Pull My Strings: The New Puppetry

As we move inexorably forward like cartons of eggs on the supermarket conveyor belt of life, there are three sure signs at autumn is imminent: an invigorating chill in the air; plumbing problems caused by flushing leaf piles down the toilet; and of course the bike industry trade shows. Outside of the cycling world, people have the good sense to ignore trade shows unless they actually work in that industry and are forced to go to them. This is true even if the trade show involves something they use. For example, many of us have insurance, but almost none of us would want to attend or even read about the Risk Insurance Management Society's Annual Conference and Exhibition (even though I hear the RIMS Canada reception was totally "off the chain"). Yet for some reason, cyclists whose livelihoods do not depend on the selling of bicycles pay attention to events like the upcoming Interbike, or last week's Eurobike.

This is especially puzzling when you consider what little news that would be of interest to the typical cyclist actually emerges from these shows . Sure it's important for shop owners and bicycle companies and those sorts of people to meet and discuss business on a regular basis, and of course the people who sell bicycles should know what colors the new ones will be before they actually receive the boxes, but for the layperson the last genuinely interesting product development was probably the integrated brake/shift lever, or the clipless pedal, or the derailleur drivetrain, or the "safety bicycle" (depending on who you ask and how retro-grouchy they are). Otherwise, pretty much everything else recently has involved Making Stuff Bigger.

Basically, the way Making Stuff Bigger works is that bicycle designers move clockwise around the bicycle and determine which "interface" is ripe for a new injection of collagen. In the last few years they've been focussing on the bottom bracket and headtube, but for 2011 it looks like they're going back to the handlebar. After all, it's been over 10 years since the 31.8 handlebar clamp "standard" was established, and while it once seemed huge it now looks positively spindly next to the "beefy" bottom bracket shells and headtubes of today. Fortunately for us all, Deda is inflating it once again:

Of course, the 31.8 size improved absolutely nothing, apart from ensuring that users of Deda's "oversized" (now "standard") bars would also have to purchase a matching Deda stem. However, an unforeseen benefit to the consumer did eventually emerge, since after awhile everyone else went "oversize" too, and once the 31.8 size became common riders could mix and match stems and bars for both road bikes and mountain bikes with impunity. This was no good for Deda, so now they've been forced to enlarge their bars yet again.

So will people actually buy this? Of course they will. The new Deda over-oversized bars are apparently good for "people with big hands, and people with a need for massive stiffness." Logically, this means that people who use them are big and massively stiff in other areas too, and by extension that people who ride using the now-puny 31.8 size are genitally inadequate, or at best are unable to handle "massive stiffness." At this rate, I fully expect Eurobike and the Sex Toy Expo to combine operations by 2020.

Speaking of putting your hands on throbbing things, a reader informs me that pants behemoth Levi Strauss recently decided to "get their finger on the pulse of the fixed gear and commuter bike movement in an authentic way," presumably so they could sell them more stuff:

Apparently, Levi Strauss decided to do its pop-cultural "fingerbanging" in Denver and Boulder instead of New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles "because the scene is still young and developing organically in Colorado," and its worth noting that some lonely middle-aged men hang around schools and playgrounds for exactly the same reason. Here's actual video of the Levi's employees asking the unwitting scenesters if they'd like some candy and inviting them into their metaphorical Econoline of Consumerism:

Levi's + The Public Works from The Public Works on Vimeo.

By the way, if you're ever looking to take advantage of a naive and malleable consumer, you can generally identify them by their cigarettes:

It's a sign that says, "I'm willing to buy into anything, even if it kills me."

In any case, it looks like things got pretty wild--so wild, in fact, that at one point they even broke into a spontaneous freestyle market research "session:"

It's inspiring to see that fixed-gear crews are reinventing themselves as focus groups, and it's reassuring to know that young people are more willing than ever to leap to action when a company with over $4 billion in annual revenue asks them to "help us help you spend your disposable income on crap." I'm sure Levi's left after the weekend with a greater understanding of cycling and some great new product ideas (fixed-gear specific jeans with integrated bottle opener and dedicated cigarette pocket?), though the city of Denver might want to consider issuing an AMBER Alert for their "bike culture."

Of course, if Levi's really wanted to do some cutting-edge "fixie" market research, they should have gone to China, where a reader informs me that fixed-gear cycling and juggling are coming together in new and exciting ways:
Yes, for Beijing "fixters" the light-running antics of America's "urban" cyclists simply cannot rival the excitement and agility of circus-like riders such as the great Serge Huercio. Also, they forego skid-patch calculators in favor of juggling patterns:

Though stopping is still called "skidding:"

Ah, the fixed-gear world, where stopping is called "skidding," conformity is called "individualism," and scavenger hunts are called "races."

This is not to say, however, that cycling without coasting and circus behavior do not coexist in the United States. However, it isn't so much an urban subculture as it is an "extreme sport." Consider "extreme mountain unicyclist" Terry Peterson:

"Unlike a bike, you have to pedal every inch of the way. You can never coast," explains Peterson, who is apparently the only person left in the United States who has not heard of the "fixie" trend. Peterson does appear to use a brake though, and the lever is mounted underneath the nose of his saddle:

If you're wondering what makes his brand of unicycling "extreme," the sight of him barreling down a technical descent as he waves one hand wildly and uses the other to repeatedly squeeze a lever located in the vicinity of his genitals should give you some idea. He looks like he's "foffing off" while competing in a rodeo.

However, Peterson's brake lever is not nearly as fascinating as this incredible setup, spotted by a reader in Oslo, Norway:

A closer look reveals that this is the very rare "puppeteer" setup, in which the brake levers are actuated by wires:

This may very well be the most amazing cockpit setup I've seen all year, and as of now it is the clear favorite to win a coveted Cockpit of the Year award (otherwise known as the "Cockie"). You can also be sure that the bicycle industry will take note, and I expect Shimano's new "Marionette" group to be the big buzz at next year's Eurobike.

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