Last week I ordered a new pair of cycling shoes that, after a 20% discount, cost £224. These new shoes are a similar weight to my current pair and do not offer any aerodynamic or performance gains. Rationally I simply cannot justify the purchase, save on the most basic of levels. I want them.
Superficially, I could point out the pink soles and demonstrate how they reflect direct light in a rather startling manner. But then counter by arguing that my current shoes are extremely comfortable and still in excellent condition. Can you see the problem I’m having?
My colleague, on hearing that I’d made the order, initially rolled her eyes, declared I was a marketing department’s dream before printing out a handy wallet-sized Money Mantras Card designed by Martin Lewis to ‘help you stop spending when you shouldn’t’.
But it’s not quite that straightforward. They might not satisfy the ‘need’ criteria according to the very well-meaning Mr Lewis but I can afford the expenditure, intend on wearing and using the shoes, and try to balance these occasional extravagances by making other savings.
So why do I feel the need to explain myself? Worry that this hints at a deeper insecurity rather than simply stating, ‘It’s my money, I can do what I want with it.’
And what fuels this need to accumulate more? Once equipped with all the requisite clothing and accessories needed to make cycling pleasurable – sufficient protection from the rain is my personal priority – then surely we can focus solely on the ride. On the view out, rather than in.
It’s an accepted truism that marketing departments exist to sell. To convince a target audience that, without their product, you are fundamentally ‘less’. In purchasing my new shoes, am I subconsciously communicating that I am ‘more’?
And this need to be identified, to belong, goes hand in hand with another aspect of modern life as, increasingly, our desire for approbation needs feeding by the markers that define our online presence. I’ve started to notice a brief hiatus at the end of every club ride as individuals sit hunched over their phones; rides uploading. As if, without these telemetric ‘weights and measures’, the experience is not validated. Guilty of the same technological navel-gazing, maybe it’s time I put my own phone back in my jersey pocket and ordered a coffee?
New industries have been created (Strava and Instagram immediately spring to mind) that are fundamentally based on our deserve to be visible to, and validated by, the wider world. As humans, the need to belong is hard-wired to our sense of self. At a primitive level, we are tribal; constantly seeking the approval of those we identify with. Whether this is achieved through wearing the same football jersey, the cut of our hair or the brands we purchase at the checkout; the need to feel accepted is vital to our sense of wellbeing.
There are always the exceptions; individuals who, by strength of character or a deep-seated sense of self-worth, eschew social media and the latest trends; instead favouring to focus on the experience in its rawest sense. A ride is defined, not by the kudos received, but the feel of the road under their wheels.
Understanding and admiring this attitude, I struggle with the need to define myself as a cyclist in terms of what I ride and wear. I acknowledge that, just as a cheap supermarket lager served in a glass carrying the logo of a premium brand will taste ‘better’, cycling clothing and accessories can make you ‘feel’ faster simply by the emotional response they engender. But when do we have enough?
So where does this leave me as I consider these questions; as I wrestle with the possibility that I subconsciously make decisions based on my need to be accepted?
I’m left standing in front of a mirror, trying on my new cycling shoes.