Yes! Yes! Yes!
Except for all those bikes, he was a perfectly normal, charming guy. He had bikes everywhere in his none-too-secure urban one-bedroom flat, so many you had to walk carefully - sideways - through them.
He had three dozen bikes and no junk, just beautiful bikes you'd be proud to own, each covered with a plastic sheet, protected from dust and cruel sunlight.
The bikes spanned four decades: mountain, time-trial and road bikes, classy bikes and ordinary bikes, nearly every one gleaming, in perfect running order. Rides them all in a loose rotation, he said.
He'd given them names, claiming each had its own personality, even the two identical model-and-equipment Cannondales. They're different to ride, he explained. He still had the first bike he ever owned: a Bianchi bought new in 1989, and the second, and the third.
He insisted he sells a bike now and then, but the prospective owner must submit to a thorough screening interview. The bike's gotta go to a good home. Uh, okay...
Much as I liked the guy (and you would too), I still got a strange feeling seeing all those inert bikes. Forty bikes, living under plastic shrouds in a sort-of shrine where few people ever even see them. Forty bikes, each ridden a few times a year by its doting owner.
Gave me the willies: Looked too much like a morgue in there.
I thought, hey, all but a few of those bikes need new homes, homes with folks who'll ride 'em, not just love 'em and keep 'em clean, oiled and covered up. What IS an unridden bike? What does it represent in the mind of its owner? Is mere ownership satisfying?
I certainly didn't say anything critical to the guy. It's his business what he owns and what he does with it. All the same, walking into that apartment made me face my own multiple-bike guilt: I don't have 30 bikes, but I do have six, and I don't ride them all.
Then I went to the vintage sports car races at Thunderhill Raceway, near my new home in Chico, California. There, people were racing every kind of old sports car you could name, using them as they were made to be used, especially the purpose-built racing cars.
Does racing rare old cars seem too risky? Too costly? If you watched the racing all day, you’d see a car or two spin out, but not one car get damaged. You’d see no dramatic engine failures, signaled by big clouds of expensive smoke.
Instead, you saw people having fun, using “precious” machines that other people hide away in heated garages so cruel sunlight won't fade the paint.
It looked like so much fun. I lusted to drive many of the cars, or ride in them (those that had passenger seats) while someone more qualified drove. And, cough, cough, someone else took care of them mechanically and paid the bills.
Bicycles, in contrast, are such simple machines, relatively cheap to buy and far cheaper to maintain (even for racing-style use) than the lowest-budget race car or motorcycle.
Beautiful as some of the cars were, I didn't want to own any of them. I only wanted the experience of riding in or driving them. I didn’t even want to own the knockout red '58 Ferrari Testa Rossa. It'd be a responsibility rather than a pleasure. Gravity, not wings.
I crave the wings, the experience some machines can provide: Track laps in the race car, rides in the country with friends on the bicycle. You want to fly, not own an airplane.
Use makes the machine worthwhile. Joyful use. Not mere ownership.
Here’s an ownership story my buddy Phil told me. Phil likes "classical" stuff, stuff you buy at bike swaps from folks who, when they heard about the swap, already had the stuff in boxes to take to the dump.
A framebuilder, Phil's brazing up a Frenchified road frame, recalling early '70s Peugeots, Gitanes and Merciers, bikes we were only too glad to be rid of when they were a season or so old. He’s collecting charming old French parts to equip it: Simplex, Stronglight and Huret. Parts that, like chicken pox, you only get once.
Phil's buddy William, a collector, has approximately eight Ideale saddles, French-made, Brooks-like riveted leather relics, new or nearly unused (Quelle surprise!). Phil asked William to trade or sell him one of them. What nerve, that Phil.
“They're my babies,” protested William, whose house is bursting with stuff, five percent of which he uses. He meant: “NO, I'm keeping them all, shielding them from usefulness and cruel sunlight. I don’t care if they’re EVER used.”
If William is hit by a bus, his heirs will box all that stuff up and take it to a bike shop, hoping for ten cents on the dollar. The shop will look at all that gear, worthless to all but 20 people in the US, and give William's heirs directions to the dump, "second right after WalMart..."
At the dump, the eight Ideale riveted leather saddles will be revealed as what they are, what they've been since 1975: weight. Ballast. In poor William's absence, gravity will determine their value, so much per pound.
The best things are invisible: Love, laughter, hope, joy, respect, honor. I wish you houses-full of each. Sadly, you can’t hoard any of them, nor can anything you CAN hoard, even cool bicycles or old French saddles, secure them for you. Stuff is no substitute.
The best things are invisible. You want to fly. Stuff is hard to get off the ground. More stuff is worse. If you have more stuff than you use, there’s no time like the holidays to pass it along. Give stuff away. Get light.
Fly into the New Year.