Changing Gears

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May 312012

Mt. Hood from Washington 14 East

I’m still getting used to the weird habit the big mountains out here have of disappearing for months at a time, only to show up again so impossibly large and nearby-looking as soon as we have a clear day that you can’t imagine not seeing them. My wife was in Portland and Washington for a week to help with the house hunt, and never once saw Mt. Hood or Mt. Saint Helens. The day after she left that felt crazy. You could practically feel Mt. Hood looking on your window at night, as if all of Portland were one of those tiny Alpine villages in the immediate shadow of the mountain.

Today I managed to catch Hood sort of half visible and half not, directly ahead of me on Washington 14 East, running right along the Columbia. In the photo up there, it’s just about to fade into the clouds and vanish.

Speaking of the ephemeral, did you see those 2013 Dura Ace photos Bikerumor posted?

Yes, it’s 11-speed, and yes, the arms are all funkily asymmetric and stuff, but for my money the really interesting thing going on here is the near infinite gearing options. Because Shimano has effectively made their big ring the actual spider onto which the small ring mounts (notice how small the actual crank arm spider is?), they’ll be able to offer chainring sets in pretty much any big-ring, little-ring pairing that’s within about 16-teeth of each other.

A different path toward the same near gearing has already been blazed at Campagnolo. You can see their 2013 cranksets over at Bikeradar. Though they don’t look quite as unique as the Dura Ace, Campy’s chainrings have been changing, too, and everyone is curious to see if their 52/36t combination is going to shift. If it does, that may become the new compact gearing of choice. I can’t claim to understand why Campy seems hell-bent on resurrecting the very nearly dead road triple, though. It’s like those labs that keep potentially devastating viruses around for research purposes. All you can do is hope they never get out.

It looks like some form of really wide-range gearing may be upon us, though. If it shifts, it’ll be a net positive thing. If it doesn’t it won’t. Between electronics and entirely new ratios from and back, though, it looks like we’ll be seeing some very different things happening with drivetrains, and I hope to focus a on new products here as we head toward 2013.

I received a bunch of responses to my SRAM 1×11 question, but feel free to share your opinion, if you haven’t yet. I’ll let you know the general consensus tomorrow.

B. Rose-Colored Glasses

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May 302012

It’s not your fault if the title seems to make no sense. Today’s post ended up seeming like an ideal kind tribute to a fine man and icon of the bike community, a guy who’s keeping it real in a virtual world.

If you haven’t heard, there’s a badass new computer virus doing the rounds out there. It’s called Flame. Don’t panic yet. According to NPR’s Marketplace, it’s so far only located in the Middle East. It is however, a little interesting, in that it can steal pretty much all the information on your computer. That means keystrokes, screen captures–it can even listen in on your microphone and detect Bluetooth devices near your computer.

Pretty spooky, but it pales in comparison to the personal information gathering virus spreading through the outdoor community. It’s called Strava, and it wants to know how much you rode today.

Strava is far and away the most popular of a new group of physical performance social networks and data gathering applications. Using smartphones and Garmins, Strava records the data on your rides–distance, elevation, etc.–then lets you see just how much you suck compared to the really fast people out there.

It’s actually extremely cool–a social network that involves doing something more than just sitting in front of your computer. What’s always seemed a little odd to me, though, is that we often tend to be OK with volunteering personal information we’d otherwise think twice about giving away if asked. In nerd-speak the term for encouraging people to do something in exchange for some perceived reward is called “gamification.” Really, it means taking the mechanics of a video game and applying it to social interactions and real life, whatever the hell that is.

It has a lot of interesting potential–and some weird examples, like Zombies, Run! an iPhone app (arrives on Android June 14th), that encourages you along on your training runs by, well, telling you brain-thirsty zombies are chasing you.

Between the social element of apps like Strava and the interactive element of apps like Zombies, Run!, it seems like maybe I won’t be telling my grandkids to turn off the video games and go outside; I’ll be telling them to take the dumbass goggles off and just ride their bikes.

Google, in fact, is already building those virtual reality goggles. If you’ve not yet seen the glasses that can take photos and shoot video and do smartphony sorts of things, you should check them out.

Here’s what they look like on you if you’re a model:

And here’s what they look like on you if you’re not:

And here’s how rad your life looks while wearing them:

Have you ever noticed that Google’s a little like the world’s first Giant Spoiled Multinational Corporate Seven-year-old Suburban Kid. Apple has the iPhone and a viable retail manufacturing business, so Google wants virtual reality glasses and a viable retail manufacturing business. Thing is, this is good business practice in the tech sector in 2012. There are no more small innovations left. Everything from here on out will be a game-changer. Until nobody knows what the game is anymore.

