Monday, March 30, 2015

Bike Safety 101: Drive Your Bike

It's hard to imagine a more car-centric bicycle safety film than Drive Your Bike from 1954. It's also one of the most incredibly dull and stilted films of the genre, and believe me, that's a crowded field.

This 10-minute film was made by the Sullivan Company, which according to the Prelinger Archives was a family-owned film production company from Southern California. I've heard that the film is like a time capsule of Burbank Calif. in the '50s. If that's true, I deeply hope that refers only to the sights and scenes, and not the people. I'd like to think that actual people back then weren't this dreadfully stiff in real life. But also, one would think that being as close as Burbank is to Hollywood, they could have found people who were even just marginally better actors.

The film opens with this scene of three young boys driving a Studebaker (which appears for all the world to have NO windshield!):

"Now, what do you suppose these boys are doing driving this car?" says the narrator. "They aren't old enough to drive." Uh-oh. It seems like the setup for one of those films on juvenile delinquency.

But then - jokes on you! They're only pretending to drive while the car is safely parked in the driveway. Next thing we know, here comes Dad, who needs to get to work:
"And where do you boys think you're going?"
"Oh, hi Dad - we were just practicing our driving."
Dad then humors the boy by asking what he knows about driving. As it turns out, quite a lot. . .

"You're not trying to tell me you know how to drive a car, are you?"
"Sure, Dad. Just watch this. First you put this lever in neutral, then you turn on the key, then you step on the starter to get the engine going. Then you put in the clutch, put in in gear, and step on the gas. How's that?"  Cars were a little more complicated back then. And tell me I'm wrong about the windshield.
Dad always manages to come across as a condescending pr$%k.
"That's pretty good as far as it goes, but that's just the mechanical part of it. There's many other things you have to know before you can drive a car. Important things like traffic rules and regulations."
The kids then tell Dad about how the "Coach" has been teaching them all about traffic rules every week at school. "We call it learning to 'drive our bike'."

"If we learn about all the regulations by driving our bikes, we'll be ready to drive a car when we're old enough."
Yessir - then you'll never have to ride that bike again. That's what it's all about. It's the American Dream.
Again and again, we see back-to-back shots of the boys on their bikes, then behind the wheel of a car as the film encourages kids to think like a driver -- not a bike rider. (I hope the cars are being towed during the filming, and not actually driven by the kids.) "Coach says we should always drive our bike like we would drive a car. So you see, if we think about driving our bike and always doing the safe thing, we're not as likely to get into trouble."
Suddenly, Dad decides he's not in any hurry to get to work, as he gets back out of the car to grill the kids on what they've learned about "driving your bike."
Dad practically oozes with condescending smugness.

He's like Ward Cleaver's @$$hole brother.

Dad proceeds to give the kids the 3rd degree about their lessons, peppering them with question after question, and the kids give him excruciatingly scripted answers. The film stresses that bikes follow the same rules and regulations as cars -- great -- but it apparently doesn't mean they deserve the same respect.
No "taking the lane" here -- the film practically tells kids to ride in the "door zone" and be prepared to stop -- a lot.
As Dad and the boys talk about the dangers of riding double on a bike, they imagine how "silly'" it would be to ride around on the hood of a car. Just "silly"? -- not dangerous or potentially deadly? And I find it ironic that the filmmakers actually have a kid riding on the hood of a moving car in filming the scene. The kid looks like he's having fun, though -- the way a dog loves hanging its head out the window.
Always slow down before crossing intersections, obey signs, give pedestrians the right-of-way. Yadda yadda yadda. Pretty typical bike safety film fare.

"It's just as important to keep our bikes in good condition as it is to keep up a car."
You can practically smell the chain oil and Brylcreme.
"You boys seem to know quite a bit about riding. . . that is. . . driving your bikes. . . You know, I've been wondering about something. Is all this just a lot of 'fancy talk' or do you really drive your bike?"

The boys then go on to tell Dad about times they've avoided trouble on the roads by thinking like drivers instead of like kids on bikes. For example, this boy had a good head of steam going on a long downhill stretch, but decided to stop for some little girls in the crosswalk, even though the loss of momentum was going to mean a "tough pump" to get to the top of the next hill.

WWDD. What would a driver do? Hmmm. I'm going to say fly through the intersection without looking. But the kid is actually more attentive . . .

 "When a car also stopped, it made me feel pretty good knowing that I set a good example for that driver."
Dad: "Wasn't that good feeling you got from being courteous and considerate worth the extra effort it took to get to the top?"
Kid: "Yeah - I'll say it was."
Gosh - that's swell.
Then one of the boys tells us about Tom Kelly, who "almost did a foolish thing" by riding down the wrong side of the street. . .

"Then he thought how dangerous it would be to drive a car down the wrong side of a busy street, and how easy it would be to cause an accident. He decided that wasn't a very good way to drive his bike, then turned around and went back to the corner, where he crossed in the crosswalk, then rode down on the right side of the street. So you see, he probably avoided an accident by remembering to drive his bike." Damn, that dialogue is stiff -- and delivered almost robotically.
Eventually, Dad decides he's grilled the kids long enough, and it's time to get to work.

