Friday Group Ride #208

Friday Group Ride #208

I am no one and nothing. This is as much a statistical expression of my importance as it is an exercise in humility. One of roughly four billion of my species, alive for a picosecond of geologic time, my individual identity, diluted still further by a pseudonym and the ephemeral nature of this pixelated medium, is vague and fleeting to the point of comedy. The ‘I’ I refer to may not really exist, may just be a whorl of dust in infinity, is at the very most a product, a projection, of all those other whorls around me, all of us sheltering under an angry sky, capering across our lives in flight from predators both real and imagined.

I sometimes get all caught up in what people think of me, as if that matters, as if I know what they really think, and if I knew, as if I could change myself. I am, in no small measure, what I’ve been made by everyone else. Put me in a line of cyclists, and I will pedal. Put me in the grocery store, and I will shop.

Identity is a funny thing, how we perceive ourselves, how we define our “true selves.” I have mostly ceased to believe in such a thing. And while that may seem sad, the idea that there is no true me, nothing unique or special or abiding about my existence, it is also enormously freeing. It gives me less to maintain, less ego to coddle and stroke.

In looking at myself, I can break down almost completely what I am trying to express by putting on these shoes, this shirt, getting my hair cut just this way. It’s fun to paint that picture. It’s what we do, as humans. In fact, it may even be a reaction to our insignificance that we set so much store by our individual identities, tilting at the windmill of our comical sameness.

We love constructing identities so much that we even anthropomorphize objects. We name our cars, our bikes. We ascribe them genders and describe their personalities.

And while I’m not one to name my bikes, if I squint, I can just about see who they are. My road bike is a Frenchman, more of a swashbuckler than I am, a little more buttoned up, a little more confident. My mountain bike is a harried surgeon, very particular about his lines, very deliberate in all his decisions. I wish sometimes he’d let loose, but it’s not in his nature. I have another road bike who is clearly a college student with tastes which surpass his means. He’s that guy who will never properly grow up, but will wrinkle pre-maturely, maybe even color his hair and then pretend he hasn’t. He’s vain, with no real cause to be.

It is ridiculous to talk about bikes this way, but for me, it seems no more ridiculous than to talk about myself this way, and it’s more fun, less freighted, less (un)important.

This week’s Group Ride asks not who you are, but who is your bike? How did he/she/it get that way? Do bike identities change? How? Who do you wish your bike really was? I suspect my bike is better than me. Is yours better than you?

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  1. MCH

    My bikes have multiple personalities.
    To put it in the context of a famous chef who described his food as ultimately just really expensive shit, my bikes are really expensive, non-biodegradable landfill.
    My bikes are mushrooms, kept in the dark, unloved, and covered in shit (really just dust). I need to do something about that.
    My bikes, to quote a favorite film, are the stuff dreams are made of. Even though I may not be able to ride, they still represent the freedom and escape that my first bike did 45 years ago.

  2. TominAlbany

    My ’98 Serotta has certainly changed. When new, it (no gender) was a statement. I carry a cyclist. One that has disposable income and good taste and understands the latest bike tech. Now, in 2014, my bike says the following: I’m classic. I’ll never wear out. I may get a nip there and a tuck there, but you will always see my unpainted titanium.

    My mountain bike has said the same thing since 2002. “Who is this guy? And why is he bashing me around the woods? Can’t you find someone who knows WTF they’re doing on my saddle?”

  3. PedalRon

    This is a great piece, and an interesting one.

    My bike(s) are a post-collegiate athletics life preserver. I had played sports for most of my life, including one in college. I had a tough college career, played for a terrible coach who was also dishonest. When I graduated I walked away from that sport and also left behind my outwardly competitive nature.

    I was adrift until I start bicycle commuting to work. Then I picked up some used shorts with a chamois at the thrift store, no joke!

    Now I ride daily and own a bunch o’ bikes. They have given me back that pure joy of just playing, like I did at a kid. I ride for fun, for exercise, to get outside, and sometimes in races or fast group training rides.

    But, my bikes have been a post-college athletics life saver. I don’t know where I’d be, what I’d be doing, or how sane I’d be without them.

    On another note, I was at a meeting at the local university on Wednesday. It was an interdisciplinary brain storming session. The university is essentially the story of modern branding, from using their sports teams to promote their name, to using their name to build campuses around the world. I was blown away by the self-salesmanship of all these people in the room. It was as if I was surrounded by con artist, people who’d given up freedom and just being a human on the planet for…”success”?

