The joys of a new bicycle

My new Surly Pacer

My new Surly Pacer in sparkleboogie blue

Buying a bike is always one of my rare guilty pleasures. I am not wealthy by American standards, nor do I have lots of disposable income to spare on an item that can range from $700 through several thousand dollars. So I have bought less than a half-dozen new bikes in my entire life. I have bought a couple of used bikes, but those lack the snap, crackle, and pop of a new bike.

Last Friday, I just picked up my new Surly Pacer road bike. It was the last 2014 model in the country, according to the store. The color is sparkleboogie blue. I like that name, but it is really like a baby or Carolina blue. The Pacer has a great reputation for being a no-nonsense machine that delivers a quality experience without the fru-fru and showiness of composite bikes or designer bikes that are all about displays of wealth and conspicuous consumption.

Surly understands the market I represent and, well, I might have fallen for some of their marketing language: “The current zeitgeist of road bicycles and road bicycling generally tends to overlook things that are not screaming for attention like a spoiled child, and the Pacer is a bit of a loner.  Pacer likes to put in the big miles and hang out in the country, way out in the country. Pacer cares not about the weather. It remains indifferent mile after mile, you just provide the propulsion and Pacer will handle the rest.”

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Yes indeed, I love to bike.

Yes, that is the kind of biker I am.

I also always feel like a kid when I ride a bike, so a new bike is having two kid pleasures at once. I feel particularly good about this bike because I delayed gratification for more than a year, as I debated the merits of spending $1,250 (bike alone) for a material object.

Really, this is about consumption. It is an absurd amount of money for a thing, which mainly is about exercise and fun. This amount of money is also equivalent to twice the annual income of a resident of Malawi or Afghanistan. For billions of people, literally, this type of object must seem like a frivolous waste. It does not generate income. It does not carry goods to the market. It cannot carry your family members like bikes in Africa and India I have seen.

Me and My Strada

That is me longing miles on my old Novara Strada, a very reliable bike that has brought me great pleasure.

But for the moment, I will let that all go, and just go for a ride.

This bike replaces a road bike I bought from REI in 1991. That was a Novara Strada, and at the time it cost me about $650. It still works just fine, though some parts are ready to collapse and die. Really, it was time to say adios to a good friend. It has logged thousands of wonderful miles in great places, from Alaska to North Carolina to California to Oregon and Washington.

I would say my new bike at best performs about 15 percent better. That is not a big margin, and it may not even justify the extravagance. But the bike for me represents a gift to myself for having completed some big life projects and tasks that took a number of years. I could not afford the reward when I wanted it the most. Rewards are critically important, to mark accomplishments and celebrate change. Hoping this change brings many great adventures with friends and celebrating the joys of being a kid, pedaling as fast as I can, smiling as wide as my mouth will allow.

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Reflecting on tragedy and making hard choices in life

Earlier in 2014, one of my high school classmates, Jeremy Nemerov, was murdered at the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan. Nemerov was reportedly killed almost as soon as he arrived for allegedly being a “snitch,” according to some reports. I have no idea if that is true or not.

The Facebook page photograph of Jeremy Nemerov,  who was murdered in a federal prison while serving a drug sentence (a non-violent crime).

The Facebook page photograph of Jeremy Nemerov, who was murdered in a federal prison while serving a drug sentence (a non-violent crime).

He was clearly a victim of violent crime for serving time on a non-violent drug offense–the type of charges that are filling our nation’s prisons and bankrupting all forms of government. Nemerov was also, by all definitions, a drug addict, according to confessionals that were written about him on his still bizarrely functioning Facebook page. Addiction, in the end, ultimately led him to a trail that ended in a violent death in the worst possible place. (This story paints a bleak picture of his lifelong battles with drugs.)

I really did not know him well, and in the end not at all. I remember him from high school, mostly as a person who had amazing gifts bestowed upon him by luck and birth. First, he was born in the richest country on earth. He was from a racial group that has some of the best health and education outcomes in our country. His father, Howard Nemerov, was a former celebrated poet and Washington University professor. His aunt was famous photographer Diane Arbus.

He lived in a big, comfortable nice house in a nice neighborhood, and he also drove a Porsche given to him as a gift by his family during his teens. And still, he got trapped by drugs and personal choices he made every day of his life, just like the rest of us.

As someone who believes that we all are responsible for our life choices, regardless of our circumstances, I am not one who is feeling great anguish, but mostly because he was not my friend nor a family member. However, I have seen drugs and alcohol destroy all kinds of people, some close to me, and have seen drugs victimize too many innocent and better people who pick up the pieces left by the abusers and addicts or even who die sometimes violently at their hands.

At some point in life, all of us will confront hard choices, even demons. We ultimately will be measured by our actions, even if circumstances are cruelly unfair, particularly for those who were not born with the incredible gifts Nemerov got dealt early in life.

One of Nemerov’s peers, someone I also knew decades ago, wrote a remembrance of him, focussing on Nemerov’s addictions and his own failures to intervene on a road trip with Nemerov when both were 15: “If I could go back in time, I would have spent those four weeks trying to warn Jeremy of his budding demons.
… I will focus on the amazing boy that I knew in the 80’s.”

Viktor Frankl two years after he was released from German captivity, which helped him develop ideas to provide meaning in life, captured in his book Man's Search for Meaning.

Viktor Frankl two years after he was released from German captivity, which helped him develop ideas to provide meaning in life, captured in his book Man’s Search for Meaning.

None of us can go back in time. What we can do is focus on our lives in the moment, daily, and respond the best we can. I am choosing to spend my energies focussing on those who are working to help others and themselves. When it comes to those with addictions, I believe the person who ultimately will make a change is the person who really has the ultimate power–the person making the choices with life’s often unfair hand.

As one of my favorite thinkers, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, noted: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”