Thursday, 15 October 2009

Essential or Extraneous? One Person's Helmet is Another Person's Wheelbrow

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(Power meter prototype, forwarded by a reader)

If you read Fat Cyclist's blog, you know that he is as synonymous with curating extravagant contests as he is with being fat and with cycling. Well, what you may not know is that Fatty is also descended from a long line of cycling writers and contest masterminds, and he can trace his lineage all the way back to a popular 19th century Harper's Weekly columnist called the "Porcine Velocipedist" who famously gave away one of the world's first pennyfarthing bicycles in an "epic" pie-eating contest. Well, if he hadn't tragically choked to death on a rhubarb that day and instead somehow lived to be like 180 years old, the Porcine Velocipedist would no doubt be extremely proud of his great, great, great (the word "great" seems stranger every time I type it--or rather, every time I dictate it to my helper monkey, Vito) grandson, who informs me he is is now giving away an Ibis bicycle of your choice.

But wait, there's more! Once you've won the bicycle, you get to ride it wherever you want along with Fat Cyclist and Scot Nicol of Ibis. And, and, apparently they've somehow wrangled cycling great and wearing-giant-glasses-in-snowstorms enthusiast Andy Hampsten to come along too. This means you not only get a new bike and a cycling vacation, but you also get to pester Andy Hampsten with irritating questions like: "What was it like to win the Giro d'Italia?"; "Which is harder, the Giro d'Italia or the Tour of Italy?"; and, "Why were glasses so giant in the '80s?" (I've asked him all these things, but only by email, and he never replies. In person though he'll have no choice.) Obviously, this is one sweet contest, and as the sex worker said to the mental patient as she gestured to her "viscous comfort zone," you'd have to be crazy not to enter this.

Speaking of grand tours, Christian Prudhomme recently unveiled the route for the 2010 Tour de France, which, shockingly, goes all over France. Even more shocking was that, for the first time, the world got a glimpse of the "new" Alberto Contador. A reader has forwarded me the following photo, which shows that not only has Contador adopted a radical new facial hairway, but he's also outsourced his trademark "fingerbang:"

Like the executive who hires a secretary to place his calls for him, or the blogger who delegates menial tasks such as bicycle maintenance and writing to a helper monkey, Contador has now hired somebody to save him the trouble of making his own cocky hand gestures. Presumably, we'll see Contador's new "fingerbang" assistant sticking a hand into the frame whenever Contador crosses the finish line first, or steps up onto the podium, or simply poses for a photograph. Actually, if he's any good, his "fingerbang" assistant will probably also issue a "fingerbang" whenever Contador does something noteworthy, even off the bike. For example, successfully opening a stubbornly-sealed bag of chips, or getting a question right while watching "Jeopardy," or even achieving sexual climax are all moments at which a really good "fingerbang" assistant will form his hand into a pistol shape and perhaps even orally recreate the sound of a gun firing in celebration of his employer's accomplishments. Rumor has it that Lance Armstrong plans to counter Contador's bold move by hiring someone to follow him around and say "Boo-ya!" periodically, but the question remains as to whether there is room for an "exclamation domestique" in the Radio Shack budget.

Meanwhile, yesterday I made the mistake of mentioning helmets, which prompted one commenter to write: "Why you persistently hate on helmets but champion other dorktastic utilitarian accessories (ahem, fenders) is beyond me." This puzzled me, since as far as I know I've never "hated" on helmets (with the exception of that ridiculous "Fuseproject" helmet, though if anything it's the hat that goes over the helmet which bothered me the most). Also, if I appear to champion "wheelbrows" over helmets, I only do so in the context of keeping your ass dry, and I'm sure even the staunchest helmet advocate will agree that a fender will do more in that regard than a helmet will, even if you clip your helmet to your seatpost like a "filth prophylactic." Similarly, as much as I appreciate "wheelbrows," I also admit they're pretty much useless when mounted to your head. Still, like a helmet, when used properly they can be quite useful in certain situations. Helmets are very useful when you fall on your head, and "wheelbrows" are very useful when the streets are wet. Incidentally, today is a wet day here in New York City, and my "wheelbrows" were so effective that they inspired me to take this photo while crossing the Manhattan Bridge, which is titled "Wheelbrow Days on the Big Skanky:"

Regardless of how you feel about helmets or fenders, I'm sure we can all agree that what one rider deems necessary another rider feels is superfluous. Some mountain bikers require suspension to enjoy their rides, while most roadies prefer to ride without suspension or enjoyment. Some riders can travel 100 miles with nothing but a couple of water bottles, some energy bars, and a small saddle bag, while others require $1,000 worth of canvas luggage, a quill stem that's longer than their top tube, and a full beard. And some riders require the power and modulation of a pair of brakes, while others are quite happy with just one brake or even no brakes, preferring instead to involve their entire bodies in the simple act of slowing in the same way that a rock musician has to leap around the stage and strain in order perform the simple act of playing the same chord over and over again. And speaking of brakes, a reader recently forwarded me this lamp, which incorporates a brake lever:

