Many Hats

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Dec 222011

I’m going to be taking some time off. Everyone has a dream, and for me, it’s starting a Rockabilly band called the Hellbilly Bitch Cats with Henry. He pukes constantly and has little or no regard for everyone around him. Even if we just release a video of Henry throwing up a few thousand times to a driving beat, I’d still know there was worse music out there, so I’m going for it.

Something also tells me I’ll soon be very busy mindfucking mindfreaking people.

It's a $200 value, for Crissake!

The Keith Moon of Cats

I’d link you to the Criss Angel site so you could check out the video that goes along with this, but it has this pop-up that tries to keep you from leaving, and I have a strict policy against douchebag sites that do that, no matter how unintentionally funny they are.

I’d also like to spend more time auctioning off my kids.

He made the sign himself to attend an art show.

And I’d really like to build one of these.

I should be back once I figure out how to manage all of these things at once. Happy Holidays in the meantime.

Shill Baby Shill

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Dec 212011

It’s the time of year again to be thankful. And by that I mean, of course, grateful to be better than the next guy. And in the great big Darwinian marketing campaign, Christmas cards are the ultimate form of domestic direct marketing. They sell lifestyles. I’m not sure if anyone has ever sent out a Christmas card to genuinely wish somebody well, but, from what I can tell, all holiday greeting cards are designed to communicate one of three ideas:

We Are So Much Happier and Better Than You

We Are So Totally Fucking Awesome

You Have No Idea

As a personal domestic marketing rule, my family only sends out our own Happy Holidays card if it can simultaneously fit in all three of those categories above, as it did in 2007.

Child's Simple Gesture Captures Holiday Spirit

Really, we’ve always been our own brand, but now there are more ways than ever to market ourselves. Sure, we still don’t have jet packs, but now we each get our own brand page on the Internet, filled with all the stuff that’s us. If you’re alive today, you’re selling something–usually a bunch of stuff. The differences between what a small business did on the Internet in 1999 and what an individual does there today is remarkably similar. Between 2000 and 2010, I was frequently an entire marketing department. I thought up promotions, checked the numbers and inventory, created ad copy and/or web graphics to promote said promotion, linked graphics to products on the site, and finally “utilized social media” to spread the word. Nearly all of that now happens entirely inside social media.

The only real difference between a corporation marketing its brand and a person logged into Facebook is that one isn’t getting paid. Consider the new feature on the Facebook page for extreme beverage, Mountain Dew. It lets its minions consumers “download customized Dew skins,” magically turning your Facebook page simultaneously into a slammin’ ad for green high-fructose corn syrup and your own desperate need to belong.

Take a Stand for Something

Lest you get all excited by the added attention, though, don’t forget your place. The great thing about the new social media is that even the sorriest among us can finally get invited to the hipster party for the low, low price of just our personal data, our Christmas card material. All Pepsi needs from you is your e-mail address, your profile description, birthday, hometown, location and work history and your photos, and in return, you get total V.I.P. treatment, meaning some sweet Mountain Dew graphics to decorate your Facebook page. Sort of like a pyramid scheme with no chance to advance toward the top. Apparently, the deal seems too good to be true for some people, though. Almost 6.3-million people like Mountain Dew.

In fairness, they’re probably totally rad graphics you can use to decorate your page, so maybe it’s a deal. I mean, human life is still worth less than $10-million dollars, but turning over your personal information and agreeing to shill gets you some attention from a company, and the digital equivalent of the stickers you get for being brave at the doctor’s. Score.

Understanding our place as a brand has become increasingly important in light of recent developments that suggest we’re already involved in relationships with brands, whether we know it or not. Might as well shill for something you love.

Dec 202011

I’m working on a bike fit article for Bicycle Times, and would really like to gather any feedback anyone out there has regarding handlebar height. Topics I’m covering involve questions like:

  1. When you bought your last bike, was the handlebar positioned too high, too low, or just about right? Was that a road bike, mountain bike, or something else?
  2. Which affects your bar height the most: where you ride (terrain/road conditions), how you ride (riding style), or why you ride (fitness/commuting/racing)?

