Yuppies, bike shops, snobbiness

The ways in which Americans like to fight their class wars never cease to astonish me. The current “in” thing, at least in sunny suburbia, seems to be the bicycle. People pay insane amounts of money for bicycles that are, as far as I can tell, indistinguishable from much cheaper bikes — at least, unless these yuppie Palo Alto people are all planning to become racers. It’s obviously a form of snobbery — the bike elite display their membership to the public by their horrifyingly ugly identical clothes made out of spandex or neoprene or plutonium or whatever those things are made out of, as a form of conspicuous consumption. But, of course, they have to exclude poors from passing, and so they have ludicrously overpriced bikes. I assume that if one shows up on a popular bike route wearing the uglo-clothing but riding a bike that cost less than a grand, one will be spat upon and jeered at until one slinks away in socioeconomic shame.

Perhaps I’m interpreting yuppie bike culture a little harshly. But sometimes these people seriously piss me off. Time for a little shaming. First, this store. I walked in there at some point last year because I was frustrated that all the bike lights that I bought at the Stanford bike shop (which is quite civilized and is exempt from my harsh words) would die in the rainy season. So I asked the people at Palo Alto Bicycles if they had any water-proof lights.

The cheapest light they showed me was $200.00. For a bike light. (I could get a headlight replaced on my car for cheaper than that. And all car headlights can handle the rain, and they’ve been able to do so for decades and decades.) Ok, fine, I could handle that, that place is obviously way out of my weight class. But I couldn’t handle the attitude. I think the guy actually sneered when I looked alarmed at hearing the prices. And then, when I asked why they were so expensive, he gave me a lecture about being irresponsible by leaving my light attached to the bike in the rain if I wasn’t willing to pay for a proper light.

I still seethe every time I pass that place. So why am I grousing about it now? Because I just read this disgusting little rant by some bike shop employee. Here’s a sample:

I don’t know what size of bike you need. The only thing that I can tell over the phone is that you sound fat. I don’t care how tall you are. I don’t care how long your inseam is. Don’t complain to me that you don’t want to come ALL THE WAY down to the bike shop to get fitted for a bike. I have two hundred bikes in my inventory. I will find one that fits you. Whether you come from the north or the south, my shop is downhill. Pretend you’re going to smell a fart, ball up, and roll your fat ass down here.

So, on the basis of n=2, I say, death to yuppie bikers and yuppie bike shops.


18 Responses to “Yuppies, bike shops, snobbiness”

  1. homais Says:

    This sounded familiar from somewhere, and indeed:


    Of course, the truly advanced Yuppie/White Person can ride an El Cheapo bicycle and pass. Better than pass, they can claim that they’re not “into” all the trendy gear, and that riding and maintaining El Cheapo is more ‘authentic’.

  2. eric Says:

    Ahh yes, I well recall the attitude at Palo Alto bicycles. And it was way worse at a shop in the Mission (I forget the name), where the staff and clientele were all tattooed pierced hipster City rich assholes instead of polo shirt & dockers clad Peninsula rich assholes.

    I bought my bike at Menlo Velo. They were extremely nice and helpful, and quite happy to deal with me even though I was buying what is, by Valley standards, a pretty low end bike.

  3. Alex Says:

    I no longer need to frequent yuppie bike shops thanks to this organization: http://freeridepgh.org/

    Perhaps there’s something similar in Palo Alto.

    The plutonium clothing used to intimidate me – I naively assumed that these people really must be heavily into biking to invest so much into outfitting themselves – until I realized that I could easily outpedal most of them on my scrapped-together bike while carrying a laptop bag full of textbooks.

  4. Steve M. Says:

    This reminds me vaguely of discussions over whether netbooks — which, while not as beautiful as MacBooks and unable to play Call of Duty 4, can do absolutely everything that the great majority of people want their computers to do (web surfing, documents, music, video, &c.) at 1/4th the cost — are a viable substitute for more traditional computers.

  5. Paul Gowder Says:

    Stuff White People Like is wise indeed:

    It is important that you never question why someone needs a $5000 bicycle since the answer is always “performance.”

    That Free Ride place looks awesome — there used to be something like that in New Orleans too, though I think Katrina smushed it (maybe?) The chance of finding something like that in Palo Alto is pretty close to nil, alas, but I could totally see there being one in Oakland or Berkeley (a.k.a. the closest things to civilized in the Bay Area). Eric, do you know of anything like that?

    And netbooks would do perfectly well if they ran Mac OS…

  6. ben wolfson Says:

    I assume that if one shows up on a popular bike route wearing the uglo-clothing but riding a bike that cost less than a grand, one will be spat upon and jeered at until one slinks away in socioeconomic shame.

