Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Kickstarter Innovations

I was all set to write today about some goofy bike-related Kickstarter innovations, like these "Upper Wheel Fairings" that "reinvent the bicycle wheel to minimize overall wheel drag, increasing headwind penetration speeds." One can "readily feel the difference in penetrating even a slight headwind," says the copy in the Kickstarter campaign.

For the ultimate in headwind penetration.
I say, I was all set to write about them -- then I saw yesterday's Bike Snob post, where he wonders why anyone who won't put fenders on their bikes would "spoil the elegant lines of their plastic dork chariots with these."

Oh well -- there's one blog post idea basically shot down. Believe me, it was going to be awesome.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of other "innovations" to see on Kickstarter, and it surprises me how many of them have actually made their fundraising goals.

Here was one that kind of annoyed me, The Sutro Mission Bicycle, designed and built in San Francisco. The creators billed it as "an innovative bicycle designed specifically for city riding." I failed to find anything particularly innovative about it. Their fundraising campaign said, "The Sutro was designed by and for city cyclists to be ridden everyday and everywhere. We took the simplicity of a single speed bike and added the versatility of a Shimano multi-geared internal hub. Then to achieve a clean aesthetic we routed the brake and shifter cables through the frame."

Hub gearing and internal cable routing? Nope -- neither of those things has ever been done before.

Did we mention internal
cable routing?
I can only assume it never rains in San Francisco, because this innovative city bicycle designed to be ridden "everyday" has no means for attaching fenders, and even if it did, the clearance looks questionable. And these "city cyclists" apparently aren't riding to work any time soon, because there are no rack eyelets either. Why not? Because the "Sutro frame was conceived to have only what was essential. Since there are many ways to add fenders, racks, bottle cages, etc. without eyelets or braze-ons we choose to leave them off." So I guess the "innovation" comes in trying to figure out how to attach all those city-riding essentials that the creators don't consider essential. But did we mention that it has internal cable routing? (actually, I think they mention it three or four times, not counting the video). So, if you think "city riding . . . everyday and everywhere" means riding to the coffee shop on sunny days, this is the innovative bike for you! Fully funded, of course.

Airless "flat-free" tires are nothing new, but they crop up again and again. The latest version was on Kickstarter, and was fully funded -- the @cme FlatFree Wheels. The creator and his investing supporters should have read the late Sheldon Brown's take on these things. "Airless tires have been obsolete for over a century, but crackpot 'inventors' keep trying to bring them back," wrote Brown. "They are heavy and slow. They give a harsh ride and poor high-speed cornering on rough surfaces. They are also likely to cause wheel damage, due to their poor cushioning ability."

The creator of the @cme FlatFree wheels claims "these tires weigh more than traditional tires, and ride like a tire with 60 pounds of air in it. They will add about 1400 grams to each wheel. You will NEVER have to fix a flat." Ummm, I'm not a weight weenie by any stretch, but 1400 grams is about 3 pounds -- for each wheel.

But the most ridiculous thing about this fundraising venture is that they bill this as though they came up with the things themselves without making it clear that they are just using existing airless tires, the Hutchinson Serenity, and mounting them on wheels they build. You could just order a pair of the Hutchinsons (or have your local bike shop get them for you, but they'll probably advise against it) and mount them to your existing wheels. But then you wouldn't have the pleasure of supporting innovation.

To be filed under the heading "Why" comes the Handlebar Minibar: "A way of discreetly storing drink, banknotes or a rolled cigarette inside your bicycle's handlebars . . . for when you need them most." It holds 5 ml of liquid -- keep in mind that a typical American shotglass holds about 44 ml. A UK shot (the creator is in London, after all) is 25 - 35 ml. If someone can't get through a typical bike ride without needing a fraction of a shot of liquor, they have some real issues. I'm reminded of the portrayal of alcoholics on bad after-school specials who always have a secret stash of booze hidden away somewhere for when they get the DTs. Then again, it could be used for a cigarette -- because lots of cyclists succumb to that craving when riding.
The Jiggernaut -- for the amateur frame builder or hobbyist.
Fully funded.

