Fashion, Cycling, and the rest of us

Why is it that so many people spend so much time trying to curate their image? I find that the time/ money spent on getting that right look is enormous for most of us and the funny thing is most people are so far off base anyway that their wasting their time or you are doing such a good job of it that the marketing hype you created to appear as though you have an inside track is something that someone on the other side of the world is avoiding so that they can look like what they envision you would be like.  My proof is this, the other day Bike Snob NYC (see blogroll) had a link to a fancy track bike store in NYC that specializes in curating image for people riding bikes. Immediately after linking to the page the first thing that came to my mind is an Ad campaign that a former roommate was a model for in Japan. Why is it the Japanese company (ridiculously called NY & co, Tokyo  or something stupid like that) hired my former roommate (a white dude from Lovettsville VA) to sport a hoodie in their ad’s and this bike company in NYC picked an Asian dude to sport their flannel shirts?


In fairness to the bike store, I have seen a lot of Asians everywhere and particularly in NYC and Asians could as well be the face of NYC for all I know but this ad appeared to be capitalizing on the asian hipster look and whats more they were selling a damn flannel shirt for $185! The Asians I know who are in the fashion industry (well I know more Asian Americans than this but for the sake of this post) work out of a store ironically traded as US Clothing or something similarly ironic in the strip mall by the food lion on Jhanke Road and I got two knock off dickies flannels there for $10 so if anything either this ad’s pricing is incorrect or that asian is a fake.

Cycling as an enterprise is just as guilty of this hype as any other marketing racket, and I too have been beaten down by their messaging in the past. Recently, I succumbed by asking for a $120 sweater (it’s a merino wool cycling jersey, get it right!) for my birthday. Was this something I needed? No, but I do spend my time researching the products I buy quite a bit before purchasing and I wasn’t able to find something equivalent in this instance so I put the request in. Too often though this hype creates a false sense of need (as intended) that simply doesn’t mesh with reality.  In another past post I referenced a camp stove I had made that I found the plans for on the internetz. It cost me the price of two beers, which I would have drank anyway and thoroughly enjoyed drinking while operating power tools, to fabricate. The fuel for this stove is readily available anywhere and it functions great! Meanwhile, I have been to so many websites for camping gear that sell $50 and up camp stoves that require special fuels and really provide no advantage and in fact offer the disadvantage of being expensive to replace if they break. I’ll just go out and buy another two beers and eat a warm meal and be quite a bit more satisfied that I was doing so with something I made than if I had driven to the store to spend a days salary on one.

Sometimes when I tell people about cycling to work they look at me like I am crazy or something but I have to accomodate them because they know no better since they have been sold the lie long ago anyway. If you don’t have a new car, you’re poor, or in one case a friend e-mailed me a video of how some rapper was facing hard times because his dancer girls now bring their kids to the video shoots and they eat up all the goodies the caterer brings. Much of this is relative to some arbitrary standard that never existed in the first place. To me being rich is being rich in the values that matter to you most. I like to have nice things but for me nice is not having to spend a lot on something that functions well and lasts a long time. The same is true for cycling. Nice to me is your dad’s 70’s lightweight bike that you save from his basement and refurbish to modern standards or to meet your preferences. Funny how some of the most desirable bicycles out there now and one of the big trends are the handmade bicycles from small fabricators. What materials do they use and what construction techniques? The same as 30 years ago and steel same as 30 years ago for the most part (I am generalizing here but you know what I am saying). I know that it seems like the newest cabron fibre and lycra seem like they are what you need and for some maybe they are but for the most part the old Schwinn with a basket is going to suit your needs just fine. One point a friend made yesterday though while we were sitting and waiting to go to class (and he works for a bike shop in town) was that some people just really want a nice bike. I don’t know if I feel you have to spend thousands to achieve this but if your into expensive bicycles and want to spend this kind of money because you feel this is what makes you happy than by all means…….I just don’t know if these feelings are real or fabrications of marketing hype but who am I to say. (well it is my blog so I guess thats who but no one is reading anyway.)


When I get out on my bike in the AM and it is 50 degrees or less outside I don’t think how cold it is…in the summer when it’s 90+ outside I don’t think how warm it is either. If anything what I think about is how much I hate air conditioning and how, when all the windows are closed, it feels like a jail to me in my own house. I want to breath the fresh air and after 5-10 min of riding in the AM I am warm and when I get to the Lee bridge and look west across the river I revel in the fact, and oftentimes laugh out loud, that I get enjoy the view for much longer than anyone else and I get to do so everyday! I often exclaim “suckers!” as I ride “slowly” past traffic coming the other way. I am not saying it’s great for everyone or that my way is right but the alternative or the prevailing mindset isn’t really right either and the paradigm of this consumerism is definitely wrong. It’s wrong for your environment that our children will be burdened with cleaning up, it’s wrong for the marginalized billions across the world working for pennies to eat scraps and sleep on dirt floors, and it’s wrong to your friends and neighbors to have them sacrifice their happiness to work those extra hours to buy their kids the newest sneakers while missing out on what really matters which is being at home with their kids in the first place and not at work.

