Monday, 27 June 2011

Racing Towards Anxiety: Sowing the Seeds of Doubt

This past weekend, the Bicycle Film Festival took place in New York City. If you're unfamiliar with the Bicycle Film Festival, it's kind of like Sundance, only for the sorts of people who wear cycling caps as casual wear and ride brakeless bicycles with perpetually empty CETMA racks. I did not attend the festival, even though (or, more accurately, because) it featured films like that "Racing Towards Red Hook" video, the preview of which is so sublimely absurd as to warrant a second viewing:

expresso: racing towards red hook (trailer) from Jessica Scott on Vimeo.

In addition to the infamous "This ain't no hipster shit" quote, the "Racing Towards Red Hook" preview also features other rhinestones of wisdom, such as this:

"So many people have, like, this type of bike it makes sense to create some sort of sporting event around it."

I couldn't agree more. Given the popularity of fixed-gears it really is about time somebody invented some kind of competition in which these bicycles can be utilized. I think the ideal venue for a bicycle with a single gear ratio and no brakes would be some sort of flat, closed bicycle track, and instead of running lights and getting signatures on manifests or popping wheelies they could simply ride around and around it to see who's the fastest. It could be called a "velo-drome"--"velo" for bike, and "drome" for, well, drome--and if someone were to build some sort of prototype I have no doubt it would attract many fixed-gear cyclists with trendy moustaches:

Sure, it will be underground to begin with, but who knows? Maybe in 50 or 100 years racing bicycles inside of a "velo-drome" could become an olympic sport! I know it seems far-fetched, but hey, we can dream. And it will all have started thanks to the boundless vision of the guy in the Cinelli hat.

(Frank Warren: Non-Hipster and Inventor of the Velodrome)

It's hard to blame him for his exuberance though. After all, who among us has not discovered some new pleasure, and become so excited about it that we mistake this excitement for discovery? I know that was my experience when I tasted chocolate-dipped haggis for the first time. "Have you tried this?!?," I shouted exuberantly as I attempted to foist forkfuls of the stuff onto complete strangers. "It's amazing!" Little did I know artisanal chocolate-dipped haggis trucks have been all the rage in Brooklyn for like months now, and in my enthusiasm I came off as a total foodie "noob." Now, I know better, so I munch my chocolate-dipped haggis while wearing the appropriately fashionable expression of world-weary detachment.

Speaking of bicycle racing, that was one of the things I opted to do this past weekend instead of going to the Cycling Caps and Shants Film Festival. Even though I harbor no illusions as to my ability and enter races with little ambition beyond enjoying myself and not falling down, I'm usually excited before a race. I'm also always just a tiny bit nervous, mostly because I'm anticipating a state of anaerobic distress. Anyway, this was a mountain bike race, and as I stood there resting on my handlebars and awaiting the mad scramble for the holeshot, one of my fellow riders pointed to my arm and asked, "Has that been there from birth?" He was referring to a mole.

"I dunno," I replied.

"Well, you should really get it checked out," he pronounced in a dire tone.

One of my favorite things about bike racing is that, for the duration of the race, you set your troubles aside and focus only on riding your bike. Well, so much for that. Riding my bike was now the last thing on my mind, since apparently I had skin cancer. Basically, his words had the same excitement-quelling effect as slipping on a Larry King mask just before lovemaking. Then, my mind immediately shot to my recent return from Gothenburg, Sweden, when my driver had uttered these chilling words to me:

"You will die very soon. Mark my words. You will die very soon."

Sweet merciful Lob! It now became clear that he had put a curse on me and manifest a malignant mole upon my person.

A few rows ahead of me, a rider was wearing some sort of yellow LiveStrong helmet and glasses combo, and I resolved to push my way up to him and rub my moley arm all over his head and face in the hopes that his accessories might serve as a curative. Unfortunately, before I could get to him the race began, and like pretty much everybody else who was there that day he rode away from me rather easily.

Needless to say, I continued to reflect on this throughout the race, and at one point it occurred to me that perhaps it had been my fellow rider's plan to "psyche me out" all along by effectively transforming my race into a real-life "Seinfeld" episode. Furthermore, maybe I wasn't his only victim. For all I know, he could had been going from rider to rider and sowing seeds of doubt and fear in each one of them. "Hmmm, do you have a family history of glaucoma?," he might have asked as he peered into someone's eyes. "Did you just go to the bathroom again? Frequent urination can be a sign of adult onset diabetes."

In any case, if his intention was to undermine me he needn't have bothered, since in a race you can always count on me to undermine myself--and as usual, I did a commendable job of it. As for the mole, I suppose it couldn't hurt to go to the doctor, though I think I'll just take a picture of it and put it up on Twitter or Facebook instead. [Is my mole dangerous? If "yes," click the "Like" button!] Yes, here in HMO-merica, we're big believers in the power of amateur Internet diagnosis-by-consensus. Stuff like hands-on treatment and "universal health care" is for Canadians and communists.

Anyway, given my poor performance, I briefly flirted with retiring from cycling and taking up something less tiring. But what? For a moment, I considered origami:

But then I realized that the "origami culture" is probably just as cliquey and judgmental as the "bike culture." Consider the following:

Highlights of the exhibition included folded-paper versions of an Academy Award statuette, a miniature Buddha and a 15-foot Tyrannosaurus rex constructed by a group of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All were completed without the aid of scissors or glue.

“We’re purists,” said Wendy Weiss, 44, of Holyoke, Mass.

Clearly scissors and glue are the brakes and derailleurs of the crafting world, and just like fixed-gear riders the scissorless-and-glueless set are way too self-righteous about not using them.

I suppose I could always sandbag as a Cat 6 racer, but frankly I don't think I could afford the equipment. As we saw last week, Cat 6-style flat-bar road bikes are becoming very exotic, and via the Twitter I've learned that cyclocross bikes are following suit:

2010 Stevens Team Cyclocross Bike (santa clara)
Date: 2011-06-24, 3:04PM PDT
Reply to: [deleted]

2010 52 cm Stevens Team Cyclocross Bike

* Sram Red Components
* Custom built Velocity wheels with Challenge Parigi-Roubaix 700x28 Tires
* Ritchie WCS Flat bars, Seat Post and Stem
* Fizik Arione Saddle
* Speedplay Stainless Zero pedals

8 months old and ridden less than 1000 miles

Over 4500.00 invested with receipts.

Great straight bar road bike. World class Cyclocross frame . Just a tad too big for me.
Best fit probably 5'7"-5'10". Weighs just under 17 LBS. Outstanding frame and components for the serious biker.

Serious inquires please call Joe @ 408-621-[deleted]

Good thing he kept the receipts. I hear shame is tax deductible now.


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