Keeping things simple is one of the best things about cycling. Just you, your bike and the road or the trail, maybe a few ride-buddies thrown in and your done. Then we over complicate things: bike computers, electronic gears, carbon – lots of carbon, aero-isation. The simple act of cycling becomes mired in confusing jargon, incompatible components, an unnecessary arms-race and a creeping sense of self importance. The solution is simple enough: ride a single speed.
The reincarnation of my single speed has reminded me how beautiful simple can be. From the simple straight lined steel frame, uncluttered by derailleurs or aerodynamics, to the straight out of the box ride it’s fun and grounding. It’s hard to take yourself too seriously on a single speed, you’re never going to be the fastest – push it too hard and your legs rebound wildly to no effect – so why bother? Instead you can perfect a clean, fluid, efficient pedal stroke. Or you can practice and perfect different cadence’s until you find your groove. Or you just glide along, untroubled without the constant urge to drive on at a furious pace (which my Venge ‘makes’ me do).
Dialling back on the technology seems counter to everything about today. Everything has to be inherently smart and we need to be ubiquitously connected. A phone that just makes phone calls? No thanks. Despite the smartness and the connectivity loneliness and depression are on the rise. There’s the fear that smart and connected mean being monitored and controlled. How does Facebook know who my LinkedIn connectionsa are? Then there’s the doomsday scenario: what if the technology doesn’t work? Could we still read maps? Cook food? Make clothes? Probably not unless you’re over 65 and / or living in the Third World. We’re becoming over-reliant on Google.
Riding my single speed isn’t going to prepare me for a post-apocalyptic Armageddon scenario but it can take me back to basics, remind me that simple is still good and allow me to escape the need to be smart all of the time.
Today’s commute on a shiny new single speed represents something of a triumph. Not a triumph over my growing list of self-inflicted injuries by being back on my bike but a triumph over the irrepressible marketing forces of the bicycle industry and my weakness to resist them.
It always starts in the back of my mind, slowly, quietly to begin with, then nagging, persistent and inevitable. A familiar siren call that the growing pile of bicycles in my cellar attests – I am powerless to resist: I want a new bike. Within days it has mutated into: I need a new bike. My waking hours become consumed by thoughts of gravel bikes, adventure bikes, aero-road bikes and inventing a rock-solid justification for their addition to my stable. Everything becomes secondary to searching online for a 2-wheeled silver-bullet – the answer to a gaping chasm in my cycling life, my leisure time, my core existence.
I recognise that this is an affliction, or more likely ‘afflictions’, including: obsessive use of the internet, obsessive yearning for something new, base consumerism, susceptibility to marketing, not being satisfied with what I already have, etcetera. After 3 days of intense internet trawling I’ve found the solution: GT Grade Alu 105. Done. At 30% discount it represents an outstanding multi-purpose bargain, able to meet all my commuting, winter training and exploring needs in one compact shiny package, effectively a 3 bikes in 1 sensational deal!
It is easy to be seduced. It is harder to resist being seduced. The marketing men have invested a lot of time, effort and money in making sure I can’t. The constant bombardment of alluring messages and images cyclists are targeted with daily are the result of research that has identified the most likely psychological triggers that result in firing your credit card details into the website. Is that controlling, manipulative, sinister? Possibly. Is it so bad to get people out riding new bikes?
How does setting out on a shiny new single speed possibly represent a triumph? It’s not a completely new bike but a recycled one, with all the parts of an old single speed (that met a high-speed end on the rear of a Maserati on the Kings Road in the rain) now adorning a new Holdsworth frame plucked from the virtual bargain-basement of Planet X for a measly £90 (RRP £400) – thus illustrating why the over producing cycle industry must conjure up the most seductive marketing mix or face selling its unwanted stock off at stock liquidation prices.