5 metres of development.



Redux : Setting up Power Grips.

This is a one-off post as I long ago promised a friend/customer to do a writeup about how I set up Power Grips. Sorry there aren't more photos...like I wrote about earlier on 5mod, our digital age doesn't take too kindly to long term accessibility, as I found with a bunch of corrupted visuals of my PG setup on my ancient shop laptop. No dice. So, text will have to suffice since I don't even have a bike put together right now.

At some point, I don't remember exactly when, I had decided that I wasn't going to use clipless pedals anymore...this after basically riding Time ATAC clipless pedals problem-free for more than a decade. I think it had to do with replacement cleats seemingly wearing out much faster while becoming more expensive at the same time. I had a few toe-in-the-water forays going clipless-less, with generally disappointing results and honestly confirmation that I was making this decision based on the love of an idea rather than really making things "better" (see also: advocacy obnoxiousness, all political "discourse", and general smug contrarian chickenheading). I would learn though - sometimes you just have to figure something out without the use of Google.

I had messed around with plain old BMX platform pedals some in Colorado and didn't really like them for steep climbing, although now I think they'd totally rule for long distance bikepacking travel, where aggression is circumvented by a long, slow burn so long as your ego allows it. Once I started riding fixed wheel everywhere, the thought of raking screw-in pins up the fleshy part of my calf or driving them into my shins like pitons didn't jive with me so well.

I then set up a standard clip-and-strap arrangement, messing around with some different variations but ultimately using Suntour XC Pro pedals, XL plastic cages, Cinelli toe straps with a laminate centre, and toe strap buttons. It was OK, I guess. I honestly didn't put enough time into really customizing things for getting my foot properly positioned over the pedal axle (those with really small or large feet will identify) or day-in-day-out comfort.

I had a couple of problems on the latter front. One was using a more traditional, smaller MTB platform pedal which really wore on me after a number of long (160+km) days in the saddle while using skate, BMX, or indoor soccer shoes. The second was that I have a rather toes-down pedaling style. This isn't that weird, lots of people do. The thing is, those people generally had cleats/plates nailed/screwed to their soles when riding their bikes big distances and/or quickly, holding their feet in a fixed position while the toe strap did its job. The result: My already hammer(ed) toes suffered like all hell on said long days as they got crammed to the end of my flexy footwear and against hard plastic.

This, as well as my friends Kent Peterson and Larry B. in Idaho, led me to where I might have been in the mid-90s: Power Grips. I assume if you're reading this you know what they are, otherwise follow the link at the top of the post.

Setting up Power Grips is just like dealing with fenders, racks, bike bags, your general position, or your general fitness...meaning: The amount of time you put into it is reflected in the results you get.

Lots of folks just bolt things together kinda sorta and with the resulting "this sucks" or "what a POS" if the universe doesn't bend to their will in an instant. Take some time to set things up better.

Here are my thoughts:

1) Shoes.
Lots of folks from the non-clipless clique trumpet the benefits of using "whatever shoes they want." This really isn't true for Power Grips. Shoe choice is important, and if your justification for doing this is to "ditch bike shoes" and you ride off-road for real...well, you're still going to need to delegate a pair of shoes for mountain bike-y action. I'll say why down the list. The fact of the matter is that sneakers of any kind are never going to replace the feel of standalone cycling shoes. Seriously, don't argue, I've ridden both a lot. Even the burliest BMX shoes feel pretty floppy compared to a "flexy" cycling shoe with a plate-backed clipless cleat. This is the biggest potential deal killer and will have most people bolting up clipless pedals no matter how good your "simple pedal" setup is, period. Remember, there's a pragmatic reason why this clipless stuff came about.

I've ridden a few different pairs of BMX/freeride shoes and while the protection is nice...they are pretty big and chunky for ingress into the pedal. Trail/mixed surface running shoes aren't much fun for ingress either, some less aggressive ones can be OK though - e.g. Saucony Grids. Some people like approach shoes for BMX platforms but I find that the surface area on a regular MTB platform is a little small for the sole flexibility. Minimalist skate shoes or retro sneakers are fine for dicking around or day rides, but they really aren't the best choice on a non-BMX platform pedal for really going a long way, especially off-road. A lot of folks like indoor soccer shoes the best amongst non-cycling shoes...Adidas Sambas in a non-long tongue iteration (not the 'Classic' ones) specifically. It's probably best though to invest in some more tour-y/commuter cycling shoes with less aggressive tread - just for the sole stiffness factor. Irony? Maybe.

2) Pedals.
I rode Suntour XC Pros for a long time. They rule, but they aren't made anymore and you don't need something so fancy. I sold all of mine after I got hurt. There are a lot of pedals that 'look' like the old Suntours. Be wary though. A lot of times the cages are flexy as hell, not while you're pedaling but in regards to rock strikes, crashes, dropping and the like. Same with the hardware holding on said cages. Often times it's not up to real rough treatment. It's safer to stay with a one piece pedal body, like on the Wellgo M142 or Velo Orange Touring pedals.

Some people have retrofitted BMX platforms or bear traps with Power Grips. I don't really dig it as the strap is at a pretty rakish angle for easy entry and the reflector holes are not in the optimum places for really using the strap properly.

One place where toe clips are nicer than Power Grips is your ease in using an externally mounted toe flip to get into the pedal. With Power Grips set up for more aggressive riding, you are entering the pedal outboard of centre and the Power Grip takes up the inner reflector mount hole. This makes adding toe flips (that are actually useful) to the pedal much harder. I just suck it up and deal with it. It takes some practice to get into them smoothly without the aid of a toe flip, especially with a boxy pedal like the aforementioned M142 that has no 'hook' of any kind. It's never going to be as easy as stepping on a clipless pedal, just saying. Remember how it was trying to get back on your bike after totally making a hash of that creek crossing? OK. Be patient and practice. Again, low-pro shoes help here. Having a pedal you can easily use on the non-strap side is good too (that's one strike against the XC Pros).

3) Power Grip setup.
I didn't figure this out totally myself, the cycling writer John Kukoda was my initial muse and then I fleshed stuff out my own way.

First, since I have largish feet (Euro 48), I only buy the XL Power Grips (the long ones for winter boots) and I only use the bolt-through hardware (no "micro-adjust" or any such thing). You will need the long ones unless you have really small feet, and even if you do the long ones allow things to be more 'custom'. The hardware that comes with Power Grips is OK, but I don't really like Phillips head screws...so I replace the hardware with button head stainless bolts. In case you are wondering...the usual weight of this kit is approximately [DARK MATTER HEAVY] grams.

I mount up the strap plate on the front of the pedal as inboard as I can, mainly because of my big feet. You can even double up the plate (bringing things to [DARK MATTER + MERCURY HEAVY] grams) to prevent bending in case of rock collision. For most that is overkill though.

