Monday, August 13, 2018

Technological advantages

People who think that electronic shifting is great should have to install and service it themselves. That wouldn't discourage all of them, but it would weed out the majority.

I can see the appeal. Electronic devices are fascinating. When they work properly, they're marvelous. Cable systems lack the finesse for the increasingly close tolerances of 10-, 11-, and 12-speed cassettes. I think that sheet metal cogs and tinfoil chains are junk, but they are the state of the art in racing, and among the masses of recreational riders who use racing-style bikes.

The more I work on this crap, the more determined I am to avoid it at all costs on my own machinery. I wouldn't even have one for fun if money was no object. If I'm going to spend money on something that isn't going to last, I'd rather spend it on ice cream.

Evolution is pitiless, even when it guides a species to its doom. The technofascist industry, ever in search of manufacturing efficiencies, will always try to market any piece of technology to every possible demographic. Anyone who won't play along will get stamped tin and plastic crap to punish them. Look at the derailleurs and cranks on $400 bikes with 8-speed cassettes and freewheels these days. It's nearly impossible to find a well-made bike at any price that doesn't have some element of disposable componentry. The cheap stuff bends when you look at it. The expensive stuff is built to be forgotten in a year or two when the next marvel comes in with a fanfare of digitally synthesized trumpets, because we can't be bothered to learn to play the real thing.

The more complicated we let bikes become, the more we limit their appeal. They are more expensive to purchase and much more costly to repair. If the choice is to repair or replace, and the comparable replacement costs thousands of dollars, only people with thousands of dollars to burn will be able to play. And, unlike automobiles, there is little subsidiary market for used high-tech bikes. They have no second life. They're like dead dragonflies. In life they were a perfect machine, jeweled, exoskeletal, agile and precise. When they quit working they're just dead. You might be able to contrive a usable machine with some of the parts, but it would not appeal to any consumer who has been primed with industry propaganda to "need" the latest innovation to enjoy riding at all. The industry attracts users, it doesn't create cyclists.

Yesterday, I had to pack a road bike for shipment. Its owner had finished his vacation in New England and headed back to Florida. When his bike arrived here a couple of weeks ago, it looked basically virginal. It was even white. When he brought it to us to pack for the return trip, the chain looked like he'd dipped it in the waste oil tank at the local quick lube place. The bike frame was still white, but the drive train was like a tar pit.

The job turned into a comedy of errors. Specialized has devised this really clever and annoying seat post clamp for the Roubaix. Instead of a simple pinch bolt at the top of the seat tube, the post is held by two bolts on a clamp on the seat tube below the top tube. The post itself has to extend down the tube a couple of inches below this clamp, to an inspection hole through which you're supposed to spot a black seat post in the black interior of a carbon-fiber frame.

To clamp this customer's diminutive frame in the work stand, I extended the seatpost and snugged the bolts on that hard-to reach clamp. The rider is short. The bike has a 51 centimeter frame. The seat post has actually been cut off. That doesn't matter as far as the traditional max height line, because the weird clamping system on the Roubaix makes it irrelevant, but it meant that I had less post to work with when I extended it.

We do have an alternative clamp that we call the Fred Clamp, because we purchased it initially to work on a tri bike for a guy named Fred, but the bike pivots awkwardly when held that way. I prefer to avoid it when I can.

The front wheel was off the bike when I came to work. After I put the bike in the work stand, I removed the rear wheel as well, and blocked the rear stays and fork ends to protect them in shipment. Then I put wrench on the pedals.

It's like they were welded in. I put the wrench on the right pedal, gave it a grunt, and then a harder grunt. The bike frame slid off the seatpost and fell toward the floor. I broke its fall with my leg and foot, which then wore a black smear from the incredibly grimy chain and crankset. But the fall yanked the wire out of the battery for the electronic shifting, which lives in the seatpost.

In keeping with the expensive dispos-a-bike concept promoted by the industry, the battery for a Di2 shifting system gets stuffed into the seat post in a sort of barbed holder that fiercely resists removal. When the battery for your shifters finally won't take a charge anymore, buy a new bike, or at least a new seat post. Not to worry. Something else will have rendered your bike hopelessly obsolete long before then. What you once loved when it was new and fresh you will have learned to scorn, and eagerly discard. Bikes are consumer goods, so learn to consume. Chew, swallow, and excrete.

I reoriented the clamp to hold the bike by the top tube. When I can hold the frame with the regular work stand clamp rather than the Fred clamp, it's less awkward. The bike still swings laterally and is not as well balanced, but it's closer to the center of rotation for the arm of the stand.

Fishing around in the seat post to plug the stupid wire back into the battery took about half an hour. The battery was an awkward distance into the post, and is not firmly held there. I was trying to hold the connector with tweezers, line it up with something I couldn't see, and apply sufficient pressure to get the connector firmly seated. Once I accomplished that, I had to squirrel away all the slack wire as I fitted the seat post back into the odd funnel that forms the top of the seat tube.

With every move I made, the black grime from the drive train smeared all over the glossy white bike as I swaddled it in foam and bubble wrap to protect it in its shipping case. I wiped it away continuously. I ended up wrapping the chain itself completely in plastic.

El Queso Grande had taken lots of pictures when he unpacked the bike and assembled it. He had also labeled each piece of packing material. That made things much easier. Even so, it was hard to figure out how to make some of the pieces look the way they did in the photos. I didn't try to duplicate every position exactly. At least I knew generally what went where. Finally I was able to close the lid on the bike and strap it up. It was someone else's problem now.

The next thing out of the time machine was a 1995 Trek mountain bike. How can you train anybody for this sort of thing? How do you get anyone even to want to learn?

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