Monday, February 29, 2016

Quiz: Do You Know Your Mountain Bikes?

I just took a quiz on BikeRadar - How Well Do You Know Your Mountain Bikes? 

The quiz is set up with pictures of 10 current mountain bikes shown only in silhouette so that no logos or colors are visible. You then have to pick the right bike from about 4 multiple-choice options.

So, how well do I know my mountain bikes? Turns out, not very well at all. I got 2 out of 10, and one of those was just a lucky guess.

Here was the only one that I got right that was more than a simple shot in the dark guess:

Something about the curves in this bike's top-tube told me "Ibis," so I went with that. YEAH!

On the whole, though, they all looked pretty much the same to me. Suspension forks, rear suspension linkages and shock absorbers, extra long seatposts, and weird alien-meets-praying-mantis proportions. It's just not something I can fully appreciate, I guess. That's not to say they aren't great bikes -- they're just not my thing.

No idea what this is.
To be fair, however, if someone were to set up a similar quiz with a bunch of silhouette pictures of classic steel road bikes, I might have to admit there'd probably be even less to distinguish one from another.

For example:

I couldn't tell you the make or model of this bike by its silhouette. I could, however, tell you that it's full Campy (except for that seat-post), and it has some deep-drop Cinelli bars on it (Campione del Mondo?). The top-tube cable clips would hint at something from the '70s, and something about the bike's overall proportions and angles would lead me to guess it's Italian. And all of that info is probably much more than you'd get from somebody who got 10 out of 10 on the mountain bike quiz.
The thing about classic steel bikes is that the differences are in the details -- not what you see from a distance. What kind of lugs are used? Did the builder file and thin them? Are there any cut-outs in the lugs or bottom bracket? Is the brazing clean and free of lumps or gaps? How did the builder handle the seat-stay tops and the seat-lug cluster? How are the tubes finished at the dropout ends? What kind of seat-stay and chain-stay bridges were used? What type of fork-crown does it have? What's the fork rake like? Someone who has even more experience with construction details, or with certain brands and builders, might be able to identify more.

Its for reasons like those that a reasonably well-versed classic-bike fan can often identify the make and model of a bike even if the thing has been stripped of its original parts and Kryloned half to death. It's the minutiae of details that, to me, make a hand-built steel bike so much more interesting.

Now, some builders over the years have made their bikes easier to identify from a distance than others. Hetchins made bikes with "curly" stays that are instantly recognizable. Bates made their "Diadrant" forks with a double-bend in the rake. And there were "Flying Gates" and other unusual models as well -- all of which could be recognized from afar, with or without names or logos. But on the whole, classic steel road bikes are special not because of what you can see from a silhouette, but what you learn to appreciate up close and personal.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Excel & Elgin - American Derailleurs from Beatrice Foods

It's probably not widely known that the U.S. had a bicycle derailleur and component industry in the years shortly after the Great American Bike Boom -- long before the CNC'd boutique parts craze that began in the 1990s. Nor is it likely that many people know that the now-defunct mega corporation Beatrice Foods was behind it.

Beatrice Foods? Their slogan used to be "You've known us all along" because they were the parent company of all kinds of brands and products that were a big part of everyday American life: Peter Pan peanut butter, Butterball turkeys, Hunt's tomato products, Tropicana orange juice, and much, much more. In addition, they also were the parent company of numerous non-food-related companies such as Airstream campers, Samsonite luggage, Avis car rental, and others. In the 1970s, probably due to the bike-boom, they must have decided that bicycle components were a good bet.

According to Frank Berto's bicycle history The Dancing Chain, the Illinois-based Beatrice got started in the bicycle component business in the early '80s, but according to the Disraeli Gears site, it seems that the start may actually have been earlier than that - at least by the mid '70s. Their line of derailleurs and other components bore the name Excel, although the name Elgin also enters into the history.

The Excel Dynamic of the late '70s was a blatant copy of the
Huret Allvit -- but without all the "refinement" the original
was known for. Ha Ha.
There have been a lot of companies and products that carried the Elgin name -- many of them based in Elgin, Illinois: watches, sewing machines, and bicycles, among others. Elgin bicycles were a brand owned by Sears (based in Chicago, you may recall) and sold at least up until WWII. In the 1970s, many Sears Free Spirit-branded 10-speeds were using derailleurs with the Elgin name, and made in the USA. Both Elgin and Excel derailleurs were made in the same Illinois factory, and the same basic derailleurs could apparently be found marketed under either brand name.

Unlike the made-in-the-USA CNC'd derailleurs of the '90s, which were extravagantly expensive creations hewn from colorful anodized aluminum, the Excel and Elgin derailleurs were bottom-of-the-barrel stamped steel copies of verging-on-obsolete French Huret and Simplex units. The Excel Dynamic was a cheap, less-refined clone of the Huret Allvit (except that it was almost impossible to adjust, and had menacing springs poking out dangerously), and the model known as the Elgin American was a copy of the old Simplex Prestige, complete with plastic pivot bodies. There were also front derailleurs that worked somewhat like old Campagnolo Valentino units, but cheaply stamped out of steel and shrouded in plastic. Together, these derailleurs were used on Sears Free Spirits and other American department store bikes in the late '70s. Big surprise there, right?

