Friday, April 1, 2011

Design for Use versus Posturing

[image via thefixfixfix]

For some time now, there has been debate as to whether the rise of "cycling culture" is positioning the bicycle as primarily a fetish object, with functionality a mere afterthought. As with any trend, the marketing industry harvests the readily identifiable, superficial aspects of a phenomenon, enhances them to the point of vulgarity, then sells to the eager public an attractive empty shell, devoid of any actual substance. BikeSnobNYC has been waxing lyrical on this topic since the start of his blog, satirizing a "bike culture" where sullen boys walk their brakeless neon fixies to the nearest cafes while airhead girls pedal their 70lb Dutch bikes at 5mph against traffic in billowing designer frocks - all of them laden with hundreds of dollars worth of cycling-specific accessories. 

[image via republicbike]

While I am accustomed to the Snob's endearing rants on this topic, reading Rivendell's version of the same complaint the other day was more novel. In several recent posts, Grant Petersen describes going to a bicycle trade show and being taken aback by the abundance of over-designed and impractical objects, such as rhinestone-encrusted lugs, heavy leather saddlebags and absurdly complicated toe clips. "A bag that weighs more empty than the contents it carries is quite a bag. A rack that shows off its beauty and never covers itself with a bag or basket is quite a rack. A bike and every part on it should serve a function." Agreed. But the irony of it - and I am sure Mr. Petersen is not blind to this irony - is that Rivendell played a role in these fancy/useless things being on the market today. Creating an interest in elaborate lugwork, leather, twine, and "old timey aesthetics" was a key part of Rivendell's marketing from the start. Now, it seems that the message has gotten away from them. Form is being imitated without substance.

[image via bornrich]

"A bike should look only so fancy," Petersen writes.  "There's a line. It's easy to cross it." Problem is, who draws that line, and where? Is it just one of those things where we know it when we see it? I am not  against extravagance in the bicycle industry per se: Ultimately I think it's marvelous if "luxury bicycles" become status symbols instead of luxury cars and electronic gadgets. But I guess for me, it's important that the bicycle be designed for actual use and with longevity in mind first and foremost. If I see a diamond encrusted bike and it's a good bike - quality construction and finishing, comfortable, great handling - then its excess does not annoy me. It amuses me, but I don't get mad thinking "how dare they make a diamond encrusted bike." On the other hand, if I see a bike where all the money went into the embellishments and the bicycle itself is shoddy or ill-conceived, that does bother me quite a bit: At that point it's not a bicycle, but a "BSO" (Bike Shaped Object). It may be expensive, but to my eye it is no different from those horrid things sold for $60 at big box stores: not a functional bike, but a sad waste of resources and human labor.

[image via bikehugger]

Of course, all of this does not just apply to luxury bicycles. Often I see bikes in the $400-700 range, where it is so plain that the majority of the manufacturer's budget went into simulating the aesthetics of high-end bikes and then marketing the heck out of the product, while paying only scant attention to things like geometry, quality of construction, and component choice. These bicycles are designed to look good in catalogues, but not to benefit the cyclist. They are essentially disposable.

[image via wallbike]

And I think the theme of disposability is also what's behind my dislike of the recent proliferation of leather saddles that come in neon colours and wild motifs. Admittedly I am being hypocritical here, because the saddles are well-made and perfectly functional - what's the harm in them being flamboyantly colourful or embossed with skulls and bones? I guess I feel that the styling trivialises a product that is made from an animal and is meant to last a long time. My intent is not to be political with the animal thing, but on a personal level I do feel bad when I see these new models. Will a cyclist really keep a neon saddle for the rest of their lives? For the next several years even? It seems to me that the flamboyant styling introduces an element of built-in obsolescence into a product that is otherwise intended to last. It's a contradiction in design that I find jarring.

The point where a bicycle-related product stops being merely fancy or trendy and becomes offensive is different for everyone; we'll never agree. Still, it can be interesting to evaluate one's personal parameters and to hear others' opinions. What's your view?

76 comments:

  1. It seems to me that what these Rivendell guys are marketing is precisely a kind of fetishism. For instance, their Quickbeam at $1600 fetishises inconvenience: "With just a little practice, you'll be able to make a gear change in 25 seconds", presumably so that their customers can have the opportunity to buy their way out of the self-loathing of late capitalism. Of course, I guess their customers are part of that large group (everyone outside the workshop) who "don't get it". I bet they do get something of it though, I bet they do get the sensation of being laughed at by the people who take their money. I bet they get it everytime they get off their bike at the bottom of a hill in order to change gear.

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  2. Speaking of vulgar. $6500 from a car company for a wooden bike for a "daily commuter for casual cyclists" is pretty far up there. I think Audi will leave themselves open for ridicule doing such a thing:

    http://www.audi-collection.com/duo

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  3. It seems to me that this conundrum is no different than the excess that plagues every other aspect of our daily lives. I don't know why we're so surprised that our superficiality has now extended to the bicycle world. Honestly, for me, as long as it gets more people interested, I don't care how many rhinestones, neon saddles, or skanky models it takes to sell it. I'm just glad this might mean fewer trips in the car.

