Advertising bumph and the nature of technology

“We mountain bikers just love new stuff, don’t we?” asks David Bristow. The makers of stuff know this and love us for it. Why ride a 26” bike when a 29” is so much better…. Ah, hold on, 27.5” is even better. And off we go like lemmings and suck it all up. Ordinary food is no longer good enough for us, we have to consume super foods to ride anywhere. And we suck it all up as fast as we can. 

It’s part of the game, call it a technological arms race of performance. But you can only blame the bicycle itself. The humble bicycle is a wondrous thing, starting with the Velocipede back in the 1830s. Who thought that a disselboom on wrought iron wheels would ever catch on as the next best thing!

With the Ordinary and High Ordinary came cogs and pedals, then Mr Dunlop wrapped rubber around the iron wheels, and so the “push bike” evolved into an elegant alternative form of transport for poor people and a thing of fun and even beauty for more well-off ones.

It was two women (and why shouldn’t it be) who best summed up the aesthetics of the machine. First was keen-minded American librarian Elizabeth Howard West, who said: “Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And the more he used it, the fitter his body became.”

Dame Iris Murdoch, who wrote: “The bicycle is the most civilised conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart.” This was a writer and philosopher who meditated much on the nature of good and evil.

As cyclists we know this to be an unalienable truth, much in the vein of men being born equal (although I suspect the American Fathers would have been more correct saying humans.) To give some facts and figures to all this philosophising, it has been calculated that the average rider on an average bicycle has the energy efficiency of the average car doing about 650km on a litre of petrol.

So much for the humble bicycle; the not-so-humble bicycle is a thing of miracle and wonder, what with carbon fibre and titanium, hydraulic disk brakes and pneumatic suspension and all the fancy stuff you can bolt on. Not to mention the apparel, eh? Shoes that cost several thousand Rands, helmets the same and even shorts that can clock in at the cost of a small car. Not a sport for the faint of heart or short of arms.

And then we get the sunglasses. And allow me to preface this next tirade with a declaration that nothing I think, say or write is endorsed by the publishers or their agents, who rely on advertising to bring us this fine MTB monthly.

So, sunglasses, how much could you lay out for a top-end pair? Enough for a small country sometimes. And to justify the price they hire expensive agencies and copywriters to make it sound like a good buy. Take the glasses I saw in a recent ad for example. We can all buy into the PR lingo about the “suspended hinge geometry,” “razor-sharp clarity of High Definition Optics” and total comfort systems. But remember these are pairs of sunglasses we are talking about, not an F1 racing car.

When they start talking about, and I quote, the “VEntilated Scoop technology,” “Unobtainium components” or lenses made of “pure Plutonite” you’ve just got to start scratching your eyeballs in disbelief. Now I’m all for the benefits of nanotechnology and the like, but this starts to go off the scale of limp-wristed hyperbole.

I’ve done a fair amount of riding in sun, rain, ice and snow, but thermal shock produced by a pair of sunglasses. Ag nee man! I understand the need for Full Sus and every other mag to schmooze their advertisers, and it’s a good thing if we get to win groovy sunglasses and other stuff. I was also an ‘edita’ once, so particularly perplexing to me is the question of when ventilated had to be spelt with a capital V and E, even ventilated becoming a proper noun is a stretch…

Marketing people, whoever you are, and wherever you might be, come right okes. They’re just sunglasses, bicycles and other bicycle related sh*t.

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