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.
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.