Bike and triathlon stuff
is a special category. It is accessible. It has become an industry.
Even though the stuff we drool over is expensive, from $2000
wheel sets to $5000 bikes to $300 GPS/heart monitors, we can
still pull together the resources and rationalize owning it.
I understand that 100%. As a pretty typical middle class guy
I know I’ll likely never own a million dollar business
jet or a $500,000 race car. I can’t have that stuff- don’t
have the cash. But I can have a pretty nice bike and some cool
electronic gadgets. That is my stuff, my Ferrari and business
jet. So I think a lot of people validate the purchase of exotic
bike and triathlon equipment by reasoning that it is their “ultimate
sports car”. I can identify with that.
Strange and hallowed rituals surround our reverence of stuff.
When we are buying new stuff we conduct an odd dance people
call “research”. This is a terrible perversion of
the word “research” as it suggests some orderly,
empirical process. We don’t buy stuff that way. Regardless
of what we may think, we buy almost entirely on emotion. Researching
which stuff is best is a futile and worthless investment of
time. We convince ourselves it is the most important part in
this mystic stuff relationship with stuff. We compare stuff
to stuff in an utterly ridiculous and fruitless attempt to divulge
which stuff is best. We are practicing a form of rationalization
that our brain needs to make it OK to buy stuff. Once that process
has been conducted ad nauseam we get confused from conflicting
or identical data and opinions and default to buying the coolest
looking stuff. Don’t lie, I do it too. Everyone does.
It’s the dance of stuff. Trick yourself into thinking
you are making a rational decision and then buy on looks.
Even suggesting that someone’s
“research” of stuff is a waste of time is sacrilegious.
Of course you must research the stuff you buy. The fruits of
research are like Egyptology- if we spend enough time on the
Internet and canvassing the Hieroglyphic opinions of friends
and “experts” we will unearth some utterly unobtainable
stuff that is cheaper, stronger, faster, lighter and generally
better than all other stuff. The golden sarcophagus of stuff.
The research does not lie. If you do enough research, make enough
Excel spreadsheets comparing stuff and read enough reviews you
will find the ephemeral best stuff. It is like King Tut’s
tomb, complete with the attendant curse.
The curse of the best stuff
is that it is a moving target. By the time you’ve completed
the research dance to discern the best stuff the target has
moved. Like painting the Golden Gate Bridge once you reach the
end you must start all over because your efforts are now rendered
obsolete by that bastard of stuff ownership, newer stuff. It’s
the curse. You may have the best stuff, but only for a moment.
Better stuff is on the way. But the actual ownership of stuff
is like a running river. At some point you have to stop watching
the water run by and jump in. If you don’t, if you stand
on the river bank of consumership watching the newest stuff
cascade by only to be replaced by more new stuff from upstream,
you’ll never own any stuff. Eh gad. A life without stuff:
My friends make fun of me
because every description of the stuff I own is prefaced with
the proclamation, “This is super hard to get- you can’t
get it...” I recall some prized stuff that belonged to
my friend and stuff devotee Michael R. Rabe. Michael R. had
a pair of team issue Rudy Project sunglasses. They had a special
color scheme but more importantly the sunglasses had “NOT
FOR SALE” stamped on the inside of the temple. Not for
sale? All stuff is for sale… If a person can’t buy
a given piece of stuff, how would they obtain it? What if I
wanted a pair also? When you asked Rabe he would tell you, quite
simply, “These aren’t for sale…” Rabe’s
sunglasses belonged in a mystic realm of hyper-stuff that has
matter and substance, but is so hard to obtain it cannot be
purchased. This type of hyper-stuff transcends the bounds of
mere product research. It is above all that. If it isn’t
offered for sale to the commoner for dirty money then it is
somehow more sacred. These acquisitions hover well above mere
commerce. When Rabe died I went to his house and looked for
those sunglasses. They were gone. I could not get them. He was
right. Rabe had achieved a sense of oneness with this new realm
of hyper-stuff. He simply got stuff- he no longer had to subordinate
himself to buying it. He had become like the race car drivers
and astronauts. His stuff simply… appeared. This ability
to just get stuff without paying for it is where the high priests
of stuff ownership dwell. Sometimes they are given stuff just
for their opinions on it. The very highest order of stuff-dom.
This completes the circle of stuff ownership. You no longer
research. Instead, you are the research others do. You have
achieved mastery of stuff.
