Saturday, June 28, 2014


Toys, expensive toys. Seems to me that most men my age have a bunch of these. A set of golf clubs appropriate for an emerging pro. Latest phone, tablet, laptop. In-home theater. A comprehensive wood-shop. Carbon fiber bike (or two). Motorcycle, kayak, sports car, boat. Status symbols, reward for a successful career, for raising kids. Akin to ordering decent wine at dinner, at some point in adult life, most men make a switch. Change from Budweiser to craft beers. Quality over quantity. No more making do with what's OK. Wanting better if not the best. These are their hobbies. Do them right.

I might have missed this gene. I'm not very "stuff" oriented. Sure I've got a garage full of bikes and bike crap, but almost all of it is old, really old, and none of it is high-end. A couple of refurbished fixies – built from discarded frames and spare parts – one twenty-five years old, the other almost forty. A bike trailer made from an old running stroller and wood scraps out of my attic. A pair of old mountain bikes that I cannibalized for parts. Even my "good" bike, my performance bike, was well under $1,000. Other than bikes, I don't really own much. No cell phone, no tablet, I have a laptop, but it isn't fancy. No stereo. A low-end running watch. A bit of sport-specific exercise apparel, but most of it is ancient. Fifteen year old cycling shoes. Twenty year old running shorts, and so on. I exercise in old, cotton t-shirts. Other than drinking too much mediocre wine. I really don't spend money at all.

People get satisfaction from treating themselves. Validated by their stuff. Retail therapy. The term seems to be associated with women, shopping for purses or shoes. But men do it too. Expensive stuff, larger purchases. We need more therapy.

This is pervasive in America. But it doesn't work for me. Buying nice stuff makes me feel fraudulent. Showy. Spoiled. It stresses me out. I worry about the expense. How else I could have used that money? Will I make the right choice? What if I'm let down by my purchase? My hobbies are free. Reading (library books). Writing. Instructing spin classes (I actually get paid for that one). I can't really tell if this has been intentional, but the result is that the things I do, the the way I spend my time, it's all free. But last weekend I bought a new bike.

Background: My two home-made fixed-gear bikes frustrate me. The old one, a 1975 Sears Freespirit, looks awesome. I stripped it to the metal. A flashy paint job. Rebuilt wheels. All recycled parts. The only expense was paint and handlebar tape. But it rides like crap. The geometry is a mess. Weighs a ton. Creaky. My newer bike, a 1989 Trek 1200, rides beautifully. Fits me like a glove. But the frame style is inappropriate for a fixed-gear rig. I can't adjust the chain tension. After a few months, the chain will stretch a millimeter or two. Fly off when I'm spinning 90 RPM. Dangerous in traffic, a pain in the ass when I'm a few miles from home. I need a wrench to reset my wheel, and I never have one with me. Long walks with a bike on my shoulder.

So last weekend, I bought a bike. A Specialized Langster. Fixed-gear. Not a high-end bike, but a huge jump from the antiques I've been riding. It shipped form California, so I just got it yesterday. I'm hoping I fall in love with it. Right now, it seems a bit above me, like dating a model. I tell myself that I deserve a decent bike, something that works, doesn't breakdown in traffic. I ride to work all year. Snow, rain, heat. But I can't make myself believe it.

Because I don't need a car to get to work, Susan and I have just one. That and a 20 year old beater truck that we hardly drive. But getting this new bike leaves me feeling like I'm cheating. In my mind, the things I own are supposed to be second rate. Refurbished. Home-made. Used (like my truck). I'm not sure where this came from. I grew up in a frugal family, but when we got stuff, we got it new. Even cars. And I'm not that handy, not really that capable of making stuff myself, keeping it working No one expects this of me anyway. Susan is constantly telling me to buy new clothes, new shoes. But it just doesn't feel right. The stuff I have, it works. My shorts are old and stained, but they fit. My shoes are worn, but no holes. I can make do.Why buy something new?

And when it comes to luxury items – like a a new commuting bike when I already have two (that suck), the word "deserve" comes up a lot. Why do I deserve a new bike. I'm so unaccustomed to buying stuff that when I think about replacing anything old, I agonize over it. A new MP3 player - $12 from Walmart – replacing the one with the broken clip. Can't attach it to my clothing. But it still plays. I tuck it into my underwear when I run. A luxury purchase! I need to convince myself that I'm worthy. I need to explore all options on how to make the old one work. I can only move forward once I'm sure that I can't fix it. At one point, I was even researching a home-made tattoo. Alcohol and ash. Fortunately, my brother talked me out of it.

The Langster needs work before I can truly own it. It's over-geared. 48/17 for folks who talk like that. Too heavy for in-town riding, for the southern Pennsylvania hills. By the time I get a decent spin going, I'm at a traffic light. I've got legs, but not those legs. After I adjust the gearing, I'm positive that this will be my last major purchase for years to come. There is nothing else I want. Nothing that I wish I had. Like Sean Penn's "Jeff Spicoli"character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, my needs are simple. Books to read, time to write, roads to ride, trails to run. What more do I need. It's the adult version of "a cool buzz and tasty waves."

But even Spicoli had a surf board. Hobbies take gear. And I need to respect the fact that performance often takes better gear. Things wear out, and most stuff we buy today cannot be fixed. Plastic MP3 players, Lycra exercise gear. When it cracks, when it tears, it is done. Duct tape has it's limitations. Sometimes I need to suck it up and buy something. And when I do, I need to allow myself to enjoy it.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I love "We need more therapy." and "But last weekend I bought a new bike." Nice rim shots to end the paragraph. I also like the whole idea of being conscious of what you want and why you want it, and being intentional about moving forward from there. Congratulations on the new bike -- I hope it works out great!