Now this last one, The Jiggernaut, struck me as a pretty cool thing. It's essentially a relatively inexpensive jig for do-it-yourself frame builders. The Jiggernaut is CNC machined out of 3/4-in. thick MDF board and allows for a decent range of bicycle styles and geometries. I have no idea if this would work well or not, and I'd be interested to know what an experienced framebuilder would think of it -- but my impression of it is that it might be worthwhile. One doesn't need a jig to build a frame, but it helps -- but most of the ones that are available are pretty expensive and designed for professionals. I've given some thought to trying my hand at framebuilding someday, so this is one new product I'd like to know more about.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What For The Money?

Last year, I wrote about hyper-expensive "halo bikes" -- bikes that supposedly represent the pinnacle of what the manufacturers are able to make, and selling for astronomical prices -- like $10,000 and up. These bikes practically beg the question "are they worth it." My own thought is a definite "No." Recently, the price of high-end performance has gotten so bad that even BikeRadar's Angry Asian has taken to complaining about it. "As performance levels increase to truly incredible heights, it legitimately costs more to eke out those ever more elusive bits of remaining potential. That said, I can't shake the feeling that everyday riders are slowly being priced out of the sport we all love so dearly," he says.

Angry Asian asks the question "Do those top-end prices actually reflect proportional increases in delivered performance? The answer, of course, is no. No one can make the argument that a very expensive bike is twice as good as one that costs half as much." Agreed. I would add that the $10,000 - $15,000 bike isn't twice as good as a bike that costs a quarter as much. In fact, I would argue that it's not noticeably better at all.
Specialized S-Works McLaren Venge: $18,000

It's obvious that the prices aren't set by development costs and material costs plus a reasonable profit margin. The bikes are expensive because they can be. Because there are wealthy fools out there willing to pay a super-premium for the illusion of having something exclusive. Look at some of the bikes and their prices: Specialized S-Works McLaren Venge, $18,000. Trek Madone 7.9 WSD, $15,500. Cervelo R5ca, $10,000 (frameset only). All of them are basically popped out of molds. They're only "exclusive" because they're priced out of reach for anybody but the top 1%. I can only guess that the point is to get people lusting over them so that when they see the "regular" versions -- popped out of essentially the same molds but selling for half as much -- they'll think it's a "bargain." I would argue it's still too much. Angry Asian's article points out that it leads to an upward push on high-end gear in general, and he's probably right.

Dave Moulton, a retired framebuilder, now a writer and blogger, has looked at bicycle pricing in a couple of his articles (Here, and Here). When Dave's business was at its height in the 1980s, he sold some very nice custom-built frames, made to order for his customers. He also made a very nice line of hand-built production bikes, his Fuso line, made in small batches to more standardized frame specs. These were very well-designed, beautifully built frames -- comparable to, or in some ways better than the top-level competition being imported from Italy at the time. They were sold as framesets, to be built into complete bicycles with components selected by the dealer or the customer.

1986 Fuso with Dura Ace -- about $1000 in its day.
Dave writes in his blog about how a bike dealer back then might have sold a few of his Fuso bicycles alongside mass-produced Japanese competition from companies like Nishiki and Centurion. He writes, "Pricewise the Fuso was not 20 times more than the production bike. In fact if the dealer put lower priced components on the Fuso, like Sugino and SunTour, the Fuso would come out at about the same price as the Nishiki or the Centurian."

In another article, Dave points out his price list from 1990, not too long before he would retire from framebuilding. He writes, "The most expensive is the Fuso Lux, which was custom built to order, with chrome plating, and retailed at $3,150 equipped with Campagnolo C Record components. This was probably the most you would pay for any top-of-the-line racing bicycle." Today, top-of-the-line racing bikes are, as we see already, selling for as much as $15,000. Dave goes on to show that average income has increased by roughly 50% since 1990, but obviously the price of top-level bicycles has grown considerably more. He says, "There is a culture within the cycling community now that almost wants to pay these high prices." Perhaps worth noting is the fact that incomes for people at the top of the food chain have grown considerably more than for those in the more humble masses -- and for that elite group, price equals prestige.

"Back when I built frames, as a small individual builder," Dave writes, "I could compete with the larger import companies and still make a fair profit. Today, top-of-the-line bikes are made by large corporations, and prices are not based on what it costs to produce, but rather by what the market will stand." I think that's true. I mentioned before that for the price of the Trek Madone listed above, one could buy a Honda CBR1000RR -- one of the hottest performance motorcycles available -- and still have enough left for an awfully nice bicycle.

