Mechanical dopes

December 19, 2016 § 23 Comments

As the revelations unfold, it’s deja vu all over again. Cheaters use new technology to cheat. What a surprise.

The difference this time is that the cheating is in the bike, not in the dope who rides it. And the other difference is that even though as a percentage only a very few people will take drugs like EPO and testosterone to improve their bike performance, virtually every rider ever born will spend money to upgrade a bike so that it goes faster.

Ergo the distinction between bikes and motorcycles, a distinction that evaporated with the advent of mass-produced e-bikes and has now, with tiny motors, completely obliterated it. The bike used to be a thing that you pedaled. When your pedaling stopped, so did the bike.

Now the bike is a hybrid. Even though your pedaling wilts, the bike can either replace it completely with 100% electro-assist, or replace it in tiny watt-increments for very short periods of time, allowing you to hang on just long enough to get over the climb. And since no one knows whether you have the bike motor on the group ride, you might as well go big, right? Go big or go home. Isn’t that a saying somewhere?

We can also expect that technology will continue to make smaller motors that are even more powerful. Eventually the cranks and pedals will be part of an illusion that masks what’s really happening underneath. People who genuinely suck on a bike in every conceivable parameter will be able to go as fast as Phil Gaimon.

Of course they won’t actually be able to descend safely at speed, or navigate a pace line at speed, or thread a peloton at speed, or do any of the things that keep really good riders from falling and getting hurt/killed. And of course they will, with their miserable skills, endanger others. But none of that matters because they will be able to GO FAST while LOOKING LIKE A CYCLIST.

We are quickly reaching that point of perfect destruction, where racing fails because no one wants hard races, where cycling becomes a fashion competition of clothing and equipment, and where performance has more to do with motors than it does with your bodily engine.

Hey, it’s motor sports for slow people, and by the way, go ahead and have that second bacon cheeseburger.

The positives abound. We’ll be able to wear actual protective gear because the weight and comfort penalty of thick padding and legitimate helmets that truly protect your skull will be zero. That will save countless collarbones, hips, wrists, concussions, and especially lives.

Motorized fake cycling will push bike speeds to the point that the rider can absolutely hold the speed of traffic. No more edge riding, no more silly fights about “Bikes May Use Full Lane,” no more assholes screaming at you to “Ride on the sidewalk!”

Distances will melt. Instead of being limited to the same 50-mile route, you’ll be able to throttle it for the first 80 miles until you get to where you really want to ride, then do your motor-assisted “workout,” then motor back home, all for the price of a single battery charge.

Racing (it’s already happening) will become the equivalent of 50cc competitions. The really good riders will have phenomenal high-speed handling skills and will judiciously know when to add in a huge effort for the last 3-km sprint (forget the 200m-to-go marker), and they’ll know just when to combine motor with legs to initiate the break, bridge, or surge.

Group rides will likewise boil down to informal contests that involve ballsy, high speed moves, some degree of fitness, top-notch motors, and skilled use of legs at just the right time in just the right amount. Power meters and battery life will no longer be training tools, they will be absolute outcome determinants. Just as car racers win by managing power output, fuel reserves, and tire tread, cyclists will have one eye on the power meter and one eye on the battery level. Charging devices aren’t far behind, either, where descents will power your battery back up as you ride.

Best of all, the pathetic egos of old men will be massaged by finally being able to buy their way into the head of the peloton–not the peloton of weekend hackers, but the head of the field with actual professionals. As with the existing masters racer who owns the lightest bike and the best equipment, purchasing power will now catapult the lamest, most over-the-hill, delusional old farts to la course en tete.

I’d argue, in fact, that we’re already there. Electronic shifting has changed the game in so many respects. By removing all physical and mental penalties to changing gears, battery powered components give you an edge. You can try two or three gears in a split second to find the right one. Imagine doing that with down tube shifters and six cogs.

Battery powered components will increasingly provide an energy supply for other drive train and braking components. As mental and physical energy is no longer devoted to the workings of the bike, more is left over to pedal hard and to race. You’ll go faster, farther, and use less energy to do it.

The only casualty is bicycling. Power meters and onboard computers have meant for years now that no ride really happens until the microprocessor begins recording. Strava increasingly defines the significance of your ride. Was it viewed? Was it liked? Did it reflect various amazing trinket-worthy milestones?

If today you can’t throw a leg over without a charged derailleur battery, charged lights, a functioning power meter, and a charged personal tracking device, how much of a qualitative change is it, really, to add in a tiny motor? Or a large one? It’s better than sitting on the couch, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

The bicycle is no longer an inert lump of rubber and metal, dead until a person mounts it and presses down on the pedal. It’s no longer a measure of strength, a promise of improvement, or a hammer to smash the fetters of daily life and spring you into the freedom of your dreams.

It’s just another appliance. So don’t forget to plug it in.



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§ 23 Responses to Mechanical dopes

  • Greg says:

    I love a good conspiracy (Fluimicil), but this Varjas dude has always struck me as a pure troll. Since no one ever found any of his “big motors” now it’s “small motors” that give a “15-second” burst. Right.

    By the way I just counted and I have 8 batteries on my bike. (none of which give me a burst of power)

    • fsethd says:

      Whether he’s a liar or not, the motors exist and are for sale and are in use in the pro peloton, cf. the Belgian ‘cross rider who was caught with one. The current battery sources on our bikes are just a few innovations away from being a single power source. Why charge eight devices when a single wireless device could power all of them?

      And once you have an onboard power plant, why not connect it to the drive train, not to mention turn indicators and other traffic safety devices?

