Gear is Good

I first wrote this post in 2012 as an article for Catalyst Magazine, back in my days as a columnist writing about bicycle commuting. Now, having just finished a Christmas season filled with commercials telling us how much better our lives will be if we just buy the newest whatever, I thought it deserves an update. Though it’s specifically about bicycling, it has application to any new toy.


            Famous Wall Street bicyclist Gordon Gekko once said, “Gear is good.”  If you don’t believe Gordon, just look at any magazine rack.  The shelves are crammed with magazines telling us which of the new toys are absolutely must-have for summer 2020.

Owning a shiny new kryptonite bicycle in deep ruby with flecks of gold that makes looking at it something akin to peering into the depths of the cosmos is a transcendent joy.  Man’s fascination with the latest gear goes back a million years or more.  Sometime after the last Ice Age ended a Neanderthal named Ralph was idly tapping at the end of a stick with a piece of flint while keeping a wary eye out for saber-tooth cave weasels.  Ralph noticed that he could shape the stick into a point.  Interesting, but not too useful until that night when he tried to pluck his piece of warthog out of the fire and burned his fingers.

Ralph poked at the warthog with his sharpened stick and to his surprise the stick pierced the crispy meat and he pulled it easily from the fire.  After a few nights of experimentation, Ralph concluded that a longer stick meant he could sit farther from the fire and still enjoy his warthog.  But his stick’s true usefulness came a week later when a saber-tooth cave weasel, drawn by the pungent smell of roasting warthog, skulked into the cave.  As the clan hooted and threw rocks, the cave weasel advanced.  In desperation Ralph threw his eating stick.  The stick punctured the cave weasel’s heart and it dropped dead.

Ralph was the toast of the clan for several weeks until one night another Neanderthal named Ed showed up with a spear on which he had rubbed charcoal, making it black and therefore, Ed claimed, better than Ralph’s design.  All the other clan members were impressed, even though no one understood how this made the spear better.  This is the first recorded instance of carbon-improved technology.  Now, of course, there are carbon-fiber frames, poly-carbonate tubes and all sorts of stuff based on carbon.

Meanwhile, Ralph’s wife Alice was busy developing gear for the modern Neanderthal cave-wife.  Alice found a hollowed out log about a foot long.  After shaking out the ants she discovered she could put the cooked warthog in the log and keep it warm until Ralph got home at night.  Alice’s friend and Ed’s wife Trixie made improvements by stuffing dried moss in the ends of the log.  Soon Alice and Trixie were showing their new line of cave-ware to all the clan members and started a phenomenon that became known as the Tupperware party.  Man’s (and woman’s) quest for the latest gear was born.

The thing that makes new gear so appealing is the status it bestows on the owner.  Sure, Ralph’s spear was useful but as soon as Ed came up with a better idea, Ed got the limelight and Ralph faded into obscurity.  So it is with the latest in bicycle gear.  There’s nothing like cruising up to the weekly club ride on your new Tritonium bike to the ohhs and ahhs of the other riders, but after a couple of weeks the envy subsides and, like a druggie looking for his next hit, a cyclist is soon prowling the bike stores and websites.  Seldom does one ask, do I really need a frame that is 32% more responsive?  What does that even mean?

Never mind; the answer is, of course you do!  How else are you going to smoke grandma on her 1979 Raleigh pulling a bike trailer loaded with 25 lbs. of produce from the farmer’s market?  But, if perchance you wonder, is it really, in the eternal scheme of things, necessary, take this test:

Hold your bike (Hint: if you don’t have a bike, then yes, you need new gear) by its seat and lift the rear wheel off the ground.  Does the wheel fall off?  If the answer is no, continue.

Turn the pedals.  Does the rear wheel also turn?  If yes, continue.

Squeeze the right brake lever.  Does the rear wheel stop turning?  If yes, continue.

Now lift the bike’s front wheel.  Does it fall off?  If not, continue.

Spin the front wheel.  Now squeeze the left brake lever.  Does the wheel stop?  If yes, you have a perfectly serviceable bike and don’t NEED new gear.  All you need to do is get on it and ride.  And watch out for saber-tooth cave weasels.