    Anyway, your words on identity really reminded me of how I felt. I don’t think any of those people could have gotten beyond thinking of themselves as: professor, graduate student, dean…successful, talented, smart.

    I work to support my wife and my bike habit, but that’s it. I’d be just as happy to work in the garden, build things with my hands, and walk my dogs. I feel very, very distant from people absolutely driven to work 100 hour weeks to get ahead.

  4. Jan

    My bike is a labrador retriever of bikes: it wants to be out playing, and is way better at biking than I’ll ever be, but infinitely patient so long as it gets to go out and play.

  5. armybikerider

    My Lynskey ti as a blue collar factory worker. Clad in grey metal and working man SRAM Rival components, it is nondescript, doesn’t like to call attention to itself but hardworking and does whatever is asked of it without complaint. It’s also comfortable to be around, unpretentious, always there when you need him – like a good friend, but never in your face or letting you down.

    It’s been this way since I got it 4+ years ago and the 24,000+ miles has only solidified this image and is exactly what I want it to be.

    Is it better than me? I don’t think so. I think it compliments me, enhances me but isn’t “better” than me.

    My bike reminds me of pictures of dogs with their owners in which the dog’s image is a reflection of the owner. My bike is certainly a reflection (or a projection)of my personality.

  6. becomingblue

    It’s seems like you described yourself from afar, maybe another galaxy. If your family and friends were to describe you, possibly they would have a slightly different take on your stature and significance.

    My bikes are more and more just becoming tools to me. I’m passionate about riding, but not about about the bikes so much any more. It’s been building for awhile. I think it started with the current Shimano style crank, it’s merely industrial looking to me. Very capable but likely not much different looking from a gear in the transmission of my car. The high profile black carbon rims, the bulky carbon frames, etc. They all work well but again, it’s more and more just metal, and carbon, stuff. Looks like this bit broke, just toss it and put a new one on. But I still love to ride, thank goodness. I think my oldness is showing.

  7. Mike Hancock

    My bikes are carbon and aluminum. While I once gazed at them with lustful eyes, imagining great powers hidden under glossy paint, at the end of the day I see them much as becomingblue does- a tool. Like any tool, some are more suitable than others for a particular job. I like collecting tools (bikes), and I’ve sold a couple that I missed later for a specific attribute, but at the end of the day none of them are irreplaceable.

    The constant in the equation is me, not the bike. My matter might mean less than the sum of the matter in one of my bikes to the cosmos, but it means somewhat more to me. If I can combine the two bunches of matter together to make my time on earth a little better, I win. Does it matter? It does to me.

  8. Patrick O'Brien

    They are Blue, Goldy, Silver, Jade, Kelly, and Rooty. Color is the key. My riding buddy and wife and I always name them now by their color. Except for one. That is Rocky the Niner. So, Allan, I think you are creative. You just don’t have enough bikes.

  9. Patrick O'Brien

    PS: The bikes are just machines. I, however, am still trying to be one with the universe. The bikes help you hold and develop your three treasures: simplicity, patience, and compassion. They are a simple machine; all their parts are visible. You can’t be in a hurry on a bike so you learn patience. You always stop to offer help to the cyclist stopped on the side of the road. That is practicing compassion.

  10. Chris

    My bikes are varied in personality… My mtn bike, although I love it and enjoy its company, has wounded my repeatedly, including broken bones.. It’s name is Albatross…, my newer roadie, is deceptively cool. It is plain white with few mfg logos. However it is as good a carbon fiber bike as you can get. It is faster than I deserve, as I’m well past 40, and nobody is going to pay me anything for my version of fast. But it is a joy to ride.. It makes me smile every time I’m out with it. It’s name is El Jinete Palido…, my old roadie, which I loved for years, and is now relegated to a position of nostalgic artwork, was & is…, well rough. It was born in the days when the stiffest aluminum was sexy… There is no denying it was and is capable of great acceleration and endorphin producing speed.. It got its name before the Pale Rider came home to replace it as a younger, sleeker, sexier mistress.. It’s name is Red Ass..
    I’m not sure they reflect my personality as much as they do my dating habits.. The upside is, they always want a ride! Haha, sorry, made myself laugh!

  11. Ransom

    My bikes, mountain and CX, are frustrated geniuses. Genuinely capable greats who never got a break and are now teaching community college in their disciplines. Both were a genuine pro rider’s “B” bikes, training machines.

