Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Internet Cyclists Field Guide Addendum

I realized that there was one important omission from yesterday's post about the different kind of cyclists you'll find around the internet. This may or may not remind you of someone you've met

Retro-Smug Utili-Grouch:
The RSUG has been there, done that and bought the moisture-wicking, hidden-pocket 3/4-zip t-shirt. He's probably in the bike industry, or has worked in a shop in the past, raced a little and now, as he says, “just rides his bike.” His personal bicycle (or bicycles, he never only owns one) is often built of a mix of ancient parts salvaged from old ten-speeds and high tech modern components. He will make a point of nonchalantly stating that he just rides “for the sake of riding, and to get around” and “doesn't worry about things like weight,” yet when he thinks nobody is looking he'll compare eight different front baskets to find the lightest, most aerodynamic one to put on his commuter bike. He usually has a closet full of expensive cycling clothing, yet is most often seen riding around in cargo shorts and flip-flops.
Quote: “Proper nutrition is important after a long ride, which is why I've brought pizza AND beer.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Field Guide to North American Cyclists (on the Internet)

The bicycle has been with us for over a century, and in that time has evolved into a variety of forms and attracted  wide variety of riders, all united to some degree by their love of fast, human-powered transportation. The internet has been around for a few decades, and in that time has managed to divide the cycling world into a wide array of disparate and occasionally bitterly-divided factions.

Every cycling blog, forum and chat room, as well as just about any news article even vaguely related to cycling will draw out these folks en masse, each one of them ready to offer their take on the One True Way to enjoy the use of their two-wheeled conveyance.

While it's impossible to keep up with the subcultures and fads that are rising and falling every moment on the internet, I've tried to compile a list of some of the most notable sorts. It's also worth noting that there are many hybrid cyclists, who show traits of one or more of these breeds. Please note that, while I've listed these various species using male pronouns for the sake of brevity (English being lacking in gender-neutral words to describe humans) each type has its female variant as well.

The Weight Weenie:
Rides a road racing bike, although the chance that he or she actually races is only 50/50. Will spend hours poring over spec sheets to find the way to shave two paper-clips'-worth of weight off their bike. Will dismissively refer to other forum members' 20lbs bikes as "tanks" and sneer at the idea of carrying anything so bulky as a lock or multitool. Usually buys parts online and upgrades compulsively.
Quote: "Well, it's an OK bike, but with a 32-ounce wheelset you might as well be dragging a coffee table behind you."

The Bicycle Creationist:
To the Creationist, bicycle technology began and end at some fixed date in the past, usually somewhere around 1970. Since then, everything about cycling has deteriorated, including frame materials, shifting quality and even the clothes riders wear. What modern riders might consider "dangerous flaws" in some older equipment, the Bicycle Creationist refers to as "endearing quirks." Hates clipless pedals and integrated brake-shifters with a passion and considers Rivendell Bicycles to be a bit "newfangled"
Quote: "Well, it's true that those stems did snap off and cause fatal crashes on a couple occasions, but you have to admit they were a lot better looking and had much more SOUL than these modern gadgets."

The Dutchie:
The Dutchie is a hardcore transportation cyclist who believe that "proper" cycling can only take place on upright city bicycles whilst wearing street clothes. Will constantly talk up how much better bicycle culture is in European cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and sneer at people who ride their mountain bikes to work. Will often spend upwards of $1,000 to import the European equivalent of a Schwinn Varsity.
Quote: "Yes, it takes me and two friends to lift my bicycle over a curb, but in in Denmark they have 43 miles of dedicated bicycle paths leading to each picnic table, so I would never  have to go over a curb to get to a public park."

Safety Man:
It's a dangerous world out there, and Safety Man is prepared for the worst. He never gets on a bike without a helmet, hi-visibility vest, gloves, protective eyewear, at least four taillights, a 300-lumen headlight, a backup headlight, pepper spray, a safety whistle, non-slip footwear, raingear (with reflective strips) a safety flag and six forms of ID. To Safety Man, "reasonable safety precautions" involve getting ready for "Mad Max" road scenarios.
Quote: "You can quote all the statistics you want, but if you're not wearing a reflectorized helmet with an emergency locator beacon, you're nothing more than an organ donor in training."

