Bike Review: Windsor Clockwork Plus (Part 3)

Well, today’s post ought to take you back a few years. Four and a half years back, in fact. It was March 2013 when last I blogged about my Windsor Clockwork Plus bike. (Read Part 1 here.) Back then, I promised a subsequent review once I’d had enough time to ride the bike seriously. One would hope that in four years I’ve had enough time to do just that.

And I have. I’ve ridden hundreds of miles on my Windsor bike, most recently putting in about 60 miles on it every weekend, and more during the week if I find myself working from home. (My commute is too far to take my bike to work with me for workouts.) Each week, I seem to get a little faster. Keep in mind that I am quite a novice when it comes to cycling. I have the physical ability to cycle well, but I have very little experience. More on that in a moment.

How has the bike held up over the years? Let me say a few words about the bike’s components. Piece-for-piece, you’d have to spend about $800 to get a similarly-equipped Bianchi track bike. I spent $300 on mine, and they are still being sold for about that price. Meanwhile, the only thing I’ve had to replace so far is the rear inner tube. Once. That means that after four and a half years and hundreds of cycling miles, everything has held up superbly. Even that one inner tube I had to replace only wore out this year. Everything else is fine, beautiful even.

What are the weak links? Well, the reflectors never really tighten up. They don’t need to be rock-solid, of course, but you can move them around with your hand, if you want to. Big deal. They’re reflectors.

The other thing is the brakes. Now, look, I’m not an expert cyclist, so who knows what a real biking god would tell you? These brakes work just fine, even now. I’ve had to come to some sudden stops, and these brakes have worked perfectly. But they don’t feel great. They feel a little... I’m not sure. Cheap maybe. It’s hard to call them cheap brakes if they’ve held up for this long and this many miles, especially since they continue to work great. But they don’t have a very luxurious feeling to them.

Consequently, I think perhaps if and when I start making upgrades to my Windsor Clockwork Plus, the first thing I’ll do is upgrade the brakes and put on a fancy new grip.

But now I’m talking upgrades, future upgrades at that. What about the stock components? The seat is comfortable. I bought some biking shorts and now I can ride 30-40 miles in the stock saddle with comfort and ease. I’m utterly certain I could go twice that far without really hurting in the saddle region. The wheels are still beautiful. The tires might be wearing down a little, but still seem fine to me.

Long story short, this has become one of the best $300 purchases I’ve ever made. Who could have imagined that I’d have so much fun and bike so far in a $300 internet track bike? Amazing. You must buy one of these things.

Wait a minute: What about curb appeal? I mean, what do people say when they see my bike? To be honest, the other cyclists out there are pretty skeptical. They often want to know why I’m riding a “fixie.” (Note: The Windsor Clockwork Plus comes with both a fixed cog and a normal cog, which means that it can be both a fixie and a standard single-speed bike.) On the downhills, they leave me in the dust. It’s so easy to bike fast when you’ve got a few extra heavy gears on tap. Pedaling as fast as I can, I can get up to about 25 miles per hour. It’s fast enough for me, but the other cyclists out there can get going much faster without any effort at all. As I gain more experience, I’m learning how to keep up with them. A lot of this is about confidence. When you’re not used to biking at car speeds, it can be a little unnervering to ride that fast on a single-speed bike with your pedals flailing. But I’m getting there.

The real fun begins on the uphills. Okay, pumping hard up long hills isn’t for everyone, but all those fast downhill bikers eat my dust when I’m climbing hills. When you get accustomed to a single-speed bike, you become a master of hill work. This is great.

Have I said enough? This bike is so much fun. I recommend oneto everyone. Buy! Buy! Buy!


Don't Try To Teach Bears Japanese

Maybe there are people out there who are so in-tune with themselves from the time they are born that they never have to wind through the same kind of endless journey of self-discovery that I have. If you're one of those people, I have two things to say to you.