One can still find parts diagrams of the old Excel derailleurs on Sears Parts Direct. Shockingly, some of the small parts are still in stock. Why would anybody rebuild one of these things when it would be easier to just replace it with a better derailleur?
Here is an early '80s edition of an Excel steel derailleur. It's been prettied up a bit compared to earlier versions, and the plastic pivot bodies have been changed to steel, but it's still basically a Simplex derivative (maybe with a little Shimano Lark thrown in for good measure).

In the early '80s Excel also began importing Italian copies of SunTour derailleurs. Made by Cambio Rino, the rear derailleurs looked remarkably like SunTour Vx and Cyclone models. Called Excel Gruppo Rino, they didn't hide the group's origins. The Rino-made derailleurs are a real curiosity because they are faithful SunTour knockoffs -- including SunTour's patented slant parallelogram, even though that patent wouldn't expire until the end of 1984. It is unclear whether Rino (and by extension, Excel) faced any legal action for violating the patent, or if they paid some kind of licensing fee to SunTour for the rights to use the design. One can search for the answer to that question and find nothing definitive either way. Nevertheless, I've never seen one up close, much less used one, but I have no doubt that they worked just fine. Why wouldn't they? While the imported Rino components made up the company's high end, their American-made French-inspired steel derailleurs continued to be sold as the budget line.

In the early '80s, ultramarathoner Lon Haldeman figured prominently in Excel's advertising. Haldeman was a notable user of the higher-end Excel components in the Race Across America.
In 1983, Excel introduced their Ultimate line, which was also made for them by Rino. The ads proclaim it the "official" component group of the '83 Race Across America. The Ultimate rear derailleur also utilized the SunTour slant parallelogram, but looked less like a faithful copy than a heavily streamlined refinement -- or a derailleur-shaped blob of molten aluminum, depending on your taste.
Also in 1983, Excel introduced the Cambiogear, an expanding chainwheel crank that shifted gears without a derailleur. I wrote about that one back in January. Made of graphite-reinforced plastic, it offered 16 sequential gears with a 3-to-1 range. Unlike the Rino-made derailleurs that made up the company's "high end" products, the Cambiogear was made in the USA. The product was only available for about one year before disappearing. Judging from the advertisements in the bicycle magazines (it seems that they stopped appearing sometime after '83), Excel must have gone under not long after. That was it for American-made derailleurs for the rest of the decade.

The Excel Cambiogear was
an expanding-chainring crank
introduced in 1983.
The '90s brought a resurgence of American bicycle component makers, mostly using CNC technology - like Joe's, Precision Billet, Paul's, White Industries, and others. Most of those companies are still in business today, though few if any of them are making derailleurs anymore. And of course there is now SRAM which has made serious in-roads against Shimano and Campagnolo -- but while that company may be U.S.-based, as far as I know the derailleurs and most other components are made in Taiwan.

I'm not implying that Excel's American-made components were in any way good -- far from it -- but in the '70s and '80s, Excel was about the only game in town for American-made bicycle derailleurs for the burgeoning "10-speed" market. Yes, Schwinn had components with their own name on them, but most of those were made overseas and re-branded. Otherwise, any bicycle parts made in the USA were primarily for kids bikes and heavyweight cruisers. But any discussion of American bicycle components wouldn't be complete without including Excel.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

ENVE Carbon Fork Recall

If you're a regular Retrogrouch reader, it's unlikely that this would apply to you, but there is another carbon fork recall in the works. Recently, ENVE and the CPSC announced a voluntary recall of the ENVE Road 2.0 disc brake fork. Apparently the forks, which are made in Vietnam, have the potential to break just above the disc brake mount. So far, they've had a handful of failures of the forks, though there are no reports of injuries at this time.

According to the CPSC, the affected forks have 1.25" tapered steerer tubes and were sold for about $540 between June 2014 and December 2015. Owners should check the serial numbers marked on the steerer tube. Affected forks have serial numbers beginning with VCT1406, VCT1410, VCT1411, VCT1501, VCT1503, VCT1505, VCT1506, VCT1507, VCT1508, VCT1509, and VCT1510.

If you, or someone you know has a bike with one of the forks, CPSC says they "should immediately stop using the recalled forks" and contact ENVE for a full refund or a substitute model (recall form HERE).

Many things about this recall say that it's unlikely that any retrogrouches would be affected. "Carbon Fork," "Disc Brake," "Tapered Steerer," and "$540." But you might have a friend who won't (or shouldn't) be riding until they get this thing sorted out. If that's the case, please be nice and let them borrow a solid, reliable steel bike until they can get their new forks from ENVE.

Of course, there's always the risk that they won't want to give your bike back.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Is There a 39er in Your Future?

Ever get to thinking we need more tire/wheel sizes? I mean, between 700c/29er, 650b/27.5, and 26-in., not to mention plus-size and fatties, it seems that there just aren't enough choices. What's a die-hard equipment junkie to do?

(All photos from Patrick Ng's Behance page)
Enter the Ridiculous XC Interpolate 39er, from the same people that introduced us to the Roost Carbon. That hypothetical, satirical mountain bike defied all current bike industry standards with its 188 mm rear dropout spacing, 28-in. wheels (situated between 29er and 27.5), and 11 - 53 tooth 13-speed cassette.

Ridiculous Bikes is back at it again with another standards-defying XC bike, computer rendered by Patrick Ng. With its 39-in wheels, the bike is completely nuts, but has some unusual design features to make such stupidly large wheels at least theoretically workable. And there's probably no terrain that those wheels wouldn't just swallow up.

