Friday, June 20, 2014

Cycling Amish

When I hear about the latest hi-tech cycling gizmo, like this Vanhawks smartbike, which features internal sensors, blind-spot monitors, and security devices (it’s a bike that is also a gizmo), it awakens my inner cycling Amish. I begin to feel my moustacheless beard sprout. I find myself instinctively resisting, even scoffing at, such so-called advances in technology.

Some Luddite part of me refuses to accept that a smartbike is a good idea. Yes, we have the technology to make it, but that doesn’t mean we need it or that it will improve my cycling experience. In fact, the more I think about the Vanhawks, the more I get an urge to pop a bonnet on my wife’s head, and move my family to rural Pennsylvania, where I can live out my days making furniture and pedalling my trusty ordinary to barn raisings and shaming ceremonies.

Hearing my friends talk about Strava has much the same Amishing effect on me. They rave on about the benefits of Strava, the wonders of segments, but this doesn’t make me want to go out and get Strava. Rather, it makes me want to don a pair of suspenders and a straw hat and trade my Prius for a horse and buggy.  I just don’t get how Strava will make cycling more enjoyable. The contrarian in me bristles at what seems to me a blind embrace of technology for the sake technology. My gut reaction is to eschew these gizmos as a way of proving that the soul of cycling has little to do with high-technology.

Vanhawks smartbike
I’m not against innovation in principle. Some technological innovations have indeed improved cycling: the pneumatic tire or the derailleur, for instance. But for each of these success stories there are dozens of goofy “advances” that didn’t really advance anything. Remember the elliptical front chain ring?  

I know I sound like a curmudgeon, but I prefer to see myself as healthy skeptic. The cycling industry is built on convincing cyclists that they need expensive things they really don’t. (Remember the “revolutionary” Clean Bottle? How about e-shifting?) Sure, lots of folks will embrace the idea of a Vanhawks smartbike just as they did with Strava, but let’s take a good look at these gizmos before we leap on that technology band-, er buggy, wagon.

I can't tell if this is an actual photo of some Amish fellows or the dudes in some indy band posing for an album cover.
I’ve heard that there are some ultra-conservative Amish sects that refuse to even allow their members to ride bicycles. Foot scooters are, apparently, acceptable, but a bicycle drive-train is deemed too radical. Apparently the Amish can out-Amish one another.

Perhaps in the cycling world there exists a kind of Cycling Amish Spectrum Disorder; no doubt there are even greater cycling-techno-skeptics out there than I, who swear by the authenticity of solid tyres and say pshaw to the latest new-fangled bicycling bugle.

To them, my cycling Amishness probably seems mild, a kind of Amish-lite even. And my willingness to blog about all this? Well, that’s worthy of a shaming itself. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you on this, Jasper. I'm all for technology, but some things are better left alone. I think your readers would enjoy this little piece on "negative improvements" by John Updike:


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