  1. I really, really admire you. Please don't stop being who you are.
  2. This blog post is probably not for you.
Embracing my inner weirdo has been something of a calling card of mine. From an early age, I figured out that I am not one of the usual suspects. When you read things about "the average person," or "most people," or "a reasonable person," you are reading about people who are very different from me. I used to jokingly put it this way: I'm the exception to every rule, including this one. 

Thus, I found it rather surprising when I was talking to someone recently, and she suggested that much of my motivation involved conformity. Who, me? Conform? Never! I'm the exception to every rule, including this one! I'm a rugged individualist, a man committed to being exactly who I am, to hell with what peer pressure I might face or what influence other people might seek to have over me.

The (possibly inevitable) catch-22 escaped me for years: Even he who seeks only to be himself craves acceptance on that level. That is, just because a person wants to be individualistic doesn't mean the person has no desire for social acceptance. In the extreme case, such a person could really make himself miserable by always impressing upon people how different he is, and always facing the disappointment of social stigma or rejection. In the milder case, they're simply two separate concepts, being oneself on the one hand, and being socially accepted on the other.

Some people seek social acceptance by changing themselves. That kind of person always played the villain or the victim in the stories I've told myself. How could anyone sell themselves so short with such scant compensation? All the while, the more interesting concept was flying right under my radar. Some people, present company included, seek social acceptance despite refusing on principle to change themselves in order to attain it.

Of the two kinds of people, which do you think is the bigger sucker? Maybe I'm just self-flagellating here, but I'm inclined to think it's the second fellow.

Oh, don't worry. I haven't disavowed my individualism. In fact, I'm more individualistic now than ever before. As I said above, self-discovery (and therefore also self expression) is an endless journey. I'm always growing toward a marginally better individualism. Part of what I needed to learn, and what I did learn recently, was that the need for social acceptance operates on a different axis than the need to express individuality. Two people with equal levels of individuality might have widely different levels of social acceptance. We can all have David Bowie levels of individuality, but you have to actually be David Bowie in order to enjoy that level of social acceptance. C'est la vie.

I obviously possess no greater insight as to gaining social acceptance. Sometimes I think I have it, and sometimes I think I don't. My guess is that most people feel more or less the same. But I do seem to have a greater motivation for it. I have to admit, I don't just want to be me, I want people to be at ease with the fact that I am me. Maybe this is because a lot of people I've known in the past haven't been at ease with my being me. Or maybe it's only because a lot of people I've known in the past haven't been at ease, and I internalized their dissatisfaction all by myself.

Well, that one's my albatross to carry around. What I wanted to share with my readers, and what I believe is far more universal, is this: Some people won't accept you, no matter who you are or what you do. There are people who hate David Bowie, even though he's David-freaking-Bowie. They can't be appeased. You can't be a better version of David Bowie in hopes of making them happy about it. They'll never be happy about it. It's not a problem with you, it's a problem with them. Perhaps it's just a different set of values.

You might instead be able to practice recognizing these people, or these situations, early. Take notice of the ones who won't be happy with you as you are or as you might be. When you find them, just let it go. Let the whole thing go.

You can't teach a bear to speak Japanese. Convincing some people to be happy about who you are is like that. You won't convince them because not only is it a foreign language, it's a foreign language in a different species' vocal cords, owned by someone whose motivations are nowhere in the same neighborhood as yours.

Walk away, go somewhere else, do your thing. Focus on the people who like who you are, and the situations in which you are allowed to be you. 


Every Food Is A Dead End

Most of us, when we imagine a very unhealthy person's diet, imagine that it consists of fast food, empty calories, excessive alcohol, excessive fat, chips, candy, and so on.

At the other end of the spectrum is the model of a healthy eater, but this is much more difficult to imagine. One reason is because there are competing theories as to what constitutes a healthy diet. Another, perhaps more important, reason is being "healthy" is a continuum, not a binary condition. Two men who eat lots of broccoli might be healthy, but the one who washes his broccoli three times is healthier than the one who washes hers only twice. The one who runs 5 miles a day before eating broccoli is healthier than the one who runs only 4.7 miles. One who neither runs nor eats broccoli would simply call them both healthy.

