Thursday, April 28, 2016

Bike Safety 101: Never Ride A Bike

Don't want to end up looking like one of those zombies from Walking Dead? Then always wear a helmet when you ride -- or better yet, never ride a bike.

At least that's the message I think any reasonable person would take from a series of bicycle safety "comics" put out by the City of Phoenix Dept. of Transportation.

In the series of "graphic novels" (emphasis on the word graphic) created for "youth age 9+" one kid sits dazed on the pavement with his brains practically falling out of his head. GA-GUSH! Another crashes through plate glass and has gory wounds oozing from his arms and legs. KAKRACK! A third is impaled on his own handlebar -- a gaping, bloody hole in his gut. YEE-ARGH!

The City of Phoenix commissioned the comics and has been distributing them to the city's schoolchildren at safety programs put on in the schools, and at other safety events around the community. They were paid for by grants, and illustrated by Rob Osborne who claims that the goal in the project was to be "over the top" and that he has heard little negative feedback.

I don't know what to make of that, but maybe the parents of children who receive the books don't know who to complain to, which might explain why Osborne never hears the feedback. As far as the car-centric officials who commissioned the comics, I'm sure they send exactly the message they intended. Riding a bike is dangerous. And when cyclists get injured or killed, it's entirely their own fault.

What are we saying? Victim blaming?

Every dead or injured kid -- all of them teen or pre-teen boys -- ends up getting maimed or killed due to his own stupidity or negligence. There are no distracted, impatient, or negligent drivers -- because as we all know, "accidents" are never caused by bad drivers. That's why we call them "accidents."

Of course, there's the usual helmet sensationalism - right there in Episode 1.
Shoulda worn a helmet, kid.
Yes, kids should wear helmets. Even experienced cyclists should recognize that it's a bad idea to assume they'll never crash or hit their head. On the other hand, it's an inconvenient fact that if a cyclist gets nailed by a 3-ton SUV, that 6-oz. foam hat isn't likely to make a big difference. There are a lot of things that contribute to riding safety, but a helmet is only a small part of the picture.

The "lesson" on avoiding the blind spot (Episode 4) has a kid get totally flattened trying to pass on the right of a truck -- complete with lots of comic-book "sound effects": CRACK! CRITCH! CRUNCH! GUSH! KRA-KRACK! AAARRGH!
Don't pass on the right, kid, or trucks will run you over. He'll never play soccer again.
Just prior to getting his legs crushed under that truck, the kid is shown doing wheelies in the street and yells to his friend "Don't try to hold me back. I know what I'm doing!"

Yes, it's dangerous to pass a vehicle on the right -- but what's more common in this type of collision? That the cyclist is passing on the right? Or that the cyclist is jeopardized because the cars and trucks are the ones passing the cyclist then turning carelessly? And there are defensive measures one can try to take to avoid getting the dreaded "right hook" -- but instead of presenting it that way, they present in a way that fits with the car-centric view -- another wise-ass cocky kid getting a painful lesson.

Then there's the kid in Episode 3, who rides with bad brakes, skimming alongside cars in the door zone:

YARGH indeed.
As if taking a header through some glass isn't bad enough, he gets impaled on his uncovered bar end:
Shoulda maintained that bike, kid.
Another episode has a kid riding against traffic - despite warnings from his friend:

"'Danger' is my middle name." 
No, really. It's on his birth certificate. Maybe his parents should share some blame here.
He then inexplicably rides right through some panes of plate glass on a moving glass truck.
Don't ride against traffic, kid, or you'll crash right through plate glass windows. (How fast would a person have to be going to make it all the way through the glass on both sides of this truck? Criminy)
Nobody should ride against traffic, but honestly, I can't see how this particular crash is due to riding on the wrong side of the road. If either the kid or the truck ran a red light - maybe - but the scenario here is pretty unrealistic.

Then there's the kid in Episode 6  who runs away from home (Why? It doesn't give us a clue. Must be due to unresolved rage and a resentment toward authority) and as long as he's running, decides to run a stop sign. . .
Resentment toward authority -- that's what that is.
"He's dead, Jim."
I'm a parent with two young kids, and we love to ride together. Some of our riding is on a local bike path, and some of it is riding around the neighborhood streets, going to the library, or out for dinner, or the grocery store. When I ride with my girls in town, I stay close by them and keep a watchful eye for hazards and point things out to them that they should watch for. I emphasize following rules, using common sense, and predicting what other people might or could do. I make sure they understand that there are dangers, but would never want to leave them with the impression that they should be scared of riding a bike -- which is exactly what "comics" like this do. They are just more propaganda designed by a car-centric culture to brainwash kids (and their parents, too) that riding a bicycle is dangerous. If someone came to my daughters' schools handing out sensationalist anti-cycling propaganda-posing-as-educational-material like this, someone would get a real ear-full from me.

Instead of putting real effort into educating drivers about how to share the streets with cyclists and pedestrians - instead of working on infrastructure and policies that might help make cycling safer - instead of taking real measures to reduce the threats posed by inattentive drivers -- transportation officials continue to propagate the idea that cyclists are the problem. These "comics" don't do much of anything to teach kids about the very real dangers that are presented by drivers of cars and trucks - and they totally leave drivers off the hook for the things they do that put cyclists at risk. And these comics are nothing new. The Automotive-Industrial-Complex has a long history of using scare tactics like these to place the blame of deaths squarely on the non-motoring victims - the cyclists and pedestrians.
Ever seen these old bike safety manuals created by groups like AAA?
Cycling safety is important. Proper education about safe riding AND driving is needed - but not more scare-tactic propaganda like this.

By the way - thanks to Retrogrouch readers Brian I. and Rick B. for drawing my attention to these!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

New Old Bike Project - Finished

I don't know if a bike project is ever truly finished, but this one's about there.

Those who have been following the blog know that I've been working on an early '80s Specialized Expedition touring bike. I had earlier reported that it was probably a 1984 model, but now I'm inclined to think it might actually be from '83. I was hoping I could find a rosetta stone for deciphering the serial number on the frame, but learned that there is no such thing for old Specialized bikes. Sometimes a number is just a number, and I suppose it doesn't really matter either way. One clue is that I found a spec sheet from 1984 that lists braze-on downtube shift levers, whereas mine was built for clamp-on levers, which were listed in '83. Otherwise, I don't know if there's a way to tell the difference.

As mentioned in earlier posts, the bike was originally a charcoal gray, but as it came to me, it seemed it would benefit from a repaint. I sent it to Jack Trumbull at Franklin Frames in Newark, Ohio. As long as it was being resprayed, I took the liberty of selecting a different color, and chose this metallic burgundy. My replacement decals came from VeloCals, which were of the peel-and-stick vinyl variety, which is exactly what the originals were as well, so they seemed like a fine choice.