How to Watch The Tour de France. Everything You Need to Know.

Each July the French put on a little bike ride called the Tour de France.  They’ve done this every year since the start of the Twentieth Century, except for a few times in the 1940s when the French were tenants of Germany.

            On this side of the pond, the Tour is just there for sportswriters to have something to write about between baseball’s All Star Game and preseason football.  In Europe, especially in France and the UK, sports fans are going nuts this week with Wimbledon, both France and England in the semi-finals of World Cup play and this little bike race. Things are so crazy in England that on Saturday last, Wimbledon was pushed off the prime BBC channel in favor of England’s World Cup match. That’s the equivalent of the New England Patriots or the Golden State Warriors games being shown on The Shopping Network.

For those of you unfamiliar with The Tour de France, here, as a PSA, is a primer. First, no one watches The Tour de France.  It’s “The Tour.”  If you’re a bit of a snob (and what is more français than snobbery) it’s Le Tour.

Teams in Le Tour are made up of different types of riders. Just as baseball, football and basketball have position players, cycling teams have position riders.  There’s a team leader.  This is the rider best able to endure the different types of torture found on Le Tour. Along with him are other overall riders. This group makes up the GC, or “General Classification” of riders. The GC is where the eventual winner will come from. Also on a team are sprinters, hulking beasts (relatively speaking) whose specialty is going fast and pulverizing lesser riders; climbers, whippets who flit up mountain roads to the tops of the Pyrenees and Alps without breaking a sweat; and domestiques, apprentice riders whose job is to take care of the rest of the team by shuttling water and food from the team car to the riders, giving up their bikes to a rider who has crashed if necessary and generally being slaves to the rest of the team. If a GC rider falls and rips his shorts, a domestique will give him his.

Le Tour is raced over 21 days, or stages. There are flat stages, mountain stages and time trials, different venues where the different riders can strut their stuff.  The overall race leader wears a yellow jersey.  Each day, there is a stage winner, the rider who finished that stage fastest.  It’s theoretically possible to win Le Tour without winning a single stage, and except for the second day, the prior day’s stage winner isn’t necessarily the yellow jersey.  Note how the leader has been reduced to the color of his shirt.  If you want to ask who the race leader is on a given day, you say, “who’s in yellow today?”  Of course, if you’re a true aficionado, you don’t ask because you know.

Time trials are a special type of masochism.  In the Individual Time Trial (ITT) riders leave the starting gate one at a time and ride a course, anywhere from 15 to 50 km. alone, in two-minute intervals.  They wear alien-like helmets and put their hands on aero-bars to slip through the wind.  You pedal as fast as you can, as long as you can and hope you reach the finish line before your heart explodes. There’s also a team time trial, or TTT, where five riders race the course together and four have to cross the finish line. The team’s time is that of the fourth rider to finish.

Mountain stages are, as one would expect, rides in the mountains.  The route of Le Tour varies, but always, always includes several days in the Pyrenees and Alps.  Fans love the mountain stages because the riders have slowed to about seven mph and spectators can run next to their favorite riders, exhorting them on to greatness. Or, sometimes, get run over.  The summit of a mountain climb is a favorite place for the loonies to come out, as the accompanying picture shows. Of course, what goes up must come down and on the downside fans can see spectacular crashes.  To get an idea of what it’s like to crash on a bicycle coming out of the Alps, strip down to your underwear and jump out of a car going 45 mph on the freeway.

If you’re watching on TV, you can find Le Tour on NBC Sports.  For three weeks, you can listen to every move described by Paul Sherwin, Phil Ligget, Bob Roll, Christian Vandevelde, Jens Voight and other lesser lights. All are former Tour riders. Paul and Phil are Brits and given to delicious understatement.  For example, on a particularly nasty climb, a rider may be falling off the back of the peloton (peloton is French for “big group of crazy riders”).  This is technically called being dropped, and it’s not a good thing.  As this rider struggles up a gradient that would make a mountain goat puke, Paul or Phil is likely to note that “he’s in a spot of bother right now.”

Bob Roll is fond of calling Le Tour “the Tour DEE France.”  It’s not that Bob can’t speak French; he’s actually quite fluent.  It’s that he doesn’t like the French so he intentionally mispronounces their pride and joy.  Various stories exist about why he’s anti-French.  Some say it’s because he can’t get a decent beer in France.

