursuit of cycling requires a certain level of investment. More to the point, the tools of cycling appear to take on a significance of their own.
Check this out from the Condor Cycles blog:
‘The thing that most amateur cyclists, aspiring youths – and anyone else who has to buy their own cycling kit – think about when they think about pro bike riders is often, in all honesty, not how great would it be to do that race, or how cool would it be to fly around the world doing what you love: the first thing people think is, “how cool would it be to get all that kit?”'
These are the words of Tom Southam, former professional cyclist with Rapha Condor Sharp (among other teams), and I assume that they’re representative of the trade.
Yet, the accumulation of cycling related paraphernalia does not appear to be motivated by the desire to display status or engage in any sort of power play. Instead, the cycling enthusiast exhibits a geek-like fondness for memorabilia and of accruing accessories, which points to an almost pathologically obsessive dedication toward their chosen past-time. It is for this reason that I think the descriptions of my dealings with mail-order companies and web-based market places are compulsively relevant.
Is it altogether healthy? Does it reduce what might ostensibly be a means of getting about, of keeping fit or earning a living, into something of a capitalist endeavour? My financial predicament has determined how I approach this, but it’s interesting to see how unnecessary a lot of this outlay might actually be: that you don’t have to part with over £100 for a “technical jacket” or 70-odd quid for a jersey. Would not doing so point to a surfeit of vanity?
But there are those who do, and therein lies the point of Carlos-Weltschmerz, of An Appropriate Bicycle, and of me. Even if I wanted to – even if I had the money – I couldn't join in the way that could be expected of me. I don’t buy the up-market cycling magazines (I've allowed myself a couple of editions of Cycle Sport, for research purposes only) and I don’t feel very comfortable in places like Sigma Sport. I don’t think I could ever bring myself to join a club, and I only intend to wear proper cycling shorts on the longer and harder rides. Yet I've enjoyed mixing with the guys at the lower end of the industry – the adventure capitalists and D’Vlo, the cottage industry that is Vintage Bike Cave, or those old-school stalwarts at Prendas selling retro jerseys. I've willingly embraced the heritage of “The Tour” and bought into its myths. I have been actively seeking to look the part.
As a corollary to all of this, I seem to have developed an obsession with my new-found hobby that is muddying the waters. EBay has a lot to answer for here: it’s too easy, and there’s so much gear out there that one’s aesthetic sensibilities become overawed and confused, so much so that I've been thinking of selling my Solo jersey – a garment of consummate fit – just to allow myself the opportunity to stalk the marketplace for the perfectly authentic vesture in which to ride from London to Brighton. This is the pernicious effect of a capitalist sensibility given a free rein (under the guise of self-improvement). A laissez faire state of mind is scarcely satisfied because it is geared towards an inexorable façade of moving forward (they call it progress).
The Carlos-Galli jersey arrived, right? But in the meantime I’d sold my Jamis after a month of commuting back to work on the thing (a temporary arrangement) and quite struggled to get to grips with the Carlos once we’d become re-acquainted. I sold the Jamis with the D-lock and the front light included (to an agreeable Australian who didn't cavil at the terms and conditions, which were not unreasonable) and treated myself to a Lezyne Femto LED front light to combat the crepuscular conditions I now faced on my ride home from my job (a new lock was to follow).
I had a day off and rode the Chiswick Circuit in the hope that Carlos and I could get back to how things were, but three weeks spent riding the Jamis now confirmed my latent fear that the Carlos had too long a reach for me. It was no longer the spectre or an errant Pinarello that was troubling me, but the real possibility that I might completely break down on the 54 mile ride from London to Brighton. And so I decided, quite ruthlessly, that the Carlos would have to go.
            In fact, I’d already been on the lookout for a predominantly white bicycle – replete with 1980s era livery, preferably – but instead came across an attractive cerulean blue Pinarello Asolo and a very minimal Vicini Cesena selling a week apart on eBay. I placed speculative bids on both but won on neither. That I’d even bothered was a reflection on the internal dialogue playing out within me, my romantic attachment for the Carlos on the one side up against a need for something nippier and more functional on the other (although I was still thinking very resolutely along the lines of steel). Maybe I distracted myself with the pursuit of jerseys to avoid this uncomfortable truth, for I'm not sure I had the stomach for indulging in yet more bicycle based trade.
The Vicini Cesena is the key here, for I took the loss of the Pinarello Asolo on the chin, despite its obvious beauty and apparently appropriate dimensions. My research led me to believe that the seller did not fully appreciate the rarity of the Vicini. I had no definitive idea either, but estimated it to be worth at least £450. I could only afford to offer £350.
I set my maximum bid for the Vicini accordingly, but was outbid to the tune of 30 pounds. I may have bid higher had my attempts to contact the seller for detailed measurements not been rebuffed by some paranoid application on eBay (either erroneously or because the seller so decreed). I’d momentarily considered doing so regardless, entitled as I was to retract my offer on the day of exchange on the grounds that the provided measurements were insufficient and vague – horribly so: blurred pictures of a tape-measure being held out in front of the top and seat tubes – but I couldn't bear to suffer the hassle, nor the conceivable disappointment.
            On investigating the activity of the winning bidder it was discovered that they sold as much as they bought, which led me to believe that the bike had not necessarily been secured with the intent of riding it. This supposition proved to be true, for not three weeks later the bike re-appeared on Gumtree – exhibiting minor, but mostly unnecessary, alterations – with an asking price of £599. I liked that the black seat-post had been replaced with a chrome variation, but was very sad that the new seller had stripped the frame of its decals. It was a silvery-grey bike that suited being pared down, but the blue text on the down-tube had not been out of keeping with this. I was also puzzled as to why one set of deep-rimmed wheels had been replaced with another of an almost exact monstrosity.