I've had detailed posts about some of the components I selected for the bike, including the saddle, wheels, headset, the brakes, rear derailleur, crank, and pedals. (those are all linked, so you can go back and check them if you missed them).

Here's the bike, in ready-to-ride condition:

Photo taken on a footbridge behind the school where I teach. This was after completing 2 or 3 coats of shellac on the bars. I later did a couple more coats of shellac to get the color closer to that of the Brooks B17. The bike has fenders, front and rear racks, and a generator light system.

I think that the metallic burgundy paint makes the bike look about as nice as any bike can look. Not that there was anything wrong with charcoal gray, but it makes me wonder why the bike wasn't available in this color from the beginning. The color is a great complement to the honey color of the saddle and bars, and looks especially good with all the gleaming silver aluminum and stainless steel components and accessories.
I used SKS Longboard plastic fenders on this build. I do really like aluminum fenders, but I have no problem with plastic fenders IF one makes sure to get the fender-lines nice and even all the way around. That's true of aluminum fenders, too, I suppose - but it takes a lot of conscientious effort to make it happen, and I've seen a lot of plastic fenders installed very badly, with "kinks" where there should have been "curves." The longboards have built-in mud flaps, and give tremendous coverage. On the front fender, the mudflap comes within a couple inches from the ground. One thing about plastic fenders is that they do offer a safety advantage over aluminum and steel versions. Should something get wedged between the front tire and the fender, the plastic fenders will break free and prevent a header. Ultimately, it's hard to fault the SKS fenders, and I think they look great.
Here's my lighting system. The Expedition came pre-wired through the frame for a Sanyo bottom-bracket generator (the generators were sold separately, so it isn't unusual to find these with a wire sticking out behind the fork crown but no headlight or generator connected). I'm pretty certain those generators are no longer made, but I found a NOS one for about $50. They're usually a good bit more expensive, assuming one can find them, so I think I got a pretty good deal. The headlight is a 3-watt Schmidt E6 halogen. A few years ago, those were about the best dynamo-powered lights one could find. Nowadays, with most people wanting LED lights, any shop that still has the E6 halogen lights has them on major closeout prices. I should pick up a few spare bulbs, though. I have a Nitto M-12 cantilever-mount front rack which has an eyelet for attaching a light bracket. I made my own light bracket out of an old brake caliper arm that I found in a discard pile. I cut it off around the center bolt hole, then filed and sanded it smooth.

The lugwork on the Expedition is very nicely done -- long-point lugs, and really smooth and even, gap-free shorelines. By the 1980s the Japanese had really figured out how to make excellent frames on a mass-production scale. I'd mentioned in an earlier post that I believe the frame might have been built for Specialized by Miyata.
The drivetrain consists of the Specialized "flag" crank - changed over from triple to 48/34 double.  With a 13-30 freewheel on the back, I still get a good gear range, and the lows are more than low enough for any riding I'm doing. Bottom bracket is a Shimano UN-52. Front derailleur is a mid-'80s Shimano Light Action that is visually a good match for the Deore at the rear. Specialized Touring pedals complete the picture.
There's the Deore MT-60 rear derailleur and the 13-30 Shimano freewheel on Specialized sealed-bearing hubs. The bike would have originally been equipped with SunTour Mountech derailleurs, which unfortunately proved to be trouble-prone -- the rear derailleur's upper guide pulley also served as an extra spring pivot that got gunked up and wore out and could not be serviced (this was exacerbated in off-road use, which as the name implies the unit was designed for). Assuming that someone got a couple of years of use out of the Mountech before it self-destructed, I imagine that this '87 Deore would have been a logical choice for replacement. Simple, durable, reliable, and good-looking, too.
Close up of the Specialized touring pedals. I buffed these up to nearly-new looking condition on my buffing wheel. Specialized brand toeclips with Christophe leather toe straps finish the package.

Brooks B-17 honey leather saddle - mounted onto a Specialized single-bolt micro-adjust seat post. I like 2-bolt seat posts, but this single-bolt post has a nice, simple look to it, and offers a lot of set-back. The bar wrap, after several coats of shellac, is a good match for the saddle.
My rear rack is an inexpensive no-name stainless steel model - sold under a couple of different brand names, but some people might recognize it as one of the less-expensive racks available from Velo-Orange (Dajia, for $95). I actually found mine from a seller on eBay for about $60. The design reminds me a little of the racks made by Tubus, but at a fraction of the price. The rack only comes in a dull sandblasted finish, which did not match up well with the Nitto rack on the front. I spent a bunch of time with some wet-sanding, using increasingly finer grit paper, then put it on my buffing wheel so it gleams like chrome. It has good adjustability for a lot of different bikes, and I also like the tubular seat-stay struts, as opposed to the flat steel strips used on a lot of other racks.
About racks - I do have a nice pair of early '80s vintage Jim Blackburn aluminum racks, for the front and the rear, that I thought about using. In the end, I chose not to use them because they have no attachment points for lights, which would have left me trying to rig something that works as well as the light mounts on these steel racks. And though the aluminum racks are definitely lighter, steel ones tend to be more durable. I'm hanging on to the Blackburns, though, in case I ever change my mind.

Complete Build Details:

Frame: Specialized Special Series Touring double-butted chrome-moly tubing by Tange in Japan. Size 60 cm. frame, center-to-center. 58 cm top tube. 106.7 cm wheelbase, with 45 cm chainstays. 73-deg. parallel angles. 51 mm fork rake.

Crank: Specialized "Flag" Triple (converted to 48/34 double)
Pedals: Specialized Touring pedals, with Specialized steel toe-clips, and Christophe straps.
Bottom Bracket: Shimano UN-52 square taper cartridge unit.
Derailleurs: Shimano Deore MT-60 rear derailleur, Shimano Light Action (FD-Z206) front derailleur.
Shift levers: SunTour Power Ratchet Bar Cons.
Brakes: Shimano Deore MT-62 cantilever brakes with Dia Compe AGC-250 spring-loaded levers.
Wheels: Specialized sealed bearing hubs with Mavic Module 4 rims. 40 spokes rear, 36 spokes front.
Seatpost: Specialized single-bolt micro-adjust.
Saddle: Brooks B17
Headset: Specialized Channel-Seal, steel.
Stem: Nitto Technomic, 10 cm.
Bars: Nitto mod. 176 "Dream Bars," 42 cm width.

Accessories: Nitto M-12 front rack, Taiwanese stainless steel rear rack, SKS Longboard fenders, Sanyo bottom-bracket generator, Schmidt E6 halogen headlight.

