In Memoriam: The Funny Bike

Summer, it appears, has been snatched abruptly from Seattle’s grasp, like a squeak toy from a puppy’s mouth. A week ago, we were setting record temperatures which were sadly playing their role in producing the worst wildfire season the state has ever seen. On the plus side, I haven’t ridden my Nine Bike in so long both its tires were flat as it hung against the wall in the VVorkshop. This weekend saw its reemergence as high winds, rain, and cooler temperatures gripped the city. It was like Fall swaggered over and gave Summer a snuggie before shoving it in a locker.

Change is a catalyst for introspection, and it just so happens that coinciding with this change in weather is the announcement of SRAM’s eTap grouppo.  Apart from bringing back Mavic Mektronic’s nightmare wireless technology, eTap offers the first genuine innovation in Cycling shifting technology since the invention of brifters. Instead of mimicking how mechanical shifters work, eTap designates the right and left paddles for either up or downshifting; pushing both paddles at once toggles the front mech. While this eliminates my revered double shift, I have to admit it makes an awful lot of sense, although I will reserve judgement until I try it – just to make sure it isn’t more “awful” than “sense”.

As change brings introspection, so I find myself once again thinking back on when innovation was a fixture of our Sport. Innovation, it seems, flows like a tide. From the 1890’s to the 1930’s, the sport was under constant flux as we evolved from the basic safety bicycle to a machine with inflated rubber tires and gears. From there the evolution was incremental until we hit another period of wild innovation in the 1980’s.

Before 1983, “aerodynamics” was turning your bicycle cap backwards. From 1983 and beyond, innovation was mounting a pair of cowhorn handlebars midway down your steerer tube, slipping into a lycra onesie, and donning a plastic airfoil as your headpiece. Fuck yeah.

The bicycle changed dramatically from the early eighties to the late nineties; and the change appeared unstoppable until the UCI started regulating its advancement on account of “safety”*. What we once considered radical developments have become either standard bits of kit or novelty items worth collecting. Downtube shifters fall into the latter, with aero brake levers, brifters, aero bars, and carbon-fiber frames falling into the former.

The Time Trial bike was the pinnacle of innovation, to the extent we referred to them as “funny bikes”. At first it was cowhorns and airfoils attached to the saddle. Then it was wrapping steel tubes in fiberglass to smooth them out. Finally, it was aerobars and tiny front wheels to allow the bars to creep ever lower. The innovation ran over into the Hour Record, which saw attempt after attempt at the hands of innovation after innovation. It was my favorite time in Cycling.

As much as I dislike the idea of electric shifting, SRAM eTap group gives me hope that practical innovation still holds a place in our sport. Vive la Vie Velominatus.

*While it turned a blind eye to or, even worse, aided blood doping

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80 Replies to “In Memoriam: The Funny Bike”

  1. @sthilzy

    @Barracuda

    Is this cusp of when the “funny bike” turned into a “aero bike”?

    1989, I realise its not in the spirit of the article, but the frame is interesting none the less.

  2. Image result for daccordi

    I’ve posted this before but it’s entirely appropriate to post again.

    E tap? Meh, Whilst mechanical gruppo is so good what’s the point? I like the tactile feel of the gears, and whilst most shifts can be achieved with a pinky finger does it really need to be any easier?

  3. I was in Chicago earlier in the summer at Navy Pier and saw a quasi-homeless looking dude pedaling about on a woman’s funny bike: pink, small front wheel circa 1989 triathlons (of course those characteristics would be consistent with a man’s triathlon bike from the late 80’s). I did not know what to think but was to too dumbstruck to snap a photo. Damn.

  4. @frank

    @Oli

    Someone has pointed out that eTap is going to be a pain for mechanics – how can you pedal a bike in the stand and shift between chainrings? It’ll take three hands for one of the most basic adjustments on a bike!

    Nope. They thought of that. The deraillurs can be shifted by pressing the “function” button on the shifter itself. It is infact, easier to make adjustments as you don’t need to use the brifter at all.

