Beausage and Special Bikes

Andy’s Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen, 15 October 2022. Olympus 35RD/Ilford HP5+

In Grant Petersen’s latest “Blahg” post, 1 he touches upon people who get fancy bikes like Rivendells yet rarely use them because they’re worried about damage, theft, and the like. (It’s a really long blog post, as is Grant’s wont, where he talks about this is at the bottom):

There is a phenomenon out there, a thing, where people are reluctant to buy or use or ride something good or pretty or expensive, sometimes for fear of wrecking it, or they think they’re not worth it, or the task at hand doesn’t warrant it, or they don’t want to wear it out—so they’ll save it for next time. Where the fine thing that somebody worked on to make it good makes the user nervous and gives them an “I’ll save it for next time” kind of weird comfort. “Beater bikes” are an example, and I’m not going to try to talk you out of them…The good thing you’re riding makes it better…for me it does, and it might for you, I don’t know.

But I know it can’t make it worse, and that it would make ME feel better to know that you’re comfortable enough to ride your Rivendell on low-level utility tasks. Those end up being a big part of living with a bike, and when you can no longer ride, you don’t want to feel like you left a lot of unrealized potential behind.

I get where Grant is coming from: As head honcho of Rivendell, he’d rather see his bikes in real use in the world vs. live in the garage for the occasional “special” ride. And I get where the other side is coming from, too: Rivendells are not inexpensive, the “cheapest” model comes in at about $2,000 complete, other models are about $3,000 or so when you add parts to the frame. For many people that’s quite a bit of money for a bicycle, especially if you were used to buying $50-300 Craigslist specials before this. Of course you’re going to baby a bike you spent a lot of cash on!

There’s nothing wrong with taking care of something you spent a lot of cash on. But I also see the point of another of Grant’s maxims, beausage. Roughly translated, it’s the “beauty” of when things are “used”, and show their use. Scratches and dings on tubing. Patina on a brass bell. Wear on cotton bar tape. A lived-in Brooks saddle. And so on.

For many people, when they buy a new and pricey good, they want to keep it in “like new” condition as long as humanly possible. If there’s a scratch on the paint job of their bike, they’re quickly on a forum asking what nail polish and/or model paint closely matches the original paint. Trying to keep things like new can lead to obnoxiousness, though. For example, there’s someone at my co-working space that has a nice custom bike. They make sure there’s a rag between their U-Lock and bike at all times. And if their “preferred” parking spot in the bike lock-up is taken, they’ll rudely park their bike underneath the hooks, taking up five spaces. Nevermind that the bike parking area is huge and there’s other spots that would work just fine with them. Nevermind that when one does use the bike hook (as I usually do), the bike rack does not touch the bike frame. No, this person is going to baby their bike indefinitely, and they’re going to make sure that everyone knows it. Please don’t be anywhere near them when that first scratch shows up! 2

This is what I’m talking about.

When I got my custom Bantam in 2015, I did not baby it. I knew scratches would come, and was okay with it. Currently the bike is pretty dirty, dusty from summer rains. I should wash it, or maybe just go on a ride when it rains. My bar tape really needs to be redone too. So I’m with Grant on the beausage angle.

But I don’t use the Bantam as my everyday bike. Sure, I’ve used it for grocery shopping, utilities, and commuting. But that’s not its primary reason for coming into my stable. I wanted a long ride, rough stuff, touring machine. I wanted an “adventure” bike. There are other bikes that I use for my day-to-day rides, like by Raleigh Superbe, which is set up more for commuting. I want to keep my Bantam on the special side, the bike pulled out more for fun than utility. I want the idea of getting on the bike to be an adventure, even if it’s for a mundane ride. I’m sure some people can do that with their everyday bike, and when my fleet was smaller (like when I basically just had a Long Haul Trucker plus other bike) I definitely did. Now my stable is large enough where I can divvy it up to different uses, different moods.

