Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Voices In Your Head Say "Ride Faster"

Hearing voices when you ride? It might not necessarily be a sign of severe mental illness IF you have the new "smart" goggles from Oakley - the Radar Pace.

Unlike other "smart" goggles we've been seeing, like the Recon Jet . . .

or the Garmin Varia Vision . . .

. . . both of which put a tiny "heads-up" display into the user's field of vision, the Radar Pace uses built-in earbuds for an audio coaching experience.

They're kind of like the Oakley Thumps, which had a built-in MP3 player - only now they connect to a smart phone and, with the help of a special training app, act like a personal training coach, pumping performance data into the user's ears. Sounds great, doesn't it? 

Being curious about what this coaching might sound like, I checked out the video for a simulation and was wholly underwhelmed (as opposed to being "whelmed," which is an actual word, albeit an uncommon one). The female voice doesn't sound terrifically different in tone or quality from the voice of the iPhone's Siri.

Whoever she is, she wants to be "your new workout partner."

"OK, Radar, what's my workout plan for today?"
"We're riding 20 miles, climbing 1,800 feet."
"How's my power?"
"Your power is 320 watts."
Yes, apparently, the female-voiced workout partner is called "Radar."

Early version of the Radar Pace. They've made a lot of progress in reducing the size of the earpieces.
The Radar Pace glasses must be aimed at triathletes (of course they are), as the video shows a multi-sport workout. With the help from the smart phone app, they apparently track performance data, and also give words of encouragement:

"Nice job balancing your effort on this hill."
"How's my pace, Radar?"
"Your current pace is 7' 32" per mile, which is juusst right."
The female voiced Radar (she really needs a better name) isn't just your new training partner - she also wants to be your motivator . . .

and your coach . . .

But it seems to me that if they really want to motivate, Oakley should make them sound more like Sgt. Hartman from Full Metal Jacket.
"Dig in, you worthless puke maggot! Your watts are for S#!t !"
I doubt many retrogrouches are all that intent on coaching goggles, but you can watch the video here if want some coaching giggles:


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Missed Milestone and a Look Back

It just occurred to me today that I missed a couple of milestones for The Retrogrouch Blog.

The blog recently marked 3 years, and also recently passed 1,000,000 views. Okay - in the big scheme of things on the web, 1 million pageviews is nothing. Not even a blip. BikeSnobNYC probably gets that many every few months. Nevertheless, readership has generally increased steadily since the blog started back in 2013.

But right now might be a good time to take a look back at some highlights and lowlights from the past year.

Most Popular Posts

The saddle-to-bar "drop" on Fignon's bike in '89 is a lot closer
than what you'd see on a racing bike today. Doesn't keep him
from getting in a low tuck with a flat back, though.
Far and away, the most-viewed post on the blog has been one that appeared almost exactly three years ago - Changing Positions: Bike Fit Then and Now. Every so often, someone will post a link to that article and start a flame war on a forum somewhere about how deeply flawed my assessments are (or "right on the money" depending on the commenters). After one blogger who must have a much larger audience share than I do posted a link to it earlier this year, page hits for this one article must have hit 5000 or so per day for a couple of days afterwards. In the article, I was mainly just pointing out how the relationship between saddle height and bar height has changed so much on racing bikes - that the "drop" from saddle to bar has grown a lot since the '80s, and that people tend to do a lot more riding with their hands on top of the bars or on the brake hoods than they used to. And while that increase in drop might be fine for racers, it shouldn't be the kind of thing that "trickles down" to the rest of us. It's proven to be a lot more controversial than I ever imagined.

The second-most-viewed post is one about Tange and Ishiwata Tubing. It was one of three articles I did about the brands of steel tubing used in so many of the great classic bikes of the past. Why that one gets so many more views than the articles on Reynolds or Columbus (which I expected to be the more popular ones), I don't know, but again, it gets referenced and linked on other pages pretty regularly.

Personal Favorites 

This past year, I think my personal favorite posts were the series on how the American bike industry shifted from manufacturing to importing: "Designed in America." Each of the four articles looked at another factor in the shift, though there was some overlap between them. Those four factors were The American Bike Boom, The Rise of Importers, The Fall of Schwinn, and The Rise of Shimano. The one about Schwinn probably got the most comments of the series. American cyclists from a couple of generations can't help but have a soft spot for the brand that more than any other helped introduce them to the love of bicycles. And the circumstances of their downfall were mirrored across the industry.