      The more dependent the ride becomes on external, non-human power sources, the less it is bicycling and the more it is a motor sport. That’s fine if you like motor sports …

      • Greg says:

        Cycling has always been about man and machine. The “purists” threw fits about having a chain to drive the rear wheel instead of just pedals directly to the front hub. Then about brakes, which removed much skill from riding. Then about having freehubs. Then the parallelogram rear dérailleur really took all the skill out of cycling.

        When should we have drawn a line and said, “OK, the bicycle is done. No more changes.” That’d be kind of sad to me.

        • fsethd says:

          It’s not about purity. It’s about the differentiation between motor sports and cycle sports and how that line has gotten fuzzier and fuzzier until we’re on the cusp where it’s only a question of speed and equipment, not a fundamental difference in how the machine is driven.

          That has advantages, and people will always choose the easier way to go fast.

          There is something lost as we become another motor sport, but those who begin cycling in the present will never have any idea what that lost thing was, nor will they care.

  • Winemaker says:

    “I’d argue, in fact, that we’re already there. Electronic shifting has changed the game in so many respects. By removing all physical and mental penalties to changing gears, battery powered components give you an edge. You can try two or three gears in a split second to find the right one….”

    Well Said. Chapeau.

    • fsethd says:

      People ask me how I like my SRAM e-tap. “It’s great,” I say. “It removes the thought and energy penalty from shifting, which is incalculable.”

      For instance: With non-motorized shifting you are fucked coming out of a turn if you’re overgeared. And EVERYONE is overgeared coming out of a turn; that’s why we’re amateurs.

      With the motor, you come out of every turn perfectly geared, because no matter how badly you botched the entry, you can fix the exit by instantaneously upshifting.

      This means you go faster. Not because you’re Gibby Hatton and know how to ride a crit, but because you’re Wanker McWankerston who can purchase smooth exits.

      That smooth exit, times a hundred, saves you countless watts that you now have left over to contest 54th place instead of sitting up with one to go and rolling in DFL.

      Or: When pinned on the climb it takes huge mental and physical energy simply to shift mechanically. It really does. And you also have the uncertainty of shifting correctly. One mis-shift on the climb when you’re pinned and you are OTB. But with motorized shifting there is no penalty to selecting the wrong gear. So again, unlike the rider who has to know his gearing and peg it to the effort, and peg it right, you can purchase the right selection.

      This is more pronounced in races where half or more of the riders don’t have motorized shifting. You just bought yourself a big advantage that you could never have achieved through training, or that would have taken years to achieve.

      I see it all the time … motors supplement skills, and then replace them.

      Of course it’s all related. Shoes that unclip without having to adjust the straps. Drive trains that index to the proper gear without having to listen for and adjust to the tell-tale rub of chain-on-front cage or chain in-between cogs. Computers that indicate absolute physical parameters replacing the judgment of your ability and reserves that come from experience.

      All of these things are now being tied together with onboard power sources, soon to be a single powerplant. Which, I think, is what they call those things in motorcycle frames.

    • sibex9591 says:

      It was a long long time before I finally upgraded from my seven speed Landshark with down tube shifters to my current 10 sp steed. When I first started riding again with a group, (the last time was before this new fangled shifting), I was amused at how much everyone shifted all the time. As soon as the grade turned positive, clickity-clickity-clickity from all the bikes in the group, except mine. Around here the grades don’t last long, so I just powered through, but everyone else shifted away, and then back again over the crest. I don’t really miss the down tube shifters, but I am pretty sure I could still operate them.

      • fsethd says:

        The faster you go, the more the terrain changes, and the more the group varies its speed, the more of a difference shifting makes.

        Motorized shifting is just another tool to chip away at the mechanical limitations of cycling, or rather to make the machine more responsive to its surroundings, and thereby requiring less human work/effort/wattage.

        30 years ago no one described riding in terms of wattage …

  • Jeff says:

    I think I’ll hold off on the motor until the technology can take over for me when the distance from my nuckles to your nuckles goes from 10.0mm to 0.0mm. Safer for everyone. Wait a minute….scratch that. I just remembered that my wife said she’d divorce me if I got a motorcycle.

  • Waldo says:

    You say it as if it’s a bad thing…

  • Waldo says:

    A few years ago, I tried Di2, thought: “meh,” and went back to mechanical. (I don’t have the racing needs you describe.) Now, however, I also have a weight weenie eTap bike and I’m going to hang onto it — less because of its shifting and more because of its ride. This bike climbs, descends, and handles better than the Di2 bike, and that’s the ultimate measuring stick.

    • fsethd says:

      Electrification improves the ride but further reduces the human factor. This is the simple trade-off, but it’s complicated.

      • Waldo says:

        I don’t buy the “electrification improves the ride.” Frame design and bike fit improve the ride. Shifting speed on a cafe ride (even an 80-mile cafe ride), which is all I do these days, has nothing to do with ride quality. Apparently, YMV, which is great too.

  • LesB says:

    And then the next logical step is to put on the VR goggles and skip the entire hardware paradigm.

    • fsethd says:

      I think it’s called Zwift. You can ride your bike with other people without ever riding your bike or being with other people.

      Lots of fun if you don’t know what fun is …

  • …a few years back, race leader Cale Reader lost his lead during San Dimas because his Di2 failed…

  • EricW says:

    There’s a lot to be said for RetroShift. Now Gevenalle, it can do all those fast multiple gear shifty things without the amazing price of electric brifters. I don’t think about shifting at all. Maybe simpler is gonna be better than complex systems on a bicycle?

  • leo_d says:

    need the motors to push those newfangled, energy sapping, disc brakes.

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