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April 2, 2001
March 24, November 10, 2004
February 10, July 23, 2007
Weirdly enough, I find myself in the position
of bike ambassador to Silicon Valley. Bike
commuters are rare enough that I'm the first
serious bike commuter that a lot of people
have met. So there are a bunch of people I
know who seem to be going from the "maybe I
should get a bike someday" mode to the "what
kind of bike should I get?".
The trouble is that they're
asking me this question.
So I'm going to write down
what I know, have heard, and
further theorize about bike
A brief history of bikes:
Once upon a time, every kid was
outfitted with a fairly simple bike:
you were expected to sit upright on
it, it had a single, fixed gear
ratio, and you pedaled it backwards
to stop: these days these are called
Then there came the 10-speed, and
everyone wanted to own these On the influence of sports and
relatively fancy bikes which I gather sport fashion on technology:
were more-or-less originally intended
for road racing... I'm going to call Someone produces an innovative
these "road bikes". technology for some sort of
extreme, artificial, sport
Then sometime after that, situation, then it becomes
there came the invention of stylish to sport your "sport"
the "mountain bike", which equipment in non-sport
was built a lot more situations, then people come
ruggedly, with some lower up with more moderate versions
gears for hill-climbing, and that are cheaper and more
fatter, usually knobby, tires practical, but these quickly
for off-road riding. become un-sexy and people are
ripe for the next invasion of
Mountain bikes became very popular, sportiness.
but most of them never saw the side
of a mountain, which probably is what The tech that spins off from
inspired the invention of the sport sometimes strikes me
"hybrid" (a mix between the "road" as a great innovation, but
and "mountain" styles), which is the quite often it seems majorly
kind of bike I've been riding for silly. E.g. multiple-gears
over five years. are great, but the
light-weight tin-foil racing
What I want to talk wheels that we were stuck
about here is bikes for with before the "mountain
commuters, for bike revolution" were a pain.
called "transpo" bikes).
This is largely ignored
by the industry. The
"transpo" bike is a tool,
not a toy: this is a
strange concept to them.
Let's consider my hybrid,
with which I have a love-hate
relationship. It's fairly
ordinary... it cost about
$350 new, way back when,
which makes it a decent but I probably spend that much
relatively cheap bike. again on repairs for it
every two years or so.
I have many
complaints A frustrating situation:
about this replacing the drive train
thing: is only slightly cheaper
than replacing the whole bike.
(1) Straight-across handlebars.
Economies of scale work
It's a pretty well known ergonomic with you on the initial
fact (one of the great discoveries purchase, but against
of the computer industry), that you on most replacement
it's a bad idea to hold your hands parts.
in front of you palms down for a
long period of time. Just as with The sad fact is that
flat-keyboards from the pre-ergo most bikes aren't
days, the straight-across bike ridden enough to need
handle bars that the mountain bike these repairs.
revolution has subjected us to
force you to do just that.
(2) Lean forward posture.
But long before the "mountain"
bike, we were subjected to a fad
from the road-racing world for
leaning forward on your hands to
reduce your wind resistance.
So we all go about supporting our
weight on our hands as we go
bumping along the road, typically
without any shock absorption
except for our wrists.
(3) No chain guard.
My bike came without any chain guard
whatsoever, not even one of those
diminutive little rings next to the
big chain ring. Looking around, it
seems to me like about half the
hybrids out there are sold like this.
Wanna make some easy cash? Find a sleazy
trial lawyer to partner with, and arrange
an accident where your pants cuffs get
stuck in the gearing. With any luck
you'll get an old-fart of a judge that Name another piece of
remembers riding a cruiser around when he consumer equipment with
was a kid. completely exposed gearing
next to the user's clothes.
(4) In general, many necessities are optional.
In addition to the problems of chain
guards, it's fairly difficult to use
a bike as transport without the
Some sort of attachments to carry
stuff: it used to be common to have
baskets on the front (sometimes the As is not uncommon,
rear sides), now tiny flat beds on the current standard
the back of the bike are favored. is nearly useless
But even that doesn't come standard for any practical
with the bike. purpose:
Fenders, especially a That tiny rear
rear fender to keep flatbed is
your back wheel from pointless E.g. the
shooting muddy water compared to a bag of
up your butt when it's front basket. groceries
raining. (Sometimes that problem.
flat bed isn't big enough.) So of course,
the basket is
Head-light and flashing regarded as
Helmet No cool person
will be caught
Water bottle dead with it.
