Pro-Joy instead of Anti-Racing

Pro-Joy instead of Anti-Racing

These days, the “real-world” or “alternative” cycling world often seems to define itself by what it is not: It’s not racing. One company even made a patch that said: “Racing Sucks!”
Perhaps this sentiment is understandable, considering how much racing has dominated bike design and cycling culture in recent decades, often with negative consequences like narrow tires, poor fender clearances and a general attitude of “every ride a race.”
Even so, I prefer a positive vision.
Bicycle Quarterly is not against anything. We are in favor of the joy of cycling. The joy as we feel the wind in our faces. The joy of the bike leaning into one turn and then immediately transitioning into another. The joy of the tires singing on the road, and the bike picking up speed as we increase the pressure on the pedals. The joy of seeing the sun rise behind a mountain peak in the distance during an early-morning ride.
The joy of cycling has nothing to do with racing or un-racing. It’s about riding. Racers experience the joy of cycling as much as commuters, and everybody in between. Throwing up arbitrary divisions might make people feel better about themselves, but I prefer to share the joy with anybody who cares to ride a bike.
For me, the joy of cycling is inextricably linked with performance. Tires that glide over rough pavement, frames that get in sync with your pedal strokes, and steering geometries that make the bike follow your chosen line with precision – they all contribute to the joy of riding your bike.
Competition (although not necessarily racing) has brought us many of the advances in bicycles we enjoy today, whether lightweight frame tubing, supple tires or multiple gears. The best performance bikes are much more fun to ride than pedestrian machines that have not been optimized for speed and performance. Competition, whether it’s randonneurs trying to see how far they can ride in 24 hours, or racers climbing big mountain passes, provides a very effective test for performance. Without competition, we wouldn’t have the bikes we enjoy so much today.
Once bicycles no longer are used in competition, their performance, and with that the joy of riding them, tends to deteriorate.
Steel bikes used to be the fastest bikes, and even today, the best steel bikes still match the performance of the best carbon and titanium bikes. Unfortunately, few riders experience the joys of a truly exceptional steel bike any longer, since the performance of many steel bikes has regressed in recent decades. Manufacturers change tubing dimensions with scant consideration of how this will affect the bike’s ride and performance. Since these bikes no longer have to prove themselves in competition, their reduced performance has gone largely unnoticed. And they are less joyful to ride as a result.
In the 1930 and 1940s, many randonneurs rode wide tires in various cyclotouring competitions. Supple, fast and wide tires were offered by a variety of makers. When randonneurs switched to narrower tires, wide high-performance tires no longer were made. Until recently, the only wide tires you could buy were harsh-riding and slow.
You don’t have to go fast to enjoy the benefits of a high-performance bike. In fact, I enjoy a frame that “planes” and tires that smooth out road imperfections especially when I am just spinning along.
Making bikes that perform well and are a joy to ride takes diligence and dedication. “Don’t race!” and “Racing Sucks!” often seem to be a cheap excuses for: “We don’t want to spend the time and effort to make our bikes/tires/components faster and more enjoyable to ride.” Anti-Racing then turns into Anti-Joy. And whatever I think about racing, I cannot agree with that.
So let’s focus on the joys of cycling. Let’s see what we can learn from racers. Let’s lead by example, so the racers can learn from us as well. We all share the same goal: to have fun on our bikes.
Photo credits: Jack Taylor collection (top), Cycles Alex Singer (3rd from top).

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Comments (66)

  • sisyphus

    Bravo. That was a nice perspective on the sport. Thank you.

    May 2, 2014 at 6:40 am
  • azorch

    Well stated!

    May 2, 2014 at 6:46 am
  • Greg

    I agree, wholeheartedly. Well-said! In our fleet, we have ‘racing’ bikes, ‘touring’ bikes, track bikes, ‘commuting’ bikes, ‘mountain’ bikes, a road tandem, ‘sportif’ bikes, IGH bikes, and maybe at some point soon we will have ‘randonneuring’ bikes. They range in age from 1937 to 2015 (prototypes). “It’s all good!”

    May 2, 2014 at 6:52 am
  • bwphoto67

    Thanks for saying that, I couldn’t agree more.

