Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Fixing bikes while the world burns...

 As a Sunday School kid in the 1960s, I was told, in simple terms a child could grasp, that the world would be destroyed by fire. We'd had the flood. Our loving creator had been there, done that. It was going to be fire next time. We were Episcopalians. We didn't speak in tongues, or handle snakes. We spoke in the sonorous, stately phrasing of the 1928 prayer book. The Apocalypse was theoretical. But the theme was fire.

It seemed obvious in the 1960s that fire meant nuclear holocaust. I remember walking to first grade, or in various neighborhoods, past the big yellow sirens on poles, wondering if today was the day I would hear them go off, and have to remember what sort of shelter gave me the best odds of survival. Fire was coming.

Here we are, some sixty years later. The world is indeed being destroyed by fire, but it's millions of fires, in internal combustion vehicles, combustion-based electrical generating facilities, the heat islands of paved and built up urban areas, the smoky fires of poor people, jet engines, sprawling industrial complexes, and humble kitchen stoves. And more, of course. The air conditioner we run to survive the heat waves that sweep over us is making the problem worse, when multiplied millions of times.

Fire fed the creation of the humble bicycle, once it progressed beyond a walking aid carved out of wood. Other transportation machines had used the wheel and the lever to navigate the inclined planes of the travel ways built for them, but the bicycle pulled together all of the essential elements into a device once described as the perfect mechanism for transforming human effort into forward motion.

To get us to the small fires of brazing torches, ore had to be mined and refined, smelted, forged, cast, whatever, to produce tubes and the joints that connect them into a steel frame. Everything that humans make changes a material from its found form to the form we find useful. How damaging that is to the environment depends on the scale. Steel went out of fashion as the 20th Century ended, which has made it very fashionable indeed with a niche audience. Your hard-core technolemming wants carbon fiber now, although the ones with limited budgets settle for aluminum. But the modern bicycle began with steel tubing.

Here in the prosperous United States of America, bicyclists are an unpopular minority. Roughly six percent of the US population rides a bike according to statistics from 2022. That figure included people who only ride once a year, so the actual percentage of regular users is definitely lower. Seems hard to believe if you're in one of those areas teeming with riders, like popular paths, urban areas, or mountain biking destinations. Venture outside of those circles and the road gets very lonely. If all of those riders stopped today, no one would miss us except the businesses that sell us equipment and service the machines.

At this point, someone reading this might leap in to share statistics about how bikeable and walkable communities see improved local retail income along with the better quality of life that comes when you push the noisy, stinky armored vehicles of the perpetually irritable to the periphery. Those perpetually irritable people in their motorized vehicles are the majority. They don't live in a world of retail statistics. They live in their cars. They vote for people who say it should be legal to run over crowds of distressed fellow citizens misguidedly trying to draw attention to social problems by blocking roadways.

Since mountain biking bloomed and faded, forever mutating the bike industry into a cynical syndicate bent only on separating the gullible from their money, the only thing that has made the purchase of a two-wheeler wildly popular has been the addition of a motor. More fire.

The fire isn't just physical flames and heat. It's also in the constant undercurrent of irritation that flows through most of us. I was going to say all of us, but there must be someone out there who feels only benevolence all the time. What an idiot! Only kidding. Anyone who can sustain that is a remarkable human being just as susceptible to thirst, heat stroke, a punch in the face, or bullet as any of the rest of us, but nonetheless a vessel of light.

Meanwhile, at work, I get to deal with some of the minor architects of destruction of the American Experiment, at both the individual voter level and the moderate donor level. They are nearly always very pleasant people, often complimentary. Indeed, last week a woman came in with her son's bike. She was sincerely pleasant, and very understanding of the challenges facing a small business and a specialty service provider. Her family owns a tree service that reportedly does excellent work for extremely reasonable prices. I ride past their house frequently. I don't think they know that the guy on the bike riding by is the guy at the bike shop, so they have no incentive to be extra nice for favors. We don't exchange greetings, but they don't throw anything, yell anything, or let their dogs chase me. On their garage door is a fresh new banner that says "Trump 2024: Fuck Your Feelings."

