Performance vs. Permanence -- Mutually Exclusive?
There is a certain sort of durability to the stuff we sell -- impact-resistant rims, clamp force-impervious bars, framesets with stiffness galore. But durability defined this way shouldn’t be mistaken for permanence. I can’t say we ever sold a Pinarello Prince Carbon or a set of Zipp 404′s with the assurance that 15 years from now you’ll still be eager or able to ride it. Take any of the million recent photos from the Tour of California peloton, and consider the tight fleet of bikes you’ll see there. In their speed, their iridescence, and their technology���Does any of it suggest forever?
I don’t mean this as a criticism. When it comes to pro-quality bikes, ‘useful life cycle’ isn’t necessarily inversely proportional to performance. Most of the stuff we sell hits a sweet spot with a reasonable life expectancy paired to desirable ride qualities. Given this balance, then, why do I sometimes crave permanency? It’s not the ultimate good. Permanency is just one yardstick of quality, and it doesn’t obscure or outweigh the other goods: Beauty, lightness, stiffness, aerodynamics, etc.
Perhaps striving for permanence in my bike just a reaction to growing older. In every photo my hair is thinner. In the battle of essential appetites, sleep all-too-often triumphs over sex. Racing itself is becoming a lower priority than feeling sorta-lean and sorta-fast -- two fraying connections to my bygone youth. Oh, Gianni Bugno and the Stone Roses are long past. Prostate health, monitoring fiber intake, an obsession with death -- I can see those days coming. It’s a no man’s land here. Like a mid-life discovery of religion, perhaps grasping for permanence in my bike is how I cope with my emerging awareness of my own impermanence.
Or maybe it’s something completely different. Have I grown exhausted of being-through-buying? Have I reached my limit with consumerism? Every 6 months for the last 20 years, it seems, I’ve found myself astride something new. I’m well into my 2nd decade of retail, and I’ve played psychiatrist who-knows-how-often to others and to myself through varied schemes to cure all of life’s problems by buying a new bike. With each bike should come a new thrill and a new dedication to the therapeutic act of training. And if there’s only one thing a lifetime commitment to retail has taught me, it’s that a new bike solves nothing. Today’s new bike is tomorrow’s old one. In the wise words of a former employee, ‘Show me a beautiful woman, I’ll show you a guy who’s tired of fucking her.’ And this fact, truer than true, is nonetheless powerless to cool my crush on this one last new bike, a kermesse express that scoffs at both gram scales and tall cols and is beautiful in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle sort of way. Designed by my friend Craig Gaulzetti, seeing it the first time was like an ecstatic vision.
I will build my Gaulzetti with SRAM Rival, an old Deda Newton bar and stem, a Regal saddle, 32/32 handbuilts and 700×25 tires. It’s not that I haven’t felt the joys of Lightweight tubulars or electronic shifting or lifting an airy 14lb. bike up onto the roof rack. Engineering marvels all, and they deserve to be celebrated. But to check out of the consumerist rat race -- riding, not coveting -- that’s a place I haven’t visited in a long, long time. Can I make a 20-year commitment to a bike? Is this a bike that can make a 20-year commitment to me? Blessed alloy warpig, soothe me with your endurance and permanence.
Purity, chastity, constancy -- Jesus, these are things that would put Competitive Cyclist out of business if our customers embraced them. Why do I crave it, even though what I’m suggesting here -- deliverance through another bike purchase -- is the great lie? As cyclists, must it always be gear-chasing? My only known peace in life comes at the end of those rare shattering rides that reduce me to a spit-streaked, empty-minded animal. No sweeter state of being exists. That trance, staring into the back of the refrigerator. There. Put me there. Now is the time of year for that pure vacant consciousness. It’s a lack of consciousness. Vacancy. Brendan, put yourself there.