My Experience with Cults

I came out a while back on Facebook and admitted to belonging to a cult.

My kids suspected it almost twenty years ago when I started wearing lycra cycling shorts, which back then had a chamois pad made from real leather, by the way.  When I built my new bike this summer and found a killer deal on the top-of-the-line, Campagnolo  Super Record carbon crankset with ceramic ultimate level technology bearings that spin in Cronitecht steel races, I realized there was no need to hide it any more, no covering it up with black tape.

I have joined the Campy Cult.

(By the way, google “campy cult” and you are likely to get “Rocky Horror Show, campy cult classic.)

Campy Crank

Ceramic Ultimate Level Technology

I admit it’s a bit ridiculous for me to have elite racing equipment on my bike.  Kind of like Danny DiVito thinking if he wears the same shoes as Michael Jordan he can beat him in a slam dunk contest.

Bicycling Magazine in the current issue (December 2011) has a great article on the Campagnolo company, one of the last hold outs against the pressures of globalization.  While everyone else is chasing cheap labor and outsourcing production to the far east, the family owned company continues to use highly skilled, well-paid craftsman in Vincenza, Italy.

It used to be that nearly every rider in the Tour de France–always the winners– used Campagnolo components.  But that changed with Lance Armstrong.  Never faithful to the women in his life, he was steadfastly monogamous in his loyalty to his sponsors.  Shimano parts worked well enough for him to win seven championships.

When Campy first came out with a ten-speed set of rear sprockets, Lance continued to win with only nine cogs in the rear and waited patiently for Shimano to introduce their own ten-speed cassette.  We devotees of the classic Italian components concede that Lance was just that good–he was able to win on inferior equipment (with one gear tied behind his back, you might say).

We just hope the company survives the coming economic Armageddon in Italy.  As one cycling legend said in the Bicycling article, “I’d rather walk than ride anything else.”

I’ll be back in a day or two with a report on the other cult I’m in danger of being drawn into . . .

The Greatest Invention of the Twentieth Century is . . .

In my humble opinion, the greatest invention of the twentieth century was the bicycle derailleur shifting system.

This invention made the bicycle a realistic mode of transportation in a variety of terrains.

Average people with a few weeks of practice can travel on a modern multi-speed bicycle on moderately hills roads at an average speed of around 13 miles per hour.  With improved fitness a normal adult can average 15 miles per hour.  This makes daily commutes of 7-10 miles realistic.

Of course elite athletes race up steep mountains at speeds over 20 miles per hour, and they descend the other side of the mountain at 50 mph or more.

Before the derailleur was allowed in the Tour de France in 1938, racers had two gears, one on each side of the rear wheel.  Just before entering a mountain stage, for example, they could pull over, remove the rear wheel and flip it around.  In those days riders didn’t have support teams.  They had to carry tools and supplies in their pockets with spare tires slung over their shoulders.

Tullio Campagnolo invented the quick release in 1927 after frozen fingers prevented him from turning the wing nuts to release his wheel so he could flip it around.  He went on to found a bicycle parts company that eventually perfected (though they did not invent) the derailleur.  The device itself began to appear as early as 1905.  Its predecessors included complex systems of levers and pulleys.

The bicycle was invented early in the 1800s.  Hundreds of bicycle companies rose up in the United States.  By 1900 there were two large patent offices in the nation’s capital.  One was for bicycle inventions, the other was for everything else.

Susan B. Anthony once said,

The bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else.

The bicycle could also do a lot to emancipate us from dependence on oil.  The author’s of the book Bicycle Science estimate that a human powered by the equivalent number of calories in a gallon of gasoline could travel about 1000 miles.  Or, drinking milk instead of gasoline (remember milk is over 90% water) a rider could go about 99 miles.  If riders neglected to replenish all those calories, cycling could also help liberate us from the plague of obesity and diabetes.


Jim Langley, Campy Only, Pedaling History.

Holy Ignorance?

Thanks to Joe for the tip on a new book, Holy Ignorance, reviewed here.

My Fixed-Gear Experience

A few days ago I decided to take the plunge and try fixed-gear riding.

My daughter gave me a book for Christmas on improving your brain power; they call it Neurobics, exercises for the brain.  New research indicates that doing new things, unfamiliar things, produces new connections between the neurons and synapses and refreshes the brain. Riding with the wheel flipped around to the fixed gear side was a totally new and disorienting experience, like the first time I put on skis.

Starting and stopping are the hard part–maybe you’ve seen a cyclist at a stop light trying to balance on the pedals without stopping completely–chances are it was a fixed-gear bike. Once one gets rolling, it’s easy.  The direct connection between the wheel and the pedals results in a flywheel effect; the wheels keep the pedals moving and the pedals keep your feet moving as much as your feet move the pedals.  This effect makes pushing the higher gear easier than I expected, and the whole experience was smooth–until I inadvertently tried to revert to the habit of coasting; then the pedals gave me ajolt to remind me that things had changed.

I rode three or four miles out of town on the Scenic Mill Creek Road toward Alta Vista, enjoying the rolling hills.  One hill was a fairly long climb and a bit steep.  That’s ok, I thought, it will be downhill on the way back. A few minutes later I had turned around and was enjoying going down the same hill, with the pedals moving my feet in rapid circles.  I was doing fine until I hit some rough spots in the road.

From mountain bike riding I have developed the habit of rising slightly and briefly coasting over bumps and obstacles–did I say coasting?

