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Retro-grouch or just obsolete

I started writing here in 2005 that will be seven years by the end of this year. That is a long time and a lot of material; a lot of subjects covered.

The reason I started writing here was simple, I had gathered a lot of knowledge over the years spent building bicycle frames; I felt I needed to share that knowledge. There must be millions of people like me all over the world, doing something or other, and along the way learned how to do that something a certain way.

This knowledge is often not written down and when these people are gone, that knowledge will be gone also. I felt this was a damn shame, because knowledge passed on from one generation to the next is how humankind got from chasing their food with a stick, to where we are today.

However, the thing I find alarming is that our knowledge today is growing at such a rate, that old information becomes outdated at a faster rate. We are producing products that are almost obsolete by the time they are shipped from the factory to the store. Apple’s I-Pad is a good example.

The other thing concerns me is, does anyone really care about what I or anyone else did forty or fifty years ago, when most people are not interested in what was done last year, or even six months ago? I am talking here from a bicycle industry standpoint.

I know my regular readers will say they are interested, and I believe most genuinely are; otherwise they would not keep on coming back. But is the knowledge gathered here only of value from an entertainment standpoint?

Most of those who visit here and learn something about bicycles are no different from bird watchers, people who grow roses, brew beer or collect stamps. Part of the enjoyment of engaging in a hobby is becoming an expert in that particular subject.

This blog gets around 1,500 to 2,000 hits a day from all over the world; most of these hits come from search engines. Type in any question about bicycles and chances are I have written about it at sometime or other, and that article will pop up in a search.

Many hits come from forums where people are discussing some aspect or other of the bicycle, sooner or later someone will post a link to an article I have written. Then the term “Retro-grouch” will pop up, and I wonder, “Is that how people really see me?”

I left the bike business in 1993 so naturally stuff I write about pre-dates that, but does that make me a retro-grouch? To me a retro-grouch is someone stuck in the past that will not move forward. When I was in the bike business I always questioned the status quo, and often went against what everyone else was doing.

The robots that drive the search engines will only pick up my blog if I keep writing new stuff. At some point I will become too old, too tired, or simply run out of stuff to write about.

When I stop writing, within a year this blog will disappear from the search engines. Publishing in book form is no better; there are so many books published each year that most only reach a limited audience, and who remembers a book that was published last year?

I think the point I am trying to make is that when I started writing here I did so because I thought what I had to offer had some value. I still believe that is true; it is just my reasons for thinking so has changed.

What do you think? Does the speed of advancement in today’s technological environment make knowledge obsolete at a faster rate?



Reader Comments (26)

your basic question is one sheldon brown never seemed to have asked himself, to the delight of future generations. i do hope his vast content is somehow saved from becoming digital dust. i would hope the same for that contained on your blog, and certainly that shared in forums like classic rendezvous, iBOB, etc. these are all virtual goldmines for cyclists and those interested in the history of cycling. perhaps you might consider a more permanent web presence for your writings, when the time is right.

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterponyo

I think the answer to your question (are people really interested besides just entertainment) is "Critical Mass". Anyone who is considering, say, become a bikebuilder, or enter the bike business in any way (myself, for example) is constantly maturing ideas and viewpoints in their minds. I gather knowledge from many fonts, and this knowledge builds up slowly. For sure it came from somewhere, and a very very VERY valuable source for these reflexions are material the kind you provide in this blog.

Of course one might think these are just leaves thrown in the wind, but if only one percent of readers, or only one per cent of posts, make some difference, it is already worth, specially for one who writes with passion.

Thanks for your blog!

(now out of the bike industry issue, we in Brazil are having a hard time on the issue of bike advocacy, lots of deaths lately, violent traffic, etc. Your insights are very very interesting and indirectly generate a lot of discussion here)

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterheltonbiker

Some knowledge quickly becomes obsolete, in those areas where technology changes quickly. The original "Inside Macintosh" programming guides have no relevance to anyone except computer antiquaries these days. On the other hand, Unix--an operating system that was old when I started to use it in the 1980s--is the basis for the current Macintosh operating system, so even in computer science there's knowledge from decades ago that is still useful.