I also really liked doing the article on a Visit to Mercian Cycles. I was lucky enough to be able to visit their workshop and retail store in Derby this past summer and snap some photos. It was great to meet all the folks there and share the experience here on the blog.

That's the Mercian workshop, and the retail storefront, with owners Grant and Jane Mosely.
Most Hated Post

After the Republican National Convention descended upon Cleveland in July, just a short drive from my home in Akron, I managed to find a few bike-related items to bring up - like the Cleveland Police Department's new bicycle patrols, and a young librarian distributing books to delegates and protesters from the back of his bicycle. Apparently some readers, detecting my liberal-leaning politics (Oh hell - why not just admit that I'm a freakin' socialist) felt compelled to leave some pretty hostile comments, or send some venomous emails. Sorry - you won't see the comments, as I moderate them and deleted them for profanity. I try to keep the blog family-friendly, you know.

Least Popular Posts

It seems like the posts that consistently get the fewest views and the fewest comments are the ones in the Bike Safety 101 series - which look at old educational films about bicycle safety. I enjoy them because they combine my love of bikes with my love of movies. Having taught a film class for a number of years, I always teach a unit on old educational films and propaganda - looking at how the films reflect the times in which they were made and promote the social and/or political values of those times. The bike safety films from the '50s through the '70s are no exception. Examining the films by decade, you can see how bikes were marginalized in the '50s and '60s as little more than kids' toys (albeit, really dangerous ones that could maim and kill), to practical transportation in the Bike Boom '70s. Any bike safety propaganda made since then puts the biggest emphasis on helmet use above all else.

Where Are The Readers?

Overwhelmingly, most of the blog's readers are located in the U.S. - no surprise there. After that, comes England, then Canada - again, not surprising. Then Germany, followed by Australia. Yep - more Germans read The Retrogrouch than Australians. Among the English speakers, Aussies must not be very retro-grouchy, I guess.

What's Next?

As the next year goes by, expect to see more stories griping about pointless bike-related technology and supposedly revolutionary "must have" innovations. I expect to have a few photo-laden stories of upcoming vintage bike projects. I have some bike-related books on my must-read list, so reviews will be forthcoming. All around, as long as I can keep coming up with ideas, it should be another year of what readers have come to expect on The Retrogrouch.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Crazy Cranks

What could be simpler than a bicycle crank? It's hard to imagine a simpler, more efficient mechanism for transferring leg motion into circular motion into forward motion. But almost since the beginning of bicycles, people have been convinced there's a better way to propel a bicycle. Riders can only apply power on the downstroke, and some see that as a waste of energy. Since the earliest days of the bicycle, tinkerers and inventors have come up with all kinds of ideas to increase power, minimize effort, and eliminate "dead spots" in pedaling motion - some that defy logic and physics, others that are bizarrely complex.

Remember these?

Dpardo "sickle" cranks: a fairly recent reboot of an old, thoroughly de-bunked concept . . . 
. . . previously seen in the '80s as the PMP crank, which itself was just a rehash of cranks that were hailed as "revolutionary" in the 1930s, and in the 1890s before that. Every generation or so, these things come back, reintroduced by people who are thoroughly convinced they're something never seen before.
Lever-drive, or treadle-drives have been tried again and again - like this Alenax in the 1980s. Another idea that actually dates back to before the safety bicycle.

Oval or elliptical chainrings are another questionable attempt to get "free" power and eliminate "dead spots" in the pedaling motion. Some people swear by them, but actual scientific evidence of their effectiveness is lacking. And again, they're nothing new . . .

. . . The Durham elliptical sprocket made similar promises - but also made front shifting impossible. And like other "innovations," they were actually an old idea by the 1970s.

One recent company took the route of altering the pedals instead of the crank itself. The CrankTip pedals move in an elliptical path as a rider turns the cranks, supposedly giving a variable effective crank length - and increasing torque on the downstroke.

Now there's another entry in the crazy cranks lineup that might actually be something no one has ever seen before - the Cyfly drive system. This thing is probably hands-down the most complex crank unit I've seen. Combining a special gearbox, a pair of multi-link crank arms, and an elliptical (almost rectangular) chainring, the Cyfly mechanism causes the crank arm length to change dramatically throughout the pedaling motion. The company boasts 33% more torque at the same pedaling effort.

The Cyfly crank was introduced at this year's Eurobike, in conjunction with the German bicycle brand, Moeve. The crankarms change in length by about 20mm throughout their stroke.