Last year in my article about "halo bikes" I mentioned (as does Dave Moulton) that there are all kinds of builders out there today making truly hand-made bikes in all kinds of materials -- bikes that are made to order, one-of-a-kind, and in many ways more "exclusive" than some of these hyper-expensive prestige machines -- and many of them can be had for a fraction of the price.

Considering the "flat" state of today's bicycle market, inflating prices for prestige and adding to the perception of bicycles as toys for the rich is no solution. How about some sanity. . . please?

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Flat Market

I've been grouching for a while now about how the bicycle industry has been trying to seek growth by convincing existing bike owners to buy more bikes. That explains the constant push toward planned obsolescence. It explains why every year, incremental product changes are hyped as major breakthroughs, and why new, increasingly narrow market segments are constantly being created. On the whole, it's a pretty unhealthy way to work.

I read recently in Bike Retailer some confirmation that the industry is recognizing the problem -- not that they know what to do about it. At the Bicycle Leadership Conference in Monterey, CA last week, a panel discussion on industry statistics found that sales of bicycles overall are shrinking, particularly when compared with population. "The stats don't lie and shrinking shipments of bikes suggests more needs to be done to boost cycling participation, provide more accessibility with entry level product and sell the experience of cycling rather than complex technology," said Bike Retailer.

I like the part about selling the "experience of cycling rather than complex technology." I've been saying for a while now that making bikes more complicated is not making more people want to ride bikes. Disc brakes and expensive electronic shifting systems are not converting people to cycling -- and why would they? Increasingly expensive technology is just adding to the perception of bicycles as toys for rich people.

An operations manager for Felt Bicycles, Michael Forte, was quoted in the Bike Retailer article saying, "The U.S. population is growing at a substantial rate, but we're selling less bicycles per person."

The article also pointed out that there has been some growth in certain segments of the market -- as in some of the latest "must have" trends, like 27.5 mountain bikes -- but those are offset by larger declines in other segments. "27.5 is not doing enough to increase mountain bike volume -- both 26 and 29er sales are down at retail," said Liz Stahura, a senior retail analyst at Leisure Trends. Forte added, "There's growth in 27.5, but we're not growing the overall pie."

What this says to me is that people who are buying 27.5 mountain bikes are probably the same people who already own bikes in 26-in. and 29er versions. Or, they're choosing the "latest" 27.5 instead of the other options. Either way, that growth is very likely nothing more than a temporary blip.

So what can be done?

I'm oddly reminded of the gun industry. Strangely enough, the gun industry works on a similar market model to the bicycle industry -- getting existing owners to buy more. Since the 1970s, the number of homes that have guns has been steadily declining. According to the NY Times, March 9, 2013, the number has gone from about 49% in the 1970s, to roughly 35% in the current decade. Yet, in that time, overall sales of guns have been increasing -- in other words, fewer people are buying more guns. But the gun industry has one big tool to get those people to keep buying -- Fear. Every time there's a big shooting in the news, gun sales increase. People who have guns find that the guns they have don't make them feel safer -- and they get to thinking they need another gun. It seems to work.

Unfortunately, the bicycle industry doesn't have that tool available. Fear of obesity, heart disease, etc. isn't enough to get people riding bikes. In fact, fear in general is a major hindrance to cycling.

An opinion piece by industry analyst Jay Townley (also in Bike Retailer) says that the industry really needs to get behind bicycle advocacy to encourage more people to start riding. That might be a start. Fear of traffic keeps a lot of people from riding. It's one of the first things people say to me when they find out how often I bike to work -- "Aren't you afraid of the cars?" Doing more to make people feel safe, or at least comfortable, while riding is probably a big step.

Better bicycling education might be a good step, too -- starting with drivers' education. Most states require drivers' education before one can get a license (at least for new drivers in their teens, but it varies). Those education programs should do more to inform drivers of cyclists rights, and teach them how to share the road with cyclists. Teach them to not only be better drivers, but also about being better riders. I think that would go a long way to making riders safer.