I run my straps upside down in order to hide the giant logo. Bolt up the single holed side of the strap to the inside rear reflector hole. With just the rear of the strap on, I install the pedals on the bike. This allows me to place my foot on the pedal where it is actually going to sit. You can even get on the bike if you have a helper with you.  This is probably best as you'll be able to do things a little more accurately.

- Put on the shoes you want to wear for aggressive riding.

- Place your foot on the pedal in the position where it naturally falls. If you've been riding for a while, you'll have a pretty good idea. Even people that have been riding clipless for years will still have the ball of their foot a little farther forward from centre when on platforms. This is normal, and many think it's actually better for longer distance riding.

- Turn your foot very slightly inward from centre, or from where your foot sits neutrally...everyone's is different. Not too much though.

- Pull the strap snug (not taut) making sure you pass over the forward mount hole with the strap folded in half at that point and then (you or your helper) mark the strap accordingly with a paint marker or punch it with an awl or whatever, you get the idea. It's easier to understand looking at pictures of it, sorry.

- Once you have both straps marked to your liking, it's time to grab either a punch or a drill to put in your custom holes. I find that it helps to have the strap held in the folded position using vise grips, or burly tape, or bomber paper clips, or _______. You'll probably find it easier if you take the pedals back off the bike. I don't remember what drill bit to use or the actual size of the hole. I think I drilled them slightly smaller than the stock holes, which are way down the strap with the XL Power Grips, such that I had to thread the bolt through and had the strap flat on a chunk of 2x4.

- Now bolt up the forward part of the strap and try a test. Slot your foot in and twist it into your proper riding position. If you've done stuff right, your strap will be nice and tight, keeping your foot planted on the pedal just as well as a clipless pedal would. If you can pick your foot up at all...it's too loose. If you feel like you're putting a little strain on your knee...it's too tight (big no-no...especially because Power Grips attract a lot of riders with chronic knee problems, this can make things worse). Repeat the steps if need be to fine tune things. Keep in mind that the hole on the forward pedal mount is often times slotted, so make sure that you have the bolt topped out at the top of the slot, else you will pull it up eventually - losing your custom fit.

- Once you have everything dialed, tighten the hell out of everything, especially that forward strap bolt. Trim the excess strap off to your liking...less is best so you can ride the underside of the pedal more easily.

That's it!

4) Some caveats.
Remember how I said the idea of "using whatever shoes you want" was kind of bogus? Well it is if you really want retention from your "retention system". Don't think that you're going to set up the strap for riding off-road with your soccer shoes and then you're going to put on a pair of Birkenstocks or Crocs and then use your straps, it's not going to happen. Riding around in Tevas and stuff is possible for doing errands or whatever...but honestly, if you really need that much footwear flexibility and you're riding a freewheel, ride some nice comfy BMX platforms. Seriously. That allows flexibility. I would do it. Of course if you set up your straps for some citizen cycling shoes and then want to ride to work wearing your Vans, that would probably work. Just be mindful that if you're going to ride off-road or do some climbing, the straps really need to be set snug for those shoes, else you're not going to get much benefit. Riding around with floppy Power Grips is pretty pointless.

Sort of like messenger bags in the 1990s, there's a cottage industry amongst the urban fixed wheel set making lots of foot retention systems for BMX pedals - a lot of which I think are pretty cool, though not as friendly for mixed surface usage. But, what sets Power Grips apart is the proprietary strap material they use versus varying degrees of Cordura...all in the name of longevity for rough usage and stiffness to hold shape, actually letting you get back in the damn things after hike-a-biking an eon.

You'll have to weigh the pros and cons for yourself. I can't ride a bike right now and I don't know when I'll be able to again. When I can though, I'll probably be riding Power Grips.



Redux : Taping + padding flared drop bars.

A few years ago I had a guide up on the mc ti fab site, showing how I padded/taped flared drops for my own use and for customers who were interested. I recently dug up all the old photos in order to give a primer to a customer and he sagely suggested that I should put it back online. So I am.

There are a few caveats though.

Flared handlebars of any kind sometimes don't jive with people's ulnar nerves. There are some reasons for this. First is physiology. Just like certain saddles might cause some discomfort/numbness/burning in the gentleman's or ladies' department, there's a small number of folks that they just won't work for. This number is smaller than some might think though, as there are a few nuances about their setup that don't always get applied...resulting in a less than excellent experience and a subsequent chucking. 

I've written a ton about this stuff elsewhere on this site and in the past (e.g. 63xc) so I won't bore you with all that. However, all the padding in the world will not help you if you don't have the bars at least in the ballpark as far as cockpit length and bar height. I'm sorry to say that most of the time, at least with stock conversions of 'normal' MTBs and 'cross bikes, it isn't unless there's a little help from your own physical characteristics (long arms, short legs, etc.). You also need to be mindful of how the angle of the bar is set. The hooks should be angled in such a way that you have the broadest platform for your hand when riding in the drops. Normally this ends up having the tips of the bars pointing somewhat near the rear dropouts...an angle anywhere from 10° to 25° from level. You have to figure all of this out before you bolt up brake levers (set for maximum braking ability from the drops) and then do your taping/padding.

This is all important, but there's really no substitute for getting yourself in shape. Nothing makes a bigger difference in how you feel and fit on a bike. Get your body weight down, your flexibility up, and your breathing dialed (which helps with the weight issue as well). Core strength helps too, and it doesn't take a gym membership or branded exercise routine to augment this...just simple things that you can do consistently in a short amount of time, eventually allowing you to incorporate it into your life like brushing + flossing your teeth. There's tons of information out there, don't worry about "best" or "most effective"...that's all subjective anyway and doing something beneficial consistently and eating a bit less always trumps sporadic stabs of "awesome workout" and "super diet", especially for your long term well-being. I say all this as someone who has been very light and pretty fit as well as being pretty overweight and inactive after a serious accident. The difference between the two is day and night in terms of motivation and mental health...the opposite poles seem like a distant dream to each other. 

So with all that said, below is how I pad flared drop bars. It takes off a little bit of the edge when riding off-road, as a benefit to your ulnar nerve, without turning your bars into an engorged Nerf bat.

Once you have your bar and levers set to your liking, do a single wrap of bar tape like normal. I used cotton tape here, since that's what I generally have around. It always pays to be neat but this layer doesn't have to be perfect, it'll be covered up. I think I did two layers, I don't remember (these photos are from 2008). This is also the place to use that bar tape you have that maybe isn't as off-road friendly (e.g. cork or something else cushy). Note the rubber Velox bar end plug. These may be decried as "heavy" or "retro" but there's a reason for using them (or any other squishy plug). A good flared drop setup will often result in the end of the bar coming in direct contact with the top tube, depending on rider preference and setup of course. In fact, on most of my flared drop specific bikes, the end of the bar will squarely hit the top tube...always with On-One Midge bars and to varying degrees with other drops that have longer hooks. This isn't such a big deal with a straight gauge titanium frame but could really cause some damage on a thin-bellied butted steel tube, aluminum, or carbon if you don't cushion the blow a bit.

