Singletrack Magazine Issue 118: Seduced By The TV Remote

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Steve Longdon is about to despair at the laziness of the world, but he’s not had time. He’s been too busy riding his bike.

We all watch what other people do. I’m sure that I’m not alone here. But lately I just feel like I’m not like most other people. I’m quite happy swinging in a hammock in the sunshine with nothing to do but read a book and drink a beer, but along with the urge to take it easy and relax I have to get out there on my bike. I need to get my heart rate up and my pulse racing.

When my wife and I flew a few weeks ago, the passengers around us went for their hand luggage while the plane was still moving, ignoring the seatbelt signs. After the usual argy-bargy with the overhead lockers, we were off the plane and heading for passport control. There was a bit of a walk and then a choice of three short flights of stairs or the escalator. We found ourselves alone on the stairs. Everyone else took the escalator. All around us the elimination of effort was in full swing. Everyone on the escalator was looking at us. For us the choice was no choice. In our world we make some effort. This seems worthwhile to us in the long run. Perhaps not so for others.

Not long after that, browsing the shelves in the supermarket for some fruit I found a tray of expanded polystyrene [that’s a whole other topic – Ed] containing the peeled segments of an orange wrapped in clingfilm. Could it be that the effort to peel an orange and break it into pieces was now too much like hard work for some people? I also saw hard-boiled eggs for sale. Pre-sliced mushrooms. Salad in a plastic bag; washed and ready to eat. Ready-cooked frozen chips… The effort to cook is just too much. We don’t seem to like it. We want it gone. We eat cook-chill microwave food. We go for takeaways. We get robots to mow the lawn. So much easier. So much less effort, but only any good if we use the time well somewhere else.

We know that the elimination of effort is a rich seam for creativity and innovation. How else the invention of the wheel? Good things have come about in the attempt to eliminate effort and drudgery from our lives. Without innovation there is no doubt we would still be scratching about for food in the wilderness in a life nasty, brutish and short. Invention and the elimination of effort are close bedfellows. Where would we be without the automatic washing machine? The Italian Espresso machine? Good brakes and good suspension? We don’t want to go back to a world where we bash our clothes against rocks in the river to get them clean. Even worse to go back into a world of instant coffee. Despite this, it does start to feel that it’s all gone just a bit too far.

Can it be true that we were seduced into this new world by the TV remote control? Stretched out on the sofa with the zapper and flicking between channels led us to believe that our lives would be better if we eliminated the effort of everyday life? Looking back now, I think the remote control has seduced us into feeling that all effort is distasteful. Something to be side-stepped. But at what cost? What are the consequences of the elimination of effort? We grew fat and we grew lazy.

Surf’s up, time’s up. 

And so we surfed the TV without watching what we watched. This week I read about two reports in the news. The first seriously proposed blood pressure medication for half the population, because any policy that suggested eating less, drinking less, smoking less and taking some exercise was destined to fail. The second suggested that riding a bike was both healthy and likely to bring a longer life. So at least most of us reading this magazine are on the right track. 

The problem is that the elimination of effort seems to be gaining ground in mountain biking. Riding uphill used to be a time to talk about tyres and bikes and stuff. The conversation distracted us from the effort we made. Now the complaints just ring in my ears and all the talk is about e-bikes. The effort is just too much to make. Who wants to ride uphill? It’s dull and it takes effort. We want to eliminate that now. But at what cost? The push is to make everything easier. To make it less effort. Fat tyres and more gears. E-bikes. And from somewhere a constant push to sanitise trails and make them more accessible, squeezing out the hard work and skills once required. Mountain biking is always fun, but it’s also about burning calories and keeping fit. It’s about a sense of achievement. Good for those riders stuck on adventures, going bikepacking or riding singlespeed or fat bikes.

So when it comes to mountain biking I’m not really sure that I want it to get much easier. I’m no Luddite. I got the big deal about disc brakes, tubeless tyres, suspension forks, dropper posts, and bigger wheels. I got the event horizon that was the deconstruction of the drivetrain when 1×10 snatched away the breaking dawn of 30 gears. That was a brilliant insight. And then the narrow-wide chainring and the clutch derailleur came along to iron out some of the clunkiness. All good until the need to eliminate effort started to kick in. So now the rear cassette has grown and grown until we got to 50 teeth.

And so for me the door to weakness is thrown open. The temptation to offset fitness with the elimination of effort is real enough, but consider this: it might be better to resist. It might be better in the long run to side-step the temptation to eliminate the effort of climbing by using technology and just get fitter. Think of the longer-term benefits. Those of us out there on our mountain bikes have made a start, but we can go further. We can make efforts to improve our skills so we can ride rocky trails up and down. We can take time to stretch each day. We can lose some weight. We can look for other opportunities to make a little more effort. It’s an attitude. A predisposition. A philosophy. Do it now. Do it before it’s too late. There are long-term benefits to be had. Now is not the time to give it up. It’s not the time to fall victim to the elimination of effort. It’s time to swim against the tide. It’s time to run upstream with the salmon.

Is it really too much effort to peel an orange?

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