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 . . .

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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.

Sources:

Jim Langley, Campy Only, Pedaling History.

Who Needs Detroit?

super_record_cassetteI can have all my transportation needs met in Vicenza, Italy.  If congress would just forward me about 0.0001% of that bailout money, I could upgrade my bike with the new Campagnolo Super Record 11-speed system.  That’s 11 sprockets on the rear X 2 on the front, for a 22-speed setup.  Who needs internal combustion?  With this, I can tackle any hill.

But until the economy improves, I guess I’ll just have to limp along with my lowly 9-speed (X 3) setup.

Seriously, I am concerned about the workers in Detroit.  Mitt Romney says it’s their fault for wanting health insurance and the retirement pension they were promised.  He says the automakers should use the bankruptcy laws to absolve themselves of those burdensome obligations.  Part of the competitive disadvantage Detroit has is our system of health care.  The Republicans have always resisted publicly-funded health care (that’s why they hated their own candidate, McCain)–and now they are blaming workers for wanting health benefits from their employers.

But I say, who would we be saving Detroit for, if not for the workers?  And I do seriously hope some of the funds will be used to develop sustainable transportation options.

Why couldn’t Detroit compete with Italy in producing precision bicycle parts?