“Put your head down, wipe the spit out your eye
Ain’t nobody coming to your poor-me parade
When trouble comes to your door, what you ignoring it for
You’ll be standing there helpless when it comes on in”
— Shovels and Rope, “Coping Mechanism”
I really wanted to make this column about the problems facing the bike industry, namely, the issue with attempting to sell more bikes, and more expensive bikes, to a shrinking group of riders. And how little seems to be done to grow the number of people riding. But I couldn’t, hard as I tried.
Brexit. Reality TV star as presidential candidate. Mass shootings. SCOTUS gutting what is left of the Fourth Amendment. The specter of never-ending warfare. Zika. Climate change. The list could go on. Things that most people I know assumed could never happen are now grim possibilities.
Ruminations and complaints about bikes seem pretty trivial these days. I’ve started and deleted this column at least half a dozen times. The topics quickly steered toward the woes of the world. Bikes usually help to take me away from this stuff, at least for a while. But it takes harder and harder rides to make me stop thinking about these problems, and the problems we will hand off to our children.
How did it all happen? There are lots of reasons. Demonizing the “other side” to the point that we no longer look at each other as fellow citizens but instead as “the other side” is a good place to start, in my opinion.
I don’t know what to do about it. Maybe I’m ruining some small part of your enjoyment of this bike magazine by talking about the stuff that riding manages to purge from our brains, at least temporarily.
Lately, I’ve been loading up Dan (not George) Carlin podcasts and scraping paint off a $50 canoe. Brainless work, but intimate in its own way. An hour here and an hour there, and each time more of the shitty rattle can paint job goes away, and more and more of the original red fiberglass appears. I’m sure my attraction to repairing abandoned mechanical things to working order could be analyzed as a reaction to lack of control in some parts of my life. So be it. Better than an oxycodone habit.
A few more hours of restoration work and I’ll be ready to load up the kids for some time on the water. If I can’t promise them a better tomorrow, at least I can make sure they have some good memories to take the edge off the bummer-life future we seem to be careening toward. And maybe pass on some coping mechanisms that aren’t self-destructive.
I don’t really think the world is going to end. In fact, I think we’ll come out the other side of this in better shape, although I have a hard time imagining what exactly that will look like. Hate and fear are destructive and difficult to maintain, at least that is what I tell myself. And that’s what I’ll be telling my kids while out in that canoe.
While riding bikes in the woods (and paddling canoes on the rivers) might come up short as a revolutionary action, it is certainly not without redemptive value. My girlfriend handed me some perspective on this when I expressed my frustration while writing about silly things like bikes as the world seemed intent on devolving into tribal societies. I agree that, yes, “revolution” is a strong word when it comes to talking about biking. She is worth quoting here: “Although it feels indulgent to talk about expensive toys, there’s a group of people that ride, to put it tritely, because it makes them better people.”
Creating happier and healthier individuals is a huge benefit to society, assuming the happiness isn’t the result of self-indulgence and aggrandizement. I’ll climb down off my own high horse now, speaking of self-indulgence. A paint scraper and podcast are calling.