For my part, I hope you can ride your bike while being chased by zombies and shooting eyeball laser beams at virtual riders just in front of you on the trail, obliterating their record breaking times and making a little pop-up appear on their own Google glasses to let them know they’ve just been vaporized.

More than likely, though, I’d be one of the last people riding a bike without any of that stuff, swerving around a trailhead full of dudes making “bweeel, bweeel!” laser beam shooting sounds and screaming “No, no!” at imaginary zombies. But I guess witnessing that would be way better than virtual reality anyway.

Looking Forward to the Past

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May 292012

In case anyone was wondering, yes, I’d noticed the Bikerumor coverage of Kabush’s Scott bike with the Di2 battery-powered fork and rear shock lockout that are the exact patent I’d posted a while back. Lest we wonder that that says about the increasingly cozy relationship between Shimano and Fox, let’s consider that Shimano’s literally plugging its Di2 battery into Fox’s products. By some standards, you have to be married to do that.

Whatever the working relationship between the two companies, they sure are interested in making our bikes more complicated. I read with great interest the Bikerumor article itself, and then the comments that following. Having ridden one of those bikes with the Girven/Noleen piston-velocity-sensing forks my own self like 180 years ago, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say the only thing Foxmano’s NASA-level shit has in common with the 9-volt battery sucking ancient Noleen is that both products were in some way attached to bicycles. I don’t doubt the quality of the Di2 battery-powered lockout system going on there on the Kabushmobile, but I do have to wonder what the market is for such a thing.

Only yesterday, I’d asked if you’d be willing to buy all the new stuff necessary to convert to a SRAM 1×11 system, but in light of what Fox and Shimano are trying to bring to market, buying a new rear wheel, shifter, cassette and rear derailleur seems pretty basic and plain. Sure, there’s a parallel between the two–both address age old issues in fresh ways–but why do I expect electronic suspension will be tougher to sell?

Stigma, for one thing. There’s always going to be some kid who thinks the customer base for gadgets like this is made up of fat old men who like overpriced bikes that do all the thinking, because they can’t pick a line for shit. Haters gonna hate, for sure. But when that kid is motoring away from your electronic wonder bike on his rigid, steel 29er, you have to at least regard his bad attitude as constructive criticism. If you think you’re going to haul ass like Kabush once you’re wired up, the bad news I bring you is that no electronic suspension system is going to help you. It’s like the winter I was living in Atlanta during a freak snowstorm and watched somebody repeatedly gun the engine and plow his BMW into the center barrier again and again and again, thinking, presumably, that his “driving machine” would translate his incompetent spasms into some sort of positive outcome. There’s only so much the machine can do for you. For most of us, Mert Lawwill himself could be operating our suspension via remote control, and we’re still not going to be able to pick a line for shit.

Kabush, it seems unnecessary to point out, is simply hauling ass this year. You could tie him to a tandem with Oprah, and the boy would still be winning, so don’t let’s read too much into wires and servers as relates to victory just yet. I don’t know if people want all this stuff on their bikes. Probably they’ll accept it, but that’s not what I asked. What I asked is did they want it? Because bringing products to market that no one asked for really only seems to work if you’re Apple.

In contrast to the Inspector Gadget approach, consider the weirdly simple Magura fork Bikerumor and MTBR and everyone else just convered.

I have to tell you, I think I have a crush on this weird neo-retro Magura 29er fork, the TS8. For starters, nobody in Germany got the memo that any product is supposed to have an “X” in it. “TS8” sounds like an elite group of airport security people who appear from out of nowhere whenever there’s a potential problem, staring holes straight through you while they pull on a rubber glove.

So not sure about the name, but the c-clip in the bottom of the stanchion warms my heart. That’s how we used to do it. And really ditto on everything else about this fork, from simple-ass air chamber and piston (which is going to need 5cc of RockShox RedRum on top of it, I all but guarantee) to the cartoonish elastomer stack negative spring, to the ability to futz with oil viscosity to change compression damping.