At a higher level of culpability in the increasing heat, a certain guy representing the state of Utah after serving as governor of Massachusetts voted as a senator for conservative justices on the Supreme Court who perjured themselves to get confirmed and have been gutting the Constitution ever since. He comes in like a regular vacationer to get his annual flat tire fixed. He's just a regular guy who likes buzzing around the lake in various forms of motor boat, and lining up for ice cream at one of the iconic local shops. I never recognize him at first glance, dressed down, hair awry. He never says "fuck your feelings."

Another family with Utah connections, rather big in the hotel business, is quite fond of us, including me. I have done a lot of bike work for them over the decades, and done it well, because that's always my intent. The bike industry has made it harder and harder to feel good about my job, but I try to do whatever can be done to the highest standards. It was easier when I felt some actual desire to own high-end equipment.The high end is just vastly more expensive ephemeral garbage now. I loathe it, and recommend only things that I think will make the badly designed and cheesily built crap work a little better for a little longer than the life span of a chipmunk. But I digress.

The hotel family has recently invested heavily in local businesses they have enjoyed over their many years as summer residents, and donated hefty sums from their charitable foundations to support our cross-country ski trails. We were commiserating over the steady decline in snow cover. One of them even mentioned global warming. But their voting behavior has prioritized tax cuts and deregulation for decades. Will that change now? And would it be too little, too late?

The majority of people in our area have voted for the fire, time and again. We even have a punk asshole in a noisy truck rolling coal this summer. He blew a cloud at me as I rode up Main Street in the final quarter mile of my morning commute one day in June. I had to laugh. Northern New England is always years behind in fad and fashion. But it also fed my own fire of frustration. Even though I knew that humans were going to destroy themselves, probably within my lifetime, I hoped that they would prove me wrong. I still wouldn't have had kids, because life is pain, and all the joy of it is just making the best of the situation once you're here. But people are here, and keep putting more of themselves here. I was determined to leave the world no worse than I had already made it by existing at all, and by my unwitting cruelty during a shamefully sustained adolescence. All around me I see people determined to make as big a smoking crater as they can, and saying "fuck your feelings" to anyone who begins to stutter a word of advice to the contrary.

Muzzle flashes are fire. Each one burns into the public consciousness, raising the emotional temperature toward general combustion. We have one last chance to vote against the fire. Even then, the fire will resist. A coal fire in Pennsylvania has been burning underground since about 1962. Fire in all its forms wants to consume us. Maybe it's just unstoppable physics. The universe itself expands and contracts on an immense cycle. Maybe each time it reaches the point of producing conscious life it collapses on itself to start again. The motes of consciousness have their moment to believe that they have significance, and to value individual existence, even as each mote willingly consigns others to destruction for various imperfections. "Do what I want or I'll kill you," has been popular for centuries. In my neighborhood I see the flags of the proudly armed and dangerous, including at least one all black, signifying "no quarter asked or given." Pretty bold assertion from someone living in a prefab dwelling you could probably shoot through with a decent quality air rifle. But you can't have a war if you get too wrapped up in critical thinking.

I stand by the work bench, repairing recreational equipment, while the world burns. Bikes are toys. I know it seems silly, but the world would really have been a better place if we'd had a general consensus that it should be a safer place to ride a bike. The shape of society really does come down to individual actions repeated by many. Look at the competition now between a nation of narrow-minded hardasses and one of broad minded generosity. Accounts have to balance, but there are many ways to achieve that. It doesn't have to be The Way of the Hardass. I spend bleak hours alone with my thoughts, trying to remain interested in technology that has made bikes more expensive and complicated while doing nothing whatsoever to improve riding conditions. The heat in the afternoon radiates off the uninsulated back wall of this 1850s barn the way the cold winter wind seeps through it in nor'easters. The fire is strong. Will we choose to stoke it or to extinguish it?

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Passing Cyclists

 A few days ago, I drove from my little town on the eastern border of New Hampshire, to Middlebury, on the west side of Vermont. The next day, I drove back. The trip required two mountain crossings in Vermont, on roads enjoyed by cyclists.