    Actually, nothing at all will happen. You can even show up wearing regular clothing on a beater and be interacted with politely! It’s happened to me! Multiple times!

    I really like Palo Alto Bicycles, and have received exactly the same high level of service there regardless of whether I brought in my old piece-of-shit completely beat-up bike or my new, nicer, but still by their standards not all that expensive bike; they have even done lots of minor repairs for me gratis.

    Nor have they ever tried to sell me overpriced stuff and they do have cheaper lights than that. In fact, the cheaper lights they have are … the same ones you can get at the Stanford bike shop, basically. Perhaps, despite the sneer, he had a point?

    The Bike Kitchen in the Mission is like that Free Ride place.

  7. Paul Gowder Says:

    Ben, any semi-competent engineer could probably design a waterproof light for something between $20 (stanford bike shop non-waterproof light prices) and $200. Indeed, the first google hit for “waterproof bike light” finds one. That information, rather than sneering and lecture when I had the temerity to balk at the $200 lights, would have made a rather better impression.

  8. ben wolfson Says:

    Yeah, I don’t mean to contest that that price is absurd.

  9. Steve M. Says:

    In re: netbook, I’ve read the claim that Apple is working on a netbook. But I read that on the internet, so take it for what it’s worth.

  10. heather Says:

    I know the bike shop mentioned in SF, on Valencia Street. Lord, you can feel the attitude all the way up the block.

    It’s unfortunate that riding a bicycle is now some kind of hipster statement – the rules of the road don’t apply to them apparently. They really ruin it for everyone.

    I would ride a bike, but every single person with one that I know has had, a: an accident with a car, b: gotten a tire stuck in the street car tracks and flipped, c: had their bike stolen, vandalized or had gear ripped off, d: hassled by other bike riders doing stupid things while they follow the rules of the road. oh it goes on.

    Does that sound like fun to you?
    You take your life in your hands when you ride a bike in San Francisco, and I’d strongly advise anyone against it.
    btw, Where are all you people having the same allergic reaction to these obnoxious rich kid hipsters in the (I hate this term used by white people) “hood”? WHERE? Where are you hiding out?

  11. Mike Says:

    LOL. Paul, *I* like you. And, yes, bike people can be obnoxious.

    That said….. What is the common denominator of all of the bad interactions you seem to have with thousands of people and organizations? ;)

  12. Paul Gowder Says:

    Heather, perhaps there should be a bay area non-hipster/yuppie support group!

    Mike, the same common denominator as in all
    the good interactions that don’t hit the blog. :-)

  13. ben wolfson Says:

    The Bike Kitchen isn’t on Valencia.

  14. HipHopPoppa Says:

    I would chuck my bike in a second if I could afford a car. Not very cool I must admit.

  15. Jacob T. Levy Says:

    “People pay insane amounts of money for bicycles that are, as far as I can tell, indistinguishable from much cheaper bikes ”

    I don’t have a high-end bike; I’m too cheap, and anyway a high-end bike in the city is theft-bait. But I’ve ridden one on a vacation, and it is sure as heck distinguishable from what I ride normally, and with more money and more storage space at home, I’d enthusiastically get one for reasons that have nothing to do with status.

  16. Paul Gowder Says:

    I’m curious: what’s the difference? I gather that there’s some gain in speed and so forth from lighter bikes with less energy wasted in moving parts, etc. But how diminishing are the marginal returns as you pass the 1k range and swoop into the 5 or 6k range?

  17. Jacob T. Levy Says:

    I dunno. When I got back from the trip I priced out the bike I had ridden there at about $2000, in 2006. Maybe there’s no difference between that a $6000 bike. But I doubt it, because I’ve got pretty good reason to believe that this market isn’t driven by yuppies competing for status in the bike lanes of Palo Alto but rather serious bikers who log a lot of miles for recreation and exercise.

    But the difference between a $2000 bike and a $400 bike: that “some gain in speed” translates to hills being much easier, long distances being much easier, fewer derailments, smoother gear shifting– and generally a feeling like you’re not working to drag a heavy piece of metal along beneath you. It sounds cheesy and cliched and ad-like to say “it’s like floating,” but compared to the bike I ride at home, it’s kind of like floating.

    If you ride a road/ racing bike anyway, the difference might not be as immediately noticeable. A hybrid or a mountain bike has got more material, and so making that material lighter by 50%+ is pretty dramatic. (I ride a hybrid, and the vacation bike was also a hybrid.)

  18. Bob Says:

    I have lived in New England, the Midwest and the Northwest and have observed a similar attitude. The operative question to ask with such products is how much it actually cost to produce and distribute, and where can I get it for less? Looking at that bike shop, I can guarantee you that you can find something functionally equivalent to anything over $2,000 for no more than $1,200…..

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