Saturday, October 29, 2016

Retrogrouch Reading: The Bicycle Artisans

Is the bicycle dead? Dating back to the 19th century, one could argue that the pedal-powered machine is a relic from a bygone era - irrelevant in today's world. But is the bicycle dead?

That is the question pondered in the introduction to The Bicycle Artisans, by Will Jones (Gingko Press, 2014). But of course, the answer is absolutely not, as evidenced by the dozens of bicycle craftsmen whose work is showcased in this visually dynamic volume. Eighty eight craftsmen and companies are highlighted in the book's 288 pages, with biographical background info on each maker, and page after page of photographs of their workshops and their products.

With the growth of bicycle industry shows that emphasize hand-made craftsmanship, like the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS), Bespoked Bristol in the U.K., and other smaller but similar showcases happening around the globe, The Bicycle Artisans is almost like a handmade bicycle show in book form.

I have actually perused more than a few books showcasing custom bicycles and the craftsmen who build them, loaded with wonderful photography of lust-worthy bikes, and picture after picture of artisans wielding files and torches. As far as that goes, The Bicycle Artisans won't disappoint -- it's all in there. But one thing that sets Jones's volume apart from others I've read is the breadth and variety contained within. Whether someone's fancy is cutting-edge road racing bikes, mountain bikes, touring and randonneuring bikes with cunningly integrated racks and lighting, utility bikes for commuting or hauling, tandems, folders, or even bikes for children - they are all represented. Same goes for bike building materials. There is lots of steel, whether lugged, brazed, or welded. But there are numerous examples of aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber, and even wood. Unique component and accessory makers are also contained within the book's pages.

A lovely randonneuring bike by rising star Johnny Coast.
I don't know what criteria was used to select the builders who are represented in the book, but there is an interesting variety. I was almost shocked not to find American master Richard Sachs highlighted, as it seems every other book I've found on custom bicycles features Sachs's work - but my point is that it's almost refreshing to get a view of other less well-known or up-and-coming builders - some of whom are equally talented, but perhaps not as widely recognized. Of course, there are plenty of names that many Retrogrouch readers will recognize, like Bruce Gordon, Mark Nobilette, or rising stars like Chris Bishop and Johnny Coast - but the book also introduces us to many others, hailing from various countries and continents, who are worth a closer look.

There's something almost ironic in the fact that a man who is practically an elder statesman of custom steel bicycles is represented here by a custom-built carbon fiber frame - albeit with stunning stainless steel lugs. What can I say? Gorgeous.

I was really pleased to see the inclusion of Chris Kvale, who like Gordon, has been building bicycles since the mid-1970s, but probably doesn't have the name recognition he deserves. Kvale's work is traditional and not particularly flashy - but absolutely second-to-none.
Chris Kvale in his shop. Fun fact - I instantly recognized that cream and oxblood Kvale frame hanging in the shop as belonging to friend and fellow blogger Gunnar Berg, of the 1410 OakWood Blog. I alerted him that his lovely bike is famous.

Kvale is almost as well known as a painter as he is a builder. Several photos capture him at his paintwork, which is likewise top-notch.

The Bicycle Artisans, which retails for $39.95, is a celebration of hand-made bicycles and the passion that goes into them. It is not only an enjoyable photo gallery of craftsmanship, but possibly a shopping guide for someone contemplating a custom bike purchase. Not that there was any doubt, but the book is further testament to the fact that the bicycle is alive and well.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Retrogrouch Reading: A Cycling Lexicon

Phil Carter and Jeff Conner have spent much of their lives completely "besotted" with bicycles. For Carter, of Carter Wong Design, a lovely brass headbadge rescued from an abandoned rusty bicycle serves as a "constant source of inspiration" as well as a connection to an earlier era when the little metal works of art proudly symbolized the craftsmanship that went into the bicycles of the time. For Conner, a professor at Michigan State University, collecting bicycle headbadges turned out to be more agreeable to his wife than collecting complete bicycles. Over the years, Conner's collection of headbadges has grown into the many hundreds, and that collection is lovingly photographed and presented in the new book A Cycling Lexicon: Bicycle Headbadges From a Bygone Era (Gingko Press, 2016).

A Cycling Lexicon is a charming little book - beautifully bound in a relatively small format (3 3/4" x 5 3/4") but thick for its size at 400 pages. The book almost reminds me of a small Bible, and all heresy aside, that probably isn't a bad comparison. Certainly, to those who are fully immersed in the love and lore of bicycles, the badges contained within could possibly be revered like cherished relics.