The Interpolate's 39-inch wheels dwarf the 29er - but the the overall riding position is claimed to be similar. On the other hand, it has an unwieldy 1487 mm wheelbase (around 58 inches), and I'm thinking the overall length would be around 8 feet.
One of the more unusual features is the bike's geared steering system. The front fork is positioned far out in front to keep the huge front wheel from clipping the pedals or downtube. The handlebars are positioned closer in toward the rider and connected to the fork using sprockets and a chain.

The geared connection between the bars and the front fork help make the bike seem workable - and the designer points out that different sized sprockets could be swapped in or out to alter the bike's steering characteristics.
Ng's computer rendering skills are pretty damned good - good enough to probably fool more than a few people that the 39er is real. Right now, somewhere in America, a bike shop sales manager is trying to explain to a customer that he can't actually buy a 39er XC bike. And somewhere else, in a major bike company's marketing department, someone else is asking "why not"?

Ridiculous or not - don't rule it out.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Passing of Brian Baylis

"I make a bike that pleases my eye and satisfies my soul. Even though my extra effort is not always rewarded monetarily, my 'payment' for this is self-satisfaction. When the finished product makes the client happy, and if some appreciate my skill and effort, then I feel complete. Builders who refuse to put in the effort, much of which involves lots of time, without financial considerations, are simply not driven as craftsmen in the purest sense. These people are in the 'business' of framebuilding." 
-- R. Brian Baylis
Some of Brian Baylis's exquisite craftsmanship.
(photo from Jan Heine's Bicycle Quarterly, with permission)

Brian Baylis passed away Saturday evening due to severe complications from pneumonia. He was widely considered one of the greats of American bicycle frame building, and even though a person might go their whole life without ever seeing one of his bikes up close, touching it, or riding it, his death is a real loss to the world of bicyclists and builders, artists and craftsmen.

Brian really was an artist and a craftsman in a very pure sense. He didn't make a huge number of bicycle frames, and that could be at least in part because he spent an inordinate amount of time striving for perfection in the details of each of the bikes he built. Fellow framebuilder Dave Moulton very recently wrote of Brian's attention to detail and workmanship:

"On hearing of his passing, for some reason I thought of a story I once heard of an old wood carver, working on a huge pair of double oak doors. The design was an intricate one with oak leaves and acorns, scrolls and winged cherubs in each corner. Someone asked him, 'How do you know when it is finished?' He replied, 'It is never finished, they just come and take it away from me'."

Brian was probably as well-known as a painter as he was as a builder. He painted bikes for a number of other builders over the years, and also did a lot of paint and restoration work on vintage bicycles. That was how I came to know, in a very small way, Brian Baylis. I had an old 1970 Raleigh Professional that was absolutely beat and battered, but the bike was part of a "limited edition" with a special numbered label, and I thought it might be worth restoring. Considering the bike's condition, I probably over-paid, and then I spent more restoring the bike than the bike was likely worth. Financially it was not such a smart move, but I was younger, more naive, and didn't yet have kids. And it got me in touch with Brian, so no regrets.

I sent the bike frame and fork to him in California, and then we spent some time talking on the phone about it. We had a few conversations like that. He was exceptionally cool to talk with on the phone, and I felt good about how the project would turn out. That bike frame needed a lot of work. It had a shallow dent in the top tube, a fair amount of rust (some of which went fairly deep), pitted chrome, and it had an adjuster screw broken off in the rear dropout. It took several months to get the bike back, which I've heard is actually pretty good turnaround time. When it came back, it was absolutely beautiful -- in fact, it was doubtless much nicer than it was when it first left Raleigh's Carlton factory in Worksop. The chrome gleamed. The tubes were straight and true. The paint, with its contrast panels, bands, and pinstriping, was flawless. Looking closely at the head-tube on the bike, I noticed that Brian even restored the headbadge. He had polished the brass and re-painted the little details in the recesses. He never mentioned it in our conversations, and it didn't show up on the final bill. I think it was just part of that attention to detail I'd heard so much about that he couldn't bring himself to put the dull and faded badge on that gorgeously restored frame.

Nearly a decade later, at a Cirque du Cyclisme show in North Carolina, I met Brian in person for the first time. I was mildly surprised, but he remembered me and my old Raleigh very well, and we had another nice conversation. He just struck me as a truly genuine guy, and I really wished I could spend more time, maybe on his own turf, in his workshop, sharing some beers and swapping some stories.

I kept that bike for a while, but some years later I ended up selling it to pay for a new-old-stock, never-ridden 1973 Mercian Superlight. But that old Raleigh was the closest I ever had to owning some Baylis craftsmanship.

A Little History - For Those Who Just Don't Know:

Brian Baylis got his start in the bicycle business back in 1973 when he got a job with the recently-opened Masi factory in California. He started out with tasks such as building wheels and doing bike assembly, then eventually filing, brazing, and later painting. After a few years, he and fellow Masi builder Mike Howard struck out on their own to form Wizard Bicycles. Another couple of years and about 80 frames later, both men were called back to help re-organize Masi. Then there was a brief flirtation with Medici which was itself sort of a Masi spinoff, then Brian went out to build, paint, and restore frames under his own name.

