Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Ambiguous Goo: The Opacity of Marketing

If you live in New York City, you're probably familiar with the sense of profound disappointment you experience when you return to it. Generally, this sets in at some point between deplaning and actually arriving at your home, and it can be triggered by a number of things: an unnecessarily brusque baggage handler; a homicidal airport shuttle driver; a yawning pothole; or a group of people loitering on your stoop. While some people think New Yorkers are arrogant, the truth is it's simply a defense mechanism that protects us from our secret knowledge that we're stupid to live here. If anything, arrogance is a symptom of knowing deep down that you really lack the qualities you claim to possess--and in the case of New Yorkers those qualities are savvy and sophistication. Considering yourself savvy and sophisticated for living in New York is like considering yourself clever for getting a great deal on a stuffed elephant. Sure, you're pulling something off, but it's something that no logical person would want to do in the first place.


Such were my thoughts as I finally unpacked my bicycle from its travel bag, a task which I generally put off due to fear the damage I might encounter. Fortunately, the bike was pretty much intact, though the TSA had left its customary calling card inside:

I felt a pang of sympathy for the inspectors, since everything inside my travel bag was filthy. I'd made no attempt to clean any of my equipment after the race, and so everything remained in exactly the same state it had been in when I had crossed the finish line: dirty, smelly, and covered in ambiguous goo. Actually, if anything, it was even dirtier and smellier, since the ambiguous goo had had time to "mature" in the dark recesses of the bag. For example, here's a picture of my bottom bracket junction. While it may not be "beefy," it sure is gooey:

(The undersized bottom bracket...is gooey.)

Speaking of ambiguity, Cadel "GC Allin" Evans made an interesting comment on his Twitter recently about the Vuelta a EspaƱa, in which he finished third overall:


Intrigued, I not only listened to the song, but also studied the lyrics:

While some might think Evans is alluding to the song's irreverent refrain of "I don't owe you anything," I actually like to think that the significant line is "It's all right if you're confused." This, of course, would mean that Evans regrets his unfortunate outburst over that botched wheel change, and that he also acknowledges it's perfectly understandable that nobody involved (including, apparently, Evans himself) was able to figure out definitively whether he had been given a 10- or 11-speed cassette. (For future reference: If it's working OK, who cares?) Essentially, Evans is both apologizing for his own poor behavior and forgiving everyone else around him for their mistakes, which is a welcome departure from his usual manner of dealing with people. Still, if he is in fact referring to the wheel change debacle, perhaps this would have been a more appropriate song choice.

Even so, Evans may want to consider taking steps to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future. For example, he could emblazon his top tube with a "clever" slogan which erases any doubt:

In fact, this bicycle is a Madone built by The Great Trek Bicycle Making Company for the express purpose of showcasing Campagnolo's new Athena group at Interbike. It's fitting that they chose Trek for this, since they're probably the only company who wouldn't be embarrassed at this point to make the same old tired "Spinal Tap" reference people have been making on cycling forums and websites for years. It is my deepest hope that both Shimano and SRAM bypass 11 altogether and go straight to 12, if only so that I never, ever have to read it again. At this point I'm so tired of seeing it that it's ruining both cycling and the movie for me, and I'll gladly deal with wider rear spacing, lack of backwards compatibility, or whatever it takes for them to skip it. At the very least, the cycling industry could feed us different "Spinal Tap" references. I think Blackburn could do quite well with "Lick My Love Pump."

But while I can't say I'm exactly thrilled to be back in New York City, I'm also not particularly saddened to be missing Interbike. Not only does the idea of spending time and money to travel all the way to Las Vegas in order to look at things that other people want me to buy seem almost as illogical as living in New York, but there's also plenty of "legitimate" media already there to take pictures of all that stuff for me--and I mean all of it. The "Outdoor Demo" has only just begun, and already Lennard Zinn of VeloNews is sticking his nose in a chamois:


I'm a tremendous fan of labeling parts of bicycles with pointless buzzwords and acronyms that are supposed to explain what they do, so I was extremely pleased to see Castelli extend this treatment to the chamois, which has heretofore been woefully bereft of adornment. (Unless of course you consider pubic hairs to be adornments.) My favorite part of this chamois is the "Viscous Comfort Zone," which sits right beneath the "taint," "scranus," "gouch," or "vulvanus" (depending of course on the rider's gender and regional dialect):

Actually, perhaps I've made a tremendous mistake in not attending Interbike, since even after reading Zinn's explanation I still don't understand how the "Viscous Comfort Zone" works. What makes it "viscous?" Has it been pre-impregnated at the factory with ambiguous goo, or do you have to supply your own? How does it work in conjunction with the "Continuous Variable Thickness?" And, perhaps most vexing, how can thickness be both "continuous" and "variable?" Does it somehow mimic the action of a CVT? Or is this just another way of saying "mushy?" Looking into this thing is like staring into the monolith from "2001." While Castelli calls this short model the "Body Paint," they should really have named it "The Crotch of Eternal Mystery."

Perhaps the fact that over-aggressive hyper-marketing has finally penetrated the chamois might explain the anti-pants backlash we're currently witnessing in the cycling world. Some companies charge as much as $360 for a pair of bib shorts. What better way to protest this than to dispense with shorts altogether? Hence, we have events like the Philadelphia Naked Bike Ride. However, it's only a matter of time before a backlash becomes a subculture, and it's only a matter of time before a subculture becomes a style cue. Then, once this happens, it becomes an essential part of marketing an "alternative" rock band:

A reader alerted me to this casting call, and it's proof that not only is naked cycling the latest trend, but also that Portland's chief export is now officially freakish cycling. Need to film someone doing something weird on a bike? Go to Portland! I'm sure if the right company or band put out the call in Portland for a bunch of people to ride around while slathered in toothpaste and ambiguous goo and then set themselves on fire they'd be overwhelmed with responses. Strangely, though, while Portland seems able to tolerate even the most grotesque cycling displays, for some reason it prohibits the relatively benign act of "trick riding," as you can see from this sign, photographed by another reader:

I guess Portland is the Pacific Northwest equivalent of a Southeast Asian city that will allow you to have sex with prostitutes but will jail you for spitting.

By the way, the Flaming Lips are discouraging body paint (I assume this refers to both the Castelli short as well as actual body paint) and tall bikes, though body oil is acceptable:

I don't know if ambiguous goo is allowed, though I'm guessing it's probably fine as long as its translucent and reflective.

Speaking of tall bikes, I recently encountered one nearly as bewildering as the Castelli Crotch of Eternal Mystery:


While the presence of two "normal" bikes didn't help, even by itself this construction is baffling. I've since scrutinized the photo, and it actually appears to approximate a p-far, albeit with a chain drive:

Actually, I'm not even sure if this was created intentionally, or if various neglected bicycles simply rusted and fused together over the years.

Far less ambiguous was this sweet ride, which is for sale and priced at $100 or best offer:

This may seem expensive, but at least it's straightforward, and keep in mind you won't need shorts with a "Viscous Comfort Zone" in order to ride it.

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