and cage to All water bottles sold for
carry it. this purpose are useless
unless you enjoy the
Rear-view flavor of plasticizers. Re-use a one-liter
mirror soda bottle instead
(e.g. seven-up or
Simple repair club soda... cola
tools -- tire flavor makes the
pump, patch water taste almost
kit, maybe a First aid kits as bad as the
spare tube, aren't a bad cola does).
etc, (the bike idea, either.
analog of the Periodically, you
car-jack). need to throughly
wash these soda
"Toughies" (kevlar bottles *and let
tire inserts) or them dry*.
possibly puncture After all, why
resistant inner tubes would you want the The drying is
if you can find them. tires themselves the hard part:
to be able to vapor likes to
And of course: locks. resist a puncture? recondense
What a frivolous inside the
That's plural. weight addition bottle.
You need to lock that would be.
the front and back
wheels and frame, Interesting thing
and maybe the about toughies:
seat... because they're not
integral to the tire, (Feb 10, 2007)
BIKE_SAFELY there's always a Thankfully,
ridge where the two toughies seem
ends meet, and to be going
sometimes *that* out of style,
wears through the in favor of
It might be unrealistic to think
that all of the above items could
or should be made standard, but I
think a strong case can be made
that consumers are getting A car-buyer does
screwed by an artificially not need to remember
lowered up-front price. to buy rear-view
Anything that you buy as an windshield wipers
optional attachment is going to and a trunk.
lack the economies of scale that
make a mass-produced bike fairly Note: all of
cheap. these would
Everyone knows that building a on a racing
custom bike from raw parts is vehicle.
horrendously expensive compared
to buying a new bike.
If you're buying a transpo biking system,
you're stuck doing exactly that kind of
custom assembly, where the "bike" is just
(5) Bike brakes are terrible. Consider
the difference in mass between a bike and
a car, and consider the fact that they
have roughly the same stopping distance.
Is this because bike brakes have to be
light-weight devices? Nope: it's because
bike riders have their centers-of-gravity Note: there's a trick
jacked up and pushed forward over the to stopping short on
front wheel. If the brakes were any a diamond frame bike:
good, people would fly over the front get your butt off of the
handle bars when they tried to stop. the seat, and crouch down
behind it, with your sternum
Recumbent bikes make a lot more almost touching the seat.
sense in this respect.
Then you can get away
with really slamming the
brakes, even if you're
going down hill.
There are some other points I can add...
in general there's a problem with the
expectation that most people are cycling
for sport rather than transportation.
The bikes themselves
are often not very Over the years, whenever
durable (they don't my hybrid needed repairs,
have to be: most I'd replace the parts
people buy them and with the beefiest ones I Heavy walled wheels,
throw them in the could find... heavy tires, heavy
garage). gears... then I
broke the frame, had
to have it replaced,
And bike clothing tends to and then I broke it
be made out of plastic *again*.
fabrics that start reeking
after you use them even The first time it
once... a week's worth of was under warranty
wear and they're positively A year later I
foul. broke that one.
If there's something (Actually, if you
that you absolutely care really I broke
have to have when you the "dropouts", the
ride -- bike shorts; hooks which hold the
a polar fleece rear wheel. These are
jacket, gloves -- you welded into the
better have more than frame, and they seem
one set (in fact five to have a tendency to
or more wouldn't be break at the weld.)
out of line).
Another thing I could gripe about:
the old toe-clip problem. First of
all, the basic peddles that come on
most bikes are clearly sub-optimal:
You can push down with the front
foot, but not pull upward with the
rear one; and even worse, your feet
tend to slide off the peddles if
you push forward.
So what do you do? The traditional
solution is toe-clips: these are
insanely dangerous for urban
cycling. They take a lot of
practice to learn to insert your
feet into when you're getting
started (and you need to do this at
every light) and if you have to do
an emergency stop, Good Fucking
Luck. If you're slow about getting
a foot out and on the ground, it's
really easy to flop over and
mess up a wrist when you land.
Ah, but modern bike technology has a
solution! *Special shoes* and special
peddles that clip to the bottom of the
shoes. I haven't tried these, but:
(a) in general, the idea that you need
to completely change your outfit when Even helmets are a little
you want to ride your bike is a loser dubious. You're probably
for transportation cycling. It's bad better off with a helmet
enough you've got to waste time on the than without; but if the
lock-up procedure. need to buy a helmet and
lug it around with you
(b) They look really dorky. And yes, discourages you from
I've seen the ones that are supposed riding, you'd be better
to pass for ordinary street shoes: off just riding and going
they look like *really dorky* ordinary without.
