Friday, August 10, 2012

Touchy-Feely

Susan's Pink Sketchy
I have a funny habit of touching bicycles. It starts innocently enough: First a glance, then a closer look, then a quick stroke or two. But before I know it I am engaged in an orgy of tactile exploration that has been known to shock by-standers. Slowly and affectionately I will run my hand over the frame, tracing the outlines of the lugwork, closely examining the joints, touching the braze-ons one by one, visibly savouring every moment of it. Those who know me in person tease me about this, and apparently even discuss it behind my back good-naturedly. At Interbike last year, I was giving a bike a furtive fondle when the manufacturer snuck up behind me, laughing: "They told me you were going to do this!"

When it comes to other people's bikes, I do ask permission - much as I would ask for permission to pet someone's dog or cat. "May I?" My voice and my outstretched hand tremble with anticipation. The owner is amused and delighted, if somewhat taken aback by the intensity of my interest.

But though my case may be extreme, I am hardly alone in the bike-fondling affliction. Even without asking, strangers will often stroke my bikes absent-mindedly -  their hands drawn to a leather saddle, a headbadge, some shellacked twine, lugwork. "This part here..." an acquaintance suddenly said mid-conversation, pointing to the top of my bike's fork. "It's so... cake-like! What is it for?" Excitedly I began to explain about fork crowns, but stopped myself as the poor person's eyes glazed over. They didn't want to know. But they did want to touch.

I think that bicycles - particularly bicycles with all sorts of interesting or organic-looking bits on them - tend to invite tactile attention. Say what you will about looks mattering or not mattering, but when a bicycle draws us in physically, surely that is a good thing.

Are you touchy-feely when it comes to bikes? Do others tend to touch your bike, and do you mind?

64 comments:

  1. I smell what you're steppin' in. This is my take on touching. Bikes are among the very few things that are elemental, as there is hardly one thing added to a bike that is not necessary to its task, the head-badge, paint maybe. When you touch a bike, you are touching the essence of it, you can feel what makes it go.

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  2. To be too touchy is an invasion of space. Beauty should be admired from afar.

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  3. 1.) I am not touchy feelie when it comes to others' bikes.
    2.) I haven't noticed others fondling mine.
    3.) I do not mind!
    Maybe as I move more and more to my bike as my primary mode of transportation I will get more touchy feelie. I do spend a lot of time looking for "bike porn".

    Love the blog by the way. Your passion for cycling comes right through. So many bike blogs are more about gear and bike culture. This isn't bad unless they become the dominant topic of the blog. I like that yours is more intimate, more personal reflections about cycling and it's meaning/role in your life.

    I tend to be this way with sound (shameless self promotion: historylessonpt2.blogspot.com); nice to see someone doing it with bikes!

    Anyway, keep up the great work! (sorry comment is so long)

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  4. I ogle bikes, probably as much as you do, though I'm somewhat embarrassed by it. I'd like to touch them, but often the owner is not around. I'm more the looky-looky-take-a-picture kind of person.

    People don't usually fondle my bike. I don't own any pretty or unique ones, except for the collectible Miyata. But they might ask about a handle bar bag or accessory, since I decorate my bikes.

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  5. Touching bicycles? Interesting and, yes, a bit unusual...But I guess when thinking about it, the idea of fondling individual bicycle components is quite natural. While working in a shop customers always wanted things pulled out of the display case in order to feel them, turn them over, examine them from every angle, almost as if touch give them the final insights they needed. But complete bikes...Never noticed that need amongst folks.

    I personally prefer looking from a distance of four or five meters...Sorta seeing the lines and the context. Lots look, and frequently ask question or comment, but no one has asked to touch. They'd get dirty hands :)

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  6. I admit to being a saddle and handlebar stroker

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  7. I'm not touchy-feely, but I do intensely examine. I've been warned before, only half jokingly, that I look like I'm scoping out the bike racks for easily snatchable bikes, so I try to be discreet.