A friend of mine has called me out for being cynical and he is probably right but I won’t admit it to him. When you read this I don’t you to think that I am immune from this behaviour or above it either because as he has pointed out I have taken the time to attach the moniker of “RVABIKECOMMUTER” to myself and the type of cycling I do. If anything I use the blog as a means to discuss some of these issues simply because I wouldn’t do so in casual conversation with people I meet but that is just my style probably because I work and study the public sector which unlike other areas of study is riddled with everyone expressing their views regardless of their formal training. If your a doctor I wouldn’t tell you how to perform a surgery but even the most uneducated of persons ( and normally these are the ones who are the most vocal about it) will espouse their viewpoints on government regardless of their knowledge on the subject. I don’t think any of us are above this behaviour but I do feel that our society has made it very easy to fall into this trap of curating an image and on some level we probably need to self identify. I don’t know what steps we could take to raise awareness of the consumerism I feel is detrimental to our ability to evaluate what really matters and avoid destroying the affluence and priviledge we are afforded from they system we live in (capitalism) but if the issue continues to be part of the topic of conversation then at least we are spending time questioning assumptions that have been sold as truth. In the meantime I was pretty stoked that my friend who works at the bike shop and rides a crabon frame road bike thought my steel 70’s creation I was headed to class on was pretty cool. I guess I can say space age technology is pretty cool sometimes too but it just isn’t on my radar as a necessity.


5 thoughts on “Fashion, Cycling, and the rest of us

  1. Dude you should get into clipless pedals. i rode a few miles in my Diadora/TIME Alium setup last night and was reminded how awesome it is. seriously, i felt a real “connection with the road” i can only call “zen”

  2. I mostly agree with your assessment of consumerism and its effect on the world. Marketers spend a lot of time and money to make people feel like they need the latest product or brand to identify themselves which has created a cycle of waste and greed…this is true.

    I also agree with you that “nice” can mean different things to different people. There’s no doubt that making something for yourself that saves money and is of better quality than the newly manufactured version is a great feeling.

    Believe it or not I think about the consumerism issue quite a bit myself. I often get terrible buyer’s remorse when I purchase something new. The problem is that often “making your own” isn’t possible. I can’t realistically make my own winter jacket for example. In this instance I’m left with few choices. There’s no question that I prefer quality products. 9 times out of 10 this rules out thrift or recycled products which only leaves the option of buying new.

    At this point every consumer has two options, buy quality or buy cheap. I can save money going to Wal-Mart for my winter jacket but how does this help anything? I wind up with a piece of crap that won’t last more than one season, more than likely it will have been produced in China, and it’s being sold by a retailer that’s been on the forefront of destroying the fabric of the America as it was once known. The next option is a “mid level” product I.e something sold at Dicks or similar smaller box retailer, department store, or Gap, American Eagle..etc. More than likely this product will have been manufactured in exactly the same manner as the product at Wal-Mart. It’s possible that at least the working conditions of the retail employees will be better than Wal-Mart so that’s a plus, but in the end you’re only getting a product that’s a slight step above the Wal-Mart item that most likely barely helps the local economy at all. The third option is to buy “high end”. This is probably going to be the product with the highest upfront cost. In many instances though it’s going to be the product with the longest lifespan, lowest environmental impact, manufactured in the US or outside the US using fair trade practices, and will mostly likely only be sold by local or regional merchants.

    So my question to you is this; If I can’t logically make the product myself (you and I are probably more creative and capable of this than many), I’ve worked hard and been lucky enough to be able to afford the highest quality (I put 25% of my net earnings in savings every paycheck so I’m not spending money I don’t have or using credit), and I desire to have the highest quality longest lasting product, why should I not purchase the best available? Do I feel for the billions living on pennies a day…sure but I don’t feel that I should deprive myself or feel guilty about it by buying junk that in the end has a more detrimental effect on the world anyway.

    I don’t feel that I or anyone else is entitled to anything. I was lucky enough to get into a field that allowed me to earn a good salary without formal education, but that was the extent of my luck. Most of my adult life has been spent working hard (my wife’s too). When most of our friends were in their late teens and early twenties going to college and having a good time we were getting up early for work. We’ve made pretty good financial decisions over the years too by saving money and keeping our standard of living in check with our earnings. Believe me, my intention here is not to give you my sob story. Everyone chooses their path in life on some level and the end result is what you make of it. I think a lot about the issue of consumerism and the effect my purchasing has on the world and I just wanted to state my thoughts on the matter.

    Take care,

    Chief of Carver Nation

    1. I think your observation regarding quality products is very astute and I find myself in the same situation often. I would say that this is a valid reaction to the consumerism we face because marketers would like you to believe shopping at Wally world gives you a discount over other products but as you have pointed out this is only the case in regards to items that are fairly straightforward (i.e. the thermal base layer clothing I purchased there for our camping trip last January). I think it is perfectly reasonable to go ahead and spend that extra on a quality product that will not need replacing as often again as you pointed out, it will last. In regards to bikes I think the same is true. Look at all the funny MTB’s with full suspension sold at the box stores these days. Most of them are crap and many people would be much better served with an older steel MTB with no suspension anyway but to sell bikes many companies have chosen to intigrate components that really aren’t suited for the consumer at the price point they sell them at. This is the dubious behaviour because if they concentrated on what really works and sold quality vs. some gimmick most ignorant consumers would be better in the long run.

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