The Skinny: Unplug, check out, log off

Don't let smart tech ruin your ride – in praise of dumb locks and Cloud-less days

I don't want to be more connected. I don't want a 'smart lock' that interacts with my phone. I don't want push notifications to my cycle computer, feeding the Fear Of Missing Out. And I don't want glasses that shove data straight into my eyeballs. These are the tenets of the Skinny. Well, some of them.

I'm a huge fan of new technology, and I honestly think there's never been a better time to be a cyclist, or to be into bikes simply as mechanical works of art. But there is a whole new category of bike products that's nibbling at the fringes of cycling, trying to get a slice of the pie by imposing on us a ridiculous notion of how the world operates. It comes slithering to us with the sly promise of 'connectivity', or a vow to solve a problem that sane people simply don't have.

Perhaps the most egregious and absurd example of this trend comes in the form of so-called 'smart locks', proof if ever it were needed that where 'smart' is stuck in front of a word, there's no guarantee you'll find intelligent life.

Ask yourself this – why does someone buy a bike lock? They buy it so they can leave their bike somewhere when they go to work, or to the shops, or out in the evening. What functionality does that imply? Simply, a mechanism that opens and closes securely, and only in the hands of the person holding the key. It's not complicated.

Locks: locks
Locks: locks

What, at the end of the day, are these for?

I don't need a lock that automatically opens itself. I don't need a lock that analyses its power usage and which sets off an alarm every time someone knocks into my bike on the rack. And I certainly don't need a lock that my friends can open with their phones, because I don't have friends.

Not me:
Not me:

This is not me (image: Getty)

Are you worried about someone stealing your bike? Then your bike costs too much; stop leaving it outside. If you live somewhere where bike theft is a problem (any city, in other words), you need to be at peace with the fact that bad people want to take your stuff.

Don't lock a nice carbon race bike outside. Accept that using shared bike racks means scratches are inevitable. And buy a proper lock that's constructed to withstand assault with tools. If it doesn't feel heavy enough to give someone a serious concussion then it's not heavy enough to stop someone with a heroin problem and a pair of bolt cutters, okay?

This is rusty enough for the big city:
This is rusty enough for the big city:

This is rusty enough for the big city (image: Getty)

Locks certainly aren't the only area where pointless technology is being allowed to run riot. Actually, pointless is the wrong word – let's call it invasive. 

Riding a bike is an escape from the world for me. It's an opportunity to concentrate on simple things that make sense: pedal harder, hurt more; hurt more, feel less. It's a break from staring slack-jawed at a screen, fielding emails from bright-eyed PRs, and waxing caustic about the ills of the bike industry.

As such, the very last thing I want as I'm pedalling along is a reminder that so-and-so at Cheerful Bike Product Co. is expecting an urgent reply to their email about energy gels, or that Stalker Jack (all my stalkers are called Jack) just liked my Facebook album 'Italy 2009'. And all of my Instagram photos.

Unfortunately, that's just what some of the latest cycle computers, and even glasses, are promising. With such devices in your possession, the old, "Sorry I didn't get back to you, I was riding my bike" excuse will cease to carry weight. At first you'll feel more in touch, but soon you'll realise that you've traded your last vestige of privacy, and your last chance to escape the madding crowd, for the illusion of being someone whose unavailability actually matters to anyone.

There doubtless are people who have to be on call at all times because they're highly-specialised surgeons, or that lady that knows all 11 of the secret blend of herbs and spices that give KFC its cocaine-like moreishness, but I'd hope that they're the exception rather than the rule.

If you can't unplug from the Cloud for a few minutes to ride your bicycle them I'm not going judge you, but you're more than welcome to my pity. And Jack.

Matthew Allen

Senior Technical Writer, UK
Former bike mechanic, builder of wheels, hub fetishist and lover of shiny things. Likes climbing a lot, but not as good at it as he looks.
  • Discipline: Road, with occasional MTB dalliances
  • Preferred Terrain: Long mountain climbs followed by high-speed descents (that he doesn't get to do nearly often enough), plus scaring himself off-road when he outruns his skill set.
  • Current Bikes: Scott Addict R3 2014, Focus Cayo Disc 2015, Niner RLT 9
  • Dream Bike: Something hideously expensive and custom with external cables and a threaded bottom bracket because screw you bike industry.
  • Beer of Choice: Cider, please. Thistly Cross from Scotland
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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