Inside the book, one will find 380 colorful photos of Conner's headbadge collection. Some of the brands represented will be instantly recognized, like Raleigh, Schwinn, BSA, Hetchins, Peugeot, and many others. But many more of the badges herald names and makers that long ago vanished from the scene. While most of the badges are quite old, occasionally one will spot a more modern example, like that of Bike Friday with its little winged suitcase.

What's truly wonderful about bicycle headbadges is their detail and artistry, and the various design themes that go into them. What symbols did the bicycle maker choose with which to represent his brand? There are badges that use heraldic icons, while others chose animal images. Mythology was a common element, while many tried to represent freedom in some fashion, or flight - as bicycles, at least for a time, probably felt as close to flying as a person could get (is it any wonder that the Wright brothers started out as bicycle makers?). The photographs in most cases let the viewer enjoy some of the colorful elements, and some close-up shots let us see the jewelry-like detail of their construction.

Take a look at a few sample pages:

If I have one criticism of the book, it is simply that there isn't much to read. What can I say - I'm a word guy. I'm sure that the idea behind the book, as designed by Carter, is to display the badges simply as graphic images, allowing us to revel in their beauty and artistry. But I would love to know more about some of the brands represented - where did they come from? When were they made? How old are they? Even in the book's introduction, Phil Carter writes, "Whatever the symbol, whatever the design, every badge has a story of provenance and a personality to tell." Call me curious - but many of the images leave me wanting to know more of those stories.

Alas - we may never know. Carter's introduction seems almost to lament, "The bikes these headbadges once adorned have long since vanished. With the passage of time we will probably never get to discover the reasons why the smiling young girl appears on Mareze's marque, or who Good Luck's top-hatted gent was." Sigh.

A Cycling Lexicon retails for $19.95, and paucity of text notwithstanding, its lovely photographic content makes it a delightful addition to any besotted cyclist's book collection.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Reviews Re-Viewed

Over the years, I've taken time to write about some of the products I've bought and used for cycling. Typically with these product reviews, I've been writing about things I've bought and paid for myself - companies don't typically send me free gear to try - so just like the readers out there, I want to make sure things work well and hold up well. I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look back at some of the products I've reviewed here to see how they've held up or if my opinions have changed any.

Compass Tires

This was a pretty recent review (just 2 months ago), but I've been putting a lot of miles on my bike with the Compass Chinook Pass 28 mm tires. The tires originally distinguished themselves by mounting up nice and straight on the rims, having a classic design that looks as good on a vintage bike as on a modern one, and having a nice supple casing that makes them feel springy and fast. I can easily say that the ride and handling of these tires continues to impress. As far as all the good things I observed about the tires, nothing has changed my opinion. So far (knock on wood) I have not had any flats with the tires, and a careful inspection shows that the tread seems to be holding up well. The tread is wearing a little faster on the back than on the front, which is completely normal, but I'm not seeing anything such as cuts or any other tread or sidewall damage.

One other thing that has not changed is the width of the tires. In my original review, I noted that the actual measurement of the tires as installed on my Mavic Open Pro rims came in at just over 26 mm, as opposed to the 28 mm listed on the sidewall. A couple of commenters suggested that the tires might increase in width over time, but so far that hasn't been the case -- or rather, any increase has been small enough to be relatively inconsequential. As I recall, my original measurement using a pair of digital calipers was about 26.2 mm. Right now, after about three months of use, I'm coming up with a measurement of about 26.5 mm -- still quite a ways off from 28. I'll continue to watch and monitor that - but for the time being, I'm still going to have to stick with my original assessment that if a person is after the largest tires that will fit, and they are trying to decide between two sizes, it probably wouldn't hurt to go with the larger one.

Rivendell "Thinny" Gloves

I first got the Rivendell leather gloves almost a year ago, drawn to the fact that they have no padding in the palms. Also, I have a retrogrouchy weakness for classic leather and crocheted cotton cycling gloves. The palms on these are a fine goatskin leather, though an imitation leather version is also available for the same $15 price. My original assessment on the gloves was that they were a good value and seemed to be pretty well-made for the price. I was hopeful that the lack of padding in the palms would relieve some of the discomfort I sometimes find with so-called "anatomic" padded gloves.