Another thing is that the racing influence on bicycle design needs to stop. I have no doubt that Lance Armstrong in his heyday sold a lot of bicycles, but we all know how that fairy tale ended. People say that "racing improves the breed" but I don't think that's true -- at least not for most bikes or riders. New developments are introduced at the "top," and the marketing is there to build demand for it so it will "filter down" to the rest of us. It's no secret that most people who ride bicycles don't race, yet the racing influence on design can be seen even in bikes that will never be raced -- and that influence actually detracts from the bikes.

There was a time when touring bikes were thought to be the pinnacle of bike design. While long-distance touring bikes are probably not the answer either, at least they were comfortable and practical. I think that today there needs to be more emphasis on road-worthy but simple and practical designs. Constantly chasing after more technology, adding complexity to what should really be a simple machine, adds to the perception that bikes are toys for the rich or for Lance Armstrong wannabes (sorry to mention him again, but he's still the only bike racer most Americans can name), and I believe it scares people off.

People need to see that bicycles are fun, and practical, and one doesn't need to dress all in lycra to enjoy riding one. Even just making the point that a bicycle is a good alternative to a car when one only needs to make a short trip might help -- and putting more emphasis on those bikes instead of trying to get existing cyclists to buy increasingly complicated and expensive steeds might be the approach needed.

Thoughts are welcome.

Friday, April 11, 2014

If Ads Were Honest

If advertising were honest, most cyclists would realize that they already have disc brakes. Rim brakes functionally are disc brakes, and most road bikes have had them for generations. The disc brakes that are based on motorcycle and automotive designs, with their little 140 - 160 mm rotors, are in many ways inferior to the brakes bicycles have been using for decades. In wet, muddy conditions, like those encountered by mountain bikers -- the "new" designs offer some benefits. But for road cyclists, there are at least as many drawbacks as there are benefits to the new designs. The small-diameter discs heat up much more quickly than the 622 mm discs we call "rims." That heat will warp the little rotors, which are only a couple millimeters thick, in no time. Cable-operated versions have inferior modulation, while hydraulic systems are supposed to be better in that regard. Then again, overheating with a hydraulic system can boil some kinds of brake fluid, leading to no brakes at all. The only thing wrong with good-quality rim brakes is that they are simple and they work. So how could we market that?

Likewise, an honest ad about the "new" disc brakes might look like this:

If advertising were honest, people would know that carbon fiber forks with massive, tapered steerers and corresponding head tubes are the result of past failures and trial-and-error. Carbon is great on paper -- it even blows away steel in lab tests. But carbon frames and forks are a "work in progress" being tested on people who are paying a premium for the privilege of being used as crash test dummies. How could we advertise that?

Don't expect to see any of these ads in cycling magazine anytime soon.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Pure Money

A UCI decision to allow disc brakes on road racing bikes would be a "game changer," says an engineer and project leader at Cannondale. "It's a paradise. In the industry you can hardly find a brand that will not support that. First of all, a lot of them are bike freaks themselves so they can't wait to have that, and second, everybody realizes it's a huge improvement of the riding experience, so for them it's pure money because there's another reason why they should buy a new bike." (emphasis added by Retrogrouch) "As the riding experience is so much better than it was before, the market will grow a little bit because the higher the pleasure of riding, the higher the market will be."

How exactly is the riding experience with disc brakes "so much better than before." And how is that going to make the market grow? Are there people out there who don't ride bikes because they're waiting for disc brakes? Are people laying around on their couches, or sitting in their cars thinking, "Sure, I'd love to get out there and ride a bike, but not until the UCI approves disc brakes"?

No, I think the most accurate and revealing part of the quote above is "it's pure money because there's another reason why they should buy a new bike." This is another case where they are counting on people who already own bikes (probably several) to see their old rides as obsolete. To give them a new itch that can only be scratched with something billed as a "huge improvement" that is actually nothing of the sort.

I reported last month about how the UCI appointed a new technical advisor, Dimitri Katsanis, who aims to scrap a lot of the the restrictions that reputedly hold back the march of technology in professional bicycle racing. I just read in BikeRadar that a UCI decision on disc brakes is expected within 6 months (which way do you suppose they'll decide? Hmmmm . . .) And in a separate article that the 6.8 kg (15.99 lbs) weight limit is soon to be dumped as "outdated," to be replaced with an ISO standard for minimum safety of bikes and components.