Feel free to comment or use the question form over there on the right to send me your thoughts, and maybe you’ll get your name mentioned in a magazine, just like Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.

How-to Edition: Get $1.5M and Calculate Your Shock Rate

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Dec 192011

Learning things one of the reasons I love figuring out how to do stuff like design a bicycle suspension system. I like knowing how things work–or, more precisely, it bothers me when I don’t know how things work. I’m also one of those people who learns by doing, and by having a project. I learned whatever basic programming languages and design ideas I could from needing to build a web site to sell stuff and not having enough money to pay somebody else to do it for me. Nothing motivates like a project, needing to get something done in order to make some money.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot to be said for having lots of money first. I’d often suspected the correct method for launching a new company looked like this:

  1. Raise at least a million bucks
  2. Get some friends together
  3. Try to think of something to build with the money

Now Vimeo founder and dysfunctional nerd pseudolebrity Jake Lodwick is attempting to prove me right.

Yes, Lodwick has apparently raised $1.5-million for an idea he’s yet to have. Or maybe raising the money will turn out to have been the idea itself–in a kind of meta-statement about the inherent risk of VC funding. All tech startup guys are performance artists at heart, you know. Particularly the ones who can’t code for shit.

At any rate, congratulations to Mr. Lodwick for breaking new ground in combining dubious fame with virtual productivity and value. Even the most grievous example of self-promoting human furniture hasn’t yet figured how to literally get something for nothing.

Given all the white noise around guys like this, it can be difficult to determine just how much genuine intellectual property is being created in the U.S. today, but by almost any measurement, we still think up a lot of stuff.

Still, we seem to have a lot of disco-entrepreneurs like Mr. Hoodwinked Lodwick, versus some increasingly impressive young kids in other countries who are doing some pretty amazing stuff. Consider Nick D’Aloisio, a 16-year-old kid from London whose app, Summly, has some patents pending in the way it uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and ontology to summarize passages of text. One wonders if the D’Aloisio family sedan features a rear window sticker promising “our honor student makes computers smarter than your honor student,” but, according to TheNextWeb, he’s still pretty down to earth and will be staying in school,

currently studying Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Maths, English . . . Latin, Chinese, Russian, philosophy and history

That’s right: “maths.” I don’t think it’s a typo.

It also appears he’s electing to still live with his parents as opposed to buying those stupid sunglasses and moving to Silicon Valley. It sounds twisted to even suggest, but it’s almost as if he didn’t get into the startup game for the money and fame. It’s almost as if he just likes learning and making things.

At any rate, this weekend I learned a few things myself. First, the “gingerbread” Christmas tree decoration that my son brought home from school was not, in fact, edible, even though it smelled like cinnamon (I’ve had worse food at McDonald’s). Second, I learned how to create both rising and falling shock rates in suspension systems, and how to tell at a glance whether your bike’s suspension gets softer or firmer through the mid-range as it compresses.

Falling Rate/Counterclockwise Rocker

Salsa’s new Horsethief starts off firmer, then softens up through the midrange, then firms up again toward the end of its travel. All that information is contained in the upper link seen in the photo. Seen from the drive side like this, the upper link on the Horsethief rotates counter-clockwise, tracing a rough “U” in the air. There have been plenty of bikes that used a similar suspension system, but the Horsethief and Spearfish are really helpful to study, because it’s clear just from looking at them what that upper link does. Normally impacts on the rear wheel would be driving the seat stays almost directly toward the shock, but the little link there is clearly keeping that from happening. Instead of compressing directly, the force driving into the shock is sent on a small detour, looping down before starting to straighten out in line with the shock again. That detour slows the compression of the shock and increases the leverage ratio, making the bike’s suspension softer through that mid-section. Once the link moves far enough to start bringing the force back in line with the shock, the leverage decreases and the suspension gets firmer again.

Same thing with the Santa Cruz VPP system’s upper link, which lets the leverage on the shock increase slightly once the bike is into its travel. Keep in mind you can’t generalize much past the “softer in the middle” part, because the rate of rotation on the two rockers of the VPP system creates a unique scenario, but any arc that translates the rear axle’s movement into a counter-clockwise rotation should yield a suspension system that softens somewhere in the middle.