Purchase a old-style mouse pad, the kind that is mostly foam rubber with a slippery top, dirt cheap from your local office supply store.

Cut two strips from the mouse pad using a good pair of scissors. They need to be around 55-57mm wide. I've found this to be a good width to allow for cushioning while still allowing adequate, firm purchase on the underside of the bar for climbing and for keeping the overall diameter of the bar down. More on that later.

Place your strip in the hook of the bar, having the bottom edge flush with the end of the bar (not the plug) and then determine where you want to trim the top edge of the pad. I usually set it to end just below the brake lever clamp.

The length of your pad is of course dependent on the bar you're using. It's a Midge bar in this pictorial, your pads will be longer when using a Salsa Woodchipper or Ragley Luxy bar...depending on if you've trimmed the ends on them of course. Anyway, once you have your pad length, trim about 1/3 of the width off each corner, leaving a block of about 20mm wide at the top. It doesn't have to be neat, as evidenced by my hack job above. It's also better to maybe cut away too much than too little as this material removal is for finger clearance, allowing better access to your brake lever and a little better grip on the bars where it is important.

Finger clearance in action.

Once you're happy with your pad shape, make a mirror image one for the other side of the bar and then tape them in using good quality, stretchy, matte finish electrical tape...not the cheap shiny inflexible crap. Note that your top square is flexed over to follow the flare of the bar.

Both pads taped in.

Now finish your taping. I use two layers of cotton tape, mostly because it's the only thing that really holds up to off-road use and the usual bike dropping, scraping and crashing. It's also good as you can pull it really tight as you wrap (you pretty much have to so it doesn't look like shit). I find that just about anyone can ride the combo of one layer of cotton tape + pad + two layers of cotton tape as long as the right lever is selected for hand size. You can't go nuts with thickness as it can cause problems, especially for riders with smaller hands. I have really long hands and I had issues with straining the tendons in my arms reaching for the lever when I was piling on the padding over the course of my short time at the Great Divide Race...a ride I had no business being on due to my lack of fitness amongst other issues, that's a story for another time though. Another thing that you're going to find is that you're going to run short of tape as these bars are already big and wide compared to traditional road bars...especially in the case of 46cm Woodchippers and Luxy bars. That's why I suggested getting the fancy electrical tape as you may find that you're having to wrap your finishing tape a little wider depending on your bar, tape, and wrapping technique. With the Midge above, it didn't require anything too crazy. It'll make road traditionalists cringe, but your bike probably does too so 'oh well.'

That's it!


A rough stuff machine as I see it.

I have a number of bound collections of Cycling ranging in dates from the early 1920s to the early 1930s. A frequent voice in these issues is that of man using the nom de plume Wayfarer (aka W.M. Robinson). The Wayfarer was very much a super-tourist and a staunch advocate of leaving the tarmac and chip seal behind for rougher tracks and pass storming...broadening one's exploration and deriving great pleasure from the challenge and experience. In other words, 'Type 2' fun like we all know and love. He inspired many and his influence eventually led to the formation of the Rough Stuff Fellowship (RSF) in the 1950s and is still in existence to this day...even as 'getting off the beaten path' has gained wider acceptance with the advent of mountain bikes and their continued technological development.

In the North American west (and certain other mountainous regions), having enthusiastic pockets of population surrounded by large swaths of public land definitely tip the balance towards riding a mountain bike from the door...and in a short distance from the door the pavement can be left for rougher terrain that rarely crosses settlements or highways. Full-suspension and a 20:36 low gear to crab around challenging switchbacks facilitates a different kind of play, the mountain biking notion of staying on the bike no matter what. It's apt for the sphere. 

Riding a skinnier tired machine, or even a rigid MTB or hardtail or whatever, off-road requires a greater degree of humility and much more from the rider. You better be ready to do some walking/hiking as well. Whether this is "good" is subjective. We all have to find our own way.

In more populous areas, like where I live now, mountain biking can sometimes be put in the same Venn diagram circle as paddling or climbing. A special trip is concocted, facilitated by vehicular escape from development. This was my modus operandi living in Atlanta in the 1990s, aided by sub-$1 a gallon gasoline and an existence less constrained by "connectedness." Things are different now for a lot of people. Work supercharged by the ability to stay in contact, kids, pets, aging parents, additional bills (internet, mobile, etc.), and never ending distraction has had somewhat of a damper on our more wanderlust tendencies and maybe the paradigm has shifted towards closer-to-home and ride-from-the-door cycling. Road bikes have certainly made a comeback (helped by Mr. Armstrong no doubt) and I'm pleased to see a glacial shift over the last number of years towards more mixed surface, do-it-all-kinda-OK-if-you're-willing sort of all-rounders. To me, I thought these bikes were/are super fun and emblematic of simpler times when choice was much more constrained and if you wanted to do something, it was necessary to just go give it a go. Bike riding.

My own path of riding road-ish bikes off-road started early in my serious cycling phase, which was smack in the throes of the mountain bike revolution. I managed to fall in with a group of people that, outside of the scope of the then infant internet, were influenced by a weird amalgam of classic cycling films, road racing in all its forms (bicycle, motorcycle, automobile), BMX videos on VHS, rallying, and mountain bike culture. The resulting bikes reflected this...oddly hacked road, hybrid, and touring frames sporting shortened + burnt stays, BMX platform pedals, repositioned braze-ons, mountain bike components (always STX-RC or lower), and cheapo 27" or 700c tires in some hybrid/commuter-friendly iteration...usually with gumwalls. Gravel gaps in North Georgia would be ridden with black socks stuck into Vans or Converse One Stars. Unbridled contrarian pedaling backed by a Leth-inspired dissonant minor chord taped down with masking tape on the Moog, played in a loop on an answering machine cassette tape...the kind of thing that happened before everyone was watching each other through a computer screen. The kind of thing that occurred in a measles-like dot distribution across the map, corresponding to bike mechanics weary of roadie vs. dirtbag dichotomies. The cinematic soundtrack wasn't Vivaldi or Wagner....more like Slint and the Cows.

Ten+ years later, such non-race exploits have been commodified into a jillion different "citizen" road and MTB events, tidy websites, and heavy paper stock. I like looking at the pictures. Some people rag on it. Putting anything out there these days will result in haughty counterpunching from a legion of wounded souls, regardless of circumstance or context. An inherent love for crossing territory unsuspended on skinny tires doesn't have shit to do with people filling up Gran Fondos and 100 mile MTB races as a way to tick something off an Outside magazine list or some British guy with a nice old camera taking a rakish picture of the antlers and mailbox lettering on the wall of the rural post office while doing a long ride amongst the Star Spangled logging trucks. I don't understand this constant need to dismiss someone's work or preferences with some flippant, Gallic wave of the hand. It's always possible to be kind or just move on.

