The First Rule of Systems Analyst Club

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Feb 152012

By now, the painfully slow digestion of “Bike Messenger Culture” by the world of high-fashion and Walmart pop culture has been well documented. Really, really well documented. In fact, the act of documentation itself has become painful and slow, to the point that the whole sad thing now resembles a rabbit being eaten by a snake while also being interviewed about the experience by the snake. Eventually you don’t know if you’re sicker of the culture itself, or the half-assed infatuation soul-less types tend to have with it.

There’s some suspicion that all of this might culminate with Premium Rush, a movie featuring evil types pitted against a “who knew these dirty little fuckers were street ninjas” bike messenger.

But here’s why bike messenger culture won’t be over once this movie’s released: businesses need it.

No, I don’t mean that bike delivery is the only way for a stock broker to get his weed. I mean that, in this new age of massages at work, nap times, and (literally) free lunches for employees of ultra-competitive Silicon Valley corporations, the brutal competition to attract and retain young talent is going to drive businesses–particularly those that employ hipsters–to look beyond yoga and sliding boards. You need danger.

And not just any danger. Danger you can believe in.

Ex-bike messenger and now Northern Illinois University sociology professor, Jeff Kidder, has drawn attention to the role imminent death plays in the appeal of a bike messenger job. In his book, Urban Flow: Bike Messengers in the City, Kidder points out the obvious connection between the level of danger and more anti-social aspects of the job, and the dedication of those who do it. If there’s a philosophy here, it might amount to: any shit that can kill you gives meaning to your life, so why not make danger what you do for a living?

Which is great if you’re Travis Pastrana, but what if you’re generally uncoordinated, but really good with math?

By now it should be obvious where this is going. The next big trend in business productivity–inspired by bike messengers–is danger.

Forget all the new business books extolling the virtues of telecommuting and extremely flexible hours, nursing rooms and puppy fashion show Wednesdays. The future is way more extreme.

Chair uncomfortable? Try typing a memo on a laptop strapped to the bars of a Honda CRF50 while riding down six flights of stairs. Bad coffee at work sucks, but getting shot trying to rob a Starbucks because “it was your turn” really makes you appreciate life. Making a million bucks isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Destroying a billion bucks with an all-out team assault on your competition’s headquarters in the office park just up the street.

I envision an entire new services industry for businesses built around helping Fortune 500 companies make the lives of their employees absolutely terrifying and chock full of “holy shit I almost died” meaning. And the productivity that comes along with it. Sure, they’ll balk at the expenses of alligator pits and grenade launchers, but once they see how much less they can pay employees that are primarily in it for the thrill of just surviving, it’ll all start to make sense.

Feb 142012
Alden Saddles Jersey

This is not a picture of the most phallic pinwheel ever.

What do you see when you look at the pitches for Kickstarter projects? Having founded a company before, I see a lot of hard work necessary to make something worth owning, but I’m not sure every budding DIY entrepreneur shares that same feeling.

Next week I fly to Portland to talk to a guy about a bike. Actually a lot of bikes. Given recent non-disclosable developments with this whole suspension system I designed, I’ve been thinking a lot about the viability of a new bike company. Some very serious people I admire and respect have expressed interest in doing something with the design I’ve patented, and I’m humbled and more motivated than ever to develop some bikes. I think I’m just waiting for a fortune cookie that says, “Make bikes, dumbass.”

Like every other company that doesn’t exist yet, this one would conceivably be currently in the “seeking funding” stage. Carbon fiber molds ain’t cheap. Under the circumstances, I’ve been thinking about my old friend, Kickstarter. Could you use Kickstarter to help launch a bike company?

A lot of the bike projects I continue to see on Kickstarter tend toward the thinner definition of “manufacturing.” The t-shirt above, for instance, can be yours for only $60 if you’d like to help fund Alden Seats, a guy’s venture wrapping already produced bicycle saddles in stylish “brogue style” leather, which, one imagines transforms them from boring old “saddles” to luxurious “seats.” Brogue is the new hotness, and these saddles are fetching, if slippery and potentially brick-like.

Alden Brogue Saddle

Likewise, the artisan behind this, Carson Leh, seems like a nice enough fellow. It’s just that most of what I see on Kickstarter has a kind of non-committal quality, whereas I’m talking about actually producing things that would cost a lot of money to develop and a lot of money to buy. Consider Carson’s bio from his project page:

Son of the Pacific Coast, born in Marin County, raised in beautiful Port Townsend Washington and a graduate of Western Washington University. I’m currently enjoying America’s Riviera known as West LA. I spend my summers rafting the great rivers of the west from Arizona to Alaska. When not trying my hands at winemaking, architecture, and everything in-between, you can find me jumping curb cuts on my bike, eating tamales and climbing the waterfalls in Malibu.”

