Sunday, May 31, 2015

aping the rich: biting the hand that informs us?

Disclaimer #1: I own a Rivendell bicycle. I ride the crap out of it nearly every day. It came to me through rather unlikely means and if I'd had to pay full price for it today I'd be riding a thirty-year-old mountain bike instead. Because in my universe, unlikely means translates to limited means.

I love lugged steel bikes.

I love riding in regular, everyday clothing.

And I love the "Un-Racer" aesthetic and made-in-usa philosophy espoused by the nice folks at Rivendell Bicycle Works.

But I can't handle their prices. I can't justify paying $125 for a shirt. Or $120 for a scarf. Sorry. I just don't earn that kind of money. And if I did, I doubt I'd still be able to justify a $120 scarf.
My mother's ghost would swat me on the head with a rolled up newspaper if I paid $120 for a scarf.
I suspect that a fair number of my readers are similarly situated.
So I've taken a good long look at Rivendell's offerings and I've come up with a list of similar items available elsewhere for a fraction of what Rivendell's products cost.
Some of what RBW offers is quite affordable, like Wald baskets and patch kits and coin purses. But those things can be found locally for less money and no shipping. I'm talking about the "cool" stuff -- the shirts and sweaters and other items staunchly made in the USA, cost-be-damned-and-GP-GP-wears-it-so-I-will-too.

Yeah, there is more than a little of that "anti-cool" coolness factor in RBW's marketing and those of us who pay attention are fully aware of it. It's not different than the studied approach to marketing used by companies like Rapha or Dromarti, even if the target market is different.

I'm not doing this to hurt Rivendell's sales, and in fact I doubt my suggestions here would actually make a dent in their bottom line; their target market can well afford to keep shopping at Rivendell and will continue to do so. But many of the things Rivendell sells DO make a lot of sense for many of us who call ourselves "Un-Racers" -- and it only seems sensible that those of us on a tight budget will go looking for cheaper alternatives to those items.

Disclaimer # 2: I have long had an ambivalent relationship with retail, a result of my nearly twenty years working full-time in the bicycle industry. If I scan back to look at the big picture, the big picture is depressing. Because I recognized early on that I could do nothing to stop it. Still, I need stuff. We all need stuff. And after a lifetime of conditioning to appreciate nice things, good things, things that work well and last awhile, I have arrived at a place where I've stopped fighting my conditioning. Because, well... see ** below.

Disclaimer # 3: Most of the items listed here are made in China or someplace similar. It's fine to go tilting at windmills when you earn enough to do so -- and I don't want to get into that argument here, because it's beyond the parameters of a discussion of bicycling gear and clothing. If this list offends you, then by all means shop at RBW -- or, conversely, go dumpster diving and Free-boxing, as I do from time to time. Whichever option will help to assuage your guilt at being a living, breathing human being in an economy that depends on consuming in order to remain afloat, do it!

** The punch line is:
I consume, you consume, we all consume.
Eventually we all fart, too.
It can't be helped.

Even being mindful of what and how we consume will take us only so far. I have lived long enough to know that voluntarily lowering my standard of living to the same level as that of a Chinese factory worker will do nothing to liberate him, and will in turn make me a burden on my community, which solves nothing. Better to use whatever resources I have to spread around the love a little. If shopping on the cheap gives me more money at the end of the day to spread around, I can live with that compromise.


That was quite a lot of disclaiming. Sorry, but I just felt like I needed to head off all the likely arguments at the pass before I could get down to my list.

Here's the list. I'll leave it to you to figure out which if RBW's items I'm suggesting alternatives to.

1. Moleskin shirt. These are thick, sturdy, wonderful shirts suitable for riding, gardening, working and just plain living. If you're just dying to have a "real" moleskin shirt, discount outfitter Cabela's offers this alternative:

If that's still too much money for you, fair enough. I'm not in the habit of spending thirty bucks on a shirt, either. All you need to do is remember that Moleskin is basically just chamois on steroids. Chamois is a perfectly fine material and works as well as Moleskin though it's not quite as sturdy. It's also not as expensive. Lots of discount stores sell Chamois shirts. And, this being the beginning of summer, it's a perfect time to look for a used chamois shirt at your favorite thrift shop.