Rising Rate/Clockwise Rotation

Now consider the DW-link on a Pivot Mach 5.7. Don’t pay any attention to the location of the shock, but check out the orientation of the linkage here: it rotates clockwise, the opposite of the Salsa. That difference generates a rising rate suspension system, or one that firms up as the bike compresses. It’s the rotation of the rocker that dictates the mid-stroke shock rate.

Which way is better? Both. It’s not that simple by any means, and there are good arguments to be made about each method. If you want to know more about what shock rate means and how it works, you should check out Santa Cruz engineer Joe Graney’s excellent article about it, but all you really need to know is that higher numbers are firmer and lower numbers are softer. There could be some exceptions to these rules, but they’d have to have some pretty funky other stuff going on, like really complicated linkages.

What do Summly and shock rates have in common? Discovery. For me, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of discovering something–particularly when it’s a scientific principle you aren’t properly educated to have realized existed in the first place. It’s sort of amazing to discover stuff in the process of trying to create something, and I think everybody should constantly push toward discovering something new that’s maybe just a little intimidating. Instead of just buying a new part to replace something that’s broken, try taking the old one apart first and looking around in there. Instead of searching for a new app, search for instructions about how to make your own. I’m a firm believer that artists should program computers and engineers should start businesses. About the only positive thing I’m sure I’m teaching my kids is that great ideas are earned by constantly trying new things.

Except gingerbread Christmas tree ornaments.

Zeitchrist: Discount Nihilism and Fuzzy Killer Robots

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Dec 152011

A neighbor drove up next to me as I was walking the dog yesterday and asked if I was home from Chicago and if I was working. It went like this.

Me: Yes, I’m home. I’m not with the company any more.
Neighbor: So you’re just hanging out?
Me: Until I can find work, yes.
Neighbor: Are you looking for something?
Me: Yes.
Neighbor: You’ll do anything?
Me: (a bit nervously now) Well, maybe not anything.
Neighbor: You shovel snow?

Let me just here point out that this is no ordinary neighbor. He was one of the first people to walk into Speedgoat back in 1997, he’s previously owned a bike shop in Pittsburgh, and he became my landlord of many years. He let me borrow a bike stand, which I returned to him fourteen years later (actually, I couldn’t find his, so I ended up giving him a new one). He’s generally a sweet and relatively harmless elderly gentleman who happens to own not one but two original Chris Chance-built Fat City bikes.

But it always seemed to me that he didn’t understand what we really did at Speedgoat. He never seemed to see the significance of all those computers and people we had around, and I never had the impression that he understood what I did for a living. I guess now I’m certain of it.

So what did I do as CEO of an e-commerce company? Every day was a little bit like this:

Difficult to say exactly what that makes one qualified to do, though lately I’ve been thinking about going into politics.

Fortunately, I may not have to pick up a paper route or shovel driveways for a living, as humanity’s infatuation with self-destruction seems to be in high gear. For one thing, we seem to all be getting much more religious–or not necessarily “religious” in that cheesy “love one another” kind of way, but more “smite-happy” and insular. Certainly those without that lizard-brain add-on, “critical thinking,” have long since retreated into their respective god-holes by now, with only rifle barrels left sticking out. Already we missed a few rapture predictions, but that can’t stop the faithful from hoping for annihilation to be visited upon us all soon. And even among the secular, is it just me, or does it seem like we’re collectively hoping for a zombie apocalypse at this point, just to break up the monotony? Certainly, the Center for Disease Control is.

If vampires were the analogy-du-jour for the financial crisis, nothing seems to sum up the current state of the American economy quite as well as a sea of zombies, slogging through the day, unfit even for very basic janitorial duties. At this point, we’re for whatever makes us want to live again, and apparently run and scream. And maybe we’ll get lucky. Given the cost of health care these days, probably better to just let the kids go feral zombie as opposed to trying to afford anti-zombie meds. Lord knows there are plenty of people who could use a good brain eatin’, though I don’t think it’d be a very satisfying meal.

