The question which is, when attached to outdoor gear, the most relevant (and certainly most interesting) of all. Is item X worth it?

The first photo ever posted on Bedrock & Paradox: me riding my old Gunnar Rockhound on Mt Elden, AZ in the summer of 2006.  It’s a good point of departure. wondering if the thousands of dollars I’ve spent on bike stuff in the years since has been well spent.  Most of the stuff pictured is no longer in my possesion: the helmet was busted the next summer, the shoes and shorts worn out, the frame, fork, wheels, and tires sold or given away when that winter I switched to 29ers.  The non-driveside crankarm is still in use, as is the  30t Surly chainring.  The 140mm Salsa stem and red Titec bars on on M’s mountain bike.  The blue Capilene 2 tshirt is still going strong.

Even with clipless pedals, full suspension, and a few years more experience I rode that roller with much less fluidity and confidence.  I also rode with much more fluidity on my spendy Lenz, and with much more confidence and speed.  My original question can thus be cut into two:  1) is the cost of advanced, new technology worth the performance and fun benefits?  2) is the benefit of improving via technological acquisition worth the cost of making the learning process easier?

In two years of long rides on the rocky trails of Utah and Arizona I went from the above bike to two 29ers, one a rigid SS which save the wheelsize, front disk brake, and clipless pedals is very similar to the Gunnar, and a geared full suspension wonderbike.  The full suspension bike (the Lenzsport Leviathan) remains the most expensive thing I’ve ever bought that wasn’t a motor vehicle or a student loan.

New and unblemished.

Insofar as question 2 is concerned, this bike (and especially the suspension fork to go on it) was absolutely worth it, as the path I was going down (riding rigid bikes on long rocky rides) would have (for me) led to nerve damage in my hands.  That lack of pain helped increase the fun factor, very important.  Finally, the benefits of suspension gave me the confidence to ride much closer to my limit than I ever would have otherwise, which in turn made me a better rider on the rigid bike.  I smile everything I see it (every though it hasn’t been ridden since October), and have no desire to replace it.

On other gear items, the questions are simpler.  Alpackas are still the only packrafts that can hope to get the job done (the job including a bit of whitewater and the full spectrum of weather), thus the only choices are: whether you need one, what size to get, and what color.

But the subject which brought these musing to the fore is skiing.  Ski gear is expensive.  For those like me, unenlivened by bro deals, a skins/skis/boots/dynafits setup would run 1600-2000 dollars (100/5-800/6-1000/3-500).  Somehow, I hesitate to spend that on a ski rig, moreso than on a bike frame.  Part of it having less money (due to student loans).  Part of it is having bought out three current skis rigs less than 1000 total, skins and bindings included.  Part of it is that skiing is such a harsh task master, and I suspect that my abilities have much further to go, and while different equipment might help, I’d almost prefer to keep life simple and the learning curve harsher.

Money is of course only money, and hearses do not have luggage racks.  But a new pair of AT boots is a round trip plane ticket to Alaska, and experience continues to fill one up long after gear has been worn out and replaced.  In summary, I like gear, in general.  Some pieces of gear I more than like, their beauty and elegance combine with the way they embody memory and possibility to become the very best of what material objects can be: practical, personal works of art.  I am also, increasingly, suspicious of my own preoccupations with gear.  A lot of that has to do with the fact that, after so many miles and so much learning, my simple rigid Karate Monkey remains my favorite bike.

The Karate Monkey at Granite Basin, back in the flat pedal days.  Nostalgia.  I’ve tried to go back to riding flats on real mountain biking terrain, and can hardly imagine how I used to do it.

13 responses to “Cost/Benefit”

  1. 1) is the cost of advanced, new technology worth the performance and fun benefits?

    If you purchase every month, maybe not. But what if you purchase every year, two years, ten years?

    2) is the benefit of improving via technological acquisition worth the cost of making the learning process easier?

    It probably is worth it to some, but those who learn the old-fashioned-way tend to learn better and be better at what they’ve learned.

    1. Sam goes first! (I longer feel safe saving drafts, so I publish unfinished works)

      1. Holy hell, the post is like twice as long as what I read. I guess I’d better re-read and re-comment.

  2. Beyond your own answers to the two questions, the next step is to answer the following: which bits of gear have been most worth the $$ (literal and spiritual) over the years, and why?

    1. First I throw out the question “how much better would the theoretical trip to Alaska be if you had better gear?”

      Then, I answer your 3rd question posed in the comments section regarding my most worthwhile bit gear in regards to both literal and spiritual value.

      Your blog is never eye candy, Dave. Sheesh, always makin’ me think. Okay, I’ve sat here and pondered this for the duration of an entire pint of beer so I’m just going to answer.

      literal: Brian Frankle’s ULA Equipment Conduit backpack (thousands of miles and going strong)

      spiritual: puffy coat – they wear out but I’ve had a relationship with two of them (UL Thermawrap and Cocoon Hoody) that has lasted six years and there is little more comforting that being able to warm up while living in the out of doors.

      1. re: Eye candy; good! Loads of folks way better with lens than me anyway. I’ll let them do that.

        re: Alaska, maybe one or two items unpurchased for the Wilderness Classic. I’ve been planning for over a year.

        Nice call on the puffyz. Being too cold is a good way to get religion.

      2. The AWC scares me. I look forward to the day that it scares me only-so-much that I am able to participate. It’ll be fun living it vicariously through you first.

  3. Please disregard this comment. I am only posting it so I can subscribe to other comments.

  4. My literal and spiritual best purchase are one and the same. For me the best money spent was on a gps unit and the associated topographic software. When I am stuck at my desk for too long, the maps are an outlet for planning adventures. Can I get there from here? Wow that River is a lot closer to that lake and it looks like you could cross this pass here. Or looking at where others have gone before. Or looking at the places I have already been. I love all of my other gear for all the places I have gone with them but no other piece of equipment I own has the ability to evoke memories AND dreams. The only problem is now I need a red Alpacka in order to complete one of those dreams.

    1. The best color, IMHO.

  5. Interestingly, I feel much more confident on my SS hard tail 29er than I ever did riding FS. of course, the FS was a 26er and geared, so that may have something to do with it as well. The big kicker for me, is I spent about half as much for the 29er as I did for the FS (both purchased off ebay). I probably have the most pimped Karate Monkey you’ll find though. :-)

    In regards to gear purchases, I’m a self-admitted gear whore, so I can’t say that I couldn’t do without any single item I own or have owned. My next big (planned) purchase is definitely a packraft. My new home is in a much better location for water access, and potential PR trips. Also, since most of what I do includes my girlfriend, I generally have to purchase two of everything….which definitely drives up the cost, but, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    1. You do have a pretty bitchin’ Karate Monkey, Chris.

  6. bikes have always been central to me… but i haven’t stayed far from rigid ss’er…. its also my transportation so works for me on alot of levels….

    want a alpacka…. but is cost and how many times i’d use it per year worth it….?

    trailer for the bike seem more pracital to me at the moment or a blingy ti framed bike….

    i dunno good post!

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