The other day I went mountain biking with my friend, who was riding her husband’s bike because hers was lounging in the bike shop waiting for a replacement part. She was on her husband’s bike under strict orders to “not crash” because the bike was carbon and therefore susceptible to career-ending injuries during a crash.
A carbon mountain bike? Does this make sense? Who DOESN’T crash on a mountain bike from time to time; that’s the point! Well, not the POINT, but a side effect of mountain biking that is common enough to be a certainty. Why would you want such a delicate piece of machinery for something as rough and tumble as mountain biking? Oh, who knows. Anyway, in our three hours of riding, my friend mentioned at least six times that she wasn’t allowed to crash. I really felt for her; mountain biking is not a lot of fun if you have to treat your bike like it’s a china doll. I don’t know about you, but if I think about not crashing, and try really hard not to crash, I always, unfailingly, end up crashing. I’ve crashed a demo bike and I even crashed a friend’s motorcycle, because I was trying so damn hard to be careful and not crash. Unsurprisingly, my companion didn’t have fun on the ride and bailed on the ride early, in large part because the bike was set up all wonky for her but she was afraid to move the seat or change the setup because her husband would be upset.
[Disclaimer: I don't actually know this person's husband. I'm sure he's a fine man. She's a great girl and she wouldn't be married to a douchebag. I'm not picking on him personally - just using him as a faceless example of the following examples of "loving your gear too much." All resemblance to actual persons in this article is purely coincidental...ahem.]
My friend just couldn’t enjoy the ride because she was too worried about the bike, and she felt obligated to put the pre-established position of the seat above her own comfort and enjoyment.
Seriously. I am tired of this “revere your gear” attitude. Since we’re talking about bikes, let’s start with obsessive cyclists. Spending hours and hours gazing upon a piece of metal and carbon fiber, sucking in one’s breath in trepidation when it’s loaded on anything but your pre-approved, specially-designed-to-not-touch-the-frame roof rack, having histrionics when it falls over onto the ground on accident, and devoting more love and attention to this inanimate object than you give to anything that actually breathes just means you really need professional help. Your bike cannot return your love, and neither can your friends or your loved ones if you’re constantly harping on them not to do anything wrong around your bike. Last year I hit the eject button on a relationship in which I heard the words “I LOVE this bike!!!” about a thousand times more than I heard how much he loved ME, so I might be a tad bit touchy about this one. But from that experience, I learned that I will steer clear of people who exhibit such an unnatural attachment to inanimate objects.
Once I borrowed a pair of nice ice tools from a friend. Basically we only had the one set between us so we intended to set up a top rope and just take turns. I opted to lead the pitch, which, looking back on it, is hilariously appalling because it was way too hard for me and I was scared. I swung one of the tools into the ice so hard that I couldn’t get it out, and was too rattled and pumped to put in a screw and just relax. So there I was, in a desperate position, wrenching on this tool so I could just finish the pitch, get off the ice, and never put on crampons again (this was a REALLY long time ago, by the way), and my friend was standing on the ground frantically yelling at me to not twist the tool, don’t bend it, don’t hurt it. As I chipped away at the stuck pick with the adze from the other tool, she had near-hysterics that I might contact the shaft of the stuck tool with the adze. By the way, if I’d fallen, I would have been hurt very badly – and all my partner was worried about was her tools. Needless to say I never climbed again with that person.
I’ve seen a climber get upset because he’d gotten his shoes dirty, witnessed countless loans of gear along with the strict warning to not crash it, rip it, scratch it, or otherwise leave any evidence of actual usage, and watched in bemused confusion as a cyclist almost cried because his favorite (and old) cranks were probably reaching the end of their lifespan.
I remember acting a bit like this when I got started. I would have a hissy fit if anyone moved anything on my bike. I hated it when people did something untoward with my gear. I wanted everything to be perfect all the time. This, my friends, is a sign of a newbie. I admit it. I wanted to look the part even though I couldn’t act the part. I posted trips on my personal blog that I thought were amazingly adventurous that now are just routes I’d take when out “walking the dog”. Every new piece of gear that I bought was evidence of my credibility and I’d wear it proudly and make sure it looked sharp all the time. Eventually I got over that, but I’ve noticed that some people never do. I think the industry does a lot to encourage this, because it means they sell more gear, but let’s try to get a handle on it, ok?
Really, readers, I understand, partly. Gear is expensive. We like it. We love shiny new stuff and we try to keep it nice because it costs a pretty penny to replace. Most of us can reach into our gear closets and easily assemble an outfit that costs well over $1000 just to go backpacking. Most people don’t make enough money to casually replace every little thing that has a stain on it so we do try to be nice to it and make sure it lasts. Most people get somewhat justifiably upset if their new $400 shell sustains a fatal injury. We buy the best and the fanciest and the most expensive.
I think we should rethink this situation.
Firstly, if you’re that focused on stuff, you should do everyone a favor and never ever lend things out. Seriously. If you hand over your bike to your loved one in a show of generosity, yet admonish him or her “just don’t crash it!” do you think they’re really going to have a good time? No, they’re going to worry constantly about your stupid bike and how upset you’ll be if they DO crash. They know that the fact that they personally have escaped the crash unscathed will be of no comfort to you. Is that the experience you want this person to have? Why even bother? Ugh. Just tell people the truth – you are unhealthily attached to your gear and you fear the loss of friendship if they accidentally harm your stuff no matter what. Your friendship might not survive that confession, but at least your friends would get to know you better.
Secondly, if your gear is that important to you, and the idea of it being ripped, torn, scratched, messed up, discolored, burned, or otherwise ruined, maybe it’s not the gear for you. There are literally thousands of other options in the outdoor industry. If the idea of shredding a $300 down layer with an ill-conceived move with an ice screw makes you want to cry, then don’t buy the $300 down layer. Buy a cheaper one that won’t ruin your day when you wreck it, because if you use it as it was intended, you will eventually wreck it. There is an entire world of gear out there that is reasonably priced and performs well, and won’t be all that hard to replace. Most of that gear even comes with the now-standard lifetime guarantee, so chances are you’ll be able to get it fixed. Believe it or not, you don’t actually need to buy the very lightest, very newest, very most expensive thing to go out into the backcountry. Buy in the mid-range and you might be able to relax more. Almost every high-end manufacturer makes a mid-range or “price point” piece that, while not equipped with ALL the bells and whistles, still performs well and gives you the same label. You CAN reduce the gear bill while staying comfortable and well-protected from the elements.
Thirdly, when it comes to big ticket items like bikes and skis, and you’re living your life in fear of a scratch, ding, dent, or some other terrible fate that might befall your beloved two-wheeler or favorite planks, BUY INSURANCE. Seriously. Open your wallet, the one containing the credit card with which you purchased your $9000 piece of carbon and rubber, and splash out on the $10/month it will cost to insure your baby. If your bike costs as much as a car, this is mandatory and it amazes me that more people don’t think of this. Bikes get stolen, bikes get dented, bikes get broken – just insure it and forget about it. Then you won’t have to make sure that your social circle knows your entire friendship depends on whether or not they can manage to respect the protective bubble around your bicycle.
Mostly, though, I think people should buy gear in the price range they’re comfortable with. Don’t let yourself get pushed into spending more money than you can afford to lose. Gear is meant to be used, and in our sports, that means scraped against rocks, dunked into water, sat on, squashed, singed, abraded, dropped, lost, crashed, and worn out. It happens. It’s OK. Just make sure you won’t need a second mortgage when it does.