"I'd like to hear more about this later. It certainly seems to me you boys are doing a good job of driving your bikes. You're learning a lot of valuable and important things that will be very useful to you when you start to drive a car. In fact, you already know more about safe driving than many adult drivers. Well, so long." 
As the film concludes, we get a glimpse of the Coach's bike safety course at school, where the Coach summarizes what we need to know so we can all become productive, well-adjusted, "normal," red-white-and-blue flag-waving, car-driving consumers.

"Now we have learned it's very important to know all the rules and regulations of traffic. And that it's even more important to know why we have the rules, and why we must obey them. But the most important thing of all is to know how to drive your bike safely without having to stop and think of rules to cover every situation. You might not have time to think of a rule. . .
"Always use your head, and think about safety. . . By starting now and learning to drive your bikes, you'll be able to drive an automobile when you're old enough. And you'll be able to do a good safe job of it. Remember to Drive Your Bike."
One of the things that amazes me again and again in these old films is that, if the films are in any way a reflection of real life at the time, then one must assume that bicycle safety classes were a pretty common thing in schools in the '50s and '60s. I'm assuming that must have been the case, otherwise, under what context would these films have been shown? The films are almost always "aw shucks" goofy, or overly simplistic, often full of unintended irony, and have all the hallmarks of ultra low-budget production. But just the fact that there was even some kind of attempt at all to teach kids about riding (even if it was just meant as a stepping stone to future car ownership, as was the case with so many of them) would indicate that people were on to something back then that we've lost sight of somewhere over the years.

It's almost impossible to imagine, in this day of relentless standardized testing -- when arts, music, and even physical education programs are being slashed or eliminated altogether -- that schools would start devoting time to bicycle safety. Hell -- in a lot of communities nowadays, any parent who would even allow their child to ride a bike to school would probably be brought up on charges of child endangerment.

Films like Drive Your Bike might be dumb -- but focused education on bicycle riding, rules, and rights, is anything but.

Insomniacs can download Drive Your Bike at the Prelinger Archives, or it's also available for viewing through YouTube, or right here:


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Whatever Happened To Rebecca Twigg?

I don't know if there is any male cyclist of my generation who didn't have a full-out crush on Rebecca Twigg at some point in their life. Twigg was one of the most dominant American bicycle racers of the 80s and early 90s -- male or female. She was fast, super intelligent, and beautiful. How could anyone resist?

Twigg in the '80s with the 7-Eleven
Women's Team.

Rebecca Twigg held numerous National Championship titles on the track, mostly in pursuit, and on the road for both the individual time trial and road race. She was the silver-medalist in the 1984 Olympic road race, and the bronze-medalist in pursuit at the '92 Olympics. She was also a 6-time World Champion in pursuit. In addition to those titles, Rebecca won the Coors Classic stage race in '83, as well as the first three editions of the Ore-Ida Women's Challenge, from '84 - '86, which was one of the top women's road races in the North America at the time. Her incredible list of palmares puts her into very elite company. And then after 1997, she pretty much disappeared from the public eye.

According to a 1996 Sports Illustrated interview, Twigg was born in Hawaii, but was raised in the Seattle area. As a child, she was so precociously intelligent, that at the age of 14, instead of starting high school, she started college at the University of Washington where she got a degree in Biology. Perhaps ironically, her mother apparently wanted to spare the painfully shy teenager the difficulty of trying to fit in at high school. Not surprisingly, Rebecca felt completely cut-off as a young kid in a college environment. But during that time, she turned her attention to bicycle racing, where she applied her talent and passion for perfection. Within a short time, she was shredding the competition in junior girls road and track competitions. She won her first of 16 National Championship titles (in the individual time trial) at the age of 18. National titles in the road race, and her favored event, the pursuit, soon followed, as well as her first World Championship in pursuit that same year.

One of the earliest pictures I could find of Rebecca in
Bicycling magazine, from 1978. She must have been about 15
years old at the time, competing in one of the youth divisions
at the National Championships. She wasn't identified by name,
but there's no mistaking that that's her on the left.

After only a couple of years or racing, she had attracted the attention of the U.S. National Team coach, Eddie Borysewicz, or "Eddie B" who eventually encouraged her to move to Colorado Springs with an eye towards the '84 Olympics. In the women's road race, she was nipped at the line by Connie Carpenter, another American racing legend, but the 1-2 American finish was a high-point for this country's burgeoning bicycle racing scene.

In 1985, she married another national-team bicycle racer, Mark Whitehead, though that marriage lasted only a couple of years. (Whitehead died in 2011, at the age of 50).

Then at the age of only 26, with an impressive run of National and World titles, Twigg retired from racing and returned to college to get another degree, this time in computer science. She then spent the next couple of years as a computer programmer.

In 1991 she returned to racing when she learned that the pursuit event, which had previously not been offered as a women's Olympic event, was being added for the '92 games in Barcelona. She took the bronze in those games, and went on to win two more World Championships in that event in the next two years.

