Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Leave it alone

I've been seeing some goofy bike-related inventions lately, and that has me thinking about all the ideas that are dreamed up to "improve" the bicycle.

Now I'm not talkin' about the guy in the photo that accompanies this post. When he and/or his buddies welded up that Dr. Suess contraption, they probably had little in mind except the enjoyable buzz they had going, and a fuzzy vision of the stares their stack o' frames would attract. Or maybe they just figured that ridin' that baby past all the half-naked vegan chicks at Burning Man would have the same panty-dropping result as idling a Trans-Am near a sidewalk full of White Snake groupies. Totally understandable.

The point is, they probably weren't looking to start a bike company. They wanted to have fun. I respect that. Creating a strange bike for laughs while under the influence of recreational chemicals is a good thing. Especially if you're a single person in your twenties and you think people of the opposite sex will dig it when they're high. But you climb onto a slippery slope when you wake up the next morning and decide to market the results.

Don't get the impression that I'm against change. Some brilliant ideas have come from strange places and even a grump like me has to admit technological evolution is a good thing. Sure, I bitched about the death of thumb shifters. Yes, I resisted giving up my toe clips. I complained when suspension forks showed up and made me feel like I had to buy a new bike.

But I eventually adapted and learned to love the new stuff. And look at me now: I'm a laptop-usin', iPod-wearin', full-suspension ridin', gray-haired wonder. I'm so hip I excite myself. Except for when I'm grousin' about rap, heavy metal, cable television, vegans, body piercing, and a couple of dozen other things.

No, I don't mind innovators. The people I have a problem with are those who just don't understand why people ride bikes. I'm talking about those half-crazed tinkerers who come up with an idea (or steal and old one and update it) and then convince themselves that it's so brilliant that consumers will flock to stores and buy it. It's like mental masturbation for guys who spend too much time in lonely workshops.

The latest contraption I've seen is the StreetSurfer, a creation that is at least as useful as a Billy Bass. I won't even link to the manufacturer's website, because the damned thing's not operational. Imagine that.

And then there's the Treadmill Bike, a little product made for people who think that walking on the ground is just so last year. Even if some fool bought it and took it out for a spin, he'd probably get his ass kicked by some homophobic NASCAR fans in Chevy pickups. (There's a redundancy in there somewhere. I'm still trying to narrow it down.)

But my all-time favorite—for it's sheer staying power—is the electric bike, or it's deformed twin, the bicycle motor. Why doesn't something as practical and non-polluting as an electric bicycle catch on?

Because it's a profoundly stupid idea, that's why.

The electric-bike people just don't comprehend the fundamental truth about bikes. People use them for the experience of going somewhere under their own power. Otherwise, they could buy mopeds or cars, or get on a bus. It's about more than getting somewhere. It's about how you get there.

Put a motor on it, and you not only make the machine something different, you destroy the experience.

Thanks for listening, doctor. I feel better now.

No, no, no, that's OK—go ahead and up the meds. I might relapse.


todd said...

But you have to admit, they can be fun. I particularly like this one. You have to pedal it backwards. The Scul boys and girls aren't exactly sane, but really, does it matter?

Tim said...

Cool bikes. I love the homemade, oddball stuff. It's the EBikes of the world that I think are ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. I don't want an electric bike any more than you do. But they're not for us. Just because they aren't what you want doesn't mean they don't have a place. If the f'ing lawyers in the next office get out of their cars and start commuting on one of those I'll be the first to stand up and applaud.

Tim said...

I would also be happy to see people using electric bikes. I'd love to see millions of them being used instead of cars. I just think the entire concept is flawed from a marketing standpoint. They are a bizarre blend of bicycle and moped, and I just don't think there will ever be significant demand for them. People are either willing to pedal, or their not.

The niche they fill in the marketplace will likely never be large. And that's too bad. A rack of 50 e-bikes in front of an office building would be a very encouraging sign.