Friday, May 22, 2015

Half Bike - Less Than Half Useful


For those of you bemoaning how useful your bicycles are, somebody has come up with an alternative: The Halfbike -- which might be fun, but is probably something less than half useful.


Created by a couple of architects from Sofia, Bulgaria, who share "a vision about urban mobility and how it can be applied to the contemporary city," the Halfbike was on Kickstarter and apparently exceeded their $50,000 fundraising goal by about $920,000. Holy Cow.

Although the designers are interested in urban mobility in the contemporary city, it seems that the focus of the Halfbike is a lot more about recreation than actual mobility. More fun than function

It's pretty clear at first look that the Halfbike is technically a trike -- but one that's meant to be ridden standing up. "The standing rider position is essential for the Halfbike. It brings you closer to natural walking and it's the only way to control the vehicle with your whole body and not just your hands. Halfbike is a sort of extension to the body that allows a smooth and intuitive ride." I don't know why it's particularly necessary that it be closer to natural walking, but OK.

Also, not to nitpick, but the fact is that a normal bicycle is also controlled with your whole body and not just your hands. Anybody with even slightly more than casual riding experience recognizes that.

Where are the helmet police?! They're gonna die!

To clarify the real intent of the Halfbike, the Kickstarter campaign talks mostly about fun. "We believe happiness has something to do with playing and having fun." And "We want to enable you to explore new horizons and have fun." I wont argue whether the thing looks like it would be fun. It probably would be, up to a point. 

But the makers also say it would be great for commuting. Why? And Where? As a commuting tool, I can't imagine this being too useful for a commute of anything longer than a couple of city blocks. It also seems pretty limiting if someone needs to carry more than what will fit into a typical backpack. As for the other commuters, if I'm on a city sidewalk crowded with pedestrians, I sure as hell wouldn't want people zipping through the crowd on one of these (natural walking position or no). And if I'm on a bike in the city, I don't think I'd want to be coming up on these in the bike lane, either. No -- not really much for commuting by my perspective.

According to the Kickstarter page, the retail price of the Halfbike will be $599. Again, I say Holy Cow. Halfbike: Half Useful: Full bike price.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

New Silca Impero Frame Pump

Last year, the newly revived Silca company, now based in the U.S., brought out the Super Pista Ultimate, which could well be the most amazing inflation tool a person could buy. Why not call it a pump? At $450, it is perhaps just a bit too deluxe to be labeled with such a pedestrian term. I'm not knocking it -- from all accounts, the thing is fantastic and perhaps the last pump (sorry, inflation tool) a person would ever need to buy. And from what I've heard, they aren't having trouble selling them. In fact, a limited run of special "artist edition" pumps painted by Dario Pegoretti was offered at $900 each, and the entire run sold out in no time at all. Not too many of us on teachers' salaries will be buying them, but that's hardly a yardstick for measuring economic success.

With the newest release from the revived Silca, the company does for frame pumps what it did for floor pumps with the new Impero Ultimate Frame Pump: the updated and improved version of the old classic. The original Impero, introduced in the 1920s used, used "Duraluminum" in its construction, but the model most people are probably familiar with was the plastic Impero from the 60s -- especially with the chromed steel Campagnolo head, which was a nice upgrade from the stock plastic chuck.

The new Impero Ultimate uses full aluminum construction, and a new 2-stage seal head gasket that is supposed to provide a good seal on the valve while still using the familiar press-on chuck function without a lever lock, just like the original.

Can you still install a
Campy head on it?
Silicone bumpers on the head and the handle, which the company calls FlexWing technology, are supposed to hold the pump securely in the frame and are designed to accommodate tubing diameters from 1-in. (for us vintage enthusiasts) to 2.5-in. for the popped-out-of-a-mold carbon fans.

The new pump is made in the USA with Alcoa Aluminum extrusions and bar stock. Even the head is solid aluminum. Might not need that chromed Campy head anymore. Like the new floor model, it promises to be incredibly smooth as well as efficient. The company claims it takes fewer strokes to 100 psi than any other portable pump. It comes in 4 lengths to fit a range of frame sizes.