It's apparent that I selected a few more Specialized-brand components than what the bike would have been equipped with originally. I consider them upgrades. According to various spec-sheets I've seen for the '83 Expedition, the bars, stem, hubs, and headset would have been from Specialized. The original crank would have been a Sugino AT-triple, with MKS Sylvan touring pedals, while the seatpost would have been a ubiquitous-in-the-'80s SR Laprade. Derailleurs would have been the previously-mentioned SunTour Mountech. In 1983, the shift levers were SunTour "Symmetric" downtube levers, which were supposed to trim the front derailleur automatically when one shifted at the rear. Those also, from what I've read, had some durability issues. I see my Power-ratcheting BarCons as a period-correct upgrade. When I got it, my bike still had the original Specialized-brand (made by Nitto) bars, but not the original stem. But the bars were badly gouged by a previous owner who must have tried to fit them into an ill-fitting stem. The Nitto bar and stem I chose are good replacements.

I could always do some fiddling with the bike, making small changes and adjustments, but on the whole I think this is fulfilling my vision for a classic '80s grand touring machine. Hope you've enjoyed following the project.

Monday, April 25, 2016

New Old Bike Project: Wrapping Bars

Putting together the New/Old Expedition has been taking longer than I'd expected - no problems really, other than a shortage of that most valuable commodity: time. But it's nearly done, and the other day I had a chance to wrap the bars.

I'm using Nitto mod. 176 bars and a Technomic stem. The 176 bars are sometimes called "Dream Bars" because that was what Rivendell called the bars when they offered them (they don't seem to sell them anymore) -- deep drop, but not too deep -- long reach, but not too long, etc. In my view, they're a very good all-around road bar, and have a great look, too (I particularly like the coat-of-arms crest which reminds me of the old Cinelli logo). I have an old set of SunTour power ratchet bar-con shifters, and some spring-loaded Dia Compe AGC brake levers which I like for their size, shape, and feel. Yes, the "aero" cable routing means I won't be able to ride this at Eroica.

Here's a little step-by-step:

Using some electrical tape, I've got the cables secured to the bars prior to wrapping. The red tape is just what I happened to have on hand. Some people use little strips of silver duct tape. Just about anything works, though. I've never noticed tape of any color to show through cotton bar wrap.
I'll be using classic, traditional cotton bar tape from Tressostar. Newbaum's cotton bar tape is also really nice stuff. I already had a couple of rolls of the Tressostar on hand. Not only that, but any time I wrap bars, if there's a little bit of tape left -- if it's more than a couple of inches -- I save it for future wrappings.

I roll the brake lever hoods up and out of the way. Then I use some small pieces of bar tape around the base of the levers to make sure I'll have good coverage when wrapping around that difficult area -- I hate having little glimpses of silver peeking through the tape. This is why I always save those little bits of leftover tape. Because I've got cables running under the bar wrap, I also put a couple of small pieces of bar tape at the points where the brake and shifter cables will "emerge" from under the tape. Again, I don't want any gaps in the coverage.
Not that it matters, but I wrap from the "inside" to the "outside." Over-to-the-right on the right side, over-to-the-left on the left side, so the overlapping lines have a mirror-image symmetry. As you can see, I start wrapping at the bar end and finish up near the stem, where I'll finish up the loose tape ends with some twine. Some people start at the top/center and work their way to the ends. I've also seen where people start at both the bar end and the top/center and work their way to the brake levers. The tape ends then get tucked in under the brake lever hoods, requiring no final finishing step. Personally, I don't like the way the overlapping works when starting at the top of the bar -- it seems to me that edges of the tape can get pushed apart or rolled by the constant pressure of hands on the bars. That's not as much of an issue when the tape gets shellacked (as this tape will) but I have seen that happen. When wrapping with the cotton tape, it helps a lot to pull and stretch the tape tightly while wrapping so that it stays flat, overlaps well, and doesn't ripple in the bends.
Here, the bars are fully wrapped, and the tape ends finished with a bit of natural hemp twine. Once the brake hoods are rolled back into place, the coverage is complete and gap-free.
Just a stylistic touch. I like when the cables appear to emerge from between layers of wrapping.
Next, I'll be using some natural shellac on the cotton tape. I've mixed up my own using denatured alcohol and amber shellac flakes that I purchased some time back from Velo-Orange. I tend to mix it on the thin side, and the first coats really soak into the tape.

That's one coat of shellac on the right side of the bar, contrasting with the un-coated yellow tape on the left side. When coating with shellac, I once again keep the brake hoods rolled out of the way so I can fully coat the tape, even where it won't be seen.
Another contrast photo: Two coats of shellac on one side, with one coat on the other. Each coat of shellac darkens the yellow tape to more and more of a honey leather color -- eventually to match the honey leather of the Brooks saddle. Because my shellac is mixed fairly thin, it will take more coats to get the color right.
That's two coats. I'll let it dry and will still need a couple more coats to get the color right. If you're not after a particular shade of color, 2 or 3 thin coats like this can be really nice in terms of grip - it's more of a matte-look, and has a slightly rougher texture. Having said that, I've got bars that are shellacked to a glossy finish, and I don't really notice any problems with the grip.
That's all for now. Stay tuned. . .

Friday, April 22, 2016

Bike Racing is Dead

All attempts at resuscitation have failed. The patient cannot be saved. Somebody call it: Time of death . . . ?

The problem of doping in its various forms, with systematic sophistication, left the sport in critical condition, clinging to life support. Officials with the UCI and various anti-doping agencies would have liked to convince us that once they stripped "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" of his 7 Tour de France titles, that the illness was cured -- they had exorcised the demons, purged the poisons, and the sport could live on. But I doubt that many believed that doping began or ended with Lance Armstrong.

Even now, with suspicion of drug use still hanging like a sword over the head of anyone capable of winning a major bicycle race, a new cancer seems ready to end it for good: "Mechanical doping."

Yes, there are other possible explanations -
but one has to wonder, especially now.
Rumors have been flying around for several years now about racers using hidden motors. Videos capturing suspicious bikes and behaviors in pro races have gone viral, but it was all just speculation until earlier this year when bicycle racing had its first confirmed case of "mechanical doping." Femke Van den Driessche was caught using a motorized bike in the Cyclocross World Championships and was disgraced. Soon afterwards, the Italian sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport reported that the type of motor hidden in Femke's bike was already "old stuff . . . poor man's doping." The un-named source claimed electromagnetic wheels are the "new frontier."

The rear hub on this bike glows almost as brightly
as the racer's thighs. Most other hubs in the thermal
photos barely show up at all. One racer insists that
the hub just needs more lubrication.
Some may still have had their doubts, and many would have liked to think that the Van den Driessche case was an aberration, and that it was still highly unlikely that any professional road racers (or even wealthy amateurs and gran fondo riders) would actually attempt to cheat so blatantly. Whatever rationalizations people might be willing to make for performance enhancing drugs, actually hiding a motor inside a bicycle is just so obviously cheating and it's impossible to see it any other way. No professional would stoop so low, right? In fact, one French professional racer, Romain Feillu, has recently made the claim that such blatant cheating would require such a "huge level of complicity" between riders, mechanics, and the like that it would be "impossible." Nevermind that the same level of complicity allowed rampant drug use to sweep up entire teams, so why should this be any different?

