. . . Or, a Convoluted Pseudo-Philosophical Argument in Which I Wander Far From the Subject and Attempt to Convince Myself That it is Acceptable to Spring for TA Pro Cyclotouriste Cranks Rather Than the Perfectly Servicable Sugino XD2's (the tread difference, the weight savings, the humanity!)
As I've mentioned before, I'm interested in bikes because they're a good mode of transport. Not that they'd be a bad thing if they were exclusively sporting equipment, but they'd be less valuable to us if they were as useful as say . . . water skis. But looking at them from a too-utilitarian perspective also misses the point for two reasons, I'd argue.
Riding bikes that are well-made makes getting to and from your destination more pleasurable. Well-made bikes are, as most of us know, completely different machines than poorly made, cheap bikes. If people ride well made bikes well designed for their intended use, then they're more likely to continue riding bicycles. Even if they at first only ride for sport, which I'd argue is a lower good (but still a good) than riding for transportation, riding for sport may lead them to one day ride bicycles for their original intended use.
The second more general argument that all human made objects are the result of human labor, and it is barbaric to expect people to labor (which is the greatest part of our waking life) in the service of making something cheap that merely works (for awhile at least). And it is barbaric to surround ourselves with such objects. It is an affront to human dignity to require people to do work that they can't be proud of, and so it goes that it is an affront to support the production of such junk.
But I'm employing a straw-man rhetorical trick there, because the decision which occasioned all this hand-wringing wasn't, "Do I buy from Wal-Mart or from a local artisan," the question is "Do I make a really nice three thousand-ish dollar bike, or do I try to see what I can put together if I'm willing to spend more?"
Because extra performance, once you get to a certain level, costs a lot. And I guess what I'm asking is how valuable--in a very broad sense--that extra last bit of performance is. Excellence is undoubtedly a good thing, and very well made human objects are beautiful and inspiring both because of the finished object and the pursuit and determination of those involved in the making. But it isn't an unconditionally good thing. The excellence of an object can be divorced from its ultimate ends (because there can be things which are excellently made but are made for evil uses), and costs can goes through the realm of luxury into that of obscenity. So I think it is lazy to end our consideration with "I'm just trying to make the best possible _____." and assume that must drive must be a good thing, or with "What's a lot of money to some isn't to others."
One nice thing about bicycles is that even the very finest bicycles aren't out of the reach of average people in countries with developed economies. If someone in the US who made an even below average wage wanted something like a custom J. P. Weigle, which I think runs about $6K complete, it would be possible to save and buy one. The same can't be said for a Bentley.
Sorry this was a little unfocused. I guess blog entries aren't held to the standard of cohesion that more formal writing is. Or at least I hope that excuses me a little.