04 June, 2014

My Goodbye Manifesto

A guest post by Casey Fittz:

I've been working at Velo Orange for the past two years as the Product Design Engineer. In that time Chris has allowed me to bottle up some of my bike industry related rants in the form of blog posts and publish them. I've recently decided that it is time for my stay at VO to draw to a close and Chris is allowing me to opine on the blog one last time before I go. In case you're interested in my other manifestos, here is why I think that people need to relax about name brand steel tubing sets, the next 'perfect wheel size', and CNC'd parts. In general, I think that some people need to relax, and I only say this because over time I've realized that I need to relax.

Before I go any further I need to make it perfectly clear that I love bicycles, I love cycling in any form, and I love the cycling community. I've been working with bikes for a little while now. I started out as a shop rat in high school, and worked in shops on through my undergraduate studies. I then moved on to working with Velo Orange, and quite suddenly found myself wholly consumed by the bike industry.  The jump from cycling as a hobby to a career was a hard one. It's one thing to manage a hobby, mostly you just do it when you have time, but when your job is your hobby things get confusing. Worst of all I quickly found myself riding very little. After a full day of thinking about bikes and looking at bikes going on a ride wasn't my gut instinct anymore. This is certainly an old and tired story, I know plenty of people in the cycling industry who rarely ride anymore. Likewise, I know people in the music industry who rarely go to shows anymore. Not everyone has this problem, I've met people in the industry who can manage things just fine and they love their jobs and biking. I respect those people a lot.

I've spent a lot of the past two years trying to figure out what happened, why I got so burnt out on the bike industry, and how to get back to just enjoying bikes. These are some of the things that I have found. First of all, talking about bikes is not the same as riding bikes. Just because you love riding bikes doesn't necessarily mean that you love talking about them, and vise-versa. Furthermore, talking about bikes does not satisfy the same needs that riding them does. It can be easy to confuse or equate the two. Just go ride your bike. 

Secondly, bikes are fun. Bikes, in general, are fun, regardless of how or where you ride them. There are some people running around saying 'fun biking looks like _____' or worse yet, 'you cannot enjoy cycling unless you know _____ much about it'. They're wrong, if you enjoy bikes then you enjoy bikes, it doesn't matter how much you know about them or what you like about them. It's easy for me to forget that. In the industry you have this constant need to cater to your "market base". Which is always this hyper-specific idealization of some small fractal of the industry. It still amazes me the number of emails that we get where we are criticized for the smallest deviance in product style. Some of our customers feel betrayed because we decided to do something slightly different than usual. Despite what some people may think, we at VO world headquarters are not a bunch of erudite French cycling pedants. We like the French cycling aesthetic, and we design parts that we like. The French cycling aesthetic is just one facet of our interests. We are trying to make products that we would like to see available, and products that we think you would like to see. If we come out with something that doesn't necessarily fit your style, that's fine, maybe we didn't design this part for you. Sometimes we didn't design it with any one user base in mind, we just like to change it up every now and then. In general we're trying to have fun, and we want to make products that our customers find fun.

Hobbies or interests or jobs can quickly change their face if you push them too far, or expect them to singularly fulfill you on every level. Old French cycling aesthetic is great, I also love cyclo-touring, mountain biking, commuting, backpacking, and rock climbing. Likewise, Chris has spent a lot of his life climbing and mountaineering as well as sailing and building boats. I agree with what Yvon Chouinard has to say about this: “I've always thought of myself as an 80 percenter. I like to throw myself passionately into a sport or activity until I reach about an 80 percent proficiency level. To go beyond that requires an obsession that doesn't appeal to me. Once I reach 80 percent level I like to go off and do something totally different...” I think that after the 80% mark things can get weird, and a little bit lonely. After Chris's recent blog post about running and riding we have been talking a lot about the importance of doing physical activities other than cycling in order to maintain well rounded physical health. I'd go as far as to say that this idea also applies to more than physical health.

The cycling world is full of so much marketing nonsense, and plenty of people shouting that their nonsense is right and everyone else's is wrong. Don't let me or anyone else tell you what is fun for you, there's no reason to view any of our standpoints on cycling as the gospel. We don't even intend it that way. We're just trying to share what we personally like. At the end of the day, the one thing we all agree on is that it's fun to ride bikes, so lets do that the most. 

