Thursday, 16 July 2009

Wide Tolerances: Every Component Tells a Story

As you may be aware by now, there has been some extremely distressing news from the Tour de France. No, Lance Armstrong is not in danger of losing the Maillot Célébrité. (Thanks to his recent Robin Williams scar video his lead in that competition is now unassailable.) Rather, it's now being reported that Mark Cavendish may be more than just a Man Missile--he may also be a racist:

Personally, I feel these charges are ridiculous. Firstly, the only thing Cavendish seems to be prejudiced against is losing. Secondly, from what I've been able to figure out, these accusations of racism seem to be based on some supposed "anti-French" remarks, and even if "Manx Headroom" did make such remarks that alone does not qualify as racism. (If simply making fun of French people is racist then "EuroTrip" is the "Birth of a Nation" of the 21st century.) Thirdly--and let's be honest here--the professional peloton is about as ethnically diverse as an episode of "Leave it to Beaver," and even if Cavendish was a raging neo-Nazi he'd have very little opportunity to indulge his boundless hatred. Really, being a racist at the Tour de France is like being a pederast at a retirement home or a carnivore at a vegan buffet--there's really nothing that's going to raise your pulse.

But while a "stealth racist" might be able to make his way through the Tour de France undetected (there's no urine test for intolerance), he'd almost certainly be called out for his wrong-headedness on the streets of New York City, which unlike the Tour de France is a land of many cultures, creeds and colourways. In fact, New York is so diverse that your average ignorant visiting racist would probably be too overwhelmed to figure out who to hate--sort of like how a carnivore at an all-meat Smörgåsbord probably wouldn't know which cold cut to eat first. Take this vanity plate, for example:

Let's just say for the sake of argument that Mark Cavendish was visiting New York City, and let's also just say that he's a flaming racist (which, again, I very much doubt he is). This particular vehicle would almost certainly cause him considerable consternation, because while at first glance he might assume the car is driven by an African American, the lack of a space in "Blackman" could also mean that it is the driver's surname, which could just as easily imply a Semitic background. Sure, generally speaking Jewish people don't use chain license plate frames, but it's worth noting that the driver is wearing a fedora, of which the men of Orthodox Jewry are quite fond:

At this point then the fictitious racist Cavendish would no doubt find himself tongue-tied and unable to decide which invective to hurl first. Perhaps he'd even find himself so confused that he'd realize the absurdity of judging others by their race or religion and ultimately be forced to re-evaluate his twisted worldview. Thus transformed, he might find it within himself to forgive and embrace his French accusers, who will in turn no longer feel the need to level accusations of racism at those who beat them. Yes, the peloton--and the entire world--could potentially be transformed into a paradise of peace, love, and understanding, all thanks to a vanity plate in a novelty frame purchased on impulse at a car wash.

That said, we've still got a ways to go. Even I felt racism's cruel sting recently when an SUV driver hurled a racial epithet at me. Yes, the driver seemed to be under the impression that I was some kind of snack food, even though I am decidedly greenish in hue. While this stung a bit, it also made me think. Unlike the motorist, whose identity is often concealed by his vehicle, the cyclist is out there on display. To what extent then are our experiences out there on the road determined by our races and genders? When we are mistreated, is the mistreatment motivated by prejudice towards the bicycle, or towards the rider? I'd wager it's a bit of both, and in that sense we are vulnerable in a way that goes beyond the lack of sheet metal--indeed, our very selves are on display. Conversely, there are drivers who choose to display themselves, though this is less a display of vulnerability than of pride:

As much as I try to be tolerant and non-judgmental, I can't help but feel like German luxury convertibles are simply floats in the eternal douche parade of life. Don't get me wrong--I'm sure this car makes for a very pleasant driving experience, and I could certainly think of worse things to do than cruise around in a convertible on a summer day. However, it's this very fact which made this particular scene so vexing, for what you can't see in the photo is the extremely loud ambient piano music, which sounded like some kind of hideous Yanni x Enya x Ben Folds "collabo." I'm not sure why you'd spend top dollar to enjoy the outside world while you're in your car, only to both drown it out with incredibly loud music and sicken everybody else in it. It's a mystery as impenetrable as the driver's shellacked coiffure.

Speaking of style exercises, a number of readers have forwarded me this "Dutch Master" collabo/theme/limited edition/whatever meh-chine from the "design" blog "Core77:"

As you can see, this bike is on display at the Ace Hotel on W. 29th street here in New York City, so I figured I'd go check it out. Here it is in the lobby:

Here's a closer look:

Core77 is apparently under the impression that some smarmy wayward traveler is going to be taken with this thing and order one, since they had a whole stack of information sheets next to it:

I apologize for the appearance of the sheet--I picked up some takeout afterward and it got all crumpled in my bag. However, despite the wrinkles you can still see that the bike is fitted with "a carefully curated set of components, each with its own story":

I knew it was possible to build a bike, and I knew it was even possible to fabricate one, but until reading about the Core77 "Dutch Master" bike I had no idea you could actually "curate" one. Foolishly, I thought curating was reserved for things like Presidential libraries and Francis Bacon exhibitions. However, I suppose when you've got a bunch of components "each with its own story" you need a curator. I wonder what story the Tektro brake lever and the Surly fork tell:

Personally, I think it's a simple yet elegant story about placing an order from the QBP catalog for some cheap parts. Don't get me wrong--I love cheap parts. There's nothing wrong with Surly or Tektro, and brakes in particular are actually one of my favorite places to save money on a bike. (For that matter, I also have nothing against Worksman, without whom the entire New York City pizza delivery infrastructure would crumble.) Still, you'd think if Core77 were making a limited edition designer bike they'd have gone through the trouble to "curate" something a little more exotic in the brake lever department. That Tektro lever isn't exactly the aesthetic centerpiece of the groupo. Really, if this bike was "curated" then buying stuff from Nashbar should require an MFA.

My consternation did not last long, though, because I left the hotel only to find Beck texting out front:

At least I'm pretty sure it was Beck, since he was blond and wearing a fedora.

Though I suppose he might have been an Orthodox Jew.


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