My decision to become a fiber terrorist couldn’t have come at a better time.
I have two loves in my life: cycling and knitting. While the latter is purely for fun (although I have made a few functional things, like water bottle holders), the former is, at present, something I do almost entirely for utility. That’s something I’d like to change.
(For the record, I also love my fiancé and reading, but neither is something I’d consider a hobby.)
I’ve been doing the bike commuting thing on and off for a few years now. I would like to be a more “serious” cyclist, but there are some pretty prohibitive barriers to entry for me: for one, I can’t afford the kind of equipment the bike snobs sneer at me for not having, and for another, my ass is just a little too hefty at present to be lugging it up and down hill and dale for extended periods of time.
The fact that my bike’s a cheap piece of shit isn’t something I can change anytime soon, especially since I have another potentially-expensive hobby. I would like to upgrade parts of it piecemeal, and I definitely need to get new wheels before I undertake a ride of more than 10 miles, but I’m not going to go and spend upwards of $1000 on a new Trek anytime in the near, well, ever. But with a little saving and training, I may be able to fulfill my dream: riding my bike up the Carolina coast, end-to-end.
This is where the yarnbombing thing comes in.
My plan is to be a two-wheeling fiber graffiti artist. I have already measured just about every surface and structure in the park I ride through to get to work, as well as other things around town I’d like to cover. I figure what better way to get in better shape for a bike tour than to ride all over town under cover of night, attaching yarn to inanimate objects? Not only will it help me increase my endurance and lose some weight, but I’ll draw less attention to myself and be able to park and get away much more quickly than if I were in my car.
As for the question “which do you like better, biking or knitting?”, I’m not sure how I would answer that. It really would be like trying to pick a favorite child. Well, it would be like childless people would imagine it’s like trying to pick a favorite child, since I’ve heard a number of parents say that they do have a favorite kid. Including my mom, who thinks I don’t know that she was serious.
The problem is that you can’t do them simultaneously, so doing one necessarily takes time away from doing the other. The nice thing about that, though, is that there are some times you want to just ride (gorgeous sunny spring days), and there are some times you’d rather just sit on the couch with the needles (dark, damp winter afternoons). But if I play my cards right, I get to to both of them nearly every day – I commute to work, and I work on a project during the midnight-to-5am doldrums (if there are any; in an ICU, it could go either way).
The thing is that knitting is much more affordable, and it produces a tangible result. A top-of-the-line set of needles will set you back $200 at the most, whereas $200 will only get you a very basic, cheap, and/or pre-owned set of wheels. (My current ride, a very-used Kensington – which I believe is a subsidiary of discount-mart-staple Huffy – was $80 at my local bike shop; a set of Addis will run you about twice that.)
However, there is the ongoing cost of yarn. While you can go bargain-basement here, even the most diehard yarn bargain hunter will concede that it’s just nicer to knit with good-quality fiber. (And if you’re going to go to the expense of buying a nice set of Addis, it seems a shame to use them to knit with squeaky, scratchy Red Heart Super Saver.*) It’s a matter of quantity/quality. Do you like knitting for the finished products, or the process? The usefulness of the socks or the feel of the yarn flowing through your fingers? The compromise here seems to be online retailers like KnitPicks, where you can get good-quality tools and fiber without the sticker-shock you’d get at a local yarn shop. Or you could just go the thrift-shop route, but it’s a lot like the proverbial box of chocolates. I’ve seen people say they scored amazing finds of yarn and needles at secondhand stores and estate sales, but all I’ve ever found are the occasional skeins of acrylic.
With cycling, on the other hand, you lay down most of the cash up-front; the bike itself, a helmet, tools, spare parts, accessories, clothes, maybe a basic-repair class. Aside from the occasional tune up and replacement part, it’s not much of a money-sink. And the rewards are less tangible: a slimmer silhouette, increased endurance, and depending on what you want to get out of it, lovely, unforgettable sights and sounds, incomparable road adventures, less money at the pump, less exhaust in the air.
Cycling requires a keen attention to the world around you: road conditions, weather, traffic. Knitting requires concentration only on what’s in your own two hands. (There are those who can carry on conversations or pay attention to movies while their needles fly furiously. I am not among them, especially if I’m trying to follow a stitch pattern.) When you’re on a bike, anything can happen. You could get hit by a car, you could hit a hole and blow your tire, a pedestrian could step into your path and change your life. You are literally straddling your own mortality. When you’re working on a sock or a sweater, you might drop a stitch or lose count.
It’s all in what you’re trying to get out of it, and what you’re willing to put into it. I think it really speaks to a certain duality we all possess. At least until we sit on a needle, or scrape off a yard of skin.
Inspiration: Crazyguy Jeff Arnim’s journal of his trek from Key West to the northwestern corner of Washington. Even if you don’t care to read some random dude rhapsodizing about bike-riding, the pictures alone are worth the price of admission.
*I’m not bagging on RHSS. I have a ton of it. Admittedly, part of my recent fascination with yarnbombing is that it’s an opportunity to get rid of the cheap acrylic that keeps making its way into my stash around birthday- and Christmastime, but I understand that it has its place. One of which is on my cheap-ass, worn-tip Susan Bates and U-nitt needles.**
**Again, not knocking the inexpensive needles. If it weren’t for discount brands sold at big-box stores, I’d have nothing to knit on but toothpicks. But you do get what you pay for.