About that minimum weight standard. I'll admit, the 6.8 kg number was pretty arbitrary. It came about at least in part because some thought that to go below that number might result in dangerously light bikes -- bikes that wouldn't hold up in competition. The thing is, though, that even above that number there are failures of frames and components (don't wait to see that in the manufacturer's ads). Another reason for the UCI's limits on technology -- one that often gets ignored -- was that they want (or wanted) to keep bicycle racing as a competition of men, not a competition of technology.

I shouldn't get too worked up about this -- these regulations only impact the bikes ridden in UCI-sanctioned races. Weight-obsessed roadies and technophiles are already buying sub-15 lb bikes and disc brakes, convinced that somehow these things will transform them from mid-pack finishers to winners. But obviously, the industry is salivating at the thought of getting UCI approval of still-lighter frames and disc brakes because so many roadies out there want to ride what the pros ride -- so the regulations serve as a bit of a wet blanket on the industry's marketing enthusiasm.

But don't let them kid you that sub-15 lb bikes and disc brakes are improvements. It's all about pure money. Plain and simple.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Retrogrouch Ride: Masi Gran Criterium

After writing about one of my favorite films, Breaking Away, and one of the "stars" of the film -- a Masi Gran Criterium -- I thought today I would share my own Masi with the readers of The Retrogrouch.

My own Masi is a 1981 Gran Criterium that I found back in 2006. It was generally in pretty nice shape when I found it, and the price was good, though it did need a little help. It came to me built with a mix of parts from Campagnolo and Zeus. While the Zeus parts are decent, they don't quite have the caché of Campagnolo Super Record -- and the best race bikes of the time would certainly have been built with the full Super Record "gruppo." Luckily, I only needed to swap out a few parts, and I already had some of what I needed handy. I sold off the Zeus pieces on eBay and got enough money for them to buy the remainder of what I needed to complete the Campy group. All the Campagnolo parts are dated between 1981 - 1982.

The frame looked nice to start with, but it had some rust in places, and a couple of damaged cable guides that had to be repaired/replaced -- so the frame went to CyclArt in California. Owner Jim Cunningham is very knowledgeable about Masi bikes, being that he had worked at the Masi factory in California before starting his own restoration shop. CycleArt repaired the damages and then matched the old paint and decals exactly. I had a bit of an internal struggle in that an emotional part of myself thought a lot about having the bike painted in that deep red/orange like Dave Stohler's bike in Breaking Away -- but in the end, I decided it was best to stick to the original color. I really love the "Spanish Blue" with yellow combination anyhow.

For some of the finishing touches, I used Cinelli saddle, bars, and stem -- all very appropriate choices for a bike like this and of this vintage. Although Cinelli was using its modern "flying C" logo by 1981, I managed to find parts with the older logos, which I think is a nice touch. By 1981, a person might have seen either version, but I always liked the earlier look. The shiny, almost translucent yellow handlebar tape and brake cables were really fashionable choices in the '80s, so I was happy to find them for this bike.

I took this to the Classic Rendezvous Cirque du Cyclisme show and swap meet a few years ago. Photographer Ken Toda was taking nice-looking professional pictures of some of the bikes, so that's where these photos came from. I hope the readers enjoy.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Classic Film: Breaking Away

Thirty Five years ago this summer, the movie Breaking Away was released, giving many Americans their first glimpse of bicycle culture. I was in junior high at the time, just discovering bicycles, and that film was formative for me. Seriously. I wanted to BE that kid in the movie, Dave Stohler.

One of the old movie posters hangs
in my classroom at school.
Unlike many (most?) other bicycling-themed movies, you didn't need to be a bike geek to be enamored with Breaking Away -- a bicycling movie that isn't really about bicycles. It's a film about growing up, and making that transition from teenager to adult -- "breaking away" from family and the past and the things that tie us down to our childhood. Most people reading The Retrogrouch Blog are probably pretty familiar with the film, so I hope they will forgive me for delving into the synopsis and review.

The film depicts a group of friends living in Bloomington, Indiana -- the home of Indiana University, where the local boys are known as "cutters" by the rich college kids. The term is derived from the fact that the main livelihood of many of the locals was cutting limestone in the quarries just outside of town. That the name is used dismissively as a slur by the college kids emphasizes their limited knowledge or understanding of the "townies" they seem to despise. The don't know the history of the town, or the troubles faced by the locals whose economic futures were thrown into doubt with the closing of most of the quarries. The college kids are only there for four years of college and then they'll move on -- almost certainly to lucrative careers, fancy homes, and expensive cars.

