This week I go streamlined on a single-speed bike
You might’ve noticed everyone’s into “simplifying”. It’s very recessional chic right now. People from all walks are chucking stuff out and packing up what’s left to go live in Bali. Or on a goat farm. Luxury car manufacturers and banks are flogging simplicity in their advertising slogans and a new self-help genre has spawned showing us how to consolidate our remote controls and live without a waffle-maker.
Admittedly, I’ve previously ridden this altruistic bandwagon myself, decluttering my books and hosing out my email inbox. But I’m now wondering if “streamlining” isn’t a better way to go. “Simplifying” tends to have a certain The Good Life vibe to it, don’t you think – a bit grubby, earnest and requiring a fulltime commitment to composting. When, let’s face it, most of us could relate to Penelope Keith when she’d look over the fence in despair at her neighbours’ muddy mess.
Simplifying is about reversing our erroneous ways, uprooting our lives and ridding ourselves of things. Which is kind of sad and harsh and really hard to achieve. Streamlining, however, is gentle. It’s about shaving off excess, and perhaps steering the boat a little to the left, for a more flow-y ride. It’s a smooth, glide-y ethos for life, and an elegant aesthetic. No gumboots required. Yes, streamlining makes life better. Of that I’m sure.
This thinking started a month ago when I looked over at my dual-suspension, knobbly-tyred mountain bike in the hall and thought, what a cluttery, clumpy contraption you are! Throughout my journey in this column I’ve been told by life-bettering experts you should only surround yourself with possessions that reflect who you are and where you want to go (which, in a previous column, saw me finally toss the dried roses from an ex that’d been collecting dust for three years). “Lumpen, knobbly and with aggressive bar-ends” was not who I wanted to be any longer. Nor something I wanted between my legs! The bike had to go and I sold it on ebay the following week.
I then went about replacing it with a 9kg single-speed bike (yes, no gears!) that darts and swoops like a cormorant. It’s orange with white wheels because it makes me happy that it is. And made from antique parts, assembled with a friend who poured love into every ballbearing adjustment. Check her out, above.
My friend Reuben helped me build her and is available to build one for you, too. He builds with love and fantacisism from parts he finds from around the world. My frame, for instance, is from Paris. The white leather seat he found on ebay. He really is very clever. Email him: [email protected]
And how’s it feel to ride? Totally streamlined. Single-speed bikes are huge in New York and London and taking off here. Along with fixies (fixed-gear bikes with no brakes) they’re about shaving off all but the necessary componentry for the most lightweight, agile ride possible. So to get up a hill you have to rely on your own raw strength. No gears; no trappings. There’s something very honest and unadulterated about it. “Or Calvinistic,” said my friend Matt P. when I explained the fad’s austere appeal.
Or, as a skinny tie-wearing kid hollered to me at the traffic lights the other week, “It’s not a bike style, it’s a life style”. Totally streamlined, I shouted back like I was 22.
So, anyway, since then I’ve been wondering how I can streamline the rest of my life.
A wellness blogger I follow wrote recently she works to a streamlined mantra, “I always travel carry on”, by which I take to mean she streamlines the stuff she packs on trips so she can move with more ease through airports (and beyond). I like this. What’s my streamlined way-of-living mantra? “I run with a single key” is one I work to. Each morning I go jogging, I pull on the one running outfit (which I keep in the one spot in my room) and take only my front door key, shoved down my bra. I’m out of the house in five, no stalling for water bottles, phones, lip gloss or loose change. Clean, quick, out the door and into it.
“I shop without trying on” is another. I buy the same brand of knickers, jeans and sneakers year in, year out to avoid having to try them on. In, purchase, out. No change room lighting to drag my spirit down. Then there’s “I read without toggling”. I now do all my overseas news reading via twitter. Most papers post their best material with a link on the social media site: my reading all in the one spot, slick and fuss-free. Or perhaps my mantra is (simply), “I ride unadulterated”.