The Hard Way

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Doing things the hard way is a luxury. It says to the world that we’ve beat evolution; intelligence is no match for technology and economy is no match for indulgence. We need only step a bit outside our bubble to realize the scale of the illusion, but nevertheless it has become reality for many of us who live our lives happily and fortunately in the middle and upper classes of the developed world where survival has nothing whatsoever to do with being the fittest.

One of the things that struck me within weeks of moving to the Pacific Northwest was the frequency with which people die here; not from disease (although Ebola can go fuck itself, pardon my francais) but from tucking into the wilderness for some weekend relaxation. The PNW has some of the world’s biggest cities, but most of it is untamed wilderness – including radical weather systems, cougars, rattlesnakes, bear, The Sasquatch, and possibly ManBearPig. This place will mess you up, son; your GPS or iPhone isn’t going to be your savior.

The first-hand experience of the realities of a system provides a more intimate learning tool than does the passive observation, although in an evolutionary sense the latter is the more effective method for the survival of a species; our ancestors learned to stay away from bees by watching the guy who drew the short straw poke at a hive and die from anaphylactic shock without needing to then poke at the hive themselves. Nevertheless the tangible nature of repercussions forges an indelible bond between action and result.

It is also interesting that complexity and abstraction are inversely bound; the more complex the system, the farther the user is removed from its operation. The simplicity of the friction downtube shifter is in sharp contrast to the complexity of an electronic drivetrain. My steel bike has friction downtube shifters, a fact that makes itself especially well known while climbing. To shift requires planning and skill; I have to find a part of the climb where I can be seated, unload the chain, and shift by feeling the chain as it slides across the block and listen for the telltale silence when the chain is securely seated back onto an adjacent cog. At that point, I’m committed to that gear until the climb grants me the next opportunity to shift. On Bike #1, I can shift under full load at my whim and without consequence. The artistry of shifting is lost, though I wouldn’t go back to downtube shifters on any bike I plan to ride seriously.

I love the contrast of evolution and tradition in the modern racing bicycle, with carbon tubulars being perhaps the most fitting contrast where the most modern technology is dependent on the oldest form of affixing a tire to a rim. Gluing on a set of tubular tires is no longer a necessary skill in our sport with good clinchers being readily available. Gluing tubs takes time and careful attention, two things that are in short supply in our modern society. But to glue on a set of tires brings you closer to the machine and from where our sport has progressed. To build a set of wheels does so even more, and I imagine building a frame by hand builds the ultimate bond to our history.

We live at a time when the things that are irrelevant to survival take on their own crucial importance; we return to tradition in order to remember where we came from so we may understand where we are going. Doing things the hard way is a beautiful way to remind ourselves of the history that built the luxuries we surround ourselves with.

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170 Replies to “The Hard Way”

  1. @ChrisO

    Well, you should feel dirty about that, and should take a long old shower of purification, except that Campag disdains the TT market, so there ain’t a whole lot of options.

    I did a long solo 200km effort one day, on my roadie, which included a fuck-load of hills, one of which is 4km at about 12%, which I did both ways. About 2km from home I changed to the wee front sprocket to get up the last rise.  Preceding that was about 5km of really coarse chip-seal. I was pretty knackered by this stage and my hands were so numb and weak that when I moved to “sur la plaque”, I could not actually do it.  It took numerous attempts before I managed it, eventually using the devil’s hand and nearly crashing in the process.  That was when I decided that Di2 would grace any future tri bike I owned.   Not sure that I can concur with your implied position that using electronics to save a skerrick of effort is any  more wrong than using an aero position, an aero helmet or aero wheels though.

    Equally, using lightweight wheels for climbing etc is also “equipment based cheating” by that logic.

    Where is the line ?  How is using a powermeter in training not an unfair strategy, if not everyone has access to one ?

    Why the fuck are so many people on this site so narrow-minded ?  I rejoice in the richness that comes with the variety of human experience.  Without an urge to break the rules and make progress, Tulio Campagnolo would still be sitting on the side of the road with frozen fingers bemoaning the lack of a climbing cog.

  2. @piwakawaka

    @ChrisO

    @Ken Ho

    @ChrisO

    @Teocalli As he says… “of most interest to people doing triathlon and TTs. ”

    No further comment needed.

    Long course tri is so demanding that even the effort of changing gears becomes significant after a while.

    And this is why electronics are wrong.

    Just to show I put my money where my mouth is – I’m in the process of buying a Giant Trinity TT bike which I can get near cost price through our team sponsor, who is the Giant and Shimano distributor.

