21 August, 2008

Things I Puzzle Over: The Identity of a Bike

Well, I'm back from my break in posting, though I'm not sure what sort of posting rate I'll settle in at. I shot this photo at the arrival (in Boston) of a group of cyclists who were riding across the country on fixed-gears to raise awareness of, and to raise money to fund the research of, histiocytosis (see relevant blogs here, here, and here).

As far as hard-core goes, this ride was hard-core. Six of these guys did the following (and all of them did a subset of the following):
  • 3,480 miles, with 135,000 feet of climbing…
  • on fixed gears…
  • with almost daily centuries and a couple double-century days…
  • in a total of 28 days
As they say, Yowza.

As for the photo itself, I'm not quite sure how I snagged it, but I think it came out really well. Settings were 1/160s at f/7.1 and ISO800. I really like how the bike seems to capture some of the rider's personality. Which sort of brings me to what I've been puzzling over. Where does the personality or the identity of a bike reside?

I think of my bikes as very good friends, with whom I have a tremendously odd relationship. I ride the heck out of them, and when they need it, I spend hours taking care of them. I baby them — keeping them indoors year-round and being somewhat obsessive about their safety — so that when the rain and snow come, I can abuse them again.

And part of what I enjoy so much about them is that I've put so much time and effort into them. But another part seems to be some sort of identity, which is weird for the following reason: With a computer, at the very least, I can associate the identity of the machine with the data on it (I never reinstall machines). But with a bike, there is no data. It seems that there's nothing intrinsically part of a bike. Do I enjoy the company of the parts? The whole? And which parts can be exchanged without the whole becoming a completely different bike?

To use a more specific example, my fixed-gear has been through a lot. Since I originally built it, I've replaced both wheels, the chain, the seatpost, the fork, the frame, the headset, the stem, the pedals, and the bottom bracket. For those of you not counting, the only original parts left are the bars, and the crankset. But I still consider it The Fixed-Gear, and I would continue to, even if I replaced the bars and the crankset. And if I were to build another one to replace it, the new bike wouldn't be The Fixed-Gear; it would be something else.

I guess what I attribute the personality to is some sort of loose geneology related to having been part of The Fixed-Gear at some point — once some group of parts has that geneology, it can subsequently pass it along to other parts, and thus the bike as a whole has somewhere for its identity to sit. This conclusion leads to confusion, though. What if I were to use half of The Fixed-Gear's parts for one bike, and half for another bike? Personally, I think I'd consider neither of the two bikes to be the same as the original bike; perhaps they're offspring of some sort… Though if I didn't build that second bike, and had only reused one half of the parts, I'd think differently. Weird.

Anyway, this is puzzling-in-progress, for me. And as some of you may realize, it touches on a couple of the big issues in the philosophy of the mind. To conclude, though, here's a quote attributed to Kevin Allen, and an unrelated photo from Detroit airport (1/400s, f/4.5, ISO640):
Q: What did a Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor?
A: Make me one with everything.

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