Ridiculously Complicated Fixes to Non-Problems: Integrated Braking Edition

This here is one of those posts I started to draft during the past summer – during the 2011 Tour de France, to be more precise – but then put aside.

One of the more notable trends in bike design at this summer’s Tour de France (2011) has been the proliferation of intensively engineered time trial/chrono bikes. With Evans winning aboard a BMC, that bike clearly got a lot of attention….but BMC was not the only manufacturer rolling out totally “bespoke” chrono machines. Custom chrono machines is, of course, not a new trend. What distinguishes this batch from prior years is the attention going in to integrated braking solutions. Google Evans’ BMC chrono bike and you will see: they’ve been working to integrate traditional calipers into the fork and seat/chain stays such that the brakes are almost invisible, save for the arms and brake pads.

Now, it appears that this approach is shifting over (at least for a couple of manufacturers) to traditional road frames as well, of which the Ridley shown below is a prime illustration:

via Velonews.

Now, don’t get me wrong here: this is an amazing piece of engineering and problem solving, in my view.

But, mark my words here: in only just a few years (2015?), this bike will be viewed as a joke, a kind of last gasp of an earlier paradigm that is now completely outmoded. This bike, in other words, will be regarded in 5-6 years as Lance Armstrong’s ’99 TdF winning Trek was regarded by the time of his last TdF (2010) entry: an odd bird and kind of joke. [Armstrong’s ’99 bike, you might recall, was a Trek carbon frame, but with a 1″ threaded headset and a massive (albeit pretty) Cinelli quill stem. This was essentially a cutting-edge carbon frame, brought down by a sizing standard that had prevailed for decades; Trek probably managed to shave close to a pound from the bike in the next two years simply by shifting the headtube size and moving to a threadless setup]

These integrated braking solutions are the sine qua non that the limitations of the rim brake model have been reached (or even exceeded). Rim brakes must die, in other words, because the “best minds in bike engineering” are having to spend their time on stuff like this in order to keep rim brakes alive. Designers and engineers are turning themselves inside out to find a way to disguise and deal with rim brakes….all while the totally obvious solution is right in front of their eyes. Dump the rim brakes, dump the cables, mount a tiny hydraulic disc back there in the junction between the seat and chain stays, run some internal hydraulic lines that need no service, and you are done. Same with the front.

If I had any insider connections to “the biz” I’d make some ambitious prediction: 2012 will see the first TdF chrono bike with hydraulic discs. But, I don’t have any idea what goes on inside the biz, so I won’t be so bold. However, in subsequent posts – on Eurobike and Interbike 2011 – I’ll harp on this “so obvious the manufacturers can’t even see it” argument a bit more.



Armstrong Inquiry: Ferrari’s Shadow World

Been a while since any of the global inquiry into the Armstrong/USPS/Doping stuff has bubbled up. But now, we see that Italian newspaper reports Armstrong linked to Ferrari through cash payments. Nothing too crazy there, just your run-of-the-mill offshore shadow corporation designed to keep clients at a safe arms-length from the biz. And, while they are at it, shelter income and transactions from taxes and government oversight.

Compare this to the shoddy idiocy of the Operation Puerto run by Dr. Fuentes in Spain and the difference is stunning. Fuentes was faxing full (albeit slightly disguised with a cereal-box code level of secrecy) drug and training regimens directly to riders like Hamilton (using his wife’s full, but maiden, name as the recipient), at their own apartment buildings and homes! At least Ferrari had/has the sense (safe to assume he is probably still doing this shit, given Armstrong was still consulting with him in 2010) to build in a few rings of security between “No. 1” and the clients.

Gotta wonder how long it is until these indictments from the federal inquiry finally drop – I would assume we are in the range of just a few months at this point.


Bliggity Blog and the Importance of “Sane RSS Usage”

After months of spiraling and self-reinforacing guilt-shame over lack of attention to BB here (and, I’m sure, the disappointment of at least a small handful of individuals throughout the world) a recent “debate” about RSS usage kicked my ass back into “self-actualized” mode with this blog. This should be good for at least a few posts in the next month, before some other (non)catastrophe leads to yet another blogapocalypse on BB.

First, a brief tip of the hat the tech warriors debating the utility of RSS feeds. Ars Technica’s Jacqui Cheng goes so far as to call RSS “poison”, at least in so far as clogging up your reader with high-traffic feeds defeats the very purpose of having a centralized place for content dumps. Marco Arment, on the other hand, makes a good case for sane RSS usage, arguing that RSS is perfect for, ahem, er….well, blogs that are infrequently updated, and perhaps not worth reading in the first place. Of course, the real take-home point/factoid from the Ars Technica article is that some poll reports only 6% of American’s actually use RSS in the first place. Given that BB has always run on a quality over quantity ethos in the domains of both content and readership, I’m good with that.

The really pathetic thing about my serial abandonment of the blog is that I’ve got, I think, 4-5 posts in draft form currently saved. I even write stuff and then put it aside! I am hoping that this new era of being a tenured professor will also usher in better blog discipline. In theory, I should now feel liberate in my working life, able to parse out my writing efforts across student grading and communication, my own scholarly work and correspondence (the latter of which, I have come to realize over the past 10 years, is absolutely foundational to intellectual and professional development but is also enormously time-consuming), as well as steady blogging here at BB. Right now the more mundane and utterly draining communication for administrative stuff (override numbers to classes, planning the course schedule for next semester, etc.) leaves me feeling like there will never be any time for stretching the brain out a bit….but I always tend to feel overwhelmed at the start of a semester.

But, I could at least get these drafts converted over to the published column, right?