22 June 2010

BikeSnobNYC: out of the closet and on the road, intent on systematically and mercilessly realigning the world of cycling

With the launch of his new book, the highly popular and once-anonymous satirical blogger BikeSnobNYC (aka Eben Weiss) retreated from the shadows of anonymity in order to share with readers his love of cycling and disdain for the ridiculous. BikeSnob: Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling treats readers to a laugh-out-loud rant and rave about the world of bikes and their riders, offering a unique look at the ins and outs of cycling, its history and hallmarks and its wide range of bizarre practitioners and enthusiasts.

BicyclingHub.com staff member Jennifer Clunie caught up with him Sunday night, June 20th, during his book tour stop at Powell’s City of Books in the bicycling mecca of Portland, Oregon to chat about his latest prose, the joys of riding, and what defines “bike culture.”

JC: You’re best known for your off-beat humor and snarky comments—yet the book contains (at times) serious overtones and helpful information. What message are you trying to deliver with the book that you cannot on your blog?

BSNYC: “It’s not so much that I can’t [on the blog], but the blog is written for—or at least takes it for granted—that readers already share a mutual love of cycling. The book is written for a larger audience, to show why I love cycling and why it’s been so great in my life. The goal remains the same: to knock down pretenses, and offer disdain for the insular, pretentious or inscrutable.”

BIKE SNOB NYC on the opacity of marketing (excerpted from 9/22/09 blog post):

“I'm a tremendous fan of labeling parts of bicycles with pointless buzzwords and acronyms that are supposed to explain what they do, so I was extremely pleased to see Castelli extend this treatment to the chamois, which has heretofore been woefully bereft of adornment. (Unless of course you consider pubic hairs to be adornments.) My favorite part of this chamois is the 'Viscous Comfort Zone,' which sits right beneath the 'taint,' 'scranus,' 'gouch,' or 'vulvanus' (depending of course on the rider's gender and regional dialect.)

"Actually, perhaps I've made a tremendous mistake in not attending Interbike, since even after reading Zinn's explanation I still don't understand how the 'Viscous Comfort Zone' works. What makes it 'viscous?' Has it been pre-impregnated at the factory with ambiguous goo, or do you have to supply your own? How does it work in conjunction with the 'Continuous Variable Thickness?' And, perhaps most vexing, how can thickness be both 'continuous' and 'variable?' Does it somehow mimic the action of a CVT? Or is this just another way of saying 'mushy?' Looking into this thing is like staring into the monolith from 2001. While Castelli calls this short model the 'Body Paint,' they should really have named it 'The Crotch of Eternal Mystery.' "

BikeSnobNYC offers fashion and cycling advice to new and seasoned riders alike. Beginning with a brief history of the bicycle—and what makes it a “Truly Great Invention”—the book delves into iconographic questions that leave much room for post-reading/post-ride discussion such as what exactly constitutes a cyclist, how to identify various subsets (aka “velo-taxonomy”), the fear and fun factors of cycling, how the bicycle has influenced mass culture, and the corrosion of conformity.

Some of BikeSnobNYC’s favorite fashion faux pas include:
1. no brakes
2. ultra-narrow handlebars
3. poor cycling behavior, such as “scholling” (jumping in front of a fellow cyclist at an intersection, blocking or cutting them off) or “salmoning” (riding against traffic)

Approximately 200 cyclists gathered at Powell's to hear BikeSnobNYC riff, rant and rave.
Photo courtesy of http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com

Other elements of questionable style include impractical use of oversize messenger bags (“hipster capes”); wool cycling caps and knickers that proudly proclaim “I AM A CYCLIST” to all those in the coffee shop; and really expensive bikes used as commuters. Weiss is all for supporting bicycling as transportation but, he says, “sometimes you don’t need a $1,500 handmade welded frame to ride to Whole Foods. Sometimes you just need a bike you can lock up.”

JC: You write that “bike culture” doesn’t truly exist, but “cycling subcultures” do. Can you explain?

BSNYC: Subcultures like to use the word ‘bike culture.’ I just don’t like that phrase. I don’t like the idea you have to be part of a culture to do something you love. Bicycling is part of THE culture, period…It’s a way to get in touch with yourself.”

In BIKESNOB, Author Eben Weiss (left) writes, "After all, every alternative culture has a home, and a place where it came into its own. If a bike culture has a home, that means that there's not only a metaphorical Cheers of the soul, but also a more literal Cheers in some bike-friendly city where, no matter what city I'm from, I'll fee welcomed by my wheeled siblings. Most importantly, I'll also have that profoundly meaningful feeling I'm part of something important and larger than myself."

JC: “What’s more important: how fast you go, or how good you look?”
BSNYC: “*laugh* Going fast. Definitely.”

BSNYC concludes by offering this bit of advice: “Do what works—don’t worry about what looks good.”

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