If the Foxmano Di2-powered Lockout-o-matic is the suspension of the future, the Magura TS8 is the suspension of the past, only seemingly very well executed and using much better materials. So I should be far more interested in the groundbreaking Fox forks, but I find I’m actually much more intrigued by the simple Magura, particularly the idea that I can mess with oil weights again and really change the feel of the fork. The Fox post had over 10,000 views; the Magura about 2,400, so I suspect I’m firmly in the minority on this one, but I can’t help it. The simple but easy to tear down and customize Magura looks far more interesting to me right now. Maybe if I owned an X-box I’d feel differently.

Do You Go to 11?

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May 282012

Sure, I veered off bikes a fair amount last week. I guess I was waiting for somebody to invent a new rear axle or bottom bracket standard, but SRAM trumped all that with those spy photos of a prototype 1×11 drivetrain that showed up on BikeRadar, and ignited a shitstorm of speculation and armchair product managing across the Interwebs.

As evidenced by the condition I’m in after last Saturday’s ride with the Portland Velo crew, I am old. I am, in fact, old enough to remember the invention of the “cassette body,” not to mention the shitstorm that was the eventual transition to a new, wider cassette body. Ah, the good ol’ seven and eight-speed days, a special time when there were still genuine freewheel mountain bike hubs out there, mingling freely with the chaos of different hub flange spacing and cassette body widths. Or something like that. I’ve repressed most of it successfully.

Many youngsters out there have no idea just how nice you’ve had it what with all these extra gears getting crammed onto cassettes without requiring entirely different cassette bodies and pushing the hub flanges even closer together.

But maybe it’s time. Like one of those B movies where someone can’t leave well enough alone and messes with a sacred tomb or something, SRAM may have unleashed all hell in their pursuit of the ultimate simple single chainring.

As someone who hates triples, I feel I owe SRAM a great debt for introducing 2×10 and forcing Shimano to get on board with doubles, too. Triple cranksets in any and all forms are the work of the devil.

But at what cost? If we really stand on the verge of a new hub “standard,” I’m afraid the whole universe might plunge hopelessly into chaos. Seriously. Wheelsets have been our sanity throughout all the headset and bottom bracket changes over the past few years. Sure, there are all those axle options now, but to their infinite credit, the wheelset manufacturers have done a great job of building adaptability into their hubs as quickly as possible. If DT really does already have a completely new cassette body in production and we’re going to see wider cassette bodies and new cassettes that won’t be compatible with any previous hub, it’s going to be really interesting to see how consumers react.

Would you move to an 11-tooth mountain cassette that let you go single ring up front if it meant having to buy a new rear hub or entire rear wheel, new derailleur and new shifter?

Do You Go to 11?

Keep Portland Car Washes Weird

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May 252012

My daughter is pretty amazing. I know every daughter everywhere is amazing, but in this case I mean pretty specifically amazing. When she was still very small, I used to take her for short drives on the gravel roads through the state park around our house to help her fall asleep, and for some reason (she was born on Shakespeare’s birthday) I taught her the “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy from Hamlet. She memorized up to “and by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” and could recite it on her own with decent inflection, somehow, despite the deadpan delivery of my recitals. To die. To sleep. No more. She was a year old.

That same year the only babysitter we ever had who smoked (and always left the butts floating in the toilet) was taking my daughter on a walk on the dirt roads by our home and asked who lived in one of the neighbor’s houses.

“I don’t know,” my daughter told her, looking at little wooden sign in front of the house. “Says ‘Meyers.'”

On the phone the other day she told me that the teachers in pre-school used to annoy her a little, because they had these books you could look at while listening to headphones that read you the story, and the teachers would keep telling her to put the headphones back on making her turn the page when the beep went off, even though she hadn’t finished reading the page yet.

When you read that much, you end up a little precocious, a little wonderfully unique.

It’s been almost two months since I’ve seen my daughter, and I know moving here will be a big change for her, but the Northwest keeps doing things to cheer me up. Things that remind me of her.

About a week ago I was washing what’s left of my car when I noticed a potato, still in perfectly good shape, positioned with almost mathematical precision in the corner of the car wash bay–in the photo above, I’ve moved it a little to get enough light on it for the photo. I don’t know what about a perfectly good potato carefully positioned in a car wash bay should make me think of my daughter, but it did. She’d turned twelve a week after I left home, and she’s particularly intrigued by Portland’s “weird” factor.

Imagiine how overjoyed I was, then, to be putting my phone away after taking the potato photo to find a full-grown person riding into the same car wash bay on one of those tiny superbikes, like this:

Despite a bunch of obvious other ways around, including not going into a bay at all, which would have been quicker, he chose to ride right past me and then, worried he might’ve been intruding, stopped, flipped open the visor of his helmet, and said, “Is it OK to come through here?”