Regardless of complicity, another recent report makes the case that it is almost certainly happening. The French television network Stade 2, in cooperation with the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, conducted a pretty damning investigation into the use of hidden motors in high-level bicycle racing. Using a thermal imaging camera at the Strade Bianche race in Italy, as well as the Coppi e Bartali race, the reporters claim to have found as many as seven bikes that were likely using some type of motor, as definite heat sources glowed in seat tubes, bottom brackets, and hubs.

A pretty damning image here shows a glowing seat tube. I'll be honest - I can't think of anything else that would make a seat-tube glow like that other than something with a power source.

If your French or Italian aren't up to snuff, there's a pretty good summary of the Stade 2 and Corriere Della Sera reports in the New York Times.

Officials wave their iPads around some team bikes before a race
looking for "disruptions" in a magnetic field. 
One might ask, isn't the UCI checking bikes for motors? Well, yes, but the checks are haphazard and, according to the investigation, quite possibly flawed. Using handheld tablets (like iPads) with an app that detects disruptions in an electromagnetic field, officials wave the tablets around team bikes randomly - and if they get a suspicious "hit" they may or may not pull the bike for closer inspection. But how much of an electromagnetic field does a motor give off when it's not actually running? How well do the iPad apps work when being waved around bikes up on a roof rack? And why would I say "may or may not" pull the bike for inspection? I just read where at least one UCI commissaire isn't sure they have the legal authority to confiscate a bike.

In Cyclingnews, commissaire Philippe Mariën was quoted saying, "If the UCI wanted me to check bikes at the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday morning, and let's say I discovered a bike there that was, let's call it, imbalanced, and I would like to take it with me. Do I have the power, as a UCI commissaire, to confiscate the bike? I don't think so. Honestly, I don't think so."

In the meantime, the UCI is adamant that their current testing protocol is sound. In response to criticism after the Stade 2/Corriere Della Sera report, professional cycling's governing body said, "We have looked at thermal imaging, x-ray and ultrasonic testing but by far the most cost effective, reliable and accurate method has proved to be magnetic resonance testing using software we have created in partnership with a company of specialist developers. The scanning is done with a tablet and enables an operator to test the frame and wheels of a bike in less than a minute."

UCI President Brian Cookson
is shown some incriminating
thermal images.
From my view, I have no doubt that the tablets are "cost effective" but considering they've only flagged one bike (with an "old stuff . . . poor man's doping" motor), I'd have to question the "reliable and accurate" part of that statement. The Corriere report specifically dismisses the tablets and their software as unreliable.

I also saw in Cyclingnews that, despite claims by the UCI, many bikes are not tested prior to racing. Sometimes bikes aren't tested until after the races are completed, but it wasn't clear to me whether or not mechanics would have time and opportunity to make necessary changes to the bikes, such as disabling motors -- something that can reportedly be done with a simple bluetooth device, including wristwatches. A scene in the Stade 2 report shows a mechanic working on one of Alberto Contador's bikes, spinning the rear wheel repeatedly while fiddling with his watch, before taking the bike into a tent to make some changes. In the context of the report, it seems unusually suspicious.

In the Stade 2 program, there's a pretty tense scene where the reporter shows some of their thermal imaging photos and videos to UCI President Brian Cookson. The man's facial expression says a lot - at one point it seems he can't stop blinking, as if he can't look any longer. Does he still think their testing is reliable?

Just like performance drug dopers have their Dr. Michele Ferrari, the "doctor" of mechanical doping may be a Hungarian engineer named Stefano Varjas, whom I suspect is probably the "unnamed source" from the earlier Gazzetta dello Sport article. In the Stade 2 investigation, he shows how small the motors have gotten, making them even easier to fit into bike frames, hubs, and bottom brackets. He also displays a cutaway of one of the electromagnetic wheels that were mentioned in the Gazzetta article earlier this year, and the report shows an explanation of how it works.

According to Varjas, the little motors, which can drive a bottom bracket, can produce up to 250 watts. The electromagnetic wheels produce about 60 watts, which may not sound like a lot, but can make a big difference when used at the right moments in a race, such as on a climb.

Like a lot of people, I figured it was just too hard to believe that motorized bikes would make their way into professional bike racing. It seemed too stupid. Too blatant. I'd hear the rumors, and see the suspicious videos on the internet, but assumed there was nothing to the claims. But after following all these reports about the motors -- how small they've gotten, how easily they are concealed, combined with the thermal images, and other suspicious actions in racing -- it just gets harder and harder to deny that there are some pros who may be using them - at least in some races or stages. As if the sport had any credibility to lose.

In a lot of ways I feel like I've gone through this whole thing before. It wasn't all that long ago I would read the stories about EPO use, and I remember wanting to believe that my favorite racers weren't actually doping. And then there'd be a positive test, followed by denials, accusations, and counter-accusations, until the evidence was so overwhelming that it wasn't possible to deny any more. Sometimes people would use the defense that they had never failed any drug tests -- but then others would come forward to tell just how easy it was to keep a step ahead of the testing protocols to avoid detection.

And now with the motors, it all sounds so familiar. Only one bad, bad person was caught doing it. Everyone else is honest. Unfortunately, it appears "passing" the tests may not be so much proof that people aren't cheating as it is that they maybe just aren't getting caught.

So, will I be watching the Giro d'Italia this May? Or the Tour de France in July? I just don't know -- I really don't know if I'll be able to stomach it. If I do, I won't be able to take it any more seriously than I would a WWE wrestling match. Next time I see someone power away from the group, putting in a heroic effort, I'll probably be listening carefully for the sound of a little whirring motor.

I don't know if I'm the best person to call it. But I think professional bike racing is dead.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

"Cadillac Hill"

It's widely considered the steepest street in Akron, Ohio.

To me, it's the only hill I haven't been able to ride up on a bike.

Bates Hill, on the near northwest side of Akron, overlooking the city's "skyline," reportedly has a maximum grade of about 28% and is one of the little quirks of the Rubber City. The hill has long been known by Akronites as "Cadillac Hill" because of the Cadillac car dealership that was (still is) located at the top end of the road. Local legend has it that the car salesmen of days gone by would often show off the power of the Cadillac's big V-8 engines by driving customers up the hill. Nobody has ever been able to tell me if they demonstrated the power of the brakes by taking people back down the same hill, but I can verify that it is a real test whether going up or down.