    May 2, 2014 at 6:55 am
  • cbratina

    My wife Lynne and I have been tandeming for over 35 years with cycling clubs in fast pacelines. After children and a couple bouts of Lyme disease, Lynne has not felt good riding hard or more than 60 miles, though we have resumed several week cycle touring vacations every year. Last weekend we rode a hilly 60 miles with two much faster riders, with Lynne out of the saddle on each climb. One time after dropping them on a descent at 45 mph, she turned around to them after they had chased hard and caught on, saying “If I had known you were chasing us down, I would have pedaled”! Another time as the one ahead of us started sprinting for a town line sign, and the other came around us closing on the leader, Lynne stood up and we sprinted around both of them just taking the town line. We now feel like she is back, and these joys of cycling and camaraderie, experienced by all of us that day, stay with us for a long time!

    May 2, 2014 at 7:14 am
  • Alexander

    Well, sure it is kind of embarrasing to see “racing sucks” on the jersey of a fat guy who is as far from racing as a stone. So for sure I wont get the badge, in spite of riding a Surly (and liking it) However I think you give too much credit to some racers when you concede their racing is about fun. For the professionals I think this is clearly not the case. As the German World Champion Rudi Altig put it very succinctly. “We are no Sportsmen, we are Professionals”. Winning at every price is not fun and never will be. However, this said, there are many many ways of friendly competition. I liked the Transcontinental Race last year London-Istanbul (great documentary Melons, Trucks and Angry Dogs). Timed effort, 38 riders, 38 ways of doing it and the price was a bottle of beer or something like that. And also most Brevets. Who knows the name of the first 3 guys in PBP? Not me. But I know Hans Lixenfeld who did it at 84. HE is an inspiration.
    So: PROFESSIONAL racing sucks.

    May 2, 2014 at 7:44 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Professional racing is a business… with all that entails (positive and negative).

      May 2, 2014 at 8:02 am
      • Steve Palincsar

        Professional racing could probably be prosecuted under the RICO statute.

        May 3, 2014 at 2:32 pm
  • Jonathan Gehman

    Amen Brother. High five…

    May 2, 2014 at 7:53 am
  • saltyvelo

    I appreciate you explaining in words what has been stuck in my head for so long. I enjoy going fast as much as the next guy – but it is only part of the experience for me. Comfort, distance etc all play another role. Riding until one pukes isn’t my idea of a fun ride either.

    May 2, 2014 at 8:28 am
  • Leslie Bright

    I liked Unracer better:
    Racing has its place. I enjoy watching bike races, the TdF, and have kinda considered getting into cyclocross. But for the most part, I’m not a racer. Unracer works for my usual self.

    May 2, 2014 at 8:28 am
    • Michael Schiller

      Unracer sounds the same to me as “racing sucks”. Marketing schmozzle. Amateur racing can be fun, So can tootling along. This article is right on target, it’s the joy of being outside rolling along, as fast or slow as your fitness/desires allow.

      May 2, 2014 at 12:08 pm
      • Greg

        Precisely. Agreed. Grant is also the guy that says your carbon fork is dangerous and will kill you, so you should buy a replacement one from him. Not a great way to market to folks (at least, to me, anyways…).

        May 2, 2014 at 1:59 pm
      • Matthew J

        I fully expect Jan would not include Rivendell bikes among those that are not a joy to ride.
        When it comes to marketing shmozzle in the bike world, the fact is for every LBS pushing Rivendells and the like there are an easy dozen that will tell the buyer if they want a ‘serious’ bike it is going to be one with CF tubing, steep angles, radial lacing, short reach brakes and step in pedals.
        And while the commuter focused LBS will always have items such as egg beater clip less pedals, or SRAM 11 speed cassettes, try going to a performance shop and ask for something as decidedly high end as White platform pedals with Bruce Gordon half clips and they will look at you as though you are speaking Klingon.

        May 3, 2014 at 12:23 pm
      • Greg Biché

        It’s too easy to reduce Grant’s argument to a marketing/branding scheme that hinges on rejecting. all forms of bike racing. I’m pretty sure he just wants to tell and show cyclists (and would-be cyclists) who are pressured at every turn by a racing-obsessed industry to get expensive, ill-fitting, uncomfortable and ultimately disposable bikes—that it doesn’t have to be that way.

        May 4, 2014 at 8:27 am
      • Matthew J

        Rivendell promotes being outside and having fun as much and usually more so than any other bike operation.
        Unlike most companies, Riv posts its income. For a marketing juggernaut it certainly does not bring in huge sums. Trek on the other hand …
        Riv sold a rather inexpensive steel fork for a while, hardly a profit generator. Does not sell forks now.