This was from an article in Vanity Fair, 5/96, 
with the photo taken by Annie Liebowitz.
You can really get a sense of the power Twigg
must have had in those legs from this picture.
There was some controversy surrounding Rebecca Twigg about the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta. According to articles from the time, like this one from the Washington Post, there were tensions between Twigg and then-national team director Chris Carmichael, resulting in Twigg leaving the Olympics before the games concluded. Much of the tension revolved around criticism from Carmichael about her training, but especially had to do with disagreements regarding the so-called "SuperBike" developed specially for the Atlanta games. Developed at great expense, the SuperBike was supposed to be the secret weapon that would give the Americans the competitive advantage they needed to repeat the kind of success they had in '84. The performance of the Americans, despite the technological advantage promised by the new bikes, was disappointing (you can almost hear the collective groan rise up from all retrogrouches). Twigg was discouraged by her performance on the wünderbike in her first round in the pursuit, and refused to use it in her second heat. The bikes were supposed to be the "best on the planet," but Twigg didn't like the fit, and blamed the surrounding disagreements and tensions for breaking her focus.

A Pearl Izumi ad from about 1984.
It wasn't too long after that, in 1997, that she left the sport of bicycle racing for good. It's hard to find out what she's been doing since. I've heard through one of the bicycle forums that she might be doing something in the medical field with her biology degree, though I have no idea how reliable that is. It's just as possible that she's still in the computer field, or perhaps doing something completely different. There's no doubt she was smart enough and driven enough to excel at anything she set her mind to.

In 2002, she was inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, though according to the USBHF website she did not go to the induction ceremony, and instead her award was accepted for her by a third party. The most recent thing I could find about her was from 2004 when she participated in Greg LeMond's Fantasy Cycling Camp which was held to raise money for Eddie B, whose California home was destroyed by brushfires earlier that year. There wasn't much information given, other than the fact that she was there.

Rebecca's impressive racing credentials, as well as her pretty face, meant that one could see her in numerous advertisements and magazine covers. You can see a couple examples here. I still have a couple old issues of Bicycle Guide on which her picture graces the covers. And searching through the pages, it isn't too hard to find her picture in some of the ads -- though my favorite is probably the Pro-tec ad shown below. A quick Google search would turn up a less modest version that was available as a poster, though I don't seem to have a copy of that one in my possession.

From the cover of Bicycle Guide, 1985
Another Bicycle Guide cover, from 1988
A 1988 ad for Pro-tec helmets. There is another
version out there that's far less modest, and a 
bit more playful. I've always liked this one, though.

There's a good reason that I'm posting this little homage to Rebecca Twigg today. Rebecca was born on March 26, 1963, which means that she's turning 52 years old today. Happy Birthday, Rebecca!

Maybe somebody out there knows where she is or what she's doing -- and maybe pass this along to her. She might like to know that she still has a lot of fans out there. Among American bicycle racers, male or female, Rebecca Twigg remains one of the all-time best.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gokiso: Ultimate Wheels. Ultimate Price.

So, once you've bought your $1000 titanium derailleur pulleys and you still haven't captured all the KOMs on Strava, where else can you turn to blow ungodly amounts of money seeking those elusive and increasingly minuscule performance gains? A couple of readers have alerted me to an answer.

How about a pair of $8000 wheels with jet engine bearing technology?

If that sounds like a good deal to you, you'll need to check out the Gokiso full-carbon wheels. Made in Japan by the Kondo Machine Corporation, which reportedly makes bearings for Rolls-Royce jet engines, the Gokiso hubs and wheels features some pretty over-the-top engineering at a price that anybody in the 1% club should be able to easily afford.

If one doesn't want the full wheelset, individual hubsets are available from the company starting around $1800, or over $5000 for a full-titanium version. The hubs are designed to eliminate friction that you didn't even know hubs experienced, and have numerous little tricks engineered into them to keep the bearings always perfectly aligned and running freely regardless of the kinds of forces they might be subjected to.

One of the features that people are touting about the Gokiso hubs and wheels is that it takes virtually no force to get them spinning -- and once they're spinning, they just keep going and going. Not only that, but they are capable of easily handling the kind of speeds that no cyclist is actually capable of reaching, with almost no friction losses. In tests by the company, they've had the hubs running at over 100 km/hr for 100,000 km without failure. In other tests they've spun the hubs up to 300 km/hr with virtually no heat generated, and no bearing failure. So if you spring for the Gokiso wheels, you can rest assured that when you're pedaling along at 300 km/hr, your hubs won't fail you. Check.

An independent test of the hubs conducted by in Australia checked how long it would take the Gokiso-hub wheels to spin down from 30 km/hr, compared to a typical high-end wheel. The tests were conducted with wheels mounted into a frame on a bike stand (not "on the road") and it's very clear from the following chart that the Gokiso hubs kept spinning longer:

(from CyclingTips)
As you can see, with the chain engaged on the sprockets (you know, the way people actually ride their bikes), the Gokiso hubs might spin as many as 10 - 15 seconds longer! But to experience the full advantage, it's clearly best to leave the chain off -- then, boy, look at the difference!