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  4. I do find it a bit irritating when I see bicycles which are more designed as fashion accessories than as useful transport. I suppose that my annoyance mainly stems from the fact that in the UK, as in the USA, we are still fighting and fighting hard for the cycle and its users to be treated equally to other modes of transport.

    Whilst we are fighting for this, any trivialisation of the bike itself can feel like it is undoing the work towards cycles being treated as an equally valid mode of transport. For example, I don't dislike MTV's Pimp My Ride, but if cars were a minority transport mode and their users were struggling for acceptance on the roads (and I actually liked cars), I'm sure it would bother me in the same way .

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  5. Anything that makes bikes more desirable to everyone, not just 'cyclists', is a good thing in my book. On the other hand, anything that puts up barriers to cycling (like implying you have to be hip, or need to spend loads of money) is a bad thing. Not sure that helps much!

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  6. Most marketing is an honest response to consumer demand. Unfortunately American consumers don't yet see the practical side of cycling. To them bikes are recreational toys, as such they fall into the frivolous, luxury category. Since they are perceived as frivolous and useless, the marketing people find more ways to accentuate that.
    At a friend's shop awhile back a woman ordered a$4400 carbon fiber crotch rocket, not because of the quality, appearance or brand but solely because none of her friends had one like it.
    Unfortunately some of the stuff you see exists because of a wasteful and uneducated public.

    Marc i

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  7. You see similar commentary and debate regarding pretty much any subculture when the true believers see the general public, fleeting interests and all, stepping in. Furniture, politics, religion, music, etc. It's an argument you'll always win with like-minded peers (or just yourself) but outside of the record store no one cares that you think the Decemberists suck. With that said, I would agree that the makers and marketers should be a little more responsible in not treating more permanent objects as passing fads. Hence the flood of hot pink b43's on craigslist these days. Gross.

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  8. Another thought-provoking post, V. I also read that recent GP post and am currently building a Rivendell Bleriot road bike (although he prefers to call it a "country bike"). I get just a bit concerned that my bike will be too beautiful or a little too "precious". Even though I have lusted after a nice Riv frame that is beautiful and it will certainly be precious to me. GP says that there is a line. Well, he draws it where he chooses and his customers can take it or leave it. I love lugs and I know that there are techical arguments in favor of them. But, really now, would 99% of us notice the difference between lugged steel and TIGed steel? Or would our bike last any longer? So we all draw the line by our choice of bikes, frames and the parts and accessories that be put on them. At least lugs cannot be made so cheaply that they can be mass-marketed. Good thing? I wonder if the industry trend that you and GP write about is, in the long run, helpful or harmful to promoting cycling? I mean, if someone buys a blingy sub-standard bike, will they get so turned off that they quit riding, or will they be inspired to buy a better bike. Individuals will go either way I guess.

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  9. I am in total agreement with everything you said, right up until leather saddles in colors. As a glass artist, I love color and I love these new saddles. I was excited to finally see a B17 available in apple green, it is next up on my list. I admit to changing up the colors on my bikes when having serious bike lust, but no new bike on the horizon, so the saddles fit in just perfectly with bar tape and tires. I suspect, as with most leather products under heavy use, if well made, the colors will become muted and lovely with age. Since I've hardly parted with anything and am a terrible pack rat, I suspect I will have them all for the rest of my life.

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  10. Some formal practices from bike retailers could help: 1 - No mail order. 2 - Blind test riding (e.g. as first step whilst shopping for a new bike, a bike shop would put you on a few wrapped up bikes so you could not see paint or details...). 3 - For practical bikes, shop would ask you what the heaviest thing you think you would ever carry on a bike, then they would give you something perhaps twice that weight and have you ride the bike, with - obviously - only a comfy bike a winner!

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  11. ... it's important that the bicycle be designed for actual use and with longevity in mind first and foremost, with embellishment enhancing but not replacing good design....

    This quote from the article says most of it for me. Personally, I don't appreciate the fancy embellishments but as long as the bike works and is ridden it is a matter of personal taste.

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  12. I'm sorry, I'm not sure I understand how you see leather, twine and lugwork leading to diamond/rhinestone encrusted bicycles. I'm pretty sure the two markets don't overlap very much.

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  13. I expected a little more "over the top" on April 1st.

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  14. The first bicycle I bought as an adult turned out to be a BSO. I just feel sick that there are people, like me, out there that save up and spend their money on one of these then are completely hooped since they can't recoup their investment and also don't have a bike they can use.

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  15. Too true, both in the bicycle world and pretty much any world in which manufacturers are trying to squeeze that extra buck out of the consumer. It is hard to find a product these days that was crafted to both have a timeless quality as well as last a lifetime and it saddens me.

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  16. I think it comes down to the intention the product was designed with. When someone creates a product to make a quick buck, it's stupid and (as you say) a waste of material and energy. When someone creates a bold design to try something new, it can be good; of course, in that case the functionality of the product wouldn't be compromised.
    Creating something that has lots of flash and poor useability is a sure sign of lack of intelligence and (very likely) negative intention. However, let's not just point fingers at the designers - the people who buy this poorly-designed-but-flashy stuff are responsible for its existence, as well.