        May 5, 2014 at 5:31 am
  • Bill

    Very well thought out and expressed. Your ability to get to the crux of a situation is one of the many reason I enjoy your blog and magazine.

    May 2, 2014 at 9:46 am
  • Bubba

    Surly’s “Racing Sucks” patch was made for a short time and was meant as a joke, which they explained in some detail on precisely the page Jan links. Surly is most certainly not the enemy to a “pro-joy” mindset. Rivendell’s “unracer” is also rooted in “pro-joy”. They might both make bikes that are so stiff that they suck all the joy out of cycling for some people, but I see plenty of people smiling on both of those brands.

    May 2, 2014 at 9:56 am
    • Paul Ahart

      Part of the joy of riding a Rivendell bike is just the fact that they are so darned good-looking. I own a Blériot 650b from Rivendell, and yes, it’s way too stiff, but still fun to ride, especially since I installed performance tires.

      May 3, 2014 at 7:54 am
    • Greg

      Surly is brilliant at marketing. Their products suck, generally speaking. Dull and lifeless…

      May 4, 2014 at 6:15 am
  • Bryan Willman

    AND – you can love some kind of racing (as I do), be motivated by it (as I am), and still be quite bad at it (as I am), and not be opposed or obstructive to other uses of bicycles.
    The “un-racing” and “cycling as a pure superior life style” gang seems to forget that for many people, cycling is only interesting because it’s a *sport* (done for joy.) If it was only for utility, some number of people (likely including me) would abandon it and go do something else instead.
    In other words, riding for kicks or personal not-economic-utility uses such as fitness or socialization or racing are the main motivators for the industry, and the community and industry dismiss them at their peril.

    May 2, 2014 at 10:07 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I really enjoy rides that combine utility with joy. That is why I bought a custom bike for my errands. Instead of slogging around with a trailer, I now get a mini-vacation every time I have to deliver books or magazine.

      May 2, 2014 at 10:17 am
    • John Duval

      There are car enthusiasts, are there not? But it seems like they need to park them and get out to enjoy them. But this brings up another cliché, “a bad day on a bike beats a good day in a car”. American roads will always be filled with fantasy machines, have they two wheels or four. Ironically a Dutch bike is still a novelty in the states!
      Personally, the joy of riding and reading about bikes has lost nothing today, now that it is no longer a fringe activity, as it was when I first hit the road.

      May 3, 2014 at 4:24 pm
  • riggs

    Such wonderful writing! I am too decrepit to ride long distance, but the entries here are like a travelogue. Thanks for the escapism!

    May 2, 2014 at 10:34 am
  • Matt Campbell

    Back in my early 20s I tried mountain bike racing one summer and found that I couldn’t stand it. I disliked the competitiveness of it, and it was ultimately too much like work and not enough like fun. Since then I’ve evolved I believe to simply being a cyclist who enjoys riding at their own pace which is sometimes brisk and sometimes slow. I appreciate racing and what it does for cycling in general. At the same time though, I feel that racing and the cycling industry as a whole has done a disservice to itself in slavishly promoting “racing bikes” and their geometry to the detriment of all other forms of cycling. It seems like it’s only been in the last two or three years that there has really been a resurgence of manufacturers making bikes that aren’t so derivative of the various performance genres. I used to really enjoy watching racing but alas, the continued doping scandals of recent years I think may have permanently soured me on any type of professional cycling competition.

    May 2, 2014 at 10:51 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It’s unfortunate that most of the bike industry thinks in terms of racing (performance/joy) and commuting (utility). The fact that even non-racers on non-racing bikes might want to enjoy performance isn’t really part of the equation yet.

      May 2, 2014 at 10:57 am
      • Jon Gehman

        I still really enjoy racing but don’t want to do it the way I used to think I had to anymore. Racing doesn’t have to Suck at all, but it sure can if you forget about what’s best about it and get caught up in the tiresome bits. If you like the good parts there’s nothing else that can really scratch that itch, if you’re into the ego and one-upsmanship than there’s lots of easier, less expensive ways to make oneself unpleasant to be around.