How could I explain how happy I was to see him?

Daughter, it really is pretty weird here, and pretty wonderful.

Best Bike City

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May 242012

Having been slow to catch on to the whole 29er thing, many countries in Europe seem to be on high alert these days, determined not to let the next big idea pass them by. I can’t see any other way to explain the appearance of a second faithfully recreated pedal-powered supercar. This time, images of a Ferrari pedal bike are creeping around the Internet, begging the obvious question: when will we see a fake Ducati motorcycle converted to pedal power.

Just a quick public service message, because I’m trying to listen to Pandora while I’m typing this–they just reported record ad sales, you know–and these fucking Miller Lite commercials keep playing, and I just want to say that if anyone out there is ever talking to me in person while drinking a Miller 64, and I slap it the fuck out of your fool hand without breaking eye contact or interrupting the conversation, it’s nothing personal. It’s just that I hate Miller and their pissy low-carb beach beer bullshit.

Anyway, despite an appalling lack of pedal-powered sports cars, Portland was recently awarded “Best Bike City” by Bicycling Magazine, an honor we wrested away from arch-nemesis, Minneapolis.

The thing is, having read Bicycling’s web article, if it’s OK with Minneapolis, I think maybe they should take it back. Here’s an excerpt from Bill Donahue’s article:

Some guy will roll up beside you, probably, on a lime-green-wheeled fixie. Here, now, is a stolid commuter in a yellow rain jacket, with all sorts of earnest straps lashed to her rack, and here is a mangy, helmetless youngster on a homemade tall bike, two normal frames welded together, so that he looms 6 feet above the melee, quietly plucking his nose ring.

There are, inevitably, subtle flickers of intratribal tension there by the bridge—in Portland, a mere raised eyebrow can convey a nuanced diss like, “Shimano 105 derailleurs? Really?” But there is also a deep—and, yes, smug—solidarity. Those of us who ride daily in Portland, we know. We know we are the vanguard of American cycling. No other city in the United States has more cyclists per capita, and no other town has a coffee shop like Fresh Pot, which boasts 25 chairs and parking for 26 bicycles. We have trains of elementary-school bike commuters, and we have Move By Bike, a relocation-company that trundles couches across town on overstacked bike trailers. Even our city’s noncycling Lotharios know it is a deal-killer to ask, at the end of a sprightly first date, ‘Can I throw your bike in my car and give you a lift home?'”

It certainly isn’t a lack of passion that makes the award seem perhaps misplaced–I mean, that guy can write, and I’m being serious. “Here, now, is a stolid commuter in a yellow rain jacket, with all sorts of earnest straps lashed to her rack . . .”? That’s some Herman-Mother-Fuckin-Melville all up in your eyeballs and synapses right there. In their wildest dreams, Charles Baudelaire and Pee Wee Herman, working in tandem, couldn’t have described “straps” as “earnest,” even with William S. Burroughs’ typewriter. But I get it. Sometimes when I ride a bike in Portland, I use this half-ass velcro pant leg strap that’s just so insincere and noncommittal it sort of makes me sick. And I know it sees me eyeing the genuine rawhide, woven hemp and repurposed surgical tubing in the window of one of the three boutique pantleg strap emporiums I pass here on my way to work. We like bicycles a lot here. Sometimes, it’s tough to describe. Bill seems like a nice guy and a gifted writer who’s swinging for the fences with this article. You have to admire that, even if it is the same thing you hear over and over again about Portland.

As a new guy here, the thing I have seen that I hadn’t expected–based on reading so many articles about how smug and self-absorbed everyone is in Portland–are people who aren’t quite so self-conscious about their bike riding. There does appear to be a misconception that everyone who rides a bike to work in Portland does so only after making sure all the neighbors will see. I’m sure there’s smugness afoot in Portland, but it doesn’t seem to be quite as prevalent as the national spotlight suggests. You don’t travel to the Netherlands and run around screaming, “Oh man, you’re all riding bikes–do you realize you’re all so bicycling?” Or maybe you do. I don’t know. I do know that riding to work on a bike with Shimano’s 105 group seems just fine in Portland.

So enthusiasm? Plenty in the article. But an award seems a little ostentatious. Having only been in town for six weeks, maybe that aspect will become clearer, but what I’ve seen so far is the quiet kind of humility that comes from just doing something, without expecting an award.

