Friday Group Ride #298

Friday Group Ride #298

It was one of those weeks. A quick trip to Salt Lake City put me off the bike, and I woke this morning, back at home, to a driving snowstorm. I needed to ride though, so I pulled out the stuff.

You know the stuff, the wind tights, the winter cycling boots, the lights and layers, wool, nylon, etc. I have a lot of this stuff, both because I have lived and ridden through a number of New England winters and because I used to have a stuff problem. Only recently have I come to understand better the root cause of a stuff problem.

I once imagined I was a much more intrepid person than I actually am. I convinced myself that I would be even more intrepid if only I had the equipment, the stuff, necessary to do bigger, better things. So I got the stuff, snow shoes, crampons, high tech jackets and pants of various stripes, things that I did end up using, but never in quite the way I’d imagined, climbing high peaks in deep winter. My life isn’t designed for that. I have a job, a wife, kids.

There is a sort of cognitive dissonance or Walter Mitty syndrome necessary to sustain a problem like this. What ended my stuff problem was not just the burgeoning responsibilities of family life but the tension between the stuff I had to do amazing things and the reluctance I felt to actually do them.

It takes a lot of motivation to roll out of the driveway into a driving snow. The upside of a past stuff problem is that, when the time comes, you really can do these things. The stuff almost forces you to do it.

And this morning I need to ride. It wasn’t particularly cold, probably close to as warm as it can be and still snow, but it was chucking down and piling up quickly. The roads were a slushy mess. A set of studded tires (40mm) and a wide clip on fender was really all it took to make the day rideable. And I rode, and it was fine. It wasn’t the stuff of my past fantasies. It was just a commute.

This week’s Group Ride asks, do you have the stuff? How much stuff do you have that you don’t use? Let’s call that differential between what you have and what you use the “imagination gap.” It’s the gap between what you’d like to think you’ll use and what you’ll actually use. How wide is your gap? No shame. We are, all of us, Walter Mitty to some degree.

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  1. Alan

    I like to think my stuff problem is pretty minimal. I use everything I have because I a cheap bastard.

    I do love riding in winter, though the ice after this last 18″ dump has been brutal.

  2. Aar

    When I worked at a ski/bike shop my imagination gap was huge, more in ski stuff than cycling. As a ski instructor, the ski stuff gap came down quite a bit but it was still there because I was still working in a ski shop. When I moved from the northeast to the southeast my winter bike stuff gap got quite large and it remains that way to this day. I have a whole “deep winter” kit that only gets used once every second or third season. My “regular winter” kit gets light use every winter. My “mild winter” kits see exhaustive use and my spring/fall kits see use from October through April. I suppose I need to decide to unload all my ski stuff or start skiing again in a year or two because my ski imagination gap is currently infinite.

  3. Cameron

    By the end of three winters in Norway I had all the stuff I could ever wish for. Wool base layers, softshell tights, poggies, balaclavas, 45nrth boots, gabba jacket, and more. Now it is all sits in a drawer and while I endure a southern hemisphere summer in Africa. But is good to know if I ever experience a freak blizzard, I am ready. Right now my gear gap is with sufficient summer gear.

  4. Maremma Mark

    After 30 years of being a cyclist I’ve dealt with several bouts of thinking I needed more stuff, only to discover that just a few well chosen articles make riding in most conditions possible if not actually comfortable. But I have to battle with a tendency to think there really is the perfect jacket out there. You know, the one that allows you to ride comfortably (and dry) in temperatures from just below freezing to the low 50’s without sweating yourself to death. Coupled obviously with the right base layers, the right gloves, cap and booties, not to mention socks. I’ve solved the base layer issue, with wool. The magic fabric, for me it works perfectly. But I have yet to find the flawless jacket and I have four really good ones. I’m pleased that I have finally realized that the perfect jacket for all occasions doesn’t exist, this realization means that I’m able to resist the temptation to spring for the latest Rapha or Assos creation, not to mention Castelli. I’ll make do with what I have, using that old Italian saying that goes; he (or she) that makes do, enjoys.
    Now, if I could just apply that same wisdom for my weakness for fine leather dress shoes……


    I think this is a great question. I closed a big chunk of the gap three years ago. First I sold my kayak and related gear. Then I let go of all my trad climbing gear. And now, I am practicing the joy of sales resistance by rotating the cycling gear I have to meet the roads and weather I can face. It helps that I have generous friends and my mothers sense of saving pennies. At the end of the day the stuff I need is more courage and joy, more time and more friends to ride with.

  6. Pat O'Brien

    Bicycle touring is my “Walter Mitty” dream. I have the bikes, racks, panniers, and rack trunks for touring. The bikes get used, but the panniers gather dust other than an occasional overnight trip to a nearby town. Someday, but for now it’s a wide gap.

