My New E-bike Battles My Inner Cynic

After much debate, I decided to buy an electric bike. The source of the debate is that I’ve never been a bike person. So my Inner Cynic said “Who are you kidding? You’ve never been a bike person. You’re going to spend all this money on a bike and then never use it.” My Inner Cynic talks a LOT. Mostly like this. But my Inner Optimist said “You know better. You’ve been reading loads of upbeat articles about e-bikes. With the right bike, everyone is a bike person.” I almost referred to my Inner Optimist as my Inner Sucker. But that’s just my Inner Cynic talking. I wish that guy would just chill sometimes. He can really kill the mood in the old noggin party.

So anyway, I dropped some cash and took delivery of a VanMoof S3. And I’m happy to report that the early verdict is that it is indeed awesome. Here it is posing by the Charles River in Watertown. Today was a splendid afternoon for a ride.

What’s most on my mind as I get used to my new bike is the difference between me and proper bike people. You know: “real” cyclists. Am I faking something, or am I really riding? But beyond this, why is this even a question? Why do I spend any time thinking about this? It seems to be largely about cultural judgment and virtue signaling.

Once again, here’s the cynical view: “Real cyclists don’t need batteries to help them go up hills. They have actual muscles. You could too if you had any self respect. Fake cyclists are plump waddly creatures who don’t look good in spandex, but nevertheless want to pose on bikes for social credit. It’s sad. If you can’t pull your own weight, soft boy, just stay home!”

Does that sound about right? Where does this inner voice of ridicule come from? Why is score-keeping and virtue-signaling so important to us? We just love judgment.

A more generous view of things goes like this: “If you find a bike you like, it doesn’t matter if it has electric assist. Because you enjoy it, you will actually use it and thereby get all the benefits of bike riding: better fitness, better mood. It doesn’t matter if you’re not training for a criterium. You’re enjoying yourself, and that’s good enough. Full stop. If Mr. Inner Cynic can’t handle that, then he can lump it.”

When I get past all the head games, I find this bike is just a delightful way to get around. It removes almost all the hassle I formerly associated with cycling and gets me out on the road where I can enjoy myself.

Here’s a fun Bloomberg article about e-bikes in New York City. It’s one of the upbeat articles I was referring to above. And I believe the premise: e-bikes are winning over a whole new group of Americans (people like me!), and those people (us!) will increase the political capital and willpower to improve cycling infrastructure. Cynical translation: real cyclists will benefit from the soft-boy vote. Or as the article’s title puts it, “The E-Bike Effect Is Transforming New York City.” It won’t be rapid, but there is an inflection point, once you bring enough people into the tent, where improving things gets easier and easier.

Verdict: Inner Optimist wins this round.

Oh for God’s sake, stop sulking, Inner Cynic! You almost always win.

Covid Winners, Covid Losers

Eventually, Covid came. It came and tapped me on the shoulder. It chose me for its team, and so I obediently moved to the other side. What else could I do?

I didn’t want to. But I had known it was coming, one of these days. One of these days. Monday. So many tests over the months showed me only one line: negative. Now there were two. I rubbed my eyes. Two lines? Positive. My immediate emotions veered between self-flogging regret and shrugging acknowledgment of the inevitable. How had I been so foolish? And yet: how had I made it this far? Losing my badge of viral hygiene came with a terrible sense of loss. I was dirty. I was out of the race. I was tripped up and besmirched, unworthy to continue sprinting ahead of the billowing pestilential cloud. If you are still clean and spry, I wish you luck. Spare a thought for those of us left behind, those of us vanishing in your rear-view mirror. Godspeed!

There is a saying among soldiers that there are three stages of thinking about getting injured in battle. The first is optimistic, naive: it won’t happen to me. I feel bad for those other guys, but I’ll be fine. After a while, you reach the second, more pragmatic stage. Now you think, it won’t happen to me if I’m smart. Those other guys are idiots. They have it coming. But I’ll play it smart and be fine. But more time passes. By now you’ve see the smart and the dumb, the good and the bad, succumb all around you. You know how luck scoffs at intent. The third stage is fatalism. It’s going to happen to me. I don’t know when, and I won’t invite it. But nobody escapes.

This roughly corresponds to my thinking about Covid over the past few years. The two curves were moving in opposite directions: one curve says I must be smart and safe, and the other curve says I must live a life. After two and a half years, I must live some kind of life outside of this bunker. Where do these curves cross? At what point do you leave a gap just wide enough for the virus to get in? It doesn’t have to be big. The virus is stealthy and patient. It’s always at the door, waiting waiting. Knock knock. Anybody home?

Now I find myself on the other side of the mask. I used to wear it to keep something out. Now I wear it to keep something in. It’s the same fence, but now I’m the prisoner. Or are you the prisoner? Who has been liberated? For the next few days, I am the monster. I am the one you fear. I spew virus like dragon flame from my nostrils. Sorry! But it’s a fact. I take orders from a different boss.

How about this? I can write you a note. I did write some of these notes. It wasn’t fun. They went like this. Dear sir or madam: Sorry that I exhaled invisible putrefaction in your direction the last time we met. I was, at the time, unaware of my regrettable infestation. Perhaps, because of me, you will soon slide down to join me in this greasy pit. Just wanted to let you know. But I did say I’m sorry.

I am musing on this like I’m talking about mortality itself. I suppose that is where my thoughts wandered, but really, my case was very mild. A few days after showing symptoms, I’m already feeling almost normal. But I found it interesting to ponder the slippery psychic landscape conjured up by this endless, implacable plague. Winners and losers. Winners and losers. I was a winner, and then I lost. Now it’s time to play a different game.