I don't enjoy passing cyclists when I'm driving. I can't always give a whole lane any more than I expect and demand that motorists always give me a whole lane. I would much rather have less space and keep motorists flowing past me and out of my life than be a stickler for the perfect pass.

The most challenging places to pass were on the two gaps, Middlebury Gap on 125 and Rochester Gap to the east. Coming west over Rochester Gap had been especially annoying because I had a parade of drivers behind me who would have loved to rip down it at unbelievable speeds, while I was toddling along with three adults, a cello, suitcases, and snacks for an estimated total load of about 700 pounds, in a vehicle already not designed for agility on a mountain road so rough and narrow that our whole train had an ambulance trapped behind us for more than five miles before the weedy ditch appeared to fill in enough for me to pull into it. None of the flamebrains behind me darted around after the ambulance passed, so I had to scrape them off at the first opportunity on the wider and more accommodating roadway over Middlebury Gap. That was Friday afternoon.

On Saturday, as we reversed our route, there was almost no motor traffic. It was the weekend. Intrepid cyclists tackled the hills on a beautiful New England summer day that was not too hot, after a night that had been comfortably cool.

The lack of motor traffic helped a lot, but I still kept catching up to riders approaching blind drops. Any normal motorist would just go for it and hope for the best. I waited until I had a clear view before punching it to get clear ahead before I had to scrub speed for the next tight bend. I imagined driving a team car for one of the major European tours.

Murphy's Law of Meeting Traffic states that any time a motorist wants to pass a cyclist and there is an oncoming vehicle, the motorists will synchronize their speeds so that everyone gets wedged into the same space at the same time. It takes noticeable action by the overtaking driver to make sure that doesn't happen. A cyclist who does not expect it may be confused and a bit alarmed by a vehicle hovering back there. Other motorists trapped behind me might fume. But especially on a mountain road when either motorist might have trouble braking and steering if they're going too fast, it's important to anticipate what could go wrong and avoid it.

When the roads are crowded, it's impossible to ensure safe passing all the time. I will pass safely, but other motorists in the line are just as likely to keep barging through. This is why riding around the most scenic lakes of the Lakes Region in full tourist season is so stressful and unpleasant. Since the 1990s, when I would do multiple centuries in a season, there must be a solid million more drivers on the roads around here, adding visitors to new residents who have moved in.

It's getting worse as climate refugees who had second homes are preparing them as refuges for when their old places get too hot and run out of water completely. It'll still be hot here, just not quite as hot as where they were. And when we figure out how to manage the new style of torrential rainfall we will have less devastating flood damage and more facilities to collect the overabundance when it hits. For now, though, we just see more of our summer folk in what used to be the off season. I wonder if enough of them will move here during their child-bearing years to upgrade the schools significantly... The area was already attracting new residents, and the old ones were breeding new drivers, most of whom had no road cycling experience as kids. We see more and more hot rods and trucks, driven with the bravado of teenagers.

If gas prices had only increased at the rate of inflation, fuel would be $2.17 a gallon. Quit wasting your money, kids! Find ways to have fun that don't enslave you to quite as many corporations.

Legal Weed in NH

 The New Hampshire legislature has once again failed to legalize recreational cannabis use, making the Live Free or Die state the only holdout in northern New England. So much for their libertarian pretensions.

Personally, I have no stake. I don't indulge, although I used to, many years ago. It just didn't do much for me, so I quit bothering with it. But I have believed in legalization, and still do. More to the point, enough other people do to have changed the laws in numerous states. It's legal for medical use in 38 states, and for recreational use in 24. New Hampshire allows medical use, so maybe all of those cars going by trailing plumes of skunky vapor are using their duly prescribed meds. Whatever the case, drivers have taken the initiative to act as if legalization was a done deal. They're not waiting for mere formalities.

The stoners don't seem to drive any worse than the ones who don't exude telltale vapors. I also smell the cigarette smokers. My senses aren't honed enough to detect booze breath in the open air. But the times and routes I use haven't seemed to attract many impaired drivers. I'm assuming that the stoners are acclimated enough to their intake that they function adequately. So far so good, anyway.