If I could give Portland an award it’d be for keeping it all low-key, and the trophy would be this sweet Girven fork in this Portland Cragslist ad:

Maybe engrave it with a quote from the ad: “WHAT U SEE IS WHAT U GET.”

Congratulations, Portland.

Buckle Up

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May 232012

Rerouting . . .

Yesterday I mentioned that Google Chrome had overtaken Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to become the number one browser in the world. No small feat, considering Chrome hasn’t been around that long. Lest I seem a touch too Googly-eyed over the big, adorable company with the cartoonish logo, affable nerd duo owners, open source feel-good attitude, and pathological need to database absolutely every piece of data on everyone everywhere forever, let me clarify.

Microsoft has always scared me, but they were kind of a known quantity. They wanted your goddamn money. They wanted to own things like “the Internet.” They wanted to own everything worth owning and then sell it to us on a subscription basis while grudgingly giving away the security patches to keep someone else from coming along and stealing all the money they were hoping to eventually get out of us. That’s some nasty shit, but at least it’s clear. Apple basically wants the same thing, only they need you to literally worship them, too, to pay them some sort of tribute, which is just one of many freaky dichotomies in the low-key, anti-freedom, digital hippie commune that is One Infinite Loop.

But Google.

What do they want? To “organize the world’s information”? Maybe. But one thing they clearly want is self-driving cars.

Why is it that no one seems to have a problem with this?

Legislation paving the way for self-driving Google cars is skating through the California Senate right now. According the Business Insider article, California isn’t exactly an outlier here:

It’s not quite as far reaching as the bill passed in Nevada, which approved self-driving cars on its roads. This bill outlines a method to let the California Highway Patrol test these cars. Arizona, Hawaii, Florida and Oklahoma are all in the process of passing similar bills.”

Government in general right now is busy passing bills forbidding the consumption of human embryos and playing Jesus vs. Freedom paddy cake gridlock on our collective dime, and yet, somehow, we’re all in agreement that we need to fast-track Google-powered self-driving cars for public use? Has our obesity thing really gotten that bad?

I like Google products. I do. You have to love the video, too.

But I’ve also had Google Maps navigate me around and around to the same bridge that was out over and over again. One assumes that the blind man in the Google self-driving car video would perhaps have a taco and wait for the bridge to be completed?

“That was just your phone,” is the obvious argument. “The cars are so much more sophisticated.” But wouldn’t you think the 400-billion Android phones out there would be a pretty good test bed for making sure your shit was dialed, I mean, before the cars start hitting the streets? A slightly better beta model, I mean, than a metal car moving down the street with no driver.

Maybe I’m just sensitive because Google navigation has a total blind spot right at the place I’m staying in Portland, meaning it frequently barks orders at me rapid fire while showing me charging through green spaces and people’s homes on the map, when I am, in fact, on the road it keeps begging me to make lefts and rights and u-turns in order to find.

So if I am on the road, and Google doesn’t know it, I think it’s a fair question to ask where, in a situation like that, would the car be driving?

The Reason We Celebrate This Day

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May 222012

I’ve been so focused on bikes that I’ve been completely ignoring most of the nerd stuff that I pretend to like as a healthy distraction. For the most part, I even managed to stay blissfully ignorant of Facebook’s IPO, which–given the 11% drop the stock took today–was apparently the correct financial position to take.

What I couldn’t ignore, though, was the news today that Google’s Chrome browser had surpassed Internet Explorer and is now the number one browser in the world. Browser usage stats mean almost nothing to the majority of people in the world, but for anyone who’s done time as a web developer or designer–or worst of all, both–the end of IE’s long reign of terror has a significance that can’t really be explained with words.

But I’ll try: the whole world agreed to a standard for how the Internet should work, and then Microsoft did something completely different.

Some believe they were trying to claim the entire Internet by forcing everyone to live by their broken and poorly conceived standards, and others believe it was just dumb decisions and general incompetence, but either way, even Microsoft ended up sort of apologizing to the world with the countdown clock you see above.

So sure the victory’s muted a bit because even they ended up feeling bad about having made it, and the current versions of IE are apparently better (or so I’ve read), but there are things a man can be put through the he’s simply unable to forget, and Internet Explorer 6 is one of those things. In fact, for anyone who’s ever tried to make a web site work with all the various simultaneous incarnations of Internet Explorer, the only thing worse than IE6 was IE7, which took one tiny step toward working like every other browser out there, and then stopped. I didn’t really make the leap, leaving it stranded somewhere between IE6 and every other browser, which was so much worse than just having one jacked up rogue browser. Let me tell you what this meant in terms anyone can understand.