While my politics trend toward “angry-hippie” as much as anything else, Carson strikes me as primarily a young man with a bit of a work ethic issue. I’m apparently old and unhip enough to believe that if you’re quite literally asking people to give you money, you might want to tone down the “my life’s a perpetual vacation” thing a little. But, as indicated, I’m a stickler for accountability, and not entirely at ease with the latest forms of do-it-yourself business. If I were to consider partially funding a major production effort through Kickstarter, I’d just assume I had to be absolutely and unquestionably accountable to my investors. I’d have a hell of a lot to do, and I honestly don’t think it’d leave that much time for exploring “winemaking, architecture, and everything in-between,” and I can guarantee my waterfall climbing skills would go all to hell.

The dynamics of the new DIY economy are unique, though. Consider that one of the comments for the “Alden Seats” project states simply, “Carson…can’t I please have a t-shirt?” Clearly there’s some new form of “meta-freeloading” out there, wherein even asking people to give you money prompts some people to reply asking for a free t-shirt.

So could a new bike with what’s potentially the world’s greatest suspension system be partially funded by the people, for the people? It’s something I’m wondering. What do you think? We’d be talking straight gift certificates redeemable for their full amount. Maybe some t-shirts at a reasonable investment price, but I promise no bullshit poster pamphlets for those who’d donate their hard earned cash to the effort, and I vow, here and now, never to show that angle of a pelican on any t-shirt we’d ever make.

Feb 132012

Porsche 2012 Bicycle

Like many car companies, German automobile manufacturer Porsche has a long and storied history of stripping down and leaping head-first into the murky swimming pool that is the bicycle industry. Unlike, say, Jeep, our infinitely sensible German friends, however, traditionally take the time to make sure there’s water in the pool.

Jeep Shit Bike

I’ve honestly never understood why some car companies choose to license their name to such horrendous and potentially fatal “bicycle-shaped objects,” but I think it says something about American consumerism that there’s even a market for such a thing. A lot of us are dumbasses.

Speaking of dumbasses, the photo for the Jeep “Comanche Sahara” bicycle above was found on a site called Jeep Tech Tips, and is an example of something called “Content Marketing,” the “male-enhancement product” of the marketing world. In short, Content Marketing is the act of paying a mindless tool with no particular interests to write terminally uninteresting and useless text about a product and distribute this anti-information as thoroughly as possible on the interwebs, in the hope of catching the Eye of Sauron algorithms of Google. It’s an odd twist on the B-movie high-school paradigm, where the socially inept nerds try to attract the attention of the vacuous cheerleaders; here, the completely unoriginal and inane are hell-bent on figuring out how to win the affection of nerds who write search engine algorithms.

Sergey Brin's Shoes

Hint: It's all about the shoes, ladies.

Eventually computers will write this mindless dreck, or the need to buy a really shitty Jeep bicycle will able to be added directly to our brains as an ingredient in Red Bull, but until then, some poor son-of-a-bitch writes sentences like this for a living:

While I agree that, “The Commando would be more idle for a young teenager (13 or 14 years old),” particularly considering that no one over the age of nine would be able to fit on the bike, I suspect the word our “content marketing” was searching for there was “ideal,” and with that, I have to politely disagree.

The problem with information written to get the attention of computers is that occasionally humans run into it, and accidentally read it. Considering the entire point of writing this shit in the first place is to attract eyeballs, you’d thing there would be a value in communicating information that would actually answer people’s questions, but Content Marketing isn’t about providing information–it’s about getting noticed. In fact, it’s sort of the opposite of providing information.

Consider: “The only performance difference is that the Comanche Toledo has a rear shock.” This refers to the blue bike above, the one that doesn’t have a rear shock. Content written, paycheck in the bank, another productive day over: well done, Content Writer.

Our friends at Porsche, meanwhile, do not put their logos on just any tack-welded piece of heinous shit that comes down the pipe. They go out of their way to put their logo on truly bizarre pieces of ultra-high-tech shit that comes down a hand-laid carbon fiber pipe. Remember the Votec bikes?

You have to admit, they always at least try to do something different, and they’re doing it again in 2012 with the “RS,” a carbon fiber 29er with XTR components and Crank Brothers everywhere. Brakes, of course, had to be Magura (this whole Euro crisis isn’t going to solve itself, you know), which makes you wonder how irked the German luxury brands must be to routinely have to spec Japanese or Italian components on their fashion-accessory bicycles. Speaking of Google, if only Porsche, Audi, Mercedes and BMW had “20% free time to develop your own ideas” concepts in place for employees like those guys do, maybe we’d already have a full German gruppo.

Sadly, at nearly $10,000 for the RS pictured at the top of this post, I think I’d probably stick with a better looking Air 9 Carbon or Highball frame and save my money for the only real Porschycle.

Friday’s Time Travelers and Blood Suckers

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Feb 102012

My hair is rich and full.