2. Handkerchiefs. Or bandannas. Or whatever you call them. Yup, definitely very handy; I keep one in every saddlebag and shoulder bag I use regularly. I also don't pay $3.00 for them, because I can find them for less than a buck apiece at thrift shops, dollar stores and army surplus stores. (Portland bonus: If you volunteer for at least three events during the Sunday Parkways season you'll be given a very nice cotton hankie with a bicycle route map of the city imprinted on it.)
And let's be real for a moment here, okay? No one I know cares about the thread count of something you're going to use as a potholder on an overnight campout. It's good to tout luxury in select items, but a snot-rag probably isn't one of them. At least not in the circles I travel in.

3. Wool socks. Look on eBay and you will find wool socks in all heights for far less than the $18.00 a pair RBW gets. (I'm sure those are some very nice socks, by the way; but eighteen bucks equals about twenty homemade burritos and, well, I just can't go there.) I recently scored a three-pack of new wool-blend ankle socks, perfect for spring and summer, for the same price. That's six bucks a pair. And that's about the most I'm willing to pay for wool socks.  And honestly, wool-blend is good enough.

4. Cycling caps. I like my cotton cycling caps. They fit nicely under my helmet, provide just enough shade for my eyes and reduce the likelihood of "helmet hair" when my ride ends at a coffee shop and there's some expectation of looking "civilized". All props to RBW when they occasionally offer one of their models at great discount; I have an oddly colored RBW (yeah, okay, pale lemon yellow doesn't really go with dull olive) cap I got there for something like $7 (it has since gone up to $10). Other caps I have found used at Goodwill or used sporting goods shops; I take them home and wash them and they're fine. No cooties or anything.

Disclaimer # 4: I did splurge last year and spring for a TSBC wool cycling cap. I traded a CD for it and we both ended up happy.

5. Wool sweaters and vests. I admit that I own a RBW vest. It's going on 12 years old now, and my mother-in-law got it for me as a birthday present. it's getting rather hole-y and a little stretched out, and I will wear it till it falls off me. It fits well and keeps me warm on cool-weather rides. But it's not my only wool vest. I have a few others that I scored at Goodwill, fpr prices ranging anywhere from four to ten bucks. I wear them a lot, too. I'm a vest girl.
Sweaters are sort of the same, except that I've never paid more than about $15 for any sweater I own.

6. Seersucker shirts. I totally owe props to RBW for this. I had never considered wearing seersucker before RBW started touting them. Then I wore one on a long summer ride and was hooked. They really are more comfy than a jersey and I love them. I find mine at thrift shops -- best time to look is in the early fall when seasonal stuff goes on sale. Mostly short-sleeved but I have lucked out now and then with long-sleeved versions at Goodwill and yard sales.

You'll notice that I hit up the thrift shops and dollar stores a fair amount. In my fair city there's also a growing occurrence of "Free" boxes popping up on residential streets, and some of these yield good results; don't be afraid to touch someone else's stuff! If it had cooties, the hazmat squad would've already sealed up the house -- hell, the whole block -- in a gigantic white plastic bag. Chances are if it made its way to a "Free" box it's just no longer wanted. If it looks like a keeper, take it home and wash it and stop being squeamish already.

(If you decide you'll scavenge regularly and you still freak out about cooties, keep a pair of nitrile gloves in your bag. Just in case.)

Recycling -- which is what thrift shopping is really about -- is not a bad compromise, either. And in the spirit of Un-Racing, I think it actually fits in nicely with RBW's philosophy. So does living a life in which you can wear your clothes until they actually wear out, but that's another blog post for another time.

Happy bargain-hunting, and above all, happy riding!

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