This meant the IT-something guy who wears the same Ramones t-shirt to work every casual Friday and doesn’t make eye contact when he talks–that guy you sort of laugh at behind his back because you’ve caught him talking to himself? Well, he had to write all these little exceptions just for IE6–and by that I mean like three-thousand or so lines of code–so that all the dumbasses still using IE6 would actually see something like your company’s web site and not an Atari Pong screen filled with random pieces of Times New Roman scattered around like body parts.

That time you caught him talking to himself? That was IE6. Or IE7. Or both.

I am not shitting you.

Say you built a really simple web site that displayed a few bits of navigation and a photo of Puscifer’s Maynard James Keenan exactly like this in all versions of Mozilla’s Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari on both Mac and PC, and even Opera:

This is how it would look in Internet Explorer 6:

Can you see the difference?

Well, once IE7 came along, you still had to deal with all the IE6 workarounds–shitty patched together CSS fixes and bits of crap conditional code–and once you got your pages to render the same in both IE6 and everything else, you’d check IE7 and everything would be shifted all the way to the right so that it was mostly off the screen.

It was like you woke up in hell one morning, and the dude in charge of running the belt sander on your skull was out sick, but his cousin was around with a nail gun, and then the next morning Belt Sander was back but Nail Gun had stuck around, too, and you were like What? That is literally and exactly how unfair it was. Exactly.

By the time IE8 came around, it was just like a small guy with a pair of pliers or something but you really weren’t paying attention anymore, and then IE9 was actually like someone with ice cream but by then you lacked the ability to relate to others at all so you just swung blindly at the ice cream and knocked it out of his hands and ran off, asking to have your skull sanded and nail gunned.

There was a big countdown party to the extinction of IE6 and stuff, but really, I’m a believer in the free market when it comes to that Darwinian stuff, and the only real cure is something entirely different. So Chrome’s rise to the top marks, for me, the real and actual end of our long, dark international nightmare, and probably the start of a much faster, richer and more secure international nightmare experience.

Yes, Microsoft’s IE6 experiment taught us all that nothing leads to progress like monopolies and the complete and utter breakdown of standards.

I told you I wasn’t writing about the bike industry today, so any parallels drawn would be completely without merit, by the way, and the fact that the post is even categorized “Bikes” makes no sense at all. That must be a mistake.

Superior Craftsmanship

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May 212012

Any time you move to a new place and meet new people you find yourself being asked what you do for a living. Consider buying a new house while owning multiple properties in another state and having what seems to be a handful of jobs, and the question becomes a bit more formal. Lately, I’ve been asked what I “do” a fair amount. One of my housemates knew I did something with bicycles, but seemed even more confused after my attempt an an explanation. And just last night, Google asked me to update my profile because it suspected–with all the algorithmic horsepower of the All Seeing Eye–I was doing some new things I hadn’t told it about.

So what do I do?

What I try to do, really, is make things. At heart I’m just a failed writer and artist and musician who tries–sometimes successfully, sometimes not–to apply creativity to business. I’d like to think I’ve made lemonade out of any lemons life’s given me over the years. It’s not true, but I’d like to think it anyway. I do, however, believe I’ve somehow managed to do what I love, even if I’ve had to change the rules a bit to make it happen. I made a company, and I’m trying to make a new company, and a bicycle frame, and content, and publicity, and all kinds of things. Sometimes it can be a bit much, and often it can be more difficult to see what you’re building than how beautifully simple and direct a connection a graphic artist enjoys, but still, as long as I’m creating something, or at least helping to create something, I’m pretty happy.

In fact, I’ve realized lately that I tend to treat a lot of the work I do as if it’s the next Sistine Chapel, even if it’s just copy I’m writing for a bicycle part. I was like this back when I was building bicycles for people. Once a guy apologized for micro-managing me, but asked if there was any way I could specifically position the logos on his King headset when I pressed in the cups. Without blinking, I explained my complex theories about “straight on versus staggered versus a combination” as related to the shape and content of different head tube badges. I hadn’t just thought all that through in advance, I’d prepared an explanation already for him of what I thought would look best, and I was hoping he’d agree to let me do it that way. Taken aback at being out-obsessed about his own bike, he told me to do whatever I thought looked best. He’d trust me.