The Vicini before


 The Vicini after



Anyway, the new seller was receptive to my questions, and although the measurements provided did appear to confirm my suspicion that this bike was a little too big, they were close enough to convince that it was worth making the trip to Highgate to be sure. It occurred to me that it would do no harm, whilst up that way, to drop in at the Vintage Bike Cave and look at another bike that had struck a chord somewhere along the line. (I can’t recall when but it was probably about a month after I bought the Carlos, and I had judged it then to be too small and prohibitively expensive. To have seen it still for sale some months later obliged me to consider the subject of fate once more, now that the Carlos had established itself as being larger than I at one time thought – this lack of spatial perspective on my part still baffles me.)
The journey to Highgate took approximately one hour. On my arrival I was required to turn a right up Archway Road in the direction of East Finchley, as opposed to left towards Archway and the Vintage Bike Cave. Highgate had appeared to be an agreeable area when walking in a south-easterly direction, but this reverse north-west uphill swing presented a different perspective. When I reached the area the seller’s postcode encompassed I gave him a call and was furnished with the number of the house in which he resided.
The seller was a pleasant gentleman of central European origin, and it materialised that he had actually thought about using the bike for himself, but quite enjoyed buying bikes, mutilating them, and selling them on again if they didn't quite measure up. At six feet in height, I speculated that the Vicini Cesena was a little too small for him and that this was why he was selling it, although the 60 cm seat-tube implied otherwise.
The bike, when he revealed it to me, did not look as large as I had anticipated. Further – and this was the reason for me being tempted into seeing it in the first instance – the Pleasant Gentleman of Central European Origin had fitted a relatively short quill stem to the bike, compensating for the fact that it had roughly the same top-tube length as the Carlos, which might mean that the reach issues I’d been having would not resurface here. That was not all, for the Vicini Cesena was equipped with integrated brake and gear shifters – “brifters” as they’re otherwise known.
I took the bike for a spin across the road in the Plumb Centre’s car park – a bleak stretch of concrete that offered small room for manoeuvre. The bike rode well, and I felt very comfortable on it. However, the reduction in stem length meant that the front wheel felt too far in front of me, and the front hub – which they say should almost be in line with the handlebars when the rider looks down towards them – was clearly visible a few inches beyond. This might not make any perceivable difference to the ride, but the Vicini had a wheelbase of 1 metre (the same as Carlos), a top-tube length of 57.5 cm (also the same as Carlos) and a seat-tube measurement of 60 cm (2 cm longer than Carlos). What’s more, the Pleasant Gentleman of Central European Origin had shifted the seat forward  in an attempt to reduce the reach still further, so what felt nice to ride now might induce consequences later. And there was a little more corrosion than had been apparent from the photographs on Gumtree, and, despite some quality looking Campagnolo componentry, those horrific Athena 96 deep-rimmed wheels. I knew it wasn't worth the £599 he was asking for, but I expect so did he. I supposed he would have accepted anything over £500 for it. I’d made it clear I wasn't there to make a purchase right now but parted company offering the hint that I might in the future.
Bikes never seem to look quite as good “in the metal” as they do on one’s 14ʺ laptop screen, and the Romani Prestige Special Competition was no exception. Darker in hue, and needing some attention, the £475 asking price was perhaps a mite ambitious. It was explained to me, by The Man Who Worked On Lathes, that restoration had not yet begun – it wasn't even fit for a test-ride (their phones and internet connection had been down all week, so I had no way to forewarn them of my intended visit). But simply sitting astride the Romani gave me a good feeling for it, and it was a very good-looking bike, despite its present shabbiness.
I exited the Vintage Bike Cave with something of a dilemma on my hands, both bikes having felt immediately more comfortable to ride than the Carlos. By the time I’d reached the platform at Highgate tube station it was pretty much resolved.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