After nearly a year, these gloves have seen a lot of use, and I'm pleased to say that they are holding up quite well. Also, the lack of padding in the palms has never presented itself as a problem, even on longer rides. On the contrary, the goatskin leather provides a nice grip on the bars and a pretty natural feel. Keep in mind that most of my bikes have unpadded bar tape as well, so there is really no padding under my hands whatsoever, and I've never missed it.

The gloves have even gone through the wash a couple of times with no real detriment. I hang them to dry - and when I'd first put them on after washing, the leather would be pretty stiff, but after only a few minutes of wearing they'd soften right up and feel "normal" again.

One thing I mentioned in my original review was fit. I found that the fit around my first three fingers (index, middle, ring) was good -- close, but not too tight -- but that the fit around the smallest finger and the thumb was really loose. I still find that odd. I mean, do other people tend to have really fat pinkies and thumbs? I did wonder if that looseness around the thumb would bother me, but in practice I often forget about it. I had thought that if it really annoyed me I might consider taking some cotton twine and do a bit of creative stitching to snug up the fit around the thumb, but it's never bothered me enough to go through the trouble.

A final observation on the gloves: In the Rivendell website description of the gloves, Grant Petersen writes "If they last a year, that's great. They're cheap, they protect your hands, soak up sweat, and are not a precious multi-year investment." Well, it that's the standard, then these have exceeded expectations. I don't know if I'll get another year out of them (though it's possible -- but I've also been known to lose gloves long before they've worn out) but I've definitely gotten my $15 worth, and when the time comes, I'll buy them again.

Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier Convertible Jacket

This was actually a product I reviewed a few years ago for a local bike shop's blog, before I started The Retrogrouch. At the time, I said that the convertible jacket was a really versatile clothing item, especially for fall and spring weather. For commuting, I often find a huge difference in temperatures between my morning and afternoon rides - and the convertible jacket was one item that could easily make the transition. Essentially, it is a wind shell type of jacket that can quickly and easily be converted into a vest. When the mornings are cold, I can put the jacket on over a long-sleeved jersey and ride down into the 30s comfortably. A base layer under the jersey extends that even more. In the afternoon, when temperatures may rise up into the upper 40 or low 50s, the sleeves come off and can be stowed in a pocket easily. Although it isn't meant to substitute for dedicated rain wear, the barrier fabric does help repel water in a light rain. A heavy soaking will penetrate it, however.

I've used this jacket for about three years now, and used it a lot -- any time temperatures have been from just below freezing up through the 40s. After all that time, one thing I'm noticing now is that the elastic at the cuffs is starting to give out. This very morning, in fact, I found that the resulting gap at the cuffs was letting a bit of cold air go up my sleeves. It's disappointing to see happening, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I might be able to use it a little longer, but it's probably time to start looking at replacements. The design and styling of the jacket has changed somewhat since I got mine, but if they kept the functional good points, I'll consider getting another one when the time comes. By the way, there is a non-convertible version of the jacket - but with the extra functionality of being able to convert it from jacket to vest, I can't imagine why someone would get the regular version.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

October Sunday Ride

I managed to get out for a nice little fall leaf ride today - a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, with golden sun, a light breeze, and temperatures about 60. I chose the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath for my route, which seemed like a nice way to be immersed in the autumn colors. Oddly enough, our leaves have only just begun to change, so there's still quite a bit of green on the trees, but there are also lots of leaves on the path to make a very satisfying crunch underneath tires.

For the ride, I took my Mercian Vincitore path racer - a fixed-gear, single speed bike equipped cyclocross tires, fenders, and a couple of small bags.

Much of the towpath runs parallel to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway, so there are little train depots along the way. I didn't take the train today, but the CVSR has a nice deal for cyclists where you can take your bike on the train for just $3 one way, then ride back. It lets people ride the towpath farther than they might if they had to pedal both ways - and it's great if you have kids.
That's a Velo-Orange stem and bell, with Soma Portola dirt-drop style bars, a Velo-Orange rack with small Berthoud bag, and Honjo fenders.

The Mercian path racer is an ideal bike for rides like this one - in fact, rides like this are exactly what the bike was built for. The towpath is mostly paved with a crushed limestone, and when it's dry, that dust coats every bit of a bicycle - particularly the drivetrain. That dust will completely gum up a freewheel, or a derailleur. I've seen freewheels completely seized up from it. But the fixed gear drivetrain has a lot less to worry about. Also, there are almost no hills along the path (no more than about 5% grade) so one carefully selected gear is plenty. I have Challenge Grifo XS cyclocross tires on the bike, which are cushy and have an ideal tread for maintaining grip on the packed limestone surface.