The hill is so steep that in a car, at the top of the hill, one can't see the bottom. One pretty much has to take it on faith that they aren't going to drop off a precipice.

One of the things that makes the hill so unique and such a challenge to ride is the odd feature of the road's brick paving. Built at the end of the 1800s, in the days before cars became commonplace, the paving in the steepest section of the hill is a combination of brick pavers set almost like miniature stairs, with raised granite stones that give something akin to a "washboard" surface which reportedly was done to give some purchase for horses' hooves. Every third row of pavers is raised slightly and I've read that the effect was computed based on the length of the average freight horse's stride. That paving feature led to yet another (though less common) nickname for the street: Jacob's Ladder. Suffice it to say, the tires of cars going up and down the hill make a hell of a racket.

That washboard-like surface makes riding down Cadillac Hill a bone-jarring experience, and the insanely steep grade and sharp 90-degree turn at the bottom make it even scarier. I don't recommend riding down it.

When trying to ride up Cadillac Hill, those raised pavers severely limit a bike tire's traction, while the steep grade is enough to make unintentional wheelies a real possibility.

I've made several attempts to ride up Cadillac Hill. Let me describe what happened.

In my first try, I attempted to ride up the edge of the road. The brick pavers are laid flat there (somewhat visible in the photo) and my first instinct was that it might be better than going up the washboard section. Better tire contact, I thought. My typical style when riding up any super-steep section of road is to pick the right gear and stand out of the saddle. In this case, I found myself putting more of my weight forward to keep the front wheel from lifting. As soon as I got to the steepest section, my back wheel just started spinning. Not enough weight on it. I ground to a halt, and just managed to stay upright long enough to get turned around and go back down.

My second attempt was again on the smoother paving along the edge, but I stayed in the saddle to keep some weight on the back wheel to get traction. Immediately my front wheel pulled up. Leaning forward to keep the front wheel down, the back tire started slipping again. I barely managed to get a foot out of the pedal in time to keep from falling over.

On my third try, I attempted to go up the middle and brave the washboard. As I'd predicted, the bike's tires (32 mm with fine road tread) weren't making good contact with the pavement. It was as if the tires would sort of skip over the edges and corners of the pavers, making traction a real difficulty. If I tried to go too fast, the tires would bounce over the surface and have no contact at all. Out of the saddle, weight forward, my back wheel started to slip. Shifting my weight back, and my front wheel pulled up again. Stymied again, I managed to turn around.

I made one more attempt on Cadillac Hill. I decided I needed to work at it as if it were a tightrope balancing act. I got out of the saddle, but kept my body low and centered with my knees slightly more bent than I might normally ride, and tried to keep my weight poised delicately between the front and rear of the bike. If I felt the front start to pull up, I shifted slightly forward, careful not to over-compensate. If the back wheel started to slip, I shifted slightly back. I kept a slow, methodical pace to minimize bouncing over the raised granite blocks, going just fast enough to not lose balance.

My efforts seemed to be working. I made my way up the "ladder" methodically. It turned out that I'd gained a spectator -- an old man was standing by the side of the road watching me climb. As I neared the end of the washboard section, just a few yards away from the spot where the grade reduces slightly, the old guy started to cheer.


I didn't make it. The moment my tires went from the washboard to the smoother bricks, the back tire spun. I was already going so slowly that the brief loss of momentum brought me to an immediate standstill. There I was, trying unsuccessfully to get a foot out of the pedal, and down I went, hard, smacking my hip against the granite blocks.

With both my hip and my ego bruised, I walked the remainder of the climb and went home. I have not tried again since. I know people who say they've climbed Cadillac Hill on a bike, but I've never seen it done, and I've never been able to do it myself.

Bates Hill. Cadillac Hill. Jacob's Ladder. The hill I haven't been able to climb. . . yet.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Disc Brakes Banned: Did Not See This Coming

After all the hype and build-up (by the bicycle industry - not the racers) disc brakes finally made it into the professional racing peloton. And now, for the moment at least, they're gone again.

Racer Francisco Ventoso of the Movistar team suffered a pretty nasty injury at this year's Paris-Roubaix when he was sliced and diced by a smokin' hot disc brake rotor, requiring surgery. After the incident, in an open letter, Ventoso asked, "Was there really anyone who thought things like Sunday's wouldn't happen? Really, nobody thought they were dangerous? Nobody realized they can cut, they can become giant knives?"

(from Cycling Weekly)
Ventoso continued, reiterating the concept of disc brakes as spinning knives or even "machetes" -- "I've been lucky: I didn't get my leg chopped off, it's just some muscle and skin. But can you imagine that disc cutting a jugular or a femoral artery? I would prefer not to."

As a result, the UCI is temporarily suspending their trial period for disc brakes in pro racing. As it was, this was the first year in which teams could use the brakes with as many riders and in as many racers as they wished.

Who'd have predicted such a thing?

Well, actually, a number of riders in the past couple of years expressed that very concern, but the push by the component manufacturers to get disc brakes onto pro bikes was a major effort. Pro racers and team mechanics were raising questions about the brakes at least two years ago, some of whom predicted the very type of situation faced by Ventoso.

In a 2014 VeloNews article, Garmin-Sharp team mechanic Geoff Brown was quoted saying, "Safety is a genuine concern. Disc rotors are sharp, like spinning knives that have been heated in a 500-degree oven. They can easily slice flesh, and will burn on contact after a hard stop." To which he then added "at least you'll get cut and cauterized at the same time."

(from Bike Radar)
The Association of Professional Cyclists (CPA) also urged a halt to disc brake use. "We have been talking about the risks of the use of disc brakes since months and we have sent letters in the past to the UCI and the organizers to avoid such risks. Now they are going to finally listen to our voice. We don't want to stop the progress but we want to find common solutions for the introduction of new technologies without risks for the riders and definitely with their involvement."

After Ventoso's letter hit social media, other professional racers chimed in about the risks. In a CyclingNews article about the incident and the subsequent ban on disc brakes, Ryder Hesjedal wrote in reference to the introduction of the technology, "I have felt this way since the very beginning! Should have never happened!"

Emotions are obviously running high - both in the wake of Ventoso's injuries, and the death of racer Antoine Demoitié, who was killed at Ghent-Wevelgem when he was struck by one of the motorcycles that ride in and out of the race peloton. Some are claiming that the disc brake ban is emotionally motivated.

For instance, Stefano Cattai, the technical liaison for team BMC was quoted in Cycling Weekly, "People are acting emotionally, and they need to cool down." He continued by saying that teams need to put more time and investment into disc brakes, as well as finding a way to make them safer for racers. "We have to have a solution, we need to invest more time in disc brakes," Cattai said. If we didn't continue to do these things, we wouldn't even be here with mechanical shifting, people would still be using levers on their down tubes."