AN APPROPRIATE BICYCLE - Pt. 15: MORE THOUGHTS ABOUT JERSEYS






My father once asked me – almost apropos of nothing – whether I held truck with the concept of fate. I dismissed the notion – must have done, because although I don’t specifically recall what I offered in reply, I do remember my old man telling me that ‘greater minds’ than mine had deemed the idea worthy of their consideration, as well as being a little put out that he was satisfied that there were indeed greater minds than mine. I knew there to be greater minds than mine, or course – far, far greater – but how could my sire be so sure? It was reasonable for him to surmise that there probably were minds far greater than mine, but I think I resented that he should so obviously think it a full gone conclusion. It wasn't so much that my mind in anyway bordered on greatness (I was in my late teens – how could it?) but the absoluteness of having that statement directed towards me – ‘greater minds than yours’ – seemed, at the very least, to ruthlessly depose the idea that in the future my mind may very well develop into one of the greatest minds of them all. But no, in one foul phrase the limits of my genius had been set. It may well turn out that I was a particularly clever chap, but I’d never possess the faculty to legitimately rationalize the possibility that fate plays a part in everybody’s lives. To make the matter worse, I’d admitted as much myself.
            It’s probable that I had no opinion on the subject whatsoever. Moreover, I overcame the certitude that my father didn't think I’d cut it as one of the key thinkers of my generation in approximately 3 seconds: I didn't consider my mind to be in any way “great” so why should he? I was just a sullen teenager who thought their father couldn't possibly know one way or another how exceptional their son’s mind was or wasn't (I’ll stand by that assertion) and that he was merely being a little premature with statements like ‘greater minds than yours’ (but not that one).
But later, when I had the space to mull it over, I did have a go at pontificating on the subject of fate, if only to allow for the possibility that my mind could very well be great after all. I came to the conclusion that the question was moot, for if one supposed that either possibility could be true then the outcome was the same in either case: we had either reached the current way of things because it was predestined, or we had reached the current way of things because they weren't. Ergo, if fate had a hand in our affairs then it also had hand in free will, the ability to challenge and question fate, and to seal fate’s own fate: free will was predetermined and at the same time fate was vulnerable to the vagaries of free will.

I talk of fate because of the various dilemmas I've been faced with whilst gazing at cycling jerseys on eBay. I possess two jerseys, you may recall, but I've peered into the future and concluded that this number will not suffice. I like the idea that three might be about right because then I’d introduce the concept of a ‘trinity of jerseys’ and hope the phrase caught on. I’d like that cyclists might talk of their own personal trinities, or that older riders would reminisce and decide which three jerseys were their favourites – what would constitute their ‘Holy Trinity’, if you like. It would become common parlance among the cycling community, and journalists in the field would ask professional cyclists to name their Holy Trinity, normally at the end of the interview because they wouldn't be sure whether the interviewee would take to the idea or not. At first Bradley Wiggins would assume the interviewer to be making reference toward his fondness for Mod inspired clobber, but, once assured that the concept was genuine, would quite get into it. Mark Cavendish would take to it at once. David Millar would ponder the question as if he’d been asked something rather lofty. Chris Froome would stare in bemusement and wonder what the point was of asking such a thing.
Having decided that two jerseys was definitely NOT enough, and that three might help me make myths, I set about appropriating my third – my Holy Spirit. Given that my existing jerseys differ significantly, I began to ponder what form a third should take and in doing so came to the conclusion that I would need to select from among the following taxonomies:


1 – The Woollen Jersey: There’s something very appealing about an old woollen jersey. Search out pictures of the annual L’Eroica, in which bikes and attire are required to be of a certain age, and one will get a feel for what I'm talking about it: the designs tend to be cleaner, less ostentatious, and more functional, yet oddly colourful.
One’s woollen jersey – should you choose to acquire one – will preferably be a genuine race edition. The less imaginative among us will ape legends Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx, and buy replica Bic and Molteni jerseys in respective homage. Others might fare a little better and wear Faema, Peugeot or Mercier across their chests. The innovators will be those who find examples of the real thing, down weekend markets or in high-street charity shops – or on eBay. Typically, these jerseys will comprise of three or maybe four colours, often broken up into horizontal or vertical stripes. Any sort of graphic is rare and if present will be presented in the same manner as the flock lettering – the detail is rarely printed or sewn on. More obscure team sponsors include Gan, Gelati-Sanson, Miko, and many more unknown.
Whichever way you approach it, one could argue that every cycling enthusiast should have a woollen jersey within their repertoire.


[A typical gathering of jerseys at L'Eroica ]
  

2 – Contemporary Team Kit (with caveats): There are plenty of pleasing jerseys in the modern peloton – just be mindful of the fact that you’re not stuck in there racing with them. If you must wear modern team kit then take care to whom you pledge allegiance. For obvious reasons, replica Team Sky kit is to be avoided. Omega Pharma-Quick Step would have been considered permissible last year but Mark Cavendish has recently joined them and one should proceed with caution. Weirdly, Garmin Sharp kit is probably okay, even with David Millar still propping up their ranks (or maybe because David Millar is still propping up their ranks). The idea here is to avoid being seen as a “fan” of some of exclusively British elements of modern cycling – this isn't football. 
National colours and national champion jerseys are best avoided too, unless you go for something unusual, like the impressive Lithuanian effort for 2013.

3 – 1980s Team Kit: If you want team kit that isn't classic, woollen and pre-mass market, then it is to this supposedly low point in collective taste that one must turn. In fact, the 1980s wasn't the aesthetic disaster that frivolous, retrospective, televisual pseudo documentaries would have you believe, and the cycling jerseys of the period are a case in point: Super U Raleigh, Café de Colombia, PDM-Concorde, La Vie Claire, Renault-Elf – the list is extensive and it’s probably only a matter of time before I succumb to this era’s charm.

4 – The Faux-Classic Racing Jersey: There will be those who will balk at the thought of wearing wool, and they are beyond hope. But there are some people who think that the wearing of (replica) team kit should be set aside for members of a team, and I have a degree of sympathy with this position. The team jersey pastiche allows such folk to look good without having to compromise this conviction. Solo’s Classique range is a firm example of this kind of jersey, and Morvelo have made positive a contribution too. Rapha and Le Coq Sportif have produced worthy efforts, but the best shirts probably come from De Marchi. The only downside to this model is that you normally pay big bucks for the privilege.

5 – Club Colours: I'm not a big fan but there are certainly some decent club jerseys out there, even if they are in the distinct minority. I assume my Descente jersey to be a club jersey of sorts – or a work’s team at the very least – and I'm very fond of my understated Descente jersey. I think that’s probably the key to a successful shirt of this ilk: less is more. Also, wearing a club jersey when you’re not even a member of the club in question has a whiff of subversion about it – and that’s a good thing.