For what it’s worth, though, I think zombie is just the flavor of the week. We all really know it’s going to be killer robots that take us out.

Instead of the gleaming invincible army we’ve been led to believe is on the way, though, our robot overlords are going to be adorable!

OK, maybe not adorable, but they’ll have hair and the ability to turn their “eyes” into hearts (as they’re dismembering us). Apparently the DragonBots are all cloud connected through web connections and as one “learns,” so do all the others. Though I’ve never seen one of these and am not nearly as amped up about them as Gizmodo seems to be, I sure do hope the world ends in a sea of mass-produced tiny plastic claws. You have to admit that it’d be sort of be fitting.

Talking vs. Doing: Business and the Ibis Ripley Suspension Design

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Dec 142011

Maybe it’s information overload or just the campaign season blues, but lately I seem even more sensitive than usual to the constant presence of bullshit. Certainly the world of business seems carved from a solid block of it these days. Examples of “synergizing your dynamism” are everywhere, but it really pisses me off to be reading an otherwise good article only to see if slowly devolving into random spew.

A key aspect of LinkedIn seems to be keeping us all connected, not only to each other, but also to a steady parade of articles with interesting-looking titles that often have little or no value. Consider this otherwise interesting article “Five New Management Metrics You Need to Know” LinkedIn directed me to at Forbes. Overall, there’s some kernel of value in an article about more practical ways to monitor business health and performance, outside of just reviewing sales numbers, but this train comes off the track more than once. Written by Greylock Partners venture firm guy James Slavet, whose firm invested in Facebook, LinkedIn, Groupon, and Pandora, it becomes pretty obvious just how disconnected some of these people are from the daily functions of actual small business in America. Some of the article seems so rooted in bean bag chair Silicon Valley work-play as to be nonsensical to even the most ephemeral of businesses models–like “Metric 3: Meeting Promoter Score,” the idea that meetings should be evaluated to determine if they’re effective and worthwhile or not.

Most meetings suck. And they’re expensive: a one-hour meeting of six software engineers costs $1,000 at least. People who don’t have the authority to buy paperclips are allowed to call meetings every day that cost far more than that. Nobody tracks whether meetings are useful, or how they could get better. And all you have to do is ask.”

Gee, really? I guess my open mic meeting policy, where anyone could come in off the street and gather my key staff to talk about Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs wasn’t the right way to do it. Thanks for clearing that up.

Certainly there are businesses in the world that allow idiots to call meetings that go nowhere, but do you really need to fill out a questionnaire afterward for management to realize the meeting was useless? If so, then this amazing common sense insight will be discarded anyway, because the manager is the idiot calling the unproductive meetings.

Then there’s this insightful observation about criticism and reward, or something, explained with a highly insightful analogy to marriage,

You can learn as much from John Gottman as you can from John F. Kennedy about being a great communicator. Gottman, a psychologist, is the author of “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail”.

In his research, he found that marriages that succeed tend to have five times as many positive interactions as negative ones. And when a couple falls below that ratio, their relationship falls down too.

The same is true at the office, where you’re often connected for years in relationships with people who can either become wary of your criticisms or eager to give you their best effort. Catch people doing good things. Never miss a chance to say something nice, even if you feel a little silly. Then when you have feedback on areas to improve, they‘ll really listen. It may be hard to manage to the 5:1 ratio at the office, but you should be mindful of the balance.”

First, having not read John Gottman, I have to hope he was somehow taken out of context here, though it’s hard to imagine how. So marriage partners who have more positive interactions tend to have better marriages? That’s some profound shit. Someone needs to tell the couples on the television show “Cops” that their marriages are in jeopardy.

And you’re supposed to “never miss a chance to say something nice, even if you feel a little silly.” Clearly someone needs to introduce Mr. Slavet to the term “patronizing,” which could have saved him a half dozen words, at least, thus increasing his productivity. Obviously, he’s not suggested being disingenuous, but glib shit like this dances over the actual work of management, which involves reading people and interacting with them honestly. This suggests a kind of golden mean ratio of compliments to criticisms, and adhering to that strictly would be as bad as administering only compliments or only criticism.