In more recent years, Brian was focusing on some other interests besides bicycles. I could have it wrong, but based on things I'd heard and read (some of it from Brian himself) it seemed to me that his work on bicycles was becoming more and more something he was doing for good friends and maybe to fulfill older obligations, and he was working quite hard at making really exquisite hand-made knives. His familiar attention to detail and craftsmanship was just as much a part of his knives as it was on his bicycles.

Brian with one of his bikes at NAHBS in '07
(photo by Jessica Lifland)
There are a lot of people out there who knew him a helluva lot better than I ever could have - people who can speak of the man's many passions. Bicycles. Drums. Dogs. He was even restoring a classic Bentley. I am glad to have even had the bit of interaction with Brian that I did. There are several other tributes to Brian going up around the web already - like the one by Dave Moulton that I mentioned earlier. One could also check Brian's own blog for some info and pictures of his work, or the Classic Rendezvous page about him.

I figure the best way to wrap up this little tribute would be the same way it started, with Brian's own words:

"Growing as an artist and craftsman never ends. Challenging oneself is what makes you grow and expand. Falling into a routine and doing the same thing over and over again doesn't satisfy me. This may work for many others, but results in being good at one thing. I prefer working on a broader set of skills and perfecting them, which keeps framebuilding fresh and exciting. I get my inspiration from this."

"Talk is cheap. The work must speak for itself. Simple as that."

Friday, February 19, 2016

3D Printed Bicycle

Sorry that there hasn't been much on The Retrogrouch this week. And BikeSnobNYC is off for the week, so things are dry all over. MidLife Cycling is still full of new material, so hopefully people have been visiting there. Middle of February blahs, little to read, and weather is probably lousy for riding, too. I've been busy at work this week, where I'm just finishing up another state-mandated teacher evaluation cycle (twice yearly!) that is incredibly time-consuming -- I basically have to justify everything I do, my methods, my materials, techniques and strategies, and prove that I'm effective by providing data and evidence measuring what can't be measured. Oh yeah - and it's tax time again too -- thank god for TurboTax.

Anyhow, I've been seeing quite a bit on the bike industry blogs about this: The 3-D printed ARC Bicycle. Designed by a group of students at the Technical University of Delft, Netherlands, the bike's wire mesh-like frame is constructed by welding robots which built up the frame's structure about one millimeter at a time. It is said that the process took about 100 hours.

The results speak for themselves:

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
From what I've read, the whole structure was untouched by human hands until the time came to add the seat-tube clamp, the head tube, dropouts, and bottom bracket. I watched a short video on the project, and it looks to me like a pretty sizeable portion of the frame (the whole cluster around the seatpost, for example) was actually welded on by hand after the fact, but I won't fault them for that.

I do, however, wonder what the point is. Yes, I'm kind of myopic when it comes to applying every possible new technology to bicycles. But I just don't see the benefit. The thing is generally pretty ugly (just my opinion, but I'm entitled to it). It looks almost like what you'd get if you tried to make a bike out of chicken wire, or maybe chain-link fencing. It is mostly made by an automated process that eliminates the intrusion of hand-craftsmanship that I particularly enjoy in a bicycle when I'm not riding it (and while I am riding it too, for that matter). And even though it is mostly an open mesh-like structure, it doesn't save any weight, either. The makers claim that it weighs a little under 20 kg -- which is nearly 44 pounds! No idea what the ride would be like, but I expect that its structure would make it feel pretty dead. Kind of like riding a bridge.

The goal of the project wasn't to create a lightweight bike though. I guess they just wanted to see if it could be done. OK, guys. You did it.

Now pat yourselves on the back.

By the way, as is usually the case with these design exercises, the bike is a fixed-gear machine with no brakes. I still can't figure out why designers keep rolling out high-tech and futuristic urban bike designs that assume nobody needs to stop. Do automakers unveil brakeless concept cars? Hell no. Even if the concept car is a non-functioning mock-up, they'll still put some pretty impressive-looking brakes on it. They're a selling point for cryin' out loud.

Aaaanyhow. . .

There might be one possible benefit to the bike's open wire mesh-like structure. One of the industry-cheerleading blogs suggested that the UCI should pounce on this since there'd be nowhere to hide a motor. Well, there's that. . .

That's all for now.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Can You Find The Bike Hidden In This Photo?

We had a major blizzard hit us in Northeast Ohio last night, which meant school closings all over the area today. Since yesterday was Presidents Day, that means our 3-day weekend got extended to a 4-day weekend.

There's nothing better than a snow day. I know. . . I'm a teacher. No kidding -- teachers look forward to snow days as much as the kids do. Maybe more. A snow day is the ultimate free day. It's almost like stealing, yet it's totally legitimate. It's an extra day when the project is due. A reprieve from that test you're dreading. A governor's pardon from detention. For teachers, it's all that, plus still getting paid.

For me, it meant a day spent with my girls - sledding down the big hill in town, playing with the dog in the snow, making a snow fort, warming up with hot chocolate (and marshmallows), visiting the library, and having dinner at Chipotle.

Not much of a post today - but a snow day means limited blogging time, too.

Till next time - enjoy the weather.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Why Are Drivers Such A-holes?