Vacationers might indulge a little too much during the middle of the day. I ride in the morning and evening rush hours, such as they are around here. Drivers tend to be more focused on the schedule. Anyone toasting up is just taking the edge off to help them face the day. In the evening, they're celebrating their few hours of freedom before we all get up and do it again.

Sunday, June 09, 2024

Don't go near the water!

 A sweeping curve leads down to a beach with a view out to a sparkling bay studded with tree-covered islands. Beyond, the highway climbs steeply away from the shore over a forested headland before another, faster descent to another bay. What a beautiful ride!

Another scene: A swift descent into a picturesque village. A venerable lake steamer, now powered by contemporary diesel engines, is just maneuvering to the dock. Happy throngs mill around the shops and eateries of the downtown area.

Connecting stretches of road between places like this wind around through mixed countryside of open fields and forest regrowth as agriculture has declined in the past century around here. The most common cash crop is tourists, along with longer-term seasonal residents who own their summer palaces, and seasonal renters.

They all drive. The amount they contribute to the economy in a seasonal binge and a somewhat more steady flow of property taxes on spare homes of the well-to-do is never enough to keep the narrow roads in tip top shape for users who might appreciate a bit of extra margin in which to evade the barging passage of vehicles navigating with all the precision of a container ship trying to get under a Baltimore bridge.

Hourly we hear people lamenting how scary and dangerous road riding is around the lake. They come for the lake. They do not venture far from the lake. They see the traffic crush and motocentric tunnel vision of drivers as the only reality. Many of them also come from places with a lot higher population density year-round, where motorist indifference or aggression is such a fact of life that road use by cyclists has been in steady decline for a quarter of a century. For every happy puff piece about new bike infrastructure there are hundreds of anecdotes from riders who know someone who has been hit or who have been hit themselves.

Bike infrastructure itself contributes to the segregation of cyclists in ghettos where they can be contained and won't bother normal people. Where lanes and markings keep cyclists in the public rights of way used by motor vehicles, cyclists at least keep a tenuous grip on access to full transportation efficiency. Where the emphasis is on separated paths entirely, the routes may be superior to what motorists get stuck with, or they might take cyclists far out of their way, to limited destinations, with poor access to the network of taxpayer-funded roads that go to all the places that people might want to go.

Around here, the mere proximity to water seems to turn people into assholes. The acts of aggression and intimidating crowds of large vehicles that we hear about are almost exclusively on the routes closest to shorelines, or scenic tourist routes in the mountains. With our shop in Wolfeboro, we tend to hear the most about riders' fear of the routes around Lake Winnipesaukee, but we hear similar reports of stupidly high speeds and psychopathic passing behavior on Ossipee Lake Road. Ossipee Lake is just a giant mud puddle. Without its dam, it would subside to mostly a marsh by mid summer. It has none of the rocky grandeur of Winnipesaukee or Squam.

We don't get to hear from riders who deal with Lake Sunapee, Newfound Lake, or most of the other numerous water bodies around the region, but the principle seems like it should be universal. People from crowded places where they get on each other's nerves all the time come here and crowd the place, getting on each other's nerves. The vacationers carry an added sense of grievance if some idiot is hindering their vacation fun. The locals carry an added sense of grievance if some idiot is hindering their mobility through their routine working lives.

Cyclists make an easy target for frustration. It's a testament to human kindness that more drivers don't snap and take advantage of the fact that peening a cyclist carries virtually no penalties. People are generally much better than they often get credit for. Drivers could go on a killing spree any day and I guarantee that none of them would face jail time, or even a fine, if they stuck to the script and explained that the dead rider did something erratic and there was nothing the poor driver could do. It's such a tradition in motocentric society that vulnerable road users of all types are just one angry person away from becoming the next statistic. Pedestrians and pedalers can be struck at will. Just don't flee the scene. Stay and appear concerned.

Unfortunately, if a driver is impaired, or has outstanding warrants, or lacks a cool head, they might run for it. In that case their odds still aren't too bad. A local doctor was run down on a warm day in February a few years ago. Police had a description of the vehicle from one witness (maybe more), and still never closed the case or even developed a suspect. Once in a while an offense is so egregious that law enforcement can't ignore it, and the stars happen to align so that a suspect is apprehended. This is rare.

