Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Cycling Problem

Yes, it's been a while.  New job.  New state.  New everything.  I'll be easing back into blogging.


A few days before I left Minnesota, a dear member of my family was severely injured.  You may remember Roy from a previous race report.  He was the undisputed star of the race.  But sadly, my trusty bicycle quickly became unrideable.

Diagnosis: broken rear axle and broken spoke.  Remedy: new wheel.

Roy has served me well over the years, but the cost of fixing him is likely greater than his value.  So he has sat in my folks' garage since I moved to Michigan while I've tried to figure out what to do.

Since Roy can't read, I'll admit this here: I'd like a new bicycle.  Even though I rode Roy every day to my first job.  Even though he loved his first car ride when I took him to Valpo.  And even though the best times of his life were spent riding up and down the Mississippi River in St. Paul, it's time for me to move on.  But I can't.

I'm hesitating not because of some unreasonable emotional attachment to a 14 year old bicycle, but rather because there's nothing out there I'd actually like to buy.  Consider my needs and wants for a new bicycle.

  • It should be meant for on-road use.  The only time I go off-road is when I have an uncontrollable veer.
  • It should be light.  (Roy's a bit overweight.)
  • It should have low rolling resistance tires.  (Roy has those, but that's only because his tires are worn down to the flat.)
  • It's gearing should be capable of handling rolling hills.
So I went shopping.  I looked at a few bikes in Minnesota before I left, and recently I went to a great local bike shop in Michigan (Fraser Bicycle if you're curious).  I looked at some road bikes and discovered that while they are meant for on-road use, light, have smooth tires, and can handle moderate hills, they're also practically unrideable because it seems as though the gear shifters were designed by some engineering school dropout who had the sway to infect every single road bike.  Let me explain by comparing 3 systems.

Roy's Grip Shift System
  • On the left handlebar is a rotating collar for the front gears.  Twist it to the gear you want.
  • On the right handlebar is a rotating collar for the back gears.  Twist it to the gear you want.
Whack-job Shifting System #1 (Sram)
  • Behind the left brake lever (?!) is a flappy paddle for the front gears.  To shift to an easier gear, push the paddle halfway, being careful not to push it more than halfway since you'll go to a harder gear.  To shift to a harder gear, push the paddle all the way, and nothing will happen.  Push it all the way again, then it will shift.
  • Behind the right brake lever is a flappy paddle for the rear gears.  To shift to an easier gear push the paddle all the way, being careful not to push it halfway since you'll go to a harder gear.  To shift to a harder gear, push the paddle halfway, but not all the way, then it will shift.
  • The ways you push the paddles may be different because there's no intuitive way to remember how to shift.  So you may need to reverse my directions all the way, being careful not to reverse them halfway or you'll end up in Paducah.
Whack-job Shifting System #2 (Shimano)
  • Push the left brake lever inward to go to an easier gear (or harder, I can't quite remember).  Push a flimsy switch on top of the brake lever to go to a harder gear.
  • The right side behaves exactly the same.
  • Just kidding.
  • It's exactly the opposite, which is why it's so stupid.
  • Here's how you shift on the right side: push the brake lever to go to a harder gear.  Push the flimsy switch to go to an easier gear.
  • Remember, nothing will happen on the first press of either the brake lever or the flimsy switch.  You must push them at least twice to make anything happen.
One would think that bike would have advanced since 1998.  But they've regressed.  It's like the 1885 Benz Patent Motorwagen which required the operator to have 3 arms and 1 leg.  We've advanced past that age with cars, but not bicycles.

Imagine this situation...  You are riding on a nice parkway.  You reach top gear and the light in front of you turns red.  With a grip shift, you twist the shifter to gear 1, then apply the brakes for a calm and controlled stop.  With the flappy paddles, you first have to hit the right paddle 14 times (assuming you have 7 gears in the back), then apply the brakes hard because you've spend the past 3 minutes hitting a stupid paddle shifter.

After this adventure, I've made my decision.  I'm going to drop Roy off at the bike shop tomorrow and have them put on a new wheel that is likely twice the value of the entire bike.  Then I'll probably have to put all new shifting and brake cables on him.  When done, I'll have put 3 times the value of the bike into the bike just so he's functional again.  All this because bicycle companies can't design a functional shifter.

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