In the overall scheme of things, “scheme” being “since time began,” I haven’t seen all that much. In cycling I have seen exactly three technical changes since 1982 that were really significant, things that changed cycling a lot for the better. I’m sure you will disagree with my Big Three, but here they are:
What they replaced: Toe cages, toe straps, and heavy alloy pedals.
How they made cycling better: They got rid of purple toes and dead toenails and hotspots a mile wide unless you happen to wear Bonts, in which case you pay extra for those things. Instead of falling over at lights because you couldn’t reach down and undo the strap in time, now you fall over because you can’t twist out in time. They eliminated the constant repurchase of worn out Alfredo Binda straps ($25/each), and now require the replacement of worn out cleats ($35/each), and highly specialized and technical shoes ($435/pair). But seriously, clipless pedals made pedaling easier, less painful, and more efficient. Game changer.
What I miss about the old stuff: Nothing, except not having old straps lying around to strap stuff under my seat with, and being able to buy a pair of Dettos for $39.
What it replaced: Friction shifting.
How it made cycling better: It eliminated wing-and-a-prayer shifting. It eliminated the 12-year apprenticeship required to learn how to find the right cog. It led to handlebar shift levers, which made shifting faster, safer, and more efficient, especially since the number of cogs climbed in a few short years from six to eleven. Now it goes to eleven.
What I miss about the old stuff: Simplex friction shifters were silent and perfect once you learned how to use them. Index shifting killed downtube shifting, which was good, but at the expense of heavier, clunkier hoods and bars. That’s pretty much it.
What it replaced: Mechanical shifting done with wires.
How it made cycling better: It eliminated the “shifting penalty” that kept you in the wrong gear a lot of the time. Before wireless shifting you had to always consider the effort it was going to take to shift plus the fact that you might put it in the wrong gear, mistakenly thinking, for example, that you needed to be in the 11 rather than the 28. With the mechanical stuff, when you shifted into an inappropriate gear, you then had to shift again to get into the right one, which meant at least one wasted shift effort, more if you were a complete goober. Since all cyclists are lazy, even when it comes to something as effortless as modern mechanical index shifting, which basically requires the effort of pushing around a warm stick of butter, most cyclists would rather pedal along in a gear that’s slightly too hard or slightly too easy than shift twice, or, dog forbid, go up and down several cogs to find the right gear. This inherent laziness caused by the effort required to mechanically shift is the “shifting penalty” that keeps you in the wrong gear a lot of the time. However, with e-Tap and its ilk you just clickety-clickety-click and it doesn’t fuggin’ matter how wrong your gear selection is. You can mis-shift entering a turn and be in the right gear before you’re even through it. You can mis-shift on a climb when someone is attacking and be in the right gear even after being in a couple of wrong ones.
What I miss about the old stuff: Nothing. I hated those fat hoods with a passion, to say nothing of the droopy tentacle-design favored by Shimano’s earlier versions, where the wires came out of bar tape like bug guts.
Of course, along with the three best improvements ever, there are also the three worst things ever to happen to cycling. In order of repulsiveness:
TT BIKES AND EQUIPMENT
What they replaced: Regular bikes, good looks, common sense.
How they made cycling worse: You look like an idiot on one; they make really slow people think they are fast; they discourage thousands and thousands of people from ever getting into TTs; they are twitchy and crash easier than drunk unicyclists; they add exponentially to the cost of what is already a fake sport even on a good day; they make terrible clothes hangers, which is what they end up as. Or the world’s ugliest wall art and/or garage filler. Also, an old TT bike ages about as well as an old ass tattoo.
What I miss about the old stuff: Everything. One bike no matter what kind of race; affordability of one bike versus two; knowing that apples were being compared to apples; sharing the lineage of Eddy.
ONBOARD COMPUTERS AND POWER METERS
What they replaced: Brains. Fun.
How they made cycling worse: No one knows anything anymore. People just read and memorize data. Cyclists, who are already the world’s most boring people, when armed with ride data become duller than a year-old razor blade.
What I miss about the old stuff: I liked my brain a lot. It was soft in spots but worked pretty well in others.
STRAVA, PHONES, AND ANYTHING CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET
What they replaced: Freedom.
How they made cycling worse: You have no more excuses for escaping from the drudgery of work, family, or life. Cycling, especially when combined with “data” items above, becomes just more drudgery.
What I miss about the old stuff: Freedom. Duh.
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