I think it's the same with cycling. As someone whose interest in cycling is to have a reliable, reasonably priced bike that will last for decades and that I can fix myself (barring major damage), I find the kind of things that you write about to have lasting value. I also appreciate your take on cycling in the Charleston area and on bikes in an automobile-centric world more generally.

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Ogilvie

Certain facts remain relevant, even though times and the participants change. For example, it falls to us old guys to remind the youth of today the need for chamois cream in the old days- to soften up that hard leather. The reason for shaved legs is my favorite...it is primarily to facilitate massage and not the other reasons now given by big-headed amateurs. Keep the faith Dave, and don't let doubt cloud the light shining forth.

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDoug P

Dave, I believe you are mistaken about how search engines work. Your material will only disappear from search engines if the content is no longer available online. Search results are ranked by relevance, so 20 years from now, if someone searches for content related to "bottom bracket height", your page on that subject will be in the results. If it's still being viewed and referenced by other sites, it will be near the top. If not, it will still be there, but lower in the ranking. Keep writing, and make sure you have made provisions for your content to remain available into the future.

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermveloman

The value of knowledge is somewhat in the eye of the beholder. I would rank knowing how to operate an iPad as virtually useless, whilst an article on how to disassemble and service a cup and cone bottom bracket is much more valuable to me.

So the knowledge contained in your blog Dave, is valuable to people interested in bicycles (particularly steel framed bicycles) and that knowledge will hold its value well.

Anyway, there's nothing wrong with being a retro grouch!

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlemmiwinks

I quit writing here in 2008 for just 6 months and my daily hits plummited to about 300 a day; so had I not resumed by now it would probably be practiclly zero. The stuff may always be online but if no one finds it???
When I Google "Bottom Bracket Height," I am near the top, but Sheldon Brown is halfway down the second page. Most people will not look beyond the first page.
People who find my articles in a search often have never heard of me, so they are not searching me by name.

March 20, 2012 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

If you stop producing new material, interest in what's there will dwindle. If Sheldon didn't have his site updated posthumously, the material would decay and be co-opted on other sites until the original was dead. It's not that Google ignores you, it's just that you lose relevance.

Dave, you're a retrogrouch about certain things, but not so much as certain CURRENT framebuilders with Tolkien obsessions. Most of the time, you're instructive in the why of certain ways without pushing it as the way things should still be. That, and understanding the legacy of British cycling culture fixed around time trials and the track.

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterchamps

Keep going Dave. I enjoy your writings a lot. Technical history is handy, in that it tells you some things NOT to try.

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBob

Bicycles have a timeless qualtiy and I would believe that your posts about the fundamentals of bikes (rake and trail and bottom bracket height, homemade headset tools etc) are likely to remain valuable for a long time. What's amazing about the web is that information like yours is now being recorded for posterity. If you do worry that perhaps your particular blogging site will go defunct, perhaps you or a friend should incorporate your bike knowledge posts into wikipedia? Still, I would guess that's unnecessary. I find when I am looking for a bike factoid, I find I keep returning to certain bike forum pages that happen to have just what I'm looking for. Google doesn't forget this.

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Being a blogger myself and from what I've read - yes - search engines select blogs that are updated often. If it sits, you'll start sliding down the list. That's cool you mentioned how many hits you're getting. I don't know what to compare it against bike related site wise, but 2000 hits a day certainly sounds pretty good.

My bike related blog gets 3000 - 6000 hits a month, which amazes me. I'm not famous and it's mostly personal fluff. It's interesting to see how people find your blog, via search engines, key words, links from other sites, etc.

Blogs are about more then generating numbers though. It's about sharing info and stories, getting feedback, and putting yourself out there a bit. Some people enjoy that kind of thing, others may not. It's been huge fun for me and I always enjoy reading other blogs as well.

Knowledge is only obsolete for technology and other items that become quickly obsolete - like computers and other electronic equipment. I've worked in IT for 28 years now and have seen things come and go. The technology and knowledge in a way are disposable. However, it all evolves from a certain point and builds, so past knowledge can still be applied.