2011 Tour de France
Think about the logic of that argument for a moment. Essentially, we must make progress for the sake of progress. God forbid . . . "levers on their down tubes." By the way, how are those not "mechanical shifting"? I really have no idea whose interests he's looking out for.

In any case, emotional or not, I'm actually shocked at how fast the reaction was by UCI to halt the disc brake trial - considering how many racers have been killed or seriously injured by other vehicles within the races in the past few years and yet nothing has been done about that situation. These vehicles include team cars, support vehicles, race officials, and of course media vehicles.

There's no telling how long the ban will be in effect. I have no doubt though that this is not the end of disc brakes in pro racing. The manufacturers have too much investment riding on their adoption to let it go now. Though the racers aren't exactly bemoaning their "old tech" rim brakes, and nobody has been able to prove that disc brakes truly superior technology, I'm sure we'll see more disc brakes in pro racing.

We do have to make "progress" after all.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Guest Post - In Defense of Eroica

By Touriste-Routier:

In a recent article in Red Kite Prayer, Padraig was quite clear in why he elected not to go to Eroica this year. The many comments to his article are split between those supporting the ride as-is vs. others agreeing that the rules be updated to be more inclusive. Regardless of your view, these are just opinions, and no one is good or bad because of them.

However, when considering the arguments made and opinions expressed, I believe it is important for people to understand where Eroica came from, and what it stands for. To vintage bike enthusiasts and collectors, this may be preaching to the choir, but in most other circles, the rationale is not so obvious.

We have to admit, the Eroica rules are somewhat arbitrary; most rules, to some extent, are. All lines are drawn somewhere; it is generally up to legislators and lawyers to argue and interpret their merits and meanings.

For the sake of simplicity, L’Eroica started in 1997 as a small ride to honor and preserve the historic Strade Bianche (the white gravel roads) of Tuscany, which were disappearing to modernization, and to pay homage to the heritage of cycling in the area. By utilizing ancient roads, L’Eroica (which means heroic) harkened back to a different era, when life was simple, yet incredibly hard, when the world was frequently at war, and Italian bicycle racers were national heroes. First Bottecchia, Binda, and Giardengo, then later Bartali, and Coppi, were household names; their epic battles covered by newspapers, later radio, and eventually film, well before the advent of television. L’Eroica set out to honor the simplicity of cycling, and as Giancarlo Brocci, the founder of L’Eroica said, “to tell us that there is beauty in fatigue”.

For the first few years of L’Eroica, riding vintage bikes and wearing vintage clothing was encouraged, but not required. The ride grew steadily, well before gravel events became popular in the US. Eventually the organizers decided to restrict the event to only vintage (and vintage inspired) bicycles. It was at this point that the ride exploded in popularity, and began selling out, forcing the organizers to allocate spots to assure a wide range of participant demographics. Further, the theme and format of the event was exported to other countries; these events bear the Eroica name and trademark.

But how does one define a vintage bicycle? Where does one draw the line?

The L’Eroica organizers determined that 1987 was the stopping point, stating that this is when bicycles started to fundamentally change via the widespread adoption of clipless pedals, indexed shifting and aero brake levers. But another thing that is never stated, but is abundantly clear, is that 1987 marks when the bicycling industry changed drastically; it is the year when high end European cycling component brands were largely being overthrown by Asian and American ones. L’Eroica is Italian; Campagnolo is Italian, and the Shimano coup began in earnest in 1987, as did the proliferation of the mountain bike. The French component companies were well on their deathbeds by this time, but 1986 is when Campagnolo began to change its classic look and feel with the introduction of C-Record components and Nuovo and Super Record components were discontinued in 1987.

Yes, Look clipless pedals hit the peloton in 1986, and were predated by other pedals including Cinelli’s M-71 (1971), often referred to as the “death pedal.” Yes, aero levers were available by Dia Compe and Shimano in the early ‘80s, and some form of index shifting (though not as we know it today, or even in 1987) had come and gone from several manufacturers prior to 1987. Alan and Vitus aluminum frames are explicitly permitted, but a 1983 Cannondale would be frowned upon.

Classic Rendezvous is a very popular vintage bike website and forum (CR-List). The group was founded by Dale Brown, former racer, race organizer, official, and owner of Cycles de Oro in Greensboro, North Carolina. Cycles de Oro is a modern bike shop with an effective museum of Dale’s collection. In establishing the CR-List, Dale too had to establish a timeline; he chose 1983 as the stopping point, thereby avoiding a few of the problems the L’Eroica cutoff date.

As defensible as this date is, it isn’t completely clean either. Campagnolo was producing Nuovo and Super Record Components into 1987, thus a 1986 Colnago is somewhat indistinguishable from a 1982 one, but technically doesn’t qualify for the forum. However, this is where reason and a common understanding come into play; the list members understand that concept is stronger than the line drawn. To further acknowledge the craft, discussion is allowed, and web space is dedicated to KOF- “Keepers of the Flame,” honoring modern frame builders who utilize steel in their handmade bicycles.

And KOF is where L’Eroica sometimes put themselves at odds with their own rules. L’Eroica rules don’t state that one must ride a pre-1987 bike (or vintage clothing), but that participants should utilize equipment that at least resembles them. They are trying to preserve a look and feel, and to show respect to the roots and golden age of the sport.

This means that most steel road frames are acceptable, as long as they have downtube shift levers, pedals with clips and straps, and exposed brake cable housing. Modern wool or retro looking clothing is acceptable; no one is inspecting for date codes. The L’Eroica organizers understand that bicycles, components, accessories, and clothing wear out, and original replacements can be hard to find, as they were discontinued long ago. Reproductions and vintage inspired items are openly welcomed, if they preserve the spirit of the rules.

Yet, the success of the Eroica series has led to a major contradiction of the rules. Bianchi bicycles came on board as a major sponsor of the series. However, in concert with their sponsorship, Bianchi decided to reissue, to the best of their ability, a bicycle that met the Eroica guidelines. But 100% compliance is practically impossible for a modern production run. Getting suppliers to provide high quality 126 mm rear hubs that accept freewheels in modest quantities is nearly impossible, as that standard has been largely abandoned at the high end of the market, thus the Bianchi has current 130 mm rear hubs with a 10 speed cassette. In concert with the Eroica organizers, the bike was approved for use in the events. I believe this Bianchi violates the letter of the law, and to some extent the spirit, but is deemed acceptable due to the larger support Bianchi provides. Some would call this “selling out."

Please note that another historic Italian marque, Wilier, has also introduced a vintage inspired project, though to my knowledge it hasn’t been officially blessed by the Eroica organizers. At Interbike in 2015, I saw other famous brands testing the water in consideration of following suit. My problem with these projects is not with the concept in and of themselves, my issue is that if these machines are accepted as conforming to Eroica rules, they widen the gray area. Where are the new lines drawn? What is acceptable and what isn’t? Should other similar constructions also be accepted?

