Friday, October 16, 2009

The One, True Bicycle


I hate bicycles. Not per se - I just hate all the designs now. Somehow, they just ain't...right.

Bikes all cost a fortune now, and have a million gears, and they have wires all over the place, and strangely-angled bars and freaky grips, and weird little tiny seats, and because there are so many parts, they're always breaking. Mountain bikes are fine for mountain biking, I admit; but what do you do if you just want a normal, straight-ahead bike?

Most people would say, "get a cruiser". Yes, they are somewhat close to a normal bike; the problem is that they are actually more like caricatures of a normal bike. They're usually painted some weird bright colour, often sport weird designs, they have overly large mud guards and handlebars, and a giant seat...So the whole cruiser package just screams, "Ooo, look at me, I'm doing the whole retro-cutesy thing! Woo-hoo! Here I am! Isn't this funny?!". For more modest cyclists, this just won't do. Moreover, if you buy one of those cruisers at Wal-Mart or K-Mart, they fall apart within weeks.

So what does the guy do - a guy like, say, me - who just wants a normal bike, nothing overstated, just a rock-solid, easy to use, durable bike? Well...what you do is, you look for a vintage Raleigh, and then, you get lucky.

That's what I did. I walked into the bike shop a couple of months ago to drop off, yet again, one of my kids's broken pieces of garbage, and...there it was...up on a display shelf about eight feet off the ground: a 1950's, single-speed, black Raleigh, made in England, with the original leather Brooks Brothers seat, in great condition.

Oh my God...! I was mesmerized. I felt like Jodie Foster at the end of Contact: "It's....so.....beau-ti-ful...."

I'd inquired in this shop before about buying display bikes, just in case one ever came in that I wanted. The answer had always been, "they're not for sale". So I wondered to myself what I could do to make this happen...

I actually couldn't think of anything other than to shift my question from, "Are those for sale?" to "How much for that Raleigh?". So that's what I did.

And, perhaps miraculously, it worked. The guy said, "Hm, I don't know. Let me go ask".

He came back a few minutes later and said, "They'd let it go for $200".

I couldn't believe it. Two hundred bucks is only a bit more than the locks cost these days.

"Can I see it?", I said.

The guy got it down. And then, if you can believe it, he said, "It's heavy" (duh). "I can get you into one of these Fishers here for around eighteen hundred bucks. These are awesome! They're made using a new composite blah blah blah...".

I looked at the bike he was describing. Absolutely ridiculous, I thought. No challenge. No character. No vibe. No mojo. Just a weird little piece of nothing, for some weird little dude wearing a weird little spandex butt-wrap and a weird little helmet to use for his weird little fitness cycling. And way too much money.

"This thing here", he said, pointing back at the Raleigh, "you know...it's, uh, it's old...you can get into something way better here...that Trek over there is on sale. It's only $3599 now...".

I didn't want to blow the deal by popping off, so I just asked if I could take the Raleigh out for a spin.

If you have never ridden a vintage Raleigh, it is hard to describe the feeling. For one thing, the front forks are positioned at a different, more out-front angle, than on bikes nowadays, so the steering, and the whole feel of the bike, are quite different. The weight of the bike (it's pure steel) seems to quickly give it a kind of momentum; and the relatively low height of the handlebars, combined with the seat, make it feel almost like you are reclining, though of course you are not.

And the brakes...they have no wires; they're all connected with rods of steel. Rad.

It took me four seconds out on the street, and I was sold.

"I'll take it", I said, coming back into the shop. The guy looked shocked. These punks have no clue, I thought.

I had them put a little leather pouch on the back of the seat, plus a trap, and a little back light; and now, riding this bad boy around Cadboro Bay has become one of the great little thrills of my life. We live close to a school, and the kids and I will sometimes just go ride around it just for the sheer joy of it, or ride down to Pepper's, the grocery store, or to the beach. It's just so much fun to ride, that it almost doesn't matter where we go...so often, we don't go anywhere in particular at all.

We just ride.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Response to Smile


In response to my last post, a reader named Smile writes:

"A blanket condemnation of young female sexuality followed by a recommendation of repression kind of bugs me".

I find this comment unfair and irritating. It exaggerates and distorts my comments, and includes what seems to be unthinking assent to the idea that any form of "repression" - whatever exactly is meant by that - is somehow wrong.

So, first things first. I did not offer a "blanket condemnation of young female sexuality". I expressed concern about something specific: the pornogrification, to coin a word, of young female sexuality. That's a big difference, and I do think it will be obvious to 99% of the people who read my post. To repeat, it is not human, or "young female" sexuality I object to, but to a social situation in which, at a formative time of life, a girl's primary sense of identity, purpose, and status derives from how outrageously she puts out. It's like living in a world created by Larry Flynt or a pimp, and it's bad - psychologically, emotionally, and physically - for boys and girls both.

Now, about your comments on "repression"...I am not sure how much I can say, because I am not exactly sure what you mean. This is a big, broad word which you have tossed out, which could refer to all sorts of things, some perfectly acceptable, others foolish, others dangerous.

For example, if one has the inclination to sexually molest children, then I see repression (either through willpower alone or with the aid of castration) as the only acceptable solution. Don't you? If so, then you agree with me that in some circumstances, sexual repression is a good thing, and could hardly condemn me for selectively supporting it. And certainly, there are all sorts of other cases where you would support repression of some kind. If a man is provoked by his girlfriend and wants to hit her, I assume you would encourage him to repress those violent urges. Likewise with dozens of different, destructive urges.

In fact, it is not too much to say that what we mean by the word civilization is no more than the taming, diversion or flat-out repression of certain instincts and desires which, if acted upon, would make society impossible, cruel, or dangerous. So I don't really know why this word should be thought to refer inherently to something bad.

You say my comments bug you. I say that what should bug you is a significant percentage of boys today growing up thinking of girls primarily as sperm receptacles. I think what should bug you is girls running around school dressed like prostitutes and competing with each other in what amounts to a "putting out" contest for the boys. I think what should bug you is citizens paying millions of dollars to support a public school system whose administrators lack the will and the legal or practical ability to enforce order, challenge students and hold them accountable, hire inspiring and purposeful teachers, fire lousy teachers, replace their boring curriculum, and build, deepen, and broaden students's character by inculcating ideals and habits like self-respect, self-discipline, and self-direction.

I mean, on this last point, I gave a guest speech to a high school in Oregon ten years ago, and the whole administration was absolutely petrified that I was going to talk about ethics and morals. Mentioning anything connected to a deity was obviously out of the question. The principal nervously made me promise ahead of time to steer clear of these topics. It was bizarre and chilling - literally like being in the Soviet Union in 1972 or something. I think that should bug you, too.

What should bug you is the equivalent of a million Jodie Fosters in "Taxi Driver", and all the confusion, sorrow, pregnancies, abortions, and everything else, that go with that...

To be continued, I'm sure.