By the way, if someone buys the hubs, it's worth noting that this kind of technical wizardry is not user-serviceable. The company insists that all work on the hubs be done by a factory-certified mechanic, and for most people that means sending them away for service. Not only that, but they say that users should plan to have this service done annually (or more often with all-weather use). On the plus side, provided one follows these service requirements, the warranty on the top-level "Super Climber" hubs is 29 years (why 29 -- why not just make it a nice round 30?) or 10 years for the base model.

The folks at Gizmag are pretty pumped up about them too. You can tell they really "get" bikes there by this opening paragraph: "If you've ever watched the Tour de France and winced as all those skinny-wheeled racing bikes bounced over the cobblestone roads . . . well, you were right to do so." Oh yes - those "skinny-wheeled" racing bikes, just like they use in the Toor Dee Fraance. I know just what they mean.

Even Bloomberg Business News has written about the Gokiso wheels, but their assessment is surprisingly more down-to-earth. First, they compare the high-tech hubs to other over-the-top technological products, like Sharp's $1300 refrigerator that makes crystal clear ice cubes, or Panasonic's $1800 washing machine with smartphone connectivity. They then point out that the company has only sold about 30 pairs of the hyper-expensive wheels so far, before concluding with "The bottom line: Two inventors found it easier to build $7,900 bike wheels than to sell them -- a classic case of Japanese overengineering."

If all this sounds like a bit too much, just remember that you can get a pair of Phil Wood hubs, which are about as good as anyone can possibly need, for $600 - 700 (or less, depending on the model). Then again, I'm still using a pair of fully rebuildable Campagnolo Record hubs from the '70s -- still spinning like new.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Must Have Item: CeramicSpeed Hollow Titanium Pulleys

Just think how much of your pedaling effort gets wasted by derailleur pulleys on a typical bike ride. All that weight. All that friction. Sapping your energy, and as a result, your speed. I know I think about it all the time, and I find myself wishing someone could come up with a solution -- at any cost.

Well, that solution is finally here.

CeramicSpeed, a Danish company which is known for their high-quality ceramic bearings for bicycles has just introduced the latest must-have weapon for racers and triathletes -- hollow titanium ceramic bearing derailleur pulleys. Made in cooperation with the Danish Technological Institute, these 3D printed pulley wheels are the result of 4 years worth of R&D, and are said to last 3x longer than their standard aluminium pulleys, while weighing 10% less! And with their cutting-edge ceramic bearings, just think about how much speed a person could gain by switching to these. I get excited just thinking about it.

"Big dreams belong to the ones who dare," says the company's press release, "and the team of professionals at CeramicSpeed dared to shatter the way expert gear for high-end bicycles are made." I know these are like a dream come true for me. I'll never look at derailleur pulleys the same way again.

According to CeramicSpeed, the 3D printing process, also known as "additive manufacturing" builds up thin sequences of titanium dust, heated by laser light and "imprinted in layers of perfection." But that is only the beginning, as the pulleys then go through a series of "after-treatment processes to highlight a design and finish studied into detail by the most creative minds."

But a secret weapon like these pulleys isn't for everyone. Nope - the company says its first production run of these exclusive speed enhancers is limited to only 10 marked sets, individually numbered, and each one delivered in an exclusive case. And the price of admission is only $1000.

Some people might scoff at $1000 derailleur pulleys, but they just don't get it. Speed doesn't come free, and the kind of performance gains these things would just have to deliver is worth every penny.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Cars, Bikes, and Distorted Risk Assessment

If you spend much time riding the roads, you'll hear it a lot -- from friends, family, co-workers, and often from complete strangers.

"You ride on the road? Aren't you afraid of the cars?"

"I'd ride my bike more, but it's just too dangerous out there."

"I knew this guy once whose sister's boyfriend's cousin got killed on a bike. So you'll never see me riding one."

We've all been there.
My personal favorite was when I was flying down a long steep hill, going about 40 mph (speed limit was 35) when a guy in an SUV approached from a side street on the left. He had a stop sign, but he looked up the hill, saw me coming (no mistaking it), and instead of stopping, he hit the gas and pulled out directly in front of me. I hit the brakes hard and just barely kept myself from slamming into the back of him. I was close behind him all the way to the bottom of the hill where we both had to stop and wait for a red light. The guy rolled down his window, stuck his head out and said to me, "You really should be more careful. You're going to get hurt riding your bike like that."  Yeah, buddy. And if I do, it's going to be at the hands of some impatient boneheaded pr*&k like you.

The thing is, people talk a lot about the dangers of being on a bike. Maybe they think they're being helpful, or showing concern. Little do they realize (or care?) that one of the most dangerous things they do, day after day, is to get behind the wheel of a car. Dangerous to themselves, and dangerous to those around them. 

Think about those comments mentioned earlier, particularly comments like "Somebody knew somebody who got killed on a bike." Notice that it's rarely anybody they knew closely, but even if it was, it doesn't make much difference. That one story, regardless of how personally close or distant, convinces them that cycling is dangerous. They'll be committed to telling the story to every cyclist they meet. Yet these same people probably know a lot more people who were killed or permanently disabled in car accidents, but they don't give that a second thought. It certainly doesn't give them pause before getting into a car.

I'll talk personally here for a moment, because I don't think my own experience on this is likely very different from most peoples'.