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  8. I would say I'm visual before tactile... the look invites the touch. I used to mostly be drawn to nicely machined components, but now I'm also a sucker for a creamy, powder coated finish. A finish thick enough, it looks like touching it would create a ripple. The Bella Ciao does this to me. So I decided to pick up a cool old lugged frame and build a trimmed down, Retrovelo like, balloon commuter with the powder coating of my choice. We'll see how it turns out.

    If someone builds a bicycle and you want to touch it, ride it, be one with it, the build was a success.

    Chris

    p.s. Fairly new to your blog (a few months) but really enjoy it. Thank you for writing!

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  9. Lots of people at least look at my bike because it is so abnormal. Since it's supposed to be indestructible, I don't mind at all if they touch it, as long as they are careful not to accidentally knock it over on top of a small child.

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  10. "...engaged in an orgy of tactile exploration that has been known to shock bystanders." Beautiful. Thank you!

    Matt's right. It's your personal, intimate look at cycling and what it means to you which sets your blog apart. After all, cycling is a sensual experience.

    My take on it: the bike path to world peace

    Thanks for making the blogosphere a more sensual place!

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  11. I can understand your attraction. I have found myself drawn toward well well made machines and components. Wanting to feel the texture as well as see it.

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  12. A bit off topic. Can some one tell me what kind of brake cable housing that is in the picture, and who sells it?

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  13. So did the Nokon cable housing feel as good as you'd hoped?

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    1. I had never noticed that housing until Susan's bike, and now I see it everywhere. It does feel nice to the touch. Still trying to understand what the benefits of it are; all the cool local kids are using it.

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    2. hmmm...something about less compression for better braking. Kits are $$$!

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    3. Nokon is a solution to creating problems in long runs. Want a bracelet for you bike? Fetishize it!

      Go ahead, try it and report back.

      Fetishized bikes -- why is it I never see these objets d'art on the road? Aside from the pre-selected few this blog has drawn, the answer is either people really don't like to ride it, don't like to ride and/or they'd rather keep stuff in a temp-controlled humidor.

      All of this collection-for-collection's sake is silly if it has no personal history, imo.

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    4. Aesthetically I actually don't care for this housing; it insists upon itself too much.

      Don't know how it is on the west coast, but people here do actually ride their fetish bikes. Hetchins, Weigle, Sachs, Mooney - I see them on the road all the time. The only temp-controlled humidor collectors I know are in Europe.

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    5. It has to do with the economy, who is hiring whom and the terrain.

      Those marques you mention have a history of being road-going with the ability of carrying things aside from Sachs, who is sui generis anyway. You have gently rolling bike transpo corridors that make such bikes ideal. Here you could get by with a lightish transpo bike of no name and a dedicated carry-nothing bike w/o fenders.

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  14. Whatever. It's a sense.

    I touch strange dogs all the time before asking the "owner" if I may. Holding the neighbor's baby, smelling the newly baked bread...did you know hot stainless steel has a unique smell?

    Sensations are so 20th century.

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  15. Since we are talking about sensory engagement with bicycles beyond the visual, I want to say that one of the most notable features of bicycle stores for me is their smell. This is something I remember from an early age and it is still the aspect of bicycle shops that strikes me first, even before I see anything with any clarity or focus. It is the odor rubber tires, mingled perhaps with that of lubricant, with maybe a little leather and metal mixed in.

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    1. What Thomas said.....Agreed!!

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  16. I love touching, but not just bikes, anything.
    I am a very touch person.

    When I am not riding, I will always have a small bike part in my hands or pocket. Sometimes just a piece of chain, sometimes a small tool, sometimes a bit of tubing left over from a frame build. But always something.

    Recently I received some curious comments at work as to why I brought a pedal axle to an office meeting! But I suppose it is more than just the touch sensation. The parts remind me of cycling - the thing I love to do. And when those work meetings get stressful, the pedal axle reminds me that my work lets me do the biking I love.

    John I

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  17. Do others tend to touch your bike?

    Yes!I have experienced this on several occasions.People tend to fondle the crome lugs on my restored Windor while out on the streets of Portland. :)

    ... and do you mind? Not at all.Its usually followed by nice conversations with an otherwise stranger. :) except there are those awkward times when you are still stradling the top tube. :O

    "Even without asking, strangers will often stroke my bikes absent-mindedly -"
    Vel,Do you find women will do this more so than men?