This happens with other collections I have. I’ve got quite a bit of cameras, but when I want to feel the most like “a photographer”, I reach for one of my SLRs. My Seiko 5 is my daily wear watch, but when I want to feel a little fancy I put on my Timex Waterbury. For many folks that may have more than one of a particular thing, one becomes the everyday thing and the other the special thing. It would seem like more work trying to maintain an even rotation than gravitating towards one item.

Maybe there will be a day when the Bantam becomes the everyday bike, just like how my Long Haul Trucker was. I’d be okay with that. But for now, it’s my special, weekender bike. It’s okay for people to have special bikes. Just don’t hog up all the bike parking!

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1 The html says “September”, but it published November 4th. I’m guessing it took him a bit to work on this post.

2 Looking at the photo of the babied bike again, I notice that the green is pretty similar (though lighter) to my Bantam’s paint. I’ve gotten plenty of “Nice Long Haul Trucker” comments when people quickly look at my bike, as the color is similar to one used on LHTs. But the baby bike’s green is even closer! I wonder how much their blood boils when someone tells them they like their Long Haul Trucker.

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6 thoughts on “Beausage and Special Bikes

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  1. I’ve embraced beausage (at last). In getting there, however, I’ve learned that I’m happier owning used things – things with the signs of use already upon them. Of course this ties in nicely with my desire to be efficient, and “tread lightly” environmentally. But it’s also much more comfortable to be more relaxed with my posessions. The truth is, if given something perfect, I’m no better than the owner of the lovely “Grandpa’s Thermos” colored bicycle at your co-working space. I’d leave it home before letting my neurosis become an inconvinience to others, but otherwise I’d toil in service of the object. The irony is, I never look at a bike with true beausage (not to be confused with abuse or neglect), and think less of it, or it’s owner. In fact, I’ve always admired someone who can use a fine product as intended, without fussing over it. But when I got my new Clem Smith Jr. in 2020, I couldn’t bring myself to treat it like the $75 Craigslist special it replaced. I did use it daily, and for all my riding. But the care with which I felt compelled to treat it dectracted from the experience. To make possible the build of the subsequent Surly Big Dummy, I ended up harvesting as many bits off the Clem as I could, and sold the frameset. I’ve never felt as precious with the Surly, but I did need to purchase one big part new for that: The “Hooptie” bar for child portage. To make matters worse, they discontinued the silver one, so I bought black, which of course amplifies useage marks. The first time it fell over (I think my wife backed into it with her car, but I’ve also unloaded the kickstand side first a few times) I put a sticker over the scratch in the bar. It’s finally gotten to the point where I’m not fighting keeping that part perfect, and that attitude is so freeing. I’m finally able to fully embrace the concept of beausage.

  2. Does their front wheel with rack make it awkward to lift and place vertically? Also, I would have trouble, physically, lifting a bike onto that type of rack. Just looking at it from a different perspective. But of course, maybe you’ve met the owner.

    1. It’s possible. But the thing is that there’s plenty more room in the bike storage area, there’s actually a whole other bike room around the corner not visible in the photo. So there’s no need to take up all the hook spots.

  3. I embrace the signs of wear as well. As one little note, though, I don’t usually use the hooks either but only because they require me to potentially damage my fenders getting the bike up. However I don’t park it horizontally that way but just take up the same amount of space as if it were hooked.

    1. Yeah. As I was saying to Annie, there’s more room to park the way they do. They take the five hooks space when someone with a cargo electric bike (a bike that would be too difficult to lift) takes “their spot.”

  4. Agree fully – I bought a new Triban racing bike which I use for commuting and training rides, and after about 14,000 km in 2 years it has a few scratches and nocks, but it feels like its been worn in and rides to my style. I’ve also bought a racing bike for several thousand pounds, but with an aluminium frame I’m less cautious about it. It’s done a fair few races and a 1500km audax, but I’m glad I get to ride it rather than sitting in a basement or hanging on a wall somewhere. Things need to be looked after, but I prefer to use them and have fun with them – that’s what they’ve been made for!

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