Hello Dear Readers,
Despite all my haranguing, I consider the city of Chicago to be my favorite place of all time. Of course, even great loves can be easy to forget while struggling to survive. Personally, my memory has been slightly sketchy throughout the past few months. I forgot how much I loved this city as my survival instincts doggedly attempted to keep pace with the Chicago Triad: murderous cold, stabbing winds and the wolves. Actually, it was mostly the wolves. Those little pisses are getting smart.
But the dawn inevitably did break and spring is now beginning to take hold of the city. Don’t get me wrong… it was still a cold and pretty wolf-ful dawn, but after an eternity of fending off those savage marauders, Chicagoans handled the remnants of the packs handily. Especially with our newest weapon: “Bottle Fingas” Neeson.
Seriously, wolves. Did you even see “Taken?” Liam didn’t seem to mind wrecking all those punkasses toting Kalshnikovs, so I doubt very much your teeth and non-retractable claws are gonna be much of a hurdle. Oh, pack tactics? As former captain of the K-19 Widowmaker, I’m pretty sure he knows how to work with a team. That is assuming he doesn’t use the Force and go totally Qui-Gon Jinn on all your asses first.
Anyway, with winter and wolves fleeing the city of Chicago, it has become safe to venture from our hovels once again. The first steps into the outside world have been tentative ones–some catastrophe surely awaits us–but for now we are content to remember the feeling of sunlight kissing our cheeks, to feel the sensation of coal smoke-infused air filling our lungs and to rest reassured in seeing other human beings again. Humanity has held.
As one rides around the city in this burgeoning spring it is easy to see why someone like me is so in love with Chicago. It really is a gorgeous place to experience from a bike. Drivers (though far from courteous) are generally attentive and aware of cyclists. Also, people smile and get out of your way when you’re running, cars aren’t always parked in the bike lane (ahem, New York) and then every once and a while you stumble upon something like this:
Lately, the time I have spent riding to work has been a lot more enjoyable. The weather on Tuesday and Wednesday this week was incredible (despite some intense wind) so I added on a couple miles and rode out to the Lakeshore path. It was pleasant and relaxing and I look forward to doing that more often. Especially once I trust the weather enough to take the Surly out. My commuter bike is exactly that, and leaves something to be desired…
All this being said, Chicago can also be a pretty shitty place to ride. You have to be careful on where you go and the people you’re around while riding. Now, Western Ave south of Chicago Ave? Prooobably not the best place. Humboldt Park and Englewood are also slightly sketchy. But high crime rates aside, the most dangerous place to ride a bike in Chicago is, undoubtedly, Wicker Park.
Gentrification and liberal arts degrees (I have one, so it’s ok when I say this) have not been good to Wicker Park. Since the 1980’s the neighborhood has been undergoing a large cultural shift wherein its indigenous Puerto Rican residents have been displaced by white-collar, college-educated “workers.” Students and recent graduates continue to flow into the area in hopes of finding “work,” cheap rent, a safe community and the culture of Chicago. That is to say, they move there so they can exhaust their parents bank accounts and say they’re “urban” when they are nothing of the sort. Oh, and so they can fucking spit on my handlebars (who does that?!). How dare I ride my fixed gear in their part of town.
Yes, telltale signs of hipsters. While crime rates have plummeted in the area throughout the past several decades, snobbery has been steadily on the rise. Where once humans compared their self-worth through skills, knowledge and personality, now the inhabitants of Wicker Park are measured only through their faux-nerdy fashion and, of course, fixed gear bicycles. This leads us to two possible conclusions about those inundating Wicker Park with assitude: 1) These “people” are not actually human beings or 2) They’re just dickheads. (Click on that link)
Some of you Dear Readers might be wondering “But Nick, you ride a fixed-gear bicycle!” Very astute observation, Dear Reader. My commuter bike is indeed a fixie, and a humble one at that. Between it’s the ancient chromoly Schwinn Continental frame, mistmatched Tektro caliper brakeset, FSA crankset with a Surly secondary chainring (thanks, Pete), mountain bike bottom bracket or Redline 9-2-5 wheelset (thanks, Pete) this bike is an amalgamation of parts and components which should never have been put (forced) together. But that’s ok, because the bike is a workhorse and shouldn’t be looked upon as a thing of beauty or a representation of me. This attitude, however, does not fly in Wicker Park. There these bikes have become status symbols-representations of people’s worth, style and soul. Apparently mine isn’t up to snuff.
