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It's Not About the Bike/Boat/Ski -- Then Again, It is

October 12, 2017


This is a tale of two worlds. Racing and partying. In both the tools used both matter and they don't matter. Let's compare and contrast how...

In racing it's not about the tool you're using, it's about your preparation and attitude. At the same time, it IS about the tool: you need whatever is needed to get in the door at whatever level you're playing, to meet the basic threshold for performance so that you can contend.

In bike racing that means a fairly expensive, usually carbon bike with top-shelf parts. And it needs to be lighter than most vintage bikes can deliver. For road racing this means well under 18 lbs and with aerodynamic aspects. This is what 99% of your peers will be using even in the beginner class. ...Other than that, it's not about the bike.

In groomed course XC ski racing your skis should be top shelf race models with optimized waxing, including pricey fluorocarbons when conditions warrant, which is nearly always, and including carbon poles.

In paddlesport, use a light, modern hull that meets the specs or be off the back.

In all other respects the tools of these sports are generic and interchangeable and don't really matter. Once you meet the expensive entry threshold nothing matters a whit and nobody cares.


Now let's hop over to partying. For casual, fun, social outings the bike/boat/ski you use doesn't matter. They're all good as long as they work. They can be mismatched and duct-taped. Rusty and old. The main point of this kind of outing is looking out not down. We're visiting neighbors and exploring neighborhoods. We're savoring the topography of a trail and the views and the picnic foods. We're just getting out on the water. As long as we're all in the same ballpark we're good to go. Those who are gungho can carry extra gear or pull a trailer to put their extra energy to use. Those who are slower can be put into a faster boat hauling less. Yeah, you do want to still match the overall outing situation. A group can only go the pace of its slowest person and a ski outing of romping enthusiasts might not be racing but they might still have expert skill making it inappropriate for a newbie who should be getting their feet wet with an instructor. In short, fitness levels should be comparable so pace and enjoyment can be, too. Easy for those who are skilled is still likely strenuous for beginners and everyone needs to consider this. So, different things are important than the gear. The gear however should also be comparable or able to be made comparable or else those using fast gear should be prepared to dawdle while those using antique or slower gear (for whatever reason) need to be able to do extra hustle. Like, an easy bike toodle will still be twice as hard for someone pulling kids in a bike trailer. Or, an easy toodle for them will be half the speed of an easy toodle for those on single bikes. So, it's not so much the gear that matters as being aware of what will be needed to make it all play well together. Indeed, even in racing, it's not the gear that matters but whether you're on par with your peers. It so happens that nowadays being on par means expensive in every sport.

It's not about the bike. ...It's all about the bike.

In party outings the gear starts to matter again in another way: it matters because all of it can fit and so the whole range can be seen, enjoyed and appreciated. It matters because users can customize and personalize their gear to their heart's content. They can accessorize it and show it off. Paint doesn't matter in racing. Paint can be awesome in a party. Pedigree and patina are irrelevant in a race, but if you made it yourself at a party, parade or show-tour you'll get a lot of mileage and appraising reviews, maybe positive, maybe not -- there's no accounting for taste. Some might like your rusty style or your unfiled welding and your binder twine. Lighting, sound systems, literally bells and whistles all can come on strong.

Fashion doesn't matter in sport whether it's racing or expeditions. Function is all. Fashion can add a lot to any party outing. Form plus function give apparel twice the potential in a party than in a race.

Same with food. In sport it doesn't matter as long as it works. In partying you can be the winner of the day with the food you share.

Then there's repair. In a race it determines only how you'll do. In a party (or expedition) it affects the whole group. Your skill with fixing your own bike or anyone else's can add to or ruin the fun for everyone.

It's interesting to consider how these same factors shift around in how they relate to either sport or to fun.

For sure, the fun side has all the variety. The sport side is mainly in the doing.

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