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  17. wynnruss - I don't really see that with the Quickbeam. The gear changing is a neat extra feature on what is otherwise a fixed gear single speed. Rivendell has plenty of geared bicycles to offer, for those who want actual gears. But a fixed gear with an alternative ratio option for emergencies? I don't really see how that's screwing the customer at all. Compare it to other single speed fixed gears, not to geared bikes.

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  18. Apart from dilettantes making hay from the currently higher visibility of bicycles in America, there always have been cyclists (many of whom amass quite a few miles) who are consumed with the images their bikes project. For all the supposed rejection of conformity within the tiny corner of the cycling world occupied by present enthusiasts for practical, lugged steel bicycles, this sector is full of dedicated followers of fashion.

    Cyclists steeped in the classics (e.g. Gillott, Hobbs, early Claud Butler, or, in the plainer manifestations, Cinelli and Colnago), realize there really is nothing much that is old-timey or traditional in the aesthetics of Rivendell bicycles. The resemblance is only that the bikes are made of steel, and have lugs. After the early Waterford days, they have not built a bike that ever conceivably would have been let out of any of the aforementioned workshops. However some of the brand's followers are a part of the phenomenon of over-fussed, under-used, highly expensive bicycles (often owned in multiples). Bicycle Quarterly and collectors connected to the Classic Rendezvous email list are other contributors to a movement which has fetish-ized otherwise useful old bicycles, and encouraged the proliferation of precious, affected imitations of 60-yr-old French bikes. How refreshing it is to walk in a French town and see a native utility bike beaten to smithereens by use, so much more interesting than the carefully "curated," ersatz versions popping up on the streets of our cities.

    Whatever one thinks of Grant's tastes, it is hard to attach to him any responsibility for this sort of "connoisseurship." His own bikes are used hard and are set up with no regard for aesthetic effect. He adopted leather saddles and wax cotton bags for practical purposes, as did many of us who grew up under the influence of the British touring tradition, and actually use our bikes to go to work and on tour, ensuring they will be scratched, dented, and stay dirty. That does not rule out romantic associations with tourists of time past, but it is likely those folks spent their time riding bikes, not buying ever more of them, and not combing swap meets to outfit imitations of the bikes their fathers and grandfathers rode.

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  19. You do seem to have a conflict of opinion on these matters - criticizing and then semi- retracting - when at the root of this piece it just seems that you're really just echoing the Snob's other niggle, his irritation with hipsters.

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  20. Frankly I couldn't care less. I think some of the things you describe are tacky, sure, and they do trivialize cycling and bicycles, but then the world is full of trivialization and nouveau riche tackiness. The people who buy these diamond-encrusted bikes are buying them as statements, not as bicycles. THey are never going to be cyclists.

    I also agree with the above poster that leather, twine and lugs is a long, long way from the poseurs in the glossy ads, and glittering Faberge-style bikes. There is no market overlap; I can't even see how it could be called the thin end of the wedge.

    Nor do I see any trouble whatsoever with fine leather saddles in colours. Mine are all black or honey (I'm a Brooks saddle fan) and that's what goes best on my bikes but I can well see the point of someone wanting them in more interesting shades; bikes are fusions of art and function and a candy apple Brooks B-17 is still very functional.

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  21. Veloria, assuming you aren't teasing on April 1, your blog is devoted precisely to this choice of aesthetic over function. One does not end up with a 40 or 50 pound bicycle costing over $1000 otherwise. I have the greatest respect for your point of view and think you have every right to it. But I don't see much difference between a relatively cheap bike imitating something with a more refined aesthetic (but using a mass-produced TiG-welded steel or, horrors, aluminum frame) and something that was assembled by hand. Indeed, the cheaper bike will ride somewhat differently. Will most people notice that on their way from home to work, or the cafe? Probably not. Most of what they are spending their money on is fashion. And there's only a class difference between someone who spends their money on bling and someone who shows their refined taste by buying a Pashley with Gilles Berthoud saddlebags.

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  22. Mr Colostomy said...
    I don't dislike MTV's Pimp My Ride, but if cars were a minority transport mode and their users were struggling for acceptance on the roads (and I actually liked cars), I'm sure it would bother me in the same way.

    In Germany MTV actually also has a program called "Pimp mein Fahrrad." They usually end up making the bikes into non-useful monstrosities!

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  23. Jon Webb - Nah. Read my blog again : )

    (Oh and I don't think a Pashley would look good with Giles Berthoud saddlebags at all. The English Roadster vs French Randonneur thing would clash. Who fitted Pashley with Berthoud?)

    Kieron - I am not particularly irritated with hipsters. But sure, there are inconsistencies in my point of view. I think that's fairly normal.

