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. Even better…a full team pursuit squad on funny bikes-

    Nothing makes me want to get out and lay down some V more than watching an old school team pursuit…four guys at full flight riding millimeters apart from each other( watch footage of the Soviet squad sometime!)…

  2. Once got to use a  friends custom made “Funny Bike” (~1988) with a 24″ front wheel for a TT event. Recco the course – road with too bumpy for the little front wheel.

    Love me some 80’s Funny Bike action! Skip to 7:10

    Tour De France 1988 CBS Intro Day1

  3. @frank

    @Haldy

    Oh HELLSYEAH

    THAT’S WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT!!! Man, I am gonn FLY home from the shop now with that video stuck in my head! The rush of a good team pursuit is amazing!

  4. Here’s a favorite I spotted in a Berlin shop window a few years ago. Pardon the quality of the photo.

  5. @Haldy

    @frank

    @Haldy

    Oh HELLSYEAH

    THAT’S WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT!!! Man, I am gonn FLY home from the shop now with that video stuck in my head! The rush of a good team pursuit is amazing!

    They flow off the front like water off a branch! So elegant, every modern team would crush the TDF TTT if theY even rode 2/3 that well together. And I’m talking about the LOSING team.

  6. @zeitzmar

    Here’s a favorite I spotted in a Berlin shop window a few years ago. Pardon the quality of the photo.

    That’s a masterpiece right there!

    Diverging a bit, but I love that Fignon chose the delta rear brake and caliper front brake. Suck amazing attention to detail.

  7. @frank

    Yeah, that is an interesting choice. Do you have any idea why? I would have guessed the other way around if anything because I thought the Deltas were designed to be aero, or at least 1980s aero.

    I have a set at home, Croce d’Aune, not C Record, waiting to be mounted on the right bike.

  8. It’s back to front though isn’t it. eTap. You push – note “push” the right lever to LEFT and get the chain going to the right. I see where they are coming from – right lever, right chain movement – but it just doesn’t get with me. It’s not a deal breaker – I love the group. I’d get used to it and then forget about it I suppose.

    I’m a draughtsman, and I manipulate models all day long with a 3D mouse – which when you move it in a direction, the model moves in that direction too. This is kinda back to front. Apparently there was some long internal discussion about it but all they need is a tiny bit of software, or a combination press (eg hold both levels in and press the function button) to swap it.

  9. Was always a fan of the funny bike, especially the “Pinarellos” that Indurain rode

    In an interesting tie in to another recent article, have a look at who owns this one now – http://www.vintageluxurybicycles.com/indurain-tt

  10. @Haldy

    Can’t explain why..but this has always been a personal favorite-

    3Rensho + 10Pitch + purple. no explanation necessary.

  11. 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!

  12. @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!

    Ooops… Minor detail! I’ll stand at my bike stand spinning pedals and shifting thru the gears even if everything is fine just because it’s fun to do. Especially the big ring shift. And still make endless minor adjustments. Fortunately once a motorized derailleur is set up it doesn’t need a whole lot of attn. But dang, I can’t spin the pedal and watch the big ring shift at eye level as I reach over the bar with my other hand to get at shifter?? That’s not cool. They’ll have to have a junction box mech shift available or something along those lines.

    I appreciate that with the e-button shifters all kinds of interesting shift logic options become available since not constrained by leverage necessary for mech’s and cables. I’d note however, my son had never spent a lot of time on a road bike when he jumped on to one of my Di2 bikes and he picked up the shift logic in only moments. It really is simple.

  13. @wilburrox

    Yeah, the Blip satellite shifter could solve it but without that it’s a two-handed front shift. It’s okay though, it’s like a race car. Just what I want in a bike, for it to be more car-like.

  14. Love the idea of wireless. Just not sure I love the ~$2800 price tag for a complete gruppo. Will be interested to see if Shimano follows suit.

  15. Front shift will be easy enough with one hand – right forearm across the bars under the levers, catch the RH one with elbow while tapping the LH one with fingers.

    I like the wireless idea but not the shifting concept (or SRAM). I’ll stick with Di2.

  16. My neighbor and buddy is a professional photographer. Conned him into shooting some photos of my Tommasini…I opt for Deltas at the fore and aft!

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

    Also, is it wrong that I dream of building up a daily commuter with e-shifting but have no interest in putting it on my road bikes? I feel like it is.

    And, anyone racing cross on Di2? I could see that being pretty great. Then again, my cx bike has Red shifters and I hate SRAM. Never had so many missed upshifts on Campa & Shimano combined as I do with SRAM. It has never worked well for me.

  18. Awesome post! Why? The 80s are being discussed as well as funny bikes and, most importantly: time trialling. I don’t think I have any pictures any more, but I had a hot pink (80s, remember) Cougar TT bike (made in Liverpool, I think), tiny clearances, Mavic/Modolo/Campag bits, cowhorn handlbars, early Mavic TT bars. Top tube was not straight but curved. 52/42 and 12 straight through at the back. Sweet machine indeed!

