Commentary on the state of bicycle design, marketing, and quality:


1. Introduction:

First, my qualifications (and trauma) that led me to think this way: I got more interested in biking about 1982 after a lifetime (to then) of riding, jumping, breaking, borrowing, inheriting, stealing, fixing, and wearing out bikes.

After noting a friend's older brother's 1960s fairly heavy French 'Cycles Victor Manufrance' bike and hanging out at the local misfit bike shop (Lee Peters' 'Bicycle Circus', Ludington) I got ideas. Starting from my worn down $99 huffy I decided that I needed 27" wheels not the 26" on my huffy, since at that time and place to our kind of people that meant a good bike. So I pulled out of one of the local piles another junky frame that took 27" wheels and a set of mismatched 27" wheels from the same source (The Rohr brothers; Sean, Craig, & Jay had literally huge piles of junk bicyle parts in their dungeon-like basement, so many things of low quality were available, nowadays one could make hundreds on the ebay selling some of it). Over the next year or so, with money from some summer work, etc. I gradually switched parts, frames, etc. and even had Lee build me a set of good wheels (Rigida 1320 rims; they were the cheapest good mail-order ones, and Suntour Vx hubs - a good set of wheels by any measure even now). I'd also acquired from Lee Peters an English handmade (albeit in a factory) 1960s Dawes (pre-) Galaxy frame for $35.

So eventually I had, in spring 1983, a great bike, with a bunch of great parts - mostly Suntour, complete with various accessories like racks, fenders, etc. It was a miracle for a poor kid like me to have such a nice-riding, elegant bike and I loved it. I even took it on a 1300 mile organized tour from Port Clyde Maine back to Ludington that was run every year by a local 'new christian' (= hippy) group. My mom had signed me up at a subsidized rate to try and steer me away from my juvenile delinquency!

Unfortunately, I lost that bike (nearly my life too!) when a car crashed into me after a Neil Young concert later that year in autumn 1983 (I'd pedaled to it 60 miles one way to after school, and was about to pedal home the next 60 before school the next morning: I had by then fully gotten the biking bug!).

Somehow back then my mom's house insurance covered that bike, and I got the first model Cannondale as replacement. Different from the Dawes frame, but still quite good and what I thought at the time (and still do) was a great 'modern' bike. That bike was the first mass produced, welded and heat-treated aluminum-frame bike, and seemed quite revolutionary at the time (compared to the $2500 Kleins of similar construction that were available then which Cannondale was successfully sued for copying a few years later). And it still is, in my opinion, a great bike. It has mostly Suntour, Sugino, Dia-Compe, and SR components, French Super Champion mod. 58 rims... nice, beautiful, well-made, functional stuff. Well here's a little about it.

I did a number of short tours on the cannondale, numerous centuries, all sorts of day trips out in the country and commuting of course (less when I had a car, more the many years I didn't), grocery shopping (frequently loading the nashbar folding baskets and rack down with self-challenged massive loads of cases of beer, big glass jars of pickles, etc.), through the woods (even carried it through a few dense cedar swamps in the Keweenaw - many years before the fancy trails were constructed for the cushy 'mountain bike' enthusiasts! that now go there as Mecca), and when the trails disappeared I carried it through the woods until I'd find another, which I always did or at least backtracked, sometimes after a couple hours!. The bike was a good tourer too, and I loaded it down for a nice big camping tour around Lake Superior in 1990.

For all those almost 20 years I'd been just replacing the occasional odd part that needed it, changing minimal things, etc. since everything worked and looked good, and I rode it a lot. Nothing needed changing.


2. History and its end:

That 83 Cannondale remained the only bike in my 'stable' until spring 2005, (which is when I got 'inspired' to initially start this commentary) when I bought a splendid 1983 Colnago and a much newer ca. 1999 Giant 880 - one to have a bike in Alaska (the Cannondale 300+ miles away in storage in Georgia) and one because it was what I dreamed I'd never dare dream to have (I'll not say which was which). In any event, it was a good comparison of the early 80s and late 90s but nowhere near the absurdity being realized in the 21st century.

