Thursday, June 24, 2010

Alex’s new bike

When the new BikeNüt bikes arrived, Alex was one of the first to own one. His bike of course is unique, as he prefers a satin finish to the glossy clear coat. I can’t say I disagree with his preference.
I met with him while he was still putting it together, assembling the fork, setting up the crankset and derailleurs, making sure he had installed all of the cables with the right tension. He was doing all of this almost at the same time, a bit feverishly, talking frequently to himself, rushing to get it finished and ride it a day or so before he had decided to race it over the weekend. I later learned he placed in the top ten.
Bicycles and racing are not exactly a new thing for Alex. When he was in college in Washington, D.C., a few years ago, he worked in a bike shop as a mechanic. He quickly decided he preferred dealing with customers and sell them bicycles. He arrived in San Francisco to work in an advertising agency, but the job vanished, and Alex landed at BikeNüt. That was a couple of years ago. I remember him then, during my early, tentative visits to the shop to view the bikes that were on display and secretly admired. We talked, and he mentioned his first races with disappointment about the results. Soon, however, I learned about his improving placements in the races he entered and his ambitions for longer and more difficult races. It wasn’t just talk—he raced them and won some.

Racing or simply cycling is not a lifestyle choice for Alex, who actually prefers not talking about bicycles outside the shop. He cycles, he says, to maintain his sanity. By that, I assume he means not just to hang on to his physical form and remain pencil thin as a only a cyclist could be, but also to dispel the physical energy that would threaten to explode if bottled up for too long.

A trait he shares with all the folks at BikeNüt and not a few of their customers, Alex keeps his bike in a constant state of evolution. One day is the crankset, the next is the saddle, and the following week are the wheels. The constant search for the perfect combination of frame and components is something I’ve mentioned before in this blog. It leads to a blissful state of mind and body, when we are pedaling at maximum speed seemingly without effort. But with Alex, the impression is that there is an additional level of experimentation: he listens to people and is informed about the new gear, but in the end he must convince himself about the real value of whatever he tests. He affects contempt for the gear of the day. I’ve heard him discuss very competently about wheelsets very highly rated in the media and popular with pros. He simply dismisses them as worthless. I tend to listen to him, because he is exceedingly meticulous about anything concerning bicycles. He thinks things through, he researches issues and gear, and is not afraid to go against the current—actually, I think he enjoys it.
In the case of the new bike, he thought he had recruited the perfect set of components with his old one. He simply transferred all of them to the new bike, from saddle to wheels.

He has been riding the same wheels for a few months, not only during races but also in his commuting through the city. He prefers tubulars instead of clinchers for nearly mystical reasons, as far as I can tell, reasons so personal that are completely outside my experience. Not content with the deep rims he rides, now he plans to have much deeper ones, never mind the wind on the Golden Gate Bridge that can push the bike off the straight line.

For the moment, he has no plans to move beyond BikeNüt. He likes that the people who work in the shop have unique backgrounds and have lives that involve more than bikes. “They’re all interested in culture,” he says. What about his own ambitions? “I enjoy writing,” he answers.

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