I’m at home. On the couch. The kids are in bed. The wife is watching TV. I’m combing through eBay’s endless stupidity for things I don’t need and probably won’t buy. I find something amazing, an old, Italian, pantographed stem. I turn the lap top, present it to the wife like a cat bringing a dead mouse to its owner. She snickers and shakes her head. “What is wrong with you?” she laughs.
This happens more than I’d like to admit.
The other day I was reading about the French classical pianist Hélène Grimaud. Among today’s classical musicians, Grimaud is known as one “who does not fetishize refinement.” The phrase stuck with me.
How often do we do this on Planet Bicycle? I spend half my life devoted to gazing longingly at pictures of finely honed machinery and/or debating the merits of a thing that varies by millimeters from another thing. If you’ve ever uttered the phrase, even quietly to yourself, “Oooh, annodized!” you’re guilty, too. If you’ve ever justified your component preferences with the phrase, “…but, it’s Italian!” you’re guilty, too.
Oh, face it. You read RKP. You’re guilty.
This level of fawning gawpery requires a cognitive leap I don’t all the way understand even though I do it every day. Rather than appreciating a thing for what it can and will do out on the road or trail, I somehow divorce the thing from its use, shine it up bright and then place it high on a pedestal.
When we imbue inanimate objects with mystical qualities, a Mavic derailleur, Campy Delta Brakes, an old steel Merckx, is it because those things are particularly good at their jobs, or because we need something to pour our excess passion into? Is it because we can’t always be pedaling? Do we just need a totem, something to carry the meaning of cycling for us?
This is fetishizing refinement.
Andy Goldsworthy makes sculptures out of things he finds out in the world. Leaves, branches, stone, water. The books that document his various projects are among my prized possessions. There are also documentaries that feature his work and include commentary by the man himself, describing his motivations and approach. They are awful. They ruin it for me. The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club.
Once a thing becomes too precious, in my mind, the soul runs right out of it, like a pretty piano piece executed with machine-like precision, a pile of stone, precariously balanced against a steady wind, or an intricately carved lug that won’t hold a tube. At some point, cycling stops being cycling. It becomes so self-reflective, so fetishized, it’s inert.
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