August 9, 2009

The Great Conundrum

I discussed this question with my pal Hassan Ibrahim (of the desert folk) over the last week or so in Crested Butte, and thought it was worthy of a post.

First off, I’ll admit it. I’m as superficial as the next mountain biker (or, heck, road biker). When I see someone roll up in the snazziest new baggie shorts, with a brand new full-suspension carbon wonderbike, I think “goober”. Likewise I have a prejudgement available for grizzled 50 year olds riding rigid bikes with cantis (and wearing what appear to be discarded styrofoam coolers as helmets), shaved-leg racer wannabes with their number plate from 2 weeks ago still attached to their bike, etc, etc.

I judge people based on their appearance, in other words, probably just like you do. And a lot of it (at least in the world of bikes) has to do with what they’re riding.

So here’s the problem – when I’m out on the trail, I inevitably get asked questions like “What do you think of that Waltworks/29er/rigid bike/hardtail/etc?” and “Cool bike, where did you get it?” and “What kind of bike is that”.

Now, I of course ride a bike that I built. And *I* think it’s pretty nice and generally rides great. But there are some problems with using my bike as a piece of advertising:

-I never wash it. The darn thing looks like it’s been dipped in poop (and some of that gunk on the downtube probably *is* feces of one kind or another). Best case scenario: people I meet on the trail think I’m hardcore. Worst case scenario: people think I’m a lazy, dirty, scumbag. Truth: somewhere in between.

-The parts are all junk. Sure, DT240 hubs are really nice. But when they’re 5 years old, the stickers are half peeled off, and all the spokes are different colors (and buttings) from me having replaced broken ones, the wheels don’t look all that nice. Likewise the LX cranks – I think they’re a great deal and work well, but the average person on the trail isn’t going to be impressed. I’m also rocking/running/schluffing old Avid BB-7s that are 6 or 7 years old (really!), ESP5.0 brake levers from the late 90s, a Thomson post so scratched you can’t see what size it is or the minimum insert level (not to mention the deliberate scratches I’ve put in it to mark how high it needs to be), a Bontrager saddle so broken that it sounds like I’m sitting on a rusty bedframe, and a Ritchey stem that looks like it’s been through the washing machine with some rocks. Which it has, basically. In short, the bike is a few steps away from looking like it was assembled by a homeless person.

-I wear weird old clothes. I should probably wear Waltworks kit 100% of the time, but I feel like a pretentious jerk riding around in race kit constantly, so I often wear old performance brand jerseys from teams that ceased to exist 15 years ago, or shorts I got at Veloswap for $5 with holes in them, or whatever. Until recently I was riding and racing in a pair of first-generation SIDI Dominators that for all practical purposes had no soles.

So I make a bad impression on the trail, I think. At least for other shallow people like myself. The question is, should I try to change that? I recently ordered the wrong XTR brake for a customer (it’s a post-mount one, he wanted ISO) and my BB-7 stopped working entirely on the front, so I bit the bullet and installed it on my own bike. And I even ordered a matching rear one. What’s next, a new stem, or crank? How far down this road should I go? Should I build myself a new frame (the current one is on season 5 now) with all the sweet new tubing and nice bits that have become available in the last few years?

So the question, really: is being a nice guy on a beat-down bike a problem? Would more people want one of my bikes if I was clean-shaven and had bright shiny XTR everywhere? Or is it enough to be a friendly dude on a bike that gets ridden a lot?