    Now they gather dust too often, not putting in enough miles. Now they try to keep straight faces while walking a Cat 5 software developer through the basics. “Keep pedalling!”

    They never got the limelight they could have well handled. If they could talk, I’m not sure they’d have the stories the *could* have lived. If they could drink, though, I’m sure they would.

  12. ScottyCycles62

    EvaWeiss – she loves the steepest grades to climb and carve out the fast descent afterwards. She thinks she is Vos and Merckx.

  13. Margaret

    No names but the TT bike is the task master and the road bike is that smart capable reliable friend who’s always up for an adventure.

  14. kurti_sc

    long-legged, sleek, sexy and a fantastic, tight rear; wearing just enough to keep the imagination going (a white saddle and white cables). yep, that’s a nice steel mtb (a custom Kelly) I rebuilt last fall and probably the only ride of mine that I would try to personify. And true to form, it’s the only bike that leaves me pondering, I know what I was feeling, but man, what was I thinking? I overcompensated for some quick steering with a longer fork. Not bad, but not the best idea, either.
    uh, my wife just walked by and browsed my entry. She’s scratching her head and thinks i’m nuts…
    Well, fortunately, she’s got more of my heart than any steel, alu or carbon fiber blingy bling thing could ever have.

  15. me again

    My Colnago is fairly new with a set of carbon wheels and a much older set of carbon Ti Campy Record gruppo hanging on it. Honestly it’s a lot like it’s owner. From a short distance it looks pretty decent until you get up close and see the scratches in the finish. The carbon wheels give it a touch of flash it really doesn’t deserve and the older gruppo was the best in its day but better things have come along. It works perfectly as long as it’s kept tuned, but sometimes it gets neglected and is forced to endure rides when it should be getting proper care. Other times it gets the care when it should be out in the elements

  16. Frank

    Until my current full custom Spectrum, my bikes were indeed individuals, ornery, stubborn and cantankerous trying to fit themselves to my awkward body. The Spectrum, on the other hand, has no identity aside from my own. It is an extension of my arms, butt and legs. It moves with me and me with it. It turns my awkward body into a cycling machine. Together, we are one.

  17. Hoshie99

    After I sold my RB-1 and lost a beloved team bike to an unfortunate accident, I view my bikes now on the utility they provide. As much as I like some of them, and certainly have a favorite, they are all replaceable.

    I’ll leave the anthropomorphism to my dog. That guy I could write a dissertation about.

  18. brucew

    You shouldn’t anthropomorphize bikes. They don’t like it when you do that.

    Of course, I don’t believe that for an instant. At least not since a few years back. I’d had a particular string of poor service—both mechanical and customer—at my LBS. One night I asked my bike, “Whadaya think? Should we stop going there?” The next morning, the dealer’s decal was on the floor under the bike. I haven’t gone back.

    That bike—my four-seasons, all-conditions commuter—is the strong, silent type. It exudes a quiet confidence in its capabilities. It knows it’s the roughest, toughest bike in the house, and it doesn’t have make a big stink about it. Sort of like the Marines, only without all the ooh rah.

    I named my Ti roadie Jeeves because it too goes about its business with understated efficiency. When the other bikes on a club ride are shaking, clanking, and ejecting bidons on our prehistoric roads, Jeeves merely reports, “Pardon me sir, there’s a bump”. Ever every ride, whether a trip to the bank, or a century with five figures of climbing, it asks, “Will that be all, sir?”

    I had a steel crit bike that was way too chatty for me. It was like a five-year-old in toy store. Always running off at the mouth about what it wanted. Worse, it always wanted a head pat whenever it did something. “We went over a bump. Didn’t I do good?” “Look, we’re at the top of the hill. Didn’t I climb nice?” I eventually tired of all the conversation. Hello, Craigslist!

    My first roadie was an entry-level bike from a major brand. It was frisky as a puppy. All it wanted to do was run and play. Which was fun for a while, especially when I was a new road cyclist. But I never could break it of its bad habits, like drafting everything. Including police cars. “Thanks for the pull, officer!”

    My most recent acquisition replaced the frisky puppy bike. We’re still getting to know each other. It’s an audax/brevet bike with low-trail handling. Very Belgian. Likes the cobbles on the way to work. Wants frites all the time.

  19. Aaron

    I’ve got two bikes – the daily commuter workhorse and the vintage old millennium steel industrial strength steed. I haven’t named them…yet. Perhaps I need to put in some more miles on them before their names are apparent.