        May 4, 2014 at 8:06 pm
      • marmotte27

        The industry mostly functions on the lines of fashion trends, on which it wants to cash in one way or the other.
        Expensive carbon Racing or Mountain bikes with all sorts of unnecessary or even counterproductive gimmicks, e.g. ‘stiffness’, for the “performance” crowd.
        Heavy Dutch style or Trekking bikes for Commuters, either too cheap or too expensive and yet again laden with unnecessary or counterproductive gimmicks like stiff frames, supension forks for road riding and the like.

        May 5, 2014 at 12:11 am
  • antonio neto

    Jan, Very Good.

    May 2, 2014 at 11:29 am
  • riggs

    I went into one of the bigger shops here in Seattle as I didn’t want to build another bike on my own and thought I might get something off the shelf I could modify or swap out components. Well, that was an exercise in self delusion. The component level was too poor to consider. I guess I just continue to scrounge classic steel frames and rehab them or look for new steel in specs that I like and do my own build. The performance you write about is not really found in any mass produced or mass assembled bike. The price would be too high. But is was distressing to watch folks who obviously don’t ride a lot being pushed toward very expensive bikes when the touring bike adjacent was a fraction of the cost and would serve them just as well. Racing has made the bike world a place where selling form is killing function.

    May 2, 2014 at 11:36 am
  • Mike S

    For some there is joy in competition. To slag all types of racing, regardless of type or level, is simply narrow minded.
    The ‘us vs. them’ attitudes presented by a few bicycle/component suppliers are simply marketing attempts to sell their image.

    May 2, 2014 at 11:51 am
    • Greg

      Precisely. Well-said….

      May 4, 2014 at 6:17 am
  • Heather

    Even if surly made the patch as ‘a joke’, their sentiment is clear. Snarly and ultra cool, too cool for racing. Surly is a large company part of a larger company that makes bikes in Taiwan, the whole Minneapolis cool is all marketing. I had a surly, it was horrible. Everyone raved about them, the lbs dude insisted I get one even though it was clearly going to be a huge mistake. “Riding sucks” was the theme of that bike. Many modern steel bikes they are overbuilt, not the most stellar tubing, poor design for small frames etc.. My bike was not stable, it was sluggish even though technically not heavy, and I lost the joy of riding. It was banished and for about 2 years I have stuck to riding old ‘gas pipe’ vintage bikes for commuting, not much else. I finally just got an old battered columbus SL road bike and it is amazing! I love riding it, I know I will be able to ride it for long distances. It had been designed and built for and ridden by a pro racer who is my size, so the bike even fits!
    This also reminds of me of the 90’s when road bikes became uncool and vanished from bike shops. I had been dreaming of being able to buy a beautiful road bike, but by the time I was old enough to buy a bike that I wanted, the road bikes were gone.
    Bike shop dudes were pushing these mountain bikes, rejecting road racing, road riding etc.. Being young and know it all, we suddenly thought road bikes were for old fuddy duddies! Man, we were so cool trying to maintain momentum on paved roads. So, I rode heavy ludicrous mountain bikes for commuting and long distance riding for years. Mountain bikes are awesome for their application, but living in a flat prairie city, there was not a worse bike to ride.
    And living in the PNW for years, I have no desire to mountain bike at all! I feel a bit cheated for having had the right kind of bike for me taken away in terms of consciousness, accessibility and even choice.

    May 2, 2014 at 11:59 am
    • Heather

      Oh, for context in the 90’s my peers and I were too young to be conscious of getting a used road bike at the time. Imagine what would have been available! But there was barely an internet, no craigslist. Marketing had made road and touring bicycles too uncool, and we just bought what was available. Unless you were totally bike focused, you’d just be riding what the bike shops carried, and afraid of those old bikes. With time and a few awful bikes I knew better. I remembered riding my mom’s steel bike for hours and hours with glee on paved and dirt roads back in high school and wondered why I could not get that ride. The quality is so inferior today, you really do have to hunker down and invest in good parts, high quality frames.

      May 2, 2014 at 12:12 pm
      • Greg

        Those of us that started way before all of the media/market hype never waivered. Been riding road (only) since about 1972. 21-29 mm tubulars, 531/753 or Columbus SL/SP frames, high-quality components that last a lifetime and are easily serviced, etc., etc. The only thing that has changed significantly is that now there are very, very good clincher tires that are close to being a compromise-free alternative to sewups, except for the one-pound total-system penalty. We can thank Jan and a few others for a significant portion of that!