I’m pretty sure I get this from my father.

Here, for example, is a car on the left with a busted out window that was not patched by my father. The Subaru Outback on the right has a busted out window that was patched by my father.

I did the taping, but his work on the panel of dry erase board (which, incidentally makes an excellent window replacement, except for visibility–though at least you can write, “I’m sorry!” on it) was both fast and meticulous. If I am ever racing an event where pitstops involve replacing the windows of the car, I would sincerely hope my father was available for that pit crew.

I mention all of this because my long-suffering and wonderful wife sent me a link a week or so ago that I just now had a chance to watch. It’s the writer Neil Gaiman, making a commencement address to the students at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia this year, and it’s well worth any time you can give it, but I’ve excerpted a part I particularly liked.

“I don’t know that it’s an issue for anybody but me, but it’s true that nothing I did, where the only reason for doing it was the money, was ever worth it. Except as bitter experience. Usually I didn’t wind up getting the money anyway. The things I did because I was excited and wanted to see them exist in reality have never let me down, and I’ve never regretted the time I spent on any of them.”

That’s pretty amazing.

Though I haven’t been able to necessarily do the exact same things Gaiman describes, I do feel very fortunate to be able to say that nothing I’m doing right now is only for the money. While I hope my kids get to build enormous animatronic crocodiles or create movies for Pixar or write books, I’ve still been able to work on things that I want to see “exist in reality,” and those things have never let me down, either.

Ghosts in the Machines

 Bikes, Gadgets  Comments Off on Ghosts in the Machines
May 182012

Audi’s electric bike is certainly making the rounds at this point, and like any good piece of mysteryware, it’s leaving us with a lot of questions. My “us” of course I mean “me.” Something about this freaky vehicle is staying with me, and I’m having a tough time figuring out why.

Questions I’m left with include:

  • Is it real? Because it’s hard to say anymore. I just saw the Hulk punch Thor in the head the other week, and it looked pretty realistic, too.
  • What the hell’s going on with that transmission? Isn’t that an Acros hydraulic shifter and rear derailleur with the super-wide gap between the top part of the cage?
  • Are those Magura brakes?
  • Those are different wheels–where did the wheels in this new pseudo-CAD drawing come from?
  • Is that an inverted fork that actually works? Are there inverted forks that work?
  • What the hell’s going on with that Herman Miller Aeron Hammock Saddle?
  • Tufo tubulars?
  • Is that a tapered IS headset? Is that lower cup bigger than 1.5-inches? Is that a new standard?
  • Who picked out those low-profile pedals?

I common thread, faint but unmistakable, runs through all of those questions–a sneaking suspicion about the mysterious origins of the bike.

This bike has a lot of German stuff on it.

And also: somebody who’s into bicycles built this thing.

Seriously. The German stuff is a no-brainer. All the German companies always rally when one of them builds something new. But I haven’t seen Porsche spec Tufo tubular mountain tires on their overpriced city bikes. Somebody really went to town on this thing, and it was somebody who knew what’s currently pretty hip.

Look at the head tube on this frame. That is not the head tube an out of touch poindexter would spec.

About the only things that aren’t completely up to date with current uber-high-end bike technology and fashion are the carbon weave and the rear suspension (Audi, I’m available!). Everything else shows a remarkable understanding of what doesn’t suck.


I really does make me wonder who came up with the concept and who made this bike happen.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the e-bike coin, Bicycle Retailer and Industry News has been easing into coverage of electric bikes, and there’s an article about China, written by Nicole Formosa, on the BRAIN site currently. It includes some interesting data, like this:

Last year, Giant sold 1.87 million bikes in China, said Kevin Zhu, general manager for domestic marketing in China. That represents a market share of about 6.75 percent . . . . Of the 1.87 million bikes Giant sold in China last year, Zhu said about 30 to 40 percent retailed above 2,000 yuan ($320). Meanwhile, the company sold just 100 bikes for 50,000 yuan ($7,940) or more.”

Here we have a few polar opposite approaches to electric bikes (I’m going to go ahead and assume that Audi will cost more than $320, and probably a good bit more than $8,000). The wild dichotomy between the two approaches isn’t the interesting thing, though. The interesting thing is that we now officially have a new category of vehicles that can support that type of diversity.

That suggests the electric bike–whatever it is–has arrived.