It's a different world away from the water's edge. In the more nondescript areas away from major attractions the riding can be as placid as road riding will ever be. It won't be perfect. I've had harassment on every road I use around my neighborhood. But it's a lot less common. No road is ever completely safe, paved or not. I've mentioned before that the only car I met on River Road in Hiram, Maine, on two separate summer days was a little VW coming the other way at about 80 mph, getting air off the top of every little rise. It sounded like a missile. I figured the driver was making his normal lunch run with limited time, since it was around midday. He stayed on his side. I stayed on mine. But if he'd been coming from behind me I don't know how much control he would have had, should he try to deviate to give me a little more room. Oh, and water was a factor: River Road refers to the Saco, headed for its confluence with Ossipee River.

Population density raises the number of potential cyclists while exponentially increasing the number of drivers. In 1981, I moved back to Annapolis, Maryland, after nine months living in northern Virginia, in Alexandria's southern outer environs. The terrain in northern Virginia was fun, with many small roads and nearby towns as attractions for rides of various lengths, but the area was so overrun with people making a living off of the nation's capital just over the river that traffic was constant and frequently unkind. Annapolis was outside of the National Capital Zone. It had its traffic, but our plucky band of three or four road riders could get clear of it in 15 or 20 minutes of riding, starting from the center of town by the City Dock. There was a residential side door that got nice within ten minutes at a leisurely pace.

By 1987, Annapolis was feeling more like northern Virginia. The local ride group could put 15 or 20 people together each week, but they started on the edge of town, and still had to battle for 20 minutes or more to get to a fraction of the peace we had enjoyed not long before. Now that area is much, much worse. No one I know down there who used to ride still does. It's just another curb-lined, churning hell. People drive to a path with their bikes on a rack. Know your place and stay in it!

People riding the road for obvious recreation probably offend drivers who need to get somewhere for work or the pressing needs of their daily lives. "Must be nice to be able to pedal around!" In 1979-'80 I thought drivers might respect the athleticism of a bike racer, since it was an era when fitness was getting a lot of publicity. We had an Olympics coming up. I was wrong. It was just one of many foolish idealisms about which I was wrong. But I also rode to every job I had, often dressed in street clothes, except for the cleated shoes that were my secret weapon for fast sprints away from traffic lights and stop signs. Just being on a bike earned me vocal and projectile criticism from time to time. Like it or not, on a bike you are a street performer. People probably like mimes better than they like you. And you know how people feel about mimes.

Thursday, June 06, 2024

Cog blocked

 Blue is almost but not quite perfect. The gearing covers a little wider range than on my original Cross Check. As I’ve put more miles on, I noticed that the steps in the cassette could be a little more even. What’s on there is 13-15-17-19-21-24-28-32. 

On the green bike, I had added a 30 to a seven-speed block with the same gears that the blue bike has, only culminating in a 30 instead of a 32. So the intervals from the 13 to the 30 were 2-2-2-2-3-4-2. By subbing in a 27 for the 28, I made the intervals 2-2-2-2-3-3-3.

Large intervals and strange intervals mess with your cadence and power. On the 13-32, I wanted to Frankencog a 22 for the 21 and a 25 for the 24. That would make the intervals above the 19 go 3-3-3-4. At least three of my bikes have cogsets I assembled for them to suit my needs. I have a cog farm at home, and we have a deeper one at the shop.

A 12-25 used to be common on road bikes in the late 1990s. Some riders still ask for gearing that high. Surely a 25 lay in the big treasure chest at work. The 22 might be more challenging, but I remembered some combinations that had not interested me before that might contain one.

Nope. No 25, no 22. A search for new cassettes turned up one, described as a downhill mountain biking cassette, that had a 25. I’m not going to shell out for a whole cassette just to scrounge two cogs. The industry has cog-blocked me. Maybe a 25 will turn up eventually, but without the 22 it only creates a weird 4-3-4 sequence in the lowest three gears.

I should have bought up as many Miché cogs as I could get, back when they were available. I used some of those to make my “8 of 9 on 7” cassette for the Isaac/Trek.