In the later 80s I was aware of some changes in the bike industry - I began to notice it in the mid '80s, at the time thinking it was great; now one could buy a pretty usable, sturdy, well-designed Japanese bike for a hell of a lot less than the previous options (European - more expensive and the ones sold here tended toward racers or quasi-racers; Schwinn - heavy or expensive and little middle between kids bikes and top of the line racer). And I admit it - at the time I found nothing off-puttingly offensive (or at least was too dumb to realize) about the increasing use of colors like florescents, 'teal', black anodizing, ugly 'fades', weird zigzag lines and 'splatter' colors (shudder)...

But stuff was still mostly sensible into the mid even late-80s: well-designed, inoffensive hardware made to serve and last manufactured by workers in 1st World conditions (not southeast Asian maquiladoras, not by robots!) for fair wages. Mind you, there were some real turds for sale back then too - weird impractical seats, complicated and heavy gear-changing ideas, bizarre turn-signal devices, etc., but they never lasted long because there were alternatives and people used their minds when buying things rather than the Commands of The Industry.

But things had changed more than I realized when I wasn't looking. In part the bikes I was so lovingly about now (my aluminum Cannondale, and - the beginnings of the mountain bike craze that changed everything - my early 1980s mountain bikes) were the avant garde of the future that I now mostly despise. In those later grim years of the 1990s, when 'lifestyle marketing' and the rise of containerized freight and low energy prices conspired with the 'investment' mentality of corporations to push racing-lookalike bikes or Ned Overrend lookalike bikes made to sell to the the 'wanabee' passive consumer culture designed to become 'outdated' and be replaced by the next fad/color/'style' of bike made in mass cheap labor plants in China and Taiwan - a money mint, in other words, with little respect for the beauty and dignity of the bicycle and its heritage.

Bring us now to 2005 2012 2016, when many bicycle parts are made as cheaply as possible with failure an integral part of their design, or made to scratch up and look ugly soon, or work only with other expensive proprietary components from the same manufacturer, or are ridiculously over-styled; ugly coloured; and over-materialed (to achieve the 'custom extra-rugged SUV' or 'over-the-top gonzo dirt racer dude' or 'lance many-balls' looks so important to today's consumers), and have large and gaudy logos all over the place achieving an appearance more akin to to Las Vegas ca$ino than transport, and most of all, made to be thrown away as soon as possible in favor of The New Model. (Or even never ridden, just purchased as a 'lifestyle declaration' to be displayed with sickers and pods on SUVs - it has been my theory for some time that there are now more automobile bicycle racks on cars than there are bicycles that are actually ridden!)

As usual, subtlety, good taste, and restraint are useless in marketing and pop consumerism. But in the creepy world of the future, with everybody apparently addicted to having flocks of little logos and logotypes everywhere, I guess that's what 'the people' want.


3. Media:

Have a look at some old 'bicycling' magazines. Those from the early '80s will have ads for all sorts of great European handmade frames, various gadgetry good and bad (mirrors, newfangled seats, aerodynamic fairings, large and energy-hogging 'computers', handmade leather shoes), mail-order houses - and of course lots of good-looking bikes - as well as cool articles: how to go velotouring cheap by making and buying at junk shops your requited equipment, for instance. Of course there were articles about new bikes, races, tours, etc. too, but it was much more information and pleasure reading about bicycling that the straight from the corporate statement praiseful 'you gotta get it' 'gear' pu$hing that is the norm now.

Bicycling Magazine was published by Rodale Press, one of the best publishers for stuff on organic farming, gardening, low-energy living, hippy home stuff, etc. Now (2005, and its only gotten worse since then), just to face the unhappy present, I looked at a current issue. in that issue, the first page I opened had, of course, an suv ad: of course the message is that the 'rugged outdoor lifestyle' requires an suv to drive over mother nature before conquering her in finality on short, fast runs with the rugged bicycle version of same.