    MK

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  18. I find that in general I'm just a very tactile person. I touch lots of things to get a better sense of the object. This was pointed out to me several years ago because I'd honestly never really noticed this behavior. It hasn't created in problems (yet), but I do find that I ask to touch first if the object is someone property (rather than simply something on a store shelf). I'm sure there have been times that I've inadvertently just stuck my hands on something out of habit. With bicycles, I try to be very respectful because I know that some people really don't like their bikes touched. I've had lots of people come up to mine and knock on the saddle, rub their hands on the frame, and it doesn't bother me at this point in time. Initially, I would be a bit on guard, but I think I've relaxed and realized that it's just something that some people do (including myself). :O)

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  19. Running your finger over the tube near the lug is the best way to see whether it bulges, a clear sign that too much heat was used in brazing. It's usually the seat tube where it comes out of the seat lug that is most affected - there is a lot of brazing with the top tube and stays joining here. So I like to do that on lugged bikes I see around...

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    1. Under the down tube at head and under top tube at head to see if that used bike has been crashed/used hard. The smaller subtle bulges can be from heat but you never know.

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  20. I am not a toucher but a looker. I love the look of a beautiful bicycle. So many of my friends think they are all alike, one bike like the next. I guess they don't see the magic I see. A well crafted machine can take my breath away!

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  21. I love touching my bike. I am engrossed with her. I don't touch other's because I am shy

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  22. Re: "when a bicycle draws us in physically, surely that is a good thing."

    At some point, the enjoyment of bicycles becomes like a fetish. A fetish can be harmless or not. It depends on its power over us.

    At some point, a fixation on bicycles or riding, is disabling.

    The same thing happens with cars or clothes or shoes. Hobbies and other interests sometimes become obsessive – madness. Enthusiasm for bicycling, or bicycles, becomes mania.

    I think your posting, at the word "surely," invites us to pause, to ask what is going on with biking today.

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    1. Historically, fetishising objects (houses, cars, cigarettes, body parts) has not prevented people from using them.

      I think the main thing wrong with biking today is that not enough people do it.

      Even fixation is not really a concern, as long as you use a front brake in traffic.

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    2. I mistook your meaning. I thought at the word "surely" you had paused to wonder if there may be a dark side to this pleasure in bicycles that we all share.

      It is easy for me to see the dark side of the racing bike attraction, but not so easy to see the dark side of utility cycling or touring. Surely, it must have one, at least a little shadow somewhere?

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    3. The problem has always been that it is hard to distinguish the creative force of human interest and passion from the destructive force of obsession, made harder still by the fact that they often overlap. It is this ambiguous tangle of forces that drives people to want to make stuff, discuss ideas, value things. Of course there is a dark side, but I do not think it can be teased out from the non-dark side. This, of course, is not bicycle-specific, and I don't think you imply that it is.

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  23. I didn't used to be touchy-feely, but then I bought a frame, built it up, and since I screwed up a few things in the process, I stepped off the deep end. I started fabricating custom fittings (to fix the aforementioned screwups), a continuous "orgy" of sensory input. Bending stainless bar with a torch by flashlight (NO touching), grinding buffing fondling....the fiddly bits (a dozen?) took longer than the rest of the bike, and set my fetish free. My partner is less than amused.

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  24. On another note (pun acknowledged but not intended), the sounds that bicycles make (or don't make) are undervalued. The whir of a nicely engineered freewheel, the creen (a word I just made up) of tires on wet pavement, or the satisfying clunk of a derailleur doing its job all add to the delight of cycling. The conspicuous absence of a noise, say with a fixie, allows other noises to rise to the surface.

    Italian shoe designers have paid close attention to the sounds that shoes make when the wearer is walking since this sound is fundamental to their appeal, albeit often at a subconscious level. Automobile and motorcycle
    designers have openly recognized this aspect of their vehicles for as long as I can remember, using the term "exhaust note".

