From over at the Cycling Art blog is a post on Steve Bauer‘s unusual bike, built specially for the 1993 Paris-Roubaix. That famous spring classic, routed over Napoleon-era cobbled roads, inspired quite a few odd bikes in the early nineties.
Bianchi built a full suspension road bike – yes, you read that correctly – for Johan Museeuw in 1994. The development team for this bizarre-o-cycle credit Greg Lemond with first using a suspension fork for Paris-Roubaix (on a bike with a small rear shock, too), though this trend got much less traction than that other one that he started.
Though the wild technological experimentation of the 1990s has passed, tinkering with boilerplate bike setups for Roubaix hasn’t. As recently as 2006, George Hincapie, riding for Postal, used a Trek with an elastomer shock in the rear wishbone seatstay; and cyclocross-inspired rigs have been an option for many riders when Roubaix’s feared-and-famed ill spring weather threatens to add another sloppy variable to the race.
But, in a classic case of “it’s not about the bike,” winners tend to ride fairly ordinary set-ups. The classic saying is that winning at Roubaix isn’t about having good luck – it’s about having no bad luck whatsoever. Flat tires at inopportune moments and broken everythings – from steerer tubes to collarbones and everything in between – seem to sink contenders’ chances more so than having the wrong bike.
In the past several years, amid the fixed gear boom, companies have rushed to market consumer or budget-end fixed gear bicycles, occasionally completely confusing themselves about whom they think will ride them – track races? Stylish types? Commuters? People who like to purchase uniqueness in the form of pre-customized bikes?
Snideness aside, I think that a lot of bike companies are scrambling to meet new demands, but frequently wind up trying to put too much into one bike. What all too often starts out as a basic road fixed gear turns into a mish-mash when a company hopes that it will look both classic and modern, be simple, sleek and be utilitarian, be customizable and already match its bar tape to its rims. A lot of these bells and whistles conflict with each other – track drops, brake levers, brake callipers, annodized and unmachined rims – and the resulting bikes are a mess.
With the hopes that this post avoids Bike Snob mimicry, here’s my take on some of the winners and losers from Interbike, with thanks to Hipster Nascar for having attended Interbike and taken and posted so many photos.
Fuji: a smart lineup of bikes; maybe a few models on the budget end are stepping on each others toes, but for the most part they are distributed nicely along price and performance points.
Rock Racing, which for some reason is making bikes – or at least, has made a few bikes.
Do name your performance track bike after the local track – a nice nod to the local roots.
Don’t equip all-purpose fixies with seatmasts.
Don’t take a storied name in Cycling and do… this.
Velocity, HPlusSon, EighthInch, and other companies: don’t continue the “deepest V” competition.
Don’t do what Bianchi did: call a bike “classic” despite being outfitted with a threadless stem and a straight-blade fork; and then put aerospokes on the competition-worthy Super Pista.
In the part of the cycling world that’s perpetuated on the internet – message boards and such – there’s a lot of hipster-bashing, centered around ubiquitous photos of very stylish bikes featuring some very nonsensical tradeoffs in build/component choices. A surprising amount of Bike Snob‘s blog is about these bikes, so I assume you can forgive me for not going into detail. However, for all the talk of hipsters who don’t understand how their bicycles work I see road bikers making plenty of silly decisions that seem to stem from an ignorance about the way that bikes work.