Dang. I remember when there were no car ads in bicycling - the idea was antithetical to the philosophy of the magazine and would have made the readers suspicious (as it should now). I remember the first car ad, about 1984, for a little honda I think, caused more than a few angry letters. In vendo veritas, which is my pun on 'in vino veritas', but instead of wine, the truth is in advertising. The next ad seen was for some sort of drug to treat some sort of illness invented by some pharmaceutical firm to sell the product. next ad: viagra. other ads for suvs, various sorts of 'enhance your weak machismo' ads (pills, get rich quick schemes, exercise machines, fake degrees...).

And as for 'articles', it's the same drool as every other 'lifestyle' magazine (whether for backpacking, fishing, motoring, travelling...): 'reviews' of the latest, updated, upgraded, improved, bigger, badder, better, flashier latest products. in other words, advertising (thinly) disguised as journalism, just as we've been trained on tv for entertainment disguised (thinly) as news. so, anyway, the way that bicycle information is disseminated to bicycle enthusiasts is essentially different, or at least the way that industry and advertisers communicate with bikers. now to the bikes themselves.

I was reading a great old late 1970s British bicycle book last night, and one of its points in discussing the beauty of the bicycle as perfect machine is that it is essentially naked - all parts of the structures and mechanics are dictated by function alone, and there is very little in the way of ornamentation - maybe some fancy cut lugs, engraved chainwheels, the attractive casting surfaces like on old Campagnolo derailleurs, some 'pantographing', etc., but the main point was that the bicycle was as close to perfection as possible, and that little could be improved without calling it a different machine.


4. marketing psychology - the greatest force of evil in the history of mankind:

Now enter late 20th century 'lifestyle marketing', which presnts a fantasy of how people would like to see themselves (or better yet how others would see them), which uses as its technique the good old fashioned presentation of a perceived personal deficit (usually inadequacy or nonacceptance compared to others), a suggested remedy (usually to be accepted or seen as 'correct' or liked by others in the perceived 'in' group), and an offered solution (the product of course), often cast in a nostalgic setting designed to introduce shame (for having become so corrupted from youthful ideals).

But how to find a 'remedy' when the 'problem' is already 'solved'? OK, you want to be healthy, to get around in style, to stop using 99% of the energy to transport the transportation engine? Just ride a bike! They were invented 150 years ago, refined to near-present state a hundred, and perfected by 1950! How can you convince people to buy your offering?

Well the same way as other industries: make the consumers think that you've improved the product (via some 'science', 'discovery', or 'engineering' and thus obscure and indecopherable to the consumer, just believe us), and that the old is inadequate (like mouldy bread, DDT, or the USSR). Blame the lingering ghost of modernism, maybe - and I like modernmism in art and architecture and writing - but after all, isn't everything constantly better in our world thanks to the Greatness of Mankind's Knowledge and Sagacity (like John Galt said?)? Have we not solved the inadequecies of old times (well, at least from the first worders' perspective)?

No. In truth, of course, the majority of the 'improvements' are related to momentary fads of 'differentness', proprietary compatability, designed-in timed failure points, annual changes in colo(u)r, shape, logo, and name (or, more currently, a komputer-like number, as in 'version 3.0'). In actuality, of course, like a rake, a pail, or a wagon (to use farmyard comparisons I suppose), there seem to be very few actual improvements that can be made.

I remember for a while about a dozen years back (now 25 years back from 2016!) solid plastic (or some other 'new' material) wheels were in vogue - newer, flashier, more 'modern', a bigger surface for a gaudy logo, and of course more expensive! But where are all those $500 rear wheels now? nobody wants them - they represent no useful innovation, no craftsmanship, and of course are ugly as sin, besides subjecting any outside user to dangerous crosswinds! a few years later, titanium was all the fad - titanium this, titanium that - sheesh. now (2005) it's carbon fiber - so much so that not only things that have absolutely no benefit whatsoever by being made from this material are made from it, there is even a desire for the 'carbon fiber look' on things like paint jobs, stickers, clothing, shoes, water bottles... of course carbon and titanium do have one main advantage for marketers - they're expensive!

