The Couch

The Couch

No one needs a couch, a big wooden framed contraption with padding strapped to it. A couch takes up the better part of whatever room it lives in. We invariably choose a horrible color and/or pattern for our couches, so that we’re stuck with a giant eye sore for a decade and sometimes more. If you have a dog or cat, your couch is covered in dander. If you have kids, it’s likely stained and mildly smelly. At parties, people spill wine and beer on it.

The couch can also be dangerous. Whole epidemics of obesity have been aided and abetted by settees and chaises longues, daybeds and run of the mill sofas. In the dark, a couch becomes a great, lumbering ogre, ready to pull you down, clutching your big toe, waking the rest of the house with muffled profanity. A love seat is not big enough to make love on. Not well anyway.

But here’s the thing. If you want to relax after a day of trying to get paid, there is little better than a couch to facilitate the exercise. Sometimes I even daydream about it, feet up, some glowing rectangle occupying what’s left of my frazzled mind, a cold drink sweating on the table beside me. The couch, for all its shortcomings, can be an oasis in the vast desert of multitasking productivity.

The couch itself is awful. The experience the couch makes possible is something close to transcendent. Things are like this. They have volume and mass. Very few of them have nice shapes. They fill our lives, and most of us, at least the most of us who are cyclists, concede that we have too much stuff, that we need to purge, to divest, to unclutter, to free ourselves of the tyranny of stuff.

I try to remember this when I’m thinking about a new bike. I don’t need a new bike. Bikes are, if we are honest, ugly. Two triangles of odd shape and size, the front one more of an awkward trapezoid really, wed to a pair of circles. Most bikes won’t stand on their own. They have to be propped up or hung somewhere. Handlebars and brake levers cant off the front like a questionable growth. The saddle juts up into the air, not even comfortable or stable enough to provide another place to sit when the couch is fully occupied.

I don’t need a bike. I don’t even want a bike, except that the bike makes riding possible, and I need riding. I need it more than I need that soft, quiet place to chill at the end of the day. When I say a bike is beautiful (and I say it often), I have passed those triangles and circles through a complex aesthetic matrix constructed wholly of experiences, of transportative and transformative rides. An appreciation for the art of the bicycle is really just a fetishization of rolling down the road/trail/path at something approaching escape velocity. The bike is a couch with a different purpose.

When the ride stops being a ride, it reverts to its inert form, the bicycle, like a couch, very nearly a waste of space.

Image: Bike Bench (2005) by Sebastian Errazurizh

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  1. Michael

    Isn’t that what we mean when we admire someone’s bike? We are admiring the feelings it can give us, sensing these internally simply by looking at the bike. I was at a new friend’s house and he was showing me his bike, a middle-of-the-road carbon thing, but it had loose tape at the curve of the bar, and dirt and grease on the lower portions of the frame, and I could just feel how it would feel to be riding it. I admired it, not for what it is, but for what it represents – sights, smells, freedom on a Sunday morning. I read that British tourists used to close the shades on their train cars as they passed the Alps, wanting to shut out the horror of the sight. Perhaps it is from the same root – they did not appreciate the mountains for the joy they could bring and only felt the fear of the unknown. Perhaps that is what some non-riders feel for the bicycle, I suppose.

  2. hiddenwheel

    I appreciate the editorial decision to post this on the same day as the photo gallery of the Bishop frameset. Well played.

  3. Tom in Albany

    So, I’ve always liked my couch. As you describe, it is a refuge, much like the bicycle – only of a different sort. Now, getting your wife to like the same couch you’ve had for 10 years and really like? Not gonna happen…

  4. jakula

    I have to admit, I was kinda hoping this was a review for the “couch” shown in the title picture. Oh well, this was very poignant piece. Thank you for sharing

  5. armybikerider

    ……”An appreciation for the art of the bicycle is really just a fetishization of rolling down the road/trail/path at something approaching escape velocity. ”

    I would have to disagree. I find the bicycle form to be inherently beautiful. I dig the angles and lines, the symmetry of the wheels, the joinery of the frame pieces, the raw industrial mechanical look of the naked drive train. I find this especially true of unpainted metal framed bicycles like my Lynskey. I can sit and look at it for chunks of time large enough that my wife will somtimes question just what it is that I’m doing. The bicycle itself I think, for me anyway, plays to some sort of right brained creative urge that goes beyond the function of the form.

  6. Dan Murphy

    “Bikes are, if we are honest, ugly.”

    Did I really read this on RKP? Bite your tongue, or writing/typing hand, or whatever.

    OK, I know you’re trying to make a point, but ugly? 😉

    When I was a stupid kid ~50 years ago and knew absolutely nothing about bikes, lugs, BB’s, brazing, fillets and all that stuff, I would gaze endlessly at bike catalogs and lust over those gorgeous high-end bikes. I don’t think I knew then why I thought they were gorgeous – they just were. And if I saw a nice bike in a shop, I had to touch it and look at every inch of it. I was there forever.

    Now I know why. They are simple, elegant, and functional. There is nothing superfluous on them. Like a Ferrari, they look fast just sitting there.


    1. Author

      @Dan & ArmyBikeRider – No, of course I don’t think they’re ugly. I moon over them just as much, maybe, as you do. But I do believe our concept of their aesthetic appeal is inextricably linked with our experience of their use. I would argue that a sculptor, trying to form a shape pleasing to the human, would never produce a bicycle. But then I like to argue…so you could be right.

  7. SusanJane

    As most teenage girls with enough money I took horseback riding lessons. There are those who go all Ooo and Aaah over silky ears and the hidden empowerment of controlling something that seems to weight as much as a car. Then there are the ones who get into the geometry of legs bones and tendons, not mention digestion and its results (cleaning out stalls). I lived with a huge bike freak for four years, he had worked in a bike shop, his obsession with clean chains and geometry seemed natural to me. The artist in me does see shape and form, proportion based on a rider’s build, and a basic understanding of the geek. But I’m the same for both horses and bikes, it’s the ride that counts.

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