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Techno-geeks: Please leave my bike alone

Posted Aug 26 2008 4:01pm
Have you noticed how simplest things in life have become high tech when they don’t really need to? For example the paper towel dispensers in the restrooms at work, and in bars and restaurants.

What was wrong with just pulling on the paper, or operating a simple lever at the side? Every one of these new devices is different, so you stand there like an idiot with your hands dripping wet, trying to figure out where the “electronic eye” is.

Is it on the front, is it underneath; shouldn’t there be a little red light somewhere? You wave your hands all around this abominable black plastic box, which even looks like a piece of high tech equipment. Like a microwave oven or a CD player more than a simple towel dispenser.

Invariably someone will come to your rescue making you feel like a total retard. (That used to be a politically incorrect term, but no one ever uses it to refer to a mentally challenged person anymore, it is only used when referring the type of person who can’t operate a stupid paper towel dispenser.)

Why make the simple things in life high tech, when there is no good reason other than we can? Or because we have the technology. The makers of these “Black Box” towel dispensers will argue that by eliminating the handle, they eliminate a source of germs that could re-contaminate our clean hands.

Now wait a minute; every person using the towel dispenser has clean hands; they have just washed them. That’s why they need a paper towel. And, anyway after sterilizing our hands thoroughly, we grab the filthy door handle as we leave.

Why do we need electric can openers? One of the times we really need a can opener is during an emergency when the power is out.

Now the techno-geeks, always searching for more simple devices to make complicated are turning their attention to the bicycle, and toying with the idea of electronic gear shifting.

To be honest, I never got over index shifting in the late 1980s. At the time, the European cycling community scoffed at the idea, and so did Campagnolo. This was tantamount to a violinist needing marks on the neck of the fiddle to show where to place your fingers.

Of course, the engineers at Shimano knew better. They knew that in America there were people who actually did not know how to operate a friction shift lever. Maybe they had great foresight and could see this same nation of people, in the future, would not be able to operate a paper towel dispenser.

I always felt that index shifting was developed to cater to the “instant gratification” element. Nothing that requires a degree of skill, gives instant gratification. Muffing gear changes on a hill is no fun, but then neither is learning to play a musical instrument. However, the rewards are far greater once you master the skill. The satisfaction of doing something other people cannot, for a start.

In the case of indexed shifting, Shimano proved to be right, and Campagnolo spent years playing catch up. I will agree that indexed shifting has developed into something that is useful to all cyclists, including the pros. No one wants to go back to friction shifting, except old farts purists like me.

However, now there is talk about automatic shifting on a bicycle linked to a bicycle computer that will measure your heart rate and will automatically shift down when it senses you are trying too hard. Rather like the automatic transmission on a car.

Isn’t this taking the fun out of cycling? In the same way automatic transmissions took the fun out of driving. Cars used to be stick shift, with a clutch, and it took a certain amount of skill to drive one. Have you ever noticed that car adds on TV show people driving at speed, having fun, and shifting a stick shift? When in reality there are few such transmissions.

This is one of the main problems with car driving today; it has become so easy that people drive their car like they are sitting on their living room sofa. Eating, drinking, and talking on the phone. No one takes pride in being a good driver anymore. Would people be drinking coffee, and talking on the phone if they were driving a stick shift?

Will electronic shifting on a bike catch on? What about the weight-weenie - Batteries are heavy. How about this idea; an electronic eye on your handle bar stem. When your head is down and you are trying, it stays in a big gear, but when you sit up, it shifts down. I just hope it works better than the paper towel dispenser does.
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