Progressively Retro

Innovation is a beast that lurches in leaps and bounds, fueled by its own momentum and restrained by its own progress. It lays dormant for ages before springing to life and briefly disrupting the world around it. And, just as suddenly as it appeared, it ambles back to its cave to slumber once again.

Until 1984, eyewear protection in Cycling was governed by the same parameters that remedied the average librarian’s poor eyesight and kept airplane debris out of the Red Baron’s eyes. But then Oakley solved that problem and within a decade, the riders that had spent a century picking road grit out of their eyes universally were wearing badass shades that simultaneously made them 97% more intimidating and got them 74% more chicks.

That’s just one example. Have a look at Gino here, shadowed by his pal Fausto. On what was apparently a brisk morning during the Giro d’Italia, he had to have his mother stitch a pair of legwarmers together from what appears to be soft underbelly of baby buck sea monkeys. Or burlap sacs, although that seems a bit far-fetched. Not to mention his jersey and bibs are made of wool, which is a terrific material so long as it isn’t used anywhere where holding its shape when wet matters. And, although you can’t tell from this photo, he’s wearing oxfords – literally wearing dress shoes – with cleats nailed to the soles. I’m nostalgic for the look, but I’ll be fucked if I ever wear any of that on a bike, and not only because I’m fond of baby buck sea monkeys.

Right around the same time that Oakley was contemplating how to better shade a rider’s eyes, some bright spark at Castelli realized that elastic would do a better job accentuating a rider’s curves than wool ever could and the Lycra bibshort was born, forever changing the way Cyclists cultivated their tan lines. As with Sunnies Revolution, within the decade synthetic fabrics took over nearly every aspect of Cycling kit, with the Giro d’Italia being the last stronghold of the wool jersey and not giving way to a synthetic leader’s jersey until 1989. I might also mention that prior to the invention of the synthetic jersey, no one needed to install mudguards on their bikes because whenever it rained, wool jerseys stretched out below the saddle, making fenders unnecessary.

This innovation in kit was mirrored in bicycle technology, which had laid similarly dormant since the invention of the parallelogram derailleur. Seemingly all at once, aerodynamic equipment, composite frames, clipless pedals, and brifters arrived on the scene, easily making the 80’s the most innovative period in Cycling, apart from the 1880’s (when the bicycle as we know it today was actually invented).

In my own journey as a Velominatus, this was the most exciting time in the sport. The cyclic nature of innovation suggests that I will not see another such period in my lifetime, and 50-100 years is a long time to wait, unless you’re a Grail Knight. The problem with innovation, if we can call it a problem, is that disruptive change tends to polarize; we either love it or we hate it, and in order to accept accept change we have a tendency to reject the old in order to justify the new. The trouble is that we can’t tell the difference between innovation that solves a real problem and innovation that feels exciting because it’s different. But irrespective of that, legacy is brushed to the side and rejected as antiquity.

The Velominati are often accused of being luddites, praising the ride of steel and espousing the merits of wool over modern fabrics. But Legacy and Innovation are two ideals we hold equally in our hearts; we desire the latest, lightest carbon innovations as much as we cherish the steel rides we also keep in our stables. (Rule #12, remember?) We are judiciously skeptical of new developments like disc brakes and electronic shifting, but also re-evaluate what worked well in the past that perhaps doesn’t work as well today. I don’t see the need for electronic shifting, but admire the change in paradigm that SRAM’s eTap provides. And I will go kicking and screaming into the disc brake world, but if time demonstrates the value, I will change eventually.

Contradiction and myth occupy the gray space between absolutes where we find the most interesting revelations in life. I live in yesterday’s future; I have no intention of going back. But I will always respect those who have laid the path upon which I ride today.

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61 Replies to “Progressively Retro”

  1. @Owen

    Talk of carbon vs. steel frames, downtube vs. brifter, etc makes me think of my record player.

    I like listening to old vinyl records, and I’ve got some really great albums, but when I get in my car I don’t haul out the turntable. That’s what the phone is for. We embrace new technology (within reason, as Frank notes above) because it makes some aspect of our lives better and/or easier.

    Airplay is super convenient at home, and iTunes makes it so easy to list to eclectic playlists.

    My turntable makes listening to music a ritual, cleaning the record, flipping the record, making sure the correct speed is set etc. For any serious listening, it’s always the turntable.

    Speaking of which, they released the Zep records on 180 gram vinyl. I finally completed my collection of old Zep records, and now I have to buy them all again.

  2. @frank

    @Owen

    Talk of carbon vs. steel frames, downtube vs. brifter, etc makes me think of my record player.

    I like listening to old vinyl records, and I’ve got some really great albums, but when I get in my car I don’t haul out the turntable. That’s what the phone is for. We embrace new technology (within reason, as Frank notes above) because it makes some aspect of our lives better and/or easier.

    Airplay is super convenient at home, and iTunes makes it so easy to list to eclectic playlists.

    My turntable makes listening to music a ritual, cleaning the record, flipping the record, making sure the correct speed is set etc. For any serious listening, it’s always the turntable.

    Speaking of which, they released the Zep records on 180 gram vinyl. I finally completed my collection of old Zep records, and now I have to buy them all again.

    Let’s not speak of having to buy 180 gm records. My used bookstore Neil Young library is strong and I don’t want to think about spending more than a few bucks for each one. If, however, you feel the need to rehome your Zep I know a guy.

    There’s something to be said about rituals and respect for our elders (both people and technology), but I’ll never understand those who are willfully anachronistic just for the sake of being anachronistic.

  3. Before Rule #14

    My first bibshorts were some kind of black acryl with a crappy chammy. Never heard of chammy cream back then. The next pair of shorts were the ones in the picture: lycra with a nice soft anatomical leather chammy. Kept them all these 25-odd years but never wore them again after having read Rule #14. When reading this article and having bought yet another pair of black bibshorts, I threw them away after taking this picture last Saturday.

  4. @KogaLover

    Before Rule #14

    My first bibshorts were some kind of black acryl with a crappy chammy. Never heard of chammy cream back then. The next pair of shorts were the ones in the picture: lycra with a nice soft anatomical leather chammy. Kept them all these 25-odd years but never wore them again after having read Rule #14. When reading this article and having bought yet another pair of black bibshorts, I threw them away after taking this picture last Saturday.

    My first pro-quality bibs were blue Santini’s, bought in a bike shop in Zeevenaar. We all have to stray from the path in order to discover it.

  5. @frank

    @Owen

    Speaking of which, they released the Zep records on 180 gram vinyl. I finally completed my collection of old Zep records, and now I have to buy them all again.

    Could you pretend you’ve never heard them before so you can enjoy that again?

    I remember collecting all the Led Zep albums, one by one, when I was about 17/18. Mind blown. I still can’t imagine having the affection towards any band, past, present or future, as I have for LZ.

  6. BB30 threaded BBs.

    Just wanted to leave that combination of words here. Hopefully, goodbye bearing drag from excessive seals! For realistically pretty lame weight savings that press fit bearings offer.

    Sealed BBs for the win.

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