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If Necessity is the Mother of Invention, who is the Father?

Have you noticed how simplest things in life have become high tech when they don’t really need to? For example the paper towel dispenser.

What was wrong with just pulling on the paper, or operating a simple lever at the side?

Every one of these devices is different, so you stand there like an idiot with your hands dripping wet, trying to figure out where the “electronic eye” is.

Is it on the front, is it underneath. Shouldn’t there be a little red light somewhere? You wave your hands all around this abominable black plastic box. How about one that delivers paper towel when you punch it? Dry your hands and relieve your frustrations at the same time.

Invariably someone will come to your rescue and show you how it operates, making you feel like a total retard. (That used to be a politically incorrect term, but no one ever uses it to refer to a mentally challenged person anymore, it is only used when referring the type of person who can’t operate a stupid paper towel dispenser.)

Why make the simple things in life high tech, when there is no good reason other than we can? Or because we have the technology. The makers of these “Black Box” towel dispensers will argue that by eliminating the handle, they eliminate a source of germs that could re-contaminate our clean hands.

Now wait a minute, every person using the towel dispenser has clean hands. They have just washed them, that’s why they need a paper towel. And, anyway after sterilizing our hands thoroughly, we grab the filthy door handle as we leave. 

Why do we need electric can openers? One of the times we really need a can opener is during an emergency when the power is out. And the bicycle, one of the simplest and most efficient machines man has ever invented, is being made more and more complicated.

To be honest, it took me many years to get over index shifting in the late 1980s. At the time, I was in step with the European cycling community who scoffed at the idea, as did Campagnolo. This was tantamount to a violinist needing marks on the neck of the fiddle to show where to place your fingers.

Of course, the engineers at Shimano knew better. They knew that in America there were people who actually did not know how to operate a friction shift lever. Maybe they had great foresight and could see this same nation of people, who in the future, would not be able to operate a paper towel dispenser.

I always felt that index shifting was developed to cater to the “Instant Gratification” element. Nothing that requires a degree of skill, gives instant gratification. Muffing gear changes on a hill is no fun, but then neither is learning to play a musical instrument. However, the rewards are far greater once you master the skill. The satisfaction of doing something other people cannot, for a start. 

In the case of indexed shifting, Shimano was proved to be right, and Campagnolo spent years playing catch up. I will agree that indexed shifting has developed into something that is useful to all cyclists, including the pros. No one wants to go back to friction shifting, even old farts purists like me.

When I started cycling in the 1950s, racing bikes were the exact same machines as those ridden by the Pros in the Tour de France. It was like that up into the 1980s. What the professionals used, dictated what was sold on the open market. If you were a newbie and wanted to ride a racing bike, you had to deal with friction shifting. There was nothing else.

The mountain bike changed all that. Here was a whole new animal, and a whole new breed of cyclist. They were not trying to emulate the pros in the TDF, and they didn’t want to learn friction shifting. So indexed or click shifting came first to the mountain bike, then the road bike. This lead to more and more gears. This was not necessarily a bad thing, although I think they should have stopped at 10 gears, no one really needed 11.

Today, it is no longer what the pros ride and want, but rather what the corporations that sponsor the pros want them to ride. And that is, new stuff they can sell to the American leisure rider.

A prime example is Disc Brakes. The pros don’t really want it but it will be forced on them. I have never used disc brakes, so I can’t speak from experience. I understand they work better than caliper rim brakes in wet conditions. But I do know enough about bikes, to know that the last thing I need in the wet is more stopping power when the real problem is the tires gripping the road.

If it is raining I can lock my wheels up without even trying, with my old tech caliper brake. I don’t need a brake that will lock my wheels up a split second faster.

There is an old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” I always wondered who the Father was. Today I know the father is the one who takes something simple that works, and fucks with it to make something that is more complicated, costs more, and doesn’t work any better.


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Finally, a mini-pump that actually works.

Bicycle tires, especially clincher tires, have greatly improved in the last twenty years or so. Back in the 1980s if you wanted a high performance tire for your high performance bike, you had to go with tubular tires, or sew-ups as they are called in the US. For the non-racing leisure rider this was a huge hassle and expense.