I made plenty of management mistakes running my own business, but if there’s one thing I did very right it was cultivate fierce loyalty, and I didn’t do it by telling people their hair looked nice.

In other business news more related to “doing” than “talking,” I think everyone who rides a mountain bike should try to design a bicycle suspension system. For one thing, you’ve probably done some bad things in your life, and this is one of the interesting methods of punishing yourself for past transgressions. That time you made fun of some other frame’s under-the-downtube water bottle position, or slightly high bottom bracket height? Trying to make your own will definitely pay you back for that.

Given that I geek out on other designs even more than usual right now, I love that Ibis has posted photos and some text about the development of the upcoming Ripley 29er frame. What’s profoundly depressing for me in studying what Ibis did isn’t just how amazing their design aesthetic or business seems to be (though they’re all ‘o that), but rather this unsettling notion: I would have kept refining it.

What the hell is wrong with me? Well, it isn’t the eccentric pivots that bother me–they aren’t that surprising to see more than one company now using, even though it’s tough to know what long term durability is going to be like. It’s the clevis, the structure that bolts directly to the shock and pivots off of the swingarm.

I love everything about the Ripley, and I love how Ibis sells and markets their products (they’re about as close to a micro-version of Apple as we get in the bike business), but even great marketing can’t take my eyes off the additional pivots on this frame. Sure, they’re not that big a deal, but why did you go to eccentrics if it tightened up your swingarm movement so much that you had to punt by delinking the shock? It seems even to go against Ibisinian design principles that have always embraced a “simplest design is probably the best” kind of aesthetic to introduce additional moving parts that have to be maintained. And it seems like an afterthought, which is weird. Ibis being Ibis and Dave Weagle being one of the only real thinkers in the entire bike business, they made great lemonade with that clevis by changing how it connects to the shock, which is great, but ask yourself how silly that piece would have looked if they hadn’t done that? You’d just be asking yourself, “Why didn’t they connect the shock directly to the swingarm?” I suspect they didn’t do that because they couldn’t, not because they didn’t want to, and that’s the only thing that bugs me about an otherwise amazing looking new frame.

Now somebody just needs to ride one.

To Infiniti From Beyond

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Dec 132011

I had a vision this morning after eating some week-old ham. In it, Jesus was petitioning the audience of the Republican National Convention to please take his name out of our word “Christmas.”

“I’ve been, you know, keeping an eye on things,” He said, “and–while I’m flattered and everything, truly–I really have to respectfully ask not to be associated with the holiday, I mean, as it’s celebrated today, which is sort of, you know, very upsetting to me, and I think to most people.” His powerpoint included clips from Rick Perry’s profoundly disturbing campaign ad as well as commercials from Lexus, Mercedes and the entire Infiniti “snowball” series, with one commercial played in its entirety:

“I would just ask Infiniti,” Jesus said, “what’s that supposed to mean? I get that the guy in the BMW is supposed to be a douchebag, but the guy in the Infiniti isn’t, right? I mean, the ad’s for Infiniti, but their douchebag not only fails to turn the other cheek and rise above the situation, but instead actually recruits children to pelt the Beamer douche. And just the look on both guy’s faces–particularly the Infiniti guy at the end,” Jesus visibly shuddered at the recollection, “it’s just horrible. Horrible and truly mean-spirited. Sort of ‘soul-ugly,’ if you know what I mean.” Jesus squinted out into the bright lights obscuring the crowd, lifting his upturned palms as if offering them all something invisible and roughly the size of a beach ball. “Does that make sense?” He asked. “And what’s going on in these commercials, anyway? I get the, ‘We’re vacationing at our ski chalet’ affluence, part, which–really, I mean, every time I think it’s been overdone, you go even further. But why do Dad and the BMW guy keep driving a half a mile up the mountain and then back down every day? Is there like a brokerage firm inside the ski lodge? Do they ski in ties and carrying their briefcases? It’s like some kind of strange, fucked-up world where you have a perfect home and car and family and kids and stuff, but they’re all trapped inside your freaky nightmare corporate snowglobe eternal Winter of material gain and one-upmanship. What a bleak world. Who would do that to a child?”