As the pedals turn, those multi-linked crankarms chug back and forth, constantly changing --lengthening and shortening, and supposedly increasing torque during the "power stroke."

If you're thinking that such an unusual new crank design would be interesting to try, allow me to mention that the Cyfly is not something a person can just install onto their existing bike. The system's oversized gearbox, which is needed to keep the crankarms chugging in proper synchronization, requires a specially-built frame.

One thing that doesn't get mentioned anywhere is the width of such an unusual crank. There are no measurements given anywhere, but just from the look of it, with its extra linkages and everything, I'd say it's a safe bet that this thing would make a person pedal like a duck - putting the "Quack" in "Q-factor."

The system also adds a good bit of weight, too. The version shown above is listed at about 2kg (a little over 4 lbs!). I guess that's a big improvement over the earlier prototypes, though, because I read in BikeRumor that the first version weighed nearly 15 pounds!

Evolution of the idea. Looking at that first one, it's no surprise the thing weighed 15 lbs.
I know that there are lots of claims about the advantages of such a crank, but as usual, I'm skeptical. Whether it actually works as claimed or not, I wonder if the difference is worth all the added complexity -- something this crazy crank has in spades.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

What Would We Do Without the UCI?

If it weren't for those innovation-stifling UCI regulations keeping bike design stuck in the stone-age, just think how advanced bikes would be today.

Yes . . . just think.

Read enough bike industry cheerleading blogs and bike magazines, you'll encounter some variation on that lament almost as often as you'll find the words laterally stiff and vertically compliant.

I found it today in a couple articles on BikeRadar about some new triathlon bike designs. One was on the new Diamondback Andean - a bike which is claimed (by its designer) to be "the fastest tri-bike on the market" today.

Lookit me! No seatstays!
"The Andean is the product of a two-year project, whereby we set out to build the fastest triathlon bike on the market, with no concern for the arbitrary limitations placed on bicycle design by the UCI."

As opposed to a standard stone-age-worthy UCI-compliant time trial bike, the Andean tri-bike sports a heavily faired carbon fiber frame with lots of storage compartments for integrated hydration packs (that's "water" to you and me), as well as energy bars, gel packets (sticky goop supposedly for "endurance"), and tools/spares. The tool storage strikes me as both superfluous and cruelly ironic for most of the bike's likely buyers. The bike also has disc brakes because as we all know, you'd have to have a death wish to ride a bike with rim brakes today.

Then there was this one: the Cervélo P5X:

Lookit me! No seatstays and no seat-tube, either!
"Along with a radical frame design, the new P5X debuts disc braking, and represents what a manufacturer can do when it chooses to no longer conform to the restrictive regulations that the UCI imposes."

Like the Diamondback Andean, the Cervélo P5X sports disc brakes, and has lots of integrated storage for "hydration" fluids and sticky goop packets. Cervélo has a bunch of different trademarked names for their various storage compartments: Smartpak, Stealthbox, and Speedcase - because one catchy name isn't enough.  As for its radical frame design? Well . . . let's just say we've been here before.

To be honest, I don't actually know specifically what keeps these monstrosities from being UCI-compliant, nor do I care in the least. In fact, I am still trying to figure out exactly why so many people - from designers, to manufacturers, to cheerleading bloggers - care so much about the cycling governing body's supposedly archaic, arbitrary, and restrictive regulations in the first place.

You see, except for top-level road and track racing, which makes up only a small slice of the bicycling pie, UCI equipment regulations are a non-issue. The vast majority of cyclists don't race, and manufacturers have always been free to design, build, and sell anything they want. Most buyers are unaware of such "restrictions" because they are completely unaffected by them. The way I understand it, that goes for triathlon bikes as well, since the UCI has no bearing on that sport, and tri-bikes have long had features that would not have been permitted on, say, a time trial bike in the Tour de France. Go-fast freds who want the latest thing aren't necessarily restricted by the regulations, either, unless competing in a UCI-sanctioned event. Consider the marketing opportunity for manufacturers when they push the fact that their bizarre wünderbike is "too fast" for the UCI. It's enough to make a fred's knees get wobbly.
While we're on the subject, remember this thing?
Even when it comes to bikes for competition, I have no problem with a governing body setting some limits on technology - whether it's to ensure the safety of the competitors, or to help level the playing field. Consider a venue like the Olympics, where equipment restrictions can help keep the racing a competition of athletes, and not an arms race dominated by national teams with huge R&D budgets.