At the end of each stage, there is an award ceremony.  The stage winner is presented, gets a bottle of champagne and kisses from two lovely French women.  If you look closely, you’ll see that their lips never get nearer than two inches to the guy’s cheeks.  I mean, he hasn’t shaved for a couple of days and he’s just finished a five-hour bike ride.  Ewww!

The final day of Le Tour is madness.  There’s no race for the Yellow Jersey.  By tradition, the leader at the end of the penultimate day is the winner.  But the race finishes with eight laps around the Champs-Elysees and the sprinters go berserk, pounding the cobblestones, cutting corners, occasionally losing it and sliding into the hay bales set up to stop careening riders from plowing into the howling crowd.  Meanwhile the yellow jersey and his mates cruise into Paris sipping glasses of champagne.

Virtual Zombie Apocalypse is Coming

They say that every day 10,273 Facebook users die. That’s almost the combined populations of Bluffdale and White City. Imagine walking through deserted streets and empty houses in Bluffdale, everyone gone, only the occasional month old newspaper blowing across the street. Even the prison would be empty: no guards patrolling the halls, no inmates banging tin cups on their cell bars.

It reminded me of the Michael Crichton book The Andromeda Strain where an unmanned government spacecraft carrying an other-worldly virus crashes in rural Utah and wipes out the town. Then, the more I thought, the more it seemed like Woodbury, the town in The Walking Dead. In the book everyone dies but in Woodbury there are some alive and some dead. Real people and zombies in the same town. We all know how well that’s working out for the humans.

That’s what 10,273 Facebook users dying every day means: 10,273 chances for virtual zombies among the virtual people. Abandoned Facebook profiles are fertile bodies for virtual zombies to inhabit. Suppose someone gets your Facebook information and starts posting as you. All of a sudden instead of cute updates about the kids or grandkids your Facebook friends are reading that you and Henry Winkler are now best buddies and playing golf together in Palm Springs because you took his advice and got a reverse mortgage. Or that Viagra saved your marriage and you have a direct line to a below-cost supplier of the little blue pill and anyone who wants some can contact you.

Imagine your Facebook LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter accounts under the evil control of a virtual zombie. It looks like your page but it’s….not….really….you. Like the stumbling, drooling zombies in Woodbury that thing on your friends’ screens is horrible but familiar, which only makes it more horrible. They’ll recoil in fear that if they let it, zombie-you will take them over, turning their accounts into hideous replications of zombie-them.

What’s a person to do? Virtual zombies are worse than real zombies. All it takes to put a real zombie to rest permanently is a well-aimed bullet or an A-Rod swing of a tire iron to the head. Sure, someone can un-friend the zombie-you but your virtual zombie is still alive (or at least undead) and free to wreak havoc on millions of unsuspecting Facebook users. Your virtual legacy could be ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION.

More importantly, how can you prepare for virtual doomsday? It’s time to start thinking of the virtual zombie apocalypse, not just the zombie apocalypse. Since you started reading this, another 14 Facebook users have died. That’s 14 more potential virtual zombies lurking in cyberspace. One might be hiding just behind your next mouse click. Where’s your virtual tire iron?

This is serious. Right now the zombie apocalypse fear is getting all the national attention. The virtual zombie apocalypse isn’t on anyone’s radar yet. But it will be, soon. I’ve been in contact with producers at Discovery Channel and National Geographic. My sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, tell me a new show is in the works, Virtual Zombie Apocalypse Preppers (V-ZAP for short). Like the Doomsday Preppers show that chronicles the extreme measures taken by those who expect Armageddon any day from natural causes like earthquake, volcanic eruption, meteor strike or even economic collapse, V-ZAP will go into detail about how those in the know are prepping for the virtual zombie apocalypse. You didn’t hear this from me but word on the street is Bear Grylls will host it. It’s bound to be a hit and when it premieres, probably early next year, you won’t be able to find what you need to survive.

So here’s your spoiler alert. Get your virtual zombie apocalypse survival gear stockpile started.

zombie apocalypse