I guess what I've always liked about riding a bike with 700x35c tires or smaller off-road is...the tires. It's hard to verbalize. I like a "gappy" frame, one where there's plenty of air around the tire (it hasn't necessarily always worked for me this way though). There's a psycho[somatic] feeling that the bike is "freer." Larger tires are no doubt more comfortable and "better" for rough applications, but to me anytime I rode something like a 700x47c Top Touring or larger I felt like I was riding on a twisting corpulent walrus intestine. I'd always be the idiot that treated his fat tires like a basketball as far as air pressure. I also liked the feeling of being able to take micro-lines with skinny tires too. It was like a mechanical pencil over the topo map rather than a magic marker. Singlespeed and then fixed wheel came from mechanical apathy rebranded as minimalism free of chainslap. In other words, nothing that was performance-oriented pragmatism in any way...hence shrugs for answers when a Primal/Oakley/Nike-shod start line adventurer would want to know "what's the advantage in that?"

I've developed some general preferences for my own rough stuff machines:

- My favourite brake is still the plain old standard reach dual-pivot sidepull (47-57mm reach). You can run up to about a 35mm 'cross tire on there depending on a few factors (fork crown, brake hole placement, etc.), but a 32-33mm tire can be done all day long. This can run contrary to my "gappy" tendencies depending on the fork but sidepulls are just so simple and problem free. Single-pivot sidepulls give better clearance but require more effort. You can end up bending the hell out of brake levers (especially older ones) when used with flared drops as the travel of the lever isn't always dead straight depending on how you set things up.

- Fenders/mudguards are great for pavement/solid hardpack, commuting, group road rides + brevets, etc. They are polite and work well, provided you've taken the time to set them up well. But, I hate them. I very rarely ride with anyone, especially in foul weather, and if I am they are generally on a mountain bike since that's the crowd you run with riding a fixed wheel geared in the 50s. I also don't ride to an office job. My bike suffers as do my shoes and pants...but it's my mountain bike psyche that was seeded early that causes it. I like seeing my tires (more psycho[somatic] action). I fear sticks and catching edges trailside. Stopping to clear debris (mud, stones, snow) from them and changing flats makes me want to hurl them into the woods. I don't like the bending/tweaking/resultant fouling that can occur when dropping/leaning/portaging/crashing the bike or chucking it into a station wagon or pickup truck (bikes = tools). I've tried it, even with partials (XL RaceBlades) and I'm over it. Foul weather for me = unfashionable but "gappy" backscratcher off the seatpost to somewhat hinder the personal mess.

- Tires mean being mindful of sidewall tenacity. Cramming 500g of weight into a 700x35c tire? Right on! It doesn't pay to take this to the extreme otherwise the bike rides like an obese buckboard (on the road sections), but you still need to be conservative. Hybrid/commuter tires will generally fit the bill, certain 'cross tires too. Don't get too hung up on knobs though. Once you get to 32c tires and below, it really is better to get as much tread on the ground as possible in the form of a (mostly) slick or file tread. I learned this riding kitty litter covered hardpack in Colorado. Largish 25c tires are pretty much the minimum if you want to venture out, but once you start getting 28c and smaller...you're getting into pizza cutter territory in the loose, especially with tires that have notoriously rigid casings (read: Armadillos, belt-and-suspenders touring tires). My favourite = Club Roost Cross Terras if you can make them fit, despite their paddlewheel-like tendencies in the wet. Continental Cyclocross Speeds for a file tread, and they run small. YMMV, as it should.

- Everything else is 'whatever' as long as you've come to it with mileage...but simplistic drivetrains with (when applicable) friction shifting capabilities + single/fixed bailout options are rad in case of mechanical mushroom cloud.

One thing that Wayfarer said in his writings, as noted by RSF Chairman Steve Griffith in outlining the club's history, is his statement: "As little bike as possible." Griffith says: "This meant a fixed wheel (in his case usually a 63" or 57"), single brake, and no unnecessary accessories." That, and a resolve to stay at the trailing end of advancement, which reaps great benefits in reliability (and cost). 

"As little bike as possible" is a statement that resonates with me more than any other in matters of cycling. As alluded to before, how another might interpret it is a personal matter, perhaps resulting in a freewheel, simple multispeed capability, or other concession away from the notion of bare asceticism. The idea is to yaw towards self-sufficiency and simple independence in a way that is motivating, embracing the experience through acceptance versus a warring frustration to crush and "overcome" what is ultimately an empty universe.

I feel some level of sadness sometimes when I read up on what people think they feel they need or want. I don't mean that as judgment from a high horse. It isn't my place to say anything outside of my own work, but I have some feeling of trepidation knowing the impending dissatisfaction or fall from grace that their theoretical pet project may eventually suffer. All sorts of stuff that generally takes wing behind a keyboard rather than in good trim behind a handlebar.  You need less than you think you do. Always. Action over time will help you cull and I've lived squarely on both sides of the coin.

The "it" never really ends up being one. Just go do stuff.

See also: The multi-part 'Isolation for revelation' posts.



The order of effects :: Part IV.

Not an ace couple of days at the shop, so I think I'll continue this from Part III...

Post-WWII until the 1970s, the majority of endurance training info written in (or translated into) English was for running rather than cycling. Coaches like Van Aaken, Lydiard, Cerutty, Mulak, and others stressed the importance of doing the vast majority of training volume (80-90+%) at an easier pace, especially in the initial stages of striving for a higher level of performance. A great deal of emphasis was placed on a high volume of training time *consistently* as well as on mindful recovery. This wasn't a rejection of speedwork as many decried. Instead it was the basis on which to build a better functional organism. The long, steady work provided positive adaptations as far as circulation, oxygen delivery, and general resilience against injury or illness. The intake of oxygen was especially emphasized owing to the first law of thermodynamics, as mentioned in Part I: The Conservation of Energy. Respiration is the avenue to exploit and optimize in weight loss because oxygen in = carbon dioxide out = combustion of energy. It takes around 2000 litres of oxygen to lose one kilogram of body weight.

For those at a high fitness level, it takes a great deal of discipline to hold back on the reins when feeling wonderful, but it has allowed many runners, cyclists, and XC skiers to have long careers at a high level of competition because they enjoyed being athletes first and foremost and had less concern about being brilliant shooting stars across sky, flaming out into a rapid downward arc. It also allows for joyful bursts of playful speed and that spiritual high oft sought by those who have withdrawn from entry fees and travel unattached as non-competitive trail runners/hikers, bikepackers, climbers, packrafters, backcountry skiers/snowboarders, etc.

Before endurance trained athletes began to win middle distance running events in the 1960s, interval training (hard interval training, that is) was becoming the dominant credo as training became more structured and "scientific." Short-term improvements helped the momentum but time showed that there was a ceiling to long-term benefits and also greater risk of injury/damage without putting in some longer, sustainable volume to refine the organism and constitution. There's no such thing as a free lunch. You can strain and grimace all you want, but consistently doing the possible (with very occasional carbon blow-outs) means that you can eventually do anything.