The health benefits
For this one, there *is* of the exercise
a pretty good solution vastly outweigh any
out there though: risk of head injury.
there's a product called
"mini-clips", that are Which is why helmet
like slightly beefier laws for kids are a
plastic toe-clips bad idea:
without the straps.
They don't grab your You pass a helmet
feet anywhere near as law, the kids don't
tightly as the regular get helmets, they
toe-clips, so they take just stop riding.
much less practice to
learn to get a foot into
them. And they're a
hell of easier to get
your foot out of.
This is one more item
for the "too bad it's
not standard" list.
One more gripe, though: My bike
originally came with plastic peddles.
They worked okay, but after years of
heavy riding, they wore out.
So, I go into a spiff bike shop, and
after being subjected to their spiel
in favor of the dorky shoe system,
they finally agree to put a set of
regular peddles on the bike.
"You're going to really like these"
they tell me. "These are really good."
It turns out they outfitted me
with these insanely sadistic
spiky sharp metal peddles,
reminiscent of racing cleats
on shoes, except that these
are pointed at your body.
Don't screw up getting on the still another complaint
bike, or they'll scrape your I've got, though I
shin off. Careful walking the don't know that there's
bike, it's *distantly possible* a reasonable solution:
you might slam your shin into Often, you *need*
one of those peddles, eh? to get off your bike
and walk it. Oops,
forgot your shin guards,
Another complaint, in two parts:
(a) Every beginning cyclist, when
they want to park for just a Caveat: there's a simple
minute, tries leaning the handle trick for temporary bike
bars against something. This parking: you prop the seat
only works for a moment, before against something, *not*
the bike suddenly decides to fall the handle bars. Lean the
over. *back* of the bike, let the
front do whatever it wants.
(b) When you need to walk up a stair-
case with your bike, you pick it up
by the cross-bar and throw it on your
shoulder. The smart cyclist keeps it
pointed nose-down so that the front
wheel stays pointed straight ahead.
If by some strange chance the outside
handlebar should brush something, the
wheel swings to the right, then This is one of the better
pendulums back to the left, and arguments in favor of wearing
the inside handle bar smashes you in a helmet. If you remember to
the face. keep your head down, the
handle-bar hit the helmet,
Both of these points result not your face.
from the same oddity of
standard bike design: When
the bike isn't in motion,
twist your handlebars, see
how far you can turn them.
On most bikes you can flip
them around almost 180
degrees before the wheel hits
the bike frame.
Think about that for a moment.
Is there any reason at all for
that wheel to be able to do that?
The obvious fix -- for
point (b), at least --
is to add some stops to Even 90 degrees seems excessive,
keep the wheel from but every so often that's helpful
turning more than, say, when you need to spin the bike
90 degrees. around in a tight space (e.g.
It wouldn't be that hard
to have some kind of
spring that tends to
return the wheel back to Also, this would
the center position. probably make the
bike more stable
when trying to ride
with out hands.
(Yeah, I know, that's not
recommended. If I haven't
planned ahead and put tissues
in my shirt pocket, letting go
of the handle bars for a
moment is almost inevitable
while I dig them out. And the
need for tissues is a given on
cool night-time rides.)
And still another complaint
(I've given up counting):
Consider the freewheel. These days, it
seems like there's a competition to
squeeze lots of gears on to it, so you
can advertise an umpty-seventeen speed
bike. The trouble is that a lot of
these gears are so close together in
size that there's not much of a change
in gear-ratios when you change gears.
But gear-ratios are the name of the
game, specifically a *wide-range* of
ratios, rather than necessarily a large
number of them. I want a really small
back gear for fast road riding, and a
really humongous granny gear for hill
climbing, and a few in between for
accelerating from a stop.
My theory is that this notion
(coarse-grained gear-ratios) is a
hard order to fill with the current
style of derailleur and freewheel.
The freewheel has to approximate a I suggest that this
cone, so that the derailleur can means it's time for a
slide the chain sideways across it. new technology in bike
Good luck getting a
new idea established,
"Economies of scale"
It's long past are in effect a subsidy
time that I should for the status quo.
experiment with a
second bike. The one crack in that
wall: break into the
market as a "luxury
good", e.g. sell it as
Given the fact that I've been high-end sporting
whining about the inadequacies of equipment.
diamond frame bikes for years,
maybe it's about time I try
something totally different, huh?