If you're a cyclist who spends any time riding on the road, whether it's a lot or a little, you've probably had some pretty negative encounters with drivers. Any ride on the road can quickly involve some uncomfortably close-calls as impatient drivers take life-threatening risks with our lives -- passing too closely when there are oncoming cars, cutting us off, running lights or stop signs, left-hooks, right-hooks, and don't forget the jerks who feel compelled to blast their horns, or scream epithets and obscenities as they go by. Some of that animosity comes out when those drivers aren't even in their cars. Read the comments section of any internet article about car-bike interactions (on second thought, don't read the comments) and just feel the hatred seething from the drivers.

It turns out that there's a lot of research into the psychology of driving -- some of it going back to the early days of cars -- and an awful lot of it points to the idea that getting behind the wheel of a car can transform even the mildest and most gentle person into a raging tyrant and raving lunatic.

I was reading an article on Gizmodo on the subject which takes a fairly straightforward look at the driving rage phenomenon and provides a range of support for the findings, as well as giving some advice for people who feel that driving rage building up (advice that, unfortunately, most car-centric drivers out there will never read or follow). The article is only about driving and focuses mainly on bad driving behavior and driver vs. driver aggression. Bicycles are not mentioned, but it seems to me that everything the article says applies even more strongly when the question is driver vs. cyclist aggression.

One thing the article mentions is how cars make people feel anonymous. Out on the road, we don't focus on the people. We see a large mechanical object -- a covering, a box, or a shield -- instead of the person inside it. "The feeling of anonymity can sometimes mean that we behave in ways that we wouldn't otherwise because we're less likely to be held accountable," says Erica Slotter of Villanova University.

It seems to me that the effect of anonymity is something that presents itself in a lot of ways, and not always inside cars or on the road. Take for example the aforementioned comment sections on so many internet articles. It's so common to find people blaming victims and threatening violence -- even potential murder or at the very least manslaughter -- against the next cyclist they see on the road. But also, note the tendency to refer to bad actions on the road being done by "cars" not "drivers." We probably all do it. "That CAR cut me off," we'll say, as opposed to "that person" or "that driver." It's a tendency that I'm noticeably aware of even as I'm writing this, and I'm finding myself unusually conscious of saying things like "driver vs. cyclist" as opposed to "car vs. bike."

The article goes on to connect that sense of anonymity to a psychological effect known as "deindividuation." Citing 1950s research by Leon Festinger, a social psychologist from MIT, it describes how people "dissolve as individuals when they become part of a group." More importantly, humans have a tendency to de-individualize people in another group. I think that aspect is particularly relevant when applied to drivers of cars vs. cyclists and other vulnerable road users.

Again, the article doesn't mention bicycles, but notice how relevant the following passage is to us cyclists. "Driving exaggerates our in-group/out-group sensibilities. We love to slot things -- including people -- into groups. Groups we belong to -- whether it be the people sitting in our car, a group of vehicles belonging to a certain type, or even cars stuck in a specific lane -- are referred to as the in-groups and they tend to be preferred and favored. Conversely, groups that we don't belong to, or don't want to belong to, are called out-groups, and they're often mistrusted."

So it becomes almost a question of "us vs. them." People on bikes are "other" or "different" and not individuals who deserve respect. I think that also explains the fact that drivers often seem blind to other drivers who run lights after they've changed to red, or roll through stop signs, etc. -- but when they see a cyclist run a light, suddenly their perception is that ALL cyclists run lights.

The article goes on, "Instead of seeing individuals, we simply see a type of car, or an endless stream of automobiles. This, in combination with perceived anonymity, gives us the sense that we won't be held accountable for our actions. It frees us from guilt of our behaviors, and gives us the freedom to commit acts that violate our social and personal norms."

Another thing mentioned is the increase in road fatalities as a result of aggressive driving. "Statistics compiled by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that 66% of all traffic fatalities are caused by aggressive driving, and that males under the age of 19 are the most likely to exhibit road rage." Some of these "aggressive driving" behaviors include weaving/cutting, speeding, hostile displays, tailgating, improper lane usage, no turn signal, and erratic braking.

As cyclists, we've probably all seen at least some of these kinds of things directed at us -- and one could probably add a few others that are more likely to involve us than other people in cars. Passing with too little clearance and when it's unsafe to pass, trying to push a cyclist off his/her bike, or even throwing objects from the car at the cyclist.

What is behind the increase in aggressive driving and road rage? The article cites the fact that people are spending more time in their cars, and the fact that commuting times are on the increase as possible factors.

My own experience would also suggest that peoples' addiction to their mobile technology is another factor. It seems to me that we have become so accustomed to instant gratification, instant results -- the whole world at our fingertips right now -- that we become less patient. Add to that the power of social media and the like to heighten a tendency toward self-centered behaviors.

Remember the "old days" on the internet, when you'd click on a website, or a link, or what-have-you, and then have time to go make a sandwich while you waited for your dial-up internet connection to load the page? Now think how frustrating it is today to even wait a couple of seconds for the same task to take place, and then apply that frustration to being on the road.

Cars today can go so fast, so smoothly and effortlessly, while the occupants are surrounded in comfort and convenience, bathed in the music of spectacular sound systems, and totally insulated from the world outside. The comfort of even the cheapest modern car would outshine the most expensive luxury car of a couple of decades ago. Out on the road, of course a cyclist is the "outsider." Why can't we just go as fast as we want to? When traffic slows down, and drivers are stuck in a long line of cars, they see that guy on a bike up ahead. HE'S the reason. HE'S SLOWING US DOWN! Never mind that even after they get past the cyclist, they're still stuck in a long line of cars -- there's a solidarity with the other cars. They're the in-group. The cyclist is "other" and logic and compassion go out the window.