There is another guest blog post coming written by Michael Ross which I found to be a very enjoyable read. In it he touches on the intrinsic human need to move through space(communicate through space, if you will), and how bikes satisfy this. I couldn't agree more about this. Bikes also act as an important social platform for communication between other humans, and I don't mean to detract from that. However, I think that as a vehicle for social interaction cycling is no different than any other hobby. In that sense it is no different than football, fancy cars, or amateur radio. These hobbies are important, and their respective niches are also important as vehicles for us to relate socially. Regardless, I am convinced that when it comes to enjoyment, cycling excels in the riding. There are not many things more freeing and life affirming as riding on a bike. Seriously, just go move your body around in space, for no reason at all, other than to remind yourself that you exist. That's where the joy in cycling is.

At the risk of sounding too much like a company shill, I have to say that I've had a really good time here at VO. Chris has assembled a great team of people who really care about what they do. Chris in particular is never afraid to try new things, and I think that will always be one of the best aspects of VO. Our customers have also been great, most of them even let me get away with some crazy ideas. I've had a pretty big project under wraps for a while now. I was hoping to have the prototype here to show you before I left, but it looks like its not going to be in for another month. I'm very excited about it, and I'm sure some of you will really enjoy it. I'm also sure some of our customers are going to be a little offended, but that's fun too.

TL;DR - Ride your bikes!

Casey Fittz

Shameless Plug -  I'm going to be traveling about and working on personal projects for the next few months. Feel free to follow me on my Twitter or Instagram if you care to keep up.


Caspar said...

WOW!! that is exactly what happened to me. I also was involved in cycling from highschool. Same story. Worked as a design engineer (at Batavus bicycles in the Netherlands) and burned out in 1 year. Took me a while to get back in. Started a framebuilding business thinking that was the sollution. It wasn't. Burned out again. Now am very happy and riding a bicycle often and having a lot of fun while working in the petrochemical industry.
Thank you for your words!!
Caspar Drenth (the Netherlands)

Anonymous said...

Good stuff. Reminds me of a couple other brands: have fun, ride what you like & don't take yourself or others so seriously.

Enjoy the journey.

Anonymous said...

brilliant post. lots to think about. thank you and good luck.

Anonymous said...

Making your passion a job is always fraught with danger and more often than not a mistake. Unfortunately, the internet often magnifies tiny differences between ideas and people, rather than bringing them together. Balance in all things. Thanks for your thoughts.

crmodgeon said...

Anon 12:16 makes some excellent points. I'm wondering whether all businesses have elements like this to some extent but that bicycling attracts a greater portion of passionate idealists due to the machine's elegance and the element of youth in promoting physical activity. Regardless, you seem to have a healthy take on it all and have made a mark by mixing things up. Chris seems like a great boss.

I'm still riding the same bike frame I bought new in 1991. And it wasn't the greatest then even. But it's fun, and it does what I want it to, and it has undergone at least a half-dozen metamorphoses, none of which entirely matches any particular market niche. Whenever I need a recharge, I strip the bike down to its bare essentials and buy a different kind of tire, and it is reborn. Kind of like what you're doing.

Bon voyage, and keep breaking the rules!

J Horne said...

Thanks, Casey. There are indeed things worth pouring oneself 100% behind, like seeking truth and learning to love, but those pursuits are on a higher plane than hobbies like biking. What is truly great is how hobbies can undergird those higher pursuits! I've certainly learned a lot about love and fraternity biking with my dad and other men.

Anonymous said...

Lots of widsom in this posting. Sorry to see you go. Good luck in your future endeavors Casey.

Southern Haberdasher said...

Wow, I just got into cycling and Casey's post have been a real enjoyment. Same thing happened to be in the golf biz. Play turned into work, that lead to not playing! I wish you the greatest of success. If you know where i can get that bar you designed...PLEASE let me know. Ride on, and thank you.

VeloOrange said...

More Casey's Crazy Bars should arrive in a week or so.