Dennis Christopher plays Dave, the kid who dreams of racing against the Italians -- "Like the nightingales they sing," he proclaims,  "Like the eagles they fly" -- to the point that he imagines himself to actually be Italian, much to the dismay of his father, played as a lovable but grouchy curmudgeon by Paul Dooley. Dave and his childhood friends strive to make a place for themselves outside their teenaged past. Mike (Dennis Quaid) struggles to find a new role for himself now that he is no longer the quarterback of the high school football team. Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley) wants to settle down and get married to the cashier at the A&P. And Cyril (Daniel Stern) . . . well, nobody can quite figure out Cyril. But they soon find themselves at odds with the college kids, against whom they constantly feel they must "prove" themselves.

Breaking Away is a really well-written film that is both funny and moving. One very poignant scene shows Mike and the other boys watching the IU football team practicing. As Mike reveals his regrets about not getting a football scholarship, he lays out his deepest fears about growing old without having any significant accomplishments. "These college kids will never get any older," he explains, "because new ones come along every year. . . and they'll keep calling us 'cutters.' To them it's just a dirty word. To me it's just another thing I never got a chance to be."

The themes of lost dreams and lowered expectations carry over to others in the town as well -- including not only Mike's older brother, a Bloomington city cop, but also Dave's own parents. Dave's father clearly feels trapped in his job selling used cars, and wishes he could be back cutting the limestone which was used in the grand buildings of the university -- buildings he says are "too good" for him now. In another scene, in which Dave's mother (Barbara Barrie) urges him to follow his dreams, she shows him her passport -- obviously obtained with dreams of traveling the world -- but now used only as an ID for cashing checks at the A&P. In the end, all the townies, or "cutters," put their hopes on the boys as they race against the college kids in the university's famous Little 500 bicycle race.

Incidentally, the film's title, Breaking Away, has a two-fold meaning. On one hand, it is a term from bicycle racing, referring to the lone rider or small group who go against the odds and try to ride away from the main pack of racers hoping for victory. On the other hand, it also refers to the idea of breaking away from the past, or from family, or childhood, etc. Either sense of the expression fits the film perfectly.

The film won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (Steve Tesich) and the Golden Globe for Best Picture - Comedy. For a full list of awards see the IMDB. The American Film Institute has ranked Breaking Away as #8 in their list of 100 Most Inspirational Films, and #8 in their list of Best Sports Films.

For serious fans of the film, there is a lot of interesting trivia to be found.

One of the actual bikes from the film, a 1978 Masi Gran
Criterium, was on display at the 2013 NAHBS.
(photo from UrbanVelo)
For one thing, the primary bikes used in the film were a pair of California-built Masi Gran Criteriums, one of which was shown at the 2013 North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS). I recall reading a few years ago in a Classic Rendezvous thread about the bikes that at least one of the bikes may have been badly damaged at some point in the years following the film -- if that was this bike or a different one, I have no idea, or even if that was actually true. UrbanVelo ran an article about the bike shown at NAHBS and consulted with a technical advisor and bicycle mechanic from the film about it. That advisor mentions some differences about the bike from the way it was used in the film. That would make sense, because according to Dennis Christopher, the bike has been restored. A third bike was used in filming, but it was not a Masi -- it was a Sears Free Spirit, painted and decaled as a Masi, and used in a pivotal scene where an Italian racer shoves a frame pump into the spokes, sending Dave Stohler to the pavement. The bikes used by the Italian team were all Colnagos.

Speaking of the Italians, one of them was played by American track racer John Vande Velde, who was a two-time Olympian and National Champion cyclist, as well as the father of Christian Vande Velde, formerly of the U.S. Postal Team and the Garmin Team.

The character of Dave Stohler was based at least in part on Dave Blase, a fraternity brother of writer Steve Tesich from their college days. Tesich and Blase were teammates in the 1962 edition of the IU Little 500 where Blase reportedly rode 139 out of 200 laps for the victory. Supposedly he was also a lover of all things Italian. The character's last name was inspired by their team manager, Bob Stohler. Dave Blase made a cameo appearance in the film as the Little 500 announcer.

