Friday, June 11, 2010

On Being a Bike Snob

I've been reading the Bike Snob NYC's illustrious book this week, Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling. I thought about writing a review of the book but I don't much care for book reviews as, in my opinion, they tend to do one of two things: 1) Gush about the book in an annoying way, or 2) Deliver nothing but negativity about the book and tell me how it imitates every other book out there and how completely unoriginal it is.

The Bike Snob, for all you non-biking-types out there is a pop cycling "culture" blogger who has been going strong with his week-daily blog since sometime in 2007. The other thing you need to know about The Bike Snob is that until this March, he wrote his blog anonymously. Then his publishing contract thrust him out in the sunlight to fizzle up and fry like any blood-sucking vampire (he talks about the double life of "vampire" cyclists in his book -- p. 50, complete with diagram).

Now my introduction to the Bike Snob occurred almost exactly two years ago in a casual conversation with my friend Colin at work. We were having a conversation about particular people we knew who were riding in a particular charity ride that I've mentioned before in this very forum. We were talking about how those particular-individual(s)-that-we-know-and-love like to race this charity ride. Colin suggested I check out this blog by this "New York City Bike Snob" guy who wrote this "hilarious" blog post making fun of guys who race charity rides. Well, I checked it out and it was as hilarious as he said and the rest is history.

(Now as an aside I must tell you that the link I direct you to is the post that I think Colin was referring to. It isn't really making fun of the guys who race charity rides, it is actually making fun of all the non-cyclists who call charity rides races. Which means, really, that just Colin and I were making fun of our friends who race charity rides.)

Except now, of course, for fear of being called a hypocrite, I have to acknowledge that I too have been sucked into the racing of charity rides. Guilty as charged. But, in my defence, during my conversation with Colin, I was a baby cyclist (still AM , really). I didn't KNOW at the time that I could turn into one of THOSE.

Now I haven't followed the Bike Snob religiously for two years. I've just poked my nose into his blog once and a while. I tend to gravitate towards writing that connects the soul of the person writing it to content, which, of course, if you are trying to stay anonymous, you can't really inject yourself and who you are in what you are writing. He has a few shticks: his ubiquitous love of the "quotation mark" (as well as bracketed items, which is kind of the one stylistic thing we have in common), his continual political incorrectness, his disdain for the fixed gear rider (especially the brake-less fixed gear rider) and hipsters, and his string of lists that play the one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other game.

Given that I know that publishing a book, unless you are Stephen King or Dan Brown or Tom Clancy and have gained a little power, is little more than indentured servitude to the "chain ring" of a publishing editor's wishes and some marketing agent's crystal-ball like prediction of what "the people" want to buy, some of that edginess of the blog is lost in the book. Your market value will grow if the cleanliness factor is increased and the raunch factor is dampened. I know this well because the one agent who LOVED my book that I wrote didn't think she could market it. It fell too much between genres -- too adult for teens and too young for adults. She told me to contact her again if I wrote something "younger." My raunch rating did me in.

One part of The Snob's shtick that survives is the one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other game which I illustrate by example as my friend "The Snob" talks about bicycle obsessed riders (of whom all us riders can name a few):

For them it is not about the riding; it's about the bike, and the riding part is simply their way of fondling their possession. They keep their bicycles clean all the time, they fear scratches like they're herpes, and they don't ever ride in the rain (or as they call it, "water herpes") so their bikes won't get dirty or rusty. They're like the people who collect toys but don't remove them from the package so as not to diminish their value, or who swish wine around in their mouths without swallowing it, or who never get around to having actual sex because they're too into sniffing high-heeled shoes while dressed as Darth Vader. These are not cyclists, they're bicycle fetishists. (pp. 46-47)

Anyways, the one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other game is that whammy moment that takes you by surprise when the commentary (or in most Snob cases, a list) seems to stray away from the expected direction. It's kind of the pinnacle moment of written comedy. What the hell do high-heeled shoe sniffers have to do people who love their bicycles too much? 

But I do have to say that while I recognize immediately when he uses this shtick on first reading, it is very difficult to go back and find an example because it doesn't take you quite by surprise on a second reading. The connection between the sexual fetish and the bicycle fetish is a little more obvious.  This, of course, coming from a woman who was married to her bike.

But my most favourite part of the whole book is the fact that he talks about himself and who he is and his history as a cyclist. In Chapter 4, he uses the Footsteps in the Sand metaphor to describe his life path as a cyclist, except in it, he is tire treads instead of a second set of footprints. In the original, The Snob presumes that the man (or woman's) footprints disappear when bad things such as "addiction, sickness and sunburn" (See! See! There is "the game" again) happen in one's life. In The Snob's version, the tire treads disappear during all his bad cycling moments in life.

Up until this point, the book has been pretty bland. I missed the unrelenting political incorrectness and show-off-y vocabulary. It is too clean, it's stripped of the raunch factor. But here the book becomes nothing but laugh out loud bike snobbery goodness.

At this point I have to point out that this blog entry has, indeed, started to sound like a review. Shame on me. But I do have to say that when I start these posts I rarely know where I'm going with them until I get there. Kinda like life, I suppose. I thought I was going somewhere else but I've ended up here. So this is where I will end. Where I originally intended to go will come next as I cycle my way back to my original goal.

As always, stay tuned.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Bravo! Bravo!!