Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Back-to-Back Bike Rides and Speculative Surprise

A good day, productive school-wise morning and then a couple of short spins; first on the Trek 520 leather saddle technology demonstrater, and then the "slackest road bike in the world" Salsa Casseroll.  I really believe that these kind of short, back to back comparsion rides are really important for keeping things in perspective.  Once again, all of my over-thought comparisons between the Casseroll and the Trek seemed much less drastic upon actually riding, and my immediate sensation was that I preferred the Casseroll, again.  Yes, it is a bit more stretched out, but I'm beginning to think the amount of stretch i'm feeling is less important to me than being well-balanced weight wise.  At least, I've come to understand these two variables as distinct things, and can recognize how a bike might be well balanced but stretched out vs. a bike that could exert little or no stretch on the rider but be badly balanced in terms of center of gravity.  I was also noticing today how pedaling and cadence affected how I was sitting on the bicycle, with often times my weight moving more onto my seat and hands when I was coasting or when, on the fixed gear Casseroll, I was more being pushed along by the pedals rather than actively powering along.  I predict that putting gears on the Casseroll might result in the overall sensation of being lighter on the hands, since i can always shift up to maintain pedaling pressure.  Also suggests that optimum or favorite fixed gear fit might be something distinct from optimum/favored gearie fit, so I'm looking forward to trying out some a different type of set-up with the Quickbeam.  Here's to having more different bicycles that I can ride back-to-back like this, and maintain this fresh sense of comparison!

All of this is stewing well in my mind with my recent readings of Graham Harman's Speculative Realism.  I keep thinking about the constant back-and-forth he talks about between "Tool-being," that is the holistic, networked, ephemeral life of things beyond immediate human perception, and what he calls the "as-structure," our concrete experience of reality objectified--i.e. our ability to recognize the hammer as a hammer--which is necessarily always partial, incomplete, and temporary.  Thus a person can be both a realist, that is, to believe in the concrete qualities of things in the world, and be speculative, that is to me at least, to recognize that our ability to recognize things will always been exceeded by the reality of the thing; that is, reality will always have the ability to surprise us.  This speculative form of realism or materialism dovetails nicely with Bruno Latour's actor-network theory and its ontologically similar human and non-human actors, because even quarks or metal tubes will have a reality that exceeds our ability to know their future, and thus have to be considered as capable of acting as we draw the networks of action in the world.

When it comes to bicycles, for me, I obviously spend a lot of time thinking about bicycles in the "as" structure.  For instance, thinking about how top tube length and seat tube angle affect my center of gravity "as" a way to think about how comfortable my bike, or some yet-to-be theoretical bike, can be. For the past few years, I've been trying to keep very clear notions of my bicycles "as" something, as the one that fit me the best, as the best commuter, as the bike that I would always want to ride.  This is kind of unfair when it comes to bicycles in their reality, because this reality, a world which includes my brain and my body and the way that I feel that morning and the terrain through which I am riding them, is always going to exceed my ability to conceive of them in the "as" structure. Even if the world only included me and my bicycles, they would still have the ability to exceed whatever understanding I had of them "as bicycles." 

This may sound very technical and theoretical but the point that I'm coming to is this: I'm coming to appreciate and value the way that my bicycles, each and every one of them, can surprise me, both pleasantly and unpleasantly.  Of course, I'm always going to want to understand these surprises more--anybody who concerns themselves with high-quality tools does, I think--but I'm realizing that there will always be a reality to them beyond what knowledge I have of them makes me hopeful. 

1 comment:

  1. Just discovered the blog via the Rivendell group post. So I decided to start at the beginning. Hey, there's someone else out there who thinks about the bicycle like I do. I not sure whether to celebrate or fear.

    Looking forward to more of your discoveries.