Recent reports indicate that drinking diet soda increases all sorts of health risks. While no one thinks diet soda is a health food, and while there have been previous warning about the impact of artificial sweeteners on health, I don't think anyone expected that drinking a can of Diet Coke for lunch every day could actually triple your chance of having a stroke. The punchline of the study seems to be, not to eliminate diet soda from your diet, but to simply consume less of it. But again, he who cuts down from 5 to 3 cans per week is less healthy than he who cuts down from 3 to 1.

Seafood, of course, is loaded with lean protein and healthy fats, but also brain-killing mercury and cholesterol. We're urged by our doctors to eat seafood over hamburger, but eating a tuna fish sandwich every day may actually harm you worse than eating ground beef for lunch every day. If so, what sense are we to make of healthy recommendations? Tuna is healthier than hamburger the first two times you eat it in a week, but after that, you're better off with hamburger.

Even if you're a vegetarian - indeed, even if you're a vegan - you're not out of the woods. Eating a green pepper is healthy, except for all the pesticides it carries. Eating an organic green pepper won't save you, either, since the pesticides are in the water supply and floating through the air.

And if you ever drink water, well, you're unfortunately consuming all the impurities in our water supplies, including pharmaceuticals and hormones ingested by people who have legitimate reasons to ingest them, but whose medicines may cause unpredictable negative consequences to you.

In a world like this, it's easy to grow cynical and to say, moments before biting deep into your bacon-topped pizza slice, "Well, everything is going to kill me, so I might as well eat whatever I want to!" But this, too, is the wrong conclusion, since eating without a care in the world will surely kill you more swiftly than meticulously managing your diet.

But seriously: How are we supposed to manage our diets? The question is especially tough for us diabetics: Too much meat will kill me with cancer, but too many carbs will kill me with organ failure. Do I have a preference? Should I have a preference? While the whole world treats themselves to an evening snack, the only thing I can reach for is a low-carb drink: spirits or light beer. This is a healthier option, really? It won't raise my blood sugar, but it will slowly chip away at my liver, or maybe just give me stomach cancer.

"Just eat the snack, but cover it with more insulin," says the diabetic who takes one trip per year to the emergency room for an insulin overdose.

What's a guy to do? I'm not sure it's possible to live on water, 30g of carbs per meal, and organic chicken breast. But I'm all out of ideas.


What You Control And What You Do Not

I was discussing an issue over social media the other day. Someone had provided a quotation arguing for X. I said that I disagreed with X, and gave my reasons. My interlocutor accused me of arguing for Y. I stated that I was not arguing for Y, but he insisted that I was. It was at that point that my expectations for the conversation started to diverge with reality.

What I expect when I tell someone that they have misunderstood or misinterpreted my statements is that the person will ask new questions to find out what I really meant instead. In practice, I am starting to notice that people rarely do this. More often than not, they ask me to defend myself against their charge (“Show me how you’re not arguing Y!”) rather than seek clarification around my true, intended meaning.

I have the power to clarify my own position. I have the power to rephrase and revise my statements until we all feel confident that my intended meaning is the one that others have understood. I do not, however, have the power to convince someone to interpret my statements charitably. That is, if someone is just committed to believing that I’m arguing for Y, no matter how many times I expressly state otherwise, I have no real power to change that person’s mind about my intended meaning.

Recently I read a blog post by Abigail Brenner, who said something nice: “Never waste time explaining yourself to someone committed to misunderstanding you.” In Brenner’s context, this was intended to be advice against manipulative people. But it’s good advice outside of that context, too. It’s easy to believe that, if we were just better communicators, another person would always see our point of view and consider it seriously. Unfortunately, the way people respond to what we say is not within our control. We can try to improve outcomes by meticulously implementing good communication techniques, but that’s as far as we can take it. The rest depends on the disposition and willingness of the other person to give you a fair hearing. If they won’t, there’s nothing else you can do about it.

So, I choose to let it go. If I have something worthwhile to say, it is the other person’s loss if they aren’t willing to hear me out, and if I don’t have anything worthwhile to say then no one is harmed by disregarding me in the first place.