Here, Jesus sort of trailed off, shaking his head, before regaining His composure a bit and leaning forward into the microphone. Somewhere in the crowd, Sarah Palin’s husband whispered, to no one in particular, “He looks more like Clint Eastwood than you’d have thought.”

“But seriously,” Jesus was concluding, “just stick with the ‘X’ on there. What with all the Roman human sacrifices and depravity and Saturnalia-crap, including some horrible mistreatment of religious minorities, and now this,” Jesus said, waving his hands in the general direction of his now dark presentation screen and everything. “I’d really rather just stay out of it. Please.”

And that was it. Herman Cain was on deck to lead a prayer and super-brief inspirational speech for America, and the sense that Jesus had really overstayed His welcome was palpable at this point, but He turned back to the microphone and added, “But, seriously, those Infiniti commercials are just sick,” before acknowledging that a RNC representative was about to escort Him off stage.

Sell Yourself

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Dec 122011

Having written about some of the stupid and narcissistic examples of “projects” on Kickstarter, it’s only fair to draw attention to the polar opposite: the stuff that’s really very good. And the most really very good I’ve seen is Twine, a tiny square that can sense stuff going on in the world around it and text, tweet or email you to let you know what’s doing on.

Note the way this project, which has raised over $300,000 so far, is the opposite of, say, a self-obsessed plea for somebody to fund you basically watching your own paint dry. Not to be overly harsh to the artistic side of Kickstarter, which does have some merit and every once in a while probably changes the world and all, but I much prefer a world in which, in order to be paid, you have to produce a good or provide a service to someone other than yourself.

Tough to say when I’ll just learn to quit bitching and take advantage of things–maybe launch a campaign wherein I ask people to contribute money in return for me letting them watch “the development of one of my blog posts, from blank page to finished work.” A five dollar contribution buys you a word, which I must incorporate into the piece somewhere. For $1,000 you can title the thing. Better still, for $15 I let you submit three random references that I will connect with an almost coherent critical thought–like The White Stripes, The Lord of the Rings, and the word “platypus.”

Somehow Meg White’s halting, simplistic drumming works because it’s stumbling along behind the almost incomprehensible talent of Jack White, a man who makes even gifted musicians look childish and insincere, and a man wise enough to know you get a hobbit to carry your rings, or play your drums. We can’t all be tigers and cobras, Meg. Even rock and roll needs the occasional platypus on drums.”

Surely, somebody’s done this sort of thing already–I mean convince people to pay them for essentially nothing. In fact, I’ve had more than one experience in business that proves it.

Twine, on the other hand, offers a product that could actually be used to do something, a product that does not leave you completely reliant on how interesting the interior of an artists head will or will not be once you’re allowed your peek inside. If you want to pay to watch people doodle, great–it’s your money–but in Twine you have a project that’s actually able to deliver a product, and a pretty cool product, too, a versatile sensor that can gather different pieces of information about what’s going on around it physically and turn that into messages for you. The artsy-fartsy aspect of Twine is simply that you have to figure out how you want to use a new kind of product, and that’s a big part of the appeal, too, but at the end of the day, you’ve contributed to the development of a product. The whole crowdsourcing applications of a new device and company developing a close-knit relationship with beta testers and early adopters and stuff makes a lot of sense for the two guys making these, but there’s also full transparency, here: they can make these things, and if you want in, here’s how you get in. It strikes me that this is how American business is supposed to work.

I’ve not yet seen an equivalent Kickstarter project involving, for instance, a new type of credit default swap or other dubious “financial product.”

At least not that I’ve found yet.

Meanwhile, my own attempts to Create Something continue to convince me I should either play the stock market or learn to grow my own food. See that nearly vertical blue 190.5mm long line toward the right? That’s the new shock position.