Anti-Helmet Guy:
Anti-Helmet Guy does not like to wear a bicycle helmet when riding. He really, really does not like to wear a helmet. However, instead of simply saying "I don't think my activity is risky enough to warrant protective headgear," Anti-Helmet Guy will, at the drop of a (non-protective) hat  reel off a list of statistics, factoids and anecdotal stories that will tell you under certain circumstances, when the moon is right and the wind from the Southwest if you land just so and are moving at a particular velocity in relation to a particular type of blacktop at a certain temperature a helmet just might result in slightly worse fatal injuries than the fatal injuries you would have incurred while not wearing a helmet in the same circumstances, therefore no one should ever wear a bicycle helmet.
Quote: "Antarctica has no mandatory helmet laws, yet in 2009 there were no fatal cycling-related head injuries reported on the entire continent, see how forcing people to wear helmets puts them at risk?"

The Gaspipe Ironman:
The Gaspipe Ironman is the polar opposite of the Weight Weenie. He not only isn't worried about how heavy his bike is, he's proud of it. His greatest cycling-related joy is to describe how many lycra-clad road racers he's passed on tough climbs while riding a $79 girls' cruiser with a rusty chain he bought from the local department store 3 years ago. If the Gaspipe Ironman is to be believed, on a bike that actually fit him and had working gears, he'd have won last year's Tour de France by four hours. Fortunately for the cycling world, he has a 75 lbs Roadmaster to hold him off from a Championship Jersey monopoly.
Quote: "The local professional road racing team has learned to fear the squeaking of my unlubricated chain."

The Poller:
This cyclist won't buy so much as an inner tube without logging on to a cycling forum to ask if a particular brand is any good. Every day he'll post a question on some trivial bike-related matter, often prefaced by "the guy at my local shop told me I should do this, but..." The input of a dozen anonymous voices on the Internet are of more value to the Poller than any individual he could actually meet face-to-face. If the Poller's query is not answered on a cycling forum within 15 minutes, he will quickly reply to his own discussion thread with "hello?" or "does ANYBODY know anything about this?" The Poller is often most easily satisfied by running a Google search of his question and copy/pasting the results.
Quote: "bump!"

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Apocalypse Will Be Televised

Post-Apocalyptic fiction comes with a few guilty pleasures. We get to see the greedy and powerful reduced to beggars, we see often despised institutions reduced to rubble, and, most importantly, we often get to see the marginalized and powerless get their chance to be the heroes. Just about anyone who has ever toiled away at an unrewarding job or unpopular hobby has secretly wished for the day when their special skill set would be just what was needed to save the day.

When the cities flood, the dead rise or the aliens invade, the current social order is overturned, or so the PA novel would have us believe, and the meek don't just inherit, bur step up to kick some ass.

In the case of Mira Grant's zombie-apocalypse novel, Feed, the particular underdog heroes are bloggers, who in her not-too-distant future setting were the first to spread the word about the sudden outbreak of undead (as is becoming the typical nowadays, zombies are the result of a genetically engineered, highly contagious virus). The government and traditional media outlets let everyone down, and people were only saved by the power of social networking.

and by the power of the  Department of Highway Safety

The scenario took a bit of Suspension of Disbelief on my part, for a couple reasons. First off, I tend to see Facebook updates notifying me of the Zombie Apocalypse about six times a week, and I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't actually take one seriously until one of my former in-laws was trying to gnaw my arm off. Secondly, while I am fairly sure that there are high levels of incompetence and stupidity spread throughout many of our government institutions, groups like the US Military and the Centers for Disease Control to tend to employ many very competent people.
via Cracked
I was quickly able to put my left-brain objections side and get on with enjoying the book though. As in many zombie stories, the zombies themselves were more of a background element. The horror of seeing a former loved one converted into a bloodthirsty monster is always disturbing (as anyone who has ever gone through a divorce can attest to) but enough repetition can rob even the most gruesome villains of their ability to shock. Instead, the  new and dangerous world provides our stalwart newsies with the chance to be both political muckrackers and hardened war correspondents.

It's a tough thing to combine Post-Apocalyptic action with an exploration of the value of journalistic integrity, and Feed suffers from some awkward plot jumps and flat characters, but it's still a lot of fun, and I found myself sucked in and genuinely caring about the leads. Grant also manages to be very effective in evoking not just how scary contagious zombification would be, but also how sad. She especially uses the time between infection and conversion to wring the pathos out of the situation of someone who knows they're about to die.

All in all, if you're a fan of zombie fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, or the idea of the plucky reporter proving that sunlight really is the best disinfectant (well, and bullets, lots and lots of bullets), you'll probably enjoy Feed as a fun summer read.