Today there is a wide range of performance clinchers to choose from, but a simple portable air pump to carry on the road, along with a spare inner tube and/or a patch kit. One that will put enough air in the tire to get you home in an emergency. Not so easy to find.

Most real bike enthusiasts have a floor pump (Track Pump.) to air up their tires at home.

But the full length frame fit pump, the kind one could use to beat off an attacking dog, disappeared when lugged steel frames disappeared.

Such a pump would pump up your tires, in fact in the old days it was all we had, and our pressure gauge was our thumb and forefinger.

The mini-pump has taken over from the full length pump, but if it won’t pump your tires up when needed, what use is it?

I have been struggling with such a mini-pump for at least two or three years. Like most of its kind it has a push-on air chuck that can be adapted (By reversing a rubber washer.) to fit either a Schrader or the smaller Presta road tire valve.

My first emergency road side flat, the pump was letting air out of the tire as fast as I was pumping it up.

Then I found I had bent the valve pin in the Presta valve. In trying to straighten it, it broke off and I had to start over with a second spare inner tube.

I then bent the second valve pin, but did not attempt to straighten it and got enough air in the tire to get me home.

After that I realized this pump was only good for putting a little air in the tube so it didn’t get pinched when fitting the clincher tire over the rim. I used a CO2 pump to bring the tire up to full pressure.

So when I was recently offered the “Road Air” mini-pump to try out, I was pleased to see it had a simple, ‘old tech’ screw on flexible connector.  The kind of connector pumps had from day one when the pneumatic tire was invented in 1887, and worked fine for the next 100 years. (Picture below.)

The built in push-on connector has been around since at least the 1930s and also worked fine with the full length pump. It was born out of necessity like the quick release hub because of racing. Even the professional riders had to change their own tubular tire, and pump it up, in races like the Tour de France. Picture below, Romain Maes pumping up a tire with a push on air chuck, in the 1936 TDF.

This “Deal with your own punctures,” regulation was still in place in professional racing throughout the 1950s. It was done in the interest of fairness because not all teams had a full support vehicle. In amateur races it went on into the 1980s, in all but the top races.

By the 1980s the Silca, frame fit pump was popular. It came in various lengths so you could buy one to fit your frame. Back in the day I painted many Silca pumps to match the frame. (Below.)

So a pump is no longer needed for racing, and the urgency to get a tire pumped up quickly is not the problem. The issue is, get the tire pumped up and get home. The built in push on air chuck is no longer needed on a mini-pump, and they don’t work anyway.

The reason. With a full length pump, one is pumping with long slower strokes. Because of the leverage it was easy to keep the air chuck firmly on the valve with one hand, while pumping with the other. Because a mini-pump is only 8 or 9 inches long, it is necessary to pump in fast short (Almost frantic.) strokes, and it is almost impossible to hold the air chuck steady, hence my experience with bent valve pins.

The flexible rubber connector on the “Road Air” pump is under a neat little plastic dust cap. Lift the dustcap and the connector unscrews from pump to extend it, but remains attached to the pump. It fits a Schrader type valve, and you have to use the Presta adaptor (Provided.) for a road bike.

(Above.) The handle opens up, and contains a Presta adaptor, a needle connector for blowing up soccer balls, and a plastic nozzle for blowing up anything else that needs air. The compartment in the handle is quite hard to open and my first attempt it came off suddenly and the contents went flying. Had I been at the roadside the Presta adaptor would have been lost in the long grass with all the other parts.

I found it best to lever open the handle with a small pen knife I always carry on my key ring. (Left.)

I always have a spare Presta adaptor in my patch kit anyway, so I’m covered.

I would prefer a Presta valve only version, and I don't need all the other stuff.

The maker would save money on a plain handle instead of one that opens.

There are enough road bike enthusiasts out there, I would expect there to be a good market.

When this little pump arrived, I let all the air out of one of my tires and connected it up.

Two minutes of fast pumping and my thumb and forefinger told me there was enough pressure in the tire to get me home if I was on the road.

