The Bicycle of Theseus and the Paradox of Identity

Screenshot, Smart, Brian. "How to reidentify the ship of Theseus." Analysis 32.5 (1972): 145-148.

Smart, Brian. “How to reidentify the ship of Theseus.” Analysis 32.5 (1972): 145-148.

In the fall of 2003, I bought a new bicycle.

I wore spandex and those practical (albeit a bit silly) cyclist’s shirts with pockets on the back for snacks.

the bike of Theseus

In the years that followed, I rode that bicycle a great deal. While my data are imprecise (my crazy data nerd spreadsheet has all the miles, but does not distinguish which of my bicycles I was riding on any given day), I can comfortably say I rode that bike the equivalent of more than once around the circumference of the earth.

I love(d?) that bike.

I am older now, enough so that the sort of zooming I did then – “light and quick” is how I described it – is of less importance. A change was appropriate. I settled on a new steel frame from All-City, and ace mechanic Brett at Two Wheel Drive took all the kit – wheels, shifters, handlebars, etc. – from the old bike and put them on the new bike.

Or was it a new bike?

“Oh, like the ship of Theseus?” said Reed.

Me: “Umm, yeah, I guess?” (Further research was needed.)

The story is that Theseus, back in the day, did awesome stuff, really heroic (slaying of monsters and the like), in a ship. Anchored in Athens harbor post-monster slaying as a sort of monument, it began to decay, as ships do. The Athenians, in a quest to preserve it, replaced the bits as they decayed, until over time none of the original ship remained.

So was it still the ship of Theseus?

Since I bought the bike you see above back in 2003, I’ve replaced bits and pieces. Two years ago, with a new frame, it had reasonable “new bike” credentials. But the wheels I ride today are the same ones I rode in 2003, as is the seat post.

A couple of weeks ago, Brett replaced the derailleurs for me – I’ve now got super low old man climbing gears – and today I finally gave in and bought a new seat bag for my goathead response kit.


the bike of Theseus

Worth noting: the cactus in the background. Also the same?


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