We've all read about fatal cycling accidents. It's actually still rare enough that it usually makes the papers. And I can name several people who were killed while cycling. I wrote here in this blog back in December about Tom Palermo, the framebuilder from Baltimore. Tom's death was tragic, and even became national news (though that probably had as much to do with the identity and position of the driver as it did with the circumstances of his death). I know of one or two other cyclists through the Classic Rendezvous group. It's worth noting, however, that I didn't know any of them personally -- I knew of Tom because of his work, but we'd never actually met. Same goes for those I knew through the CR group.

Now, how many people have I known who've been killed or disabled in car crashes? It's difficult for me to give an accurate number. Every time I try to count, more names come back to me. And I'm not talking about casual acquaintances, or "friends of friends." I mean family and close friends, and especially students. Some are dead. Others will never be the same. Teaching for over twenty years, I've probably lost at least a dozen students to car crashes, which are one of the leading causes of death for teens.

Like I said -- most people out there probably have similar experiences. We probably all know far more people killed in cars than on bikes, but the assessment of the risk is completely disproportional. People think of cars as "safe." Bicycles are "dangerous."

Somewhere around 700 cyclists are killed each year in the U.S. The number of people killed each year in car crashes is around 34,000, although that number is falling from year to year as cars become safer for their occupants. Yes, there are many more people who travel by car regularly than by bike, but keep in mind that a large percentage of those killed on bikes are also going about things wrong. They are riding the wrong way on the road, riding in the dark without lights, riding on sidewalks -- the list goes on and on. Knowledge, experience, and defensive riding go a long way towards protecting cyclists.

On the other hand, well over 4000 pedestrians are killed each year by cars, and those numbers are actually increasing. So as airbags and crumple zones are making people feel safer inside their cars, they seem to be wreaking more havoc on the people around them. And again, many drivers seem blissfully unaware of the danger they pose. (all those figures, though rounded, come from NHTSA).

By the way, as long as I'm on statistics, I should mention that household accidents kill nearly 20,000 people annually -- with falls, poisoning, fires, suffocation, and drowning being the top causes -- but nobody I know is afraid of taking a bath.

People seem to have the uncanny ability to diminish the significance of something they're very familiar with, while overemphasizing that which they are not. Most people either drive or travel by car on a daily basis. Most do not cycle. As a result, they identify with other drivers, but not the cyclists. That leads to a lot of distorted perceptions.

For example, drivers see cars blow through traffic lights every day (and sometimes do it themselves), but they remain blind to it. They see a cyclist run through a stop sign, and suddenly all cyclists are scofflaws. They see or hear about a fatal car crash, and it's as though it never happened. They hear about a cyclist killed, and it reinforces their distorted perception. Thousands of pedestrians are killed by cars, compared to a handful killed by cyclists (it's pretty hard to find accurate numbers for that), but you can guess which one people get more shrill about.

That distorted perception is also part of what leads many non-cyclists to push for helmet laws. I usually wear a helmet when I ride. I know few experienced cyclists who don't. But I also recognize the flaws in helmet testing and design enough that I would never over-estimate a helmet's effectiveness. But to non-cyclists, wearing a helmet is everything. And any time a cyclist gets killed, the press are sure to remark whether or not the rider was wearing one. (I'm still expecting to see this one at some point: "The rider's head was found in the bushes, but he was not wearing a helmet.")

It's easy to get overly caught up in frightening statistics, but it's important to remember that statistics never tell the whole story. When people tell you that you're crazy for riding, it's good to put things into perspective. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

NAHBS: Objectification Is Not Dead

A bicycle built by Allan Abbott and displayed at the recent North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) has been the center of a fair amount of controversy around the net. Built in the form of a naked woman, the Signorina (as Abbott has dubbed it) has led to a lot of criticism of its creator, but some of the criticism has even been directed at NAHBS officials for allowing the bike to be shown.

Where to begin? Hmmm. . .

What it isn't:

It isn't cool. Or sexy. It isn't clever. It isn't art. It isn't funny. It isn't even that well-made.

What it is:


I don't really even want to put up a picture of the thing, but I'd probably be doing a disservice to readers if I didn't show at least one. Some of the blogs out there are railing against the bike, and Abbott, and even NAHBS for promoting indecency -- then splashing huge pictures of the bike from every possible angle. If anyone really wants to see more, it shouldn't be hard to find. But on this blog, you'll have to settle for this:

Basically, what you have here is an oddly proportioned naked "woman" on her hands and knees -- not to mention, headless. It really just kind of grosses me out.

I'm not sure what it says about its creator that it even occurred to him to make this thing -- but it's even more shocking that he wanted to share it with an international audience.

What makes it worse (if that's possible) is that on his website, Abbott had a poll to get opinions on the bike:

"If you owned Signorina, would you. . . 

- Treat her like art in your home
- Allow only a few friends to see her
- Rider her hard and often
- Keep her locked to your bed
- Other"

However, if you go to Abbott's website now to look for the poll, you will find that not only has the poll been removed, but the entire contents of the website have been taken down. Clearly, the negative outcry against him and his creation has been too much to take.

What can I say -- people have freedom of expression -- but they don't have freedom from consequences.

