and you thought it was just pedalling. while we're all quite happy to take the bike out the shed and squidge across mud or skate across tarmac (unless the roads are like they are around here-potholed), in order to get us there and keep us there, there are people who sit with slide rule and protractor (yes, i know it's all done on computer but this way it's more graphic) to figure out the best way forward or why historical designs worked or how to improve the body electric.
such a person is david gordon wilson, a brit who is currently professor of mechanical engineering emeritus at massachusets institute of technology (mit) and is obsessive about the minutiae and mathematics of the modern and historical bicycle.
now, notwithstanding the challenge to my favoured version of history that scot kirkpatrick macmillan invented the modern bicycle (apparently under dispute and not accepted by professor wilson) this is a fascinating book even if i don't actually understand half of it. i find fixing bikes an absolute doddle but when it comes to using numbers and equations to describe their finer points (or anything else for that matter) i suddenly become a close relative of homer simpson. there are chapters that deal with the drag factor of the modern bicycle relative to other vehicles, taking into consideration the drag factor of the frame, the rolling resistance of the tyres and the gradient of the road.
while reading bicycling science there is the overwhelming desire to utter the oaths 'who cares' or 'get a life', but if it were not for folks at mit and similar institutions, we'd probably all be riding real steel and wishing that there was some way to make it go faster. it's a smug feeling to know that our chosen method of transport displays a frightening degree of efficiency over other forms of mechanical systems and it was kind of appropriate that i was reading this while bradley wiggins was being particularly efficient at winning gold in the 4000m pursuit on a highly mathematically designed carbon fibre track bike (the designer used fluid dynamics to model the most favourable shape on computer rather than resort to wind tunnel testing).
this is not necessarily the book you would pick up for light bedtime reading, but it did substantially alter the way that i look at the colnago and now i pedal with an even more smug look on my face. i have no idea of the cost of this book because my review copy has no price marked, but a quick look on amazon ought to remedy this. do so and buy a copy, because it's become quite compelling in a way that i hadn't expected - even if i still don't understand lots of it. if the revolution will not be motorised, this book probably proves it.
now, moving on, a recent panic attack that i perhaps didn't know as much about current mountain bike technology as was appropriate for someone who has to fix the darned things, i bought a selection of the current offerings from the mtb press (not telling you which ones), and much to my surprise found them to be very helpful and informative. granted there seems to be rather too much concentration on guys who spend an inordinate amount of time on overgrown bmx bikes with suspension forks jumping from one big stone or railing to the next, much like skateboarding to my mind and threateningly destructive to the bicycles.
however, i was surprised to discover a new subset of mtb which appears to be called 'freeride' and is a commercial development of the full suspension downhill bike. while downhill mountain biking makes quite nifty tv to my mind, though it doesn't actually seem to gain many hours of airtime, it does have to be said that, since going downhill very fast doesn't suffer from any inherent weight problem associated with the bike, this doesn't make for a very practical machine.
if you're a professional downhiller you will no doubt be relieved to find a ski-lift on hand to take you back to the top when you need to go down a second, third or even fourth time. this is not something that happens in the real world. even a cursory incomprehensible skirt through the book reviewed above will let you know that you can't cycle uphill very quickly on a heavy bike.
so if you want to sell full suspension mountain bikes to the rest of us in order to spread the enormous cost of r&d for the racing ones, then they have to lighten up, if you know what i mean. so now even those who used to scream about on hardtails (front suspension only) are now happy to partake of what used to be called cross country on bicycles with front and rear suspension, most of which are as light, or lighter than the unsuspended bikes of yesteryear and considerably more expensive (and i thought i'd spent a lot on the c40).
and then there's disc brakes. i'm still a bit suspicious of these, though i do admire the technology and the fact that the aftermarket hydraulic tubing is made by a company that provides most of the hydraulic piping for formula one racing cars. unless i've missed something somewhere, the latter go a heck of a lot faster than the average mountain bike and need considerably more stopping. since i know kids from my childhood who managed to throw themselves over the handlebars by braking too quickly on steel roadsters with crappy caliper brakes. i'd be frightened to think what they could do with a pair of disc brakes. while there are mechanical disks actuated by cables in a similar mode to v brakes, it seems that they are the preserve of the cheap and nasty. if you're going to have disks on an mtb, they pretty much have to be hydraulic.
if you rummage through the links on the left of this drivel, you'll see a link to the ibis single malt test. this bike, from a sadly defunct american company, was fitted with hydraulic discs and very nice it was too. but since you can buy a complete set of levers and v brakes for around twenty pounds (30 dollars or so), capable of perfectly acceptable stopping power, wouldn't you thnk twice before shelling out around 200 pounds on a matching pair of hope mini's. or have i lost the point? as a confirmed roadie with mountain bike leanings, there seems every likelihood since i know that if i bought a new mountain bike tomorrow it would have to have have full suspension and hydraulic disc brakes
this website got its name because scotland's graeme obree built his championship winning 'old faithful' using bits from a defunct washing machine.
on a slightly different note, my regular reader will have noted the addition of a 'colnago c40' rollover to the left. this contains a reprint of a recent article featured in cycle sport magazine, which they were very kind to let me present here (because i'm a colnago geek) there are also links to cycling weekly reviews of the colnago c50 and colnago dream b-stay. i have also found an excellent review of the colnago c40hp here
i have been asked to add the following link to the post by wheelygoodcause. they're a cycling club dedicated to arranging epic rides for charity and do not charge charities for the pleasure. They ride because they want to. here's the link.
Remember, you can still read the review of 'the dancing chain' the utterly excellent book on the history of the derailleur bicycle by clicking here
any of the books reviewed on the washing machine post can probably be purchased from amazon.co.uk or amazon.com
as always, if you have any comments on this nonsense, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading.
this column almost never appears in the dead tree version of the ileach but appears, regular as clockwork on this website every two weeks. (ok so i lied) sometimes there are bits added in between times, but it all adds to the excitement.
on a completely unrelated topic, ie nothing to do with bicycles, every aspect of the washing machine post was created on apple macintosh powerbook g4, and imac computers, using adobe golive cs and adobe photoshop cs. needless to say it is also best viewed on an apple macintosh computer.