Just a brief post - not a lot more to say. I hope the fall weather is good where you are.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Retrogrouch Reading: Greg LeMond - Yellow Jersey Racer

"For me, cycling's about more than just the racing. It's a strong part of the culture, but it's not everything. Ever since I first rode a bike, a sense of freedom and escape has been a large part of my life: I've always loved riding my bike. I truly believe that there is no other sport like cycling. It's individual, it's a team sport, it's social, and, although grueling, it's one of the most rewarding sports in the world."

So says Greg LeMond in the Foreword of a great new book, Greg Lemond: Yellow Jersey Racer, by Rouleur magazine's editorial director Guy Andrews (2016, VeloPress). This large, beautifully bound volume is over 300 pages full of stories, memories, and interviews with the American icon's friends and rivals, and page after page of stunning photographs - many of which have never been published before.

The book covers the full arc of LeMond's stellar career, year by year, from his beginnings as an exceptionally talented young American amateur racer and the move to the professional ranks in Europe, to his establishment as one of the sport's greats - becoming not only the first American to win the Tour de France (as well as the first English-speaking champion), but also one of only a handful of three-time winners of cycling's greatest race, and a two-time World Champion.

Andrews's writing is engaging, and the interviews with LeMond's former teammates and competitors provide extra perspective not only on LeMond's career, but also on the changing world of bicycle racing throughout his era. It's important to remember that Greg LeMond was a major player in the changes that occurred during his time - from the growth of interest in the sport in the U.S., to salaries for the racers themselves, and also the embrace of emerging technology for the bikes. One change that LeMond notably did not embrace was the introduction of drugs like EPO to the peloton, which is something that may have helped to drive him out of racing - and yes, that aspect gets mentioned as well.

It's a large book - beautifully bound - and a pleasure to read.
I enjoyed reading about the nascent American racing scene of the late '70s and early '80s - before cycling really took off in the U.S. Those recollections by fellow Americans Jeff Bradley and Ron Kiefel brought back memories for me, as I well remember what it was like to be a cycling-obsessed teenager at a time when any information about the predominantly European sport was hard to come by - and how hungry we were for any articles or stories we could find about the sport, even if it meant paging through whatever imported magazines we could scavenge to study the photos, and try (usually unsuccessfully) to make sense out of the text which was typically written in French or Italian. Other interviews with people such as Phil Anderson, Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche, Andy Hampsten, and even Shelley Verses (the first female soigneur in pro cycling), cover LeMond's rise as a professional, and round out a portrait of the racer many Europeans knew as "the American," but whose name in French essentially translates to "the world."

Over the course of his career, LeMond rode a lot of bikes - from a classic steel Cinelli in the '70s, through trend-setting aerodynamic time trial bikes in the '80s, to modern full-carbon machines at the end of his career in the '90s. Unlike many racers, he was not content to simply ride what his sponsors gave him, but often insisted on specific equipment, even if if meant getting something specially made and painted in the sponsor's colors or graphics. A sampling of some of his favorite bikes is included in the book as well.

Did I mention great photographs? Here's a sampling:

Greg LeMond in his teens - a long-haired skier looking for a new challenge.
LeMond loved the Spring Classics and the cobblestones. Here, he climbs the Kemmelberg at the '82 Ghent-Wevelgem.
LeMond and the La Vie Claire team line up for a team time trial in the '85 TdF.
At the '86 Tour de France - on his way to becoming the first American champion.
With former teammate and major rival Laurent Fignon in the '89 Tour - a race that will be remembered as one of the greatest of all time.

Greg LeMond: Yellow Jersey Racer retails for $45 and is available now. It's a gorgeous book, with good stories and great photography. I recommend it for any bicycle racing fan - whether for yourself, or for a gift. Cheers!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Voices In Your Head Say "Ride Faster"

Hearing voices when you ride? It might not necessarily be a sign of severe mental illness IF you have the new "smart" goggles from Oakley - the Radar Pace.

Unlike other "smart" goggles we've been seeing, like the Recon Jet . . .

or the Garmin Varia Vision . . .

. . . both of which put a tiny "heads-up" display into the user's field of vision, the Radar Pace uses built-in earbuds for an audio coaching experience.

