Must-Haves: 'Bents and Button-Shifting

Every so often, a reader raises a point in the comments that I feel warrants further discussion. After all, we are cyclists, and unlike users of other forms of transportation we are constantly looking inward in order to better understand ourselves. This is because, unlike, say, the bus passenger or the roller-skier, we know that the unexamined life is not worth living. Also, we're profoundly smug and self-absorbed, and we all operate under the delusion that what we're doing is special. There's a fine line between introspection and masturbation, and we cross it with every pedal stroke.

Anyway, the comment I felt warranted further discussion was this one:

Anonymous said...

why is the cycling community so resistant to recumbent frames? They’ve been around for almost 100 years now! Safer (you can put STRONG brakes on them w/o risking headers); faster (one won Paris-Brest-Paris in 1933, causing them to be outlawed for “bicycle” racing!); much more comfortable (no penis paralysis, neck strain, etc.). I’d love to have some of the innovations on this wish list added to my Easy Racers Gold Rush Replica, on which I’ve been putting thousands of miles a year on for some time now.

November 7, 2011 10:19 PM

First of all, I'd like to preface this by saying that I for one have nothing whatsoever against recumbents and that I embrace recumbent riders as I do all of my fellow cyclists. (And by "embrace" I mean I air-hug them and then retreat to the restroom where I sanitize myself compulsively with Purell hand sanitizer and Action Wipes.) Moreover, I feel strongly that people should ride in whatever orientation they so choose, be it horizontally, vertically, or in some kind of gravity-defying gyroscoping manner. Do I find recumbents frightening? Sure I do. Is it because as they approach it looks like the rider may kick me in the face? It is. Does this discrimination make me a bad cyclist? It does not--being really slow and falling down a lot is what makes me a bad cyclist. Being afraid of recumbents just makes me a bad person, and there's a difference.

What I do object to, though, is when recumbent riders (or indeed any type of riders) try to proselytize. I don't mean the "Try it, you may like it" kind; I mean the "How dare you fools not adopt my inherently superior machine?" kind.

For this reason, there is much to address in this comment, but I might as well start with the supposed issue of "penis paralysis." Of course, as we all know, the supposed "impotency epidemic" among upright cyclists is a massive conspiracy engineered by the automotive industry (in order to discourage bicycle commuting) and by the bicycle saddle industry (in order to sell so-called "anatomic" saddles with weird shapes and creepy cutouts). Sure, it's possible to set up your bike in such a way that it will cause "penis paralysis," but it's also possible to set up your office chair this way too, and I don't hear anybody saying that we should all be working in La-Z-Boys.

Most importantly, what about the great many cyclists who don't even have penises in the first place? That's right, mister recumbent apologist, I'm talking about people with vaginas--you know, those things that look like anatomical saddle cut-outs. What's the matter, women can't ride bikes? I would then put it to you that you are a sexist, or what at Bard they might call a "Euro-phallocentric womyn-hating genderizationalist." Now sit in the corner and stare at a Georgia O'Keefe painting until you've learned something.

As far as the thing about a recumbent winning Paris-Brest-Paris in 1933 and then being outlawed, this would appear to allude to "The Recumbent's Darkest Day," which is when recumbents were banned from UCI racing. I'm not sure why this applies, since if your goal is to ride the fastest form of two-wheel transit you might as well ride a motorcycle. Moreover, the upright bikes most of us ride to work aren't UCI legal either anyway. And as for being banned for their "superiority" for racing, then how come it's more than 70 years later and recumbent riders still haven't banded together and created a race more compelling and dramatic than the Tour de France? It wouldn't even be all that hard--with all the doping scandals and allegations of UCI corruption, professional cycling is pretty much just propped up on toothpicks at this point anyway. Mainstream approval and legitimacy is there for the taking, and griping about a ban this old is like having an oblong ball and, instead of playing football, just complaining that they won't let you play baseball with it.

But really, there's one simple reason for the cycling world's "resistance" (as the commenter calls it) to the recumbent, and it is perfectly expressed in this film about revered San Francisco messenger Dogpaw, which I have featured on this blog before and which is undoubtedly the greatest messenger-themed documentary of all time as well as a poignant homage to the upright bicycle:

You see, upright bicycles are much easier to carry up steps:

(Yes, that's an upright bicycle hidden in Dogpaw's hair.)

And that's pretty much it. See, simple? The upright position and lofty vantage point is just a bonus:

As is the conduciveness to giving and receiving "high fives:"

So let us all, recumbent, non-recumbent, and even people who ride both (these people are called "bi-cumbent") ride together in mutual respect for our chosen orientation, and even give each other high-fives as conditions warrant--though I suppose an upright rider technically has to "low-five" a recumbent rider.

Speaking of technology, did you know that Campagnolo are still in business? Well, they are. Not only that, but they've finally introduced their own electronic groupset:

(Isn't that cute? Electronic shifting, just like Shimano.)

The Campagnolo system is called "EPS," which stands for "Electronic Power Shift." It was originally called "Electronic Precision Power Shift," but they had to omit the second "P" for two reasons: 1) It wasn't very precise; and 2) they received a cease-and-desist letter from actor Omar Epps:

("Not on my Rolex watch, Campy.")

Of course, the big difference between Shimano and Campagnolo is in their "corporate culture." At Shimano they use "research and development," whereas at Campagnolo they use the "freak occurrence" method:

Perhaps the most revelatory: In 2005 the group was ready to be put into production but a freak occurrence stopped everything. Cars with team bikes were driving home from the Giro d'Italia and encountered a powerful rainstorm. The combination of the sheer volume of water and the 150kph speed the cars were traveling at was enough to drive water into the electronics. The systems quit. And even though the systems began working again a day or so later, Campy decided it needed to rework the sealing.

So basically, the only thing that kept Campagnolo from trying to sell this crap to you in 2005 was a rainstorm. Wow. You'd think they might have accounted for the fact that it might get wet beforehand. Sure, bikes never get wet, but did it not even occur to anybody at any point to give it a little spritz before rolling it out? This is not expensive testing we're talking about--all you need is a garden hose and an adjustable nozzle. We're talking like $40 bucks at the Home Depot, tops. And how bad were these seals that it took them another six years to make them work?

Still, it was only a matter of time, since as soon as people touch electronic shifting they simply must have it:

The market is still dominated by mechanical shifting, but people have heard of electronic shifting. They may have touched it, or one of their buddies has it. Maybe they know it took all three spots on the Tour de France podium this year.

Some people may find Tour de France results impressive, but not me. I mean, Schleck genitals took two of three spots on the Tour de France podium this year, and a lot of people may have touched that too, but it doesn't mean I want it on my bike:

(No, thanks.)

Of course, if you're a Campagnolo fan, you'll want to know that this group retains their trademark Italian "passion" and "soul," and inasmuch as both of these words are cycling euphemisms for "quirky" it certainly does. For instance, instead of just popping the battery out and putting it on a charger, you actually have to wheel the the whole bike to an outlet:

The battery is not removable from the bike: To charge the system, you must run a lead to the bicycle.

Brilliant. Now you'll either have to store your bike near an outlet or else run extension cords all over your house. But at least there's a snazzy "EPS Interface:"

A quick push of one of the mode buttons and the EPS Interface (which can be attached to the stem, or to the brake housing) indicates battery charge with a green/yellow/red system. When 6% charge remains, there is an additional acoustic warning.

Presumably, it's Campagnolo's answer to "Siri:"

("My pocket watch says it's time for a charge.")

The cease-and-desist letter for that feature is still pending.

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