        May 2, 2014 at 2:09 pm
  • B. Carfree

    Thank you for yet another nicely written entertaining piece that I just happen to fully agree with.
    Although I have been riding continuously for many decades (I just passed the half-million mile mark last year), I stayed largely tuned out to the wider cycling culture as I just did my thing while squeezing in time to ride while raising my offspring. Over the past few years, I have tuned back in and I have been severely disappointed at the Balkanization of cycling that has taken place.
    We used to be cyclists, now we’re racers, tourists, fixee riders, utility riders, triathletes and whatever. Those of us who do it all and love it all are told we’re doing it wrong by various newbies and their spokespeople. When I choose to do ten hundred-plus mile days in a row on a tour, the folks on the Surlys tell me I must not be seeing all the sights because I’m doing it wrong. Funny, it sure seems right for me. When I take a thirty-year-old touring bike out for a quick fifty miles and pass the local “fast” group riders on the climbs, I’m told that, because my bike isn’t carbon fiber and I have three dozen spokes in my wheels, I’m doing it wrong. When I ride stoker with my much smaller wife as captain on one of our tandems, people who don’t even ride tandems tell us we’re doing it wrong. Criminy, I don’t care if someone rides a fixed gear bike backwards, it they are riding and enjoying it, then good for them.

    May 2, 2014 at 2:24 pm
  • John Romeo Alpha

    Well said. There are many roads to joy. Racing is certainly one of them, particularly for very talented, speed-endowed, or dedicated racers. Others will find joy via other routes. In the current cycling marketing environment, though, you must admit that the other ways seem to get very little advertising / media / mind space. Racing dominates. I prefer to focus on the joys, too, in a positive way, and just point out that racing is one of may ways to find it on a bike, not the only way. I seek the broader joy of cycling, though, which is not necessarily the same as the joy of victory, or the joy of competition, which are nice, but fairly narrow and fleeting in scope.

    May 2, 2014 at 5:29 pm
  • ORiordan

    Of course the word “performance” can be used to describe many things.
    For a bike with 3 speed hub gear and ultra puncture proof tyres, the desired performance is likely to be using it with virtually no maintenance.
    For a folder bike used by a commuter, the desired performance may be the size when folded down and the time and ease to fold and unfold the bike.
    Now many readers of this blog would undoubtedly be critical of the ride quality of these types of bike but for the people likely to be using them, other performance attributes are more important.

    May 3, 2014 at 1:26 am
  • Teemu Sauer

    As more and more people switch to bicycles differences in the use of it emerge. Some use it only for transportation others for sport, pretty much like cardrivers. Some have adjusted their car for their needs others may feel to express themself with it. Sadly, often it seems that discussions based on polarizated views and the resulting discrepancy collects the most peopole. Cycling is a democratic thing and everyone benefits from save city cycling, intact bicycle lanes a beautiful nature to drive through. The more people cycle, more things will be done in favor for cycling.

    May 3, 2014 at 1:37 am
  • ORiordan

    … and just to add, people can clearly have lots of fun and be joyful on utility bikes that simply aren’t designed for performance in terms of speed on the road and attributes like that.
    The commuter riding a Brompton folding bike they brought on a train is riding a bike! The commuter with an amazing bike at home that doesn’t fit on the train isn’t riding a bike… Of course, one of the joys you haven’t mentioned is schadenfreude as the Brompton rider whizzes off on their bike to work while the person with the great bike at home waits at a bus stop…

    May 3, 2014 at 2:09 am
    • Greg

      Schadenfreude is not really a positive thing, afaik. It is literally joy at (observing) the sadness of others. We need less schadenfreude in cycling, imho….

      May 5, 2014 at 6:20 am
  • ascpgh

    The awesome power of succinctness. In words, what I expect from cycling hardware as it descends from the laboratory of competition to my use and satisfaction.
    Just as in automobiles, I can remember the day that I no longer had drum-braked rear wheels or a carburetor to suffer. Thanks go to racing and the manufacturers who somehow evaded the obtuseness of design by committee principles to put such ideas into production.