It appears in photos to be black-anodized, with some red-anodized accent pieces. Something tells me that it would look more at home on some of today's carbon fiber wünderbikes than a classic styled lugged steel frame. Any chance they'll offer a version in a silver-anodized finish? That might be more my style. Think about it, Joshua Poertner!

Okay -- it sounds fantastic. Rebuildable. Durable. Efficient. What's it cost? Currently listed on the Silca website for $165.

. . . Gulp. . .

At least I still have my plastic classic.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Smart Locks for Dumb People

How hard is it to not lose a key? Or to find your bike after you've parked it? Are bike locks really such hassle that tech startups have to keep reinventing them?
I approve of the old Peugeot.

The latest is the Noke U-Lock, from FŪZ, which promises to eliminate "the hassle and frustration of lost keys and forgotten combinations."

The U-lock is a follow-up product from the company's Noke Padlock which was fully funded on Kickstarter. The U-lock had a similarly successful funding campaign -- which means there are a lot of people out there who are apparently too inept to use a key. Either that, or they are so dependent on their smart phones that they can't imagine performing any task, no matter how simple or mundane, without the use of some app.

Like other "smart" locks out there, the Noke works with Bluetooth smartphones. It requires a battery that needs to be recharged from time to time. The maker points out that a charge will last a long, long time -- but does that really matter if someone fails to keep it charged adequately and ends up with an un-openable lump of hardened steel holding their bike to a rack somewhere? Actually, shouldn't happen since the lock also allows a user to create a "custom access code" so the lock can be opened without the phone, or if the battery dies. Do you know another way to say "custom access code"? Lock Combination. Which kind of negates the whole point about eliminating the "hassle and frustration of lost keys and forgotten combinations." If someone can't remember their phone, or to keep their lock charged up, how are they going to remember the combination?

Check out some of the other features:

Anti-theft alarm. "When a would-be intruder shakes your Noke for more than 3 seconds, a shrieking alarm goes off. This will definitely send him running and get the attention of anyone within about 50 meters."  Ummm . . . yeah. Have you ever noticed how people react to a car alarm that goes off in the night? Now imagine their reaction to a screeching bike lock.

Sharing. "We know you love to share your bike" (Not me. Who are they talking about?). The Noke app makes it safe and easy. You can give one-time access, or custom access based on specific days and times." Who does this? Are there a lot of people out there with a bunch of freeloading friends who are too cheap to get their own bikes? Are people running their own, personal bike-share systems?

GPS Tracking. "Maybe you forgot where you locked your bike. With the Noke app, it's no problem. Each time you lock the Noke U-Lock, it is marked so you can always find your bike."

Now I get it. People who can't use a key or remember a combination also can't remember where they left their bike locked up. Of course, if they're that hopeless, how are they able to ride a bike? Or perform their jobs? Or simply function in the world?

Retail price for the Noke U-Lock is about $130. Or for about $50, you can get a basic Kryptonite with an extra cable which will work at least as well (or better if you consider the ability to easily lock up the wheels) in most situations outside of NYC. Yes, you have to keep the key. Is that so hard, considering we still have keys for our homes, cars, maybe work? Besides, if someone can't remember where they locked their bike, they probably can't find their way home either.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Other Commuter

As I make my way along the road to work, I am inevitably the only one on a bicycle for the whole 13-mile stretch from Akron to Medina. My morning commute takes me from the urban streets of Akron, through suburban shopping plazas, fast food chains, and malls of Fairlawn and Bath, and eventually out to the rural spaces of Medina County. I mostly stick to OH-18, which is the main thoroughfare between Akron and its somewhat quaint, smaller neighbor to the west.
Google says the route should take 1 h 13 min by bike. I typically
average about 15 mph, so I make it in about 50 min. BTW that
big patch of green on the upper right section is the southern tip
of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park -- our local cycling Mecca.

I like to be heading out the door by 6:00 am, when traffic is still very light. It's dark when I leave, though now that it's May, it is light by the time I arrive at work. I do have to negotiate the Interstate 77 interchange, which can be a little dodgy by the time I get to it, and then the remainder of the way, OH-18 becomes practically like a freeway, but there's an extra-wide shoulder, and I just get over to the far right and let the traffic go by until I turn off on a near-deserted farm-country backroad. I'm normally a "take the lane" rider, but when the traffic is flying by at 55 mph, I figure they can keep it. In the afternoon, for the ride home, there is a lot more traffic on the main road, so I take a different route -- choosing backroads over the main thoroughfare. It adds a couple of miles and a bunch more hills, but I'm less pressed for time, and I feel a little more comfortable.