Supposedly the brake lever is "an invitation to touch, to experiment and play." However, I don't think this lamp is going to sell very well, since a stylized lamp like this is clearly designed for hipsters, and no hipster is going to let anybody see him grabbing a brake lever, even if it is just to turn off the lights. If anything, Christian Vivanco should have introduced the concept of "fixed-gear lighting," which would consist of a lamp that simply stays on all the time until the bulb burns out. This is the opposite of a dimmer switch, which is the equivalent of a 10 speed drivetrain with a triple crank, and also much more "zen" than a regular on/off switch, which is the equivalent of a singlespeed freewheel. At the very least, instead of the brake lever, Vivanco should have specced the lamp with the Clapper. In the world of interior lighting, the Clapper is like having a coaster brake, since it gives you the ability to turn the lamp on and off yet allows you to keep the "clean lines" of a fixed-gear lamp.

Another thing that some riders feel is necessary and others feel is excessive is custom geometry and paint. If you're a part of the former group, then you may be interested in this Seven Alaris, now on sale via Craigslist for $3,800:

Seven Cycles Alaris Bicycle with Custom Paint Job - 56 - $3800 (Midtown East)
Date: 2009-10-10, 5:55PM EDT
Reply to: [deleted]

Pictures available at the bottom of the posting.
Seven Alaris Titanium Frame
Custom-painted Bontrager carbon fork
Chris King headset
Sram Force 10-Speed Groupset
Campagnolo Eurus Wheels
Cycling Computer
Selle Italia SLK Saddle
Speedplay Pedals (Regular pedals also available)

Frame Specs: Full 3/2.5 Titanium frame. 3/2.5 means 3 percent aluminum, 2.5 percent vanadium, and 94.5 percent titanium. The two titanium grades used in bike frames are 3/2.5, and 6/4. High-end titanium frame makers such as Serotta, Indy Fab, and Seven work exclusively with 3/2.5 because of its superior ride quality, and integrity. 6/4 is only manufactured in sheets, and is then formed and welded into a tube. 3/2.5 is milled into tubes, and comprise a frame that will never fatigue.

Frame Geometry: Seat tube: 57.0. Top tube: 55.9. Head tube: 17.

Frame Ride Characteristics: This frame is a custom order from Seven. To keep it simple, the frame was designed to be razor sharp, as well as comfortable enough for long rides. Being a long-time Colnago aficionado, I ordered the frame very close to 57 cm. Colnago geometry. Seven delivered with a ride that surpassed my Colnagos. I have owned three Colnagos, and this frame is quicker, and just as comfortable as all of them. I am very happy with the performance of the Alaris, and am now ready to invest in Seven's higher-end Aerios model, so the Alaris has to go (running out of room in the stable).

Frame Paint: The frame finish is a very exclusive paint scheme that is not normally offered. It is white with the Seven logos painted in winter mint green. The Seven logos are usually decals over paint, but not this frame. The Seven logos are painted.

Fork: Again, being a long-time Colnago aficionado, I prefer a straight blade fork. They offer more stable tracking than curved alternatives. Seven only offers curved forks, so I had to custom-spec a carbon Bontrager fork. The fork specs were submitted to Seven prior to the build, and the frame was designed accordingly. It is carbon, with an aluminum steerer, and has a 45 mm rake.

Fork Paint: The fork was custom painted by Dave Sem of Sem Custom Paint, with hand-painted graphics (no stickers). The outside of the fork is white, with Sam-I-Am from Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham on the left side. The right side of the fork is white. Sam is on an egg shell bacground, that is beautifully faded into the surrounding white. The inside of the fork blades are painted the same orange as the original 1960 book cover. If you are riding this bike, you can rest assured that there is not another one like it anywhere in the world--always a cool conversation piece during group rides. The hand-painted Sam-I-Am is an exact match, and really shows Dave Sem's artistry. Take a look at the close-up picture to get a good look.

There are no dents or dings on the frame or fork. The saddle in the picture is not the saddle that comes with the bike. The saddle that comes with the bike is a light black / grey.

Copy of original spec-sheet from seven also available.

Obviously, the real standout here is the paintjob on the fork. As the seller points out, this is "a cool conversation piece during group rides"--provided of course your typical group ride conversation is highly Seussian and involves constant repetition and rhyme. But even more impressive than the fork is that this carefully curated Seven is merely a "gap bike"--as the ad says, "I am very happy with the performance of the Alaris, and am now ready to invest in Seven's higher-end Aerios model." Presumably, being a "Colnago aficionado" who prefers a straight-blade fork, the only way he could live with this curved one was to have it custom-painted, and I'm sure his new Aerios will boast a custom straight-blade model complete with "Cat in the Hat" stripey colourway to draw maximum attention.

But just as one rider's necessity is another's superfluosity (which I don't think is a real word), one rider's dream bike is another's "frankenbike," and a Seven with Colnago geometry and a children's book colourway could very well qualify as the latter to many people despite its considerable cost. So too might this patriotic bike, which I spotted recently in Manhattan:

The only thing missing is a pair of "wheelbrows."


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