Classic Cycle Thursdays: Beam Me Up, Scotty!

While I may joke about being a “semi-professional bike blogger,” I do have a full-time job, and it’s one I take extremely seriously.

That’s my position as the Classic Cycle Old Crap Test Pilot:

There are certain cycling media outlets I won’t name were the vintage bicycles are far more photographed than they are ridden. However, with me it’s quite the opposite–and not only because I suck at photography. I am not a dilettante or a collector; I am an intrepid time traveler whose mission is no less than charging bravely and selflessly forward (well, technically backward) into the swirling mists of time and returning with revelations with which to enlighten my dozen or so readers. Oh, sure, sometimes my job isn’t that hard, like when I’ve got to parade around on a classic Colnago, for example:

But when duty calls I snap into action, standing at attention with a hearty, “Sir, yes sir!,” even if it means profound displeasure or even serious injury to my person. That’s why when Paul of Classic Cycle informed me that he was going to send me something called the “Poorly Executed Idea Bike” I didn’t hedge, waffle, shirk, or deflect. Moreover, when Paul followed up to confirm that I was absolutely sure I wouldn’t be having any more children, I remained unflappable, since I prioritize my job over even my own fertility, and anyway I have seventeen (17) children as it is so it’s not like I’ll be telling the Great Blackjack Dealer On High to “hit me” anytime soon, if you know what I’m saying. So when a large box arrived at my door yesterday, I did not pretend to be someone else, refuse delivery, and insist that the delivery driver had the wrong address. Instead I wielded my boxcutter with the valor of Lancelot himself and confronted my fate:

At first upon opening the box I thought maybe Paul was putting me on, like he had when he said he was sending me the latest Specialized gravel bike and it turned out to be the RockCombo. I mean the bike was supposed to be horrible, but as I opened the flaps this one seemed quite promising:

Knobby tires? XTR? A frame that appeared to be rigid?

Yet the package included still more ominous notes:

So I didn’t know what to think:

Soon however I began to confront the horrible reality of what I’d be dealing with:

This explained the question about having children.

Also, while I’d been taken in by the rigid fork, the appearance of the word “Scott” on a set of handlebars is never a good sign:

And isn’t that seat tube a little short for a rigid mountain bike?

Then it hit me.

“Dear God,” I said to myself. “It couldn’t be.” Then, closing my eyes, I wrested the bike from the box, took a deep breath, and opened them again.

Yes, it was a Softride:

As I stared at that trademark beam, a great black tongue ready to lick my hopes and dreams forever, I realized the universe indeed has a sense of humor, since this just happened to be the shirt I was wearing:

“Beam me up” indeed.

A lesser man would have put the Softride back in the box, driven it 50 miles, dumped it in a ditch, and then pretended he never got it. “Musta been a package thief,” I’d have explained to Paul, “It happens all the time.” But that’s not who I am. Instead, I got right to work putting it together. Here’s more on the bike from the Classic Cycle website, by the way, so you can see exactly what kind of sadist I’m dealing with here:

[Photo: Classic Cycle]

To start, take a look at the Softride beam. The idea: Suspend the rider instead of the bike. The execution: A fiberglass beam to flex up and down, ostensibly with a motion damping layer running the length of the beam. The side effects: Beam flex that could unpredictably change the saddle height (thereby interfering with pedaling efficiency) by as much as eight inches. A tendency to catapult the rider off of the bike and little to no help in keeping the wheels in contact with the trail.

Clearly Softride’s idea was to literally kill you with comfort. And that stem:

[Photo: Classic Cycle]

Now let’s take a look at the beam’s evil twin, the flex stem. Once again, the idea was to insulate the rider from bumps in the trail without resorting to the more complicated and heavier suspension fork. The execution: a sprung parallelogram design that in the era of long 13 to 15cm mountain bike stems resulted in about 5cm of undamped travel and spring action. The side effect with these stems was that the handlebars could pull your center of gravity forward at times when you really needed get further back to maintain control of the bike.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg bouncy fiberglass beam. He’s also fitted it some of the bike industry’s greatest misses, such as those XTR levers everybody hated:

As well as this ungodly thing:

Anyway, as I put this thing together I felt very much like I was building my own gallows:

Still, one of the central tenets of my job as an Old Crap Test Pilot is to remain free from prejudice, and to be informed only by my own experience. Hey, I thought I’d hate the Vengeance Bike too, but it turned out to be one of my favorites. Certainly fickle cycling consumers have consigned plenty of good ideas to the trash, and perhaps this is one of them. Therefore I will ride it with an open mind, and if experience makes a Softride believer of me then I will embrace it.

Though based on my brief test ride I highly doubt that it will.

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