As I said, I'm usually the only cyclist on the road at that time. But this day, some weeks ago, as looked ahead, I thought maybe I saw a faint flash of red in the distance. Maybe I was mistaken, or I misinterpreted a car taillight. A little later, I saw it again. Flashing red. A bike taillight for sure. Another commuter?

I hate to admit it, but I'm a bit of a Cat. 6-er when it comes to seeing other cyclists on the road ahead, even though it never happens on my morning commute. Despite my consciously telling myself to ignore the rider down the road, subconsciously the other rider often becomes like the rabbit in a dog race, and I start pedaling a little harder. Whether it was due to a little extra Cat. 6 effort, or I was just naturally pushing a faster pace, I could see that I was gradually closing the distance between myself and the other commuter. As I got closer, I could begin to see the commuting-cyclist "uniform": day-glo yellow vest, reflective accents, flashing beacons.

Who was this guy? Where was he headed? Why haven't I ever seen him before?

Crossing the county line, I was within about 100 yards behind him, and closing. 50 yards. 20 yards. Just as I made it up to within a couple bike lengths behind has back wheel, I got to my turn off the main route and on to the back road while he continued going straight. I didn't even manage a decent "g'morning."

It just happened the one time, and I haven't seen him since. Was he just trying out bike commuting for the first time, and decided it wasn't his thing? Was he only cycling to work because his car was in the shop? Or does he ride regularly, and maybe I just caught him on an odd day when he was out at something other than his usual time? Who knows.

It's National Bike To Work Day, but around here it's hard to tell. Aside from this one little chance encounter, from what I can see around my area I'm usually the only bike on the road.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

ZhERO, My Hero.

My Hero.
There's a new "secret weapon" out there to make you faster than you ever knew you could be. In fact, this revolutionary "secret weapon" earns you more speed with no additional effort, simply by tackling a problem that is so huge that most people probably had no idea it was a problem -- hub lag. That's just how outside the box the creators of the ZhERO hub are. And keep in mind that people who think outside the box don't say things like "outside the box." Given that I've just said "outside the box" four times in three sentences, I believe I have just placed myself squarely inside the box.

One of the first things you'll notice about the hub is its quirky-clever name. ZhERO. Kind of like "Zero - My Hero." How wonderful you are.


Caution: The song kind of sticks with you.

All kidding aside. This hub will revolutionize the bicycle. It makes you faster. Not just faster, but much faster. I know this because they say so in their Kickstarter ad. Just take it from Ed O'Neill, TV's Al Bundy:

See how fast the word "faster" looks in italics? If that ain't proof then I just don't know what is.
By the way, I loved this guy on Married With Children.

So, how does the ZhERO hub deliver power you didn't even know you had in you? By eliminating that annoying, power-robbing "lag" when you transition from "power off" to "power on" -- that is, from coasting to pedaling. You see, most other rear hubs have as much as 10 degrees of lag (or even more -- I'm looking at YOU Campagnolo!) from the moment you start to pedal to when the power actually gets applied to the rear wheel. Here are some numbers:

And here's what it looks like:
Every millimeter counts.

And here are some graphs that prove everything:


Notice that the graph line marked "time" doesn't actually indicate any specific units of measurement. Are we talking minutes, seconds, milliseconds, millenia? But the red line clearly "lags" about 11 behind the white line. Can't argue with that.
Oddly enough, there is NO mention, no pictures, no graphics of any kind that give an indication of how the makers have come up with a freewheeling hub that has no lag, considering that lag is simply a function of how any ratcheting mechanism works. The "lag" is a direct result of the size of the teeth in the ratchet. Do they use really tiny teeth? And if so, how durable can they be? Or is it some kind of spring-loaded friction clutch? There isn't even a hint.

The Aussie company that makes the ZhERO has no less a celebrity retired bicycle racer to endorse them than Australian Robbie McEwen. He has 3 x Green Jersey's, by the way. (And no, that is not how one uses an apostrophe.)