I specifically exclude from all this comparison actual racing bikes, since they are likely based on some real advantage (or perhaps now availability) that makes them practical for the purpose (winning races and money, advertising, attracting money-spending crowds to the event). Recall though that even competetive racing is not immune to apalling failures of ligic in this respect - witness of course the drillium craze of the 70s (oddly now a nostalgic fondness is re-emerging for those weakened & birdshot parts) or even the 'aero' craze of the early 80s (which while having negligible difference on a bike's speed, nonetrheless introduced a smoother casting style of componentry that may have actually had some structural and aesthetic benefit).

I'll reiterate though that current racing bikes are much uglier and less elegant than 20 or 30 years ago - and that a non-racer would be better served by the older designs while suffering no difference of 'performance'. All that may justify $10,000 fibre frames and whatever gaudy logo-ed crap for a guy who wants to go as fast as possible for a few races a summer or a team that burns through a few hundred bikes a year, since it's all part of what is essentially an advertising budget. But as others have said, that's not a justification for driving an F1 car to the supermarket or flying on a MiG to Cincinnati, or riding a racing bike (or even imitation) to the grocery store or bar or picnic or work.


5. The 'why in the hail can't you get this anymore' department:

As mass-marketing continues to chisel away at the variety of decent bicycle parts that are available, a number of very useful parts are now just impossible to get unless you find an old item somewhere. To wit:

5a. stainless chainstay protectors. 20 years ago you could get a nice stainless steel chainstay protector to keep your stay from getting all chipped up and make it easy to clean the chain grease off. Unfortunately no nobody makes or sells such an item. You can get ugly fake 'carbon fiber' picture-stickers or, less obnoxious but no more functional, colored plastic stickers; even pieces of leather with not so great adhesive. But no stainless steel, or any other metal (cripe, I'd even settle for freaking titanium or xyranthuim-oxide-megalloy here if it were offered). Weird. You see these still on almost all older, pre-1985) bikes, meaning the technology used to exist... And for Pete's sake, it's just a thin curved piece of metal with some adhesive, so it's not like you'd have to tool up a new factory or anything to make these. But you'll not see it on newer bikes. So their chainstays get all uglified (maybe that's part of the goal, to get consumers to think their bikes are looking 'used up', and thus a newer one is desired.) These are even mostly impossible to find on ebay or the like - there was a guy selling a few back in ~2006, so I bought 4 or 5, and haven't seen any since. So you see people trying to make do as possible, with some quickly scratched up and ugly plastic sticker, some cloth handlebar tape, likewise rapidly turned black from chain slap, or nothing but chipped paint.

Yahoo, looks like somebody's finally making them again!
(un-yahoo, that didn't last, and I should've bought a stockpile for the bunker - however I do like using the strike tag when I can!)

5b. QR brake cable hangers for centerpull, cantilever, and similar brakes. Another extremely practical item that you can't find anymore. What's worse, as I found building my LHT, is that nobody's ever even made them for 1.125" steering tubes. And the sorry trend for bikes to have non-integral seat post clamps likewise makes the old ones mostly unusable on these clamps. Or the 'braze on' or similar integral rear hanger that makes it impossible to use one if you could find one... The asinine response I've heard from some bike shop types when I've mentioned the conundrum of the extinction of QR hangers goes something like this: "Oh, you just disconnect the straddle cable from the arm or from the cable carrier". Which hasn't worked on most brakes I know of that are adjusted properly without loosening the cable with a wrench first. So, for instance, on my LHT (both with Paul brakes and later with the Suntour XC Pros I replaced them with) to get the wheel off without deflating the tires I have to loosen the cable from the carrier with a wrench, then re-adjust and tighten when I put it back on - or completely deflate the tire and re-inflate when finished. What a pain in the ass! That's why they had the QR hangers in the first place - to open the calipers up more to remove the wheel with tire! Yet nobody makes these anymore even though they were standard for decades. They used to show up occasionally on eb now and then, often going for high prices; sometimes I was the buyer. Fortunately a seller recently has come upon a very large stash of old stock f/r sets, upon which I have stocked up... Those pictures you see here (press for bigger views, see in use on the Trek 830 page). Here I was on same topic in a bikelist thread.

