Saturday, January 16, 2016

the story of bike stuff, and a shift in focus

This week, a new email went out to the Rivendell mailing list.

In it, there was news that the Rivendell Reader, which had not seen an issue printed in four years, would be coming out soon. This would be Reader Number 44. It's a fun publication. In addition to talking about All Things Rivendell, the Reader also features articles about things that you might not find anywhere else, and generally speaking they're on topics that tickle Grant Peterson's fancy (since he does a lot of the writing and all of the editing).

In the past, copies of the Reader came free with a Rivendell membership. Then, somewhere down the line, Rivendell stopped selling memberships. Not cost-effective, I suppose.
Shortly after the cessation of memberships, Rivendell Readers were published less often (maybe twice a year if we were lucky), and sold for $5 a copy mailed bulk rate. Or you could download a PDF for free from the web site.

I'm old-fashioned. I like getting stuff in the mail. So I paid for print copies.

And then, the Reader stopped happening completely. No announcement, it just stopped being published. For four years.
I chalked it up to the ongoing evolution in Rivendell's business plan and a lack of time on Grant's part to edit and publish the thing. I shrugged and figured maybe it would come back, perhaps once every three years or so, for as long as Grant had the time and energy to devote to it.

So this week's announcement was a little odd.

Yes, the Reader is coming back, Grant's BLUG post said, but maybe this will be the last one because I'm tired and it costs too much time and money to make it happen. And because it's such a time-suck now, this issue of the Reader will cost you $7 in print, and we'd really prefer that you add it to an order for other stuff. Otherwise, there will be another $3 postage, bringing the total to $10 for what may well be the last Rivendell Reader printed.

So I weighed my options.

There was a time when I was hugely behind what Rivendell was all about. The Rivendell of the late 1990's was a company that was all about making bicycle riding fun and accessible to anyone who was willing to actually spend a little money. Sure, they offered custom frames that were expensive; but they also offered other items that were more affordable and which made it easier to enjoy the ride. I still have a few of those things today, including Carradice saddlebags, some wool underwear and a couple pairs of wool socks. By and large they've worn well and have served their purpose beautifully.

Then, in the last decade or so, things began to change. Rivendell was beginning to reach out to a more particular demographic that consisted almost entirely of middle-aged men with disposable income. To capture the money of this target demographic, Rivendell added things to its line like more expensive shirts and wool midweight layers, camping gear and axes.
(Yes, axes. For chopping wood, ostensibly out in the woods. I dunno, maybe they were trying to latch onto the Manly-Man demographic as well, even if it's mostly populated by guys who dream like heroes and live like Walter Mitty. I'm guilty of the very same thing, I admit it; but no one seems to be targeting me as a demographic.)
And that was when I began, very slowly but surely, to lose interest in being such a loyal follower of Rivendell Bicycle Works.

I still dig the notion that they've preached all along, about UNracing. I LOVE UNracing and do it every single ride nowadays. UNracing means my rides are shorter, slower and mellower -- and I enjoy them all.
Racing, though, is very expensive (I know, I did it for awhile and even on my shoestring budget it cost me a small fortune in race fees alone), so why should UNracing be that way?

I decided that it didn't have to be so costly.

I began looking online for cheapskate equivalents to the stuff that Riv sold: basic pants comfortable on the bike; seersucker shirts; cycling caps (cotton for summer and wool for winter); and wool underwear for the coldest days. And I found all of that stuff for far less than Riv was selling it for. Seersucker shirts that cost $85 at Riv, I could find at Goodwill or on eBay for less than $10. Comfortable lightweight cotton-blend pants that were comfy to ride in, selling for $60 or more at Riv, I found at Goodwill for $12-15 a pair.

And here's the thing: Once I had enough of these things to see me through a couple years worth of daily riding, I was set. Today, I have everything I need for riding my bicycle every day -- clothes, rain gear, even shoe covers, and gloves and hats that fit under my helmet. I don't expect I'll need to replace anything anytime soon.

So mostly, I've stopped shopping for new stuff, especially clothing, bicycle parts and other durable small goods like tools and curtains and things. I can find them all used for cheap or for free.

Rivendell cannot afford for folks to stop shopping. They're a cool company because of what they have to say about the joy of riding a bicycle, but they remain, at heart, a retail business. They are in the business of getting people to buy their stuff. When your business depends on more people buying more NEW stuff in order to keep the wheel of commerce turning around, well, that's where I find myself feeling more and more uncomfortable.

I spent twenty years selling bikes for a living. Four of those years I worked as the lead purchaser, in charge of managing inventory for two retail locations and their service departments. I look back and I'm amazed I lasted four years in that role, because in truth my relationship with retail grew more uncomfortable as time went on.
In 2011, I watched the animated short film The Story of Stuff and it really cemented some of what I was thinking and feeling. A year later, I left the bike industry to pursue work in music and education. And though I'm poorer now I know that I could never go back to working in a retail setting.

At the end of the day, Rivendell is selling more new stuff. My local bike shop is selling new stuff. Nordstrom's is selling new stuff. K-Mart is selling new stuff. And I don't need much that's new anymore, including that last issue of the Rivendell Reader.

Instead, I'll go picking at rummage sales for things to fix up and share or barter, and I'll ride my bike to lovely places and enjoy my rides. And this spring, I expect I'll be paring down from three bikes to two, and I'll be perfectly fine and happy doing it.

And I'll just ride. And ride some more.

I guess this is a long-winded way of saying that many of my future posts at this blog will try to incorporate something about bicycling, though it will have far less to do with stuff and more to do with cool places to ride and maybe a recipe or two for tasty things to bring along. I may also touch upon other issues like income equality, sustainable transportation and how to cheat the increasingly expensive universe out of some of their revenue stream by living a little more simply. (I promise that last bit won't get too preachy.)
I still love bikes, and always will.

Happy riding.

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