Wednesday, May 18, 2011


I have over 500 channels on my cable TV. Actually, I have over 1800, but a bunch of those are sports package channels, music channels, and HD duplicate channels. I'm not picky, so I watch everything from ESPN to the Style Network, The History Channel to E!. I get HBO. I have Netflix movies delivered to my house. I can get movies and television shows through my cable box, my Xbox, and my laptop. And what do I do every night? I flip through each channel, browse each movie source, and decide that there is absolutely nothing that I want to watch. I usually settle on the Mets game (which is invariably disappointing).

I only mention this because I've been thinking about choice. More specifically, I've been asking myself why, when I have so many options in my life (TV options, movie theater options, weekend vacation options), why I still feel like I need more. When I scroll by the Showtime (a channel I don't get), sometimes I see a movie that I'd like to watch, and I briefly contemplate purchasing Showtime. Today, while watching the Tour of California, I contemplated trying to hook up an antenna so I could get the Universal Sports feed of the Giro d'Italia. Every week, Ace and I try to use a pair of free movie tickets that we have, and every week we decide that there's nothing in the theaters that's worth watching. Every time I try to decide what to do on the weekend, I look at some options and decide that I want to do other things. I wish that I lived in Colorado so that I could mountain bike Fruita, or ski A-basin.

All of this leads to the "Paradox of Choice", which is really nicely described in this Youtube video (but it is long, so I summarize the main points below):

The Professor at Swarthmore College explains that there are four ways that more choices actually make us less happy:
1. It produces paralysis, rather than liberation. With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all.

2. Even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the result of the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from.

3. Escalation of Expectations

4. When people make decisions, and even though the results of the decisions are good, they feel disappointed about them - They blame themselves.

The reason that I've been looking at this sort of stuff is this: I'm thinking of buying another bike. And I'm getting paralyzed by the decision. I don't even know what type of bike I want. Some friends want to do a lot of downhill biking this summer (at Whiteface, Plattekill, etc.), so I was thinking of getting a cheap craigslist dh bike that I can throw on the back of a lift, in the bottom of a shuttle bus, or off a rock drop, and not care about it.

Other times, like today on my short little bike ride around the neighborhood (just trying to get something in before I got rained on again), I want something more along the lines of a "Gravel Grinder". I came upon this path:

Whenever I'm on my road bike, and I see a path like that, I always want to take it to see where it goes. But my skinny little road bike tires can't handle it. I'd also like to get into "bikepacking", and a gravel grinder that could fit 29x2.0 tires would be perfect for something like the GDMBR. I keep on looking at the Origin 8 CX700, a cross frame built for touring, durability, and 29x2.1 tires.

Still other times, I want a sweet 29er singlespeed that I can convert to a geared bike for races and bikepacking. I was thinking about this when I was in Ellicottville for work last week (from what I hear, PRIME mountain bike territory). I couldn't jam my enormous full suspension 29er into my little office car, so I didn't get to ride while I was out there. But if I had a nice, simple singlespeed like a Niner SIR 9, especially one like this with S&S couplers, I could fit it into my work vehicle, or into a plane to go visit my bother and ride Sedona, or into a train for a European bike adventure, etc.

And the worst part of all of this is: I don't need a bike. I have a perfectly good road bike, and a perfectly good mountain bike. And here, the paradox of choice will work twice:

First, I will become paralyzed with all of these bike choices. When I finally choose my bike, I will inevitably be disappointed when I can't do all the things that I could've had I made a different choice (if I get the singlespeed, I won't be able to use it at Whiteface, so I'll have to rent). Then I'll blame myself for having to pay the $80 for renting.

Then, if I do end up getting a bike, I'll have to go through a stupid choice every time I ride. Should I go road biking or mountain biking? What about a mix? Maybe I'll take the gravel grinder out for some doubletrack. But when I get on to some trails, and I start having all sorts of fun, I'll wish I brought the mountain bike so I could hit more technical trails, and I'll blame myself for making the wrong decision.


So, after thinking about it for a little while, I bought . . . One new tire for my mountain bike. Now should I put it on the front wheel or the back? Hmmmmm . . . .


  1. The way I've gotten past the paralysis thing was to accept the fact that not making a choice is a choice too.

  2. Casa SBR is equipped with "bush cable" (aka rabbit ears). This gives us four channels, most of the time, so TV choice is limited. Maybe the first step is to cut the cable, spend less time dithering about TV choices, so you will have more time to ponder, and use, the bicycles.

    Great post, Matt

  3. Skiers and bikers both spend inordinate amounts of time analyzing and debating the merits of one particular choice versus another. Just take a look at the various internet forum threads in which skiers endlessley debate and agonize over a ski purchase. For a variety of reasons, other sports (running and hiking for example) are far less prone to this analysis paralysis. In part,this is due to the fact that skis and bikes are relatively large purchases that can't easily be un-done. A purchase is a commitment, so the importance of "choice" is an inherent part of skiing or biking, at least for the avid participant.

    As far as tv "choices," these are essentially non-choices as SBR points out, and invariably lead to frustration. 10 years from now, you'll remember yesterday's bike commute, but you won't remember (or care about) what you watched on tv. Good for you for chosing so many activities like biking and skiing that make life full and interesting (gee, i think you blogged on that very topic not that long ago...).

  4. Not a skier or a biker, I think I might be a weeder and a duffer, but I loved Jeff's comment. Who ever remembers what they watched on TV a week later, much less 10 years later!
    But we will always remember a good book, a good ride, and a good day doing what you love.
    Enjoyed the pictures on the bike commute, felt like I was there! (though didn't feel as wet!)