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.

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Confusing Pro Jerseys: TdF 2011 Edition

Old stuff, I know, but relevant as we all try to figure out who is chasing Contador over the next three weeks of TdF action. Flandria Cafe points out the painfully obvious (that’s not a knock on the site!): some of the biggest teams this season have jerseys that are, for all intents and purposes, IDENTICAL! Definitely worth a read.

But, what really makes it worth a visit is this incredible graphic of old national team and trade team jerseys from the TdF. [Yes, the Tour de France was raced by national teams for a number of years, before trade teams really became viable]. I am actually going to see about having this blown up to create an office poster.

TdF National Team Jerseys

TdF Trade Team Jerseys

via Flandria Cafe

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Sociopaths We Have Known: Lance Armstrong Edition

Was going to post on this issue before the Tour started, but didn’t get around to it…and wasn’t sure if I cared enough! The run-up to the Tour this spring was, of course, filled with lots of talk about whether Lance Armstrong (LA) would be leader/win again/etc. Scratching the surface, however, there was also mounting evidence that things could get ugly in the next year if Greg LeMond’s (GL) lawsuit against Trek continues to move forward.

The basic gist of that one is that GL is suing/counter-suing (I’m sparing you the details) Trek bikes claiming that they intentionally screwed up his bike brand (which they owned) because LA was angry about GL’s comments about LA and allegations or doping – stretching back to the early years of the LA Tour dynasty. Trek claims the opposite, that LeMond wasn’t holding up his end of the bargain on promotion, etc., thus undermining Trek’s business interests. Whatever the cause, LeMond bikes no longer exist.

The reason this has gotten uglier and uglier is in GL’s insistent collection of evidence in support of allegations that LA did indeed using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), at least at some points in his career (both pre and post cancer, most likely). Nothing here is radically new for those who have followed the David Walsh-style investigative inquiry into LA: most of the same evidence and arguments (positive result at ’99, multiple positives for EPO in analyses run on Armstrong’s “b” samples from earlier Tours, multiple confessions/convictions by former teammates, lots of talk about doping methods at Postal by others in the biz, etc.). To his credit (or folly, depending on your perspective) GL simply hasn’t backed down from this and, in fact, has really intensified his claims now that the gloves are off with Trek and LA. Most notably – and in questionable moral and legal judgement – LeMond released a detailed phone conversation he secretly (and in direct contradiction to what he told the other party) recorded with a woman who worked for Oakley as LA’s personal liaison and was apparently in the room during the notorious LA confession to his doctors about PED use as part of his very original cancer diagnosis and work-up. The short story is that she had told people privately that LA confessed to PED use while in the hospital (the same story repeated by Andreu husband and wife, who were there), but ultimately testified that he did not. However, in GL’s phone conversation, she admits that she lied under oath, for understandable reasons (single mom with a long-time job at stake, etc.).

What I find most intriguing/perplexing in all this is the underlying irrationality of someone like LA thinking that he could actually control information so completely as to eliminate any possibility that the truth would eventually sneak out. My view is obviously motivated by my belief that Lance Armstrong did indeed use PEDs and other forms of doping (e.g. blood transfusions). On sporting grounds, this does not really bother me – but this is the subject of a future post. What bothers me is the self-serving deception on the part of LA. Choosing to dope does not seem strange or surprising, but why would you think that you could actually conceal this forever, particularly as you become one of the most famous sportspeople in the world? It just doesn’t compute; after all, LA knows about this confession issue, and there are likely a good number of people in the know about transfusions and other funny business from the Postal years.

The only answer I could really come up with before the Tour is that LA is essentially a sociopath – or at least has a good dose of anti-social personality. I am by no means the first to suggest this, but it just seems clearer and clearer the longer things go on. Suffice it to say, I was thrilled to see Contador beat the crap out of Armstrong in the 2009 Tour. Contador was amazingly poised, attacked when he needed to, and then presided over a pretty dismal time trial by Armstrong in the final week (a tt he absolutely demolished). Now, a bit more of the behind the scenes stuff from the Tour and Astana is trickling out, and things sound much, much worse than they appeared during the Tour. In a translated article from El Pais posted by nyvelocity, we see all sorts of powerplays by LA at Astana. In light of these revelations, Contador’s performance is even more impressive. I only hope he can find a good enough team for support next year, just to come back and serve LA’s ass on a platter.

The entire LA comeback strikes me as fundamentally sociopathic. Here the guy has the greatest record of all time in the Tour, fame, fortune, etc. and probably the knowledge that there are many out there who hold his secrets. Yet, he decides to reopen all of these issues and relationships by deciding to comeback in order to promote his supposedly morally-driven crusade. This is hubris of a stunning sort. The guy quietly knocks up a girlfriend, has a baby a month or a bit more before the Tour (which, by my reading, has NEVER been discussed), rules with an iron fist in the team when, in fact, he is the weaker rider, and then engages in all sorts of sneaky behavior to undermine Contador. This, to me, is anti-social behavior. And, the sooner LA is gone from cycling (again), the better.

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