In order to get things just as I want them, it’s looking like I’m going to have to go with the Giant Maestro-esque “low shock” configuration, which should work just fine, except that everybody will think my design’s like a Giant, which will cause me to say things like, “Motherfucker!” all the time. Given the lower rocker position, I’m thinking about a pretty open machined triangle coming up from the bottom bracket shell. I think this could be made pretty light and extremely stiff.

Of all shock positions, the low vertical orientation turns out to work particularly well for this design, which is a little unusual. I’d initially thought a more horizontal shock was going to be the way to go, but, even though it looks like my swingarm is rocking forward, the front of it is really rocking about straight down.

Instead of being a DW-link Maestro system like the Giant, my shit actually pivots around the center of its own swingarm. Meaning the instant center is behind the bottom bracket and that I can make my rear axle move absolutely vertically if wanted it to. I don’t, but, given how much I like tire clearance and 29ers, I wanted a design that would let me get true vertical axle path and everything else that’s even close to it. I also wanted a bike that felt tight, like a dirt jump bike from the bottom bracket back.

Balancing out all the options is the biggest pain in the ass. So how much chain growth is really too much chain growth? How noticeable is a shock rate of .40 versus .43? Once I make the final decisions, I’m in for some assembly rebuilding. No fun.

I have to admit, it’d be much easier to try to get sponsored for drawing drivetrains in Steve Jobs’ head.

In Fashion

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Dec 092011

There are only two universal truths in wild and wonderful world of bikes. Our professional athletes have the best psychological disorders, and the fashion industry loves us.

Not love in a “lifelong bond of mutual respect” sort of way, so much as a “some kinds of touching is bad” vibe. The most recent example was brought to my attention by Brad at

Ah, yes, designer Louis Vuitton crap for bike polo, or perhaps, based on the photos, some new combination of hockey, polo, kayaking, and croquet. The site arkitip sheds some light on the various artistic processes.

Cut to summer 2011, as we’re invited by our friends at Louis Vuitton to visit their Paris offices for a surprise. And what a surprise it was . . . They first showed us moodboards with images extracted from our bike polo fashion story, then revealed to us what they had been developing: a polo bike and a mallet. They collaborated with friends and fellow players Hannes Hengst and Grégory Barbier to manufacture an intricate and refined collection of parts. From the embossed leather pedal straps and mallet holders, to the machined chainring (by Victoire), etched barplugs, via the leather wheel cover, culminating with a spectacular hollowed out mallet head, attached to a fully wrapped shaft. All of it using the classic Vuitton patterns and shapes. I was a bit surprised to see that they decided to go for a fixed gear brakeless setup, since 99% of players now ride freewheel bikes, but beyond that was impressed by the attention to detail and the build quality.

Naturally, it’s slightly funny to read that phrase, “they had been developing: a polo bike and a mallet,” given that Vuitton themselves seem to take trademarks and intellectual property rather seriously, and that they no more “developed” a bicycle than I can download a print of VanGogh’s Sunflowers and call myself a painter.

Having just seen this same sort of thing with Need Supply Co.’s “bicycle,” I’m a little sensitive, but the thing I find most interesting about the creepy hand Fashion keeps putting on our knee is that there’s not only no substance to the infatuation, but there’s not even any genuine interest. They’re not even trying.

This is largely because so much of bicycle culture results from form following function, whereas in the world of fashion, form only follows function so that it can stab it in an alley.

DC Shoes and Sidi should be concerned about this hip and sexy, ultra-lightweight winter adventure boot.

Manolo’s passion for Tolstoy shines through in the group of shoes which one can imagine on the feet of Anna Karenina in snowy Russia.”

All this seems particularly unfortunate to me, because here we have a fashion industry based largely on aesthetics and price tags continually drawing associations with one based largely on function, and yet the cycling industry’s only sense of craftsmanship seems to be hand-built steel frames. Recently, I mentioned that long-time frame builder Sapa is closing up shop, and why not? They made high-end aluminum frames in a market that had all but entirely moved to carbon fiber. We build satellites and we sell wildly overpriced fashions here in the U.S., so why can’t we make great bicycles? With the possible exception of Cervelo’s “Project California”, where’s the insanely expensive because of technology American-made bicycle? If something in this world can support the absurd photo shoot pictured above, and a bunch of carbon fiber bikes that cost over $10,000 and are made in China, why can’t that same market support a genuine U.S.-made super bicycle–something hand-built of barely declassified materials or using suspension designs and technology never seen before–and also fabricated with the same craftsmanship normally reserved only for steel frames being brazed in Portland?

