Tuesday, August 11, 2009

glory and suffering.

rapha sucks.

and i kinda like it.

when i was in high school, i spent much of my time obsessing over mountain bikes and cycling culture. i memorized gear reviews and the names of mountain bike racing stars. i composed ad tag lines, invented ludicrous and nouveau frame designs, and fantasized daily about winning races, working for Mountain Bike magazine, and meeting leigh donovan.

things have changed.

my mountain bike is currently providing structural support to a vast network of spider webs, and it is almost as far from 'cross country racing efficiency' as one can go without putting linkage pivots in the rear triangle. i love the thing. i tried to sell it, but ended up needing to keep it for nostalgic (and hopeful?) reasons. my road bike is my current vehicle of choice. even my commuter is a singlespeed/fixed 'road/cross' bike, with its MTB precursor having gone the way of craigslist. i still love bikes, but there's something completely fascinating and addictive about the sheer efficiency, human-powered, of a road bike. the simplicity of its nature – go forward, quickly – leads one to challenge limits and pursue goals. this is why rapha sucks, and i like it.

rapha is all about the 'glory and the suffering' of road cycling. this is ridiculous. the main focus of my pre-emo (emo didn't even exist as a demographic label back then; it was just called 'artistic', or 'hippie') ad campaigns for my products that didn't exist was quite similar to that touted by rapha: suffer to achieve. rapha can't get through a paragraph of its copy without referring to suffering, pain, glory, or its all-sacred concept of 'epic'. (tell me, are these quotation marks 'getting' you yet?) rapha makes really nice, really expensive clothing and stuff geared primarily at people who ride road bikes. that's fine and normal. rapha also engages in the masochistic practice of glorifying pain and suffering. that's fine and normal. furthermore, rapha revels in the concept of epic as a religious experience where a new state of consciousness is reached, zen is achieved, enlightenment occurs, and richard sachs gets his tan lines sorted out. oh, come on! i love suffering as much as the next jerk on 28c continentals, but epic? rapha copy reads like my verbose, emotive, and generally hyperbolic poetry from broken-hearted high school days. ever lose all of your friends in three months? ever been dumped by every girlfriend you've ever had? ever felt like no one understood you save for Bono and the guys from Weezer? cool. now take all that feeling, tangle it up in a thread-on seven speed freewheel and watch it get woven into the greasy textile that is rapha copy, replete with grammatical errors and references to french words that sound funny when said with british accents. epic is about things that are long (often too long, like this paragraph), require much commitment and strength of constitution to complete, and provide some sort of epiphany during or after the journey. please tell me where this fits in with riding custom made bicycles by the finest handcrafters in the world, up the world's most beautiful terrain, decked out in thousands of dollars of kit (which usually doesn't even include a helmet (that would cost less than the gloves or socks they're wearing)). right. epic. i bet those guys pray for rain and cracks in the road every time they go out, just to make the photo shoot look like it was suffering and glorious. 

rapha sucks.

but i like it.

i like nice stuff. i have caviar taste and fish stick budget, always have. naturally, i like rapha stuff because a lot of it, ridiculous as it can be, is pretty damn nice. and pretty pretty, too. the main thing, however, that i like about most of the rapha premise, is that for all its excessive emoting, it really is about a purity that is rare to much of roadie culture. it really is about riding for the sake of riding, and that's meaningful. sure, they have 'teams', and they enter 'events', some of which are even sanctioned races, but their main purpose is to ride for the sake of riding, to suffer, to tell you about little-known routes and backcountry roads that are gems of road riding. and if you read between the lines, i think it's evident that they really do like to ride. as much as they may want to sell a silk scarf or $70 cloth purse, probably they really  just want to ride their bikes and tell you a bit about it afterward. count me in for that part.

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