The name given to the local boys in the film, the "cutters," is actually a change from how the Bloomington locals were known in Tesich's time at Indiana U. Back then, they were known as "stoners" (as in limestone), but that name has such a widespread drug-related meaning that it was changed, lest movie viewers get the wrong idea about the boys.

Shaun Cassidy as Dave Stohler in the ABC series. His bike
in the pilot episode was a Huffy (equipped with sew-up tires!)
prior to winning his Italian bike in a race.
The film was loved enough that it spawned a short-lived television series on ABC, starring 1980 teen heartthrob Shaun Cassidy as Dave. The series is set up as a "prequel" to the events of the movie. Jackie Earle Haley reprised his role as Moocher, and Barbara Barrie as Dave's mother. Vincent Gardenia replaced Paul Dooley as Dave's father. The show's premiere ended up being delayed due to a writers' strike, and it never really caught on with audiences. It was cancelled after only seven episodes, but I remember watching all seven of them as a teenager. It wasn't as good as the film, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. The original episodes can be seen today on YouTube.

The original cast from the film, recently reunited
 for an article for Entertainment Weekly.
Breaking Away was something of a launching pad for the careers of some of its young stars. Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, and Daniel Stern were all unknowns at the time of the film's release. Only Jackie Earle Haley was a familiar face, having starred in the Bad News Bears films. Quaid and Stern would go on to other very successful films or television shows -- some might remember Stern as the voice of "grown-up" Kevin Arnold, the narrator of ABC's baby-boomer nostalgia feast The Wonder Years. Dennis Christopher was nominated for and/or won numerous "newcomer" awards in '79, although his career didn't pan out in the "leading man" direction one might have expected. Still, he's kept busy as an actor and most recently appeared in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. Jackie Earle Haley has had some career ups and downs, but has recently been in films like Watchmen and Shutter Island, as well as Steven Spielberg's Lincoln.

As for other actors in the film, Paul Dooley has been a presence on screens large and small since the early 60s, but since Breaking Away, has practically made a career of playing cranky but loving fathers. Barbara Barrie, likewise, has had a long career -- but frequently plays characters that would seem familiar to fans of Dave's patient and accepting mom, Evelyn Stohler.

The director of the film, Peter Yates, died in 2011, but will always be remembered not only for Breaking Away, but also for another classic movie, Bullitt with Steve McQueen. The film's writer, Steve Tesich, would go on to write the screenplay for another favorite film of mine, The World According to Garp, based on the John Irving novel and starring Robin Williams. A few years later he would write 1985's American Flyers, based to some extent on the Coors Classic bicycle race and starring an excellently mustachioed Kevin Costner. That film is notable for some great racing footage (some of which was filmed right alongside the actual Coors Classic race), an incredible wheel change by Rae Dawn Chong, and some bad clichés. I like the movie, but it's one of those that doesn't really resonate with non-bicycle-geeks the way Breaking Away does. I'll probably write about that one in a future post. Tesich died in 1996.

Hard core bicyclists sometimes criticize the film for technical errors -- a notable one being a scene where Dave is drafting behind a truck going up to 60 mph (unlikely), and a closeup shot of the bike's drivetrain reveals that the bike is on the small chainring (really unlikely). The thing is, though, that the film isn't really about the bikes, and technical mistakes can be found in any film if you look for them, even those that are hailed among the best. What I think is much more important is the emotion of the film. Dave Stohler is a misfit. His friendship with the high school quarterback doesn't change the fact that the whole crew of them are misfits. But Dave's bike opens up an imaginative world for him wider than the confines of his Indiana town. Consider a scene at the quarry, where Moocher says to Dave, "Ever since you won that Italian bike, man, you've been actin' weird. Gettin' to think you're Italian, aren't ya." To which Cyril adds, "I wouldn't mind thinkin' I was somebody myself." For Dave, his bike and his love for everything Italian makes him a new person. On his bike, he imagines himself to be something more than he is. I remember feeling that way when I was on my bike as a misfit teenager, too. The movie really resonated for me.

As Breaking Away nears its 35th anniversary, it's worth celebrating not only as one of the best bicycle-themed movies ever, but also as just a great film about growing up in general. Putting its emphasis on the characters, story, and great writing, the movie strikes a chord with audiences across generations -- even those who don't know a Huffy from a Masi.