I was fascinated. Here, in one location, was a convergence of thousands of bicycle enthusiasts. In fact, since it was the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, and since I was a witness to it all, I’ll go ahead and say that this was a convergence of bicycle fanatics. As one observer, I must say the whole living organism of it all fascinated me immensely. What are we to make of it? What did we gain, and did we learn anything?
I suppose we all answer that individually. We all have our own separate motivations for being there. Whether business, craft, consumer, art appreciation, social benefits, or journalism, we all have our own measures of satisfaction from the event. We all have our own “take-aways”. I was pathetically all over the place. Really. It was sensory overload in more ways than one. As the following paragraphs will show, I had several seemingly unrelated observations. The only thin thread that sewed them all together was this thing we call the bicycle.
I had a brief vision of what a bicycle-based transportation society might look like. On Saturday morning, just a few minutes before the doors opened, folks on bicycles came from all directions. Early on most Saturdays, this corner of downtown Austin is relatively quiet. But like an army of bees returning to the hive, all kinds of folks on all kinds of bicycles came swarming. The ratio of bikes to automobiles was completely reversed. It was quieter, more friendly and conversational, and a beautiful image. I had a living example of “what could be” laid out before me, and it was too bad that car people couldn’t be there to experience it.
It was interesting to see the selection of components for bikes within my genre of interest. I didn’t see much that was completely new to me, but I was sometimes surprised by the use of items that fall outside my own (insightful or mistaken) sense of optimum. For example, there were more internally geared hubs and belt drive systems than I expected. For my own applications, I’ve not seen a need to move in that direction, but there must be advantages for some. And just like those clever advertisers desire, I wondered if there was some real advantage that I was missing. Another example of product pondering focused on the Velo Orange Grand Cru 50.4bcd Crankset. I saw this lovely piece of hardware used on several bikes, and I thought to myself, “HooBoy, that would look handsome on my A. Homer Hilsen!” But would it really be better (or even equal) functionally to my current crankset? I don’t know…which brings me to my next observation.
The excess was a little embarrassing. That said, I’ll confess right now that “excess” is subject to debate, and some will opine that my wonderful A. Homer Hilsen is an example of excess all by itself. I offer no defense. Even so, I submit that more than a few of us thought to ourselves that some of the frames, components, and personal accessories were beyond the sustainable sensitivities that so many bicycle aficionados proclaim. Instead, they were in effect more aligned with a consumption model. I found myself thinking about replacing things that worked well with things that promise to be incrementally better (often at a substantially higher cost). So I myself am certainly not above the fray.
So I wandered the aisles and wanted. I wanted bicycle paraphernalia. I wanted a new frame. I wanted the fun of working with a craftsman to create something special. I wanted new bags, components, and clothing. I felt like buying some of these things would help create that bicycle society I sometimes imagine. I felt like buying these things would somehow change my life and give me more youth, strength, and time to ride. I almost pulled out the credit card on numerous occasions, and I don’t know how I resisted. Maybe with age comes a better understanding of how blessed I already am.
So I left the show early on Saturday, straddled my factory-produced, TIG-welded, steel, fixed-wheel bicycle, and headed north on the Shoal Creek Trail. It was time to ride…