They're kind of like the Oakley Thumps, which had a built-in MP3 player - only now they connect to a smart phone and, with the help of a special training app, act like a personal training coach, pumping performance data into the user's ears. Sounds great, doesn't it? 

Being curious about what this coaching might sound like, I checked out the video for a simulation and was wholly underwhelmed (as opposed to being "whelmed," which is an actual word, albeit an uncommon one). The female voice doesn't sound terrifically different in tone or quality from the voice of the iPhone's Siri.

Whoever she is, she wants to be "your new workout partner."

"OK, Radar, what's my workout plan for today?"
"We're riding 20 miles, climbing 1,800 feet."
"How's my power?"
"Your power is 320 watts."
Yes, apparently, the female-voiced workout partner is called "Radar."

Early version of the Radar Pace. They've made a lot of progress in reducing the size of the earpieces.
The Radar Pace glasses must be aimed at triathletes (of course they are), as the video shows a multi-sport workout. With the help from the smart phone app, they apparently track performance data, and also give words of encouragement:

"Nice job balancing your effort on this hill."
"How's my pace, Radar?"
"Your current pace is 7' 32" per mile, which is juusst right."
The female voiced Radar (she really needs a better name) isn't just your new training partner - she also wants to be your motivator . . .

and your coach . . .

But it seems to me that if they really want to motivate, Oakley should make them sound more like Sgt. Hartman from Full Metal Jacket.
"Dig in, you worthless puke maggot! Your watts are for S#!t !"
I doubt many retrogrouches are all that intent on coaching goggles, but you can watch the video here if want some coaching giggles:


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Missed Milestone and a Look Back

It just occurred to me today that I missed a couple of milestones for The Retrogrouch Blog.

The blog recently marked 3 years, and also recently passed 1,000,000 views. Okay - in the big scheme of things on the web, 1 million pageviews is nothing. Not even a blip. BikeSnobNYC probably gets that many every few months. Nevertheless, readership has generally increased steadily since the blog started back in 2013.

But right now might be a good time to take a look back at some highlights and lowlights from the past year.

Most Popular Posts

The saddle-to-bar "drop" on Fignon's bike in '89 is a lot closer
than what you'd see on a racing bike today. Doesn't keep him
from getting in a low tuck with a flat back, though.
Far and away, the most-viewed post on the blog has been one that appeared almost exactly three years ago - Changing Positions: Bike Fit Then and Now. Every so often, someone will post a link to that article and start a flame war on a forum somewhere about how deeply flawed my assessments are (or "right on the money" depending on the commenters). After one blogger who must have a much larger audience share than I do posted a link to it earlier this year, page hits for this one article must have hit 5000 or so per day for a couple of days afterwards. In the article, I was mainly just pointing out how the relationship between saddle height and bar height has changed so much on racing bikes - that the "drop" from saddle to bar has grown a lot since the '80s, and that people tend to do a lot more riding with their hands on top of the bars or on the brake hoods than they used to. And while that increase in drop might be fine for racers, it shouldn't be the kind of thing that "trickles down" to the rest of us. It's proven to be a lot more controversial than I ever imagined.

The second-most-viewed post is one about Tange and Ishiwata Tubing. It was one of three articles I did about the brands of steel tubing used in so many of the great classic bikes of the past. Why that one gets so many more views than the articles on Reynolds or Columbus (which I expected to be the more popular ones), I don't know, but again, it gets referenced and linked on other pages pretty regularly.

Personal Favorites 

This past year, I think my personal favorite posts were the series on how the American bike industry shifted from manufacturing to importing: "Designed in America." Each of the four articles looked at another factor in the shift, though there was some overlap between them. Those four factors were The American Bike Boom, The Rise of Importers, The Fall of Schwinn, and The Rise of Shimano. The one about Schwinn probably got the most comments of the series. American cyclists from a couple of generations can't help but have a soft spot for the brand that more than any other helped introduce them to the love of bicycles. And the circumstances of their downfall were mirrored across the industry.

I also really liked doing the article on a Visit to Mercian Cycles. I was lucky enough to be able to visit their workshop and retail store in Derby this past summer and snap some photos. It was great to meet all the folks there and share the experience here on the blog.

