I was poking around in my local bicycling emporium the other day when I came across my first in-the-flesh impenetrable technology frontier. Now you, and certainly I, would probably relate the world of bicycles to technological conservatism; or at least with a considered pace of technology advancement that admits change only when change is for the good. Unlike just about every other dimension of a world gone mad, cycling is the place where stuff happens only because stuff needs to happen rather than just because it can. Except, of course, when it comes to the wondrous world of wavy system carbon decorating the mad Dali melted clock-like frames from the House of Pinarello. Or those zertz inserts in my precious Roubaix. Of course.
A bicycle is a bit of a refuge from the plastic deceptions of consumer trash that bloats the rest of the world in which we ride.
I mean, when was the last time you checked out the astounding junk that the automobile makers regurgitate into inanities of their designs? Fake wood plasti-dashboard panelling, ikky-yuk plush pile seat covers that even the mice won’t touch, ludicrous flashing lights to distract attention from everything – including the road, ipod docs, mobile phone cradles, and cup holders! Lots of cup holders.
When was the last time you checked out the honesty-of-purpose of stuff like stereo systems (designed by marketing departments rather than audio engineers), automatic washing machines and espresso coffee machines that work worse than the manual designs they replaced – and electric razors (do we really need an LED readout to tell us to wash the stinking thing out?).
No, dear and gentle reader, the bicycle is one of the few icons left for honest goods that meet simple needs without the distractions of pretence. The bicycle provides absolutely no apology for the fact that to make this thing work as per its design, the onus is on you, the rider, to perform. Bloaty baldies riding their middle-aged fantasies of youth will still just look like bloaty baldies having themselves on… Which explains the allure of tinted windows, loud colours and a roaring engine as the preferred vehicle of choice thorough which to automate those particular fantasies.
I’ve found my cycling technology frontier. I think I have become a Luddite. I certainly felt like smashing the newfound object of my scorn. Like a cancerous growth on an otherwise sound limb – there it was. A festering joke told by accountant-traumatised engineers intent on having a good final laugh. An April Fool’s joke spelt out in plastic and wires.
I refer, of course, to Shimano’s new electric gruppo. Little electric engines to shift our gears. Like a parasitic growth, the battery to make all this work attaches like that nasty cancerous disease afflicting the mouths of Tasmanian Devils. And there are wires everywhere. And for what? So that instead of a simple push on a traditional lever, these whirring engines of a culture gone mad can take up that miniscule effort instead?
I played with this thing. I pushed the buttons. Push them and the derailleurs move in or out. Like a sewing machine. About as useful as one of those blower machines people use these days instead of brooms. Brooms work better. And so do the now old fashioned push buttons of SRAM Red or Campagnolo Record.
I tried to point out to my over enthusiastic comrade in his local cycling emporium of machinery and culture that the push I provide to make my SRAM Red move is actually less of a push than is needed to move these new electronic gears. And I can push, and push and push some more and not have to worry about a battery running out. Or having to live with a battery cancer-attached to the flowing (yes, wavy carbon) lines of my bike. So what’s the point? No cable maintenance he said. Says he while I am looking at all those stupid electric wires fouling the lines of this bike he’s trying to sell. It self-centres it’s shifts, he proclaims. So does SRAM Red. So does Campagnolo Record. Or the old Dura Ace.
So what’s the point?
Ha! I think I have it sussed. This is the gear that it’s going to take to get those bloaty baldies into exorcising their fantasies of a long lost youth via two wheels instead of four. This is the gear a golfer would buy!