    May 3, 2014 at 5:49 am
  • Matthew J

    This can cut both ways.
    The one Compass product that has proved less than optimal for me are the Iribe bottle holders. Certainly lovely and well made, the protuberances on either side of the spring catch on looser pants especially when the cage is mounted to the downtube.
    Jan is otherwise such a thorough critic of bike products I could not figure out how he missed this. Then I recalled Jan and the people he rides with seem to always wear tights. Leastways looking at the blog photos suggest as much. I’ve been bike only going on 12 years now and have even toured coast to coast. But like many non-racers, I do not like wearing tights.
    Iribe work fine on the seat tube. So I put one on each of my bike. If you are a cyclist who prefers wearing loose pants and shorts, don’t buy Iribe expecting to use as a pair on a bike

    May 3, 2014 at 6:23 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      When I ride in pants, they catch on all bottle cages – I don’t have bottles in them when I ride in pants. So I use straps or cuff my pants… but you are right that we didn’t test the Iribe bottle cages while wearing loose-fitting pants. I apologize for the oversight.

      May 4, 2014 at 7:54 pm
  • Paul Ahart

    Jan, you verbalize my sentiments exactly. I’m in the business, and yet am often embarrassed at how overly-stiff most available bikes are, as well as the quality of tires on the market, with nearly all emphasizing puncture-proofness over all else. My personal disappointment has been with the overly stiff construction of a line of very high-end frames I’ve been carrying for many years. The company went from quite nice lugged Reynolds 531 to OS True Temper tubing on all their bikes, both lugged and TIG’d, and while great-looking and light, are too stiff for most riders. They even use this stuff on the frames they build for small/female riders. Perhaps they fear a lawsuit inspired by a crash due to speed wobble..
    My wife has gone from a too-stiff “custom” bike to a Nordavinden (one of the few production bikes made with ultralight sensible tubing, and suddenly cycling has become a joy for her once again. In her words, ” I feel like I can dance with it.”
    Cycling should be about the joy of riding and the feeling of moving swiftly through time and space under one’s own power, whether in a bit of friendly competition, or just out enjoying the scenery while cruising along. Riding a bike that really works for you, with tires that help bring out the best in your bike’s performance and comfort…..
    Thank you for illuminating what so many of us felt, but were not able to put into words.

    May 3, 2014 at 7:42 am
    • marmotte27

      I’d really like to know how much damage this stiffness-craze has done to cycling (all forms of it), by taking a lot of the joy out of it.

      May 5, 2014 at 12:22 am
    • Steve Palincsar

      I think for many, the switch to OS tubing was propelled by appearance: to an eye accustomed to aluminum and titanium, standard gauge steel tubing looks shockingly thin.

      May 5, 2014 at 5:14 am
    • Greg

      Rivs/Waterfords in general have always been over-built. That’s my main concern about them.

      May 5, 2014 at 6:24 am
  • John Duval

    Reading over the old blog posts here, many of the specifics of how to build a good bike are well documented, but exactly why these work, and if there is not some greater perfection to be had on the road seems relatively vague. Sure, we know it tends to have a tuned flex thing, some thin wall tubing here, stiff stays there. But this is like treating the symptoms and not diagnosing the disease (pro-ease?).
    I wonder if there are some more specific variable isolations that can be done. For example, using a very stiff frame with a spring coupling between crank and chainring to see if this leads to planing. Maybe a frame built to flex only in very specific orientations. This is not what the big brands are doing: they are trying to build extremely stiff bikes that dampen road vibration. Older methods may indeed be better than today’s racing bikes, but this does not mean they can not be improved upon with today’s resources.
    I for one, would be willing to be a patron to such a project in order to defray the high cost.

    May 3, 2014 at 5:22 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The blog is giving you only some glimpses at the research we’ve done. The actual research has been published in Bicycle Quarterly, for example, the double-blind frame testing (Vol. 6, No. 4). We also tested a bike with an elastomer in the rear triangle, which allowed us to adjust the frame flex.
      Really, we (and everybody else) still don’t understand completely how the human body and bicycle interact. Everything we know has come from riding different bikes and then trying to replicate the performance differences we note in controlled conditions. That was the goal of our double-blind testing, where we tested – and confirmed – our hypothesis that frame tubing affected the bike’s performance.

      May 5, 2014 at 9:08 am
  • Jon Blum

    Amen, Jan. One of the great things about cycling is you can enjoy it as recreation, for fitness, for transportation, as a competitive sport, or anything in between. Since I lack both athletic talent and a competitive nature, riding without racing was a great choice for me since childhood. But if somebody wants to race, it’s no skin off my back. Some devotees of various philosophies of cycling seem oddly keen to find someone to look down on. (Thus the Great Debate over which color socks are socially acceptable on a bike.) Where’s the joy in that?