One of my pet peeves is misunderstandings about front end geometry: head tube angle and fork rake. Maybe it’s because in the fixed gear scene there’s a lot of neophyte fretting about “true track geometry” and an infectuous perpetuation of the terms “tight” and “twitchy” without real meaning or understanding behind them. Meanwhile I’ve heard plenty of road folks who greatly misunderstand the differences between front end design of time trial bikes and road bikes. While I don’t claim to be an expert I do think it’s important to share good information when it’s widely available. And so, some of my favorite resources:
Best introduction I’ve found is the An Introduction to Bicycle Geometry and Handling, by CHVNK. Dave Moulton‘s piece is also very well-explained. In particular he narrates the changes made to frame design (with regards to front end design: head tube angle, rake, and trail) in the 50s, from the long-wheelbase bikes of the 1940s and before to the more contemporary-looking bikes with tighter geometry that became the status quo in the 60s. From Urban Velo is a piece by Don Walker: The Truth About Track Geometry, which features a good bit on trail and a bike’s handling. And, if you want to run the calculations for your own bike, you can do so with this Excel spreadsheet from Anvil Bikeworks.
The boildown is that head tube angle and fork rake work against each other in order to reach an equilibrium, a sweet spot of trail measurement (60mm, according to Don Walker). Overcompensating one because of a lack of the other is counterproductive: putting a road fork on a track bike with a steep headtube angle will make the handling less stable – the higher-rake fork reduces the trail measurement. A “road” fork doesn’t make a bike’s handling more stable – it will make it less self-correcting. Putting a low-rake fork in order to tighten up the front end of a bike with a slack head tube, rather than bringing a bike’s handling closer to neutral, will push it toward very-high-rake, sluggish handling. Which is fine, if you want a road bike that handles like a cruiser. I learned this first hand, picking up a carbon fork for my every-day bike with a 72deg headtube. The fork turned out to have 28mm of rake: too low to neutralize the handling – it was sluggish.
Don’t make the mistake of making uninformed decisions about this stuff. You don’t have to know everything about how your bike works in order to ride it, but if you’re going to change things and make product decisions, be discerning about what information you file away as reliable in your head. Not everybody posting on Bikeforums, nor every shop employee, gets everything right all the time.
For me, soaking up information about this stuff is part of what makes cycling beautiful. When I lean my bike into a corner, I know that there’s a very elegant design that’s practically making the bike handle itself. Furthermore, knowing how and why your bike works the way it does just might make you a better rider when the going gets rough…
My brain has a tendency to store somewhat useless data. As a child I would sit down and read the Encyclopedia when bored; memorize Hardy Boys novels; accidentally imprint long monologues from Brian Jacques novels into my brain (usually sections dealing with feasts and food). It makes being a bike dork fun, because somehow, a bunch of information that I find interesting just gets stored away, and when I lest expect it, my homunculus will rummage through those cerebral filing cabinets and pull out some esoteric factoid (much to the delight, no doubt, of my conversational companions).
So, when it comes to bikes, I really like seeing new things that I just plain-old haven’t been exposed to yet. Last week it was Cantiflex Tubing, used by Bates in the 1930s as a way to make oversized tubing work with conventional lugs. It’s a curious little corner of frame construction.
Even more so comes from this Casati pursuit frame currently on eBay, with the photo above. The 1980s and 1990s saw revelations about the importance of aerodynamics in cycling (see, for example, 1989’s Lemond v. Fignon, and some more details here) – time trial bikes got lower front ends, Greg Lemond introduced aero bars to much controversy, and disc wheels – brought to the sport by Moser’s hour attempt gained more widespread use. I always enjoyed this video of a 1987 Tour de France team time trial – you can see different aerodynamic developments being employed by different teams.
But I’ve never seen a bike with such design as that Casati. It seems to me to be a flawed frame design, , sacrificing front end stiffness (admittedly not of paramount importance in a pursuit) for – well, I’m not exactly sure what for.
Conversations about experimental frame design almost inevitably turn toward somebody saying, “There’s a reason that the double-triangle frame design has been used regularly for a hundred and fifty years.” It’s true – it’s a good design. But there’s something about all the experiments, the attempts to create something new and revolutionary, that makes the standard classic racing bicycle even more beautiful. I suppose that’s part of why I love the stories behind the Hour Record – it’s got experimentation, that unusual combination of engineering and athleticism, and the story ultimately forks, reigning in one element in order to let the other blossom.