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  24. you want to talk about excess and form over function? take a look at Pharrell Williams of the band N.E.R.D bike.http://www.gagosian.com/editions/2011_pharrell-williams-for-domeau-and-p_the-and34veloand34-bike/

    The aptly titled “Velo” is made of 4130 chrome moly seamless airplane grade steel and over 100 man hours invested in upholstering the bike in water buffalo leather. The hand-stitched bike will be available in various colors with only one bike per color. Available now at the Gagosian Store with a price tag of €20,000.00 (approx. $27,250 USD

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  25. Whatever get's you out of your car and riding your bike.

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  26. Veloria, I can only scan your latest blog entry, because of the borderline NSFW images -- but I'll just take your word for it that you refuted my argument. Ok?

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  27. I'm not up on bike culture- I ride my Dad's reworked roadside finds that would make most of you shudder and am not a bike commuter- but, any fad that might make cities in my area (at one time among the top ten most dangerous places for cyclists in the US) consider bike lanes /paths would be good.

    As one uneducated in the finer art of cycling, I can say that all the over the top bike hype cheeses me out. But, I'm just stubborn and cheap.

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  28. Steve A - Yeah, somehow I don't see the Audio Duo as a "daily commuter for casual cyclists"!

    Kyle - The thing with the DOMEAU & PÉRÈS bike is that even conceptually I don't get it. What was the reasoning - Does the guy just really, really like leather? Or did he want to protect the entire frame? I guess I don't know enough about it, but the design makes no sense to me regardless of price.

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  29. Jon Webb - I meant the entire blog! (TheFixFixFix not safe for work?...)

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  30. Grant Peterson is committed to designing classic bicycles that are practical, comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. But,in the end, he is in business to make money, not to advance bicycling culture, and his evangelism about construction and aesthetics is an, if not the, essential part of his marketing strategy. Brooks choice to make multicolored saddles is also a business decision.

    V. I remember your previous post on the bicycles made with gold tubing and decorated with diamonds. The idea disgusted me, but you pointed out, as MandG does above, that whatever gets folks out riding a bike is a good thing. I think this goes for the bicycles in the $500-700 range as well.

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  31. "...not sure I understand how you see leather, twine and lugwork leading to diamond/rhinestone encrusted bicycles."

    Janice and Roff - It's a question of what constitutes being overly preoccupied with image. Some consider Rivendell's vision of what a bicycle should be, to be in itself excessive - the elaborate lugs & tweed bags thing to be overly dandified, a parody of itself.

    Leather, twine and lugwork are not, strictly speaking, "necessary" on a bicycle - and neither are rhinestones. Of course the difference, is that the former can be said to have a functional role, with the aesthetics being its byproduct. But still, many like them for the aesthetics alone, then taking those same aesthetics and either enhancing or distorting them to the point where the functionality is no longer there.

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  32. No - it is true, leather, twine and ornamental lugwork are not strictly speaking necessary. Neither are derailleurs - in fact for many years they were not permitted on the Tour de France, the founder of the race regarding them as an effete luxury, for poseurs only and not for 'real' cyclists. Sounds a bit familiar.

    I would also have to say - as one who lives in the UK - the following Pashleys seem to enjoy over on your side of the pond seems rather an affectation; London has a pretty robust cycling culture and you just don't see that many Pashleys (percentage wise) on the streets. They are popular with celebrities, but your rank and file commuter usually has something far more lightweight and functional for tight turns in traffic.

    I know the bit about poets being unsung in their own countries and all that, and so many this is an example, but from my worm's eye view the effusiveness about Pashleys and old-style 650B tyres on French-style randonneurs does seem to me an affectation of Englishness or French-ness. They just aren't that common over here.

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  33. Velouria--this post is right on target and speaks to many industries. I'm living in wine country right now and there are so many parallels to this in the wine business. It's funny to see the sides people take in matters of craft and design. But I think you're right to acknowledge that the way that some people want to 'bring back' what's classic about a craft inherently gives a nod toward the kind of 'fetishness' they're opposed to. I'm guilty of this to a certain extent, because I love a sense of a craft's history. When I see something outrageous, like diamond encrusted lugwork, it takes a lot of self-awareness not to be immediately and irrationally affronted. It's hard to see the origins of craft in that sort of design, but those origins could be there, and if so--cool. Of course, if not, then I'm left wondering why would anyone bother? And, yeah, where is that line anyway?

    Thanks so much for your daily insights. This is the first blog I've ever actually followed. I'm just getting into bicycles and you've really been helping me put a language to my experience.

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  34. Roff - As far as the UK goes, I think it depends on the demographic. I lived in Cambs for a part of the previous decade, and a large percentage of people around me rode heavy 3-speed loop frames or roadsters. And when I was visiting London last summer, I stayed in Chelsea and saw loads of Pashleys, vintage English 3-speeds, and some Dutch bikes - all being ridden by non-celebrities. There are lots of English blogs now dedicated to traditional bicycles as well.

    In the US, traditional bikes are by no means generally popular; they probably make up less than 1% of all the bikes on the roads. Boston is an anomaly in that respect, but I still saw more traditional bikes in London last summer than I see in Boston.

