The High Cost Of Perfection

“It’s a good bike, Paul, but I just found another one I wanted.  You can have it for fifty dollars if you’re interested.”  My friend, the instrument tech was standing in his shop apron, pointing toward the back of his repair area.  The bicycle was, indeed, a good looking piece of machinery, with its alloy wheels and gleaming twenty-one speed shifter.  I was used to the department store models, which needed to be hammered on and tweaked every time they were dragged out to be ridden, so this beauty was definitely going home with me!

As we talked, I learned that he was purchasing a road bike which was going to cost him over a thousand dollars.  One Thousand Dollars!  For a bicycle!  Anyone knows that ninety-nine bucks will buy you a bike at Walmart!  I shook my head, but I dug in my pocket for the fifty dollars and rolled my new bicycle out the door.  It is still the one I ride today, eight or nine years later.  My friend, the instrument tech is on his third since then.  I had given up trying to understand him.  Until a week ago.

Photo by IrishFireside (

Last week, my friend, the computer geek…I mean, the web designer, rolled up to my door (actually through it) to spend some time dreaming up new ideas for the website that the Lovely Lady and I maintain for our business.  After an hour or so, he got up to leave and I commented on the beautiful machine he had left standing just inside the door as he arrived.  He explained some of the desirable features of the bike and I commented that it must have been rather costly.  He, reluctantly, and not bragging at all, told me about the cost and benefits of some of the components.  Wheels…four hundred dollars apiece.  Seat…three hundred dollars.  Frame…almost two thousand dollars.  Seriously!

I was mentally adding up the costs in my head as he spoke.  And, wondering if I’m paying him too much for his expertise.  No.  I know better than that.  He definitely earns his pay for the work he performs for my business.  But, I was puzzled.  I still am.

As the Lovely Lady and I rode in the car toward a nearby city tonight, I asked her the question that has been bugging me since that conversation and maybe, since my friend, the instrument tech told me what his bicycle was costing him.  I assume that these men ride for the same reason I do–to exercise and keep the body in condition.  The purpose for every part of the bike that my friend, the web designer, described to me is to lighten the overall weight of the equipment, making it easier to climb hills and go long distances.  I can’t, for the life of me, understand why you would take part in an activity with the goal of getting exercise and then spend incredible amounts of cash to make it less effective exercise!  The Lovely Lady laughed at my analysis, but I still can’t quite wrap my mind around the issue.

I see it every day.  Amateur guitarists, players with minimal skill in the art of arpeggios, or fingerpicking, or even basic chording, feel the need to spend thousands of dollars on professional instruments; instruments with potential that far exceeds any their new owners could hope to live up to.  For many of these folks, a three hundred dollar entry-level instrument would be all they ever have need of.  That, and many hours of practice time. 

Men (and sometimes women) who have taken up the game of golf (if it can be called a game), spend thousands on clubs that will never, ever take away their propensity to slice a drive from the tee.  Amazing quantities of cash are wasted on equipment which will sit in closets, as their owners recognize the sad fact that no amount of overpriced gadgetry will ever enable them to play like Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, or Brittany Lincicome.  Those champions got where they are by discipline and hour upon hour of practice.  Of course, they use the pricy equipment, but it was the hard work that got them to the point that the fancy clubs are of any benefit to them.

Are you getting the picture?  I realize that much of what has been written here is an oversimplification of reality; cyclists do ride for pure enjoyment and, the better the machine, the less there is to annoy.  An expensive guitar plays with less finger discomfort than a cheap one and will at the least, be easier to learn on.  I’m not a golfer (I even lose at mini-golf to the Lovely Lady with regularity), but I can see that better clubs lessen the chance of errant drives and chip shots.

What I’m arguing for tonight is perspective.  Understanding that our goals cannot be bought will bring us to the goal that much quicker.  The wisdom that comes with discipline leads to excellence.  Mr Tolkien reminds us in his quirky way that “Short cuts make long delays”.  Indeed, I have never seen a professional musician who rose to prominence by using the “Think Method” advocated by Professor Hill in the musical “The Music Man”.  Fame and recognition come, not to the rich hobbyist, but to the serious student of his chosen craft, and then only after years of dedication and hard work (and more than a few disappointments), with a good bit of tenacity thrown in for good measure.

Keep your eyes on the goal.  Don’t make excuses.  Bad equipment is the least of the problems you will encounter on the journey.  Keep moving!

Oh!  A two thousand dollar guitar which sits in the case, without being practiced on, will never ever play the Grand Ole Opry.  That three thousand dollar bicycle sitting in the garage won’t ever get you to the Tour De France if you don’t get on it and ride every day.

The concert pianist, Arthur Rubinstein, the story goes, was asked in the streets of New York how one could get to Carnegie Hall.  Fictitious as the story may be, His reputed answer hits the nail on the head for us tonight.   

“Practice, practice, practice.”

“All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.”
(Proverbs 14:23~NIV)

“Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire.  Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.”
(Martha Graham~American choreographer and dance teacher~1894-1991)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012 All Rights Reserved.

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