Tuesday, September 13, 2005

State of the Art

When I started as a cyclist, I never demanded that my componentry be the most modern. I didn't think of things in those terms, and still don't. Whatever I didn't know yet was new to me. I wanted it to work, that's all. I had as much to learn about history as to discover about the future.

The higher priced componentry was usually lighter and always had a nicer finish. But often a lower model would function as well, look almost as good and cost a lot less. That was how the Japanese companies got their foothold, by making nicely-finished parts at a lower price than the best Italian stuff. It was a mark of experience and distinction to know what less expensive or more obscure parts you could buy and still have agood bike.

Because the best European components looked kind of old fashioned, cycling seemed more rooted in tradition than dragged by a rocket of modern technology. The chain drive had been around for almost a century at that point, and the engine hadn't changed in thousands of years.

The most modern stuff today is still just a refinement of those old concepts. Frame materials are more exotic, but the basic geometry remains the same as it was in the latter part of the last century. There are more gears, shifted with more precision when the mechanism is painstakingly adjusted properly, but you still push pedals to pull a chain around. It's a more fragile chain, that wears out faster, but it's still a chain.

Dump the chain drive and develop a different transmission, you'll still have a sweaty grunt pushing something like pedals to make it go forward.

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