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  35. As far as I can tell, the "fetishing" of bicycling is really geared for non-cyclists, or "The Motoring Public". Super-clean, ornately appointed bicycles are ones that are not experiencing the rigors of daily life.

    The ladies that I see riding in my town, tend to ride bicycles that have "Evolved" through trial, experimentation, and augmentation. Parts of often miss-matched, colors are often random. Function exceeds form in every way. The bikes are rarely cleaned. To me, that is far more attractive that any fetishized display-piece.

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  36. "I don't care how many rhinestones, neon saddles, or skanky models it takes to sell it. I'm just glad this might mean fewer trips in the car."

    I would disagree with this statement. I don't think driving is such a necessary evil that we should be willing to promote (or encourage) selling lously products just to get people to stop driving (which I would argue shouldn't be the goal of promoting cycling in the first place).


    Focus instead on quality, individuality and enjoyment not politics and fads.

    (As an aside, the fad thing is why I get frustrated with Basil sometimes - they have such great products, if only they wouldn't be so garishly patterned! But then again, that's just my personal asthetic preference). :)

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  37. For those who are saddened that I posted a rambling missive instead of an April Fool's prank, here's something to cheer you up!

    New Brooks Campaign!

    Great stuff, thank you Brooks!

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  38. It is, as with every other physical "thing" one could own, a matter of personal taste ... and, of course, available money. For some, bikes are completely utilitarian with no artistic value. For others, they are completely works of art whose tires never see a grain of street dirt. For still others, they are a blend of functional and artistic design ... to please the eye as well as the riding experience.

    It is no different with, for example, guitars. Some play guitars that are thoroughly trashed, appearing to be on the verge of falling apart ... and yet sound beautiful. Others have diamonds for fret position markers, LED lights, or custom airbrushed artwork. Remember the first VanHalen record? Eddie's guitar at the time was a thrashed Fender, "stylized" with electrical tape! That guitar spawned a fashion trend of "custom" finishes.

    If a person wants bling, maybe they should have it ... be it around their wrist or on their bike. If not, then it's also perfectly fine to have zero bling ... or somewhere in the middle.

    For me, I go for geometry and functional design first, followed by an overall "look" in the component and paint choice. It needs to feel right when I ride it, go where I need it to go, carry what I need it to carry, and make me smile when I look at it. All of those things are different for every person, but I think we need to stop judging others when their taste differs from our own.

    As for Rivendell, their frames have a purposeful design that is also accompanied by an artistic touch. They can be decked out with ultra high end stuff, or equipped with subdued and functional components. The choice is still yours, so please stop all the bickering. Buy what you like and let others do the same. Personally, I'm getting a bit tired of every cyclist somehow being the "expert" on what is and isn't right on a bike. I know that reflects passion, but can we do it without being so negative?

    Just my take ...

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  39. Definitely rambling and somewhat circular, but compared to Grant's sleep-deprived walk on the wild side...

    anyway what was I saying?

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  40. I have to say that if anyone was going to mention two areas of England where you might still find small herds of Pashleys thriving, you mentioned both of them. Chelsea and Cambridge. Bingo.

    I would still describe a Pashley as at least as much a fashion statement as a bike.

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  41. Hi, Velouria, thanks for your post. Regarding your comment: "Will a cyclist really keep a neon saddle for the rest of their lives? For the next several years even?" I actually think 1. I've never had a saddle that's lasted my whole life so years is probably mroe realistic; and 2. Yes, I think they will. Different people have different aesthetics AND people also want to ride something that's comfortable. Also, I would assume they are getting the saddle to match their bike in some way, and many people keep their bikes for a lifetime. If a person finds a saddle color and fit they like, I bet they will stick with the saddle for years, or however long the saddle holds out.

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  42. MG - Yeah, the saddle thing is a bias on my part, I totally admit it. I am far from a perfectly reasonable human being : )

    Roff - I agree, but only insofar as EVERYTHING is a fashion statement. Wearing a ratty t-shirt and trackpants instead of a business suit is a fashion statement. Riding an ugly utilitarian bike is a fashion statement. Everything is infused with meaning that observers use to categorise us, it's inescapable.

    When I decided to buy my formerly-owned Pashley Princess in May 2009, what attracted me to this bike were, in equal measure: aesthetics, comfort, convenience, and the fact that it was handmade in the EU. When I began to feel limited by the bicycle's ride quality over time, I sold it - pretty much the opposite of a fashion-driven decision, as aesthetically I still loved the bike.

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  43. Quite true - in the abstract, anyway. Everything is infused with meaning, but meaning and fashion are not the same.

    My slovenly jeans and T-shirt (the advantage of working from a home office!) is no FASHION statement, but it is A statement of sorts, I suppose (basically that I'm a slob, or that I work from home, or both)

    And I fully agree with you that aesthetics play - and should play - a role in cycling, and in life. My bicycles are very nice looking, and by some good opinions could be held to be fashion statements - that said my stylish 11 year-old Thorn eXp tourer with the retro black-and-cream billiard-cue paint-job has 75,000 to 80,000 miles on it and my rather newer Pegoretti Luigino road bike, two seasons old (it doesn't go out in winter) already has well over 6,000 miles.