When you get right down to it, the only people truly affected by "the rules" are the people who get their bikes for free anyhow. So, if manufacturers are free to make any bike they can market and sell, why the defensive attitude? C'mon folks - get a grip. Make your ugly wünderbikes. Make as many as you can sell. Most of us just don't care.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Santini L'Eroica Collection

This past weekend was the annual L'Eroica ride -- the original L'Eroica -- in Gaiole, Italy. I'm guessing there aren't too many people reading this (if any) who were fortunate enough to be able to take off for a grueling yet gorgeous ride over the white roads of the Chianti region, and sample the great wine and cuisine that go with the event. But even if we couldn't make the journey, it's possible for us to dress like it. Santini clothing has issued a line of classic-styled cycling wear inspired by the color and character of L'Eroica.

Just a sample of some of the vintage-inspired designs. There are more long-sleeve options, some shorts, socks, and even things like warm-up suits.

Recalling some of the style of golden-age riding gear, combining tasteful, earthy colors, and many including fully embroidered details, the L'Eroica collection would be a great for retrogrouchy riders looking for something distinctive. Some of the clothes would probably look as good off the bike as on it. There are wool jerseys, cotton polos and t-shirts, and even a few riding items in modern poly microfiber and lycra that still keep the vintage color and style.
Color combinations, like this wine red and terra cotta orange, are supposed to recall the wine and the colors of the farmhouses in Chianti. Price is listed as 130, which would be about $145. It's all wool with embroidery front and back. There's a modern polyester version that duplicates these colors and graphics that sells for 70 €.
I can't help but think the wool pullover sweaters like this one would be great on or off the bike. 150 € (roughly $170).
It's worth checking out the full collection. Items can be ordered direct from Santini through their website:

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Rolling Coal - Has It Happened To You Yet?

They call it "Rolling Coal," and it's the latest salvo in the war on the environment and anyone who even appears to care about it. These jackasses modify their diesel pickup trucks to dump huge plumes of thick, black (and poisonous) smoke - then use it to annoy or intimidate the rest of us. Cyclists are reportedly a popular target, as are Prius drivers. There was a pretty good article in the NYTimes this month about it. It happened to me once. Has it happened to you? Leave a comment - share your tale.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Bicycle Pumps Have Gone High Zoot

Is it just me, or are bicycle pumps getting the full zoot treatment lately?

It seems to me that the trend started about two years ago when the newly reorganized Silca released their Super Pista Ultimate, which sells for roughly $450. Boasting the best materials and manufacturing methods - CNC'd aluminum base, high-precision barrel and plunger, lots of stainless steel, and beautiful carved rosewood - the "ultimate inflation tool" brings the simple action of inflating bicycle tires to levels of luxury that mere mortals can only dream of. Very quickly, other companies started offering pumps that would imitate some of the look of the exclusive Silca, if not all the slick tech, in a somewhat more affordable package.

The Lezyne Alloy Floor Drive echoes some of the Ultimate Inflation Tool vibe at a fraction of the price - about $85. Less fancy steel barreled versions are available for a bit less - and lots of replacement parts are shown on the website.

The latest of these comes from Arundel, the company that up to now has been primarily known for some pretty fancy carbon fiber bottle cages and bike bells. It looks like they now have a premium floor pump in the works.

The new Arundel pump has a large, wide, forged base for good stability - along with a fairly large 3" dial pressure gauge that reads up to 160 psi. Like the Super Pista Ultimate, it has a sleek-looking barrel, and a wide solid wood handle. I've seen two different versions of the handle pictured, but the pump is apparently not in full production yet (it isn't listed on their website store, or listed for sale anywhere yet), so I don't really know which one buyers should expect to see.

I saw this slightly fancier version of the pump handle on BikeRumor. That site describes the pump as a prototype, so I don't know which one will see final production.
Going with some kind of fairy tale theme, there are different pump heads available from Arundel - the Hansel (left) with a thumb lever, and the Gretel (right) which has a screw-fit head. There is also a Woodsman version which is a press-on head. They look like nice quality pieces and will be available separately.
On the Arundel website, they say that the new pump will be fully serviceable, and replacement parts will be available to keep the pump working well for a good long time. One important detail that does not seem to be available at this time is a price. I do expect it will be quite a bit more affordable than the Silca Ultimate though.