The nature of our society has swung things away from the steady to the jagged. Work, family, pets, houses, cell phones, and internet connections coupled with the 24/7/365 dissemination/bombardment of data means that we get less done and we do tangibly less overall, often floating in a less tactile purgatory despite our supposed interconnectedness. I know I live it.

With this comes the short-term bang-for-the-buck for the time-crunched. High intensity, low time input programs designed/marketed for someone who wants to go ride that one MS150, or Leadville 100, or cyclosportive event, or whatever. It's something else to fit in, to bag that goal and add it to the pile...attained as a "best value" in the way oz./$ is calculated in the head at the grocery store. I understand it and have no illusions why it has taken wing. It's hard with all you have to juggle as a spouse and parent as well as the constant, broadening intrusion of work on leisure time.

But, the fact of the matter is that more long-term, lasting benefit comes from toning things down and going long before really putting the hammer down. The order of effects means that the majority of us would gain more in the long term from going for long rides/runs within our capacity consistently because again, 2000 litres of oxygen = 1 kilogram of body weight. That's around 8-9 hours of fast running. Combine consistent enjoyable aerobic exercise with good breathing techniques, high quality minimally processed food and drink consumed at a caloric deficit, and adequate recovery/sleep are the building blocks for enjoying yourself further outside. For me, riding a bike is meant to be a pleasure, not a penance, and I would happily train (rather than strain) as a means to make bikepacking and hiking trips more fun versus drilling myself to grovel through a singular "event." I've done my time with that and I'll talk about all this more in later posts.

The simplistic ideas that resonate with me hold a parallel not just for frame design (as I talked about in Part III) but also in component choices. The two areas that seem to be the most prone to stratospheric "evolution" are the bottom bracket/crankset area and the headset area despite what's really important for most cyclists.

There are a myriad of headset standards now, with a corresponding myriad of headtube configurations to accept them. All this hasn't been brought about necessarily by "marketing idiots" as many over-stimulated e-pundits might pontificate, some of it has merit to aid in avoiding specific problems. There are numerous internal headset variations (as well as frame prep needs) that came about to circumvent frame damage caused by casing landings and whatnot amongst street riders and dirt jumpers. The same goes for newer, larger lower race configurations (to go with tapered steerers or various other headset cups) which are beneficial for larger manufacturers trying to pass new, more stringent Euro safety standards...especially with carbon. Also, the larger diameter at the bottom of the headtube can aid longevity for increasingly long axle-to-crown fork lengths (and corresponding shorter headtube lengths) on 29" wheeled off-road machines. Fair play to all that.

Bottom bracket standards and crankarm interfaces have received similar treatment over the last ten years. Many people have bemoaned the antiquated square taper spindled bottom bracket for being "flexy", heavy, or a royal pain...earmarking the design as failure prone with cranks cracking at the spindle hole - which generally doesn't occur if you install things properly.

So much effort has been expended to get away from this interface with pretty mixed results. The splined ISIS standard was a total dud from a longevity standpoint. Octalink wasn't a great deal better. External bearing designs were the next step, often featuring proprietary crank spindle designs. There have been issues that have cropped up, including problems with crank retention, bearing contamination, and binding. This stuff has been an issue on longer off-road multi-day self-supported events, where a <$40 square taper cartridge BB is often good for five-digit mileage.

Now there are three push fit bottom bracket standards floating around. Again, there's a striving to make things stiffer and lighter but I still think the long-range picture is blurry for most. If you have spent a great deal of time in an dubiously heated shop in the mountains of Colorado trying to pound the  #$%*&%?! pressfit bearings out of vintage Merlin, you might desire a clearer long-term vision for servicing. I think a number of career framebuilders and bicycle mechanics might agree.

I know this is going on too long - I always do that, the lopey facade hides the manic thinking. My overarching point is that we in the First World are too prone to cleverness and trickery for minuscule (and supposed) benefit while the larger picture is obscured in all the pageantry.

In my next post, I'll list out some of the things I do on my frames (learned from hard lessons in some cases) and give some general component ideas based on what I believe works well. I'll flesh it all out then. It beats doing verbose donuts.


The order of effects :: Part III.

Continued from Part II...

I said earlier: "So just give up."

"Giving up" holds a negative connotation to most of the First World. Years of television and Hollywood movies have engendered us to bash our heads against the wall to overcome obstacles and strive for that little bit more, recalling the theatrical drive to rectify a one-in-million situations like defeating terrorists or getting that hopeless humble person decked out in neon, rockin' out, radical on a skateboard, and full of pizza rolls STAT.

It all translates nicely into day-to-day desire to want beyond the present, resulting in rows of hangdog far-away faces queued in the reflection of brake lights and chain store sign glow, headed home to snipe anonymously at strangers or shake your head at all that's wrong. There's a desire to rise above the mundane and ordinary, but it's all ordinary. All of it. Mortality comes to the forefront of our mind, at least at lower moments, as we get older and physical endeavours require more preparation and work. We are all going to die, there's no getting around it. The thought should bring a half-smile and lightness as you concentrate on and accept mundane tasks like washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, stretching your body, pedaling your bike to work, or waiting for _________.

So just give up.

"Giving up" doesn't mean resignation or deflated apathy. It's not a life of TV and the computer and processed food, the spirit behind hooded eyes buried under adipose and toxic silt. "Giving up" doesn't preclude you from doing things that might be perceived as amazing: riding a long brevet, doing a 100 mile mountain bike race, giving cyclocross a serious try, or exploring your region as a bikepacker. "Giving up" does mean that you've stopped banging your head against the wall looking for infinitesimal benefits outside of doing what you know you should do and forcing things. Benefits will happen as the mapping of your body and machine intertwine and consolidate as a unit. It means you've accepted a relaxed, long range view the same way you would accept washing the dishes or sweeping the floor.

Riding mile after mile will breed this ambient state. It engenders a conservatism that I've had turmoil about under the surface and ultimately accepted as part of what I produce as a bicycle framebuilder. I'm happy to look back at things I've built ten years ago and see that there are a lot of similarities to what I build now, with subtle organic improvements that have come with experience and hard lessons learned. Looking back at the last decade and seeing the jagged peaks and valleys brought on by eccentric bottom brackets, sliding dropouts, shaped tubing, all manner of proprietary parts/standard/systems, etc. and then looking at my own graph, slowly rising with little warbles here and there, I feel better for digging my claws in and resisting a lot of things that others have adopted as a "gimme." I gave up at a certain point and accept advances solely based on an order of effects basis and with mileage left behind.