As a species our ability
to develop and consume stuff exceeds our ability to best employ
it. An extreme example is the atomic bomb. Atomic bombs are
serious stuff. Developing the bomb was like opening a box of
snakes. Once you let the snakes out, you play hell trying to
get them back in the box so you can control them. Snakes and
bombs can create a lot of problems. The same thing is true with
all the new stuff we invent, buy, own and use. Too much stuff
is a lot of snakes out of the box. You’ll never get them
back in. War tends to breed a kind of frantic stuff development
and use with no regard for the consequences. So does sport to
a lesser degree. Imagine if we bought bikes that way- just buying
and buying and using and using until we knew we had bike superiority
over every other triathlete and cyclist: An arms race of bicycles.
Look what happened to the Soviet Union in all that mess. They
didn’t have good enough stuff, we had better, they lost
and you still can’t buy a proper bike in Russia.
The greatest Pandora’s
Box of stuff, the bottomless abyss of stuff is electronic analytical
tools and gadgets. I own them all, or they own me. They speak
via infra-red telepathy in coded vernacular and utter beeps
and blinks and have alarms and settings. To attempt to control
the mystic realm of heart monitors, GPS’s, power meters
and other computer ancillaries you must become a new age, electronic
Merlin. Or Frankenstein. You pour over manuals and speak in
odd words. You download and uplink, acquire satellites and calibrate
work loads. You do what your stuff tells you to do lest you
suffer the ultimate indignation of stuff ownership: Not understanding
what your new stuff actually does. If you have become this you
have- I’m sorry to tell you- sunk to the bowels of stuff
ownership. Your stuff owns you. It rules you. It commands you.
If you’ve ever gone on a long run with a GPS and tried
to download your workout only to find the file somehow corrupt
you know what I mean. If this causes the workout to no longer
exist to you then you have a problem. Your stuff owns you. It’s
out of control.
About a half century ago
we didn’t have much stuff. We just rode. Bicycles were
made of cro-moly and there wasn’t much technology in cycling
compared to today. In the ‘50’s they thought they
had adequate stuff- and they did- but didn’t imagine they
needed power meters, downloadable heart monitors, GPS units
and carbon fiber frames or wheels. Now we have more stuff, and
we’re convinced we need it all. We are also better athletes
doing tougher events. There was no Ironman triathlon in the
1950’s. It is worth noting that at the first Ironman there
were no heart rate monitors or power meters. But then again,
the winning time in the very first Ironman wouldn’t win
the men’s 45-49 age category today.
I know that stuff works. The way that stuff
works, if you wield it correctly, is a delicate conspiracy.
When everything is correctly employed in just the right manner
to fortify our performance magical benefits arise. In modern
vernacular this is being dialed. When I did my first Ironman
in 1986 in Kona, Hawaii I tried to be dialed. I had bladed spoke
wheels, a Colnago road bike, clipless pedals and special shoes
for my bike called “Ironman” shoes. There were no
triathlon clothes then so we cut up running clothes and shortened
singlets to make triathlon clothes that looked like what we
saw Dave Scott and Scott Tinley wearing. I was 24 years old
then and was healthy and uninjured. Today I am 45 and have had
too many injuries to list but I can do Ironman two hours faster
than I could in 1986. Two hours. I attribute almost none of
that to athleticism and nearly all of it to better stuff. When
I first did Ironman there were no Powerbars, no aerobars, no
miniature heart rate monitors, no liquid food sources, no triathlon
bikes. Compared to now we hardly had anything I guess. I’m
convinced better stuff makes it easier and faster to do Ironman.
The balancing act in our desire for stuff has to come when we
start to put too much reliance on stuff- when we ascribe obsessive
significance to stuff. That’s where the baloney starts.
A friend of mine recently made the rather sagacious observation
that the more athletes talk about stuff the less training they
seem to do. The best bike racers I ever met have told me they
didn’t know (or care) much about stuff. They just rode.
Between them these fellows have about 20 Tour de France finishes
and exactly 10 wins. I figured they thought about stuff all
the time. I was surprised to hear they actually did not. They
were more focused on their training.
I may be 45 but I’m
not ready to start talking about “the good old days”
and saying crap like “steel is real”. Old bikes
were heavy, shifted poorly, rode like a log and didn’t
really look that cool. The new stuff is definitely better. I
don’t yearn for the old stuff. It wasn’t that great.
Someday the stuff we have now that we think is so cool will
seem archaic. It’s the downstream of stuff, and the current
we must negotiate in our relationship with stuff. But regardless
of how we moderate our interaction of stuff the key to it is
we must own our stuff, not the other way around.