So the Court of Arbitration for Sport has decided to ban retired cyclist Jan Ullrich for two years, a shocking blow to Ullrich’s hope of contesting the 2012 Tour de France from a large, comfortable chair at his home in Germany, but also making use of their new time machine, the CAS Doping Offense Win Negator (CASDOWN), to “annul” Ullrich’s results from May 1st, 2005. This move follows the recent reshuffling of race results from 2010 following Tour de France and Giro winner Alberto Contador’s retro-active disqualifications for doping, and begs the question, “Does anyone actually win races anymore?” The newfound ability of the CAS, while honorable and necessary, creates forms of higher math and alternative realities traditionally only found in the study of quantum physics. In a bizarre twist, an engineer at Google today announced that, using a combination of advanced algorithms, urine samples from the past five years, and a brief financial analysis of personal debt levels of the current pro peloton, it’s now easier to predict the 2012 winner of the Tour de France, than to predict the winners from the past ten years.

Critics, of course, are already arguing the CASDOWN system is nothing more than a marketing campaign to try to make professional cycling more popular in places like the U.S. where cycling is currently seen as way more boring than football (real football, the kind played with hands, not feet), but where sports betting, revisionist history, and fleeting celebrity are wildly popular. In addition to wondering who’ll win each of the Grand Tours in 2012, now we can all put money down on results dating back at least into the 2000s. (Personally, my money for the 2005 Tour is on Servais Knaven from Quick Step.)

Many donut-enjoying, rarely-standing-while-climbing “power” riders, myself included, were fans of Ullrich, though, so I’m not insensitive to the human aspect of this result. On that front, I’m happy to report that Ullrich has capitalized even on this setback, by–and I’m not making this up–becoming a spokesperson for a German hair stimulant marketed as “Doping for the Hair.” Sadly, while it appears riders like Ullrich and Contador aren’t obligated to return any prize money or other gains acquired while “not really winning,” it does appear that the riders must be declared legally “non-existent” during the retro-active period of their ban from sport. While the scientific community is still unsure what this actually means for the racers, it seems clear that some form of “undead syndrome” may be occurring, which would partially explain some of the otherwise inexplicable behavior of Floyd Landis, as well as this statement, released by Ullrich yesterday (italics mine):

Shortly before the 2006 tour, I was hit: Suspension, headlines, ostracism, house searches, criminal complaints. I felt abandoned, fallen like a leaf. The whole world wanted to put me against the wall and then I went instinctively to ground, and eventually retired. As I said, I will not complain that not everything was warranted. Shortly after my suspension I wanted to explain my actions publicly but my hands were tied. On the advice of my lawyers, and as is usual in such cases, I have been silent on the allegations. Ultimately, this issue has polluted me for years so much that I was sick and I eventually broke down.”

Did you catch that? While I can’t be certain, I’m pretty sure Jan Ullrich just admitted to being a vampire. In and of itself, it’s a pretty shocking revelation, but like most things in pro cycling these days, it still raises more questions than it answers. While long-term, congenital vampirism would certainly cast a new light on the whole blood doping thing, it seems more likely, in Ullrich’s case, that blood sucking is a result of the ruling by the CAS, not the cause. Clearly, being forced out of existence for a few years by the CAS, and then having to go on living as a spokesperson for German hair stimulants, was really the last nail in the coffin.

Jan Ullrich in human form.

The Armstrong Conspiracy and Moscow Riverbottom Commuting

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Feb 092012

While I don’t know if Lance Armstrong is guilty of doping or not, at this point, I’m absolutely convinced he’s the most powerful man in the world. We know now that the nearly two-year investigation by the Feds into potential crimes committed by Armstrong as a result of allegedly doping while riding for the government sponsored U.S. Postal team was dropped suddenly, and that the decision to drop the case came from one man, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.. After that, as often seems to happen whenever Lance is on the ropes, things get surreal. has posted an article containing the following:

The Wall Street Journal has alleged there was some debate within the US Attorney’s Office as to whether the two-year investigation into allegations of fraud and doping that involved the U.S. Postal Service Team and Lance Armstrong should have been closed last week. Armstrong has denied ever taking performance enhancing and welcomed the decision to close the case. He may still face investigation from USADA.

The report follows National Public Radio (NPR) revelations that sources in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Postal Service were ‘shocked, surprised and angered’ and that federal authorities only had 30 minutes notice before the United States Attorney’s Office issued a press release to the media on Friday afternoon.”

Try as I might, I could not locate that NPR article to validate Cyclingnews. The closest I came was a transcript of NPR’s Tom Goldman reporting on the dropped case. The closest Goldman gets to implying anything nefarious is going on is a small mention of “another source who said investigators in this case stressed as recently as a week ago that the evidence was rock-solid.” That said, Cyclingnews clearly suggests the news that the case was being dropped was seen as extremely unusual–shocking, even, to the prosecution. As much as I enjoy Cyclingnews, they seem really fond of only linking to themselves (which makes for great search engine marketing, but creates an echo chamber around the Internet for the same article to be posted multiple places–generating a digital wild goose chase of fake citations). In short, depending on who you talk to, Attorney Birotte’s behavior was either highly unusual and suspicious, or pretty much par for the course. Quite a range, that. If anyone can actually cite and validate the statements Cyclingnews is attributing to NPR, well, then we have a truly weird story on our hands.