"Throughout mah career Ahve ridden just about every wheel tahpe that's ever been made." (those aren't typos - that's just mah lame attempt at capturing McEwen's accent)

McEwen stresses that those 10 degrees of lag -- which can be as much as 4 mm (!) -- are 10 degrees that you're missing out on when you could be generating powah. McEwen adds that that powah is coming on all the way through the pedal stroke, even when your foot's at 12 o'clock. Nevermind that nobody is getting much power to the pedals at the 12 o'clock/6 o'clock position, and it isn't because of hub lag. It's just the basic physics of a bicycle crank. No - if you're truly serious about eliminating the "dead spots" in the pedal stroke, you need one of those Dpardo Sickle Cranks, or some Cranktip swing-arm pedals. Maybe throw in some oval chainrings, too. There's no shortage of questionable technology with promises of huge performance gains that can separate the performance addict from his money.
"This is going to revolutionize cycling."
"Whether you're climbing, or sprinting, or riding a time trial -- I see big differences there, too." Says McEwen. "Teams talk about going for marginal gains, finding every improvement in performance . . . Well, this isn't just a marginal gain. This is going to revolutionize cycling as far as drivetrains go."

See that? We're not just talking "marginal gains" here -- we're talking MILLIMETERS, people! Actually, I think this pretty much defines the term "marginal gains."

Lest you think that the ZhERO hubs only give a racer a few millimeters of an advantage, the company also claims all kinds of biomechanical and medical benefits, too. For example, you know that terrible shock that shoots through your legs and back every time you apply power to the pedals and the torque takes those several millimeters to to take hold? It can be debilitating. . . Okay, not really. But the makers of the ZhERO hub claim it "eliminates the shock of lock up through your muscles and joints."

"Your muscles are switched on earlier with each pedal stroke forcing both legs to work as one. Hill climbing you can dance from pedal to pedal equally without experiencing any form of lag, one experienced rider liken (sic) it to running on the bike." The only "lag" I've noticed when climbing is my legs when I'm dead tired at the end of a long ride and still have to get up that 18% grade of a hill to get home. And why would somebody compare it to "running on the bike" when a more natural simile would be that it feels like riding a fixed-gear?

And it's not just for racers, either. "From a Social rider to Road racing, Triathlete, TT specialist or Criterium the mechanical precision that the ZhERO brings will increase your endurance, performance & all round wellbeing on the bike." (really Questionable capitalization in that Sentence, by The way). I'm glad to know that the ZhERO hub will improve my wellbeing. That's perhaps the most unusual claim I've heard applied to a bicycle component.

McEwen isn't the only endorser of the ZhERO hub. There are also several triathletes you've never heard of who can attest to how this hub will change your life:

"Having tested the ZhERO & knowing that it takes 54,000 pedal strokes to complete the 180ks bike leg in a Ironman" (but who's counting?) "it is a no brainer for me I'd choose the ZhERO hub ever (sic) time because not only am I more efficient on the bike, my legs would be more balanced, less fatigued & fresher for the 42ks run."

Another says, "Having tested, trained & raced on the ZhERO from its early conception it's been a secret weapon that I would NEVER start a race without. The gain in efficency (sic) has only enhanced my cycling & triathlon career."

From conception? Okay.

Remember: Fred-dom begins at conception.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Bike Safety 101: Just Like A Car

With a title that reminds young viewers about who really controls the roads, the bicycle safety film Just Like A Car echoes other vintage car-centric educational titles like Bicycle Today Automobile Tomorrow and Drive Your Bike. Like many of these old films that I've examined in the Bike Safety 101 series, Just Like a Car, produced in 1972 by Film Loops, Inc., is definitely a reflection of its time. But in many ways it is also different in its tone and its presentation than some of the other films I've discussed here.

For one thing, throughout much of the film there is very little narration, or even much talking of any kind. Unlike the Sid Davis films such as The Bicycle Clown, or Bicycle Today Automobile Tomorrow, Just Like A Car does without the judgemental or condescending monotonal narrator. Unlike films such as Drive Your Bike, this one mostly does away with stiff and overly scripted dialogue. Instead, the film instructs mainly through visual imagery, sound effects, and music -- often really cheesy music with instructional lyrics. But the film manages to avoid some of the preachiness that overpowers so many other bike safety films, and instead shows biking to be fun (there's a shocker!) while also emphasizing a certain amount of due caution when sharing the road with cars.

