It is undeniably satisfying at first. You feed a sheet of paper in the top, a grinding, mechanical sound issues forth, and the paper is converted to ribbony chaff. Naturally, you stick a thicker pile of papers in the top. Bzzzzonk. It does the cool trick again. Eventually, you try to put too much through, and the whole contraption jams. That pleasing, grinding sound becomes a choked shriek, and you have to hurriedly turn the thing off or reverse direction, spewing bits of paper everywhere.
Have you ever shredded for more than about three minutes? It’s pretty tedious.
Of course, if you have “evidence” you wish you (or anyone else) didn’t have then you don’t mind sitting there and ridding the world of any clue as to your malfeasance. In this case, you’ll happily shred for hours at a time. You’re really shredding the gnar.
What you will learn from some cursory shredding is that the bigger the shredder, the more fun. It’s cool to destroy stuff, but it’s extra cool to destroy a LOT of stuff. This basic lesson was behind the move, in mountain-style bicycles, from 26″ wheels to their 29″ equivalent. The 26″ wheel is analogous to the home office shredder, a primitive and cheap device good for not much more than destroying the random, cancelled check or an old, not-very-complicated tax return. The 29″ wheel is more like the industrial shredders they use at law firms, where destroying evidence is billed at a steep, hourly rate.
What you really don’t want to do, despite all colloquialisms to contrary, is shred your local trails. Actually shredding a trail requires riding it after a heavy rain, which leaves deep parallel ruts that will sometimes dry in situ. If another thoughtless soul happens along, they will invariably ride a line parallel to that first line, creating yet another rut, until the whole patch looks like a piece of paper that’s been threaded through a set of mechanical jaws for the purpose of making that paper unreadable. The trail has, in this scenario, suffered a similar fate.
What follows is usually some trail use management group banning mountain bikers from the woods. Meetings happen. Arguments get had. I’ve been there. It’s a bummer.
Cycling loves a bit of hyperbole though. We don’t ‘ride hard.’ We have a ‘total sufferfest.’ We don’t ‘ride recklessly off a precipice.’ We ‘huck it.’ We’re rad. We’re gnarly. We’re extreme. I’m actually an awkward, mouth-breathing, middle-aged dad, who is often bleeding, and not because he did something cool.
‘Shredding’ sounds so much better than ‘riding effectively,’ which is the best most of us could hope for. How was your ride? Effective. Way effective. Hella effective? Most of the time, non-injurious is a good outcome for me. Non-injurious is, obviously, less sexy than “shreddy.”
The thing is, the vast majority of us use the term ‘shred’ ironically. It’s this tacit admission that ours has been a bro-forward sport, that we ceded the linguistic ground (pun intended) on this whole boondoggle early on, and we’re only ever going to move past it by making fun of it, except that we all do it so much that terms like ‘shred’ have lost both their irony and their eligibility for being substituted by something better.
I’m as guilty of this crap language as anyone.
What I would love to see happen is that we empanel a cycling linguistics committee to review and revise the argot of our preferred pastime, ridding us of terms like ‘shred’ and ‘gnarly’ like so many tax accountants jamming ledger books into industrial shredders. “Don’t say gravel,” they might decree. “Say mixed-media substrate instead.” Just what they might replace ‘shred’ with, I couldn’t tell you. If I had any clue, I would have been elected to the committee, instead of sitting here writing joke pieces and wondering what the digital version of a shredder might look like.
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