But don’t we already have a truly weird story on our hands?

For Lance to be blameless, an awful lot of people would have to be completely evil pricks, stark raving lunatics, or both–which I’m certainly willing to believe. Floyd Landis alone is enough crazy to power most cities.

Floyd Landis: would you trust this man with your criminal investigation evidence?

But after a while, the sheer depth of the crazy going on all-around Armstrong starts to say something. And the weirdest part is the way the totally bizarre is always peppered with a little reality. Take this Wall Street Journal piece where Landis is blathering out his bizarre theory that the Postal team didn’t have proper working bikes, because all the spares were being sold off on the Internet to raise dope money. Obviously, that’s completely crazy, except that even Trek admits they were seeing the bikes show up for sale in weird places.

Why in the hell would they do that? Even if I’m willing to take Lance and Johan Bruyneel’s word for it that Lance doesn’t dope–like take that issue off the table completely–why would the team be selling off bikes while racing?

My theory is that Lance Armstrong is the Kevin Bacon of strange. He’s somehow connected to everyone who’s ever had something weird happen to them, and not usually in a good way. He might be the leader of the Knights Templar, or something. Alien. Robot. Something there is fucked up, at any rate, is all I’m saying. Whether it’s doping or not, weird shit is constantly going down all around Lance Armstrong, and nobody can do anything to stop it.

Another guy who seems well acquainted with shadowy, strange events is Vladimir Putin, but apparently one of the more innovative forms of protest in Russia these days consists of losing your bike in the river while trying to avoid traffic. According to the Wall Street Journal, a 42-year old homeless guy crashed through the ice covering the Moscow river, managing to survive, but losing his bike. How bad does the traffic have to be in your city before you risk death to avoid it? Apparently all the powerful people in need of actually getting anywhere around Moscow take helicopters. It’s that bad.

So there’s a homeless guy in Moscow who could really use a snowbike. There’s a viral marketing campaign in here somewhere for Salsa or Surly, though I imagine in the coming days we’ll learn this homeless guy was somehow a material witness in a suit against Lance Armstrong, and since falling through the ice he’s lost the power of speech and wants to race NASCAR.

Apocalypse Now: 650b is Coming

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Feb 082012

"We're gonna need some bigger wheels."

As is my tradition, I completely forgot about last Sunday’s Super Bowl, which means I didn’t get see any of the 3.5-million dollar ads, which means I ended up hearing about these unavoidable nuggets of American culture before actually witnessing any of them directly. This is a little like hearing about a new movie and imagining much scarier scenes and bigger explosions than even what today’s special effects can manage. Left as I was to my own imagination there for a while, it seemed these commercials painted a pretty grim picture of humanity circa 2012.

Based on what I heard, we had a commercial where everyone who doesn’t drive a Chevy is killed in an apocalypse, and then one where a Great Dane kills a cat, then blackmails a guy to stay quiet about it using Doritos. Apparently that one won a contest.

You’ve seen the commercials, probably, but imagine you haven’t. Imagine somebody just told you about them. Better still, imagine you’re explaining them to a kid.

Hilarious, right? Everybody’s dead! Goddamn Ford owners deserved what was coming to them, ha, ha! Get it? Fuck those fuckers! Ah [wiping away tears of laughter], good stuff.

If we take Super Bowl ads for what everyone assumes them to be, thirty second snapshots of the zeitgeist of American culture, I’m not entirely sure what this year’s batch is saying about us, but it does sound like hating each other might have quietly become a new American pastime. It’s certainly become our main source of entertainment. Maybe my pal, Harold Camping was right after all, and the world as we once knew it actually did end back in May. The new world just slipped right into place, though, the same way each next step appears under your foot, even when you’re walking in the dark, on your way to the basement. You can really only live in a world where Jesus Christ has become a homophobic, pro-business, defender of our right to bear firearms for so long, before you have to admit we’re angry people.

But it’s a kinder, gentler, and more socially conscious sort of “mean.”

In increasing number of people, for instance, are choosing to commute by bicycle when robbing banks. This isn’t any real surprise in Eugene, Oregon, where the perpetrator of “violent takeover-style robberies,” appears to keep escaping by bicycle, and where one imagines the Oregon Financial Institutions Security Taskforce, or “FIST,” is currently searching the area–also of course on bicycle–in search of the suspect. But Marietta, Georgia? I’ve lived in Marietta, and feel confident in saying that anyone choosing to escape crime scenes by bicycle there will be dead within the week anyway. Given the drivers in and around the entire Atlanta area, the only challenge the FBI will have is identifying the body.