    And yes - I will admit it - aesthetically speaking, I like Pashleys!

    But if I was to ride one it would definitely be a pose.

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  44. thanks for this post.

    I for one like it when you wax around with conflicting points of view. But, and also wold be my fav phrase. Besides it takes ambivalence to me is a sign of well rounded and a well thinking person!

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  45. Looking at the "hot chix" pictures above it occurs to me I don't know which ones represent "poser" and which "use". Perhaps neither.

    The Republics have racks and skirtguards, yet are represented by willowy glamazons with little muscle mass. Not to say they may not be strong in real life.

    Despite the racks the Belleville falls to the poser side of things for me. Eco saddle? Threadless steerer? Frenchie name, referencing a film? From Wisconsin?

    The fixfix site is surprising both by being greeted by breasts everywhere but by the clear affection the girls have for their bikes. It's clear many of them actually ride.

    Utility has many faces.

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  46. Because personal tastes are so varied, I try to locate the meaning of an object in how thoughtful it is, rather than its perceived utility or its beauty. That is its own philosophical wormhole, in a way, but it works for me because it lets me appreciate stuff that resides wholly outside my own aesthetic.

    I think this general subject touches a deep nerve in people, in part because pretty things *can* be frivolous and solemnity about frivolity is extremely tedious. For my part, I think Rivendell do not take themselves too seriously, and this, in combination with the serious functionality of their products communicates that their aesthetic decisions were made thoughtfully and I respect that, even when my own taste is totally different.

    I am down with "bike culture" in as much as it provides me with thoughtful bike infrastructure and more cyclists -- safety in numbers.

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  47. The bicycle industry is shooting itself in the foot if you ask me. It seems like every novice cyclist wants an impractical carbon frame or at least an aluminum frame with a carbon fork so that they can "look like Lance". Sadly, all this makes them is uncomfortable and awkward on the bike. I'm pretty sure that these folks get tired of cycling pretty quickly when they find out that their little no-name faux racing saddle hurts like hell after 5 miles.

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  48. Jim - You think it's clear that many of the FixFixFix girls actually ride? Weird, to me it seems just the opposite. Sometimes even the way the girls are posing makes it obvious that they can't ride a bike, other times the fit is totally wrong.

    Agreed on the Belleville. I tried riding it and after 10 minutes had no desire to continue. The Republic Dutch bikes I would really like to try, but there aren't any in my area. I've heard from a couple of readers who've bought the bikes, and they basically find them unridable. Stuff falls off, components don't function well, handling is overly sluggish. If that is true than they are indeed ornamental, and it's too bad. But I'd like to try one myself.

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  49. The car industry went through something quite similar years ago: practical cars (80s compacts) made big inroads... they were picked up by the 'boy racer' subset, and turned into the 'diamond encrusted mongoose' mentioned in the original post. After that, there was a backlash by 'enthusiasts' who decried the 'ricer' preference of form over function - everybody then had to run out and buy performance parts. Eventually that went the way of all flesh, and everybody went out and bought 3-series BMWs.

    All that while, though, there was an auto industry and an aftermarket industry that were playing off the battling trends.

    In the end it's all trying to create an identity through the crap that you buy, and becoming annoyed when you think that carefully 'curated' identity is being threatened in some way.

    This situation isn't unique at all.

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  50. There are plenty of girls on the site who look like they were handed a bike and told to take off their shirt, too. However, bike fit doesn't tell the viewer the ability of the rider.

    When Lance Armstrong came out of retirement both my wife and I said, "Who the hell thinks that's a good position?" It took the entire season for him to fix it.

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  51. The results at the recent Track World Championships would suggest the US needs to promote cycling far more with women. If it takes bicycles being seen as fashion accessories then so be it. It might just get some more into cycling.

    Lets face it, some girls can do both. Victoria knows how to have a photo taken on a bike!!

    http://victoriapendleton.co.uk/gallery

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  52. " what's the harm in them being flamboyantly colourful or embossed with sculls and bones?"

    Good question. I'm not sure why anyone would want an image of a rowboat on their bicycle saddle!

    http://uk.encarta.msn.com/encnet/features/dictionary/DictionaryResults.aspx?lextype=3&search=scull

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  53. This is totally off topic but I thought you would like to see this "cyclepedia" I came across on a bike blog.

    http://thecommonelite.org/?p=1497

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  54. To be fair, even if the first purchasers don't keep their neon saddles they'll make their way to places where, in 25 years time, people (like me) will pounce on them with squeaks of delight muttering "Vintage neon! $25! Score!!"

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  55. Anonymous said...
    "cyclepedia"


    "...with a forward by Paul Smith"

    Lisa - I'll keep an eye on vintage neon leather saddles for you
    : )

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  56. Eh... I don't mind hipsters, people posing with pretty bikes, folks who twine everything in sight, folks who buy rusty old bikes and stick $200 embossed Brooks saddles on them... I just don't spend a lot of time pondering the tastes of other people. Not because I'm above that sort of thing (I can certainly engage in a rant when provoked: ask me about the new version of Jane Eyre, for instance), but because I have an odd style myself, and so I can't afford to be too critical. I'm currently wearing rainbow madras-plaid shoes and a watch with rainbow numbering and a bright pink band, for instance. When one has an affinity for rainbow clothing, one cannot throw stones very far, you know?

