Let Us Speak of the Electronic Tonic (part 1)

Unless you’re living in the bushes in a desert alcove you’ve prolly heard about electronic shifting, first introduced by Shimano, then wireless-electronic shifting offered from Sram and the EPS groups from Italy that no one was ever too sure about. Shimano also brought us the first electronically controlled mountain drivetrain system.

XT Stuff (Shimano.com)
And who the hell is still using a front derailleur? Shimano offers this expensive tech for that one guy… but I guess if you’re on a road bike then sure, why not.

Now there are fully integrated E-bikes. These sometimes don’t use electronic shifting but they’re using a pedal-assisted electric drive, giving the rider uncanny range and extra pedal power.

Something Trek built; note the large bottom bracket and battery. Who wants a water bottle?
Two places that electronic definitely doesn’t fit, bike packing and bike touring. Both of these involve traveling long distances with as little electronic gear as possible. While it could be done, having to charge your drivetrain with a solar panel while you should be moving down the road seems a little off-putting. Do what you want, though. The charge on this stuff apparently lasts a long time. I don’t see a reason to add this tedious task to packing or touring.

Where it does belong: on a bike whose owner has a track record of bad shifting. The electronic stuff shifts precisely and completely; there won’t be any of this half shifting where the chain ends up on a bite on the next cog up the range, causing weirdness. If you don’t know how to shift and you blow through drivetrains, get electronic.

You don’t have to be a purist to want a standard, cable operated drivetrain. In fact, Pinkbike.com is doing a poll right now showing that most of us truly want a non-electronic bike. As for battery powered, pedal assisted mountain bikes we have a different beast on our hands. “In Europe, this is all the rage.” -Industry guy I know who’d just come to the US from an extensive eBike test in Europe.

I see the appeal. I also spoke with a guy on the trail who, with his rootbeer belly hanging over his shorts bragged about how his Specialized Levo made it so he could pass his super fit and lean son on the trail, and have to actually wait for him. Sweat was still dripping off his brow. “Congratulations bro, your battery powered biomechanical extension allowed you to win the group ride.” Good for you. And now, go away.

Bicycles are all about the conservation of energy. Since the inception in 1812 this has been true. Now it seems that it’s even more about conserving your own bio-energy and expending that of electricity, which, by the way, isn’t expelling turds and farts as bi-product, largely it’s expelling burnt coal and diesel fumes, dead fish and nuclear waste. That my friends is not the conservation of energy. Not to mention the lithium-ion batteries that are used to carried the energy supply on the bike.

If you can’t stick it in your mouth or up your butt safely, it’s prolly not a great source of fuel.

Ridin’ the Train

Get your wrenches ready – to throw at people

At a point in time when there was great poverty and starvation, calamity and horror, the Draisienne was invented. Somehow, the folks in the United States misspelled this so badly it wasn’t even relate-able. It didn’t have pedals. It was around 1812. (Bicycling Science, MIT Press, 18)

Since that time there have been folks like me fixing the offspring of the Draisienne, what has become today’s bicycle. In Europe this is still a respected trade as cycling is very much a part of daily life and critical to getting around. Here in the United States, cycling is primarily a recreational diversion. Although, folks will use them to get around the cities, you won’t see so many of them in use on the country-side. Of course as you drive along the country road you’ll see a few of these machines and their owners dead in the ditches on the shoulder as they’re continually targeted by terrible humans driving automobiles. Some call this “roadkill” when it’s a deer.

So the machine abounds. The bicycle is used worldwide for getting from place to place quicker than walking. It’s a workhorse. To fuel it you need to eat potatoes. But like all machines they break down and cause heartache. This is where we, the mechanics of bicycles, come in. We save the day. We’ve been charged with the safe riding of all cyclists, except those who choose to buy their velo from a department store.

In the US more and more folks are riding bikes as entertainment and means of fitness. It means I’ll always have work. But as long as I work on these machines I will never have a retirement plan, a pension, insurance, or really anything other than a bike and place to lay my head.

“Well you chose that career!” People say. Their rationale is that it’s a high-schoolers job. Have you seen what happens when a high-schooler repairs a bike? Have you seen one of these species fix anything after 2006? I’m having problems with my high-school employees sweeping and staying awake; their brains generally resemble soft oats and their ability to express their thoughts is about as lackluster as the wind tipping an over-flowing garbage can. I do what I do because I’m exceptional at it. I am sought out. Good mechanics fix actual problems. When I go away and pursue a “real job” your bike stops functioning the way it should.

If your bike stops working because your shop’s high-school mechanics can’t fix it you’ll go to the next shop and find other high-school mechanics. You’ll pay real money and come away with more problems. You’ll get over it and repeat the process. And then you’ll mutter, “My old mechanic was an asshole but he sure could fix a bike.” Then you’ll move onto other sports, like curling or something equally inert.