The film opens with a shot of an open road, with the roaring sound of a high-performance engine -- maybe a muscle car. The camera pans and zooms, as if trying to locate the speeding car. We see something approaching in the distance, just cresting a little hill . . . is it a Mustang? Corvette? . . . No. . .

. . . It's a girl -- racing down the road on her Schwinn Varsity. Her hair is blowing behind her, and she looks like she's having a blast.

Cue the very '70s music:

♫ "I'm back on the road again, I've been travelin' (on my bicycle). I've turned every curve and bend, I've been travelin' (me and my bicycle). But you know where I go, what I see, is a world tellin' me you're alone, on your own and you've got to be watchin' out for yourself and be thinkin' constantly. 'Cause you know your bike is just like a car. Got to take it like you know who you are. If you want to be a rebel a while, ridin' in style, open your eyes and you'll see. Just like a car. . ."  Ok -- you should watch out for yourself, but wouldn't it be nice if someone instructed drivers to spend at least some of their time looking out for us, too?
Next follows a montage that shows, among other things, an evolution of bikes and cars, as well as lots of goofy clips from old silent-era films showing bikes and cars behaving badly.

Then comes a segment that alternately shows a series of kids on bikes, and people in cars, as they slow down for pedestrians, stop for signs, signal for turns, etc. -- all following the same rules of the road. No narration - just the familiar opening notes from Beethoven's 5th repeating, played on horns and bicycle bells.
♫ Ba Ba Ba BUM ♫ (that's supposed to be Beethoven's 5th if you can't tell).
The little girl signals with her bell before stopping for the old lady who steps into the road without looking.
Lots of groovy old Sting-Rays and banana-seat bikes.
Here, a very observant boy sees a ball rolling into the street from behind the parked car. He correctly predicts an unseen child may follow right behind -- so he signals a stop for the car behind him, then stops for the girl. Realistically speaking, I think it would be really hard to signal and still be able to stop in time. 
The full orchestration of Beethoven's 5th cues up for a busy city scene. Visually and musically, the busy city traffic becomes a symphony of sorts.

As usual, we get the message that bicycles should stop at intersections and walk across. Maybe bikes aren't "Just Like A Car" after all.

Here's one of the few bits of narration in the film: "When there's more than one person on the road, you've got to communicate." Which is followed by a clip from an old Charlie Chaplin film showing an argument that turns into a pie fight. I guess the message is that when it comes to traffic, the potential for conflict is always there. Or that people on the roads often act like children. Or, maybe that if you anger drivers of cars, they might hit you with a pie.


The narration continues (briefly): "Sometimes other people don't want to communicate with you. Then you've got to watch out for yourself."

"Defense. It's all defense," the narrator says. With the scene from a basketball game, we hear the crowd chanting "DE-Fense, DE-Fense, DE-Fense. . ."

Cut over to the kid on his bike, scanning the road for cars. . . 

"DE-Fense, DE-Fense . . ."
He starts to pull out, only to change his mind and exit the road quickly when he sees an absolutely homicidal driver speeding his way in a station wagon.
The homicidal psychopath swerves and weaves at high speed, right where the boy would have been had he not escaped - then speeds off, running through a stop sign. Actually, I love the fact that the film leaves the impression that sometimes drivers really are @$$holes.
The crowd cheers. The kid seems surprisingly relaxed considering that some psychopath just tried to turn him into a hood ornament. Just another friendly day in the neighborhood.
Again we hear the crowd from the basketball game chanting "DE-fense, DE-Fense. . ." The boy scans the road all around. . .
. . . That Chevy behind him is bearing down on him pretty good.
Suddenly another jack@$$ throws his door open into traffic. The kid is ready and takes impressive evasive action. Knowing how close the Chevy is behind him, he takes a hard right and skids to a stop in a driveway.
The Chevy that was following close behind slams on the brakes. I'd have enjoyed seeing him tear the  idiot's door off with his car. It would be a good lesson for motorists, too.
And the crowd goes wild! "DE-Fense DE-Fense!"
The next sequence has another song with cheesy instructional lyrics:

"When I'm ridin' down the street, everywhere I go I meet some signs tryin' to tell me somethin'. At every corner, every bend it seems as though there's just no end to those signs always trying to tell me somethin'  
♫ Now when I ride I get to feelin' free and clear, don't you? And it's not always pleasant being told what I should do. But when I see a sign ahead I read it through and through. Wanna know why? It's tryin' to tell me somethin'.♫ 
♫ "If you want your freedom and you think that you don't need 'em, remember there's times they'll keep you livin'." 
As a goofy recap to the lessons of the film, there's an after-ride interview in the locker room. Yeah, it's corny, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but it did get me to chuckle a little.
"This is Woody Woodford with the post-race show brought to you by Zip toothpaste. Welcome Bob, that was quite a ride. Tell us, Bob, the secret to your riding success. Is it because you use Zip toothpaste?"

Umm, No. Bob explains that he has a good bike and he keeps it in top condition (a bike safety film staple). He goes on, "I keep my eyes on the road, and I always have a good defense."



They go back to the "instant replay" to review some of Bob's skills (like that impressive evasive move where a less attentive rider would have been doored). The message here is actually pretty good advice I think for anyone who shares the road with cars. "Anticipation," Bob tells us. "Thinking. Scanning. Looking around. You've got to expect the worst and figure out the angles. You can never tell when a car door is going to pop open in front of you. . . You've got to look out for yourself out there. Nobody else will." The interview sequence, like a lot in the movie, is pretty corny, but as far as the advice goes, I have to admit, I often think the same thing when I'm out there riding in traffic. An old friend of mine, who had spent time as a bike messenger, took it further and used to operate under the assumption that the other traffic was actively trying to kill him.


I said earlier that the film mostly manages to avoid the stern preachiness of some other safety films I've discussed. Then you get this guy:
"Most accidents are caused by people who don't obey the rules. Please, be a responsible driver. It's the best way to stay alive. Remember, a bike is just like a car." Except when it isn't. The nice thing is that he could just as easily be directing his remarks to motorists as to cyclists.
Wrapping up the film, we've seen lots of examples of kids riding the "right way" (notice that you never see adults riding in these movies -- wouldn't that have been a shocker?) so it's time to see a kid on the path to imminent destruction.

This kid, on another Schwinn Varsity, races along the road without watching for hazards, ignoring signs and signals, zipping around cars, brushing past pedestrians -- all the while the film speeds up, the scenes whizz by in a blur, the music speeds up to a fast paced garble, until the inevitable conclusion. . .
. . . A truck pulls out right in front of him, leaving him to skid to a stop just in time. Whew! That was a close one.
Followed by another quick editing sequence from silent-era movies of car accidents and bike crashes.


Okay - the kid lives to ride another day, maybe a little wiser for his experience. Cue up the cheesy music from the intro again. . .
"Know what you're doin', watch where you're goin'. You're on your own but you're never alone on the road. Lookin' out for you is the ultimate rule and you're playin' it cool. Don't you know your bicycle is just like a car. Got to take it like you know who you are. . ."
It has such a '70s vibe.

You can check out Just Like A Car right here - courtesy YouTube:


Enjoy!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Jobst Brandt: Loss of an Icon

Jobst Brandt, a tremendously influential person to the cycling world, died this week, on Tuesday, May 5th, at the age of 80.

A mechanical engineer with impressive credentials (Porsche, Hewlett Packard, Stanford Linear Accelerator), he was something of an outsider to the bicycling industry, which allowed him to speak freely about tech issues and other problems he observed. He could be very outspoken. But he did contribute to the industry in numerous ways, and particularly through his work with Avocet, where he helped to develop their "slick" tread tires (they were dubbed Fasgrip, and they were good) as well as their cycling computer (the first, last, and only computer I ever used on a bike).
Probably one of the most famous images of Jobst Brandt. It appeared in ads in all 
the bike magazines in the '80s for Avocet's slick tires, which he had helped to develop.
To cyclists on the West Coast, the rides he led around the Bay Area -- known as "Jobst Rides"-- were legendary. Usually 100 miles or more, and covering all kinds of terrain, the rides left many seasoned riders struggling and gasping. Reportedly he thought nothing of going down steep, rocky trails on his huge 27-in. road bike (the guy was 6' 6") with road tires, and few could keep up. He was also known for his regular tours of the Alps, which were typically well-documented in ride reports with plenty of breathtaking photos. (see HERE)