My grandson Elijah loves to ride his sister’s big-wheel tricycle down the hill in his backyard.  On a tricycle, you remember, the pedals are connected directly to the wheels, so–no coasting is possible.  When the wheels get to turning faster than his feet can move, he lifts his legs in the air. When I hit the bump in the road and unconsciously tried to stop pedaling (ever so briefly) the pedals didn’t cooperate.  They bumped my feet off the pedals and up in the air.

Then the problem was, how to get my feet back on the furiously spinning pedals?  The answer of course was to keep my legs splayed out until I passed the bottom of the hill and began rolling up the next one until gravity did its work and brought me to a stop.  The only problem was I had planned to use momentum to help me get up that hill.  I had to get off and push instead. But as strange as the whole experience was, it is growing on me.

On MLK day, I celebrated by revisiting the same road.  I actually went a bit farther this time, about seven and a half miles out, past the Sunny Slope School House before turning around.  When I reached the bumpy patches, this time I kept my feet on the pedals and made it up the other side of the hill without having to get off and walk.


Like Johnny Cash’s Cadillac, I got it one piece at a time–

–the way I get all my bikes–but I can’t say, “it didn’t cost me a dime.”  I did pay for it one piece at a time.  I bought the bike frame a few months ago and began assembling parts.

I wanted to see why single speed bikes are such a rage.

It has a flip-flop, reversible wheel.  I got a big cog for the freewheel side, resulting in a low gear and tried it out on my local hilly roads.  It was a lot of fun.  The low gear makes it easy to make it up the hills and I can coast down the other side.  It’s the essence of simplicity.

My plan is to take it to work and ride it to the Rec center in the afternoons for a workout of the rest of my body.  It will give me a good warm-up and warm-down ride.  It’s all part of my weight loss, save my life plan.

My uncle John died at a younger age than I am now.  He was the one who introduced me, my brothers, and my cousins to Baskin Robbins–I never knew there were more than three flavors of ice cream.  Diabetes is the family curse, and uncle Johnnie suffered badly from it.  He had a leg amputated when he was in his thirties.

My uncle Warren staved off the disease until he was in his seventies.  He attributed that to his practice of following his coon hounds through the woods nearly every night most of his life.  I don’t have a pack of hounds, but my pack of bikes make up my plan to save my life.

My freewheelin’ single-speed is fun and easy.  No gears to worry about, no special shoes, just hop on and go.

But I had to try out the fixed-gear feature, so after re-packing the hubs with new (and better) grease, I flipped the rear wheel around and disabled the rear brake.  The fixed-gear side has a much higher gear ratio (46:16 vs. 46:22), capable of attaining a higher speed but requiring the input of more torque from the twin-piston bio-powered engine.

Fixed gear means the wheel is connected directly to the pedals (via the chain, of course); one can’t move without the other moving.

I’ll report later on my first riding experience.

Bike Salvation II

Salvation in the Bible ultimately refers to eternal life with God–but there are many references to salvation in a secondary sense; i.e., to healing, wholeness, or deliverance from temporal, this-world dangers.  I am thinking of salvation in this secondary sense, when I speak of “Bike Salvation.”  Riding a bike is one of the keys to my own health and well being, and it could be one of the answers to the dangers facing our planet.

It’s been about five years or more since I saw a program on television about the new superhighways that are being built in China.  One Chinese man proudly announced, “We used to ride bicycles, now we ride motorcycles, soon we will be driving cars.”

The problem is, there are three or four times as many people in China as in the United States, and a similar number in India.  There is not enough oil in the ground to fuel all those cars.  I don’t know if there is enough steel, aluminum, and plastic to build the cars.

We have created the wrong role model for other developing economies.

The most popular material for building bicycles now is carbon fiber–scroll down a little and see the Pinarello beauty.  (I’m old-school, I like steel, but that’s another story.)  So it’s a good thing that all that carbon is being used to build bikes rather than being released into the atmosphere.   My I don’t understand the science here, but it’s got to be a good thing that all those bikes are powered by carbohydrates rather than hydrocarbons.

I’ll be writing a little more in the next few days about my recent adventures with bicycles.

Bike Salvation

This is the bike Tim Tebow should ride.  The bike shop in North Little Rock that offers this frameset for the bargain price of under $3000.00, explains that Italian soccer players have begun including a reference to a Bible verse on their uniforms, and this Pinarello model follows the trend.  Here is what Competitive Cyclist says,

So we did the only logical thing: We Googled “soccer bible verse 4 13” to get a fuller answer to our question and holy smokes we got over 47,000 pages worth of soccer players across the globe all emulating their heroes from AC Milan and Juventus by quoting the same passage on their websites: It’s Philippians 4:13, which reads

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

We never thought in the past about whether Fausto Pinarello was a religious man or not — every time we’ve ever seen him, in fact, he’s dressed for the cover of GQ and his hair is the envy of any man who has ever owned a comb, and such exquisite style is something we wouldn’t ordinarily associate with an intensely religious person.

. . .

The news behind the origin of the F4:13’s name got us thinking about how interesting it is that as religious as Italians have the reputation for being, they never seem to combine their religiousness with the business of building bikes and bike gear. Perhaps it’s simply because Catholicism has very little of the evangelical component you get from, say, the Southern Baptist tradition.

But the utter absence of the connection — except, perhaps, for Ernesto Colnago famously giving Pope John Paul a Arabesque frameset with a Campy 50th Anniversary gruppo in the late 70’s — is pretty interesting. If anyone has any ideas about this silence, we’re all ears. We’re at a loss for an answer.

Tim Tebow painted the same verse under his eyes in 2008.  He has used a variety of other verses over the past three years.