Why can’t the U.S. build a better bicycle?


 Bikes, Swine  Comments Off on Nerdapocalypse
Dec 082011


I, for one, am both happy and relieved that the cast of the Discovery channel show MythBusters has finally launched their assault on civilized society. Sure, sure, this whole incident was just a terrible accident, a miscalculation. Right. And if you belonged to a small clan of nerd geniuses plotting the downfall of a society of morons who gave you wedgies in high-school, I’m sure you would declare your intentions to everyone instead of slowly testing weapons on the neighbors until you were absolutely sure you were ready, right?

No, it’s clear that this is game on, and that “experiments” with cannonballs are just the beginning.

Can any of us, honestly, say we hadn’t seen this coming?

In all my recent Ayn Rand bashing, I mention how funny it seems that politicians, hedge fund managers, and “think tank” wonks like Grover Norquist now fancy themselves neo-captains of industry, brilliant minds hard at work using their superior intellect to keep the world running and save us poor, incompetent middle class types from ourselves. This is partially because Rand’s “self-interest is morality” stance (the girl wore a dollar sign in place of a crucifix) is back in favor, even though it never made any sense in the first place. One of my favorite–and by that I mean “funniest”–moments in Rand’s philosophical opus, Atlas Shrugged, features the owner of the world’s most successful copper mining company going on strike against the world of stupid people who regulate his and other important businesses and joining a secret group of financially, and apparently intellectually, gifted captains of industry on a private piece of secluded land. There, he does what surely any modern day CEO or banker would do: he builds his own copper mine. Like the best and most awesome copper mine ever.

You know, like a modern day CEO or board member or company president of a major multi-national corporation would. Or Grover Norquist. There in a free-market utopia, the super-awesome copper mine he apparently somehow dug himself using magical tools and maybe that green army of dead soldiers from The Lord of the Rings movie, is free to produce shitloads of copper without worrying about poisoning the town’s water supply or having to pay fines for miners who died due to cost-cutting measures his moral self-interest led him to make. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any actual workers in the secret Valley of the Tycoons Rand created; just a bunch of rich people for whom things just seem to happen. One supposes that when they turned their backs on the world to go rough it, they at least took the household help with them, as I don’t recall any scenes of a trophy wife having to skin a rabbit. At any rate, the home-made copper mine rocks, and everyone lives happily ever.

Describes our current situation, right? I mean, except that “CEO of multi-national corporation doing something” part. Outside the tech industry, there seem to be relatively few CEOs who can even tie their own shoes, let alone dig their own copper mines. What today’s captains of industry tend to build are credit default swaps, and there’s an excellent version of Atlas Shrugged about that, too.

Aside from lattes, we don’t make stuff in this country anymore. In fact, long-time U.S. fabricator of bicycle frames, Sapa, has just announced they will no longer be making bikes.

So if, as in Rand’s novel, the real Makers and Builders in the U.S. wanted to go on philosophical strike and quit thinking, building things for, and paying taxes to support, those just along for the ride who don’t seem to actually contribute anything to society–if all that shit really was starting to happen–where do you think the revolution would really start?



Trapped in Lockers One Too Many Times

Trapped in Lockers One Too Many Times

From computer programmers to your annoying neighbor who makes shit in his garage, and even that douchebag who invented cyclonic vacuum cleaner technology, smart people are rising up, motherfuckers. Objectivists, Tea Party types, and Occupiers alike might want to duck and cover, because I’m here to tell you we’ve finally pissed off guys like this.

At least their swift elimination of everyone else on the planet should be pretty well televised, and frankly pretty freakin’ awesome. In the immortal words of “coldunus” who left a comment on the ABC News video coverage of the cannonball assault, ” . . . this episide will be so AWESOME.”