Saturday, April 2, 2011

I Sometimes Think That Professional Cycling Is Ridiculous and Unnecessary

Let's face it, pro racing has been a hotbed of useless, lately.  Doping scandals, accusations of cheating by use of motorized bottom brackets (yeah, I'm not making that up) and the UCI generally just figuratively strutting about like Mussolini on a balcony have really put me off of the whole idea.

But, in the past, pro racing has led to developments which we all take for granted, now.

The quick-release skewer for bike wheels was invented by Tullio Campagnolo, because of difficulty that he experienced at the top of a mountain pass, during a race.  The weather was bad, cold and snowy, as Campagnolo topped the pass on his fixed-gear race bike.  He stopped to unbolt his rear wheel, to reverse it in the frame and utilize the smaller cog on the other side of the wheel, which would allow higher speeds on the descent.  Race bikes did not utilize freewheels, at the time.

But, his hands were so cold that he couldn't manipulate the wrench and the nuts on the axle, and he lost many minutes fumbling around in the cold.  Not long afterward, the Campagnolo Quick-Release hub was on the market.

Greg Herbold, in the 1980s, was a star mountain bike racer.  Greg raced cross-country, but his specialty was downhill racing.  At the time, downhill bikes were very much the same as cross country bikes.  There was no long-travel suspension or disc brakes, at the time, on off-road bicycles.

The shifting duties were handled by thumb shifters, regardless of the type of bike.  I still prefer thumb shifters, myself, but I am not prone to rocketing down rock-strewn, steep, tree-lined downhill courses at maximum speed.  So, moving my thumb to the top of the bar to shift doesn't bother me.

It did bother Herbold.

So, he flipped his thumb shifters to the the underside of his bars, which allowed him to shift without "letting go" of the grip.  It worked so well for him that Greg approached Shimano about developing shifters which hung below the bars, rather than sitting atop them.

Again, I don't care for this type of shifter, but the introduction of the Rapidfire shifter revolutionized the mtb industry.  Nowadays, no major manufacturer produces a race-quality thumb shifter, and nearly every shifter on the market is a version of the Rapidfire design.

So, racing has changed the face of cycling, in one way or another, more than once in the past.  Will it produce another revolution which will change the game for the better, in the future?

One can only hope.  Otherwise, it truly is ridiculous and unnecessary.

x

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