Recently, fixie’s have become hugely popular. Something about their mechanical simplicity, perhaps? They are vintage and they are pure and both of these appeals coincide nicely with hipster style (not to say that only hipsters ride fixies). Fixie popularity, coupled with websites like The Fixed Gear Gallery have turned these incredibly simple and cheap bicycles into representations of status. This, to me, seems ludicrous. It also seems to have been the impetus for someone to fucking spit on my handlebars (seriously, who does that?!). Some of you might be skeptical, unwilling to imagine that people would be motivated to be assholes about something so trivial as bicycles. But, as with any culture, there will inevitably be elitists. And no one will like them.
I am going to entertain some speculations here, Dear Readers, for the sake of (maybe) explaining why someone would fucking spit on my handlebars (What I am about to suggest is still no reason to do that!). Firstly, my bike doesnt look like this:
For those of you who don’t know, fixed gear bicycles originated as racing bikes. Athletes competed in all out, short-distance sprints on indoor tracks with banked turns called velodromes. To facilitate speed, these bikes were stripped of all non-essential componentry. This included brakes and gearing. These are races of explosive power-athletes couldn’t wait for their legs to warm up… They just go. And they go really, really fast (sometimes in excess of 40mph). Therefore a direct drivetrain (where you can’t shift or coast) is advantageous. There isn’t time to fiddle around with shifting, so it was eliminated.
Fixie’s later found another niche in urban commuting because they are by far the simplest bike to work on and to keep from breaking. Of course, the sensible urban riders decided to add things like brakes so they don’t get hit by cars-something that wasn’t a concern on the velodrome. Some urban fixie elitists seem to think that is sacrilegious, however, and look down on people who choose to use brakes or less than satisfactory components. These people prefer to stop by skidding (locking up their pedals thereby locking up the rear wheel) or by being hit by cars. Since I refuse to knowingly subscribe to being this stupid, apparently someone decided to fucking spit on my handlebars (Why?! There are much better things to be mad about, dude!). Consider the bike shown above. The frame is old and probably steel so I think it is safe to assume this person isn’t a velo racer but just a commuter. A purist commuter. The opted for no brakes (for extra speed), a Mavic trispoke front wheel (for extra speed) and cards in the rear spokes (to make a bunch of noise). Wind resistance is a small price to pay for cred.
The tri spoke is what really kills me here. Mavic makes good products and I would guess that wheel costs at least $700. Consider some of the used prices out there. Tri spoke wheels are for RACING. Not for commuting. This takes us to the whole status argument. Tri and aero spoke wheels have no business on commuter fixies. It’s stupid. Once, when discussing this point with a tri-spoke, commuter fixie-riding, hispter-elitist, I was told that these wheels are used because they don’t bend or warp like their alloy counterparts. Yeah, you’re right. They don’t bend. Let me break this down for you:
Ah man, this rant got out of hand. As most rants do. In fact, I think that is indicative of a rant. Next week I’ll talk about my trip, I promise. Anyway, in conclusion… chill out people. Ride bikes because you love riding bikes, not because you can do it with more style or more expensively than other people. And never look down on a fellow rider. No matter their story, reason for riding or the quality of their rig. Just appreciate the camaraderie the two of you share. Whether you’re on a $100 Next or a $10,000 Look 596 Mondrian you’re still a person on a bike. And that, Dear Readers, is a beautiful thing.
Go, Dear Readers! Take the world in a whirlwind of bike-loving kinship and self-respect. Go and spit no more.