The pump comes with a little carrying bracket that fits on a water bottle mount. I prefer to carry it in my pocket.

The two minutes it took me to pump up my tire, was the time it took to sell me on this pump. It pumped my tire up, that’s all I ask. This is a great little pump.

Buy the Road Air Pump here. Reasonably priced at $24.95 and comes with a lifetime guarantee. 


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Happy Birthday Dear Bike Blog

Ten years ago on this day the 12th. of November 2005, I posted my first article online and “Dave’s Bike Blog” was born.

Some hate the word “Blog,” (Short for Weblog.) I’m not that fond of the word myself, but to change its title would be a huge mistake. No one would be able to find it, and it would be like starting all over again.

Speaking of starting over, I had to do just that when I quit for six months in August of 2008. I felt at the time I had run out of worth-while things to write about. I had covered just about every technical aspect of the bicycle, and moved on to writing opinion pieces, trying to generate food for thought.

Often I acted as the Devil’s Advocate, trying to get a discussion going. But when my opinions differed greatly from others, people got ugly and called me names. I was labeled a curmudgeon, a grumpy old man. This in itself is not a huge insult, but it does imply, “Your opinions are outdated and not worth considering.”  

I often feel having a blog is like having an unpaid job. It takes up a lot of time, and when the result of the effort is so much abuse, it is discouraging. However, quitting was a huge mistake, and I realized this when six months later a group of twelve people, many who were strangers to me, contributed to the purchase of one of my custom bikes, and presented it to me as a “Tribute Bike.”

There were people out there who at least appreciated my past work. I remembered why I started this blog in the first place. I had accumulated a lot of knowledge about bicycles over the years. Much of it was not previously written in books, or written anywhere for that matter. Much of it was just stuff I had figured out over the years. When I was gone, this knowledge would be gone too.

Whether one is searching the Internet, or contributing to it, we are all swimming in a sea of mediocrity, drowning in miss-information. The Internet was also supposed to be a platform of free speech, where any individual could put forward their thoughts and ideas.

In reality the Internet is stifling free speech. Our views have to conform to those of “The Masses” or we will be vilified, even destroyed. An innocent comment can be misinterpreted, go viral, and someone’s life can be ruined in an instant.

In three months I will turn 80 years old. I am becoming tired. Not physically tired, but mentally. Arguing one’s point of view is an exercise in futility, I no longer have the energy, or even the desire. I cannot risk losing everything I have worked for all these years.

Blogs have become a joke in some quarters, comedians love to poke fun at blogs and bloggers, but statistics show that they still have merit. Few last as long as this one, 55% of the millions of blogs out there have not been updated in a year. This Blog gets updated at least once a week.

It is my child, I created it, and it is now ten years old. Like a child it makes me proud at times. It is a hungry little bastard, but I will keep feeding it as long as there are people out there who will read it.


Adendum Nov.14th.2015

Your kind comments and support are much appreciated. I get between 1,500 and 2.000 hits a day from all over the world. Links to articles on this blog pop up on bike forums in many foreign language countries, South America, Scandinavia, Russia, and even India and the Far East. Below are the stats for yesterday. Thank you, Dave 


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A time machine, or a timeless machine

It is no secret that I am up in years, it has been sixty-five years  since I got my first lightweight racing bike.

There have been periods when I did not ride on a regular basis, usually due to the pressures of running a business.

But I always came back, and when I did, my body remebered. It knew exaxtly what to expect.

Cycling is one of my many passions in life. We need passions, it is what keeps us truly alive.

I do not feel my age, especially when I am riding my bike (Whatever my age is supposed to feel like.) I feel no different than when I rode a bike at age twenty or thirty something.

These days I ride for the pure joy and feeling of freedom it gives me. There is no pressure to go fast or push myself to the point of exhaustion. I have nothing left that I need to prove, to myself or anyone else.

Greg LeMond was once asked,

“At what point does climbing hills become easy?” His reply was, “It never gets easier, you just go faster.”

