Phenomenology

A-style logo painted on the climb to l'Alpe d'HuezOne of the best parts of watching Le Tour, especially in the mountain stages, is road graffiti. Rider’s names, team names, and exhortations (”Rip their balls off, Lance”, “EPOstal”) in a panoply of the world’s languages plaster the tarmac and for the more creatively inclined the macadam of France serves as a canvas for artwork, frequently obscene, many times cryptic. PezCycling News had an interesting article about one particular spray painting afficianado, responsible for what is evidently a fairly popular icon in Italy (the A-style logo),tagging l’Alpe d’Huez’s 21 switchbacks. Reading about the advent of the A-style logo reminds me of the “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” guerilla stickering campaign here in the US. “Andre…” creator Shepard Fairey has an intriguing take on the popularity of his stickers and wrote an provocative manifesto available on his website concerning Phenomenology. Fairey writes:

The FIRST AIM OF PHENOMENOLOGY is to reawaken a sense of wonder about one’s environment. The OBEY sticker attempts to stimulate curiosity and bring people to question both the sticker and their relationship with their surroundings. Because people are not used to seeing advertisements or propaganda for which the product or motive is not obvious, frequent and novel encounters with the sticker provoke thought and possible frustration, nevertheless revitalizing the viewer’s perception and attention to detail. The sticker has no meaning but exists only to cause people to react, to contemplate and search for meaning in the sticker. Because OBEY has no actual meaning, the various reactions and interpretations of those who view it reflect their personality and the nature of their sensibilities. 

Many people who are familiar with the sticker find the image itself amusing, recognizing it as nonsensical, and are able to derive straightforward visual pleasure without burdening themselves with an explanation. The PARANOID OR CONSERVATIVE VIEWER however may be confused by the sticker’s persistent presence and condemn it as an underground cult with subversive intentions. Many stickers have been peeled down by people who were annoyed by them, considering them an eye sore and an act of petty vandalism, which is ironic considering the number of commercial graphic images everyone in American society is assaulted with daily.

Contrast the rampant DIY road art aesthetic in Europe with what usually plays out in the US. One of my favorite races was one which sadly only took place once, upstate New Yorks’s Tour of Cazenovia in the late summer of 1988: one severely taxing 85 mile loop. The evening before, some zealous friends/support crew of one of the cyclists decided to show their enthusiasm by painting some words of support on one of the huge rollers on Rt. 20 near the end of the course. Unfortunately, the NY State Police did not share their excitement for spray painting the road and arrested them for defacing state property. They had to spend the night in jail and missed the race the following morning. I don’t know if France’s gendarmes tacitly approve painting the tarmac or if it’s actually legal, but this is yet another reason why I sometimes have expatriate yearnings.

Of course, besides the relatively benign works like Marco Brun’s A-style, there are the penises. Evidently the riders notice them, as noted by Liberty Seguros’s Christian Vande Velde, “I do have one question, though. I just want to know who is painting the big penises on the climbs, and why. Anyway, I get a little chuckle every time I roll over one.”

One of these years I’ll get my ass over to Europe and make my own contribution to the medium of spray painted road graffiti. In the meantime, I’ll brush up on some invaluable reading.

Stupid Light Redux

Here’s an American entry into the “I Crashed On My Fucking Face” files: check out this photo from Superweek. Now look at the brand of the stem. Do you really need to shave a few grams with a carbon stem?

Way back when I started racing in the early 1980s the dominating credo of pro cyclists governing equipment choices was “You can’t win a race if you don’t cross the finish line”. Pros were exceedingly conservative in their equipment choices and frequently the guys on your local group ride would have bikes lighter than those of professionals. In the past 5 years or so it seems that the paradigm has shifted to today’s situation where riders such as Jens Voigt are putting SRM cranks and wireless transmitters on their machines to meet the UCI weight minimum. It seems that professional riders are having exceedingly frequent mechanical instances, even in Le Tour. Has the pendulum swung too far towards the Stupid Light end of the spectrum?

For those with copious free time…

Polar is publishing the heart rate data from Tour de France rider Servais Knaven. It’s interesting to see how surprisingly low his heart rate is, even on extremely arduous mountain stages. On one of the early flat stages his average heart rate was only 114bpm. Amazing.

Read about New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik’s take on New York City’s bicycle taxis.

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