    May 4, 2014 at 10:06 am
  • MSRW

    It’s kind of interesting how bicycling in the U.S. is now large enough and broad enough to have a variety of sectors that don’t feel all that much kinship. I’m sure everyone has experienced that cyclists on road racing bikes usually don’t wave when passing cyclists on bikes with fenders–even event bikes with fenders; but cyclists on racing bikes do wave to other cyclists on racing bikes. So I guess it cuts both ways. I could not agree with you more than we as cyclists should respect and welcome all types of cycling/cyclists.
    I don’t want to veer off topic, but when you mention what you call planing, I think you’d be doing a service to cycling by specifying the limits of this frame characteristic to fast riding that doesn’t involve constant explosive accelerations. What is true for the riding that you and your friends do applies less to the riding of Mark Cavendish.

    May 4, 2014 at 5:23 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I am sure Mark Cavendish would find my favorite frame not much to his liking. When we tested different frames, we found that the stronger rider at the time of our test did equally well with a moderately flexible frame and a very flexible frame in all-out efforts. The slightly less-strong rider always preferred the very flexible frame…

      May 5, 2014 at 9:11 am
  • Jake Dean (Bicyclist Abroad)

    “Once bicycles no longer are used in competition, their performance, and with that the joy of riding them, tends to deteriorate.”
    I’m not 100% sure this is the case for everyone. The Dutch and Japanese seem to enjoy riding bikes as far from “performance” as you can get: heavy, durable, and slow. Nevertheless, the overall message I am completely behind: ride the way it makes you happiest.

    May 5, 2014 at 1:15 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The Dutch and Japanese seem to enjoy riding bikes as far from “performance” as you can get: heavy, durable, and slow.

      Those bikes mostly are ridden by people who don’t have a good alternative. If you live in a city with terrible traffic and no affordable parking, then even a slow bike that is little fun is the best way to get around. The fact that most of these places have adopted electric assist so eagerly may tell us that these bikes aren’t that much fun to ride. I wrote more about the reasons people in places like Copenhagen ride bikes in this post.

      May 5, 2014 at 9:17 am
  • Matt Stonich

    “Racing Suck” is a commentary on the elitest and snobbish enviroment of racing, not the bikes or the components. But, in all fairness, it is almost impossible to get started into biking because they don’t make bikes that arn’t for either casual rides around the lakes, or carbon fibre racing bikes, these days.

    May 5, 2014 at 6:45 am
    • marmotte27

      Completely agree with you!

      May 7, 2014 at 2:09 pm
  • mike

    I was a racer 30 years ago. I stopped racing after a couple of years – other things became more interesting. Today I’m riding just for fun, even if I like to ride fast and like some friendly competion within a group of others.
    Whenever I ride with some guys who also were racers in the past, there is a familiar feeling, a kind of common non-verbal code. A couple of basic things and behaviors are just there and do not need to be told or discussed. Just a consequence of having spend much time riding in a group.
    I’m sure, all others, who have ridden much in groups have developed this basics as well (maybe even more?!) and also know this feeling. Racers may have to learn that a bit faster, since it is more crucial in a race. Solo riders have to develop it all on their own and don’t need it that often – so it may take much longer or maybe will just not happen?!

    May 5, 2014 at 7:31 am
  • Ford Kanzler

    Agree there’s WAY too much of “every ride, a race” competitive attitude out there and perhaps not enough joy. That might be said of our culture in general.
    The majority of road riders I encounter seem to be racer-wannabees (the carbon and Lycra bunch) and are hammering along our beautiful, country lanes as if pursued. I’m often asked what my time was on some typical cycling route. I don’t use a bike computer and frankly couldn’t care less about a ride’s elapsed time. The joy of just doing it and the health benefits are plenty.

    May 5, 2014 at 8:55 am
  • Conrad

    Very well said. You get it! As an amateur racer AND someone that does plenty of off-the-beaten-path rides just for the fun of it- I’m disappointed in what racing contributes to our equipment choices at this time. Disposable, Taiwanese bikes that still cost close to 10 thousand dollars, 400 dollar 11 speed cassettes- the list goes on. It is possible to race on sensible equipment, but for some reason hardly anybody does. That aside- racing will make you a stronger, better rider. Its not for everyone and that is okay!

