Saturday, January 10, 2009

Too Many Options?

Sometimes. Maybe. There are too many options. There is, perhaps, something to be said for doing a thing well rather than adding complexity to make it easier.


On the bicycle, the simple, fixed-wheel doesn't give many options. One either develops a certain skill and rides well, or he probably doesn't ride. The rider of the simple machine learns efficient cycling experientially. He masters the preservation of momentum by doing. He works with the terrain and circumstances given. Like a craftsman, he applies practiced skills to make something of beauty of his resources.

Might this be true in living? Perhaps we reach a point at which we have too many options. We come to a place where we spend too much time evaluating choices. Or we devote too much of our resources developing, maintaining, repairing, rehabilitating, and upgrading complexity...so life might be more convenient. Or faster. Or more entertaining.

Recently, I removed the complexity of coasting and the option of shifting gears from my bicycle. I returned to the simple, fixed-wheel configuration of last summer. Riding the bicycle is a little more work. It is arguably slower in some conditions. But I believe it makes me a stronger, more skillful rider.

I wonder if the same disciplined approach to remove options in other areas of life would build in me a stronger character and make me a more skillful friend.

9 comments:

Crosius said...

You might be talking about the "tyranny of choice."

Discussed in this article (PDF)

The gist: Too much choice becomes a source of stress, diffuses our energies, limits our ability to achieve and reduces our happiness.

Ideas pop up everywhere when they're ripe, it seems.

Christopher Johnson said...

Yes, Crosius, I think so. I quickly scanned the article and plan to study it closer. Thanks for the link. Maybe the goal is not convenience and comfort. Maybe service, for example, is a better direction.

Craig said...

This article reminds me of a saying my friends and I have "Single Speed, Single Mind"

While I whole heartedly agree with simplicity, I have to say removing the option of coasting on a bike has always made me nervous. Now, don't get me wrong, as an old track racer, I think a fixed gear has it's place, and I pedaled many a mile in training on my old track bike on the road. Not to mention countless hours going in circles on a track.

However, this new trend of fixed gears as being fashionable (not that I'm accusing you of this, just something I've noticed in the city the last few years) is something I could never wrap my head around.

Riding in traffic on busy roads, without the benefit of brakes or coasting seems like taking simplicity a little too far. On the track or a training ride out on the highway where everyone in the group is on a similar ride makes sense. But I've always appreciated having the ability to slam on the brakes and go sideways when needed in traffic. Now, I suppose you could do this on a fixed gear if you were good, but more likely you may just end up going over the handle bars...or into that door opening in front of you.

For me these days, I ride a single speed coaster brake bike. I guess I've added two more layers of complexity over a fixed gear, but I appreciate them. Or maybe I'm just getting old?

Christopher Johnson said...

Yes,Craig,I hear you.I'm old and mostly ride rural roads.As much as I try to flaunt the fixed-wheel fashion,the cows are not impressed.Maybe It's my brakes.

Craig. said...

LOL, Christopher, funny how cows are never impressed, no matter how fast you go or how nice a bike you have...

beth h said...

It would be interesting to extend this question of too much choice to those who work in the bike industry:

1. How many of you ride single-speed or fixed-gear bikes as your primary bike?

2. How many bikes do you own, and how often do you ride each per month?

Just curious.

Dr Codfish said...

"I wonder if the same disciplined approach to remove options in other areas of life would build in me a stronger character and make me a more skillful friend"

With all due respect, not to be argumentative, just being philsophical here, other caveats as appropriate, consider this:

How does removing options build a stronger character? With no choices, no options, there are really no temptations to test your character.

Does the person with only bread and water in the cupboard have a stronger character than the person who chooses the bread and water over the marzipan, tendeloin, cheetos that sit along side the bread and water?

It's not the options that lay before you, but how you respond to them that define your character.

Just sayin'

Yr pal Dr Codfish

Christopher Johnson said...

Hey, Dr. Codfish, excellent points! I think maybe we agree. My point is that we (most of us) already have the options before us. Making a choice to eliminate some of these that serve as distractions might allow us to focus on things of greater value.

For me, television was a time-consuming curse that was difficult to resist. Eliminating television from my life has promoted better serving others. Others might not have a television issue, but maybe one with work hours, or buying stuff,...or riding a bicycle. Maybe there is something to be said for building extra defenses against personal weaknesses. Maybe that is one way to respond to the options that are already there.

Rick R. said...

Once I went to fixed-gear, I found myself paying less attention to the machine and more to the world it was carrying me through--it became a "vehicle" in a larger sense of the word. It augmented me, amplifying my power as a walker in the same way--legs move faster to go faster; legs move slower to go slower. I still use a brake for the occasional emergency or steep downhill.

Riding about 600 miles a month lately, most in heavy LA traffic, some in hills, all fixed. Some of those miles are indeed slower than they would be on a road bike. I like it that way. Get to see more of life.