If a particular part becomes too rare it negates a lot of the value as a reliable tool. True victory over the technofascist bike industry is won by using durable but also replaceable parts to rejuvenate a simple bike indefinitely.

Friday, May 31, 2024

The weapon can't be identified

 On the evening ride home from work on Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, I heard a vehicle horn start blaring well behind me. A slate-blue Chevy Silverado piloted by a skinny kid in his teens or early 20s swung around me with surprising clearance for his annoying continuous horn blast. His passenger was almost identical to him in every physical aspect: skinny, young, rednecky. I responded with the universal Big Shrug of WTF to indicate that I was confused but not intimidated. If they wanted to chat about it, I'd be right here.

The truck pulled into a convenience store on the left. I continued on my way, up the hill beyond that intersection, and down the other side. A couple of minutes later I heard the unmistakable sound of a vehicle being driven with hostile intent. An engine has a distinctive note when the driver is pacing an attack.

The blue truck swung around again, only slightly faster than I was riding, so that the passenger could throw a full beverage container at me. Or maybe it wasn't at me, but intended to hit in front of me and cause a crash or a flat tire. I can't be sure. All I know is that the can hit the pavement and burst, but did not explode, indicating that it was brand new, fresh, and probably nicely chilled from the convenience store cooler. Foam spurted out from multiple ruptures as the battered can skidded quickly off the road.

I responded with the Universal Gesture of Sarcastic Masturbation, in case they were inclined to stop and discuss exactly what their problem was. I mean, I can theorize about the diminutive size of their genitalia and general feelings of inadequacy that lead them to bully people who can't hit back, but I don't know. And how stupidly aggressive do you have to be to waste your money and a perfectly good beverage you just purchased?

I am very fortunate that such incidents are rare on my commute. But it only takes one to awaken the PTSD of more frequent and worse ones over the decades of putting up with motorists' shit. I always wonder about escalation, and what I might do to deter future aggression.

New Hampshire's permissive gun laws mean that I wouldn't have to think twice about tucking a handgun in the side straps of my pack, although they don't extend to plenary absolution if I use it. I've had this debate with myself many times before and always come to the same conclusion: the mere presence of a weapon might deter some people, but will give more calculating people plausible reason to say that they felt threatened. If they kill me, they get to make up the story to save themselves. Most of the time there are no witnesses except the participants. Even if there are other drivers around, they probably won't see anything in sufficient detail to refute the testimony of the survivors. Also, if I'm still up and in any condition to fire, the incident was not serious enough to justify the shot, no matter how much I might want in the heat of the moment to evaporate the back window of the vehicle as the cowards speed away.

The next day, I looked along the road to try to identify what the beverage had been. With all the foam on the rapidly moving can, I couldn't tell at the time. Unfortunately, nearly all of the litter along the highways consists of beverage containers. I will never know which one was used in the assault. Likewise, blue Silverados about 2014 vintage are extremely common, as are scrawny redneck boys who feel their manhood by bullying cyclists. When asked to identify the particular truck I could say, "It's the one with three or four small-caliber holes in the tailgate," but then I'll have to explain how I know those are there when I have already had to admit that they went by too fast for me to get the license number.

I have a mental list of things I'm glad no one has ever done to me. Some of them are so bad that I've never heard of them being done to anyone. I never publish the list, write it down at home, or even let myself think it, because I don't want those ideas reinforced in the universe. We're vulnerable out there. The people who are willing to relegate cycling to the status of a mere sport and hobby have a point there, as they give up vast swaths of territory that could be used for purposes both practical and fun.

Weapons I do know have been used include rocks, bricks, full beers, and a hammer. And of course there's the car or truck itself. Attacks with that might involve the whole vehicle or attempts to pop a door open at just the right time.

The next day, and on the days that have followed, traffic settled into routine indifference blended with reasonable caution. Most of us are completely willing to try to get along. Problems appear when numbers increase with summer residents and visitors who bring their attitudes from home. The percentage of hostile drivers might be barely higher, but a small percentage is still a larger number than we usually have.