    The one cycling fad that I find annoying is when I see women cycling in high heels. I get that cycling in one's street clothing is convenient, and I don't own any cycling-specific clothing beyond a helmet and gloves. But honestly... wearing heels when riding a bike just seems dangerous and well, silly. I feel ashamed, really, for the ridiculous vainity of womenkind when I see other women doing this. I'm not talking shoes with a bit of heel, here, but the serious dress-and-heels thing some women do. Throw 'em in those gorgeous Dutch panniers, ladies, and cycle in flats.

    There, told you I could rant if properly provoked. But rainbow saddles? I'm not moved.

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  57. As a life long cyclist I am a bit baffled by this bike culture business although i certainly love bikes, love lugs and all the chrome and pretty bits and all things bike related. But years ago when I was in university and biking around, we just rode what we had available to us which was mountain bikes. It would have been fun to have beautiful bikes to play with, but at the time it was the BACKLASH against well made quality road and commuter bikes. Nobody wanted road bikes. Such a shame!
    I'm happy to see the kids out biking, but some of the fixie stuff is ridiculous, dangerous and impractical.
    While I love colours and would like more colour options for brooks saddles, I also understand the concern that people will get bored of them because the fad is past whereas a brooks saddle is built for life.
    I guess I hate to see anything fetishized to the point of uselessness and random pointless consumerism. Because knock offs will be made of anything cool and popular. The world does not need more stuff made that is poor quality which will break and not work properly.
    Biking in my mind is about longevity.
    The most annoying thing to me are the very sexualized images of women on bikes. It's still not enough for women to be smart, capable, independent,able to ride a bike and knowledgable about bike mechanics etc.. None of the girls in the photos have biking legs either. But do you see ads with men wearing super short shorts or trying to ride in wedge heels or high heeled pumps? Those short shorts would be so uncomfortable to ride in too...the thought of the chaffing!! And so tired of seeing photos of red patent high heels on bikes. So impractical.

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  58. True - you never see ads with men wearing patent red high heel shoes on bicycles, at least not in the magazines I read, but then I have to say you seldom see men wearing red high heeled shoes full stop.

    Not that we guys are not stereotyped too - we are. TAke a look at the covers of just about every bicycling magazine going back to the year dot (at least the magazines we get here in Britain) and on every occasion it will be some guy in race gear riding on the drops. He's never sitting up and looking at the scenery, au contraire: he's belting along on the drops, usually out of the saddle, rigid, intent, in full race mode.

    I never ride like that, any more than I ride in patent red high heels...

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  59. I agree with Grant when he wrote that no bicycle is a piece of crap. If it makes you happy then go for it. I didn't appreciate the comment about these mass produced bikes being disposable. It makes you appear snobby, which is sad. The more this elitist attitude comes into play, the less enjoyable this blog becomes to read.

    wrapping water bottles in twin, function over fashion?

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  60. An observation about the built in disposability of the large proportion of mass-produced bikes does not make one snobby, merely observant.

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  61. snarkypup said...
    "The one cycling fad that I find annoying is when I see women cycling in high heels. I get that cycling in one's street clothing is convenient, and I don't own any cycling-specific clothing beyond a helmet and gloves. But honestly... wearing heels when riding a bike just seems dangerous and well, silly. I feel ashamed, really, for the ridiculous vainity of womenkind when I see other women doing this."


    You really feel that strongly about it?

    I do not wear high heels on a bike myself, because I don't feel safe cycling in them - my feet slip off the pedals. But despite my own experience, I sincerely believe women who say that they feel safe cycling in heels and find it easy. It just really depends on individual ability and comfort level. And I definitely do not think it's vain or silly to wear the same footwear you normally wear, on your bike.

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  62. Peppy (the I'll take two pairs plz cat)April 2, 2011 at 8:42 PM

    wtf, why is everyone hating on women who wear or ride or sleep in high heels all of a sudden?

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  63. I didn't know anyone was, let alone everyone.

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  64. Velouria:

    I follow this blog on a daily basis and seldom have disagreements with what you say. I am often given real food for thought. Therefore I hide this comment down here where I hope you will find it and also hope it will not distract from the lines of the blog.

    One more time you have said that "everything is a fashion statement". You are abusing the word "fashion". If EVERYTHING (we wear) is a fashion statement, the word "fashion" becomes devoid of meaning. A word in a language has meaning only if another word exists that is in some way a contrast that defines and limits its meaning. If for some reason I start saying that "all weather is warm", then "warm" doesn't have specific meaning any more. "Warm" means something only if the concept "cool" exists. In your usage, "fashion" becomes a synonym for "clothing".