We’re all turned into mean-spirited asshats, is all I’m saying–not that that’s a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong. I’m secretly hoping for a zombie apocalypse as much as the next guy (makes sense for all sorts of reasons, like better job opportunities once the herd’s been thinned a bit, getting to shoot pretty much everything, finding a sweet car, the whole “Twinkie” thing). But Chevy co-opting Death on a Biblical Scale for a commercial? That’s bold. That slips past “fascinated with the end times” and “sick of my fellow man” and trucks right on into something worse, that genuine longing for some room to stretch our legs and some nice, deep, post-apocalyptic peace and quiet.

Comparatively, I guess the dog killing cat thing is cute because it’s like the dog was a mobster or something, so it’s funny because it was just like a human killed the cat, and it’s always funny when animals act like people. Especially when they’re killing shit. Get it now? Logically, though, this one doesn’t pass the smell test. Why wouldn’t the dog just poison the Doritos to get rid of the only witness? That would make perfect sense, except that I’m pretty sure most poisons are already ingredients found in Doritos, so it’s complicated.

These commercials, like so much else right now, genuinely speak to the “it’s me or you” crowd, the same movement that’s bringing us TV shows about people preparing for the end of the world. Why the tension? Various ancient cultures apparently offer slightly different scenarios, but a constant theme is that 2012 will be the year Life As We Know It is changed completely. That could be subject to different interpretations by different people, but I’m pretty sure I know what the big change is going to be.


That’s right, life as you know it may very well be about to change, and once again Carl Schlemowitz from Vicious Cycles may be proven to have been way, way ahead of the curve. Here are a few reasons Goldilocks wheels are here to stay this time around.

  • There Was Never a Good Reason for 26″ Wheels in the First Place – One of the most important things 29ers did was dispel the myth of the 26″ wheel, which might as well have been chosen arbitrarily. When it comes to the preeminence of 26″ wheels in the world of mountain bikes, once the flood gates of doubt opened up, it became pretty which wheel size couldn’t swim. The 29er could never replace a 26″ wheel, but a 27.5″ wheel just might. And probably should. Get over it Europe. The 26″ wheel is stupid for anyone over five feet tall. That’s 152.4 centimeters.
  • Nobody Wants to Look Stupid After Missing that 29er Thing – Once we hit that tipping point, adoption is going to happen with the quickness here. Not only did some companies look stupid for panning 29ers up until they finally caved in and released one (which then shot to the top of their sales charts and stayed there), but some companies made much more money by betting on the right horse. Money equals motion. Everybody wants to cover this next move, when it comes.
  • Forks and Rims Are Already Here – The real teeth-pulling with 29ers happened around the rim, tire and fork manufacturers, but for 650b, that part of the puzzle’s already in place. It’s also a manufacturing reality that you just have to make different sizes now. All this shit is being mass-produced in China anyway, so you really can’t bitch about your overwhelming productions costs to Americans who pay more for a cup of coffee than it costs to have a tire made in China. You’re making two sizes of tires and rims already. Might as well just make another one.
  • 650b Bikes Won’t Suck – By definition, they were designed to be the middle of the road, and, unless you’re a GOP candidate, that’s never a particularly dangerous place to be. Something like a 36″ tire will be pretty unlikely to be adopted by everyone, but a bike that rolls a bit better than a bike with 26″ wheels, but in all other ways feels about the same but has marketing buzz? That’s not a hard bike to sell. A 29er was a big difference, but the only people still riding 26″ wheels wouldn’t even know the difference if you put 27.5″ wheels on their bike.
  • The Industry Needs This – Not just because new trends have to constantly drive you to want a new bike, but due to some very concrete reasons, there is a very powerful lobby going on for the middle wheel size right now. This is led largely by companies with skin in the five to seven inch travel frame game. You just can’t get enough distance between stuff to have a “longer travel” 29er. Something’s got to give. A system is already in place at most manufacturers to make that something a 650b long-travel suspension frame.

Don’t panic. The reality is that 650b is–one way or another–coming. The best thing to do is stay calm, stock up on water, keep an open mind, and don’t eat Doritos. They’re made with cats.

In Brogues

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Feb 072012

For my money, the most exciting thing about cycling’s grand tours is that you never know who’ll win. Even several months after the race is over, it’s still really anybody’s race. Alberto Contador received his two year ban from racing yesterday, and along with it was retroactively stripped of 2010 victories in the Tour de France and the Giro D’Italia. Congratulations to Andy Schleck and Michele Scarponi! Good races, guys. Looked like you’d come up short there for a while, but, upon further review, you each had the biggest moments of your life. Pardon us if we don’t bother to get up.

While probably cleaner than it’s ever been, professional cycling went through the stages “Appalling,” and “Pathetic” a while back, and now never seems to miss a chance to just make itself even more comical. This latest news only twists a knife most of us picked up somewhere along Stage 17, 2006, and haven’t been able to shake since. Ironic that Contador’s suspension fell hard upon the news that Mr. Lance Armstrong was found super-blameless in the World Court of All Final Decisions. Or something. Like many people, by now I sort of want to find out Lance was doping that whole time, just because it would make for an amazing book. If Armstrong really is guilty of doping and orchestrating a mass cover-up, I think it’s safe to say the world hasn’t seen a virtuoso performance of mass mind control and manipulation that impressive since Rasputin. Nobody can resist cheering for a new world record.