Being a single gear specialist before there was really such a thing put me at the sharp end of the "movement" - and I still have an inherent contrarian streak that lived through a timeline of mass acceptance and eventual normalcy. Andy Corson of Surly wrote a wonderful piece that mirrors a lot of my feelings about it, ones that began to sprout as early as 2000 for me. It's also a piece that produced a lot of kneejerk mock moral outrage from the zealous badge-wearing keyboardists. They hadn't given up yet but I hope they have or will soon.

I'm not going to lie. This path was maybe trod upon out of fear or laziness and then a manifesto drafted in circuitous hindsight, but I'm glad it went this way. I use round tubes for every frame tube 99% of the time, rare exceptions made in the early days of the "modern" 29" wheel frame (circa 2002-2003) with ovalised and tapered chainstays. 

I have seen manipulated and swaged tubes split over time from micro-cracks formed during processing. The tubes are welded into a structure and then placed in torsion, the cracks evolving into splits. It's safer for me to use a simple round tube. Nothing is better in torsion and it's far easier to clamp and hold a round tube during building. Ease in tooling and application helps me do a better job in fabrication and that benefit is passed on to the rider. The order of effects comes into play when the "benefit" of shaped tubing is considered in tandem with the addition of long-term risk in terms of longevity and repairability.

Time brings lessons, like ones that I've learned with properly bracing the seat tube/top tube junction. Issues don't often don't happen right away, but they still suck when they come up two, three, five, or ten years down the road. Same with avoiding stress risers when welding titanium, especially at the head tube/down tube junction. Habits borne from getting haphazard advice early on and overdoing it with filler rod on junctions come back to show you what's up when you're hacksawing a tube out of a bike later on. All the clever tooling and trickery in the world means squat if you don't devote the micro attention to fundamentals at the expense of the Flickr-driven macro window dressing.

People have often wondered why I don't offer rear disc brake mounts on frames. I never have and I never will. Again, conservatism steers me away from the concessions that must be made in design and tubing choices to allow for a component that's responsible for less than 1/3 of the total braking power. I have to choose tubing that is counterintuitive to what I feel works well for comfort and traction in the rear of the bike. This is also why I feel round, non-manipulated tubing is great...it allows you to build in some passive compliance in the rear triangle without the lateral flex or breakage possibilities that comes from overly-dimpled chainstays. A rigid mount welded to the frame with a levered, asymmetrical force applied to it requires a number of concessions for long-term longevity, namely heavier tubing selection and bracing. I don't feel it's worth it.

The proliferation of off-road singlespeeding in tandem with the rise of disc brakes on lighter weight XC MTB frames introduced a lot of new problems to solve in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I had a number of phone conversations with others in the frame world back in the day about how to tension the chain of a one speed along while maintaining a proper disc/caliper relationship. This was all before widespread use of eccentric bottom brackets or sliding dropouts. I thought about it for a few weeks and came to the conclusion: "F**k this." I had something that worked well and I decided to stay the course. Singlespeed to me was about rejecting the 1990s arms-race in the mountain bike world and distilling things to a minimalist point. The important variables to me were: 1) Keep it simple and reliable. 2) Get fitter yourself through riding. And: 3) Be quiet, both bike and mouth.

Eccentric bottom brackets came about to facilitate disc brake usage with derailleur-less setups and all were atwitter about that. Sometimes they worked great, if you were accepting of some differentiation between your saddle and bottom bracket relationship based on your gear choice, chain tension, etc. A lot of times they didn't work 100% though. Creaking. Slipping. Binding of both the insert or the bottom bracket itself. Stripping of bolts and set screws. Constant dicking around to get things squared away. Sometimes it was a result of distortion or some other frame issue. Sometimes it was voodoo. Avoidable voodoo in my opinion and it just causes stress during those fleeting moments when you actually get to ride your bike away from your responsibilities. There were/are all kinds of debates about different EBB types and systems. There's also numerous debates about home rememdies to make the frame less audibly Sisyphian to ride. There's far more knowledge about prepping EBB shells properly and yet still there are still issues that can crop up either straight away or over time. Ti frames have even proven to be more of an issue than steel ones with certain binding mechanisms (e.g. set screw shells). This has all come about from striving for that little bit more...easier wheel changes since regular track ends are such a "PITA" or because suddenly mountain bike trails are unrideable without disc brakes on both ends of the bike. My order of effects tells me to steer clear and I have, as a benefit to my own sanity.

Sliding dropouts then came about as a more reliable alternative to EBBs. They weren't without issues either, even on frames where it was perceived that everything was done right. Some designs had issues with the keyed sliding pieces getting deformed or bent. Also there was the issue of the wheel being cantilevered far away from the imaginary junction of the seatstays and chainstays, sometimes leading to cracking or breakage due to driving forces or from the forces of the disc brake on the non-drive side. There were/are hardware issues, allowing for creaking and even slippage...both on the drive side or in the opposite direction on the non-drive side from the applied braking forces.

A lot of these issues are being rectified, borne from lessons learned on bikes that are a number of years old. There are other alternative systems (e.g. swinging dropouts) that are attempting to further progress things. For me though, a good set of flanged track ends (or flanged vertical dropouts) made from softer CP titanium coupled with compliant round stays, a properly set up rim brake, and good hub mounting hardware (Phil Wood for one speed usage or a Shimano XT skewer for multispeed usage) equates to quiet, trouble-free usage over many, many miles. This approach makes sense to me as my offerings are geared more towards those traveling a long way spiritedly from the door rather those traveling a short distance quickly and aided by a motor vehicle.

Is all of this (or any of this) acceptable in everyone's mind? Of course not. There are certainly downsides that can be pointed out about my biases. But, one can't be everything to everyone though. It's best to examine things based on the order of effects, and come to your own subjective conclusions and stick to them. I have.

This post is way longer than I had planned it to be, and I need to get back to work. I still need to talk about components and my own subjective order of effects for them, so stay tuned for a Part IV.


The order of effects :: Part II.

Continued from Part I...

There are those, like me, that take a conservative tack and do the component shopper's equivalent of betting on the favourite team at home with a full, healthy roster...buying things that were new advances at one time, but have survived long enough to be towards the top of the standardization list. This means: Easy availability at even the most sparsely stocked non-enthusiast shops, readily available tools, and proven track records of longevity...generally for pretty reasonable prices, even at retail. Perceived lower levels of "stiffness" and "performance" as well as higher weight are acceptable trade-offs for long service life, reliability, ease of field servicing, and the corresponding excellent value they provide over time. 

There are others that are incredibly enthusiastic about new advances, have the disposable income to "buy to try", and a penchant for constantly tinkering with their bikes, even spending a large amount of their riding time in analysis mode and pondering further improvements. These are the folks that drive a lot of the talk in internet discussion and social media platforms, providing a long trails of effusive praise arcing across the sky like so many thrown rolls of toilet paper...all the result of pretty minimal service time + bi-pedal mileage. The snowball gets rolling and soon enough there are very firm, unwavering partisan edicts about how this new improvement leaves the components of the past in its wake...well, the wreckage of them anyway as it blew said older technology out of the water.

