Monday, April 27, 2020

perceptions of scarcity in a world filled with plenty

It would seem that bikes are becoming a scarce resource in this time. Department store bikes are selling for nearly what they cost new; old rusty Schwinn Varsity's are being offered for $200 as "vintage"; and bikes with obvious mechanical flaws are being sold as "rideable" when they clearly are not.
Add to this an uptick in break-ins at bike shops, and what we have is a reaction to the shutdown, plain and simple.

So I want to address this new reality with some questions, which readers are free to answer or simply ponder:

1. If you own more than two bikes, how often do you ride each of them?

2. If you have multiple bikes for different purposes -- racing, "gravel" riding, touring and the like -- how often will you utilize them now that we're in a global pandemic where many parts of bicycle recreation simply aren't happening, or aren't safe?

3. When you find a used mountain bike for $20 and you already own multiple bikes, what's your first impulse? Do you snap it up regardless of your own need? Do you leave it for someone else? Why or why not?

As soon as the shutdown was clearly a longer-term concern, I could no longer send bikes to our local refugee resettlement organization. I had a couple in the queue, so when I fixed those up I either sold them to essential workers for a very cheap price (so they wouldn't have to rely on transit, for example), or I stripped usable parts from them to effect repairs on other bikes.

I've been looking for used bikes to buy for cheap so I can continue to keep going in my tiny workshop, and you know what?
They're all out of my budget now.
Crappy bikes are selling for over $100, and they are being snapped up by people with the money to get them. Department store bikes that were bad to begin with and have gotten worse with use and age are selling on Craigslist for $80 to $100 -- and people are buying them, willing to pay prices that just three months ago would've been considered highway robbery.

We are living in a time of tremendous perceived scarcity.
I say perceived because if you ride past a larger homeless encampment you may well find a bicycle chop shop where stolen bikes are stripped and rebuilt and sold or traded back and forth.
There has been an uptick in the number of bike shops being broken into over the last two months, bikes and parts and tools stolen.

Although I am careful about whom I give my location to and only take customers by word-of-mouth from family and friends, I would not be surprised if at some point down the road someone tried to steal a bike or some tools from me. BEcause the perception of scarcity is making people more willing to take chances to get what they want or need.

And it's not just bikes, as we've seen with toilet paper and other household items.

So I invite all of us to stop for a moment and to consider why we're snapping up these old, shitty bikes. Are we buying stuff to hoard, to sit on until the scarcity becomes more real and more widespread? Will we then sell them off at even higher prices because that's how capitalism works?
Would any of us even consider finding bikes to build up and give away to those in need at a time ike this? Why or why not?

I've heard lots of talk about how capitalism is evil and must be brought down. AND I'm highly aware that we are all products of a capitalist upbringing. We are in conflict with ourselves and with our ideals, in a time when it takes all our energy not to just curl up under the blankets and hide until the pandemic ends.

So how do we respond to the current climate? Do we scavenge and then hoard? Or do we begin to use our skills to help bring about a change in our communities? Where is the fuzzy middle in such an equation? Where does concern for our own survival overlap with concern for those who lack basic needs in a time of crisis? Is the overlap subsumed by our animal instinct, our reptile brains?
Only we can decide that, each of us.

Happy solo riding.

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