Another approach is to have a QR mechanism integral to the brake levers, as on my 1983 Univega Gran Turismo's Dia Compe levers, which have little pull-aside tabs that allow them to open extra-wide when needed. This works well too, there are some photos on my 1983 Gran Turismo page.

5c. An 'Avocet touring'-style seat. This is what used to be called the 'anatomical saddle', made of a molded plastic frame with some dense foam padding and then a thin leather covering. Its selling point back when they came out in the late '70s was that they didn't have to be broken in like a leather shell Brooks and also were less fragile if left out in the rain and ridden wet. If one wants to put a new seat on a bike these days, there's little choice. Either spend $100+ for a Brooks; less for an uncomfortable, hard, tiny, and ugly modern seat with little or no padding (since the marketeers assume everyone wants to imitate racers); or try to find a second-hand seat on eb or the like, which are themselves getting closer to the $100 mark every time I look. So it's obvious that people want such a seat; 20 years ago you had several choices and they were standard on most all quality 'riding' bikes (as opposed to racing bikes, on which comfort is unimportant), yet nobody's made one in years. So Brooks is making out well in this vacuum, of course, for anybody that wants a decent seat without having to troll the web for months and bid high to find one.

5d. Some understated leather and cloth touring shoes. This is one of the hardest items to come by these days. Most bicycling shoes these days suffer from the worst possible combination of qualities from modern popular 'athletic' shoes including plastic and other synthetic materials, bulkiness, massive logos, and gaudy colors like pink; lime green; and fluorescent yellow from the late '80s. Plus Chinese made of course. Take us back a coupla decades, oh great crystal ball, and tell us what you see: in the mid-eighties I remember buying, for $20-30, several pairs of Italian-made leather cycling shoes by Duegi, Diaddora, and even some Italian-made Bike Nashbar ones. All were minimal, sturdy, functional, and durable. They had solid soles and were well-ventilated. Their logos were tiny. In 2006 I went so far in my search to buy from a UK dealer a pair of French-made Carnac touring shoes; these were the only touring shoes at the time, and not even sold in the US. They are no longer made and judging by the offerings I've seen from them now I assume they've sourced to China like everyone else. There is now one brand of halfway ok touring shoes I have heard of, apparently (though one would hope to be able remove the large logo from their sides), they are made in China. There are two small manufacturers of English shoes as well - Reynolds and Ruff-lander, but I have yet to try them as I have to order from the UK (I will, eventually and It ought to be soon while I still can). There used to be many, in France, in England, in Italy, Bata in Canada... Here, this guy goes on a little more than me.

5e. An understated helmet. When I wear a helmet (which isn't every time I'm near a bike, as current PC now dictates be 'shown' in every photograph - there are about a million links in that little statement), I wear an old mid-1980s Bell model that's still sturdy, as I have no desire to put one of those ridiculous things on my head made nowadays... The might look like they were designed in a 1000 MPH wind tunnel, but why? I guess that with something as functional as a helmet it's pretty hard to make each year's model look more 'modern' when the shape of the old-fashioned human head stubbornly refuses to modernize... Hence they add crazy stripes and slashes, front- and rear-ward extensions, and loud colors under the ridiculous notion that to make people always wear their helmets they must be made to be fashionable. But they're just ugly! I guess I ought to be thankful that that sort of violently jarring color combinations as 'fashion' has mostly been relegated for the last 25 years to 'sports' shoes, bicycle helmets, and hair salon advertisements.

5f. A Headset shield. When I was building up my 2005 touring bike I figured I'd also get one of these - a simple disc-shapes piece of aluminum that extended about out 7-8mm to protect stuff flying up under the bottom race of a headset to keep dirt, water, dust, etc. from getting into the lower race. They used to sell these for a dollar. Useful with or without fenders, but now I cannot find any source or make.