I remember hearing similar sentiments at NORBA races in the 90s from people riding ProFlex 753s with Spin wheels.

Be it sports talk, political "discussion", or bicycle component analysis...time generates far more people who felt driven to draw a very definite line in the sand for unknown reasons versus people who shrugged at it all and came to their own conclusions using hindsight that might have involved some walking and pushing. That's not a pat rejection of all that is new. That's pretty silly. I have no desire to go back and ride a 1" quill stem off-road and I sure like sealed bearings. But, some inherent conservatism is bred within when the focus is bike riding rather than bike having.

As I mentioned before, the order of effects seems to be best represented in choices made for long, spirited bikepacking rides without readily available services for long stretches. Where "calories in versus calories out" is a first order effect for weight loss, "time on the bike" is a first order effect for making riding a bicycle a long way pleasurable. This effect has other corollaries: dialed bike fit, dialed gear for variable weather conditions (or a toughening to "do with what's here" or "do without"), improved confidence, a general sense of self-sufficiency, and a less cloudy picture of what really matters for such travel...all borne from "time on the bike." Who wouldn't benefit from any of that?

Does minutia beyond "time on the bike" have an effect? Of course it does. Everything you do is representative of cause and effect, and the questions and answers are subjective too. 

So just give up.

I'll outline what I mean in Part III.

The order of effects :: Part I.

In 2003, a physicist at M.I.T. named Richard Muller wrote an article entitled "The Physics Diet" (and later "The Physics of Gluttony"). The premise of the articles is that the first law of thermodynamics, conservation of energy, applies directly to losing weight. The first-order effect that makes the most difference is simple: calories in versus calories out. If there's a positive energy balance, you gain weight. If there's a negative energy balance, you lose weight. All things equal means a constant weight.

The weight loss business has flourished despite this relatively simple idea. Why? The first law of thermodynamics is hard. Going to bed hungry is hard. Tracking your calories in tandem with exercise is hard. Food is everywhere and it's cheap. It's a lot easier to overeat than to put on those damn thermal tights and freeze briefly rolling out of the driveway. The dieting industry knows this. Like a baseball pitcher with a sub-80mph fastball, there's way more nuance and room for interpretation on edges, rather than in the fat part of the plate.

The result is a cacophony of second-order (and lower) effects being brought to the forefront, egged on by the impatience and desperation of those unwilling or unable to exhibit some willpower or to see exercise as something other than menial labour that must be gotten over with as quickly and painlessly as possible. You hear about these effects in percentage form all the time in "news" snippets from your chosen ideological information outfit, and no doubt there's a little validity to some of them. But, you have to weigh things based on the order of effect. Me drinking as much cold water as possible or only eating things at certain times does not outstrip "calories in versus calories out" over the long term as far as the effect it will have on my weight. Period.

Are there nuances and other effects, as well as health and nutritional matters, that will skew things from being a simple math equation? Of course. Just the amount of water retention, piss, and fecal matter you're carting around on any given day will turn a gentle downward curve into a jagged series of peaks and valleys if you zoom in tight on the data by weighing yourself everyday. This makes things a little nebulous if you're not taking a relaxed, healthy, long range view.

Nebulous entities breed internet discussion. Wildly. If things are unclear about why weight loss might go in fits and starts or why random, seemingly healthy people develop cancer...well then an army of bored souls can say whatever they want within the grayness, sticking in a finite red push pin. Muscle magically turning into fat and vice versa. Muscle evaporating faster than fat. Aspartame magically turning into sugar. Carbohydrates killing swaths of people. Fat killing swaths of people. Arguments ad nauseam.

This could only happen in a land of plenty like the First World. Now there are legions of folks wearing their dietary dogma on their sleeve, completely outstripping whatever supposed benefits they gain over people who "just don't get it" by living with a low rumble of stress, thinking about such things for an inordinate amount of time each day and microfiche-ing through the mental flowchart to make sure it jives with dogma "X" before loading their fork. All of this is usually perpetuated by someone selling something. Seriously, give it rest. I can say this because I lived it myself at one time.

We want the "best" thing/method/plan now, for fear of wasting our time, making sure that we maximize every possible effect down to the parallel of drinking only cold water to burn a few more calories. This is often done at the expense of day-to-day common sense. Looking in the rearview, after always looking for something that will really make you content - this time for sure, you'll see a whole lot of books, gadgets, food, and time composting in the rubbish heap. It's like spending your time on a rare moment away from work behind a digicam screen to insure thorough Flickr documentation of your freedom, so you won't forget what a great(?) time you had - and sharing with people who, for the most part, don't really care that much - instead of just enjoying it then, maybe taking a picture or two, and remembering most of it later. Good enough.

So how does this all apply to bicycles?

I don't see the bicycle industry as sinister or trying to take advantage of anxiety. Far from it. The business is full of intelligent people striving to do good and spread the positivity they've garnered from cycling. Even the most cynical and jaded have had at least some inkling of the euphoria that can come from riding a bike sometime in their life.

The order of effects plays into the cycling world too, though. Like folks in the First World who have a dizzying array of choices from tall and long grocery aisles, the cycling world has resilient components, great bearings, easy adjustability, stuff that stays tight, and a myriad of other things that we take for granted now that a cyclocrosser rolling on Endricks and rat traps in the 1950s would fall to his knees and grovel for.

As alluded to in the "Fuctionality as inspiration" posts, the curve of development flattens out as basic problems are solved, leaving brows furrowed in deep thought while trying to come up with reasons to buy new, "better" stuff. One then marches downward on the order of effects list, genuinely trying to make things better but in less quantifiable ways. There are all kinds of ways to do this, but most often it comes with trying to make something stiffer or lighter or both. That's all well and good. Unfortunately though, this striving comes with some baggage in the form of confusing new standards, proprietary stuff that might not be supported down the road, new oddball tools, etc. It's distinctly quiet when talk of long term service life (or even long term existence) comes up.

The cycling that I love and know best (and has grown more and more popular over the last decade) consists of long rides and lower average speeds, though not pedestrian. It comes in many forms: brevets, gran fondos, long MTB races, mixed surface touring, bikepacking, etc. As distances get further and service hours are bunched together in bigger blocks, you can't rely as much on frequent maintenance so it requires you to be a little more circumspect about what you put on your bike.

For the riding most people do, I feel that the benefits from adopting the ethos of the long slow distance ideology are wide-ranging and would alleviate some stress. There are a few areas on the bike where it's easy to fall into that trap of striving for things to be just that little bit better, despite the weak benefit/$ ratio.

The order of effects has to be examined more closely, and I'll do that in Part II.



Functionality as inspiration :: Part III.

Continued from Part I and Part II...