  5. @chuckp

    I remember hearing someone hypothesizing that the reason why SRAM has taken so long to go electronic in any form was to avoid patent infringement. If Shimano try anything similar, I suspect there will be a lot of scrutiny for similarities.

  6. @Barracuda

    Chiropractors dream

    Is that one of Frank’s bikes? Judging by the differential betwixt saddle and bars, I suspect so.

  7. @Ron

    I’d wear Fignon’s helmet on a daily basis. That’s awesome!

    Am sure you can still find one somewhere…

    Or was the handle at the back of Fignon’s plastic cup rather there not to mess up his pony tail? Let’s ask @Fignon’s barber

  8. Fignon’s helmet was worn earlier in the tour and was much more stylish than the Giro monstrosity.

  9. @frank

    Just proving that not every LOOK bike is beautiful…

    I see your ugly LOOK funny bike and raise you this one…

  10. @frank

    Just proving that not every LOOK bike is beautiful…

    I like how the letters get bigger as the downtube gets wider.

  11. @Papogi

    @zeitzmar

    Based on how that handlebar is mounted so low, I don’t think there would have been room for Deltas on the front. I think he had to go with a regular sidepull to get the cable away from the centerline.

    Just stumbled across this front-view of the bike. How awesome is that?! And I think you’re definitely right on why the delta was swapped for a caliper brake.

  12. Cowhorns & 650 front wheels?  I always felt like I was going to eat the pavement.  Like my front suspension had collapsed.  Like her head was lower than her feet if you know what I mean.

  13. “It’s a really sad day. He had a very, very big talent, much more than anyone recognised. We were teammates, competitors, but also friends. He was a great person, one of the few that I find was really true to himself. He was one of the few riders who I really admired for his honesty and his frankness. We talked about a lot of different things outside of cycling and I was fortunate to really get to know him when my career stopped. I believe he was also one of the generation that was cut short in the early nineties because he was not able to fulfill the rest of his career. But he was a great rider.” – Greg LeMond

    Embarrassed that I just remembered Fignon died 31 August 2010

  14. @universo

    “It’s a really sad day. He had a very, very big talent, much more than anyone recognised. We were teammates, competitors, but also friends. He was a great person, one of the few that I find was really true to himself. He was one of the few riders who I really admired for his honesty and his frankness. We talked about a lot of different things outside of cycling and I was fortunate to really get to know him when my career stopped. I believe he was also one of the generation that was cut short in the early nineties because he was not able to fulfill the rest of his career. But he was a great rider.” – Greg LeMond

    Embarrassed that I just remembered Fignon died 31 August 2010

    What a lovely quote. Note to self – get hold of a copy of We Were Young and Carefree.

  15. @RobSandy

    Yes! I would make a point to read this book to draw inspiration, before work begins on an exclusive print focused on Fignon — serigraph. After Pantani though.

  16. @Nate

    @frank

    Just proving that not every LOOK bike is beautiful…

    I like how the letters get bigger as the downtube gets wider.

    But his bibs get shorter, some serious Rule #7 violation going on here.

  17. @KogaLover

    @Nate

    @frank

    Just proving that not every LOOK bike is beautiful…

    I like how the letters get bigger as the downtube gets wider.

    But his bibs get shorter, some serious Rule #7 violation going on here.

    That is a fine tan line. I reckon he is violating Rule #7 on account of laying down so much V.

  18. @KogaLover

    In those days the race leaders skinsuit for time trials was supplied by the race organiser, so often the fit was less than ideal. These days teams will have their own ones custom made, or if the organisers are supplying them they will still be custom fitted – there were pictures of Froome getting his one sized up during this years Tour.

  19. @frank just stumbled across this view of the Colnago Pursuit bike…now I have a burning desire to head out to Marymoor and crack out some fast laps. This thing just radiates the essence of speed….

  20. So I’m over at the SRAM site checking out the eTap Red stuff and instead of satellite shifters they have Blips and instead of a junction box they have a BlipBox. Good fun. The new crankset is relatively good looking piece of work. I could imagine a build for ’16 being being in the cards and some eTap being in line. Just maybe, after decades of thinking about it, finally getting a custom frame? Hmmmm…

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