I don't suppose there was a lot in the Gizmodo article that I hadn't heard before (my old psychology classes seem to come to mind) or at least suspected to be true, but it was an interesting read -- particularly when that information is viewed from the perspective of a bicyclist.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Mechanical Doping - Now Reality

By now, I'm sure most readers have heard that the specter of "mechanical doping" has become a reality in professional racing. I mentioned it in an article about the 2015 Tour de France because the race officials had taken to using tiny flexible cameras to inspect bikes at the Tour for hidden motors. They didn't find anything, but it became very clear that the UCI was taking the possibility of cheating with hidden motors very seriously.

"Mechanical doping" check at the 2015 TdF.
Rumors and accusations have been floating around for a few years now, and leveled at riders such as Fabian Cancellara after a dominating performance in Paris-Roubaix, and Ryder Hesjedal when a bike he was riding in the 2014 Vuelta appeared to take off by itself after a crash. In those cases, and others, there was never any hard evidence of foul play, but that didn't stop the rumors.

As the technology for electric assist motors has improved and gotten more and more compact - to the point that it could be concealed easily inside the oversized carbon fiber frames used by all racers - then the possibility that someone could try to use the technology in competition seemed to become a question not of "if" but "when."

It looks like "When" is "Now."

UCI has confirmed that at the Cyclocross World Championships last month, Femke Van den Driessche used a bike with a hidden motor. Although she was a pre-race favorite, Van den Driessche was eventually forced off her bike in the final lap due to mechanical problems. Her bike was taken for inspection after the race, and officials announced their discovery soon after -- making the Belgian rider the first official case of "mechanical doping."

The outcry was immediate. Eddy Merckx proclaimed that anyone guilty of mechanical doping should be banned for life. Wilier Triestina, the maker of Van den Driessche's bike (the pre-adulterated version, anyhow) is going so far as to threaten legal action against the rider for tampering with the bike and besmirching their reputation. The rider herself faces at least a 6-month ban and some pretty big fines.

Van den Driessche, for her part, denies any wrongdoing. "I don't know how it got there. I'm focused on myself that day. I took care of myself . . . the mechanics made a mistake." Later, she said that the bike she used wasn't her bike. "That bike belongs to a friend of mine. He trains along with us. He placed the bike against the truck but it's identical to mine. My mechanics have cleaned the bike and put it in the truck. They must've thought it was my bike. I don't know how it happened." Although some might find the excuses hard to swallow, apparently a family friend of Van den Driessche's has come forward claiming to be the true owner of the bike, and trying to lend credence to the story. On the other hand, the racer's brother, who is also a bicycle racer, is currently under suspension for doping.

Dammit this sport is hard to take seriously.

State of the art for mechanical doping?
To add to the controversy, the Italian sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport recently reported that motors hidden in the frame are already "old stuff . . . It's a poor man's doping." The "new frontier" is electromagnetic wheels. The source cited in that article claims to have personally sold more than a thousand of the "old tech" hidden motors. The new electromagnetic wheels, he claims, cost 200,000 Euros and have a waiting list of 6 months. At that price, they are well out of reach for even wealthy amateurs and gran-fondo riders -- but not outside the budget of a professional team. The diagram of an electromagnetic wheel that was included in the Gazzetta article leaves out some important technical details, but the idea seems plausible. And if true, might be harder to detect than a motor in the bottom bracket. Was the source to be believed? Are such things being used? I suppose time will tell.

Unless someone is in the top ranks of professional racing, though, I can't imagine how the rewards make any of it even remotely worthwhile. The source in the Gazzetta article mentions that numerous gran-fondo riders are using hidden motors (bought from him, supposedly). Others resort to "traditional" doping - as in, drugs. The expense of such things can't possibly lead to any kind of payoff for someone in any kind of amateur racing, gran-fondos, or Strava KOM-chasers -- but I have no doubt that these are all places and situations where people are probably trying to get away with it (and maybe succeeding). And in the professional ranks, where a person can potentially profit from their "enhanced" results, it's reprehensible. Truly, the whole thing is just pathetic.

There are so many ways to cheat now, it seems, that it makes someone like me wonder why anyone would bother getting worked up about bicycle racing -- either as a fan, or as a participant. Chasing after Strava titles when the "competition" could easily be using a motor? Join the ranks of licensed racers, only to wonder if your typical mid-pack finishes are because the winners are cheating, or if it's simply because you suck (likely both)?

Bicycle racing has a serious credibility problem. And instead of getting better, it just looks like it stands to get a whole lot worse.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Getting Zwifty

I'm starting to hear a lot about something called Zwift - which is supposed to take indoor training to an exciting new level by combining elements of computerized video training programs, video games, and online fitness-junkie "communities" like Strava.

The Zwift homepage calls it "Social Cycling for the Solo Cyclist."

Zwift is a turbo trainer "game" that lets riders race each other in a virtual-reality world with little animated "avatars." To access it, one needs to have some kind of turbo trainer, an ANT+ or Bluetooth speed sensor or power meter (the power meter is said to be preferential), a computer, and the downloaded Zwift application. Though any turbo trainer will work, apparently there are all kinds of "smart" turbo trainers out there that have built-in power meters and automatically variable resistance to give Zwift users a more "immersive" experience. By the way, those "smart" trainers start at about $700 and go up to $1500 or more. And Zwift has a monthly membership fee of $10. Confining oneself to the basement can get pretty expensive.

