How much would you pay to look frugal?

Recently a facebook friend of mine (look up Behooving Moving and add me) announced that she wanted a bike. I took her brief — $200, tall female rider, must have a basket — and found a sweet secondhand little number on ebay. Click here for the listing. Unfortunately, not being au fait with ebay, I mistook the vendor’s opening bid of $200 as a buy-it-now price, proceeded to recommended the bike to my friend, and went to bed smarting that I am such a ray of sunshine in the lives of the bikeless; I had no idea a bidding war was about to ensue. This reconditioned bike, with a few elcheapo new parts, was about to fetch a gob smacking $690!!! I had honestly thought it would be my friend’s for 200.

Click to enlarge and you’ll see the bike has new cables, hand grips and tires, and has been cleverly stripped of all outward signs of the 20 years it has just spent beneath somebodies house. All the new parts though, one can tell, came packed in a whopping big box mailed from China. Worst of all, spokes may be loose, the chain and cassette could be worn, and the bearings might all be shot. Maybe not, but who knows. Substantively, we can at least say it is less of a bike than one we might buy new at a bike shop for around $400.

But the actual, real, and unimagined, counts for little in the marketing world. Most people know that. What is remarkable in this case, is the way a backyard bike restoration outfit, with a few clever words published on ebay, are beating the likes of Electra and Trek at their own game. For riding down to that new growers’ market on Sunday, to buy locally grown produce and rye bread, the restored bike on ebay is the genuine article! Try as they might, the marketing departments at Electra and Trek simply cannot persuade someone inclined to buy slow-food, that a mass produced bike made in Asia has the cache of an old restored bike. And while on the scales we might find the locally restored bike has more bits that are new and Chinese, than it has bits restored all so lovingly, no one would consider facts such as these while they were bidding. The brainless hippie chick who paid $690 certainly didn’t! (I’m so glad my friend stopped at $340.)

Environmentalism is just the latest thing to consume. Paraphrasing Baudrillard, our society excretes more and more goods, beyond all rational ends, leaving us stupefied. What is excreted from farmers markets and cottage industries, does not evade my labeling it excrement. The bikes marketed to bring home that excellent excrement—all those olives and goji berries—are exceedingly excellent excrement. I like any bike actually. What then, is the best bike for living the farmers’-own dream?
     
Civia has the technology…                                                           Velorbis the style….          and Bowery Lane Cycles the "buy local think global" feel good effect.

With a tig welded double butted 4130 frame, bamboo mudguards, a huge range of gears in the hub, cool racks, load halting disk brakes and even the Brooks leather saddle, the Civia Loring has everything. I test rode one at Steel City Cycle Works once, and almost wish now that I’d bought it. It was a run-out model, selling for $1100. I now find a 2010 model on bikeexchange retailing for $2600! If it had a hub generator and lights, I might even say it was worth such a price. But do I regret not buying that run-out model I saw? Not really. My aversion to sloping top tubes would turn me off wanting to ride it, even for shopping. Neither are small wheels to my taste. Sure, the 26" wheels would keep the load low, and that sloping frame would provide lots of standover clearance, and perhaps some vertical compliance and thus a smooth ride, but in a word: unbehooving. In two others: no class. Purely utilitarian thinking, a classic design doth not make. Design calls for fashion sense, and evocation, blended with techne. To me, the ultimate bicycle for retrieving growers’ own carrots and chili feta cheese, would exhibit Civia’s understanding of componentry, posses Velorbis’s style sense, and have as well that certain smell of local cottage industry that Bowery Lane Cycles, in Brooklyn, New York, have carefully cultivated.  

Yet, you know, seen here at my local community garden, I must say my own Velorbis cuts quite the cliche as well. The Pièce de résistance is my new Brooks wire basket fitted onto the handlebars. I rode my bike, with the new basket, to my local Farmers Market two Sundays ago—in rolled up jeans and an open linen coat for effect—and got into so many conversations with people admiring my bike, and my Brooks wire basket, and me, that I felt as though I could have sold all three for a profit. Pictured centrally, Za Bear models the basket loaded with 7 kilograms of groceries inside—about as much as anyone could afford to buy at the farmers markets anyway, what, with olives costing about 8 times what they do at the shops! Reflecting on what fun I have shopping (be it for free range eggs, or McDonalds) with my simple wire basket attached to my bike, I’m thinking the Civia bike is too task specific, being fairly much only for shopping. I can contrive more credibility if I arrive at the markets on a bike I obviously ride everywhere, but can quickly adapt for shopping when needed. The opposite effect is seen with bakfiets, not bakfiets overflowing with kids, but those empty-nest bakfiets that really do look as though they only get used once a week to shift groceries. Paradoxically, bakfiets like these speak of the overindulgence of riders at pains to look frugal. The frugality of my basket temporarily attached to the bike I use for commuting, out-frugals a box bike by miles.

Which brings us back to that reconditioned old bike on ebay, selling for three times what it was worth, precisely because it looks old, cheap and loved. What’s a few hundred bucks more on your maximum bid though, if it means owning something that tells people you’re frugal, that you care for old bikes, make pastry from scratch, and are at one with the earth, and so on and so forth.

People have been resisting industrialization since industrialization began—take the Arts and Crafts Movement for instance—but it has taken this long for our sadness regarding the commodification of everything from transport to food, to itself have found satiating commodities to match, variously branded as "wellness" or "produce", or as "lovingly restored" in the case of the cycling niche-market in question. The only such marketing term I cannot make a joke of, that at times actually does bug me, is this word "slowness". And among slowness racketeers,this company in Canada I find the most see-through, and repugnant, for not only adulterating pickling jars and handmade pasta machines with their cynicism, but for doing that also to a this device I love so, the bicycle. The thought of bikes being sold at inflated prices to pious twats displaying their slowness—oh that is the limit! 

Leave a Reply