Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Ikea Bike, Redux

If you've been wasting time here for a couple years or more, you may remember my post about the Ikea Bike-Shaped Object. Rest easy, though, as this post is NOT about that.

Rather, this little ditty was inspired by a recent NPR report by Shankar Vedantam, the most fun name to say in all of radio -- and maybe even a great bike brand/model combination: "The new Shankar Vedantam is laterally stiff and vertically compliant." Yeah, I'd read that review.

Anyway, the report is called Why You Love That Ikea Table, Even If It's Crooked, and it describes a psychological phenomenon called the Ikea Effect. The gist of the effect is that you attach more value to something that you built yourself. And while I don't have excessive fondness for the many examples of Swedish particleboard assembled by yours truly here at The Cycle World Headquarters (though most of this blog comes to you from the robot-butt-tested embrace of a Poang chair), I have felt the Ikea Effect on two wheels.

I think the cyclist's Ikea Effect is most noticeable in commuter bikes. As I've hypothesized before, I don't think there's such a thing as the perfect commuter bike. As a result, most commuter bikes are highly specialized for a particular user's commute, slapped together from any number of sources over the years. The resulting mongrel probably has next-to-zero appeal to anyone else, but for the person who did the slapping-together, it is a thing of sublime beauty.

I first noticed this as a mechanic in a shop in Iowa City, where we took perverse pride in our bizarre commuter creations. Mine started life as a too-small-for-me Nishiki Citisport. The "too small" was fixed with a ridiculous stem and seatpost, the heavy stock wheels swapped for my old MTB race wheels, upright bars gave way to flat ("unsafe at any speed" warranty takeoffs, if memory serves), and I shifted the thing with an old Rapidfire unit for good measure. Oh, and it sported a vaporware-since-forever Ibis Hot Unit coffee portage system. Paul had an old French roadie converted to flat bars with what seemed like barely functional centerpull brakes and a thumbshifter that kinda-sorta indexed with half the cogs on its vintage freewheel. Brian's daily ride was a Rustoleum-painted Schwinn cruiser with a crazy-long stem/seatpost and homemade headset seals cut from old inntertubes that made the bars almost impossible to turn. Chris had an old ten-speed that he literally pulled from a Dumpster and patched together with whatever parts the shop was about to send to the same fate.

None of these sound terribly appealing, right? (And you're probably wondering how I got a job there as a salesperson.) On the off chance that one of our beasts was out of commission (which didn't happen as often as you'd think) and we had to borrow someone else's for a lunch run, we HATED it. Much ribbing ensued after a game of musical bikes... "how do you ride that piece of crap?" But as much as we couldn't stand each other's creations, we ADORED our own. Its quirks were our quirks. We made it ourselves. And it doesn't get any better than that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is it a coincidence that I listened to that NPR story while bike commuting??

My impression is that the "Ikea Effect" is just another term for the "Not Invented Here" syndrome, or perhaps the "A face that only a mother could love" principle. It's natural to become irrationally attached to a creation that sprang from one's loins or workbench. Goodness knows that a lot of my home electronics projects are essentially theft-proof for exactly this reason!

Steve in Peoria
(where "function over form" is the guiding principle)