Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Best of Show, Tallest of Midgets

Great news for all the Clevelanders who believe that bikes are meant to be impractical, collectible baubles to show off more than ride: One of your own, Dan Polito, won Best of Show at the North American Handmade Bike Show last week.

I'd not heard of Dan Polito before today, but now he has vaulted to a level of fame enjoyed by the nation's best foosball player, best heirloom apple grower and maybe even best bong maker. Hundreds -- maybe even thousands -- of people will praise his name and Google him. You may be one of them, which would probably make you either an idle millionaire or a fixie-riding slacker. (If you're one of the latter, you might be able to explain to me why your fellow fixie rider/poseurs favor grease-stained Campagnolo caps when Tullio Campagnolo invented -- or at least innovated --your freaking nemesis, the deraillieur.)

You say Pol-EEE-to, I say PoL-EYE-to

If I'm ever fortunate enough to meet Mr. Polito, I expect I'll find him to be very charming and interesting. I'd be intrigued to listen to him explain the art of a good weld for minutes on end, in the same way I can stand in the glass-blowers' shop next to West Side Market and be transfixed for nearly one-sixth of an hour straight. (Maybe longer if I weren't straight, in which case I'd fit right in: abundant 40-ouncers of Olde English were getting drained when I brought my kids there at 10 a.m. on a recent Saturday.)

I don't imagine getting the opportunity to meet Dan, though, because I'm pretty sure Dan and I ride in very different circles. Folks in mine ride out on the road or on the trails; I'm pretty sure folks who ride in his circle actually ride in circles quite literally, on fixies, in front of the Civilisation cafe in Tremont -- forward, trackstand, backward, repeat.

However, the day may someday come when I sell my children and wind up with extra dollars on hand and choose to spend thousands of them on a painfully uncomfortable-looking "grass track" bike, or something else that rejects all of the technological advances that make today's off-the-shelf Chinese-made bikes infinitely better than the best "artisan" bike of a generation or two ago. Should that day come and I want a bike with blinding chrome lugs and maybe some really cool airbrush paint scheme on the downtube that conjures up images of the tattooed arms of LeBron James or Aimie, the barista/performance artist, I will rejoice. Because I no longer believe I'd have to go all the way to Portland to fulfill my impractical and self-indulgent whim: We have the very best at making the very worst, right here in Cleveland. And why not? We're the home of yesteryear's steel industry, so why not be the epicenter of yesteryear's steel bikes (at 22nd-century prices)?

- JN

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