e-Tap and Wanky Tech Review

June 24, 2017 § 24 Comments

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:


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.


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.


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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§ 24 Responses to e-Tap and Wanky Tech Review

  • Fausto says:

    May have started a few years before you, so for me it was the lycra short/synthetic chamois. People talk about comfortable frames, suspension, lower tire pressure… a modern pair of shorts has all of that compared to the 70’s wool and leather shorts. Last would be helmets, what they replaced is “nothing” or a cap. What they do is save your life but hate them anyway.

    • fsethd says:

      Yes, that was pre-1982. I think the derailleur was probably a biggie, too. Oh, and equally sized wheels. And rubber tires followed by pneumatic ones …

  • Michelle landes says:

    I have nothing electronic on my bike I’m still having fun !!!😀

  • donkybhoy says:


    I still ride on a steel Columbus SL Italian frame since the 80’s

  • dpcowboy54 says:

    Seth, my pinko brother! I agree with you about the pedals, and how worthless the last few things you list are. I disagree regarding shifting…..shifting used to be important, especially on rolling courses or climbs with gradient changes….a strategy now gone. Hell, Mark Pringle won a time trial in Italy in ’78 simply because he executed a smooth downshift in a TT (regular bike, by the way!) on the inside corner of a steep climb…gave him the three seconds everybody else lost when we hit that 20% pitch.
    Now, even in the ’17 Giro, I see people jam it into a gear mid-cliimb when seated (!) to get it in the right gear…they incur no ‘penalty’ for not being smart, or skillful, or whatever.
    ….love from your pal.

    • fsethd says:

      Yes, but you don’t see all the people in the wrong gear because too lazy to shift. Downtube shifting had the biggest penalty of all. The wrong gear meant hand completely off the bars, reach down, hope you don’t mis-shift, etc., etc.!

    • Sibex Czar says:

      I always felt (perhaps imagined) that dt shifting helped make me stronger. Resisting the shift to an easier gear on simple rolling hills forced me to push harder on those. That could simply be an illusion (or delusion) I invented for myself.

      I always felt like heading into rollers, if I maintained speed as long as possible, it would be a pretty nice journey up and over, and (most) people on my wheel would appreciate it.

      When I first started riding with other people again in the early Oughts, I was still on my dt shifted Landshark, and the thing I remember most from my fellow roadies was the sound of clickity-clickity as they all changed gears going into a climb/roller. With most there was an immediate drop of pace, and that used to bug the shit out of me.Of course raising the pace of a ride always bugged the shit out of some others. Guess that is why I looked for a new group.

      A nice piece written by Ed Hood – http://www.pezcyclingnews.com/features/equipment-nostalgia-fact-or-fiction/#.WU6XnO3ythE

      Of course when I moved up to my indexed shifting machine that I ride today, I immediately fell in love with the indexed shifting, and hell, I still didn’t use it until I needed it :).

      The material science and production engineers at Shimano made some great contributions to reducing the weight but increasing the strength of everything. Campy was lost in nostalgia while Shimano was innovating.

      One of those regrets that we sometimes have is that I never put that two and the other two together when I was in graduate engineering school and could have applied decently sound engineering research into the sport I loved. When I first learned that a hollow shaft could resist torque better than a solid shaft, I should have been thinking “Bottom Brackets”

      Oh well.

      • fsethd says:

        Hilarious article by Hood!!

      • Fausto says:

        I totally get what you are talking about in regards to down tube shifting. You had to plan and execute and knowing the course was a huge advantage. What I remember most though was it really wasn’t the shifting on those rollers as much as you only had 5 or 6 shift options but they were mostly straight block with little jumps and you could power through. I love having 11 options and at my age need the 29 in the back but still find some of those large jumps weird. My knees say thank you though, I don’t miss climbing as a full body workout to get over the hill in a 43×19.

  • dangerstu says:

    Dog you’re getting old. I just got shift by wire, it’s nice, but apparently I’m special in that shifting was an art that required years to learn or perhaps like language it’s something easier to master when you’re young, it took me a few hours one Christmas morning when I was 9 or 10.
    Good: synthetic chamois, helmets that work, clip in pedals, sun glasses, mtn bikes, compact cranks and now sub-compact cranks, tubeless, 1x drive trains, adventure bikes, combined shifting & breaking.
    Bad: veliminati and all the associated bollox that goes with it.

  • LesB says:

    In 1982 cycling was still 25 years in the future for me, so all those retro things for you are for me things from some alternate universe.

    The change that did come since ’07 was the electronic gears. Besides the other advantages, it’s a matter of freedom. I don’t go on rides for the purpose of stopping to adjust the derailer or to re-rail a liberated chain by hand.

  • Jon Williams says:

    Agree in total except for the electronic shifting. A bicycle should not have anything electrissical on at all. Period. For me cable operated index shifting is all you need. A major improvement over friction/DT shifting and no need to bring electrons, etc. into the picture. If you don’t like ugly levers and droopy cables, spring for Campy.

    I would swap that in your list for good clinchers. It took me a long time, but I’m completely over sew-ups. Yeah they were part of the arcane allure that brought me into cycling way back, but today I’ll take the no fuss.

    • fsethd says:

      I sort of agree but do you ride with a phone or computer or light?

      Electronic shifting is not all that different from an electric motor.

      Time to sell the e-Trap?

  • debster822 says:

    We have too many bikes (is there such a thing?) (only if you can’t park your car in a 2-car garage). We have a tandem bike with Ultegra, Dura-Ace, blah blah blah, that was custom built for another couple in 2006. They put 100 miles on it and he hated it, so as he’d paid for it, he parked iit in his dining room, aka bike closet, for a year. We rode it a week before we bought it, and it has been a solid, fun ride.

    Recently we consulted with Calfee and had a custom-fit, hand-built tandem. Everything that can be carbon, is, including the drive belt. The best thing is that we have Di2 shifting so the captain has to cue the stoker to ease up when he shifts. For the touring rides and occasional TT we do, this is perfect. All that other stuff…meh. I’m sold on electronic shifting.

    Fear not, we won’t go so far as to get an engine that isn’t human. That’s just wrong.

    I miss suicide brakes, though.

  • EricW says:

    From the cycling improvements from long ago…

    Retro fix that really works for those long, long rides – I installed one of those generator thingies. Mine works flat on the tire face. Now there are LEDs for the lights. Bright!

    Despite the naysayers, no problems – always works even in rain, starts at a walking pace, weights less than the lights and batteries it replaces.

    Biggest difference: not have almost dead batteries at the end of a long days riding.

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