Something In The Way

Bike lanes.

Bike lanes are the green screen upon which we project our values and our identities; our hopes and our dreams. For some people, bike lanes mean we’re leaving car dependence back in the 20th century where it belongs, and returning our automobile-ravaged cities to the people. For others, bike lanes represent an encroaching army of entitled suburb-reared young professionals who want to “return” to an idyllic urban lifestyle that probably never existed in the first place. Then there are the Bike Lane Freds who know all the city planning jargon and critique and debate the nuances of every new bike lane: “Paint is not protection and in order to effectuate a lasting modal shift we need fewer mixing zones and a contra-flow bidirectional configuration with bollards and medians and a completely new intersection treatment yada-yada-yada ZZZzzz….”

Then there’s the Bronx where the DOT puts in a new bike lane and people just do whatever the fuck they want with it–and rarely does it have anything to do with with bikes. Most of them are taken over by what the New York Times in its inimitable patronizing-people-in-order-to-elevate-them manner calls “guerilla car washers:”

Though sometimes they’re just used for good old-fashioned parking:

I hadn’t come this way in awhile, so I was surprised to see a new protected bike lane and dedicated bus lane, but I was completely unsurprised to find it full of cars from end to end:

To be fair, I don’t know exactly when this bike lane went in, and there is usually at least a week or two before people stop parking in them, so maybe I just got there early. Still, it’s a little over seven miles from the Willis Avenue Bridge in the South Bronx to where I live, and over the past 10 years this route has gone from having absolutely no bike lanes to having quite a few miles of bike lanes–and I’d say almost every bit of bike lane is unusable due to some form of repurposing, whether it’s car washing or truck loading or car repair or good old-fashioned parking as seen above. The whole situation is a real polygon helios, which is a logical conundrum not dissimilar to a catch-22:.

Just kidding!

No, a Polygon Helios is a kind of bike:

Have you ever looked at all these new road bikes and wondered, “Is that really aero, or do they just want it to look aero?” Well, it turns out that a lof of the time it’s probably the second thing:

Not that this is new, mind you; Campagnolo C-Record was also supposed to look all sleek and aero, but I’m betting if you put a Delta brake in a wind tunnel the whole system would back up and explode like a stopped-up toilet:

I did find the above review compelling though because as an old retired sub-mediocre Cat 3 I was curious to see what’s considered a “good deal” for a road bike these days, and at a price of Four Thousand American Fun Tickets the Polygon Helios is apparently a “bargain.” The common conception is that road bike prices are going crazy, but if you crunch the numbers (and ignore the really expensive bikes nobody buys anyway) the truth is you can arguably do as well or better now than you could “then” (whenever “then” was). Still, on a visceral level $4,000 doesn’t feel “bargain,” and 25 years ago a 105-equipped bike with (then) cutting-edge materials went for something like $1,600, which is like $3,000 today:

“Ah, but it’s not aero!,” you may be tempted to point out.

Well, believe it or not, those rims actually were considered aero back then:

It cut through the air like a woden dowel through a hunk of frozen cheddar cheese.

Though it is worth noting the road bike was at something of a nadir 25 years ago, which may have artificially lowered the prices. By 1998 companies like Cannondale listed the mountain bikes before the road bikes in their catalogs, since Americans were still wild for mountain bikes–I mean they never actually rode them, but they sure loved to buy them and leave them in their garages. Of course that all changed rather dramatically a year later:

But 1998 was a much more innocent time when everyone was doped to the gills but nobody cared because they were all European.

The other noteworthy difference between that old Cannondale and the new hunk of plastic is that the Cannondale was cheaper despite being made domestically and by a company that spent lots of money sponsoring high profile pro racers, whereas the Polygon is made overseas and sold direct to the consumer by a company that is (I’m assuming) going about sponsorship in a much more conservative fashion. Choose a company today that sponsors a big team and you’ll spend a lot more–and the same goes if it’s a company started by former pros:

Not only are you paying a premium for the association, but you’re also paying for all the wind tunnel testing…or at least a photo shoot that implies they’re doing wind tunnel testing:

What happened during the wind tunnel testing? Were the results good? Were they bad? The website doesn’t say. But they did blow some vapor over a guy, and that’s gotta be worth something, right?

Contador and Basso also probably paid a lot of money to marketing experts who informed them that they should leverage the enduring popularity of Pinarello’s Dogma by calling their own top-of-the-line bike the Magma:

Hence a frameset that costs the same as that entire Polygon.

By the way, none of this is to say the bikes are bad or aren’t worth the money; it’s just saying that if you want a story around your bike you’re going to pay for it. Hey, invariably if I mention Rivendell someone complains that their bikes are expensive, but they’re more than just a bike company, and if you like to read about bikes too their website has more and better stuff to read than most cycling websites, this one included. Similarly, Aurum’s website also offers lots of content, such as this answer to the age-old question, “Can I ride a road bike on gravel?”

Never, ever, ever ride a non-gravel bike on gravel. EVER.

And when you do get a gravel bike, make sure it’s carbon…and a Specialized?

By the way, Aurum means “gold:”

Which immediately made me think of one of the most fabulous bicycles ever made:

Yes, the Aurumania Gold Bike Crystal Edition cost 80,000 Euro-Dollars and featured the company’s logo in Swarovski crystals and in Braille:

Also, the company’s model may or may not have been Ivan Basso:

Still, it’s a tough time to start a bike company as a former pro. Once upon a time if you attained a certain level of success you could pretty much count on people wanting your name on a bike: Merckx, Coppi, even LeMond… But today when all the bikes are plastic and people just want the best deal possible does the name really mean anything at all, let alone command a premium? I’m always shocked when I see someone riding a Cipollini–even if they do offer a custom program:

I couldn’t help myself, and naturally I chose “gold” for every option:

Alas, I was too afraid to ask for a quote, lest I wind up on some sort of registry.

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