I have a strange and staggered relationship with the capital of the world. The two major metropoli I have graced with my presence for considerable periods of time both suffer a collective and visceral, jealous hatred towards their more refined, better looking, more cultured and more important southern neighbors. For a Bruxellois, even an adopted one, it is bad enough in France. Driving a beat-to-shit Citroen with a state-mandated fire extinguisher and a big B sticker on the bumper around the Arc de Triomphe, while small Parisian children peer from the back seats of a Renault Espaces pointing and laughing at the species of human they know to be closer to orangutan than modern Frenchman, is soul-crushing even for the proudest of Walloon. New York is however, the only place in the world where you can buy a piece of pizza with subway tokens and come inches away from a fist fight when you insist a fork AND a napkin are suitable compliments to a slice as big as your head. New Yorkers are different than Parisians and their relationship to their respective inbred northeast neighbors is different. New Yorkers don’t give a fuck about Boston, “who’s your daddy” chants directed at the greatest pitcher of all time not withstanding. I know from personal experience that New Yorkers are meaner, smarter, better looking, make better music and fuck better than Bostonians. I’ve always been more comfortable in any city where race riots are actually conducted by members of the race suffering institutional prejudice rather than in a city where they’re conducted by the brothers, sons and fathers of white police officers because their rug rat kids will need to ride a bus to school every day until they drop out of seventh grade at 16… but I digress.
New York is the capital of the world, and what it fetishizes and promotes becomes objective truth for the rest of the world. That has always made me happy because in general I like and share the aesthetic and cultural sensibilities that allowed for Agnostic Front to sell out CBGB, and Basquiat to get blown by Madonna, and Lady Gaga to inhabit my sex dreams and the Chrysler building to exist, and Gus Hall to get more votes for president in three boroughs than Richard Nixon, and the neck tattoo not to ever again be an impairment to employment in bicycle or music retail.
No one needs a fucking hand-carved wooden duck to attract ducks and no one needs a Holloway and Naughton shotgun to shoot them. There are better more modern tools available and quaint relics of a era when a man’s time and labor were so utterly undervalued, cheap and inconsequential to market forces make for great museum pieces, but not practical tools. Objects like these whose values were once infused with their practicality are impressive and worthy of sentiment and due historical significance. Something has been lost in a world where the historical relationship between labor and material has been turned on its head. Today, hand work, skilled labor, in fact any human attention at all to a good or object is vastly more valuable than the raw material it is made from. This is an equation which signals the death of handmade craft and strips practicality from such goods simply due to the amount of monetary value now dwelling within such objects. Things such as these, be they duck decoys, Chris Crafts, planers, acoustic guitars or fly rods are objects for museums, possessions for rich buffoons or ephemera to otherwise be viewed under lights and glass cases.
The handmade racing bicycle is an exception I had always thought and not a relic just late to the realities of modern capitalism. No one other than a professional cyclist needs one and fewer still have ever really wanted one. Prior to the giant carbon pre-made bike industry using their might to convince us otherwise, such machines were required by those who made their living or even their hobby turning pedals in anger. There was no mass-produced equivalent that was up to the same task. Cyclists were a finicky lot and their morphology, superstitions and mental well-being demanded custom, made-to-measure tools produced by skilled craftsmen.
The North American Hand Made Bicycle Show, is not happening in New York this year but it may as well be. Sacramento is going to feature the best and brightest. The bikes on display will no doubt represent the pinnacle of the hand built craft. But more so every year, the show bikes, the bi-laminate lugs, the fancy internal Di2 batteries and the $10,000 townie bikes, and sweet fixies, unnerve me. Part of me feels as if we builders are so far removed from our historical purpose and place, to build a useful competent sporting good for an athlete, that we are lost. In the space left behind, we have instead sought and begged and pleaded for an appropriation of our bicycle by New York style critics and style mavens.
Make it Art!
Make it important!
I have put 75 hours in to this frame!
What it lacks in practicality it more than makes up for in sweat in dyslexic homage to the detritus of the past!
A nice hand built bike is one of the last remaining vestiges of practical craftsmanship that, at the end of the day, any individual subsisting at or just above the national poverty level can hope to enjoy. Trek, Specialized and Giant couldn’t kill the hand built bike by making suitable, cheaper and easier replacements. I have witnessed what “art” did to disco, punk rock, Kurt Russel, heroin and Times Square and I know how this is going to play out.
Builders, you are not artists. Build stuff people actually can ride. Learn your history. Learn your place in the sport.
Cyclists, go buy a hand built race bike right now. Go to NAHBS Sacramento. If you cannot go, support the event by buying a ticket anyway. (Gaulzetti Cicli will reward you for this.) Send in as many deposits as you can afford to the men and women who are building the stuff that matters. A good race bike is far more Boston than New York; far more Brussels than Paris. Support the good stuff while it’s still around and buy a bike from a NAHBS exhibitor. Don’t make people like me have to become Parisian New York artistes. Buy a handmade bicycle and ride the shit out of it. If you do, we’ll keep making them.