This oft-published photo of Jobst on the Gavia
Pass was turned into a poster sold through
Palo Alto Bicycles.
Many other cyclists around the country and around the world got to feel as though they knew Jobst, even if they never met him, through his writing and his frequent contributions to the once-thriving Usenet group rec.bicycles.tech. I was one of those who never met Jobst, at least not in person, but I did have occasional email conversations with him on tech issues, and I was always amazed at how quickly and thoroughly he responded to my messages and questions, despite what I'm sure was a very busy schedule. I really wish I could have have gotten his take on the Campagnolo Ultra-Torque issue (or non-issue, depending on whom you believe) that I wrote about recently, but I have a feeling he'd have seen a shortcoming in that design. Many of Jobst's old posts to the Usenet are archived and can be found HERE or HERE.

Jobst had a rare quality (I believe) as a mechanical engineer in that he not only had an incredible understanding of engineering and mechanical principles, but he also had an uncanny ability to explain them clearly to non-engineers with his commanding use of the English language. It's a testament to his writing ability that one of his jobs for Porsche was to translate their technical manuals into English -- a job he practically created himself because he was dissatisfied with the manuals as they were.

Another testament to his ability to put his engineering knowledge into clear instruction is his book The Bicycle Wheel, which many consider to be the Bible of the subject. Although one could use the book simply as a reference guide for building a wheel, it is actually much more. I've read the book cover-to-cover (twice) and won't build a wheel without reviewing it.

I don't know if it would be appropriate to call Jobst Brandt a retrogrouch (though I'm certain people did), and I don't know how he would have felt to be labeled as such. But I do know that many a self-proclaimed retrogrouch felt a kinship with him, and interpreted his views as testament to the cause. For one thing, like a good engineer, he took a conservative approach to new technology, was fiercely dismissive of marketing hyperbole, and generally favored designs that were simple, proven, and cost-effective.

Right after learning about his death, I pulled out an interview Jobst gave with Grant Petersen for the Rivendell Reader (RR-6). In it, he talked about such topics as . . .

Mountain bikes:

"Most of the MTB's I see are not ridden anywhere where they have an advantage. Tourists who never ride in mud ride thousands of miles on knobby tires and in a riding position that is inefficient for road riding."

Road bikes:

"It is the poseurs who have seriously damaged the road bike, with their attention to unobtanium, 27-speed gearing and disc wheels, none of which has anything to do with bicycle riding."

Tight geometry and ultra-short wheelbases:

"Excuses such as 'quick steering' and 'responsive' are used to cover the quirky handling of these bicycles."

Shifting gears:

"I use down tube shifters (seldom) and use a 6-speed freewheel because 5-speeds are dead. . . I'm not preoccupied with always being in the right gear or following some unwritten precepts on cadence and the like. I ride a gear that's about right and leave it at that. . . The range of gears hasn't changed much in the last 50 years, only the number of gears in that range. I don't believe they are useful, necessary, or any good for the design of the rear wheel. Five or six is plenty, nine is gratuitous hardware and multiple redundancy."

He sometimes ruffled feathers. He sometimes left people stinging when they made claims they couldn't support with facts and evidence. "He didn't suffer fools" was something I've heard many people say.

Three of the Retrogrouch's icons. (left to right) Sheldon Brown,
Grant Petersen, and Jobst Brandt in 2006. (photo from Sheldon Brown's site)
Back in January 2011 (I've read that it was on his 76th birthday), Jobst Brandt was injured in a bicycle crash that, combined with other issues, left him debilitated. It isn't clear what happened, but it appeared to have been a single-bicycle accident. Though some helmet proselytizers would have wanted to use the accident as more evidence supporting helmet use, Brandt, who was well known not to wear one and an outspoken critic against the near-religious fervor that surrounds them, would certainly have chafed at that. Reportedly, it was a stroke he suffered while in the hospital, rather than the crash, that left him unable to write any more. It seemed like such a loss then, made all the more permanent and real now.

Between Sheldon Brown in 2008, and now Jobst Brandt, I feel like I've lost two of my icons.