A Note from Fatty: Today’s post is topical, but has a startlingly small number of jokes. I don’t understand why this happened or whether I make any sense here, because I’m trying to articulate something I believe but don’t have fully worked out even in my own head. Anyway, here it is.
Every once in a while, as I’m riding along, I will consider the bike I’m riding on. By which I mean, I don’t think: “Hey, I’m riding a bike.” No, what I think is much, much deeper. I will try to picture in my head all the various motions that my bike is making.
I picture the movement of the chain, and how each link pivots and straightens constantly. I picture the motion of the pedals and try to imagine what it each pedal would look like to an unmoving observer as I go by: an oscillating, strangely-shaped wave. I try to picture that wave, but get lost; it’s too complex.
I picture the action of the freehub, and I start to panic. I picture the motion of the rear derailleur and nearly black out from the effort.
This longing to be able to visualize what my bike is doing has led to my bike-owning philosophy. I’ll even put it on its own line, in italics and initial caps, for emphasis:
Ride a Bike You Can Understand.
For me, this means a bike like my WaltWorks rigid singlespeed:
I totally get this bike. All the moving parts are simple and obvious. And that’s useful to me even when I’m not trying to be At One with my bike.
For example, I like the way a rigid fork feels as I’m riding, because the distance from my front wheel to my handlebars never changes. When I hit a rock or rut, there’s no brief contraction followed by expansion of that distance like I’d have with a suspension fork. I feel it pretty much the way I’d feel it if I walked over it.
What does this mean? Well, it means a couple of things:
- It means that I’m not very good at visualizing things. This is true in other aspects of my life, too. It’s a trait I inherited from my mother, who is even worse. My mom’s very smart, but I once watched her get completely defeated by the seatbelt latch on a baby carrier. And the only way she can tell if a tupperware lid fits a bowl is to try it out.
- It means that I’m happiest on simple bikes.
About the Frame
The drivetrain and front suspension are really the smallest part of my philosophy, though. The most crucial part of my “Ride a Bike You Can Understand” philosophy has to do with the frame.
Specifically, full suspension frames blow my mind. Look at this Specialized SX Trail frame:
When you hit a bump, the four (that I can count) different hinges pivot. How am I supposed to picture that?
Or, worse, consider this frame (the Judge) from Cannondale:
As near as I can tell, when you hit a bump riding on a bike with this frame, a series of events is initiated, the conclusion of which is nine minutes after you hit that bump, and is manifested in the form of ejecting you thirty feet into the air.
It’s like some product manager said to an engineer, “Give me a frame that has a bare minimum of seven hinges. I want it to take a quart of grease per week to keep this sucker from squeaking.”
Seriously, is it even possible to picture what happens to this frame when your bike hits a bump?
And this leads to my bike frame philosophy:
Don’t Buy a Bike Frame You Can’t Draw From Memory.
If the bike doesn’t make sense to me, how can I possibly ride it in a way that makes sense?
What My Philosophy Means To You
Do I expect my bike philosophy to be useful to anyone but me? No, I do not. Chances are, a lot of people don’t need to understand what’s going on in their bikes to ride them. Instead, they just ride their bikes, and do so without looking like a middle-aged doofus.
Indeed, I wish I had that ability: to just have a “feel” for the bike, no matter what its internal workings. Maybe then I’d be able to ride my bikes like they’re a part of me, instead of a device I’m thinking about.
Maybe that’s what distinguishes a rider with style and flow from riders like me: feeling the bike versus thinking about the bike.
Meanwhile, I think I’ll stick with the double-diamond, simple bikes that fit in my brain.
PS: Hey, you kids get offa my lawn!