    I think that "fashion" should retain a dictionary sort of definition: The prevailing mode or practice in dressing manner and ornament among a certain peer group in a certain place and time. This allows people to be UNfashionable or OLD fashioned. And seen as an accepted mode or manner, it allows some to be outside the fashion sphere altogether.

    I agree with Roff above, that one should not confuse fashion with communicating with dress. And some people are totally out of the fashion OR communicationg with dress world: the homeless person pushing their shopping cart and clothing themselves out of dumpsters are outside both these spheres, as are refugees in deserts in the third world.

    Do you perhaps want to say that we can make meaningful statements without participating in the fashion industry (be it the clothing or bicycle fashion industry)? I have nothing against that statement and I feel it is a stronger way of saying things.

    Thank you,

    Leo

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  65. Snarkypup - I have a good friend who spends so much time in heels she no longer feels comfortable in flats. My husband has congenitally shortened Achilles tendons, and I can't for the life of me understand why anyone would volunteer for the problems that causes. However, the only way we would ever get her on a bike is if it can accommodate her lifestyle (which include heels).

    To me the design vs posturing line in the sand is when the "features" are just slapped to sell the bike as one thing when the frame isn't designed for that. But.... sometime I think it's the LBS's that cross it.

    When I told my LBS that I was looking for a car replacement, I wish they had told me I was getting (basically) a prettied up MTB instead of selling me on the fenders and the chain guard and handy rack for carrying stuff. Did the staff REALLY just not know the difference? Or was it just that they don't stock what I needed and didn't want to loose a sale by admitting it?

    If you are looking for a piece of art, that's one thing. If you go in looking for a serious day to day functional bicycle and you get sold something that just looks nice, that's a whole different thing. Even if it does match your heels.

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  66. Erin B said...
    "I have a good friend who spends so much time in heels she no longer feels comfortable in flats."


    That was me from age 18 until about age 28. I did not even own flats except for a pair of sneakers. Why? Believe it or not heels felt more comfortable. The stretch in my arches and calves, the feeling of being slightly elevated. I've heard the same from many other women. Then bang, 4 years ago something changed and I no longer felt like wearing them. That's just how it goes sometimes.

    Leo - But consider that meaning, and especially definition of words, is fluid. The core meaning of the word "fashion" is actually "manner." The manner in which one presents oneself. Using the word "fashion" to mean "that which is trendy" is a popular colloquialism but not the true meaning of the word.

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  67. Yet about Fashion:

    "The core meaning of the word... is actually 'manner.' "

    Yes and no. The word is from the latin *facio* meaning "making". That sense is still in English, as a blacksmith fashions a horseshoe. It also appears as "fact" in English.

    But all this is falling into a certain flaw of thinking: words do not mean what the ultimate root of the word meant; they mean what people mean when they use the word today.

    Is not a "manner" a way a certain peer group does something at a certain time and place.... and we are back at the "popular" meaning of fashion. (c.f. "a mannered behavior.") And "popular": relating or pretaining to the people, or in this case, the way people use the word.

    Look: all I am saying is that using the word to mean "Everything" is limiting the ways you can use the word. I like your stuff, we and the bicycle scene need more of it. I just want to sharpen up one little part of your message. Old habits: 40 years as a teacher...

    Leo

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  68. Leo - I both agree and disagree : ) This is the kind of topic that inspires academic conferences.

    To be clear, I am not using fashion to mean "everything," but specifically "the way one presents oneself." A person can be dressed "in a slovenly fashion" or they can be dressed "in an elegant fashion." My main argument here, is that as long as the person can be said to *choose* how they dress, they are expressing themselves and participating in fashion.

    But, to take it one step further: If we look at today's society centuries from now, I am pretty sure that the "fashion" (i.e. trend) of the times will be considered just the sort of clothing that some are claiming to be "not fashion." History teachers will say that "It became fashionable to wear bland, loose, unstructured, garments, often embellished with slogans, images, or logos of manufacturers - combined with soft rubbery footwear and an unmanicured appearance."

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  69. I see where you are going with that business about fashion and self expression and I'd have to say it is very, very, very nuanced.

    Self expression and fashion can be said to be related, but a distant relation; same phylum, different species.

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  70. To me they are more like a van diagram, where the overlap varies as a function of numerous factors... but I doubt we will agree on the philosophical parameters of these nuances in the comments section of this blog : )

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  71. I can run in heels, after all (or I used to be able to, before I developed severe foot pain), but that doesn't mean it's a good idea. Just because someone says they can do something safely, doesn't mean it's safe. But I suppose that's partially just me. Frankly, I'll admit to bias here, as I find very high heels exploitive, reminding me (in a lesser way) of foot-binding: fashion definitely trumping anatomy. I can say this especially now that I'm old and my feet hurt too much to wear them! :)

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  72. Anonymous said...
    "Venn"


    Unfortunately I can't change typos in the comments; I can only delete them. In this case I will leave it and pray the world will be understanding.

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  73. Hey Green Factory Idea,

    I don't get the no mail order. I live in the country and the nearest bikeshop is 40km away. The post comes to town everyday. Are you suggesting that I drive both ways to get my parts?

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