For some folks, it’s cars. For others, it’s rare vinyl. For some further still it’s camera equipment, or vintage lithographs, or old National Geographic magazine, or guns, or rare books, or stuffed squirrels.
For my Dad, it was stereo equipment. Each time I’d come home to Dublin, there’d be a new addition to the system; some insanely expensive doodad which, I was breathlessly informed, had ‘completely transformed’ the sound in the room. In the last few years his stereo system had come to resemble a sort of thrown-together artificial intelligence hub; a humming and throbbing mass of circuitry and sheet glass, sitting malevolently in the corner of the room, pulsing with a low, steady heartbeat. I’d swear that with each visit I was able to observe its’ tentacle-like cords and wires slowly spreading across the walls. It had more panels and controls than the Starship Enterprise and could blow the doors off a small building.
I’d smile in amusement as my Dad fired up his baby, turned on some music (usually Beethoven) and shook the house to its’ foundations.
‘MAGNIFICENT, ISN’T IT?’ he’d shout, a big school-boy grin spreading across his face.
Honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference. It just sounded really, really loud. But I took his word for it that it was better, because I trusted him to know the difference. In the same way that I know the difference when I buy some piece of cycling paraphernalia which, to the untrained eye, looks exactly as good or as useful as the one that I already had. Or the two that I already had…
Therefore, with regard to the objects which we pursue, and for which we strive with great effort, we should note this truth; either there is nothing desirable in them, or the undesirable is preponderant. Some objects are superfluous; others are not worth the price we pay for them. But we do not see this clearly, and we regard things as free gifts when they really cost us very dear.
Seneca – Letter 42
So… there’s the bib-shorts. And the tights. But then you need the deep-winter tights. And also the 3/4 Roubaix tights for spring and summer riding. And the gloves. But you also need winter gloves. And then another pair of normal gloves, because the padding in the originals wasn’t great. And while you’re at it, let me see that neck warmer. Merino wool, you say? Sure go on. Jerseys? Sure I have four. You’re right though, I may need a new one after that crash. You know because… No, I do need to replace my Garmin. The Edge 200 is great and it kept me going like, but the Edge 1000 has maps of Europe built in and you can tell it to program a ride for you – one that avoids the traffic. And yes, YES, I do need to spend £300 on a pair of cycling shoes…
What is this bizarre impulse so many of us seem to have to endlessly splurge money on gear, stuff, things? Is it the desire to to resemble those chiselled, sweaty road warriors in those magnificent black and white photos we see in ‘premium’ cycling brand adverts? Is it the burning need to look dashing and sophisticated as we swish our way through the daily commute, leaving other sadder, fatter, slower cyclists trailing in our wake wondering ‘where did he get that magnificent jacket?’
Are we that shallow?
Oh and, before you start, don’t try to cod me with your ‘I only buy vintage bike gear’ line. Yeah. Right. Sorry, but we’re calling bullshit on that one. Tarting up over-priced steel-frames from the ’80s and farting about town in authentic La Vie Claire or Brooklyn cycling tops isn’t fooling anyone. You’re just as much the junkie as the rest of us. So wipe that smirk off your pencil-moustached face.
Our stupidity may be clearly proved by the fact that we hold that “buying” refers only to the objects for which we pay cash, and we regard as free gifts the things for which we spend our very selves.
These we should refuse to buy, if we were compelled to give in payment for them our houses or some attractive and profitable estate; but we are eager to attain them at the cost of anxiety, of danger, and of lost honour, personal freedom, and time; so true it is that each man regards nothing as cheaper than himself.
Seneca – Letter 42
So what is it then? Is it just the need to belong? Is it a reflection of our insecurity? Or bad spending habits? Or all of the above? Doesn’t the constant spending of money on ever-newer trinketry and gear, betray the essential stoicism of cycling? A sport or a past time which actively teaches you acceptance, pain management and true grit shouldn’t be besmirched by the seductive allure of a shop full of fetish-level lycra and cack-tasting artisanal coffee.
And yet.. I could really use that Garmin Edge 1000. But no, wait, not before I replace my helmet, which may have a crack after that crash, and you can’t be too careful with helmets; you could say that it’s the one thing you really should spend serious money on. Well that and your bib shorts. Cos, you know, that’s where your balls are. But you have to look after your feet too, with decent merino wool socks and….
Dear God, will it ever stop?
Very often the things that cost nothing cost us the most heavily; I can show you many objects the quest and acquisition of which have wrested freedom from our hands. We should belong to ourselves, if only these things did not belong to us.
Seneca – Letter 42
So what to do? Do you go on until the end of time, sweating and grunting up mountains in the same stinking shorts that you’ve had since before LeMond got off the saddle? Do you sleep with your bike to ensure it never gets stolen and you don’t have to fork out for a new one? Do you wear your vintage PDM top (£35 on eBay…) to bed, to get the absolute maximum value out of it?
But we can try a little discipline.
Maybe we can ask ourselves if we need something or want something. Maybe we can try thinking about how we would really react if our bike was stolen. How would we react? Would we hulk-out and smash the house down? Or would we accept that it was never ours in the first place and that we just had it on loan?
Maybe, just maybe, we could practice poverty:
Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?”
It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence. In days of peace the soldier performs manoeuvres, throws up earthworks with no enemy in sight, and wearies himself by gratuitous toil, in order that he may be equal to unavoidable toil.
If you would not have a man flinch when the crisis comes, train him before it comes. Such is the course which those men have followed who, in their imitation of poverty, have every month come almost to want, that they might never recoil from what they had so often rehearsed.
Seneca – Letter 18
Next time you find yourself in a sweat, your finger hovering over the ‘Place Bid’ button, ask yourself – do you need it, or do you want it?
See you on the road. Farewell.
Image: Wiggo’s Pinarello. (c) Damien DeBarra, 2016.
Words: (c) Damien DeBarra, 2016.