Riders have been mowed down here in "the off season." There are certainly hostile local assholes. One of them allegedly said years ago that if he was diagnosed with a terminal disease and only had days to live, that he would put his plow on his pickup truck and go out hunting cyclists. But before the mountain bikers get too smug, bad actors will sometimes place wire snares on trails. It hasn't happened around here, but it's not out of the question.

Deadly traps would bring charges of premeditated murder if the victim died and the trapper could be identified. More likely someone just gets a nasty wound, and no one is punished for it. No matter where a collision or an attack occurs, the cyclist usually loses. Know that going in. It's still worth riding.

The advantage to road riding is that no one is likely to set a trap on an actual road. You can't dwell on the worst possibilities. Just ride sensibly. "Freedom isn't free" means more than just signing up for your country's wars.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

It's not your butt, it's your crotch

 In discussions of the bicycle seat, we talk about the effect on a rider's butt, but the points of contact are pretty far under, where the ischial tuberosities contact the saddle in much closer relation to the perineum than the big ol' glutes hanging out the back there. It's a much more crotchal than gluteal situation, especially when a long period of longer rides might lead to some abrasion. Then you have to factor in whether you have protuberant parts that flop around in front, or internally folded parts more vulnerable to multiple kinds of friction.

Time changes us. I used to be as comfortable as one can be on a racing bike seat, on saddles shaped like the Sella Italia Turbo or the Avocet Racing II. When I bought a Brooks leather saddle because I was tired of wearing out modern saddles, I picked the Colt, based on the Turbo shape. It worked well until it no longer worked at all. I don't know if it deformed because of an error of mine or an inherent flaw in the design. All I know is that it no longer supported the parts that needed support, transferring pressure to the exact wrong area.

It doesn't seem like much. For decades it wasn't. But in the past three years or so that little arch has led to distracting discomfort on rides longer than about 25 miles.

When I replaced the Colt with the B17 "carved," I was mainly curious about the cutout. The overall width seemed like it might be a problem, because too wide a saddle will push you forward onto the parts you wanted to avoid. I have noticed the width when I'm pushing the pace in a low position, but it hasn't caused a problem. A rider in varied terrain will shift position on the saddle to improve pedaling efficiency at different cadences and intensities. This is the primary reason that racing saddles are narrow. My high intensity efforts are limited to what terrain and traffic demand along my regular routes. They're also limited by being an old fart who will blow right up if I try to pretend that I'm in racing shape. The B17 turned out to have a good combination of features for long-term comfort for me.
I noted the flat top line right away, but didn't focus on it as a primary feature until I got a B17 Narrow for my sporty road bike. The Colt experiment had been a failure, and it was no longer offered anyway. The dimensions of the B17 Narrow sounded hopeful. It has worked well. The flatness of the frame supporting the seating area at the rear has kept it from developing the painful crest that the Colt did.
Below is the interim seat I dug out of a box of salvaged saddles because it was firmer and flatter than the seat I'd been using on the Traveler's Check. It has less arch than the Turbo, but still has some. So it was better, but still not great. The texture of the covering material also produces a very authentic-sounding fart noise when you shift position on it.
Looking at saddles on the market now, a lot of them have that graceful arch. It has a long heritage in the galaxy of saddle shapes produced by the bike industry since the late 19th Century. However, when you make a point to compare, the flat-top type appears perhaps more frequently. I started riding in the 1970s. My first drop-bar bike had an old and somewhat abused Ideale leather saddle. I replaced that with an Avocet touring saddle on the advice of my expert mentor. For years afterward I bought molded-shell saddles without questioning the concept, wearing through the covers after a few years and replacing them in a conveyor belt to the landfill.

Leather saddles wear out, too, but leather biodegrades completely, and the metal frame either rusts away or can be recycled. They're heavier than molded-shell saddles, but that's only a drawback if it matters to you. I don't know if there's a good alternative for anyone who disapproves of leather because animals were killed for it. If it comes to that, we can just radio tag wild large herbivores and swoop in when they die of natural causes, to harvest some hide before the carcass is dismantled by natural forces. Make saddles out of laminated road-kill squirrel pelts. Or maybe there's a hemp alternative. There always seems to be a hemp alternative.