That's the Mercian workshop, and the retail storefront, with owners Grant and Jane Mosely.
Most Hated Post

After the Republican National Convention descended upon Cleveland in July, just a short drive from my home in Akron, I managed to find a few bike-related items to bring up - like the Cleveland Police Department's new bicycle patrols, and a young librarian distributing books to delegates and protesters from the back of his bicycle. Apparently some readers, detecting my liberal-leaning politics (Oh hell - why not just admit that I'm a freakin' socialist) felt compelled to leave some pretty hostile comments, or send some venomous emails. Sorry - you won't see the comments, as I moderate them and deleted them for profanity. I try to keep the blog family-friendly, you know.

Least Popular Posts

It seems like the posts that consistently get the fewest views and the fewest comments are the ones in the Bike Safety 101 series - which look at old educational films about bicycle safety. I enjoy them because they combine my love of bikes with my love of movies. Having taught a film class for a number of years, I always teach a unit on old educational films and propaganda - looking at how the films reflect the times in which they were made and promote the social and/or political values of those times. The bike safety films from the '50s through the '70s are no exception. Examining the films by decade, you can see how bikes were marginalized in the '50s and '60s as little more than kids' toys (albeit, really dangerous ones that could maim and kill), to practical transportation in the Bike Boom '70s. Any bike safety propaganda made since then puts the biggest emphasis on helmet use above all else.

Where Are The Readers?

Overwhelmingly, most of the blog's readers are located in the U.S. - no surprise there. After that, comes England, then Canada - again, not surprising. Then Germany, followed by Australia. Yep - more Germans read The Retrogrouch than Australians. Among the English speakers, Aussies must not be very retro-grouchy, I guess.

What's Next?

As the next year goes by, expect to see more stories griping about pointless bike-related technology and supposedly revolutionary "must have" innovations. I expect to have a few photo-laden stories of upcoming vintage bike projects. I have some bike-related books on my must-read list, so reviews will be forthcoming. All around, as long as I can keep coming up with ideas, it should be another year of what readers have come to expect on The Retrogrouch.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Crazy Cranks

What could be simpler than a bicycle crank? It's hard to imagine a simpler, more efficient mechanism for transferring leg motion into circular motion into forward motion. But almost since the beginning of bicycles, people have been convinced there's a better way to propel a bicycle. Riders can only apply power on the downstroke, and some see that as a waste of energy. Since the earliest days of the bicycle, tinkerers and inventors have come up with all kinds of ideas to increase power, minimize effort, and eliminate "dead spots" in pedaling motion - some that defy logic and physics, others that are bizarrely complex.

Remember these?

Dpardo "sickle" cranks: a fairly recent reboot of an old, thoroughly de-bunked concept . . . 
. . . previously seen in the '80s as the PMP crank, which itself was just a rehash of cranks that were hailed as "revolutionary" in the 1930s, and in the 1890s before that. Every generation or so, these things come back, reintroduced by people who are thoroughly convinced they're something never seen before.
Lever-drive, or treadle-drives have been tried again and again - like this Alenax in the 1980s. Another idea that actually dates back to before the safety bicycle.

Oval or elliptical chainrings are another questionable attempt to get "free" power and eliminate "dead spots" in the pedaling motion. Some people swear by them, but actual scientific evidence of their effectiveness is lacking. And again, they're nothing new . . .

. . . The Durham elliptical sprocket made similar promises - but also made front shifting impossible. And like other "innovations," they were actually an old idea by the 1970s.

One recent company took the route of altering the pedals instead of the crank itself. The CrankTip pedals move in an elliptical path as a rider turns the cranks, supposedly giving a variable effective crank length - and increasing torque on the downstroke.

Now there's another entry in the crazy cranks lineup that might actually be something no one has ever seen before - the Cyfly drive system. This thing is probably hands-down the most complex crank unit I've seen. Combining a special gearbox, a pair of multi-link crank arms, and an elliptical (almost rectangular) chainring, the Cyfly mechanism causes the crank arm length to change dramatically throughout the pedaling motion. The company boasts 33% more torque at the same pedaling effort.

The Cyfly crank was introduced at this year's Eurobike, in conjunction with the German bicycle brand, Moeve. The crankarms change in length by about 20mm throughout their stroke.

As the pedals turn, those multi-linked crankarms chug back and forth, constantly changing --lengthening and shortening, and supposedly increasing torque during the "power stroke."

If you're thinking that such an unusual new crank design would be interesting to try, allow me to mention that the Cyfly is not something a person can just install onto their existing bike. The system's oversized gearbox, which is needed to keep the crankarms chugging in proper synchronization, requires a specially-built frame.