    I wonder if bicycle engineers and designers bother with the sound detail of their products?

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    1. I know I do. I find that the quieter a bike is, the more efficient.

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    2. I like very quiet bicycles. As charming as the sound of a vintage SA hub is, it drives me nuts, as do those fancy modern hubs that make crazy noises. A subtle ticking sound can be soothing though.

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    3. I'm with you on the appeal of sound. Nothing better than the serenity of the wind roaring quietly in your ears as you pedal down an empty road at dusk. The faint whirring as you freewheel when you take a break from pedalling, rubber moving swiftly over pavement, yada yada... On the other hand, an unwelcome noise absolutely drives me out of my mind. Had a metallic ratcheting noise in an almost new bottom bracket that drove me crazy. Finally figured out it was actually a defective bottom bracket. Put in an older bottom bracket I had lying around and all is good in the world again.

      I also love the way things and colors look so different as the light changes. Bicycling really is a sensual experience.

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    4. Sturmeys make a lot of sounds, most of which hardly matter. If the hub is in perfect order it should be nearly silent. Chasing after that perfection would be more than most Sturmey owners would attempt.

      I always like riding next to walls along very quiet streets listening to the sound of the chain engaging the sprockets. And hopefully no other reflected sounds.

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    5. I like a silent bike, another reason I can't leave coaster brakes alone. I also appreciate the old Shimano silent clutch rear hubs so beloved by Bike Cops. A little fragile but no annoying sizzle when coasting.

      The super rare(and REALLY fragile) Sturmy Archer SW 3 speed is supposed to be nearly silent, I want one so bad I can't stand it. I have some brand new internal parts for them so if I can ever find one maybe I can make it work...

      Spindizzy

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  25. "giving a bike a furtive fondle "

    Thanks a lot. I'm at work and can't stop laughing!

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  26. There are 2 types of objects that often elicit a touch from me and to some degree I think they are related - beautiful bikes and wooden boats. There is something about the simple, functional beauty that invites a tactile exploration!

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    1. There is a boatbuilding school in Eastport, ME that I visited once. Nearly passed out from sensory overload.

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    2. And musical instruments and skis.
      Something about the beausage...

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    3. Frames of all kinds are beautiful: Native American kayaks, traditional European ship hulls, fish skeletons, electrical towers (thanks Grant Petersen), and bicycles, of course, all have lovely frames. The water vessels (fish included) are particularly pleasing because their structural elements, especially the ribs, make such a nice pattern.

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  27. A friend of mine has a calendar at her desk with pictures of puppies on it. People are constantly walking by and petting the pictures. People are really strange. Look on the bright side, you have lots of company.

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    1. That's insane. I only pet pictures of cats.

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    2. Yeah, seriously I think petting calendars is much weirder than fondling bicycles. I'm sort of intrigued about the difference in sensation when you touch a seemingly cold steel frame as opposed to a less cold aluminum component. One of the best things about fondling bicycles is you can fondle a bicyle without fear of getting sued for sexual harassment.

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  28. So, my new custom just arrived...While parked outside the coffee shop this morning I noticed a few people stopping to stare, but no one touched. I think if they did I'd have been out of my seat and onto the sidewalk in a heartbeat!

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    1. I often work in cafes, and when I do I try to park my bike so that I can keep an eye on it from a window seat. Certain bikes I've had, people just touch them constantly. Sometimes merely in passing as they walk by, other times they stop and give the bike a thorough tactile work-over. I don't see the harm really and the bike seems to enjoy it.

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    2. You're right, there's no harm so, clearly, this says a lot about me and I'm working on it :) But truthfully I think it shows a certain amount of respect to stare but not touch.

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  29. I'm not excessively touchy, but having said that my latest bike (a rather obscure Emmelle racer) Which I did up pretty much from the frame has this rather engaging brazed on stop to keep the gear shifters in place on the down tube. All that was called for was a triangle of metal to stop them sliding down but they made it heart shaped. Its a delightful detail and cries out to be touched. As far as other people touching my bike its not something I've noticed but I don't imagine it would bother me.
    As regards the sound of a bike, you really can't beat the hum of slick tyres.
    Incidentally I love your blog
    Ben

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    1. I have that heart on one of my bikes and it is adorable!