    I’ve ordered the Advanced 1 with mechanical Ultegra not the 0 with Di2.

    I already feel criminal just at the thought of using fishing tackle.

    good god, changing gear is part of being a cyclist, if we have an ‘auto’ doing that for us, we are losing part of the joy, I said before I don’t mind it in other applications, MTB, CX, Fatbike etc , but being able to change gear while fucked and redlining on the limit is all part of what we do, the heathens are at the gates, don’t buy that shit, it only encourages ’em.

    Shimano’s new XTR electronic for mtb can be operated with one shifter. Basically you program the algorithm to sort out the FD shift for you as you go up or down the gear range. Very cool. My experience is I’m more frequently redlined and shifting far more frequently in a cross country race than a road race. The e-shift could possibly be even more of an advantage on a mtb. I’ve opted to just skip using a FD altogether and have gone 1×11. And I’ll pass on the more pricey e-RD for mtb because of too frequently having to replace derailleurs due to trail damage.

  3. @ChrisO

    @Ken Ho

    @ChrisO

    @Teocalli As he says… “of most interest to people doing triathlon and TTs. ”

    No further comment needed.

    Long course tri is so demanding that even the effort of changing gears becomes significant after a while.

    And this is why electronics are wrong.

    Just to show I put my money where my mouth is – I’m in the process of buying a Giant Trinity TT bike which I can get near cost price through our team sponsor, who is the Giant and Shimano distributor.

    I’ve ordered the Advanced 1 with mechanical Ultegra not the 0 with Di2.

    I already feel criminal just at the thought of using fishing tackle.

    I’d figure that on a TT bike the little ring is mostly superfluous ? Still, I guess it’s there for a reason. And every time you reach out on that bar end to yank that little lever so as to guide the chain in to the big ring just say to yourself, dang, this could be so much easier. If there is any shift in all of bikedom that I suspect would be most helped by an e-shift it is that shift: the little to big from the bar end of a TT rig.

    I’ll admit to being awfully tempted though to put some extra shift buttons on my bars in the “climber’s” position. Not for any real reason other than I could then mash some buttons with my thumb. It’d be just like txt’ing…

  4. @Ken Ho

     That was when I decided that Di2 would grace any future tri bike I owned. Not sure that I can concur with your implied position that using electronics to save a skerrick of effort is any more wrong than using an aero position, an aero helmet or aero wheels though.
    Equally, using lightweight wheels for climbing etc is also “equipment based cheating” by that logic.

    Where is the line ? How is using a powermeter in training not an unfair strategy, if not everyone has access to one ?

    Power meters and computers measure the human effort you’re already making.

    Aero helmets, TT bars and even Tulio’s derailleur maximise the efficiency of the human effort you are already making.

    Electronics replace the human effort using an external power source.

    It’s not that complicated, nor is it narrow-minded.

    If it is external power assistance, the line is crossed. You’re on the way to riding a moped.

  5. @Puffy

    You bikes are obviously way cooler than mine, but I do at least still have the first real bike I bought too long ago to remember when. I still commute on that bike most days which allows me to post this photo. I like the bike, I enjoy riding it but I still prefer the double tap equipped #1 bike which is why this bike only every comes out for the commute!

    Same thing with my bike’s; love the dt’s but there is no denying why brifters kick ass.

    @Carel

    It would be a fun project to get that baby rollin’ back old school. Plastic bits…YIKES!

    @pistard

    Same levers, running syncro with 7 speed. Set up properly, and with a bit of finesse, the shifting is as smooth as my Bro-Set. And the friction front never drops the chain.

    Eerie how much that looks like mine – down to the beautiful monoplanar brakes!

  6. @Teocalli

    We’ve seen the apocalypse. I’d rather be eaten by zombies. Fuck. That. Shit.

    People could really benefit from this, like people who are keen on triathlons.

    Yeah…

  7. @wilburrox

    @piwakawaka

    @ChrisO

    @Ken Ho

    @ChrisO

    @Teocalli As he says… “of most interest to people doing triathlon and TTs. ”

    No further comment needed.

    Long course tri is so demanding that even the effort of changing gears becomes significant after a while.

    And this is why electronics are wrong.

    Just to show I put my money where my mouth is – I’m in the process of buying a Giant Trinity TT bike which I can get near cost price through our team sponsor, who is the Giant and Shimano distributor.

    I’ve ordered the Advanced 1 with mechanical Ultegra not the 0 with Di2.

