Friday, November 14, 2008

The Urge

Suppose for a second that you are God. Not Eddy Merckx, but God. It’s T-minus 1 hour to the Big Bang. What would you want to have happen? You’ve got the power to create anything, everything. Wouldn’t you want explore the range of your own ideas?

Even though organized religion doesn’t often discuss what God wanted to occur independent of our arrival, I have often looked at our world and beyond and attempted to tease meaning from what I see. The conclusion I draw is that our maker wanted diversity, wanted weird, wanted beauty, wanted destruction, variation, surprises, confusion and the unknowable.

While I struggle with the idea that God actually likes war and death, I think they must have been an intended expression in the range of creation and no less important than waterfalls, hummingbirds and fluffy kittens.

One of my favorite features of the cycling world is, similarly, the incredible range of ideas and creativity we see. Bicycle frames have been made from steel, aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber and more (anyone remember beryllium?) Marino Lajaretta gave us knickers. We’ve got bicycles made specially for time trials, for road races, for dropping off cliffs and going to the store. Think about how Miguel Indurain wore a cycling cap. Bright minds have invented devices to track our heart rate, record the wattage we generate and even map the routes we ride in real time. What about the ever-interesting and changing route of the Tour de France? Let’s not forget that the bicycle has evolved from a single-geared contraption to a sophisticated drivetrain that can contain 30 gears or be shifted—gasp—electronically.

I write this as a way to frame my incomprehension at the blowback against technology that I sometimes see. I saw it against heart rate monitors and cyclocomputers. I saw it against integrated brake and shift levers. There’s opposition to carbon fiber frames and you’ve seen it against electronic shifting. On the other side, there are those for whom the world can’t evolve too quickly. They’d sooner drive a stake through a lug than ride steel or overshift a downtube lever.

Personally, I’m grateful that a lug cut by Peter Weigle doesn’t look like one cut by Brian Baylis or Richard Sachs. There’s nothing better than when an attack comes in a surprising way or at a surprising location. I love that Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM are engaged in a battle royal of fresh ideas. Love it. As much as I love the age-old courses of the Spring Classics, I’m always excited to see a fresh course used at the World Championships. And every time a frame manufacturer comes up with a fresh idea, a new way to express the road bike in carbon fiber, I’m game, especially if they’ll give me some insight into how it was designed and manufactured.

Someday I’m going to have a durable 12-pound bicycle with eletronic shifting automatic transmission smooth. It will track my course, HR, wattage and provide POV video of my ride in a 1-ounce device I won’t have to plug into a USB port. It will be unspeakably stiff in torsion and offer 5mm of vertical compliance. It will have the aerodynamics of today’s best TT bikes. It will be gorgeous. It will fit me perfectly.

I’m grateful for the creative urge that drives the sport's engineers, racers, builders and designers to make my pipe dreams reality.

12 comments:

jza said...

I too am glad that bike makers make sick ass MONOCOQUE CARBON FIBER RACE BIKES that are durable enough to ride through a wall and build up to about 16 lbs, WITH PEDALS.

Yeah, these hand built steel bikes would be nice to hang on the wall, but riding steel is so early '80s.

Tim C said...

great post!

Bandobras said...

Some Ludites refuse to accept the benefits of the new technologies. On the other hand there is perhaps something being lost when bicycles are entering the 5 digit price range. I no longer race and as a tourist I can get a $500 dollar steel bike and use the other $5000 dollars to ge travel and see my world close up and personal.
Of course if I won the lottery look out $20,000 racer bike boy coming past at 15 mph.

Jeremy said...

As a steel-frame riding luddite myself, I think the anti-technology blowback isn't so much against the technology itself (even though I think Di2 is just kinda stupid) but against the associated obsolescence of systems deemed to be "inferior" that happens when the "next big thing" comes along. For every advance in techology, for every carbon frame and n+1 speed group, there are fewer high-quality steel frames and downtube shifters (that some of us prefer for their simplicity and versatility) being produced. We can all agree that diversity in bicycle and component design is a good thing, as long as the advance of a certain technology doesn't mean the death of other, equally valid, technologies.

iworedettos said...

jeremy got noggin.

Garnet said...

I'm not sure stupid is the word for Di2, but perhaps unnecessary would suffice. You cannot deny, though, it's darn efficient, and wicked cool.

And that's the point: necessity need not be the mother of invention. Nobody NEEDS Di2, but somebody wants it. The cycling community is diverse, and what one cyclists wants in a bike is different from the next. I applaud technology and innovation as long as everyone can have the bike they've always wanted, regardless whether that bike shifts electronically or with good old-fashioned cables.

Jared Roy said...

hey man ....great post and great site...can you give a shout out to the Mud and Blood Ball? I'm sure your audience would enjoy it.

www.mudbloodball.com

BYcycles said...

Innovations are great. The planned obsolescence and nonsensical marketing that often accompany them are not. How many cycling products in the last 30 years have been truly innovative as opposed to merely being hyped-up junk trying to chase easy dollars? Yes, lots of good ones but also a lot of plain old crap as well as a plethora of really expensive stuff targeted at recreational cyclists that have dubious value in their real-world application. Nonetheless, if this is the trade-off, I guess I would have to say it is worth it-- I'll take the innovation and choice and just ignore the marketers.

No One Line said...

I'm torn between bike-geekness about fairly interesting technological developments, and my compulsion to be critical about all the money spent prioritizing such a tiny sliver of the cycling world. Most of my thoughts are here; I conclude that it's necessary to keep the ball rolling and ensure that the benefits of that technology, money, and attention can get spread around to other areas that need it.

morningroll said...

It's spelled "Marino Lejarreta."

Sprocketboy said...

I like new technology but I think the prices have moved to insane levels. My regular road bike is an S-Works Tarmac E5, which probably cost new in 2004 around $3.5Gs, full Dura-Ace. Today's version, which is admittedly a bit different, is the SL2, which is around $7Gs. This means that top-of-the-line bikes are no longer attainable for most people. In the Good Old Days you could pay for and ride what was basically Eddy Merckx's bike (Campy NR, Columbus steel) on the same roads as he did, which is a real attraction for the sport. There is an incremental advantage to the new Tarmac but the big breakthroughs in materials, or components, have been made. For most riders, there is not much difference in speed if they are riding a 16 pound bike or a 20 pound one--essentially none on the flat and a single digit percentage difference on climbs. I recently sold an old ten speed that was in the basement for a decade and went for a short ride before the buyer came. I was shocked at how well the SunTour components friction shifting worked. I have raced and toured and the money is best spent on training (and travel)!

Padraig said...

All: Thanks for sharing your perspectives, diverse as they are. I, too, am troubled by the way top of the line road bikes have doubled in price in less than 10 years. Cycling seems to be headed in the direction of Formula 1, whether we like it or not. I've always thought one of the great attractions to the sport was our ability to ride exactly the same equipment as the pros. We still can, but it's becoming unrealistic to do so.