11 September 2008

Simplicity comes at a cost

To reduce is the skill of masters.
Deng Ming-Dao, Everyday Tao, 1996
Most afternoons on the way home from work, I ride in the same subway car with some guy—in fact, we always enter thru the same door. Although this has been going on for about 2 years now, we don’t know each other and we’ve exchanged but a few words once or twice.

This fellow comes with his bike. Soon after I started seeing him, I noticed that his bike didn’t have brake levers on the handlebars; nor was there anything resembling a brake on the wheels. Recently, when I paid a little closer attention to his bike, I realized that it didn’t have gears either. There is just a chainring in the front turning via the chain a single cog in the back.

A few days later, I commented to him about his bike. His response was as simple as his now-disclosed intention: “There is less maintenance without brakes and gears.”

I inquired further: “How do you stop, then?”

“I don’t go fast.”

I can not blame him for not wanting to be bothered with bicycle maintenance and repair. But there are trade-offs associated with my fellow subway rider’s bicycling simplicity. He can’t ride his bike fast or down a hill. Nor can he ride it up a steep hill unless he has powerful leg muscles to forgo the need for gears. His travels on his simple bike are limited to slow rides on flat roads.

How do we achieve simplicity without sacrificing not so much the conveniences but the opportunities of complexity?

1 comment:

O. B. Sirius said...

That's what the guys in the Olympics had (the ones that raced on the indoor, inclined track, not the outdoor racers on the road). Matt Lauer took a ride on one, and to stop he either had to get to the inside rail and grab it, slow down to a stop, or fall off. Since the great outdoors typically doesn't have an inside rail, you'd be limited to the last two options -- choose carefully!