5g. Silver stuff. I remember in the early '80s when some of the fancier stuff used to have part of their materials with (usually as an option for more money) black anodized parts. I freely admit that I even once paid more for a black cage on pedals for some reason. But nowadays marketeers assure that most everything on a bike is black (or other color) anodized (or worse, painted, powdercoated, or other covering) since those parts get scratched up and look like shit faster - thus requiring replacement at high profit to the manufacturers, distributors, and bike shops. But look at a modern bike - it's a aesthetic disaster. Nothing understated, everything with logos (including numerous times on every surface of the frame) and, of course, all sorts of shades and colors (except silver) of parts. Compare that to a bike of 25 years ago, with a frame of one color (before the 'fade' craze of the mid '80s!) and all components of silver; sometimes a seat or brake cable housings in a color complimentary to the frame. If those parts got scratched, as they should in good fun use, you really didn't notice it, since the scratch, like the component, was silver.

5h. The Rhode Gear Flickstand was a great idea, though since I like fenders on my bikes these days, I couldn't really use one now.

5i (I need to restructure this list!). An Avocet-style odometer/cyclometer. There's this eerie ghost page still up that shows their models (and manuals), another testament to their sensibility: all these years, decades later you can still get the information and manuals though you haven't been able to buy one since maybe the '90s.

I remember when I was just awe-ing at the bike magazines in the early 80s, all the groovy pretty stuff I'd never be able to afford. One of the few things back then I found ugly and ridiculous were most of the pre- ca. 1985 cyclometers, or whatever they called them then and now. Huge, the size of 'a pack of cigarettes' to 'a can of beer' sized ungainly things, often obviously fit inside a case that was designed for another use, with gigantic wheel-mounts, and confusing series of buttons to press for banal information (sort of reminds me of some car 'computers' of the era as well, like the ridiculous ones they put in BMWs in north america - why!?).

But early on - maybe 1982? - Avocet, which at the time was sort of a mini-specialized or Suntour, selling out-sourced designs or re-branded good designs of others or in the case of our odometer, their own design of a totally new product - introduced this tiny li'l critter that did all that the clunky behemoths did (or you'd want them to do) at about a 20th of the size! They went through several models, all the same small size, but each doing a little more over the next few years or decade that Avocet existed. I recall the Italian firm Vetta made a close copy, but other than that (and doubtless a few rebranded Vettas in Europe with the Chicken [not this one] or maybe Freewheel name on them), nobody seemed to notice that everything else was ugly and clunky! And what's werider, in the ensuing 30 years, nobody ever has! At least with the capital to make anything like a cyclocomputer.

So nowadays we're stuck with things that - while not as big and arguably as ugly as Avocet's 1982 competition - is still a far cry from elegance. They're squarish, or super-complicated, or too big, or have buttons in inconvenient locations, or try to have too much fanciness, or are have jarring color schemes and logos, or have fragile buttons you have to press just-so (or even the correct side or pressure or time because it's several buttons 'in one') or hard to read - and usually all of the above. (do an image search: 'cyclometer' to see immediately all of these illustrated, with a few Avocets probably mixed in here and there as if quietly saying 'excuse me, but -' before being loudmouthed-over by some florescent blue and gray gigadisplay with its own i-phone link)

Here's why I think they were great: They were small - maybe smaller than anything available nowadays - and a smooth, rounded shape in a form just the right size for the buttons and the display (and a smallish avocet name above that you could rub off if you wanted). They had two sensible, fingertip-sized round buttons on top that you pushed down on, instead of some front/back buttons that turn it on the handlebar or push it right off the mount. The display was a simple, no-nonsense lcd - with the numbers of interest only (and no periodic cartoon advertisement like my p.o.s. ~2005 sigma). They were sturdy, easy to attach and un-attach, unobtrusive, and did their job quietly and effectively. They were even made, for some years, in the US! Like Bic lighters, they were essentially perfect industrial design.

They even came in various colors after about 1983. (see here for a bit about that 30+ years later on the website of the California company that made the cases!) (and more parentheses - the weirdest colors were the ones you'd usually see cheaper/on sale so I wound up with an ugly red one as my only artifact of this legacy instead of black).

Maybe Avocet or some holding company who owns their patents now threaten to come down like a pile of bricks on any design that comes close (like a Bic lighter or a wheel, any other design is lousy by definition and anything that comes close will be very close out of the laws of physics or design or whatever), and so the world is forced to suffer ugly, cantankerous, function-poor design for eternity or until some sucker pays whatever 'investments group' the €300m or whatever they want.