As for the future of the sport, I’ve said long ago they should not only give up testing, but have an “open” class. I, who find it tough to watch even the most creampuff of crashes during stage races, and literally avoid seeing crash footage, suspect I’d have no problem tuning in for exploding hearts, spontaneous comas, and whatever else these junkies seem hell-bent on doing to themselves, because, unlike crashes, doping deaths wouldn’t be random and unwarranted. Besides, nothing would finally get Americans interested in the sport like cheering for delusional drug addicts catapulting off mountainsides while waving their arms at imaginary bats. Would certainly pull in the NASCAR demographic.

While we’re at it, I have some ideas for changes to the bikes.

Who doesn’t love rally? Having seen the wireframe Range Rover Evoque bicycle,

it seems obvious that you need a protective cage around your bike, and a co-pilot, you know, to man the weapons system. Besides, if everybody had to pedal enormous metal cages around and survive explosions, flamethrower attacks, and Spartacus chariot wheel-blade assaults during every Grand Tour, Jens Voigt would have already become the winningest pro in the history of cycling. By a lot.

In my more TV-friendly format, the green jersey points would go to the team towing the loudest stereo, the polka dot jersey would (obviously) be awarded to the fastest speed hit on a descent, and the trademark yellow race leader jersey would be replaced by some sweet new Rapha brogue shoes:

You think Thomas Voeckler left it all on the road defending the yellow jersey last year? Imagine a piece of race leader apparel that actually becomes more and more hot, painful, and excruciatingly hip with every second it stays in contact with your body.

Given that I’ve accidentally segued into a new product reveal here, apparently the Rapha shoes will be out by the end of the summer, and will feature deeply depressed repressed recessed cleats for sauntering jauntily into boardrooms with only your general douchiness to set you apart, as opposed to that and the clackings of a uncoordinated tap dancer.

Given that Rapha’s previous partnership with the shoe’s designer, tai­lor Tim­o­thy Ever­est, was apparently a jacket that sold for more than $600, one can only speculate as to the price of the new shoes.

Or one can hold a contest.

I’m hereby announcing the first ever Canootervalve contest:

Guess the Price of Rapha Brogues

Maybe I’ll bother to code up a fancy voting form to make this more formal, but probably not, so email me your guesses or leave a comment.

He or she who comes the closest to guessing the actual price will receive a genuine Surly frame decal emblazoned with the timeless words, “Just Because We Both Ride Bikes, Doesn’t Mean We’re Friends.”

No purchase necessary to enter. In fact, it’s not even recommended.

The Other Side

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Feb 062012

Position Available, Leicestershire, UK

After reading Friday’s bit about Trek’s tapered steerer tube patent, friends kindly reminded me about the past decade. It seems that somehow I’d misplaced any recollection of the bike industry from the Y2K crisis to year 2010, including Trek’s tapered head tube and fork development. Josh, in particular helped me face apparently repressed memories about Trek’s E1 and E2 head tube standards, and how they have, in fact, maintained that as an open standard.

Somewhere inside that moment where the gears began to engage and my brain’s sad, cheese-clogged synapes started to fire again, this occurred to me: they really have let others use this.

In light the way Specialized recently attacked Volagi, ostensibly for making a carbon fiber bicycle frame that may or may not be painted red (the Volagi frame shape certainly bore no resemblance to anything Specialized had ever made), not to mention the many, many absolute bullshit patents protecting highly dubious claims, Trek’s benevolent stance here seems genuinely nice. Sure, it was a tactical decision to help ensure the design was adopted by fork manufacturers and stuff, and plenty of companies immediately rush to use any perceived intellectual property advantage to cut off development, only to find they’ve painted themselves into a corner. But, still. Trek could have probably been dicks about this, and they weren’t. I think that’s nice of them.

Probably just me, though. A complicated and prolonged search for new employment has me all emotional. I’m currently leaning toward “hearse driver,” provided I can learn to ride on the wrong side of the road and eat .

Yes, self-declared physically unfit British owner of a tandem bike hearse, Reverend Paul Sinclair, recently famous and somewhat , is looking for someone to pedal the recently deceased to their final resting places.

As a naturally morbid personality and recovering Roman Catholic who feels guilty about riding a bike unless it’s also, technically, considered “work,” this would be my dream job, were it not for two things.

First, I find the Queen such a distractingly handsome woman that I have no idea how anyone in the UK manages to concentrate on anything. Just knowing she was near–with that weirdly conspiratorial and overbitey grin of hers–would render me incapable of even making toast correctly.

