Stepping Away From The Window

In the midst of studying at university, I remember asking a psychotherapist friend this question – Can a Buddhist own a PlayStation?

At the time I was torn between the allure of technology like consoles, computers, hi-fi and  so on, and the desire to leave everything behind and live incredibly simply – perhaps even monk-like – in the middle of nowhere.

In the years since I haven’t actually changed that much.

I still appreciate solitude and escape, and most of my photo walks are in quiet rural areas (“out in the sticks” as we say) where I rarely see many other people. The experience becomes a kind of restorative meditation.

And I still succumb from time to time to bright flashy new things (usually not brand new, just new to me).

In the past, I’ve indulged in binge-like behaviour that has led to me acquiring far more pairs of trainers, cameras and, lately, bicycles than I need.

This is inevitably followed by a purge phase.

Once I’ve found the items that suit me most (usually the best fusion of beauty, functionality and fun) I start to sell or donate those I don’t need.

So, noticing that, whilst I’m well settled with cameras now, my renewed interest in bikes (probably the fourth wave of this interest returning with a vengeance in my life so far) has highlighted the danger that I might go the way I did with cameras a few year back, and end up so overloaded and overwhelmed, I don’t enjoy using any of them.

That’s if I can even make a decision about which to use.


The single biggest catalyst for this behaviour is simple – exposure to the items available.

So the solution is just as straightforward – less, or even zero exposure.

It’s much like shopping.

If you don’t want to buy anything, it’s much easier to just avoid shops altogether (online and off) and all the temptations they might entice you with in their windows.

Here’s the story so far with bikes.

I had an old mountain bike, bought an ebike for commuting to work, then thought I might upgrade the other bike as I’m in a position now, with the inevitable depreciation of goods over time, to afford bikes I drooled over and dreamed about 20 or more years ago.

So I found an old Specialized Rockhopper with missing parts for sale locally, so I could use the frame to build up a bike. Then a Specialized FSR, fully equipped and very expensive in its day.

Now I have three full bikes, one frame, my eBay watch list still has a dozen bikes and frames on it, and my father in law just told me his employer has a bike they haven’t used in years and doesn’t want, would I be interested. I get the impression it’s pretty high end, and fully working, so how can I refuse?

I need to step away from the window.


Otherwise, the old patterns will repeat, leaving me overwhelmed with which bike to use and enjoying none of them.

As with cameras, whilst I don’t quite seem capable of being a monogamist, I only need a couple, not 10, and certainly not 25 or 50!

The best approach is the same as always, just removing the temptation.

Which on the bikes front means removing the eBay app from my phone and avoiding it on other devices, along with potential other wormholes of possibility like Gumtree.

And just using what I already have.

I still don’t know the answer to the PlayStation question.

But I’m pretty sure a Buddhist can own (or at least use) a bike. If it’s just the one.

We’ll see how it goes.

How do you resist the temptation to buy more cameras (or bikes or trainers or whatever else you’re drawn to) when you already have enough? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what my photography life looks like right now.

7 thoughts on “Stepping Away From The Window”

  1. Hi Dan, I can relate. Once you become known as a “bike guy” they tend to multiply as you’ve discovered. When I lived in Boston I only had one bike, an English 3-speed. Perfect city bike. Bikes come and go in my life, no questions asked. I have been given some, gifted more, some are on semi-permanent loan. For me now, three is the minimum number. I need one light road bike for day-long fast rides, a single-speed cruiser for rail trails and fire roads, an a three-speed. The internal-geared three speed is my favorite kind of bike. Oh the adventures I’ve had on a three speed. Have fun!

    1. This is an extremely interesting response, thank you Jon!

      I feel like something of a novice again with cycling, not so much with actually doing it (you never forget!) but in knowing what I want out of a bike.

      When I was a kid I just had a BMX, that’s what everyone had, you didn’t think about it, just got on and had fun.

      In my teens and early twenties when BMXs had gone out of fashion (and not yet returned) there were broadly either racing bikes or mountain bikes. I didn’t trust the skinny wheels, awkward looking handlebars and downright dangerous looking (to me) gear shifters on the downtube of racing bikes, so mountain bikes were an easy choice. Plus I liked riding off road!

      I started with a used bike from a friend who was about six inches taller than me so it was always too big. But still I had it stripped and repainted and rebuilt it again.

      The couple of bikes that followed were just what I could afford at the time, and not the higher end bikes I drooled over like a Specialized Stumpjumper or Orange Clockwork or some radical hand built Cannondale with massive tubing and full suspension.

      Three years ago I bought another used MTB, a Muddy Fox, mostly for going on gentle trails with the family as the kids became more confident on bikes.

      Then a couple of months ago after getting sick of spending sometimes up to half an hour on a 3.5 mile journey to work in the morning/evening traffic, finally decided to try an ebike (we have a couple at work we can borrow). Which led to me buying my own ebike, again an MTB as they felt more my style and more comfortable than a little fold up city ebike.