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  30. Mostly others will lift my bike and have a good look at it. If I stand next to someone else's bike that interests me, I'll look at the frame, components, everything on the bike [a fairly quick assessment]. If I try a bike or stand next to it longer, I might absentmindedly stroke the saddle. Wierd but true.

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  31. Methinks you should touch them while working on them.

    Talk to a framebuilder or painter. At several stages in building a frame is normally sandblasted. Hand sanding is always better. And much slower. You could touch the frames for hours and hours.

    Then there's wheelbuilding. And there's always cleaning up the old ones.

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  32. I often look closely at bikes I find unusual or interesting and take pictures of them for my blog, but I am careful not to touch them if possible lest their owners are looking and think I am trying to steal their bike! If I get to ride someone else's bike I like to really feel it especially the saddle if it was super comfy or the levers to check out their usability and comfort. I only once felt uncomfortable wIth someone playing with the controls of my bike excessively, a feel of the saddle and parts I am fine with though.

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  33. I don't know how anyone keeps their hands off neat bikes, I think once we really get hooked on bikes and riding there is a strong tactile component that has to be satisfied for us to really satisfy our interest in something 2 wheeled.

    Something I noticed in the shops I worked in over the years, NO ONE buys anything for a nice bike without giving it a good grope. You might be buying your 4th pair of 700x28c Gatorskins but there is no way you hand over the money till you've had a tender moment with the goods. I personally get all Helen Keller with anything Campagnolo or older than about 1975. I just do.

    I also just love riding the bikes that I've made stuff for and find myself touching and feeling the things I've whittled out to keep them on the road. One of my favorite bikes is an old, old 24" wheeled Mongoose Racing Cruiser that I turned into a single speed mountain bike. I've made so many parts on that bike, forks, headset adapters, micro-adjust seatpost, clamp-on brakemounts, chain adjusters and on and on. Cleaning that bike always includes giving the things I've made an extra pass with the cloth and a bit more wax that the other spots. And I know exactly how all those bits feel to the touch. I got a new 'Cross bike this spring and absolutely cant wait for an excuse to make something for it, it doesn't need anything but I was thinking about some neat custom cable yokes for the cantilever brakes. I really wish it had rack mounts so I could make a sexy little rear rack for it...

    So go ahead, get a little fresh with my bike, as long as you don't mind me sneaking off with yours for a bit.

    Spindizzy

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  34. http://tinyurl.com/cn6v3ff

    (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySh3b258lhk)

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  35. My wife made me a small shrine to my De Rosa. It included a framed photo of the frame and fork, with a piece of velvet for placement, some incense, and candles. The idea came about when I placed the newly acquired frame and fork on our piano with a neutral backdrop, so that I could admire the bike while watching television.
    I too also fondle others bikes, and I ask permission to jump on the ones that are small enough to accommodate my short stature. I've never been turned down.

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  36. You should read Flann O'Brien on the subject of the exchange of molecules that takes place as a result of close physical contact between rider and bicycle. This can lead to a person becoming more bicycle than human!Do you spend a lot of time leaning against a wall for example? I think this was in his book "The Third Policeman".

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    1. Oh God, I do lean against walls! Will have to read this book.

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  37. I am not touchy-feely when it comes to bikes.

    They are hammered into the ground, even as I know I swore to take care of them better to save money.

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  38. There is something magical about bicycles, most especially vintage style bicycles. They seem to be among the most beautiful of machines, poetry in motion, as it were.

    I'm not a big bicycle fondler, but I'm definitely a bicycle oogler. Sometimes I worry that cyclists riding gorgeous vintage bikes think I'm leering at them as they ride by...don't worry, I'm just oogling your bike!

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  39. I'm not usually touchy feely person but working in a bike shop I do have an appreciation for the love and attention some people have for their bikes. I do on the other hand have a bike nicknamed "Touchy Feely"

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