    My ACB RS special is a rare one of kind breed. Totally made for me with my proclivities in mind, and while I’m tempted to name her Mary Shelley (as in the Frankenstein author), I cannot because she’s a thing of beauty; nothing like the monster. As other riders saddle up along side various ways about, I often get stares and astonishment as they haven’t ever seen one like her. But she’s no prima donna either. Yesterday as I was climbing to the top of Radio Tower Road, I admire in her simplicity and swiftness, and all the way down to the ocean at swift speeds, she’s steady with nary a twitch to cause a loss of confidence.

    My Nishiki International (circa 1976) is straight up Japanese Steel ready for an industrial strength tour to Patagonia. I use her when I need to lock up my ride out-of-doors. I got her from a friend who was the original owner in trade for four bottles of snazzy wine (and if you ask me, I came out the winner in that trade). She’s the round-the-town bomb proof pothole eater. Original wheels and everything else but the pedals, brakes, bars and seat, she’s a testament to how long a great bike can last. One day, when I get some wherewithal, I’m going to change out all the components and suit her up for cyclocross. I’ve taken her off road a number of times with some CX treads on, and man, is she fun. Kitted out perfectly with the right set up would make her magic.

  20. Derek

    My bike is better than your bike. It has carried me through thick and thin. It can go anywhere, If we are not there riding with you it is my failure not the bikes.

  21. Rod

    My wife has taken care of this task for me.

    The road bike is the b!tch. The TT bike is the Fast B!tch. The CX bike is the Dirty B!tch.

    The Fat Bike gets a bit of a reprieve since I use it to take my daughter to daycare. It even has a windshield on the child’s seat to make the bitter winter wind manageable for her. It is called “Gordita”.

  22. jorgensen

    The bikes do not get names. I am aware of the intent of the often eponymous builder or how I react to his intent. You observe that you get to know Faliero, Ernesto, Mario, Dave Tesch or those who built for some of them, Dave Moulton, Joe Starck by the result of their work. The differences are minor as a whole but significant. Different enough to keep them even if they do a similar job.

  23. Full Monte

    They are many, and all are Furies, for they punish from beneath me, cause me fits of self-cursing, hound me mercilessly, calling me name, chiding me. I relent and battle them furiously on a never ending odyssey to conquer my failings, weaknesses, fears.

  24. Greg

    My bike is an office worker with a yearning for the outdoors. He patiently and obediently does work on the indoor trainer in these winter months and puts in mile after mile on asphalt during the work week, all the while yearning for the weekend rides where he can bound with blissful joy through the scenic woods on dirt and gravel trails.

  25. Charles

    My road bike is the steel steed. When I got bought it new, it wasn’t top of the line, but good enough for ride mates to say “nice bike”. Then it was a tool. Now it’s the old man of the group, and has personality. It likes nothing better than laying the hammer down and watching the fancy carbon youngsters shoot out the back. This may also reflect the attitude of the owner.

    My mountain bike is Demon. I bought for a 24 hour race. At the end of this race, I was coasting down a gentle PAVED hill, gloating to myself about how well I’d done. And it ejected me for not keeping my mind on the ride. After getting clearance from the doc who reassembled my jaw, I went for a ride. And a chipmunk ran across the trail. Demon made short work of him. An ordained friend of mine has attempted to cast the demon out with holy water, but Demon still hasn’t seen a hill it doesn’t want to climb, a descent it doesn’t want to bomb, or anything it doesn’t want to attack. When I hadn’t ridden in too long, it jumped off the bike rack and attacked my wife’s car!

  26. Les.Bo.

    I get compliments on my road bike just about every ride, one cyclist even offering, “gorgeous”. Nothing really flashy about it, just the fine artistic touch of Italian styling, on this Italian Idol.

    My daughter always refers to it as my “girl friend”.

    “Gorgeous” “Girl Friend”

    Anything else I could say about it could only contaminate that image.

  27. revracer

    My bikes have different identities depending on context, perhaps chameleons of sorts. To my wife, they are the white, red, blue, yellow and black bikes. To my son they are the Synapse, Moser, Fixie, Voyageur and Cross. Lately the weather has dictated trainer, dust gatherer, icy dry days, sloppy wet days and snow days.

    To me they are a vehicle to another place and time, sometimes dictated by their origins and other times their vintage. Each characteristic and component is grounds for pondering the mechanical, aesthetic and transcendent effectiveness for hours in the saddle.

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