As I alluded to earlier, progress follows exponential arcs, both from a macro view and, if you zoom in really close, a micro view too. The macro view might show the jump from a dandy horse to penny farthing. The micro view of the same graph might be the jump between a steel single pivot sidepull and a modern aluminum dual pivot sidepull. It's all dependent on the perception of who you ask as everything is subjective, regardless of quantitative data. You'll certainly get different answers from me versus a wealthy Masters road racer versus a recumbent enthusiast versus a migrant train hopper.

I am firmly in the "bicycles as tools" camp. I understand that might put me in the same Venn diagram with people that have text-based websites or give overly verbose explicit instructions to waitstaff and grocery baggers, but I'm OK with that. Along with thinking about aircraft or minimalist racing vehicles, I think about hand tools and machinery that were made for my grandparent's generation: functional, repairable (or replaceable at the time with good vendor support), owner serviceable, and...after all that...aesthetically pleasant without extraneous showing off. I open my tool box and see "my nice hammer". I then take it and happily, as it is so well balanced and I know it well, pound the hell out of what I need to. Then I put it away. I don't gaze at it longingly like a deity, but I know it's good.

Charlie Cunningham, as well as some constructeurs in the heyday of technical trials before him, took this tack as well with bicycles. The resulting bikes were ideal for stage races and multi-day riding away from the workshop, giving excellent performance while stepping back and taking a longer view of cycling needs beyond laying down strong and fast numbers. Entities like field serviceability, long-term serviceability, and optimization of riding experience across a multitude of situations were seen as paramount. Bikes as tools to open up realms of possibility, within ourselves and across terra firma, rather than bikes as "nice bikes!" Bikes to be kept and used. A lot. Over time.

I don't say these things in an adversarial way, I like beautiful metalwork and paint and much as the next person. There are plenty of concours quality machines that also fit and work incredibly well, a true testament of the knowledge and skill of the craftsperson. I enjoy looking at these bikes and love hearing the excitement of their new owners. Sometimes though, with the reverence being paid and the deep thought/concern regarding aesthetic details, it's hard for me to imagine some of these bikes being crashed, or dropped, or grinding for days with bikepacking bags strapped on.

The facade centrism seems coupled with unbridled striving for "better" - often shown with the turnover of said machines in order to fund new, "better" projects...either due to a shift in interests or continued scrabbling up that exponential arc. That returns us to the graph above.

So much effort (and money) is spent to nudge farther up that curve, attempting to reach perfection at the top of the graph. New standards and designs for the backbones of drivetrain and steering systems come at a rate that sounds like an animator's flip book or your kid nephew playing with the Rolodex at the office. We've been high on the arc for a while thanks to things like cartridge bearings, reliable cassettes and freehubs, great chain advances, and certain non-aggravating clipless pedals to name a few. The top of the arc is a bitch. That's what leads to clever pockets all over every damn thing at the outdoor store; PEDs coursing through speeding foot, ski, and wheel athletes; and the ever quaking trash pile of 'obsolete' cellphones, music players, and computers.

There are problems to be solved and improvements to be made, no doubt. This stuff takes time. Through anxiety or desperation or (?), time is something no one seems to have as much of nowadays. Cunningham and others made their own stuff to engender improvement but did not present it to customers until after a long vetting period on their own machines. There are functional improvements always afoot in the bike world, but with that flattening arc comes some departure from rationality. Proprietary items repeatedly billed as solutions or advancements but offering marginal, anecdotal tweaking of the short-term curve and minimal long term support beyond a possible warranty swap don't seem that great to me. The modern computer/electronics/appliance model is not the one I would choose to follow for my "tools".

My take on bicycles is maybe a bit staid. OK, it is. I think about things in the context of longer distance, lower average speed cycling and bikepacking away from larger commercial centres for multiple days first and feel that translates well to the day-to-day cycling we all try to fit into our daily lives. Multi-surface bike riding for the experience beyond training and competition. This breeds some degree of conservatism that wasn't there with the visionary that built Cunningham bicycles, but it doesn't preclude me from learning from and applying the lessons borne from such revolutionary thinking over time in an exercise of pragmatism. The same goes for advancements that have risen out of the battle ala VHS vs. Beta. You can do the same.

For all the infinitesimal striving, eventually you have to give up and ride your bike, and your health and fitness is the most important variable in the equation. Doing so on a simple bike with fit as the priority that is also reliable, maintainable, and repairable over a long period is pretty rad and a good value. Standardization shouldn't be taken lightly and late adoption is often the most prudent plan.

There's more to say specifically on that tangent, so I'll save that for my next post: The Order of Effects.


Functionality as inspiration :: Part II.

Continued from Part I...

Before credit cards had large limits and tiny minimum payments, the idea of "advancement" was often a lot less amorphous than it can be now. There's reasons for this, but I'm not done talking about Charlie Cunningham's creations.

Cunningham rode a lot, and his innovations came from being on a bicycle saddle looking out, rather than standing to the side and pondering changes off the bike. Aesthetics held less sway than the resulting functionality. At the time for riding off-road: One pole had you riding a 30+ pound bike with slack cruiser-y angles and rudimentary cobbled components. The other pole had you getting jackhammered on a roadish bike.

General problem solving and a drive to make backcountry travel more enjoyable as well as reliable led to: Lightweight but conservatively built aluminum frames; more spirited designs incorporating more aggressive angles and lower trail; innovative rim brakes; wide range 2x6 drivetrains; lower Q-factors on dirt going bikes; Grease Guard designs for headsets, hubs, and pedals; newer, stiffer steerer interfaces; influential stem and saddle designs; 135mm rear hub spacing; wider hub flange spacing; new bearing applications; new quick release designs for both wheels and seatposts; and on and on...

Not every advancement "took" and Charlie wasn't necessarily the first for everything - there were plenty of passionate independent thinkers that came up with similar improvements, ranging from French constructeurs to Tom Ritchey to _________. But, like Richard Pryor with stand-up comedy or Dick Fosbury with the high jump, everything in off-road bicycle design before Charlie seems dated and everything after bears his mark, at least in a small way.

The parallel with aircraft designs is the unbridled pragmatism. You don't screw around with something that flies at five digit altitudes and is meant to safely transport a human from the ground, across the sky, and back to earth. This is augmented even further when this machine is placed in a kill-or-be-killed situation. Functional improvement over all. Make it work. Make it work beter.

Field testing over time makes it so.

Improvements that cause great leaps in performance are rare. There's refinement that occurs between these great leaps, producing a gentle exponential arc as performance approaches perceived perfection (until another "leap"). Manipulating this arc drives the bike world, to its benefit and detriment. Differentiating between true advancement and potential long-term aggravation isn't always easy when the data gathering comes via on-screen anecdote versus saddle-worn ass.

Sometimes acceptance of the status quo shows some wisdom and sometimes pushing upward is warranted, as determined by miles and hours in your two-wheeled wake. I'll talk about this in the last installment of the post next week.

Continued in Part III...

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