6. The 'what the hail happund' department:

6a. 1" threaded headsets with quill stems!
For decades the standard was a 1" threaded steering tube in a 1 1/8" head tube with a threaded headset. Sometime between when I got my Cannondale and when I was building up my touring bike in 2005, the industry changed to the (awful, or I wouldn't mention it here of course) unthreaded 1 1/8" steering tube in a 1 1/4" head tube.
I can't see any advantages to this (other than marketing advantages of the "SUV" look/cheaper costs/reduced resale ability because of no adjustability in stem height/increased size and thus logo area, and manufacturing convenience). I can see a lot of disadvantages:
1) it's ugly,
2) it's a pain in the ass to adjust
3) and it really isn't adjustable in height more than a few mm -- and the stem height isn't adjustable once you've sawed the steering tube 'to fit' unless, like me, you leave height, which you then have to fill with oversized 'spacers' to keep the thing in place and then you can - with much difficulty - adjust the height by removing the whole thing and shuffling the 'spacers' around.
Cripe!! Compare this to the graceful, lighter (as if that mattered) beautiful, and infinitely adjustable quill stem.
Strength is not an issue - I've never seen, let alone heard of a broken stem (I'm sure theoretically in marketing hype it's a constant danger, and maybe you could even find a picture on the web, but it's not the real reason for this change). This is probably by biggest shock in what has happened to bicycle 'design' in my lifetime. This is what I'd call something you might have expected from late 1970s American auto manufacturers or a soviet factory of bulldozer parts tasked with making a stem for the next 5-year plan!
Here's a nice bit of reasoning, with pictures.


7. The 'whatever happened to the idea of...' department:

7a. Whatever happened to the joy of quiet biking?? There's too much emphasis on the loud, honking gaggle of groups now: groupthink, group rides, group competition, etc., at leas in the velo-media and marketing. Old days there was a lot more emphasis on touring by yourself, riding by yourself, etc.Bikecentennial is an example - started out as an initiative to get people to bike tour across the US in the bicentennial year, and after that continued to promote touring by making maps, etc. But since then they've moved further from that ideal and become pretty much a dealer of all-inclusive group tours (at high cost for the well-heeled) for those afraid to undertake their own travel. I'm not sure, but if I were to guess, I'd guess that the salaries of their top rulers are, like nearly all 'non-profits', much higher than anything I'd ever dream of.

One of the great things about biking by yourself is you can think! That is, unless the traffic's too loud (which means you need to bike elsewhere if possible) or you've got headphones on! Although this sounds, to me, as absurd as traveling in a 50 foot motorhome towing and SUV with bicycles strapped on the back, it turns out that many people actually do bike with headphones on!! There's a paved trail near where I live now (2012) that's nice to ride on, but unfortunately I've had many near accidents because of two or more riders riding side-by-side yak-yakkety-yakking loudly (because else they'd be terrified that maybe their group was too far away, apparently) and/or listening to headphones and thus out of touch with the other traffic (like me). I've had to swerve out of the way to avoid a head-on collision, and I've had to pass off the trail because a headphone dazed group (even individual) had no idea I was behind and wanting to pass (I guess my little bell is nothing compared to 120db of heavy-fucking-metal-mothafukka or whatever).

7b. Whatever happened to bicycling without TV or computers? A further progression of my gripe about no more elegant little odometers (above), and related to the 'everybody is addicted to their i-phones now' worldwide pandemic, more and more of the discussions these days (ok, I admit it, websites, since I don't talk bikes in real life much) are 'which array of i-phones, komputers, gps mappy-cartoons, video cameras, phones, dataloggers, television sets, intern(y)et screens, apple corporation trackers, and flashy-blinky-beepy gadgets should I attach to where my hands used to go?' (handlebars, we used to call them ironically, sheesh!).

