Are you a gearhead? If you’re unsure, the answer is no.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, a gearhead is one who participates in an activity—usually an intensive outdoor sport—and has boxes, bags, closets, garages, basements or rooms full of the equipment, parts and accessories that accompany said sport.
In college, I knew three guys who were mountain bike gearheads. Their apartment always looked like someone had detonated a couple Decepticons in the living room. The carpet was littered with sprockets, nuts, bolts, hubs, handlebars and grease with a couple bikes at attention in the vices on the also-littered dining room table. Tattered and folded magazines and manuals with pictures and diagrams of rock hopping and recalibrating chain length lay in the corners. It was bike shop with beds and a security deposit.
I own four pairs of skis. I own boxes of goggles, jackets, gloves, pants and long underwear. I own two helmets. I have had subscriptions to Ski Magazine, Outside and Skiing.
But I am not a ski gearhead. I’ve never adjusted my din settings on the kitchen table. I’ve never changed my bindings. I’ve never waxed my skis. I’ve never even tuned them, always opting for a shop job. I am not a ski gearhead. I’ve just been involved in the sport since I was five and love it.
There is an important difference there, and one I don’t totally grasp. I love machines and understanding how things work. I majored in molecular biology so systems and cause/effect is what I know. I have always worked with tools. In high school, my dad and I always had a project going, and every winter I was on the hook to cut firewood with the chainsaw or plow the driveway. The tool box in my closet is pretty complete and I click my heels at an excuse to use the power drill.
So why am I not a gearhead? If life allowed it, I’d camp, ski, mountain bike and fly fish for the rest of my days. All four of those have an insane amount of gear that goes with them. Even fly fishing, my favorite, with its endless potential for insect patterns, line combinations and science, is a sport I rarely think about until I’m heading for the water.
It’s not a question of money. Before I dropped the rat race, I had a healthy salary and could have bought all the gear I wanted. It’s not a question of time. There have been points in my life where I’ve been in eight fantasy leagues and have bragged about watching 12 straight hours of college football. It’s not a question of commitment. I have spent a whole week waking up at 3:30 AM to go fishing. I’ve camped for almost a month straight. I’ve torn my knees and elbows to shreds and been mountain biking a couple days later. I’ve skied with hangovers only few can imagine.
So what is it? Why does obsession with a sport and love of mechanics not translate into being a gearhead? I’ve talked to people in the same position.
My best guess is that it comes down to the lens through which we view the sport. To me, like most others, they are an escape. I don’t want to think about anything else but the river, the mountains and the ski slope. But for some reason, even though I could understand and use them in a heartbeat, files and torque wrenches feel analogous to inboxes and traffic. I don’t know why, because they certainly aren’t.
But to the gearhead, tools and tinkering are a component to the escape. Fine tuning each aspect to their specifications, goes into the ultimate enjoyment. Of course there are performance expectations—getting everything just they way they want—but there seems to be an actual catharsis in having the escape on exactly their terms, as if everything about the way they handle their ride is under their control, and that control makes it complete. The adjustment on their derailer wasn’t done by some goofball in the backroom of a shop; they managed every detail of their day in the sun.
So, Gearheads, continue on. I am envious of the additional layer of love at which you approach your sports. (and hope you don’t mind if I bring my stuff by occasionally for a tune either…)