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Science Friction

Posted Aug 26 2008 4:01pm




My Techno-geek post last Monday was intended to be a tongue in cheek humorous piece; I didn’t mean to cause friction, or a shift in attitude.



However, it did draw a surprising number of comments, both for and against. Many of them raising some interesting and valid points.



Some brought up the safety issue. You can argue after the fact that having the gear levers on the handlebars is safer, but that is not why this type of shifting was developed. It came about because the MTB market brought people into cycling who did not know how to operate a friction shift.



A mountain bike is one that anyone can jump on and ride, but a road bike, even with all the modern amenities still requires a degree of skill to ride. If for no other reason than it goes faster, and handles quicker.



One comment asked if I had noticed how many new cyclists are on the road; I will agree this is a good thing. However, this also means there is a lot of inexperienced riders out there, and it is inexperience that causes riders to touch wheels and fall, not that they are riding one handed.



When I started cycling in the early 1950s, we reached down between our legs to operate the front derailleur. I never heard of anyone falling while doing this, it was no more difficult than reaching down for a water bottle. Yet these type of derailleurs are now known as suicide shifters.



Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating we should go back to this type of equipment. However it seems we now live in an age where half the cycling population is hooked on single speed, fixed gear, and the other half swears by 10 speed, index shifting.



Surely, there is room in this mix for a few people like me, who have ridden with down-tube, friction shifting all our lives, and six gears is enough. When the supply of the old stuff runs out, I will have no choice but to switch, and I will do so before giving up riding. (I may even find I like it.)



The computer age has meant that products go from the design stage to actual product on the shelf in a far shorter time; robotics take over manufacture. There becomes less and less human involvement, and something is lost.



Frames were once built by craftsmen like myself and others, and there is a part of me in every frame I built. I also rode bikes and raced on them and learned a great deal along the way, a slow gathering of knowledge over many years.



Today with large corporations building bikes, there is not the same gathering of knowledge. Equipment is developed, and almost immediately becomes obsolete. Knowledge gathered is forgotten as they move on. Engineers who are not necessarily riders design bikes, and design is for the benefit of the manufacturer, not the consumer.



Richard Sachs said it best when he stated, “The threadless steerer was an answer to a problem that didn’t exist.”



The old style quill stem (Left.) worked fine, it was elegant and easy to adjust up and down. Now it is obsolete, not because it didn’t work, but because forks with threadless steering columns are easier to mass produce.



The quill stem was replaced with something ugly, in my opinion, and far from easy to adjust for height; sometimes you need to buy a whole new fork.



When I said, “Techno-geeks, keep your hands off my bike,” I was not putting down progress, but saying don’t discard everything good that has gone before.



Addendum:

When I said a mountain bike is easier to ride than a road bike I meant easier to ride on the road. I keep forgetting there are people who actually ride them off road; my apologies.
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