Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Somewhere along the line the idea of style and expense became fused in the public mind. Or maybe it's just me. I noticed this bike Monday, locked on Randolph Street, because of its clean lines and unusual orange rims and hand grips. Then the name on the frame,"Critical," leapt out, one of those moments when life seems to become a Greek chorus directing some kind of sly remark at you. "Critical? Why yes I am. What of it?"
I assumed the bike had to be a costly couture bike, made of titanium perhaps, designed to be shown off more than ridden. Wrong. Critical Cycles, "America's on-line Urban Bike Shop," based in California, slogan "Happiness on Two Wheels." This bike, their Fixed Gear Single Speed Fixie Urban Road Bike: $219, with free shipping. Made in China, natch.
I can't vouch for the bike itself. Some glowing reviews online, some dismissive ones, claiming that it gets beaten up too easily. But the machine sure looks nice. Doesn't it? One reason the front wheel is so clean is that it doesn't have any front brakes -- "fixed gear," if you are unfamiliar with the term, as I was, means that there is no mechanism that allows the pedals to remain stationary while the wheels turn. This saves weight, and means that you can also slow the bike down using the pedals, thus less need for front brake stopping power (some riders dispense with the rear brake too, though the company discourages this). Fixed gear riding also "gives you a feeling of oneness with your bike," the company claims, "similar to driving a stick shift."
And "Critical Cycles"? You have to admire the name. Maybe from a closet electronics geek, "critical cycle delay" being a problem in integrated circuit design. Although, to me, it sounds like a term that describes how a particular writer or artist falls in and out of favor as time lopes along. "Strindberg passed through several critical cycles before reaching his current popularity." Now that I think of it, the company name has to be a stab at borrowing a bit of the cool from the "Critical Mass" bike rides that draw hordes of bicyclists to reclaim city streets by weight of numbers. Though between the Divvy bikes and the dedicated bike lanes downtown, it seems that bicycles have achieved a critical mass in the heart of Chicago already, with no packs of riders necessary.
A pretty bike, this, though I'm hanging onto my black Schwinn Cruiser, with its balloon whitewall tires, coaster brake and fat ass saddle. So uncool, it achieves a kind of transcendent coolness all its own, in my own eyes if nobody else's. Of course that's nothing unusual: most coolness is both self-assigned and illusory.