One thing that doesn't get mentioned anywhere is the width of such an unusual crank. There are no measurements given anywhere, but just from the look of it, with its extra linkages and everything, I'd say it's a safe bet that this thing would make a person pedal like a duck - putting the "Quack" in "Q-factor."

The system also adds a good bit of weight, too. The version shown above is listed at about 2kg (a little over 4 lbs!). I guess that's a big improvement over the earlier prototypes, though, because I read in BikeRumor that the first version weighed nearly 15 pounds!

Evolution of the idea. Looking at that first one, it's no surprise the thing weighed 15 lbs.
I know that there are lots of claims about the advantages of such a crank, but as usual, I'm skeptical. Whether it actually works as claimed or not, I wonder if the difference is worth all the added complexity -- something this crazy crank has in spades.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

What Would We Do Without the UCI?

If it weren't for those innovation-stifling UCI regulations keeping bike design stuck in the stone-age, just think how advanced bikes would be today.

Yes . . . just think.

Read enough bike industry cheerleading blogs and bike magazines, you'll encounter some variation on that lament almost as often as you'll find the words laterally stiff and vertically compliant.

I found it today in a couple articles on BikeRadar about some new triathlon bike designs. One was on the new Diamondback Andean - a bike which is claimed (by its designer) to be "the fastest tri-bike on the market" today.

Lookit me! No seatstays!
"The Andean is the product of a two-year project, whereby we set out to build the fastest triathlon bike on the market, with no concern for the arbitrary limitations placed on bicycle design by the UCI."

As opposed to a standard stone-age-worthy UCI-compliant time trial bike, the Andean tri-bike sports a heavily faired carbon fiber frame with lots of storage compartments for integrated hydration packs (that's "water" to you and me), as well as energy bars, gel packets (sticky goop supposedly for "endurance"), and tools/spares. The tool storage strikes me as both superfluous and cruelly ironic for most of the bike's likely buyers. The bike also has disc brakes because as we all know, you'd have to have a death wish to ride a bike with rim brakes today.

Then there was this one: the Cervélo P5X:

Lookit me! No seatstays and no seat-tube, either!
"Along with a radical frame design, the new P5X debuts disc braking, and represents what a manufacturer can do when it chooses to no longer conform to the restrictive regulations that the UCI imposes."

Like the Diamondback Andean, the Cervélo P5X sports disc brakes, and has lots of integrated storage for "hydration" fluids and sticky goop packets. Cervélo has a bunch of different trademarked names for their various storage compartments: Smartpak, Stealthbox, and Speedcase - because one catchy name isn't enough.  As for its radical frame design? Well . . . let's just say we've been here before.

To be honest, I don't actually know specifically what keeps these monstrosities from being UCI-compliant, nor do I care in the least. In fact, I am still trying to figure out exactly why so many people - from designers, to manufacturers, to cheerleading bloggers - care so much about the cycling governing body's supposedly archaic, arbitrary, and restrictive regulations in the first place.

You see, except for top-level road and track racing, which makes up only a small slice of the bicycling pie, UCI equipment regulations are a non-issue. The vast majority of cyclists don't race, and manufacturers have always been free to design, build, and sell anything they want. Most buyers are unaware of such "restrictions" because they are completely unaffected by them. The way I understand it, that goes for triathlon bikes as well, since the UCI has no bearing on that sport, and tri-bikes have long had features that would not have been permitted on, say, a time trial bike in the Tour de France. Go-fast freds who want the latest thing aren't necessarily restricted by the regulations, either, unless competing in a UCI-sanctioned event. Consider the marketing opportunity for manufacturers when they push the fact that their bizarre wünderbike is "too fast" for the UCI. It's enough to make a fred's knees get wobbly.
While we're on the subject, remember this thing?
Even when it comes to bikes for competition, I have no problem with a governing body setting some limits on technology - whether it's to ensure the safety of the competitors, or to help level the playing field. Consider a venue like the Olympics, where equipment restrictions can help keep the racing a competition of athletes, and not an arms race dominated by national teams with huge R&D budgets.

When you get right down to it, the only people truly affected by "the rules" are the people who get their bikes for free anyhow. So, if manufacturers are free to make any bike they can market and sell, why the defensive attitude? C'mon folks - get a grip. Make your ugly wünderbikes. Make as many as you can sell. Most of us just don't care.