    May 5, 2014 at 5:47 pm
  • Tim Rice

    Pro-joy is riding nice stuff period. I was looking for a single speed road bike on a budget. Craigslist wasn’t netting much. Wabi was a lot over my budget. I turned to Bikes Direct. $280-300 gave me a few options. My taste is a lot higher though. As in my joy factor means a $300 bike needs $500 in parts. I might as well do a Wabi. 😉
    Anyways Bike Island had a Dawes sst Al. For $280 shipped, so I snagged it. I enjoy riding it just as much as I enjoy riding my Cannondale Al. Synapse. That was $1,500. I also have another BD 29er that is okay and the fun factor circles the drain based on tracking issues and weight. For the price I can’t complain. However, no one likes to go backwards.
    I am now looking for that ultimate sscx bike. I know that bikes don’t need to be tanks, especially singles speeds. There are no reasons for steel bikes to be so heavy these days. Sub 20 lbs on a SS should be the standard for a SS, regardless of frame material. I was looking at some steel sscx bikes, however Raleigh is coming out with a gates belt drive sscx trp hydraulic brakes.
    You know I might not be a racer. I might not have much of a budget. But when Raleigh can give me a bundle of joy built for racing for the same ballpark price those Minnesotans are giving me on overweight boat anchors? I’ll put my money on performance over marketing any day.

    May 5, 2014 at 10:15 pm
  • Larry T.

    Nicely written! I keep thinking of the days when the bikes guys like Merckx raced on were actually pretty good bikes for all kinds of riding, rather than the super-specialized things sold today that require a follow-car in case a spoke should break. RACING bikes back then, other than perhaps tires a bit too narrow, worked well for a lot of stuff. Industry goals (greed?) now seem to force the creation of categories so they can sell you a special bike for roadracing, another for time-trialing, another for ‘cross and now one specifically for “gravel racing”. This also serves (sadly) to categorize the riders, who then look at anyone with a different machine as some sort of enemy. The end result has been to make a bike good for a lot of different uses so out-of-the-mainstream they are too often either heavy pieces of junk or expensive, hard-to-find, artisan products. While I love to watch the pros race, either at the roadside of the Giro d’Italia or on TV, I have ZERO desire to ride the bikes they’re forced to use, either by marketing or competitive forces! The current machines are almost like F1 cars..certainly great for their intended use, but far from optimal (not to mention obsolete very quickly) for the average guy who just wants to enjoy cycling.

    May 6, 2014 at 7:40 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I haven’t ridden many of the mass-produced bikes from the companies who sponsor the pros, but some of the modern artisan race bikes offer a performance and joy that is superior to 99% of the classic racing bikes, including the one I raced for ten years. Yes, they would be even better with wider tires and so on, but top-of-the-line Calfees, Sevens or Lynskeys are wonderful machines that are great fun to ride.
      As tires are getting wider and cyclocross and gravel racing are becoming ever-more popular, we can look forward to even better machines that are available – at a price – even within cycling’s mainstream.

      May 6, 2014 at 8:19 am
  • Dan B

    I recently built up a Surly Pacer and I love it. Well built, affordable, light enough, fast for me, lively on the climbs.

    May 6, 2014 at 9:01 am
  • Allen

    I’ve been paying attention to not only what makes a bike a joy to ride, but also to the other gear/conditions that add to the joy. I can say with anecdotal certainty that people in racing kit do not have more fun riding than I do. Some of them are faster, but even on a 40-year-old steelframe, I’m getting the bugs in my teeth from grinning. And by the way, I get to ride every day, rain or shine. No bad days for a ride to work! Folks can and should ride whatever makes ’em happy, but nobody should pretend that there’s a “right” way to enjoy cycling…

    May 6, 2014 at 8:22 pm
  • Daniel

    I think you are right, just have fun. And I think you can have fun doing anything – 60 fast miles on a road bike, an exploration in the woods on narrow trails, commuting, and dirt road rides like the D2R2. I have as much fun in my racing kit as I do in jeans on my way to work. A road kit changes nothing except makes getting abraded by heavy seams unlikely when you are in the saddle for a long time.

    May 8, 2014 at 8:36 am

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