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The Grapevine: Thinking of ...

Published February 14, 2020

Editor's note: A version of this column ran in the February issue of BRAIN.

Thinking of Australia: I'd say if you haven't kept tabs on the fires that have ravaged Australia over the last three months or so, shame on you. I wouldn't go as far to say these fires, firestorms, the loss of lives and the staggering impact on wildlife amount to a seminal moment in climate history. But it could be. Otherwise, we could call it a significant "Greta" moment. But Australia's tragedy sends a message — embraced by most of the continent's citizens plus the growing militancy of its youth — that political leaders engaging in climate dissing, denial and environmental destruction will face election extinction. Think of it as political Darwinism. Prime Minister Scott (a.k.a. Mr. Coal) Morrison continued — even as fires raged — to reject criticism of his administration's climate policies. His thinking on climate is very Trump-like. Sad. Let's view Morrison and Trump as dinosaurs. And we know what happened to them. It's too early to tell what the impact could be on bicycle and accessory sales as smoke and fire have enveloped a considerable swath of countryside. But taking a page from California's fire history, it won't be helpful. Still, there's little room for hopeless Pollyannaism: Citizen action, no matter how motivated, seldom shifts public policy quickly. And a wholesale global move to renewables in the short term (or even the mid-term) is unlikely. Witness Germany's travails as it shutters its nuclear plants and pushes toward solar and wind. Still, there is the bicycle. Europe, and Western Europe in particular, have aggressively embraced two-wheels as a factor among many in ameliorating its climate footprint. Without sounding like a nag, now is the time for leaders in the global bike biz to grasp the future, look to the young for climate leadership, and become their steadfast partners and friends. Good for the climate; good for the industry.

Thinking about Taiwan: This island nation of 23 million has overwhelmingly reelected Tsai Ing-wen, 63, to four more years as its president — a vote that appears to back her anti-China stance more than her administration's policy chops, which have been mixed at best. President Ing-wen's Democratic Progressive Party delivered a smack-down to Han Kuo-yu, running for the Kuomintang Party with its more accommodating position toward China. Bottom line: The DPP's victory in mid-January most assuredly gave China's president, Xi Jinping, more heartburn than a bowl of Sichuan-style Ma po Tofu. Lip burnin' good! Essentially, Ing-wen has stuck a thumb in the eye of China's so-called "one country, two systems" theory of reunification. Another way to phrase it would be China wants to bring Taiwan to heel as a special province, much like Hong Kong. But Hong Kong's many months of protest over citizen demands for democracy, and its rejection of China's oppressive fingers on the internet button among other things, gave Taiwan voters pause. And hence Ing-wen's re-election. In early January, President Xi's saber-rattling caused a stir. In a speech, he said Taiwan "must and will be" reunited with China. He then added that he would use force if necessary. Ing-wen tossed down the gauntlet: "I want to reiterate that Taiwan will never accept 'one country, two systems,'" adding it's the consensus of Taiwan's citizens. This slip of a woman told the big man with an iron fist ruling 1.4 billion people to piss off. You sort of have to admire that. What this means for Taiwan's bicycle industry is a bit fuzzy. Many Taiwan-based manufacturers have sunk millions in capital into Chinese factories and most still operate there. On the other hand, some high-level manufacturing has filtered back to the island and there's relocation movement to other countries in Southeast Asia. So faithful readers, pay attention to the on-going standoff between Taiwan and China. It's a much bigger issue than bicycle manufacturing.

Thinking about technology: The Consumer Electronics Show is over, another Las Vegas extravaganza. Visitor numbers pushed 200,000 — foreign and domestic. They poked around some 1.7 million square feet of floor space. They checked out products ranging from the good, the bad, the weird, and the very weird that 4,500 or so exhibitors could conjure. And as the show closed each day The Strip became a roving bacchanal as the tech-twisted partied into the night and spun fables of a techno-future during the day. Or so daily show reports would indicate. A big theme this year was gadgetry for health, fitness and well-being. And robots. Boring. But I'll get back to that in a minute. The big story, on the other hand, was a decision by the Consumer Technology Association to sanction sex toys for the first time as part of fitness, health and well-being. Think sex tech. Ironically, though, the CTA also banned sexually revealing apparel, whatever that constitutes. Go figure. Last year, it seemed, cycling websites and magazines paid gobs of attention to CES — e-bikes, e-scooters and other e-related nonsense. Not so much this year, it seems. But the Segway S-Pod, a self-balancing wheelchair with a maximum speed of 24 mph, crashed into a wall driven by a journalist, his reflexes perhaps stunned by the tomfoolery he witnessed at the sex tech center. Moving on. Besides "smart" BBQ grills, talking shower heads, bathroom mirrors that brighten upon command or that will turn your shower on or off, I was quite taken with the Withings ScanWatch. Think of it as a cardiologist on your wrist. 24/7 heart scanning for "peace of mind." Give yourself the joy of an instant electrocardiogram anytime anywhere. Sleep apnea a worry? Check out your oxygen saturation level at all hours. Heart rate, GPS, VO2 max, altimeter, and swimmers can wear it. And more. What's not to like? And the price is right: $249-$299. Now could you project all that data onto your cycling eyewear in real time? Don't know. Next big thing, maybe. 

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