Here is a sampling of what others have had to say about Abbott's Signorina:

Red Kite Prayer: "Cycling has enough problems with being insufficiently hospitable to women without the addition of throwback attitudes that treat women as sex objects and objectifies their form. It only serves to make many of the women we do have in the sport feel unwelcome, which is totally unacceptable. The more rich and diverse a community is, the stronger it is."

Bicycle Times Magazine: "The Signorina from Abbott Cycles takes the objectification of women to a new level. Definitely sucks that this is how women are represented here. Especially since this object was one of about 10 women I saw at the whole show."

BikeSnobNYC: "It seems Allan Abbott forgot to include 'registered sex offender' in his bio. Though he did manage to squeeze in a rape joke, which is pretty much the same thing." (reference to the poll from Abbott's website)

The Daily Bike @ Adventure-Journal: "Because men have dominated and subjugated and objectified women for so many thousands of years, and because the bicycle culture is one of the last, worst refuges of sexist jerks, somehow it's okay that this appallingly misguided and frankly ugly frame was given space to be shown to others. . . And by allowing it, the organizers of the NAHBS are just as complicit in the offense as Allan Abbott."

By the way -- lots of photos on that last one.

It's sad to think that there are still people out there who think there's an audience for something like this. And if there is an appreciative audience, they probably aren't people I want to ride with. There's probably more I could say, but I'll just leave it at that.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Eric Clapton - Bicycles and Rock & Roll

I was listening to Disraeli Gears by Cream the other day and it got me thinking about bicycles.

Bicycles? Really?


Granted, lots of things get me thinking about bicycles, but it's probably already well known among us old bicycle enthusiasts (or maybe not) that Eric Clapton has been a huge fan of bicycles -- especially classic Cinellis -- going back to his youth. So was the band's drummer, Ginger Baker, for that matter. Their mutual love for racing bicycles, and a roadie's malapropism, led to the title of that iconic 1967 album.

The story goes that Baker and Clapton were talking about bikes one time in the back of a car, and according to Baker, "Mick Turner was one of the roadies who'd been with me a long time, and he was driving along and Eric was talking about getting a racing bicycle." Apparently, Turner commented about the bike having "disraeli gears," as opposed to derailleur gears. (The actual Disraeli was a British Prime Minister during the Victorian era). "We all just fell over," said Baker. "We said that's got to be the album title." (

I first heard about Clapton's passion for bicycles when I saw this picture in one of the bike mags back in the 80s"
That's Eric Clapton taking delivery of a new Cinelli Supercorsa from Antonio Colombo in 1987. Colombo is the owner of Columbus tubing, and has been the owner of Cinelli since 1978.
Clapton's love for classic Cinelli bikes has been well documented over the years, and he has apparently owned more than a few, from different vintages. In fact, here's another picture from the 80s, which one can find on the Cinelli website.

I've heard and read from numerous sources, including former British framebuilder Dave Moulton, that Clapton used to race a bit in his teens, probably time-trials mostly (like most British racers in those days), and that bikes and guitars were the competing interests in his life. Guitars and music of course took the lead, but he never really let go of the bike bug.

Clapton used to have a blog (it appears to be defunct at this time) where he would occasionally post some thoughts, and sometimes pictures, of his passions. Sometimes, his bikes would make the blog, like this vintage track bike:
Photo from Eric Clapton's now-defunct blog. Great old components
would sometimes make the blog, too.
In 2010, Clapton was pictured on the cover of a Japanese fashion magazine (with an English-language title -- Free & Easy. Gotta love it!) posing with what looks to be a '60s-vintage Cinelli.

Clapton mentioned bikes a few times in his 2007 autobiography, too. In one passage, he talks about getting one of his first bicycles. In another he describes a visit to Japan, and meeting with designer Hiroshi Fujiwara. He writes, "Hiroshi came over to the hotel with his new Cinelli track bike. He is still a leading pioneer in street culture, hence the Cinelli. . . I have caught the obsession of course. He is very infectious, and I have begun buying vintage road bikes, not to ride but because I have always loved the equipment of cycling, especially bikes and accessories from the sixties."

Legendary drummer, Ginger Baker,
looking ironic in the 60s
As mentioned previously, drummer Ginger Baker, who collaborated with Clapton both with Cream and with Blind Faith, was also once an avid cyclist and aspiring racer. In Baker's own website, under the history archives, there is a quote from a 1967 press article: "Ginger Baker was doing very well as a professional bicycle racer when he was fifteen. He had already discovered and enjoyed listening to the music of jazzman Dizzy Gillespie. One day he sat down at a drum set and found he could play . . . He's been a drummer ever since."

Something tells me that the description of the 15-yr old Baker as a "professional bicycle racer" is a slight exaggeration, but numerous sources mention his early ambitions to race bicycles. In a 2009 Rolling Stone interview, it was said that an accident on the bike with a taxi left him with a busted bicycle, ending the dream. Another source says that the accident broke his leg, and it was during that time while he was recuperating that he started playing the drums. In any case, the drums quickly changed the direction of his life.