I guess if people had been this neurotic in the old days, they'd've had to figure out how to attach a dime-holder (for the pay phone), encyclopedia set, mailbox (with flag if outgoing), map holder (it happened, but most just took the maps out of the bag when needed or had a little showing on the handlebar bag-top), super-8 home-movie cameras (would be cool!), dime holder (already attached!), graph paper pads, television sets (black and white), military komputer terminals, bloodhounds/gumshoes/Stasi agents, and disco balls to their handlebars. Oh - and a speedometer too (though Huret made the nice Multito back then that attached down near the front hub)! And I'm sure if I were to 'post' this on some group, I'd have some smart-aleck get back right away with 'oh, but you see my i-phone does all that and more!' (sent from my i-phone). case in point - there's a whole beautiful living landscape out there just crying from being forgotten, unloved, and dismissed by todays techno-narcissistic, needy komputer cult who care more about little lights and cartoons and facebook than the hills, smells, and sounds of wherever they don't know they are.

Oh, and the other thing that's always asked - and in my opinion the swirl on the top of this dog-turd on the picnic ground - is the inevitable: 'what solar/plug-in/fuel cell/dynamo/nuclear/windmill charger should I also lug along (strapped to the back of the bike, usually) to keep all this technonarcissistic life-support system from going down and leaving me /lost/?'


8. The 'cult marketing' problem.

There are others griping about many of the same things - not many, but a few. But most of what I read on the veb, in the US anyway, is from people who affiliate with one of several groups - cults, I'll call them. Of course the 'megachurches' of specialized, trek, bicycling magazine, shimano and all that I completely ignore. But on a smaller scale, where I tend to see, there's the Rivendell cult, the Velo Orange cult, the Bicycle Quarterly cult, etc. The leaders of these cults purport to 'rediscover' a previously forgotten or (preferably) foreign term, manufacturer, activity, or item and then extol its virtues to the cult-members (read on, suckers! send me yer daughters, too!) who then go apeshit for the delivered proclamation, which becomes part of the cult's lore. Handily, the cult-leaders usually have it for sale, too. A good example is Rivendell and the cult of specific handlebar types and coverings (and Wald baskets even!), Velo-Orange and the cult of audax and centerpull, Compass Bicycles and the cult of 'rinko' and 'planing' (whatever the hell that made-up pseudoscience nonsense is!) and so forth. Sometimes it's not even a 'new' concept at all, just one presented as the idea of the cult leader and becomes part of the mythology of the cult, that the Great Leader invented it.

This is ok enough; the planet definitely needs more cranks, quacks, fanatics, and weirdos! The problem is that the cult-members seem to eat up and follow only those 'discoveries' of the cult-leader, and anything that's not endorsed is ignored, the result being that their bikes (and web posts) wind up looking eerily all the same.

This being the future (2015) I recall a favorite 1950s Mad cartoon I read back in the height of civilization (ca, 1983); I only typed in the caption to find it to cite to you here:
http://www.absurdintellectual.com/2011/10/23/how-to-be-a-non-conformist-mad-magazine-style/

I guess what's most aggravating is they seem to miss too much cool stuff in favor of pretty formerly 1st world stuff that wasn't sold in the US and now sold as taiwanese knockoffs by and to super-precious PNW and NYC and CA yuppies.

When I can start my own cult, of course I'll push Grab-on grips, QR brake cable carriers, sheepskin (or fake, for the vegetarians) seat covers, avocet odometers, Mirrycle mirrors, Sugino AT cranks, translucent cable housings, friction shifting obviously, toe clips (or half-clips for roughstuff bikes), etc. (see above).


9. See these other delightful and expressive velo-forums, commentaries, investigations, and editorials for a few examples of how others see the problem (thanks goodnesses) - started 2005 and weeded out in the interim those that went extinct, so only a few now:

7 reasons for new bikes uglynness:
Good stuff that bike "progress" has left behind (yacf)
Opinions on recent "improvements"
Is it just me or do other people find _Bicycling_ magazine...
'25 Years of Cool'
Slanted-top-tubes
more on same from the framebuilder Richard Sachs

started 2005 | this edit: 2017.02.24 | © robert liebermann
url: http://rjl.us/velo/bikerant.htm
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