Cycling is Social - or so it says on the Zwift website. Being the Luddite Retrogrouch I am, I still find the faceless internet-based concept of "social" kind of ironic. The site goes on to say: "We believe the best parts about cycling are the places you go and the people you go there with" which sounds funnier when you remember that this is a computer app that enables a person to "ride" without leaving their own basement, and with "friends" they may never meet face-to-face.

But hey - it's much better than being outside.

"Outdoor cycling is great. But weather, traffic, time constraints and distance from other cyclists can take the fun out of it." If that's really the case, then yes, maybe they should stay indoors, riding with their computer-animated avatars.

They go on to say "it's the greatest innovation in cycling since the bicycle." 

You should know I actually laughed out loud at that -- as opposed to a lame little virtual-world LOL.

As for myself, I've always hated indoor cycling (or running on a treadmill for that matter) as I can never shake the feeling that I'm like a hamster in one of those little exercise wheels.

Putting on some music or turning on the TV never did much to dispel the feeling. Before I got committed to riding year-round outdoors (or as close to year-round as I can), the only indoor cycling I could even remotely stomach was riding on rollers as opposed to the stationary trainers that have become so much more common. At least one could justify the rollers on the grounds that it was great for developing a smoother pedal stroke and eliminating "nervous" bike handling habits. That, and you could never afford to zone out too much on rollers. Seriously. Some of the worst bicycle crashes I've ever suffered were in my living room.

Ultimately, though, I eventually gave up the rollers, too, as a sorry substitute for riding outside. There is something called "too cold to ride," and for me, that's about 20 degrees American. And when it's simply too cold or too nasty outside to get out on a bike, I refuse to believe there's anything wrong with taking a break, popping some popcorn, and sliding some good movies into the DVD player. If I feel the overwhelming need to do something bicycle-related, I can always re-pack hubs or true wheels while I watch Breaking Away again.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

I Was Cat 6'ed By A Fool

Are we all familiar with the concept of Cat 6 racing? It's essentially a joke term for cyclists who turn every ride into a competition -- racing other cyclists on the road, whether those other riders know they're being raced or not. Some people refer to it as "commuter racing" though it is in no way limited to commuters. Licensed racers are ranked from Cat 1 through Cat 5. No license is needed for Cat 6.

I have to admit that I have enough of a competitive streak that when I see another rider up the road, I sometimes see them as something like a rabbit to a greyhound. They serve as a little motivation, encouraging me to push a little harder than I might when I'm riding alone lost in my thoughts. I try not to be too much of an ass about it, though.

The other day, on my ride home from work, I had a Cat 6 encounter that left me kind of speechless.

Cat 6 Racing (photo from Good magazine)
Somewhere along the first mile or so of my 15 mile ride home, I saw a rider going the opposite direction. With a hi-vis yellow vest, I thought he might possibly be another bike commuter - though it's rare I encounter them in the area. I couldn't say what kind of bike he was on, though it had a bit of "gravel-racer" look to it, and had disc brakes. That was all I could identify in the moment I saw him. He nodded as he went by.

Another half-mile or so down the road, I got to an intersection with a traffic light where the minor road I was on crosses a broad major highway. I went through the intersection when the light turned green. The light doesn't stay green very long for people on the cross street. Once I was across and hadn't gone more than another 20 yards or so, someone blew past me in a full-out sprint. It was the guy I saw moments earlier on the gravel bike. I can only assume he turned around shortly after I saw him and went into chase mode. He was probably sprinting through the intersection at top speed as the light was changing, and was still charging along as he blew past me.

He yelled something unintelligible as he went past.

I think it was a victory yell.

On my loaded commuting/touring bike, I normally average about 15 miles per hour. A decent pace, but nothing brag-worthy. A brief thought flashed through my mind to give chase, but I quickly dismissed it. I still had another roughly 14 miles to go, lots of hills, and it was my second ride of the day. I didn't need to "save face." I let him go.

Within another half-mile I approached the first of several hill climbs on my afternoon commute. I saw the Cat 6er about a hundred yards ahead of me, out of the saddle, hammering and flailing away up the climb. When he got to the top, he did something truly bizarre.

I could see him dismount his bike at the top of the hill, then raise it up over his head - holding it up in some kind of dickish victory celebration. Even weirder, I could see him, still holding the bike aloft, as he then started doing what looked like squats. What the hell?

Is that a thing now? Some kind of biking/lifting cross-training thing? Or was he still "celebrating"?

After I topped the climb and sped down the other side, I pedaled towards the next intersection. The Cat 6er, still well ahead of me, turned right. I, gratefully, turned left to go home.

I half expected to have him turn around again and take on another pursuit. Thankfully, I spent the rest of the ride in solitude.

I don't know who he was. I'd never seen him on the road before. Don't know if I'll see him again. Don't really care, either.

Anybody else seeing this kind of weird behavior out there?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Amazing Futuristic Bike Concepts

I spotted this article on Interestical (which for some reason keeps appearing to my eyes as InterTestical) about 10 Amazing Futuristic Bicycle Concepts. Man, I love stuff like this. Actually, I love to make fun of stuff like this. As usual - a lot of these "futuristic concepts" are little more than masterbatory design exercises posing as real innovations.