Second, the hatred for cyclists in the UK is so much more refined than it is in the states, that I’m not sure how one survives there without maybe a bandoleer of Grey Poupon to hurl at passing “lorries.” Case in point, one Andrew Grimes, a writer for The Manchester Evening News, who believes:

It is seldom a good idea to get on yer bike. Hail a taxi. Catch a bus. Drive a car. Walk. Each of these alternatives offers the likeliest chance of completing a journey through a British city without winding up at the undertakers.

Cycling is a relic of cosy, Edwardian rurality, when one could take one’s chances in contest with a lumbering horse and cart. Nobody got his or her skull crushed under the hooves of a farmer’s shire.

But that was then.

Today is the 21st century, burnt tyre rubber time, with a bloke in a tall cabin unable to see the assiduous helmet crouched nose-down on aluminium handlebars, sidling alongside his fuel-stashed juggernaut.

Yet the cycling lobby won’t give up. It never ceases to campaign for more road space – which means clearing goods lorries, buses and motor cars off great swathing widths of our arterial highways—to make way for its insane multitudes of pedalling romantics.”

While I take issue with the Dickensianly be-monikered “Mr. Grimes” regarding the general use of bicycles and his belief that cyclists should stop trying to be so bloody special and just drive a car like any sensible person, I can not fault his prose, which can only be described as the aural equivalent of inserting Jonathan Swift into the arse of William Shakespeare and baking for twelve to fourteen hours at 400-degrees. Fahrenheit, of course.

Even if one dared mount a response to the twisted logic that claims to advocate for the health of cyclists by making them no longer cyclists, phrases like “fuel-stashed juggernaut” overwhelm the reader’s senses with such a flamboyant display of bad poetry as to be almost disorienting. Is fuel actually “hidden” within vehicles, and is the presence of the fuel somehow relevant to the author’s point? Having neither driven nor ridden in London proper, I concede my ignorance in the matter. Perhaps even the slightest brush with a cyclist frequently causes cars in the UK to explode spectacularly. Having located the steering wheel on the wrong side of the vehicle, it’s certainly possible the petrol tanks are somehow located in the side view mirrors.

At any rate, it appears the UK has a a unique strain of an otherwise American disorder, a condition that causes the infected to reduce those with different viewpoints to idealistic children, while they, the clear-minded adults, endeavor to explain How Life Works. One grows up, of course, and learns not to ride bicycles, because riding bicycles is generally very good (it doesn’t pollute and it makes for a healthier population) and because riding a bicycle makes people happy.

And that just won’t do.

Like any truly gifted writer, Mr. Grimes has an innate grasp of the ironic, burying his criticism of less “up-to-date” modes of transportation being pedaled around by “romantics” inside his own peculiarly ancient prose.

It is not safe to ride a bike through high-cabined convoys of juggernauts. To pretend that it is, is to ignore the emergence of all mechanised locomotion since 1912 . . . . I think that all cycling on major arterial roads, especially at peak periods, should be outlawed on pain of jail, apart from in places without traffic lights and where the motorised speed limit has been brought down to 12 miles an hour. At the same time, I am not completely heartless. Obviously, cycling on pavements should be encouraged.”

Yes, “on pain of jail,” cycling should be outlawed in order to save cyclists from themselves–and by “themselves” Grimes of course means their habit of trying to share the road with “juggernauts.” I would submit to the people of London that any man who uses the word “juggernaut” to describe a motor vehicle more than once within the same article, should be driven from the city proper, “on pain of jail,” as a man unfit to process life in the 21st Century. Yes, it’s clearly the cyclists of London who have fallen behind the times, dangerously unaware of the dangers posed by the great, steam-powered juggernauts all around them.

I encourage everyone to read the article, preferably with the following image in mind as narrator.

And yes, Mr. Grimes does indeed conclude with a concession. He is not, “completely heartless,” and suggests cyclists should make use of “pavements,” or, in the slightly less obtuse American vernacular, “sidewalks,” where, he assures us, “granny with her groceries is usually nippy enough to dodge a two- wheeled obstacle crawling past the shop window, even if she cannot always bring herself to knock him down.” I suspect Mr. Grimes himself ultimately lacks the ballsballocks to actually affect cycling in London, or anywhere else, but, should anyone cycling on the streets of London encounter the gentleman making his way along a “pavement,” I suggest you heed his advice, get your ass on his nice, safe sidewalk, and make sure he’s feeling sufficiently “nippy.”

Friday’s Legal Landgrab

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Feb 032012

Yesterday, I went through some of the more interesting patents out there. One that seemed to deserve its own space, though, is this one.

That’s still a little vague, so let me clarify what it pertains to.

Based on that set of drawings, you might begin to recognize the idea in question as a tapered steerer tube–the same basic design found on almost every bike. I stumbled onto this the other night, and traced it back to a patent that was already approved on May 22nd, 2011. Given that the inventor is in Madison, Wisconsin, I suspected the actual owner of the patent was Trek, and finding the old patent confirmed this. Here’s the “Abstract,” or “what it does” portion of the original patent:

A bicycle steerer tube assembly having an oblong asymmetric cross section formed along a portion of the steerer tube. The asymmetric portion of the steerer tube has a first diameter that is generally aligned with an axis of rotation of the front wheel and a second diameter that is generally aligned with a plane of rotation of the front wheel. The first diameter is greater than the second diameter and provides lateral stiffness to the wheel assembly and the second diameter accommodates longitudinal impact absorption of the fork and wheel assembly.”