  7. Mike C

    Someone once told me to do something the correct way it required “commitment before equipment”.
    That statement couldn’t be more true. However, it’s so much easier to throw money at a problem instead of actually solving it…

  8. chuckster

    Cheap used fatbike, flat pedals and snow boots, hand and toe warmers (the little chemical packs)… once you get in the trees the wind isn’t an issue and anything positive Fahrenheit is good to go! If the snow’s too deep to ride 90+% of the time, it’s an amazing workout and a true skills clinic. If it’s 70% pushing, it’s time for skis or snowshoes. Of course it helps to live in the Rockies! The only “stuff” I don’t have “the stuff” for usually is sloppy rain with temps in the 30s… just miserable! Not enough of a hardman for that (plus the massive post-ride bike and gear cleanup!) anymore lol!

  9. Rod

    Agree with the “commitment before equipment” principle. With a few modifiers thrown in.

    I’m at the stage in my life where I devoted a huge amount of time to build a career. I moved countries, got an extra degree, started from the ground up (my Master’s thesis was in waste management. After finishing that I was literally weighing bags of garbage for $6/hour). And only now I’m catching up with my wife’s income with similar qualifications. It has taken 12 years.

    This is to say – my time is more valuable than money right now. It will not always be like this, and it’s not like I can just throw money at problems. Heck, we don’t even own a car, and we do try to save up for rainy days, kid’s education, etc. But if money will buy me time, I will use it..

    So we pay for people to clean the house once every couple of weeks. I’ve not done any home renovations myself in 5 years. And yes, I’ve bought a fat bike, winter gear, studded tires, a TT bike, a CX bike, and all sorts of shoes, base layers, and jacket combinations. Even redundant ones (two winter jackets, one will dry if soaked. I haven’t missed a single commuting day on the bike in 5 years). This includes studs for the fat bike to take the kids to school in a trailer.

    You don’t “need” the fancy gear. At least not the first time. But it’s a tremendous joy to have something useful and apply it. Studs on the bikes? Great decision. A $400 set of lights? Complete waste on me. When I reached paternity I thought I’d be doing night rides. Naah, guess what? You’re still needed in the house after dark. Go figure. I have gotten progressively fancier trainers…

    Like everything, it’s an economical decision – which is not solely financial. Your limited resources may include time, relationship goodwill (I’ve been selling a lot of underused bike stuff to make the wife happy), of course money, energy levels, health, etc. It’s a wise person that can manage them effectively.

  10. phaedrus

    My winter gear gaps have closed significantly after discovering chemical warmers and that the “Toe Warmer” versions fit nicely between my shoe and shoe cover. When my toes get a bit chilly, I can just lift them to the top of my shoes. I am not commuting 30 miles each way at 20 degrees with no problems.

  11. Scott

    Kayaks, SUPS, skis, a backpack and bikes. I use them all. My specific affliction is the misguided notion that broken and worn bike parts will somehow, magically regenerate. That’s true for about seven mismatched wheels, two old mountain bikes, a first-generation TREK carbon road bike, and (inexplicably) a tired messenger bag which I’ve never even though about using. Just can’t let go.

  12. Walt S

    I’ll admit it. I like stuff. And so I “collect” all the stuff that I think I might need for a particular endeavor. When I first started cycling seriously, I had one bike, one pair of shorts and that’s it. Now I have varied collection of bikes, both old and new, and a closet full of cycling gear. Because in the scheme of things, cycling is not as expensive as say, motor racing, or skiing for a week in Switzerland, or…

    See, I can justify just about anything when it comes to stuff.

    So knowing my propensity for collecting stuff, I finally had a talk with myself about getting rid of the stuff I have collected over the years. Out went the Campagnolo Nouvo Record gruppos from the 70s, still in their boxes to good homes. Out went the steel Masi, Gios, Eisentraut, WaltWorks bikes to those who would appreciate them and ride them. Out went the 12 pairs of cowboy boots that I have not worn in 20 years to the Salvation Army. Out went the assorted leather jackets to the needy because they are too warm to wear in Albuquerque. Out went the 300+ cookbooks, donated to the culinary program at the local community college. All this lightening of load has helped me to feel more free and less restrained. A good thing.

    I have noticed that the collection of guitars has been growing…

    Like several before me have said, we acquire stuff because we think we will actually use whatever is our focus at any particular time. I am finding that whatever future great adventure I am intending to embark on with the equipment needed to so, seems to take more and more will to overcome inertia. I guess that is a natural consequence of getting older. Maybe even a little wiser.

  13. GluteCramp

    I’m aware I’m incredibly lucky. I live in Brisbane, Australia. That means even in winter, arm warmers on daly commutes are a sometimes thing.
    I also have kids in private schools and private university, which here is both rare and expensive.
    So i don’t have much stuff, and most of it is old. My daily bike, one i raced on a decade ago, is one of just two: the other is my also ex-race enduro mtb. Both are repurposed for their current tasks.
    A good job, kids, wife and a busy but balanced life, and a way to keep pedaling. Who needs more than that?

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