Saturday, February 23, 2008

Donald's Take on our Consuming Tradition

In my piece, found in an earlier post, Parts Worship - An Overview, I state that as Americans, we don't have a cycling tradition (as the Europeans do, say); we have a consuming tradition.

I don't recall bearing down on that sentence, but somehow it had resonance. It has been one of the most commented-on statements in the flabby, pasty-white body of my work.

My friend Donald is from the DC area but lived in Chile for several years and now resides with his wife and sons in Mexico City. Here's what rider-forever Donald has to say about our obsession with acquiring and displaying stuff:

Hi Maynard
In reference to the consuming cycling tradition pervasive in America, I have a couple of points of perspective for you.
1. Some 20 years ago, for my birthday present, Gloria found in a bookstore specializing in old books in Georgetown in DC, a couple of annuals of the League of American Wheelmen circa 1890. (They are in storage at my parents' house) I haven't looked at them in years, but they each have a couple hundred pages bound in fine leather. On not a single page could you find a reference to equipment, no reviews, no photos. They are entirely poetry and prose about specific cycling adventures and waxing poetic and prose-etic about cycling in general and the experience of nature, the vistas, the weather, the physical activity and exertion, etc. Of course, in that Victorian Era, it was very flowery and emotional writing. For our modern mind, it gets difficult to read after a while, but I tell you what - it's a breath of fresh air to not be barraged with fitness articles and product reviews. It's purely about the experience. That was an age of (consumer) innocence and of a real cycling tradition.
2. I have noticed that in the developing nations (Paraguay and Mexico) where there is a huge range of income and acquisitive power among the participants in cycling, there is little or non-existent emphasis on equipment/clothing and you see the entire range of sweatpants/tennis shoes cheap bikes to full Livestrong kits w/ $4k superbikes. Everyone just goes out to pedal and have a good time. It would be rude to look down at a fellow pedaler for his clothing or equipment because he may barely have the means for the cheapest ride available - he's out there just like you and the Victorians of yore to enjoy the out of doors, the open road, cycling camaraderie, the reward of a great view after struggling up the mountainside, etc. For instance, I imagine if I were to show up for a club ride in the States with my quirky, high-end, 18 year old bike I'd be ostracized even if I have the fitness to ride on par with my peers.
The consumer and performance focus of cyclists in the States now just ruins or distracts (at best) from the original and simple joy of the experience and the machine itself. Materialism and "technological sophistication" haven't made us happier or better riders, just "better equipped" and more physiologically knowledgeable. Bah! Humbug! So it goes.
yours awheel,

Maynard again: You know, I just don't know what we'd do without our friends. It'd be a dreary existence for sure...

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