The potential significance of this is pretty mind-blowing. If I’m reading this correctly–and I’m pretty sure I’m at least close–what this patent actually says is that Trek was granted ownership of tapered steerer tubes this past May.

As in all tapered steerer tubes.

Meaning that pretty much every bike above $1000 and made in the last few years features intellectual property now owned by Trek.

If this is, indeed, the case, the real question becomes, “Will they enforce this patent?” and, if so, to what degree? Conceivably, every bike with a tapered steerer tube owes Trek money. Given that the original patent was approved less than a year ago, it’s possible the hammer just hasn’t come down yet–and it’s also possible that, despite the initial approval of a clearly very broad idea, clarification was required before anything could really be enforced, and this has required the submission for a second patent. My fourth least-favorite thing in the world (behind Nickleback, vampires who fall in love humans, and chewing aluminum foil) is half-cocked internet rumor-mongering, so it’s important to point out that this could be no big deal–companies hold all kinds of patents, and not every intellectual battle is as bloody as, say, Apple versus Samsung. Maybe this all means nothing.

But wow. It’s hard to believe a patent this broad could be granted, and that Trek could conceivably declare all tapered steerer designs liable for encroaching on their intellectual turf, but I believe the possibility is at least there, based on this information.

Personally, I’d like to think that Trek is above taking any action on this patent, assuming they can, but it’s a mad world. Many, many crazy patent wars have already been waged–many behind the curtain–in the bicycle industry. I can still remember walking past a Santa Cruz Superlight in one of my mechanics’ bike stands and noticing a patent number stamped on the swingarm. Suffice to say, it didn’t belong to Santa Cruz–the company who’d originated that type of swingarm design. Seems somebody had come in underneath them and snaked the IP on that fabrication method, which to this day seems like one of the biggest dick moves possible. But there have been plenty, and Specialized’s recent drunken swing at Volagi proves we’re not all one big happy industry, sitting around the campfire, drinking microbrews and sharing mutual respect.

What do you think? If one company had the ability to claim something that’s become such a part of all decent bicycles, should they? If Trek developed this technology out ahead of everyone else, then they’re right to own it, but boy would it be something for them to take ownership of that now. I suspect we’d be looking at a blizzard of licensing deals being put together, like what happens in smartphones and other competitive technology sectors, and most of us would go on buying whatever bike we wanted, oblivious to the money changing hands behind the scenes.

Or this could be a real mess.

Patently Oblivious: Weird Bike Stuff is Out There

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Feb 022012

Few things are better on a rainy morning than settling in with a full pot of coffee and some time to cruise freaky patents. Sure, I’m supposed to pretend facing a rainy morning while racing a 24-hour event–or better still, wrenching one–is the more honorable, Klingon sort of path to joy, but, having done that, I call bullshit. Nice to be warm today, and I like looking at the future. The strange, strange future. While, for me, nothing will compare to the old days of Interbike, when small companies could still afford to booth up on the ground floor and show off their bizarre wares, sorting through upcoming patents is as close as it gets. Will these things see the light of day? Tough to say, but here are a few reasons to hope the Mayans are wrong.

About all I can say to this is: “wow.” If you think you’ve seen everything possible in the world of bicycle suspension, you need to say hello to a kind of four-bar with bars that criss-cross in an “x” pattern, which seems to be what’s going on here.

Pretty straightforward here. So staightforward, in fact, that I can’t really believe this was approved. If blending seat stays into your top tube’s a crime the Handmade Show is going to look like Occupy Oakland.

Like everyone else, I’ve been kicking Specialized in the nuts for a while now over their recent marketing self-immolation stunt against Volagi, so it’s nice to point out some positive–if somewhat bizarre–things they have up their big red sleeves.

Tough to say where they’re going with a sort of bloated seat tube as suspension system, but I love the initiative. Goofy envelope-pushing stuff like this is the good side of Specialized.

While this smacks of notorious “lawyer tabs” on forks, I have to admit it’s a simple way to keep your handlebars from completely flying out of your stem.

Um, but . . . so this solves a problem? Is there a reason we all need to be concerned about this, guys? At first glance, the safety clip on this stem design seems like it’d only come into play if your stem’s faceplate exploded off or something. Might have to up my life insurance and/or read this one over carefully.

Nice and practical, SRAM’s design for a front derailleur with a really compact, multi-cable-pull-friendly actuation arm. I figured I’d include this because it’s nice to see front derailleurs–if one must still use them–being shrunken as much as possible. This makes frame designers very happy.

Have a question about the what’s left of the future? Go look at some patent, or feel free to ask me. I love this stuff.