It's fun to imagine these two legends of rock -- one of the greatest guitarists, and one of the greatest drummers -- chatting between gigs, or out on tour, swapping stories of riding, racing, and the bikes they loved.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Axles of Evil

Decisions, decisions. Don't ask the bike industry to make them. And agreeing on standards? Forget that too. Bottom brackets and headsets are both in such a state of flux that there's a good chance that a lot of new bikes sitting in showrooms right now will be as obsolete in a couple of years as a Betamax video player (or an HD-DVD player, for you kids who might be reading this).

Joining those components in a race towards confusion and forced obsolescence are hubs and axles.

Seemingly forever, bicycle wheel axles have been 10 mm for back wheels, and 9mm for the front. The width of back wheels went from 120mm in the days of 5 speed freewheels, grew to 126 for 6 and 7 speeds, and generally up to about 130mm for 8, 9, and 10 speed cassettes (for road bikes that is -- mountain bikes were often more like 135mm). Front axle widths have been consistent at 100mm for pretty much everything other than children's bikes. In addition, the simple quick release system we're all familiar with has been a feature on higher-quality bikes going back to before most people reading this can remember.

So, what is driving the current change and confusion? Simple answer: Disc brakes, and thru-axles.

Mountain bikers, who were the early adopters of newer disc brake systems, started having problems with braking forces overwhelming the traditional quick release, and pulling the front wheel out. This was particularly a problem with the downhill bikes which have evolved to be more like engine-less motorcycles than bicycles. I'm guessing that most "regular" mountain bikers, especially those who know how to properly use a quick release, didn't have serious problems (please forgive me if I'm wrong about that). Anyhow, the chosen solution to the problem was to ditch the traditional quick release in favor of a thru-axle design. Not only that, but the size of those front axles continued to swell so that eventually some downhill bikes started using massive 20mm thick axles (think about it - that's double the thickness of the traditional rear axle!). I can only suppose that the rationale was not only about the braking forces, but also the forces directed on the front axle from big hits suffered in their downhill runs. The way I understand it is that many of the mountain bikes out there now have settled on 15 x 100mm thru-axles for front wheels, and 12 x 142mm thru-axles for the rear.

Disc brakes and thru-axles on road bikes. But which
"standard" to use? (photo from

Now with frame and component makers pushing disc brakes for the road, the question of hub standards is suddenly becoming another puzzle. And the solution to that puzzle keeps changing. Can the industry agree upon a standard? Are you kidding?

The component makers seem to be waiting for the bike companies to make a choice, while the bike companies are waiting for component makers to come up with the answer. Smaller bike companies are waiting to see what the big boys are doing. In the meantime, there is a hodgepodge of options floating around out there. Some companies are sticking with traditional quick release. Some are moving to thru-axles, but the exact dimensions are up in the air. Some, like Trek, are betting on 15mm front axles to keep things consistent with mountain bikes. Others, like Specialized, think 12mm axles will work fine for the road. On the back, the current choices seem to be the mountain bike "standard" (there's that meaningless word again) of 12 x 142mm -- which seems really freakin' wide for a road bike! Others are looking into 12 x 135mm. Some companies are hedging bets by offering different versions -- some of this, some of that -- as if hoping the consumers will make the choice for them.

Personally, if I were in the market for one these new bikes (and I definitely am not), I'd be hesitant to plunk down a lot of money on the "latest thing," only to find out in a couple of years that I'd made the wrong choice when I can't find components to fit my frame.

A recent article on the subject on BikeRadar had a quote from an "industry veteran" who says such a worry is exaggerated. "The bicycle industry has done a good job of continuing support of older standards." I don't know that I'd totally agree with that. Quick release has been around for a long time, and will probably continue to be supported for a long time to come. But what about some other so-called "standards" (perhaps "fads" would be a better term) that don't stick around long enough to become really established before being superseded by something else? The industry veteran in that BikeRadar article went on to say "at a point, you can trade up. By then other systems will have advanced as well, making it, if you're so inclined, time for a new bike."

Basically, when this year's bike becomes obsolete, you'll just buy a new bike -- because the new stuff will be so much better anyhow. If that doesn't sum it all up, I don't know what else would.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

More Press-Fit Bottom Bracket Madness

Back in 2013, I wrote about press-fit bottom brackets, and all the various "standards" that have been introduced in recent years. I summarized it by saying essentially that the only thing "standard" about bottom brackets today is the creaking. Not surprisingly the creaking continues. What IS surprising to me is that the industry has gone almost two years without introducing yet another new bottom bracket "standard."

Several companies think they have the solution to creaking press-fit bottom brackets, and they want you to spend a lot of money attending to something that should never have been an issue on a $4000+ carbon fiber wünderbike to begin with.

One of these solutions is the BBInfinite. Funded on Kickstarter last summer, the BBInfinite is supposed to eliminate the variables in tolerances between the bottom bracket shell of the frame and the bearing mechanism by putting both the left and right side bearings into one complete shell, and the whole shebang is pressed into place as one single unit.

The BBInfinite sells for $165, and it does come with tool adapters for Park headset presses. Removal takes more special tools, including an air hammer (!) and those tools are sold separately. Some users will probably want to buy the tools anyhow, though I wouldn't recommend doing the job at home.