This is where Padraig’s argument makes a valid point. Many have argued it is like bringing a modern car to a vintage car rally; Padraig understands this, we discussed this very point the week before Eroica California. His point was that they explicitly allow some reproductions in the vintage rally, but not others, and it is hard to find fault with that, within that context. But in the greater world, we are really talking about integrated shifters/ brake levers and clipless pedals, which are explicitly forbidden (with rare exception), and are not offered on the Bianchi Eroica model, thus the argument really is about the number of cogs on the rear wheel. Unless the rules are updated, I fail to see how anything with more than 7 cogs is compliant. And if they make this change, then it calls into question their other equipment rules.

Eroica is a truly special tribute to vintage bicycles; it is a costume ball for bike geeks (said in loving terms). Eroica events, though inspired by the battles amongst the various Campionissimos, are not necessarily about performance. I don’t think too many people state that yesterday’s bikes are superior to today’s; they each have their attributes. Eroica is about reliving glory days, when wine was consumed instead of Gatorade, salami & cheese instead of Powerbars, and when you had to have a certain set of skills to operate a bike efficiently and with grace. It is about the journey while experiencing the terroir. If you are focused on winning, you will have lost before you even started.

Eroica are simply events for vintage and vintage-inspired bicycle enthusiasts. If one actually reads them, one will recognize that the rules are flexible enough; a truly vintage bike isn’t strictly required. Modern steel bikes can be adapted. If riding gravel is your thing, but steel frames, toe clips/straps, friction shifting, old fashioned brake levers or knit jerseys are not, Eroica isn’t for you. There are plenty other events out there where you can do your thing.

And I believe Padraig came to realize this, but he has valid points regarding receiving mixed messaging about the event, and his suggesting loosening the rules to further increase participation, and feeling that he and his steel bike aren’t cool enough.

Yes, certain messages are mixed; Eroica do want more people to come to the emerging events and to embrace the concept. Messaging is difficult to do, as the rules are not steadfast. But the flip side of this is that the events are doing very well in terms of participation despite their rules; some of them sell out and California saw approximately a 50% increase in its 2nd edition.

To be truly honest, the Eroica events currently vary in the enforcement of their rules. While the original L’Eroica event in Gaiole is very strict (each bike is given a look over before they allow participants to depart) the Eroica California event has been fairly loose in its first 2 editions. They look the other way at things, and haven’t really inspected things yet. They even invited Andy Hampsten to ride the 2016 event on his 1988 Giro d’Italia winning bike, which we must admit is in complete violation of the letter of their rules. But are they hypocrites? In considering the spirit of the event, can one think of a more heroic rider, exploit, and bike in the last 40 years, particularly by an American racer? I for one was happy to see Andy on board the machine he rode to his most storied success.

As for available gear ratios, Eroica allows one to modify this to modern standards, but this too is somewhat at odds with the intent of the ride. Eroica founder Giancarlo Brocci stated it best, "Using a vintage bike these days shows us how difficult cycling was, remember the gears they had and the roads they cycled on! The message is fundamental. The heroic stories we hear are heroic precisely because the exertions of those cyclists were extraordinary. The appeal of today's L'Eroica and the difference between it and other events, which may be more or less attractive is that I have always insisted on L'Eroica having a tough element, there has to be a challenge to overcome." I suppose the nontraditional gear ratios are permitted, because they want people to honor the past, while not overly suffering and driving them away.

However we also must recognize that the then-available racing bike gearing may have been suitable (or was all that was available or deemed acceptable) for use by then professionals, at the top of their game, racing for their livelihoods, in their era. But Eroica participants are mostly older, and were never pros, even if they did race at some point in their lives. Eroica is not a race, thus the suffering will never be the same, but that doesn’t mean the overall effort is any less regardless of the gearing chosen; the majority of Eroica participants will spend far more hours in the saddle on a given course than any pro in his day would, thus experiencing the beauty of fatigue that the organizers strive to achieve.

Regardless of the era, professional racers utilized the best equipment available at the time; what is state of the art now will likely be largely considered junk in the future. This is called progress, regardless if we believe that things have advanced or not.

Eroica is an affront to progress; Eroica is what it is, and is better for it. The rules, while arbitrary, are reasonably clear, defensible from a historical standpoint, and are flexible enough so as not to restrict the events exclusively to serious bike collectors. They accomplish the goals of the founders, and the events are succeeding with them. If they were to update the rules to allow more modern and course specific machines, the events would be watered down to the point that they would be no longer special or unique. If they are not special, then no one will care about them, and they will go away.

The fact that there are passionate debates with salient points on both sides of what Padraig stated points to the health of both Eroica style events as well as more open gravel grinders and mixed surface rides. We are fortunate to be in a period where these rides are popular; everyone can find something that suits them, and Eroica is not to everyone’s taste. I for one am happy I get to dress like Eddy Merckx or Fiorenzo Magni for “Halloween” a few times each year, and ride the bikes I am passionate about, but also that I can don my modern kit and use my recently designed bikes on other rides, and not feel out of place under the circumstances.

Love and Scorn for Eroica

The second running of Eroica California happened last weekend. And once again, I wasn't there.

I read a lot about it in the anticipation and build-up to the event. And I've spent much of this week admiring people's photos, reading a lot of post-ride reports, analysis, critique, and even a fair amount of griping (mostly from non-participants -- from everything I've read, anyone who took part had a great time).

One notable criticism I read came from another well-known bike blogger, Patrick Brady at Red Kite Prayer. Brady participated in Eroica California last year, but chose not to attend this year. He wrote:

"At last year's event, I had a fantastic time. I rode with old friends, got to chat with Andy Hampsten, who continues to be one of the most humble and decent people ever to pedal a bike, and I conquered some remarkable hills.

My knees, though, they hurt for days afterward."

Brady then went on to explain his reasons for not participating this year. Difficulty in finding a suitable bike -- one that fits the vintage-style rules -- was a major factor apparently:

"There came a point where I was so frustrated by the search it caused me to think about the rule that requires riders to be on a vintage-style bike, to really think about it. It's evident that they are trying to grow the event as evidenced by the way it's being marketed and the amount of PR that's being done. Fine, if you want more people to come, make it easier for them to come . . . And it strikes me that the way Eroica is ruled, the event is essentially asking people to become collectors when they might not otherwise . . . Something about these rules feels divisive, and in our current political climate, I'd rather see us strive for inclusion, rather than rejection."

At the end of the critique, he closed with "If my bikes aren't cool enough, then I'm not cool enough'."