Things like steel bicycle frames, carpentry, music instruments, etc - the knowledge never becomes obsolete, since it doesn't change instantly and there's always a market for such items. As things become more disposable and production based, there's an increased interest in the "old school" items. Look at the upsurge interest in handmade steel frames over the last few years.

I don't see your blog become obsolete anytime soon, if ever. Bicycle knowledge, history, and culture will always find an audience. And the way it intertwines with life stories always makes great reading. It's not just about frame angles and tubing.

You have a fantastic blog going here and I always enjoying reading it. Keep it going!


March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDan O

I don't know how many people work like I do but it is serendipity that leads me to a site, if I get on with it I stay. If it is regularly updated and I like the content I check back often. Otherwise I store the link and use it as reference or recommend it to others. I have written stuff online but do not have the commitment or content to update regularly and it just sits there being discovered from a search term. The thing I like most about this material is the recognition that someone out there thinks about the same stuff you do and can shine a light on a previously unconsidered aspect or give a new perspective on something you thought was done and dusted. Once you discover such a site and later see new material it's like meeting an old friend again. While knowledge grows and techniques evolve, old knowledge fossilizes but an approach or a take on something is timeless. History isn't about dates it's about what went wrong and what went right and we can learn from that and apply it every day. One of your most memorable posts for me was about a customer complaining about an air bubble in the paint, I can't google for that but it told me a lot about people. I enjoy this blog but I understand nothing lasts forever, you have made a difference in the physical world and online, there's not much else someone can do. Thanks.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpeter

Dave, you have a loyal readership, a group of people who read everything you write. When you stop writing, your readership will vanish. But people will still seek you out. 50, 100, 200 years from now, there will be a young person who is interested in late 20th century technology and they will find you. Your hits will be much, much lower, maybe just a few per year. But you will still be influencing new generations of frame builders and cycling enthusiasts. You may no longer be popular, but you will be relevant.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermveloman

Retro-grouch or just obsolete? Neither.

I suspect the only reason to write a blog is to please yourself. Truly. It takes too much commitment to do otherwise. It's an effort, and when you stop enjoying it, it's probably time to find something else that you like dedicating the time to better. The only reason for a blog to have a comments section, is because the writer wants to engage his/her readers. Blogs with comments where the writer never descends into their own threads is a blog I maybe read once or twice. It's no fun if the author dominates the comments, but if there is zero ping-back, then you wonder why the blog author bothers with them.

I'm just a recreational rider who fell back in love with riding a bike after a 30 year hiatus. I find the whole gestalt intriguing. From frame building to racing to ghost stories to shaving legs. It's all good, as the expression goes.

And, generally, for something like cycling, I expect the maxim, Everything old is new again., still applies. Technology does change. But human beings don't change that much. Recombinant genetics only produces a degree of variation in the physicality of human beings from one generation to the next. And, human psychology in relation to sport isn't going to change that much either. So while tastes and preferences in some aspects of bicycle design might change, the user interface (to borrow and expression) remains tied to the human being who rides the bike.

In that regard, what you write is timeless. The bicycle doesn't ride itself. It never leaves the barn or the garage and takes itself for a ride. Somewhere a human is involved. And, here, we are humans thinking and talking about something we enjoy; something we're all invested in to one degree or another. And, that has value in the here and now, and won't change all that much in the future because humans won't change all that much. The daily challenges may be different - gosh, we'd hope there might be more bicycle lanes... or even bikeways with their own traffic signals. We can dream right? And, so we do, and in doing so pave a path for those who follow.

It's all good, Dave. It's all good.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbystander

In a day and age when you have to relearn some new electronic gadget every other week,many of my generation are suffering from techno-burnout. I don't want to spend my valuable time learning to use some goddamned thing that will be obsolete in six months. The bicycle has for me become the symbol of my resistance. The utter simplicity of it is very comforting. Let's face it,the diamond frame bicycle is a very mature design. I believe it reached it's peak in the late 70s and 80s,the period when you were turning out your best work.A mechanical device can evolve to a point where further changes only make it different not better.That said ,I think the knowledge you"re passing on here is golden. Please keep at it. By the way that period when you stopped writing was awful, because your blog is one of the few I check every day.