Folding Bike. 
No - there is no explanation or justification in the article as to why the folding bike makes the list. The article doesn't even mention a particular brand or model. Conceptually, folding bikes are hardly new or futuristic. The one pictured is sold through Mini dealers, though I suspect they are built by Dahon. I will attest that a good-quality compactly folding bike can be a nice thing, and some of the models available today are much better than what was available a couple of decades ago. But I'm still not sure why this was listed first.
Eco 7 Compactible Urban Bike
This one is listed by the editors as "a fixed gear style bike" that "compacts down to the size of a brief case." Noticing that the bike shown appears to have an electric assist motor built into the back wheel, and being curious how this bike could possibly fold so small, I did a quick search to find out more about the Eco 7. Turns out, the bike shown IS NOT the Eco 7 Compactible Urban Bike.
This is the Eco 7 Compactible Urban Bike:

The ACTUAL Eco 7 Compactible Urban Bike
It looks like it was made from an erector/meccano set - and even the wheels come apart into little sections. Yeah - that bodes well.

In any case, the mistake doesn't give much credibility to the article.
The City Pedelec 
This looks like a slightly more "modular" version of a Citibike, or other urban "bike share" cycle. "The gears, chains, and spokes are all hidden inside of the casing of the bike." Well - actually, not the spokes. Notice those 3 large plastic "spokes" that make up the wheels. It also has an electric assist motor. The editors say "The goal with the City Pedelec is to find its way into the rent-a-bicycle areas that major urban sprawls are beginning to employee."
"Employee"? They MUST mean "employ."
The Artikar
Described as a "low to the ground, reclined seated bicycle with four wheels where the rider has their legs poised in the air in order to pedal." What? Do they mean a recumbent? So, the Artikar is a 4-wheeled recumbent with a vaguely "car-shaped" neon light ring around the rider -- thereby making really stupid people think you're driving a car - or pretending to drive a car - while giving none of the benefits of actually being enclosed in inclement weather. The editors add that it's a "relaxing, aerodynamic bike that can be taken on the road without any major qualms." Unless you value your dignity.
Honda U3-X
Not actually a bike. It's more like an electric unicycle cross-bred with a Segway. Honda calls it a "personal mobility device." You see, apparently in the future, people will be too lazy to actually walk. The U3-X goes approximately 4 miles per hour, which is no more than a fairly brisk walking pace. Honda likes to think it "makes new strides in the advancement of human mobilization." I don't know if they meant that ironically.

If the U3-X is intended for people with mobility problems (which is hard to assume since all the photos on their website show only young, fit, and presumably able-bodied people using it) I think I see some concerns. What to do when navigating uneven sidewalks and crosswalks that are so common in most cities? Or stairs? Suddenly a person has to get off (if they don't get pitched off face-first) and lug this thing over the obstacles. No thanks. 
Taurus Seatless Bike
According to the editors, the Taurus is supposed to "appeal to those looking for the greatest work out possible on two wheels." No seat means no relaxing, and a better "core" workout. OK, but where are the pedals? Because it looks for all the world to me like it's got electric assist.
Bergmonch Folding Backpack Bicycle
Another folding bike concept - this time in a form that can be strapped to the user's back when not in use. No seat, apparently, so I'm guessing it's just for very short rides -- unless the intent is to give an intense core workout like the Taurus "bike" shown above. Who knows?
Furious Sports Bike
Like a lot of concept bikes, this one dispenses with many of the typical "old-fashioned" design ideas -- like down-tubes, or seat-stays. Notice that bizarre-looking raked out fork pointing out almost horizontally, while the steerer tube is almost vertical. The likely handling on that thing might explain the "furious" moniker. I'm not sure why the drive side is on the left, but that's the least of the issues. The editors tout the onboard computer that "tracks all of the traditional statistics that fitness enthusiasts would want to pay attention to."

ThisWay All-Weather Bicycle
Another "bike" meant to make people think they're in a car. The editors note a concern that this thing's roof might lead to balance issues. Maybe - Maybe not. But a "bike" this bulky definitely would not be something one could carry indoors with them. Like a car, it's best for people who can keep it garaged. The article doesn't mention electric-assist, but I don't think I'd want to try to pedal this thing up even a slight hill without it. Strangely enough, the InterTesticle article ends with the following inexplicable quote: "If ThisWay ever makes it to the market then it probably went t."
Boardman Theft Proof Bicycle
Here's what InterTesticle had to say about it: "Chris Boardman designed the Theft Proof Bicycle likely as a response to all of those broken frames of bicycles that litter urban areas everywhere." Seriously? As if one can barely walk through your average city without tripping over broken bicycles.
The bike is supposed to have electric assist, with solar cells, a fully-integrated on-board computer, and even some kind of fingerprint scanning device to keep the bike from moving unless matched up with its owner. This one is much more "concept" than "bicycle," as even Boardman's developers say that such a bike is at least a couple of decades from reality. "Until then," the editors conclude, "we'll just have to get by with our old lumps of metal in the garage." Speak for yourselves, folks.
Apart from the nondescript "folding bike," I wouldn't expect to be seeing too many of these things out on the roads, or on showroom floors, or anywhere else for that matter.