I won't dwell too much the RKP article, except to say that it sparked a huge discussion on The Paceline forum -- ("For the Hate of Eroica": currently at 12 pages). Some commenters heaped scorn on RKP's arguments - others piled on with more scorn for Eroica. It was also a big topic with the Classic Rendezvous group.

Some Paceline commenters dismissed the event (and its riders, presumably) as something akin to Renaissance Fairs and Civil War re-enactments, while others decried the "elitisim" of the vintage bike enthusiast community. Many more had questions and criticism for the rules of the event, which many find too arbitrary.

From my perspective, I think a lot of the criticism misses the point. Eroica is about trying to capture the spirit of an earlier era. That means that there must by necessity be some kind of "cutoff" for bikes and equipment. The Eroica rules state that bikes must be from 1987 or earlier, and have certain general characteristics such as downtube shift levers (or non-indexing bar-ends), traditional toe-clip and strap pedals, and traditional non-aero brake levers. The rules are not overly restrictive, however, in that they allow new or post-'87 bikes as long as they conform to the other rules regarding style and construction. And there are no restrictions on gearing, so if someone really wants to use a triple crank with a super low granny gear, as long as it has the right general look, there's no problem.
Dirt/gravel roads, steep climbs, and gorgeous scenery are a major 
attraction of Eroica. (Photo by Justin Tunis, used with permission).

Is the 1987 date arbitrary? Considering that it's almost impossible to pin down the beginning or ending of any "era" to an exact date, one could argue that, yes, it is somewhat arbitrary. But any date would be. The Classic Rendezvous group sets their cutoff at 1983 for various rational reasons, but even that date occasionally leads to compromises and disagreements. The Eroica organizers had their own rational reasons for choosing 1987 as their cutoff, and one is free to agree or disagree. Nobody has to do the ride, and there are plenty of other rides out there - centuries, gran fondos, and more -- where people can ride whatever they like. But they aren't Eroica.

The rules are what they are. They may not be perfect (yes, we know that some aero brake levers were available before 1987 -- get over it), but they certainly aren't "divisive" or "elitist." There is no implication that modern bikes and the people who ride them are somehow undesirable or "uncool." In fact, I have no doubt that most Eroica participants also own and ride more modern bikes. But modern bikes don't fit the theme of the party. Simple as that.

Another thing. Vintage (or at least vintage-styled) bikes are not that hard to come by, and are typically a lot less expensive than modern bikes. Insisting that riders use "Eroica-compliant" bikes hardly pressures anyone to become a vintage bike collector. If someone insists on having a mint-condition 1970s Masi with full Campagnolo Record components for Eroica, then yes that will require a bit of an investment, but it's still likely to cost less than a new Dura-Ace Di2 component group (just the components, not the complete bike).

So why don't I go to Eroica? Fact is, I'd LOVE to go. I already know exactly what bike I'd take if I could ever do it. Unfortunately I have two major strikes - cost and time. The cost of doing the ride puts it out of my budget. It's not necessarily the price of admission (registration is $150 - 200, pricey, yes, but by all accounts it is an excellently organized ride) but for myself I'd also have to factor in the cost of flying to California from Ohio and transporting a full-size vintage bike, then add in hotel accommodations, and it becomes a pretty expensive trip. But that's actually the lesser problem for me. In my case, much more than the cost, my job makes it virtually impossible that I'd ever be able to go. Everybody knows that teachers get a lot of time off, like summer for instance. What most probably never think about is that teachers have almost no choice or flexibility for when they get that time off. Making a trip during the school year is pretty much off the table -- and for my own teaching contract, taking even one or two days off for a "vacation" is strictly prohibited. Unless they someday schedule Eroica during a time when there's already a break at school, it's unlikely that I'll get to attend.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying the ride reports and the pictures with a tinge of envy.

Here are some links to photo galleries from the event:

Justin Tunis Photographs - Getting Heroic
The Beautiful Bicycle - Eroica California Gallery
Handbuilt Bicycle News (there are several posts from the event, including details on some of the bikes people rode).

Check those out, and more, if you get a chance.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Bicycle Test and Unrideable Bikes

Regular Retrogrouch readers know that my full-time job is teaching English and Speech Communications. In Communications, one of the things I occasionally bring up is how men and women communicate differently, and how their brains may even be wired a little differently. To illustrate that point, I reference a common psychological test that goes back at least to Jean Piaget in the 1930s  - something known as the Bicycle Drawing Test. Used as a gauge of cognitive development, mechanical reasoning, and visual-spacial functioning, the test asks subjects to draw a bicycle from memory. Men tend to do a little better at the task than women, and regular cyclists tend to do better than non-riders -- but regardless, for many people, it turns out to be a difficult task to draw a viable, workable bicycle from memory, and the resulting drawings can be amusing.

"Does the chain drive the front wheel, or the rear? Oh hell, why not BOTH!"
No pedals or chain. But those are some pretty jaunty-looking handlebars.
It turns out that most people know a bicycle when they see one, but don't apply much thought to its form or function. They know there are a couple of wheels. Most remember that there are some triangles involved. And a chain, somehow. But specifically how those various elements fit together to make a functioning bicycle eludes many.

I recently spotted this really interesting design project by Gianluca Gimini of Italy on Bēhance. Called Velocipedia, Gimini has collected hundreds of such bicycle memory drawings and then computer-rendered them to look like actual machines.

Here are a couple of samples:

This 2-wheel drive fatbike looks like it would be a total off-road beast -- IF you could ride it.

Un-rideable (or at least un-steerable) but I kind of like the integrated fenders on this front-wheel-drive model.

Another un-steerable design - but you've got to love the disc wheels and the little flag.
Gianluca Gimini gives a bit of background on his project:

"Back in 2009 I began pestering friends and random strangers. I would walk up to them with a pen and a sheet of paper asking that they draw me a men's bicycle, by heart. Soon I found out that when confronted with this odd request most people have a very hard time remembering exactly how a bike is made. Some did get close, some actually nailed it perfectly, but most ended up drawing something that was pretty far off from a regular men's bicycle."

During the course of this project, Gimini collected 376 drawings from people ranging in age from 3 years old to 88. Although he didn't realize (at least at the beginning) that the Bicycle Drawing Test was an actual psychological test, some of his findings seem to echo those done by more "academic" psychological studies. For instance, "Nearly 90% of the drawings in which the chain is attached to the front wheel, or both to the front and the rear, were made by females. On the other hand, while men generally tend to place the chain correctly, they are more keen to over-complicate the frame when they realize they are not drawing it correctly."

An interesting observation on the project is that the most "unintelligible" drawing, with the most unintelligible handwriting, came not from the 3-yr. old, but from a doctor. Must not have been one of those Serotta-riding doctors I hear so much about.

There is much more to see on Gimini's project page, so I encourage readers to click on over there to check out the collection.