Walter Mencken 8:27 a.m., April 18
- Community Blog
- Normal Heights Through the Blue and White
These ought to come in real useful during the coming San Diego snowstorms!
You know, help you survive the crushing, So-Cal winter! In other news, Sober No Tweeker Carpet Cleaning has risen to the occasion once again in terms of insane advertisements:
Sheesh. Although, I do love the intimation that Montezuma himself will come and clean your carpets with an entire army in tow.
While definitely far from the sickest funny bikes ever made (viz. Italian bikes and Bob Yamaguchi's TT bikes made right over in Colorado), any old-school, aerodynamic, tiny-front-wheel bike gets me all googly eyed over days when all of that stuff was new and cool. Since the renaissance period of the mid-80's to mid-90's, not a lot of really revolutionary tech has come along. At least, not in bike world. Various rulings in the professional sector combined with the take-over of carbon fiber as the material of choice for high-tech bike design, and things have been fairly well stagnated since the days of insanely innovative funny-bikes. The last real watershed event was probably Graeme Obree's Hour Record attempt on the bike he built for himself using washing machine bearings and the weirdest handlebar position ever:
Since that time, rulings have come along which remove the impetus to develop new and interesting technologies by making such technologies illegal and therefore unpractical. The downside of this is that we no longer get to see innovative thinkers letting their (sometimes insane) ideas run wild. I mean, look at this insane thing:
Or this, for Pete's sake:
All the designs that went down for a brief while in the bike world were just plain interesting, even if they weren't, objectively speaking, the "best." Nowadays, all we have is obsessive Weight Weenie gram counters designing bikes. Each season sees the contest between Sram, Campy, and Shimano for who can slice the most weight off of their components and mate them to whichever, featherweight, carbon fiber frame and wheelset is available. Don't get me wrong, this makes for fast biking. Ever lift a 15-pound bicycle? It's staggering and it goes fast. The upshot however, is that it becomes more and more expen$ive to produce a winning machine. Technological innovation (in terms of doing more with less) has been replaced by a sense of profligate, technological exploitation. Think of it as technology over technique. Want to compete? Go spend ten-grand on a road bike, then you can think about competing. Time was, someone just had to find a neater way to bend steel, but those days are long gone.
It's not like this is the trend in every sector of industry, however. Look at communications technology, which has gotten cheaper and more open to innovation than every before in the past ten or fifteen years. It's the exact opposite of the trend in the bike world. While still not cheap by any means, communications technology has just not changed outwardly in any way during the explosion of internet and mobile-phone tech of the past decade. The kind of technical thinking fostered by a google-powered world has leaned more towards innovation than pointless, expensive technological progression. People are using the materials at hand creatively to explore new avenues of expression and communication. Look at the state of the open-source software movement. Within the greater community of open-source coders and hackers there is a spirit of simple, effective, and above all artful use of limited materials. Rockbox1, an open-source firmware replacement for commercial music players, is a great example. The big corporations (who would readily foist new tech upon us at great expense) did not design things to their full potential (Apple, for example, won't support FLAC formats to this day) so the community came together and designed new software to run music players to their fullest capability. I see this as the same sort of thinking that led people to create insane looking bicycles out of the same old materials instead of just waiting for the next, big, expensive breakthrough.
My hope is that this kind of thinking sends a message. A message, if you will, to the industry at large. "We don't need you to just keep making newer, shinier things that we have to buy for the sake of fashion. What we want, is for you to take the things we already have and actually make them work like they could." I hope that phenomena like OpenOffice2 demonstrate that we have no need of the too-expensive, not-substantially-different-from-the-old "new" things. What we need instead is more and better exploration of the underutilized resources at hand to accomplish new things.
None of this goes to say that I don't want a fourteen-pound carbon bike though. I don't want to advocate a different kind of stagnancy born of a refusal to progress based on a fatal attachment to the old way. I suggest only a renaissance, if you will, of creativity in industry, of using the materials at hand to their fullest extent before replacing them with something else. In all honesty, I think we can accomplish much more that way in the long run, much more cheaply, and have a lot more fun all at the same time.