Remember when these were all the tools you needed to install, remove, or service a bottom bracket and crank? And keep in mind that two of those spanners also service headsets. The one on the top also installs/removes pedals.

The installation video for the BBInfinite shows all of these tools to install the unit -- though I think the main one needed would be the Park headset press and the special adapters or inserts for the press. Given the very specific nature of some of the tools (made solely for the BBInfinite) and the immense possibility of destroying a very expensive carbon fiber frame should something go wrong, I think few home mechanics will be doing the job themselves.

No grease or oil. Everything must be clean and wiped down and decontaminated with alcohol. Only in the final stage of the press-fit process does one apply a bit of loctite -- because loctite is like the "take two aspirin and call me in the morning" solution for press-fit bottom brackets. 

They say it goes in fairly easy with a headset press and some special adapters, but it hurts just to watch it. I think the potential for destroying a carbon fiber frame would be great, so I wouldn't recommend trying this at home, kids.

To remove the BBInfinite, you need an air hammer and their own special bearing dies. The video also notes "Make sure removal of the module is necessary before commencing" Why? I'm guessing the BBInfinite is not meant to be installed or removed more than one or two times in its lifespan.

An instructional video on YouTube shows how to remove the BBInfinite with the air hammer -- good thing they remove the sound from the video. "Eye and hearing protection are recommended." Luckily this isn't something that needs to be done often. I guess the makers are pretty confident that once installed, it shouldn't need to come out again. Should the bearings need to be serviced (well, not serviced, exactly - I should more correctly say "replaced") it is possible to do it without removing the entire BBInfinite unit - but that job requires yet another special set of tools (not shown).
Now, the whole point in creating something like the BBInfinite is to try to eliminate some of the fit issues that come from inconsistent tolerances between the frames and the components. It seems like a good system in that the left and right bearing units will always remain in parallel with one another -- which may not be true of units that are pressed in separately from each side of the frame. But it seems to me that if the tolerances of the frame are off enough from those of the bottom bracket unit (even this one) it could still have problems with creaking. And on the company website, there are two posts headed up with something like "It still creaks." For example, "I installed a BBInfinite module and my bike is still creaking. What do I do now?" Various culprits are then named, from cranks to wheels, to cracks in the frame. Great.

Another new entry into the Stop-My-BB-From-Creaking foray comes from Enduro. Called the TorqTite, it uses an innovative new method to eliminate persistent creaking. It threads together. That's right --- the solution to press-fit bottom bracket fit issues is to install a threaded bottom bracket. When the two sides are threaded together and tightened down, the frame is then essentially "clamped" tightly between the cup flanges to eliminate any movement that would then lead to creaking. It's like the next logical step in the evolution of press-fit bottom brackets. My prediction is that the next step is that someone will suggest cutting threads into the frame's bottom bracket shell to match up with the threading in the BB unit -- thereby giving a uniquely sure-fit, fool-proof solution.

Proponents of press-fit bottom brackets like to point out that headset cups have been press-fit into frames practically forever with no issues. To that I point out the obvious, that being that headsets are subjected to totally different kinds of forces than bottom brackets. Others will remind us that old-style American one-piece cranks, like those found on old cruisers, department store bikes, and on BMX bikes, have always used press-fit bearing cups without problems. Yes, that's also true -- so then what does that say about the state of the industry today that their manufacturing tolerances aren't even as good as those used on bottom-level bikes from the past? Proponents also love to talk about the increased stiffness in today's bottom brackets. To that I reply, just how stiff do bottom brackets need to be? Once things moved from the old square-taper bottom bracket spindles (typically about 17 mm in diameter), to the external-threaded cups with their 24 mm spindles, it seems to me that bottom brackets got as stiff as they'll ever need to be. Nobody can feel the difference, despite what the manufacturers proclaim in their ads.

Nope - I've said it before, but I'll say it again. The only real reason for going to these press-fit bottom brackets is to save time and money for manufacturers. No metal sleeves to be bonded into their popped-out-of-a-mold-somewhere-in-asia frames. No machining to precise tolerances. No threads to be cut. And it's apparently left up to various frame makers and component makers to come up with their own tolerance specs.

If somebody has a modern carbon fiber wünderbike with bottom bracket creaking issues, one of these two new products might offer viable solutions. But wouldn't it just be better if the industry picked itself a standard, and eliminated some of the tolerance variables? I think high-end bicycle buyers need to start demanding better.

On BikeRadar, I saw this recent rant from AngryAsian where he points out that "frame warranties almost always include a clause that covers 'manufacturing defects'." Therefore, if a person's frame is not made to the proper specifications for the intended bottom bracket system, then they should demand replacement. "You're sitting on a lemon - and no amount of sugar is going to make it taste good. . . Demand a correctly made version of what you bought. If the shell dimensions really aren't what they should be, your bike is defective and you're entitled to one that isn't." Maybe he's right. If people kept coming back to the manufacturers demanding replacement, instead of trying one "sure-fire" fix after another to solve the problems, something might actually done about it.

In the meantime, I'm quite happy riding along in silence on my steel framed bikes and their traditional threaded bottom brackets.