I embraced the possibility of buying a 1980s team jersey and an authentic woollen one in about equal measure – it would come down to whichever opportunity arose first. Initially it seemed like the 1980s was going to win. I outbid someone bidding for a rare Vermarc Sport Tonissteiner Euro Tour Team jersey and it was mine for the princely sum of £4.50. Unfortunately, it turned out to be chronically small, and I would have had a row over the measurements the seller listed if he hadn't instantly offered a full refund, the cost of his postage included (it still cost me a couple of quid to send it back, but these are the fortunes of eBay).
            Next, I turned to Prendas Ciclismo and their excellent range of replica team kit inspired by season’s past. It was only the price of such shirts that had prohibited me from buying from them sooner, but now they were selling a PDM-Concorde jersey at a reduced price. Again, the thing turned out too small, and the next size up was sold out. They gave me a full refund and provided a first rate service throughout.
It was a case of third time lucky, and it was a woollen vestment that turned up trumps. White and almost fluorescent green with black trim, it’s an old Caisse D’Epargne team jersey, Caisse D’Epargne being a French bank that endorses a pro-cycling team to this very day. I like how the wool feels: warmer, more relaxed than the modern fabric that my other jerseys are made from.
And no sooner had I received the thing and I saw a Carlos-Galli jersey selling on eBay, and low on takers. This is what I mean by alluding to the notion of fate: eBay never stands still and one search invariably leads to another: a jersey is found, a bid is placed, and then a rival bidder might intervene, which in turn may oblige one to look elsewhere. What search will you have typed in that day? Has the seller of your dream jersey grasped the concept of search engine optimisation and listed their product in a way that will help you find it? Do you even have the time to conduct a thorough search before somebody sneaks in and buys that 7-Eleven team jersey you've set your heart on – or are you even so inclined to look in the first instance? And so it goes, and it’s impossible to tell where this will lead, and in what direction. A small alteration of the past can change the way a man thinks about things, with various consequences.
Take it further: if it hadn't been raining on Sunday 29th July I probably wouldn't have found myself indoors, glued to the 2012 Olympic women’s road race. If I hadn't been so entranced by that then I wouldn't have picked that moment in time to look for road-bicycles Gumtree. If I hadn't spotted some guy living not two miles from me selling a Raleigh Record Ace, or if I’d left it an hour later and his other potential customer had bought the thing (and as it was I hesitated for about 45 minutes before making the call), then my enthusiasm for road-cycling might have waned and who knows when, or if, I would have committed to buying a road-bike. But I did buy it, which resulted in me selling it and having to wait for the transaction to be completed before finding a replacement. Had that gone through quicker, then I could have ended up with a Peugeot instead of a Carlos, and if I hadn't been acquainted with Carlos then Carlos-Weltschmerz would not have come into being and I might be riding for Peugeot-Saudade (©) instead. And what sort of jersey would I have searched for on eBay then?

I looked into numerology and the significance that the number 4 might hold. Turns out that 4 is the number of fate, and to associate with it is to understand that some things are beyond one’s control. ‘Four’ is also supposed to symbolise the principle of putting ideas into form, and of expressing knowledge – or wisdom.





[POST-SCRIPT: I actually ended up bidding on a second-hand, but very new looking, replica La Vie Claire jersey on eBay too, and was convinced that I would win, my maximum bid far out-reaching what was on the table with just minutes of the auction left to run. I set my limit at something like £30 (the cost of shipping seemed excessive to me, at £3.99, otherwise I may have gone even higher). The jersey went for £32. Prendas Ciclismo sell them new for £49.95 – it made little sense. Sometimes it’s only when you come close to getting something, but don’t, that you realise just how much you wanted it. If I was full-time employed I’d probably just go straight to Prendas.
            And it should go without saying that I feel obliged to bid for the Carlos-Galli top, although to not do so would be perversely un-fatalistic. And so I have – I submitted a maximum bid of £17.02, rounding up to £20 when the postage is taken into account. So if I win that, and I do manage to get my hands on a ‘La Vie Claire’, then I’ll be left with five jerseys, and that’s not going to help me in establishing my trinity theory of jersey ownership. God forbid I should ever find a 7-Eleven shirt going for a reasonable rate. I think the situation is getting a little out of hand.]