So I guess the reverse is true in my case. I know by my time for any given distance that I am not riding as fast as I did some fifty years ago, but it feels the same in my legs and the rest of my body.

Only another bike rider could know the feeling of getting out of the saddle and stomping on the pedals. The immediate response from the machine as the rubber bites into the asphalt and the bike rockets forward.

The bicycle becomes an extension of the rider, man and machine become one. The closest thing to human flight without actually leaving the ground. There is no other feeling quite like it.

Riding a road bike is, in a way, is a spiritual experience. My mind is totally in the moment, concentrating solely on the job in hand. My thoughts are only on the physical effort of propelling the bike forward, and on steering a course on the road ahead.

Other times of the day, if I am not careful, I may slip out of the moment and find my thoughts in the past or in the future. An often futile exercise, as both past and future are only in my mind. Only the present or the moment is real.

Negative thoughts are always in the past or future, remembered or imagined. If I am in the moment there cannot be negative thoughts. A three hour bike ride means three hours of mental refreshment. It would take extreme concentration to achieve that by meditation or some like method.

So my bike is a time machine in that it takes me back to a feeling I experienced 50 years ago and before. And it is a timeless machine in that it keeps me focused in the moment.

All that, and I’m getting the best possible physical exercise at the same time.


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Saddle too low?

If I see someone riding with their knees splayed outward it is often a good indication that their saddle is too low.

It may also be the rider is overweight and has a large belly to contend with, but not always.

Stand with your back to the wall and raise one knee forward and upwards towards your chest.

There is a limit to how high your thigh can go. Once that point is reached, the only way you can make your knee go higher is to move your knee outward and then it can travel an inch or two higher.

Squat with your knees together and you can’t go as low as you can with your knees spread apart. In non-medical terms, it is the limit of travel of the ball at the end of your thigh bone in its socket in the pelvis that restricts your movement beyond a certain point.

It amuses me to see riders with aero bars in a low horizontal tuck position, riding with knees splayed outwards. Any aerodynamic advantage they gain by the low tuck position is lost because the outward knees has increased their frontal area by 20% or more. Not only that, but the outward spread thighs is like an open ended “V” catching air as they travel forward.

In order to achieve a low horizontal position, one must be flexible enough that the pelvis remains near vertical and the back bone or spine bends forward. Three things affect the angle of the thigh bone in relation to the pelvis. The saddle too low, the saddle too far back, and the back too low, but only if it causes the pelvis to rotate forward.

It is rarely I see someone with their saddle too high. One can feel that they are stretching at the bottom of the pedal stroke, or they are rocking side to side on the saddle as they pedal. But a saddle too low may feel fine, but it is not necessarily the most efficient riding position.

If your knees are splaying outwards it should be easy to spot, just look down. Knees should pump straight up and down like two pistons, and should pass an inch or so either side of the top tube. If you suspect your saddle is too low, it rarely does any harm to raise it. Put a piece of masking tape around the seat post to mark the original position. Raise it by a small amount 1/8 in, or 1/4 in. Maximum. (3 mm. to 6mm.)

Ride for a week or so, then possibly you can go up a little more until you find the sweet spot. Saddle height is not a fixed thing. As you lose weight and muscles stretch a saddle needs to be raised. The questions you need to ask yourself after raising the saddle is, does it feel better, do I feel stronger, and am I going faster.

To reiterate, few ride with a saddle to high, but many ride with their saddle too low, because it feels fine. Unless you try raising it a little you will never find out. I feel any person’s ideal saddle height is the point where the saddle is almost too high, then down a tad from there.

The leg needs to reach its full extension at the bottom of the pedal stroke, without stretching to reach that point, in other words the power is on right to the end of the pedal stroke, and definitely not reach its upper limit at the top of the stroke.

Footnote: I couldn’t find a better picture to illustrate this piece, except the exaggerated one at the top. But it did lead me to realize how BMX riders manage to pedal straight with their saddle so low. The saddle nose is positioned up which causes the pelvis to lean back thus increasing the angle in relation to the thigh. I'm not suggesting you try this on your road bike.


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