Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Difference, repetition, and encountering the bicycle

Thinking today about the problems of difference and repetition as I rode.  A similar Westerly loop to the one I did last week, except shorter, on South River Road instead of looping all the way out to Jefferson.  The bike felt great on the way north along the river, fast and comfy even over the broken pavement.  It was sunny and clear, and one of the warmer rides I've taken recently--knee warmers, no shoe covers or gloves, and a regular cycling cap instead of the warm beanie.  In general I was out enjoying the brightness and the chance to ride. 

Coming back south from downtown along the river, things started to cloud up--chance of rain tomorrow--and along with them, a bit of discomfort for me; buzzy hands, felt a bit more like I was holding myself up with my arms.  I thought about how I was pedaling; did I have a tailwind, and was I soft pedaling?  How was I sitting on the seat? Could I move my weight back?  Would things be different with gears?  Different handlebars with a broader platform behind the hoods?  These were the questions as I rode home. 

Reading Harman yesterday, in his synthesis of DeLanda, touching on the problem of difference and repetition being one of the key features of a speculative philosophy for him.  Also thinking back to Steven Shaviro's reading of Whitehead.  Without delving into detail on each of these thinker's particular approach to the problem, in general they all help me to ask to use the example of today's ride: was the bike I was riding back down the river the same bike I had ridden north?  Was it the same bike that I had ridden last week? 

This is not to say that some nefarious party had somehow switched bikes on me in the middle of my ride; I did stop to put some air in my rear tire near the turn around point, but I'm pretty sure my bike didn't leave my sight as I did so.  Nor am I saying that somehow something got out of whack and components shifted on me enough to notice, although my seatpost has slipped a couple of millimeters.  No, instead, thinking about my riding through object-oriented realism, it helps to remember that I cannot simply encounter the bicycle as the same each and every time I ride it, no matter how much I make sure that its components are secure and its setup remains constant. 

Most concretely, asking the question of the northbound bike being different than the southbound bike helps to draw my attention to the fact that I no matter how much I obsess about the bicycle and little else, I cannot but experience the bicycle as a member of a complex assemblage.  It is most basically an assemblage of me, the bicycle, and the road; more complexly, as Donna Haraway would be quick to point out, I myself am a cyborg assemblage of brain, skeleton, muscle tissues, gut bacteria, the meat of the turkey I ate for lunch, lycra and polyester clothing, with a head encased in protective sytrofoam and plastic.  The road is not simply an empty, featureless background container--no matter how boring the riding can be on the flat roads around here--but a constantly varying surface, a non-direct path between infinite points that is constantly changing direction, blown by winds of varying direction and intensity.  I can only experience the bicycle as a part of the assemblage of all of these things and more--I haven't even touched on the pyschological, social, and historical assemblages that are also part of the riding experience for me. 

So of course, the bicycle that I rode south is a different bicycle (for me) than the bicycle I rode north.  No matter what consistency it appeared to have to me, it was a part of a different assemblage as I rode, and since I can only experience it through these assemblages, I must let go of the idea that I can have a bicycle that feels like the same thing always in every assemblage of road, wind, and physio-mental state.  Following Harman, if I approach riding as a speculative realist, a ride is always a question, always a becoming-moving of me and the bicycle in ways that I may think that I can can anticipate but may, as I said previously, surprise me. 

I guess this isn't that different than what I said in my previous post but it helps me to think about my approaches to bike fit.  Bike fit can't be about finding the one assemblage of handlebar, saddle, and pedal position that "works" for one, because one is always many (to pull from Deleuze and Guattari).  Instead, I find myself drawn to setups that acknowledge the multiplicity of pedaling; that sometimes I'll be weighting my hands and soft pedaling (esp. on a fixed gear), sometimes I'll be pedaling hard but riding lightly on my hands.  Sometimes I'll want to sit up, sometimes I'll want to stretch out.  In the one case, I like the fact that the parallel-bend drop bars I plan to fit on the Casseroll road bike anticipates this with a larger number of positions where I can support my whole palm than the more contemporary "ergo" bend bars I have on there now.  In another case, I think of the bike I'm planning to build up that will focus mostly on comfort, with high bars and probably the thick, cushy BMX grips I like on upright bars, such that comfort becomes a greater possibility in a higher number of the possible assemblages, esp. the assemblages that I encounter, embody, enact in my everyday riding.  

1 comment:

  1. It seems we are thinking of bicycling along similar lines. I have been trying to write/think of bicycling, rather than about bikes lately. This focus on experience rather than object is difficult, but feels necessary to think in terms of multiplicities. I tried for the first week of D&G writing to write about making singletrack. I posted it on my blog if you want to check it out. ridingresearch.com.

    Excited to keep reading here!