March 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPhillinois

Yes tech advances seem to make old "knowledge" outdated. But bikes and the value they create for mankind will be eternal. DM's Blog is not a velo Etch A Sketch and I too look forward to reading more. Ride on write on.

March 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Do not despair, your Blog is as classy as your lug work,nice points . P.S I just got back from Cuba bicycle , met A bike club in Jaguey Grande with 10 kids , rode with them old vets sheperding the young riders and peleton tactics, amazing ! See "bikes for Cuba " web . Sometimes we just need a recharge , keep on

March 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterofoab

Obsolete is brought to us by marketing and as we age we begin to see through the hype and become Retro-Grouches.

So while you may be a Retro-Grouch with any luck as the young age they also become Retro-Grouchy and you stay Relevant.

Without History we are Lost.

March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTony P.

I want to thank everyone for their comments and words of encouragement. This blog is truly a two-way street; I give but always receive back, often far more than I put into it.

March 23, 2012 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

The term "retro grouch" brings to mind an image of someone rejecting things with an attitude of disdain. As pointed out above, the diamond frame bike evolved into the 70s-80s as was about as good as it could get at that point. The more recent developments with weight reducing materials and increasingly complex components have arguably not resulted in an improvement in function. They do give the marketing people something to work with. Rather than feeling "grouchy" about the new stuff, I'm just indifferent and uninterested. I enjoy doing mechanical tasks and having a bike I can work on with simple tools is a source of pleasure. It's an added bonus that the bike is made of a basic material and is aesthetically pleasing.

March 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdoug peterson

No insights to be offered on your question/musings; too many IT -experienced have done that already. The comment on the more timeless relevance of bicycles, musical instruments and the like, vs. passing technical ephemera, was a good line to draw, I think.
However, am now a suckerfish to this blog, having had a forum regular on Bicycle Network Australia point me here after I threw a question in there on 'standover height', and its relevance. (Not a lot, on its own, I gather).
At age 64, the 'net never fails to amaze me on its utility and versatility.

March 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

Hi Dave , I on the edge of a British 2 pond coin is the following engraving
"standing on the shoulders of giants" Said by Issac Newton when asked how he knew so much .He was paying tribute those learned men whose knowledge inspired him. No knowledge is wasted:its useful to someone . And if I followed your advice my bike would be on the road instead of mothballed. cheers Jim

March 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjimmy

Dave, the 1,500 to 2,000 daily visitors probably aren't looking for your chocolate chip cookie recipe. Anyone with an interest in bicycles understands (or will understand) that you're a valuable resource, and your blog posts give us insight into an important part of the history of our sport. And who says "retro-grouch" is a bad thing? Of all the interviews I have done for my own site over the last five years, yours still stands out.

March 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

I am an unabashed retro-grouch myself, and continue to enjoy reading your blog esp. for the historical insights from the years before I started cycling. I know I will continue to enjoy riding your well crafted bicycles for years to come. Thanks for continuing to write your blog.

I have no objections to the march of technology per se, including cycling technology, as I enjoy riding my modern, light-weight, carbon-fibre adorned 2 wheeled ride; but I certainly don't drink the marketing cool-aide of the latest greatest new-fangled next year's model/upgrade as the "ultimated riding machine".


March 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStelvio

Love this blog. First found it when searching for some specific info, probably on trail and/or rake. Read a few other entries at the time. Found it in the search results for something else a few weeks later. Mentally filed it with Sheldon Brown for Stuff That is Invaluable. Kept reading and come back once or twice a week. Many, many thanks

PS - I now add 'Dave Moulton' to my search terms when I think it's a topic you likely covered at some point.

March 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDodger

The other comments pretty well cover my thoughts on "retro-grouchiness" versus an experianced opinion on how to do something.
I feel a change is coming in society, a return to things that last, things that can be repaired and worked on by ordinary folks. Your writings are, and will be appreciated.

April 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKevin
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