    I already feel criminal just at the thought of using fishing tackle.

    good god, changing gear is part of being a cyclist, if we have an ‘auto’ doing that for us, we are losing part of the joy, I said before I don’t mind it in other applications, MTB, CX, Fatbike etc , but being able to change gear while fucked and redlining on the limit is all part of what we do, the heathens are at the gates, don’t buy that shit, it only encourages ’em.

    Shimano’s new XTR electronic for mtb can be operated with one shifter.

    Have you noticed the state of mountain biking? Most are 1x drives – which means any MTB drivetrain can be operated with one shifter.

    In fact, a fixie can be operated with none.

  8. @ChrisO

    @Ken Ho

    That was when I decided that Di2 would grace any future tri bike I owned. Not sure that I can concur with your implied position that using electronics to save a skerrick of effort is any more wrong than using an aero position, an aero helmet or aero wheels though.
    Equally, using lightweight wheels for climbing etc is also “equipment based cheating” by that logic.

    Where is the line ? How is using a powermeter in training not an unfair strategy, if not everyone has access to one ?

    Power meters and computers measure the human effort you’re already making.

    Aero helmets, TT bars and even Tulio’s derailleur maximise the efficiency of the human effort you are already making.

    Electronics replace the human effort using an external power source.

    It’s not that complicated, nor is it narrow-minded.

    If it is external power assistance, the line is crossed. You’re on the way to riding a moped.

    I’m not sure what’s weirder, you and me agreeing completely on the point or…no, whatever I were to add, it would still be the part about us totally agreeing.

    Oh, how I love me a good internet fight!

    @all

    Apropos to nothing, the point of the second paragraph was illustrated just today in the local paper:

    (subtitle says “Day hike turns into three nights lost in the Cascades.”)

  9. @frank

    @wilburrox

    @piwakawaka

    @ChrisO

    @Ken Ho

    @ChrisO

    @Teocalli As he says… “of most interest to people doing triathlon and TTs. ”

    No further comment needed.

    Long course tri is so demanding that even the effort of changing gears becomes significant after a while.

    And this is why electronics are wrong.

    Just to show I put my money where my mouth is – I’m in the process of buying a Giant Trinity TT bike which I can get near cost price through our team sponsor, who is the Giant and Shimano distributor.

    I’ve ordered the Advanced 1 with mechanical Ultegra not the 0 with Di2.

    I already feel criminal just at the thought of using fishing tackle.

    good god, changing gear is part of being a cyclist, if we have an ‘auto’ doing that for us, we are losing part of the joy, I said before I don’t mind it in other applications, MTB, CX, Fatbike etc , but being able to change gear while fucked and redlining on the limit is all part of what we do, the heathens are at the gates, don’t buy that shit, it only encourages ’em.

    Shimano’s new XTR electronic for mtb can be operated with one shifter.

    Have you noticed the state of mountain biking? Most are 1x drives – which means any MTB drivetrain can be operated with one shifter.

    In fact, a fixie can be operated with none.

    Wonder what a V-Bike with a single ring would look like in a race?

  10. Time and careful attention. Every time I teach I become more convinced that these two things are going to be absolute relics for most folks with access to a smart phone and/or wifi. Heck, even just a huge t.v. with 300 channels.

    I think anyone who can focus on a task for five, or even ten whole minutes, is going to have a serious leg up on everyone else. Most people are completely unable to not know something and ponder it for a few minutes.

    I know I’m not the only one who walks away from a group of people at a party or gathering when something is unknown and five people pull out their phones. I’ve also taken to telling people, as they go for the grab, “It’s cool. I don’t have to know right now.”

    What’s so awful about not knowing a small bit of data for a bit, then having the desire to come back to it at a later time, think about it some more, then maybe go search for the answer?

  11. Ah, shifters. Nice timing! I’m considering a shifter swap on my do-it-all commuter. It’s a cross bike with full fenders, 30mm tires and 9-speed 105 shifters on drop bars. But, I’m never in the drops and I often ride with two full panniers. Hmm, some slightly rising bars with rapid fire shifters might be a nice change. Riding in traffic with two bags of groceries makes the upright position and easier shifting reach a nice option. Plus, I have a bunch of road bikes. I don’t have a roadie set up with riser bars and rapid fire shifters. And, I can always go back if I don’t dig it.

  12. @frank

    I have been pondering this for a bit since we briefly discussed it( and since I have been gluing a bunch of nice tires/wheels at work lately), and it falls in under doing things the “hard” or maybe Proper way..I think we need to have an addition to the Rules. I propose Rule #96..No Tubular Tape!

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