      Excellent at what it does – get my to work without getting stuck in traffic and without much effort so I’m hot and sweaty – the ebike is nevertheless very heavy (22.5kg!) and not very comfortable, despite big tyres and front suspension. It’s very much function over beauty or fun!

      So I started getting curious about other bikes, and found what was beyond a dream bike 20 years ago, a Specialized FSR. The price was right, it’s lovely to ride, and very comfortable – both the saddle and the dual suspension – and much lighter and nimbler than the ebike. My aim is to get fit enough to ride the FSR to work in the same kind of time as the ebike, as it’s much more enjoyable and comfortable to ride.

      But then I got to thinking about more technical aspects, and simultaneously about how both bikes are rather bloated and complex.

      The ebike has just the one cog at the front, so loses a front derailleur, but of course has the battery and motor, rear derailleur and shifter, suspension forks, disc brakes. Adding speedo, mudguards etc and it’s even more overweight and complicated. Like a DSLR compared with a digital compact point and shoot.

      The FSR is simpler with of course no motor or battery, and straightforward V brakes, but is still 21 speed so two derailleurs, and suspension front and rear, so again not exactly simple compared to some bikes.

      So what I’m experimenting with now is using the FSR as a one speed. I’ve been trying the middle cog on the front (32T) and cog five (15T) on the rear, giving me 55 gear inches. Trying this on the way to work without change gear, it’s a challenge up a couple of hills, and I have to freewheel down hills as I can’t pedal fast enough, but doable. I want to then build up to the next rear cog, 13T, which is 64 gear inches.

      All of this is an experiment to see if ultimately what might be better is a much lighter, simpler (that word again!) bike with either one speed, or at most a single cog on the front and five or seven on the rear, or even a 3 speed hub like the old Sturmey Archers. And just focusing on pedalling, and not keep thinking about what gear you’re in and whether/where to change is very refreshing. You either decide to keep pedalling, if it gets hard, you stand up, and if it gets really hard you stop and push (I haven’t done this yet!). I really like the simplicity and purity of the experience – pedals, brakes, steering, that’s it, man and machine in harmony!

      A guy at work has a hybrid bike, though it still has two cogs on the front and perhaps five rear. But it is very light, less than my Muddy Fox which was about 14kg. I looked up the version with a single cog up front (it’s also a Pinnacle Neon) and was shocked to read they weigh just 9.5kg. My ebike, electric or not, remember is a massive 22.5kg! No wonder you need motor assistance riding it!

      Rather than chuck out what I’ve got, I’m going to continue to explore the FSR as a single speed. I could convert it to single speed, but wonder if it’s going against its nature somehow and it’s not the best frame to build such a simple bike around, and wouldn’t be all that light with the suspension.

      In the future might look at a (used) modern city/hybrid like the Pinnacle Neon, or go a more vintage route with a 70s or 80s Raleigh or something, again perhaps with either a single cog up front and five at the back, or a Sturmey Archer 3 speed. I must admit I do like the look of many of the older bikes too, especially going back to the 50s or even earlier. And I’ve been reading (on Lovely Bicycle and other sites) that some of the decent older bikes were actually very light.

      Anyway, your own bikes and your experience suggest I might be asking you lots of questions in the coming weeks!

      By the way, what was your “English 3-speed”?

      1. Hi Dan,
        Unfortunately, I have zero experience with Mountain Bikes or E-bikes. I think as you said it’s a generational thing. And a Coastal thing here in the US. I’m pretty sure I am old enough to be your Dad, and although there were plenty of BMX bikes on the West Coast, the first time I saw one was on a trip to Europe in 1991. I actually do have an American made bike, a pretty light and zippy Cannondale, but It’s my least-used bike. The one I’ve logged the most miles on is my Raleigh “One Way” single speed/fixed-gear. I love it for all the reasons you mentioned. You don’t have to think about which gear to use because you’re always in the right gear. If the hill is too steep, I get off and push. It usually takes me a couple months to work up to the fixed gear. The single speed or fixed-gear is the bike for purists. I think you would love it.
        The “English 3-speed” I mentioned is a “Triumph” , which seems to be a renamed Raleigh according to the guys at the bike shop. I bought it as a parts bike at a flea market for $5, and I think it had only been ridden once. I saw the problem right away, the front brake arm must have been loose and got jammed through the front wheel, bending spokes and undoubtedly sending the ride headfirst over the handlebars. I had taken a bike repair class and repaired it in half an hour. After my car got stolen in Boston, it was my sole transportation for ten years. What a great way to get around a congested city. I routinely beat friends across town in cars because I could zip through traffic, and take bike paths. I rode it on some quite long trips out of the city at times. As far as I can remember, it has only been serviced twice as long as I’ve had it. Sadly, it has been broken for about 5 years, but I still have it hanging out in the barn. The rear hub finally wore out, and as far as I can tell, there is only one man on the west coast with the parts and know how to repair it. It would cost about the same as a good new bike. The pawls go eventually, I rebuilt mine once years ago when I could get the parts, and it was not an experience I wish to repeat. (I hate working on bikes)
        Lately I have been really enjoying a cheap huffy cruiser that I’ve been riding on fire roads and bike paths. I think these simple and low speed rides might be my favorite type of cycling. I work with Autistic Adults and to see the joy they experience while cycling is really heartwarming, I think I feel the same way. I hope you find a bike you really enjoy, its a lot of fun!

