Pondering Ownership

Some recent posts on Chicago Bike Blog and Bike Snob NYC have got me thinking about my “identity” as a cyclist. It began with Justyna’s post asking what makes someone a cyclist. Only a week or so after I read her post, I had an exchange with a woman in an elevator who, upon seeing my helmet and other assorted bits of gear in tow, asked if I was on my bike. “Isn’t it cold?” she wondered. “Not once you start pedaling,” I replied with a smile.

Later, I read (with some guilt and embarrassment) Bike Snob’s insightful analysis of why a reader had taken offense at an offhand remark Bike Snob had made about the reader’s bike (I think). He summarizes the issue nicely:

In our culture, few acts are more sacred than that of the purchase. When you buy something, you’re not just exchanging money for an item. You’re actually performing a holy communion in which you become one with your possession and subsequently identify yourself with it, and as such your purchase speaks more loudly about you than your surname or your religion. It’s no wonder then that people become upset when someone else implies they might not like or be impressed by something they’ve bought. When you’re emotionally invested in your possessions an affront to them is also an affront to you. Thou shalt not disapprove of your neighbor’s purchases.

This isn’t the first time Bike Snob has pointed out the dangers and problems that come with attachment to inanimate possessions.

A couple of days later, Justyna posted a heartfelt self-reflection on the tensions she experiences as someone who needs and wants to succeed in business (you may recall that she operates an independently-owned bricks-and-mortar bike shop), but who also cringes at the thought of contributing in any way to the consumerist obsession with acquiring and piling up endless heaps of “stuff.”

I’ll admit, as concerned as I am about saving and carefully managing my money most of the time, I tend to be a bit of a gear junkie when it comes to certain things, my bicycle being one of them. Granted, I sold off a bunch of stuff to get the money to use on other stuff related to my newfound (or renewed) interest in bikes.

OK, um, now I’m really embarrassed. As I type, FedEx arrives at the door with the bicycle work stand I ordered a few days ago. Of course, there’s no reason I needed to share that publicly. But I do so in the spirit of full disclosure, and with the hope that confession really is good for the soul. Please excuse me for a few minutes while I assemble it….

So, back to what I was saying, I find that I give a great deal of thought what I “need” in order to ride, in order to keep my bike operating properly, in order to commute, in order to be comfortable, in order to get in better shape, in order to restore my old Schwinn … in order to be a cyclist in the manner I aspire to be. All the while, I go days on end without actually riding. I offer all sorts of excuses, which vary in their degree of legitimacy. But the point remains: I’m spinning my wheels.

I get angry and/or disappointed with myself when I don’t ride, especially when I realize how much time I’ve spent in the interim shopping craigslist, eBay, the local bike shops, and mail-order catalogs for more bike “stuff.” Nevertheless, for what it’s worth, my bike is still an awfully long way from sitting in a corner gathering dust. I still want to ride, and I do so. One of the many reasons I started writing this blog was to stay motivated, to stay committed.

On a lighter note, Adrian’s very own local bike shop offers these cues to help people determine whether they are indeed cyclists.


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