Which would lead us to a
discussion of the "recumbent"
bicycle (aka "'bents").
(February 10, 2007)
I like the idea of recumbent bikes
a lot. Not only do they fix all of
the posture problems mentioned Power output:
above, you get less wind resistance on a diamond frame
and more power output from them. bike the maximum
amount of force on
Note: bicycle speed records are a peddle is the
now universally won by recumbent weight of the rider.
riders. You would *think* that
this might create a fad for On a recumbent,
recumbents, and they would become the rider's back
ubiquitous, and later cheap. is braced, so the
maximum force is
Clearly this isn't happening. larger, limited
I, of course, have a theory: only by muscle
On a diamond frame bike, the strength.
rider is always in a sexually
dominant position. On the
recumbent, it's a sexually
submissive posture. This, of course, is
It's a symbolic issue that not what anti-recumbent
conflicts with the macho people tell you the
athlete pose. trouble is, though.
You might think They like to claim
that women would that it's a safety
have less of a issue: recumbents The trouble
problem with this. are less visible with this
because the rider's argument
If so, they're not head is a lot lower. is that
driving the market, this isn't
as of yet. true.
that I might And conversely
agree that diamond frame
'bents have riders don't
practical do all that
problems if much to
I experimented improve their
with them more. visibility.
I suspect that E.g. why not
(March 24, 2004) they make it reflective mylar
a little harder handlebar tassles?
So, for a long time I was to look over your
toying with the idea of shoulder, and Oops, not
buying a "Bike E" recumbent, getting a foot macho.
but for various reasons down when stopped
didn't get to it... and now might be more Sorry.
I believe they're actually awkward.
out of business.
These days I'm riding a solutions:
basic mountain bike with
some shocks on the front (1) lots of mirrors.
forks. (2) recumbent tricycles!
(November 10, 2004)
Review of the Mountain Bike:
seems really sluggish compared
to my old hybrid. Probably I
need to lose the knobby tires,
but I don't think that's the
The shocks are nice in some
respects: riding down a dark,
unfamiliar street, I can slam
right into a pot hole without
it being a disaster.
In other respects though:
they make the front end of
the bike softer, so it
kneels down a little when Nov 26, 2005:
you slam on the brakes, It turns out that
and the old fear of going these front shocks
over the handlebars raises are even worse than
it's head again. I thought.
This mountain bike seems to Even with them
have a little trouble stopping cranked down as
short, compared to my old stiff as I can
hybrid. Wonder why, eh? get them, I have
My current guess: seat "clicking through".
post shocks are good;
front fork shocks are The front-end
stupid. likes to kneel
and throw me off
the bike: I've
wiped out twice
like this now.
though, it seems
to have something
to do with
turning at the
(And it can happen
at almost any
speed, even going
at a walking pace.)
Now that I'm
conscious of it,
I seem to be
able to avoid it...
We're still at a stage where
it requires too much skill to
ride a bike safely.
(I haven't even mentioned
doing the "bunny hop" to
evade road hazards...)
And just to end on a "positive"
note, here's a problem that's
essentially been fixed now that
ergonomic seats are standard (or
close to it):
The claim that cycling can cause male
impotence is old news at this point,
though I don't know of any definitive
evidence one way or the other; but
the new bike seat designs that have
come out really are more comfortable, I switched to using a
and it makes sense to switch to one Terry Liberator
if you haven't already. in the early 2000s.
But for years, before the This is an early
"ergo seats" came out, the "ergo" seat design,
standard seat designs were (in fact, in my so the gap in
*clearly* really stupid. opinion, the the middle is big and
standard design obvious (which is
It was not unusual for me of bicycles okay) and it rides
to arrive somewhere feeling overall is a little hard, which
like someone tried to kick pretty stupid). is less okay.
me in the balls and only
just missed... Later products have
more shock absorption.
I was riding a fairly typical
hybrid, without any fancy rock
shocks, and I even took to
wearing padded shorts a lot,
though that's always seemed
like a really backwards (Everyone's seen the
solution to me. Dilbert take on the
In those days, I "Great Solutions in
met a number of Engineering History")
women who seemed
to think that bike Sport riders
seats were love having
designed to to change
accommodate men into special
only... in fact gear. Transpo
they didn't seem riders hate it.
to be designed for
Thankfully -- as of 2007 -- I see that
new bike models now come with "ergo"
seats as standard.
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