    I think my article on Charley Mottet had a picture of him riding a similar bike to Fignon’s. Aero Coke bidon, rocket launcher bars. What’s not to love?

  19. [ Father Guido Sarducci voice ] “Whateh blows my’mind is that Gitane head tube steerer column setup that Fignon has got there.”

  20. Shame that Fignon wouldn’t wear an aero helmet for the 1989 Tour de France TT.

  21. @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.

  22. @pistard

    @Haldy

    Can’t explain why..but this has always been a personal favorite-

    3Rensho + 10Pitch + purple. no explanation necessary.

    That rear triangle and brace from brake bridge to the back of the seat tube just scream “go fast” to me. This baby was made to handle copious amounts of V!

  23. @zeitzmar

    @frank

    Yeah, that is an interesting choice. Do you have any idea why? I would have guessed the other way around if anything because I thought the Deltas were designed to be aero, or at least 1980s aero.

    I have a set at home, Croce d’Aune, not C Record, waiting to be mounted on the right bike.

    Croce d’Aune, in my opinion, is the most beautiful name ever given to a groupset. Only an Italian company can come up with something like that.

  24. @wiscot

    Awesome post! Why? The 80s are being discussed as well as funny bikes and, most importantly: time trialling. I don’t think I have any pictures any more, but I had a hot pink (80s, remember) Cougar TT bike (made in Liverpool, I think), tiny clearances, Mavic/Modolo/Campag bits, cowhorn handlbars, early Mavic TT bars. Top tube was not straight but curved. 52/42 and 12 straight through at the back. Sweet machine indeed!

    I think my article on Charley Mottet had a picture of him riding a similar bike to Fignon’s. Aero Coke bidon, rocket launcher bars. What’s not to love?

    Charly was always one of my favorites, and single-handedly ensured I was always a fan of RMO. He ALWAYS looked so damn cool.

  25. @Mikael Liddy

    Was always a fan of the funny bike, especially the “Pinarellos” that Indurain rode

    In an interesting tie in to another recent article, have a look at who owns this one now – http://www.vintageluxurybicycles.com/indurain-tt

    They were definitely doing some wild and crazy stuff!

    @Mikael Liddy

    That’s a big ring!

    That’s not a big ring; THIS is a big ring!

  26. @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!

    Oh crap!

    @Oli

    @wilburrox

    Yeah, the Blip satellite shifter could solve it but without that it’s a two-handed front shift. It’s okay though, it’s like a race car. Just what I want in a bike, for it to be more car-like.

    Complete with an airbag!

  27. @wilburrox

    There is a function button on both dérailleurs that will shift both up and down.  You don’t even need to reach up to the bars…  Pretty thoughtful.

  28. @frank

    @Mikael Liddy

    Was always a fan of the funny bike, especially the “Pinarellos” that Indurain rode

    In an interesting tie in to another recent article, have a look at who owns this one now – http://www.vintageluxurybicycles.com/indurain-tt

    They were definitely doing some wild and crazy stuff!

    @Mikael Liddy

    That’s a big ring!

    That’s not a big ring; THIS is a big ring!

    Thats not real, the fork is ass backwards.

  29. @Lukas

    @wilburrox

    There is a function button on both dérailleurs that will shift both up and down.  You don’t even need to reach up to the bars…  Pretty thoughtful.

    Turning the cranks and poking the FD to shift? Hmmm.

    I’m thinking a remote key fob kinda thing is in order… Should be pretty straightforward pairing up the signal?

  30. And Oregon frame builder Rob English is doing his best to keep the funny bike style somewhat alive in modern form-

  31. @Haldy

    And Oregon frame builder Rob English is doing his best to keep the funny bike style somewhat alive in modern form-

    Thing reminds me of an F-22 with an atrociously ugly saddle.

  32. @Matt

    @Haldy

    And Oregon frame builder Rob English is doing his best to keep the funny bike style somewhat alive in modern form-

    Thing reminds me of an F-22 with an atrociously ugly saddle.

    I think it’s the saddle that’s the worst part, put a proper looking saddle on there at it would at least look a bit better.

  33. I had a pair of Croce d’Aune Deltas for a bit. Never fitted them, just took them out of the cupboard for a gentle fondle from time to time.

    That Colnago pursuiter is montrously fap-worthy. Yummy.

  34. @universo

    Shame that Fignon wouldn’t wear an aero helmet for the 1989 Tour de France TT.

    I reckon he’d have rather lost the 89  Tour than wear that lid, it’s a shocker

  35. @Haldy

    @Matt

    @Haldy

    And Oregon frame builder Rob English is doing his best to keep the funny bike style somewhat alive in modern form-

    Thing reminds me of an F-22 with an atrociously ugly saddle.

    I think it’s the saddle that’s the worst part, put a proper looking saddle on there at it would at least look a bit better.

    Apart from the saddle, that just looks like a badass go-fast machine. I’m down!

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