  2. Dan, firstly I acknowledge I have an addictive personality and it has not only been around nicotine and food but also shopping. even yesterday I was going out to buy some things I didn’t need and realise “I have enough” “I am enough” just the way I am now. I make decisions around my addiction and use discipline to stick to what I have decided. Around books for instance I now create “wish lists” instead of buying the books, same with other things. I could write a long reply to this. I have been an addict for a long time xoxo susanJOY

    1. I hesitate to use words like addictive and obsessive but I have to admit also I can be both of these.

      When I’m into something I’m really into something.

      You might recall I used to dance and teach salsa from about 2006-2011. At its peak I was out four, sometimes even five nights a week dancing and/or teaching.

      Then one day I’d just had enough, so decided to take a break as a round of classes had just ended.

      I’ve been back for the odd social night here and there since with my wife (it’s how we met) but in my head that chapter of my life is well and truly over. I just kind of burned out. I don’t miss it.

      I’ve been like this with people in the past, very obsessive for a period, then it’s just ended, almost overnight, I’m done.

      I think obsession and addiction are different in that obsession is about being intensely into something for a period of time, where it’s the predominant topic of thought in your mind. It can, for me, be an incredibly powerful driving force.

      Addiction is more like not being able to stop doing something, and the more you do it, the more you do it. For me the most recent incarnation was buying cameras and lenses.

      I’ve been there with food over the years too, but feel far more in control these days on that front.

      I’ve recognised the warning signs that I might get addicted to buying bike stuff so have nipped it in the bud. We’ll see how it goes though, like cameras, there are hundreds, thousands of neglected bikes sitting in back rooms and sheds and garages waiting to be loved again!

      It’s an almost bottomless subject isn’t it, and I’m sure one I’ll return to write more about in the future.

  3. Jon, thanks for the extra info. Just investigating the Raleigh One Way – looks a like a modern reinvention of classic Raleighs of the past (70s?).

    I absolutely love the idea of a single speed, and as I’ve been trying out my Specialized FSR sticking just in one gear (32T front, 15T rear, giving 55 gear inches) which for my commute and round about home (and even on some off road trails through the woods with the kids) has been sufficient – I haven’t got off and pushed yet!

    I have the ebike which is a commuting machine, and my FSR which is a lot more fun and far more comfortable with its full suspension and a very pleasant saddle. I would like to build up some kind of single speed or perhaps 3 speed (Sturmey Archer type hub) or five speed (one cog on front, five on rear), and keep it really simple. Thought of converting the FSR, but it’s already too complex with its full suspension, I just want a hard tail with fixed forks.

    Perhaps a mountain bike frame (I have a stem, handlebars, two built wheels and tyres and one v brake from a scrapper bike I bought) so I wouldn’t need all that much more to get it running. Or perhaps something older that already has everything, like a 50s Raleigh or some kind of light 70s racer. I’ve never had a bike with drop bars so probably not the route I’ll go, the mountain bike single speed/ three speed is more likely, or a racer/tourer type bike with some straighter bars and single speed or Sturmey Archer hubs/shifters.

    Love what you said – “The single speed or fixed-gear is the bike for purists. I think you would love it.” I think you’re right! Don’t think I would want a fixed hub, as I’m so used to a freewheel, but certainly one speed I’ve already proved to myself is doable.

    Love this too – “After my car got stolen in Boston, it was my sole transportation for ten years. What a great way to get around a congested city. ”

    I have found my commute (3.5 miles) takes 13-14 mins if I’m pushing hard with the ebike, or 18-20 taking it more easy with the FSR (there’s a fairly long hill on the way I need to stand up to ride!). Either way, the ride is pretty consistent, even in traffic.

    In a car on a busy morning it has taken me up to 35-40 mins, and even on average is about 20. So the bike is faster but more importantly you have the freedom to cycle at completely your own pace, and don’t get stuck behind the car in front. It’s amazing to have that kind of freedom, even on a busy road, not to mention saving fuel, being more eco friendly and getting extra exercise.

    Shame your Triumph is broken. Am I right in thinking your Huffy Cruiser is similar to the Raleigh One Way, ie a modern bike in the style of something older? They’re not a brand I’m familiar with (guess they’re American and perhaps don’t import many over here) but their website makes the bikes look a lot of fun! They look to me like the kind of bikes people would ride in California up and down beachside trails…

    My wife works with special needs kids and young adults, some of them autistic. She says it’s amazing to find the little things that can light them up.

    I’m already enjoying cycling hugely again, and hopefully the simple DIY bike (one/three speed) project will see me enjoy it further still. I’m sure we’ll talk plenty more in the coming weeks and months.

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