Like most aspects of the bicycle, wheels and tires attained perfection in the 1980s. By the end of the decade, whether you rode on the road or on the trail, you could take a strong yet lightweight aluminum rim, lace it to an extremely durable and smooth-rolling cassette hub, and then wrap the whole thing up in an easy-to-mount, easy-to-repair high performance clincher tire. Sure, if you were an elite racer maybe you could make a case for using tubulars instead, but for everyone else the bicycle wheel had reached the perfect balance of affordability, durability, serviceability and performance, and to this day nobody has meaningfully improved upon this formula.
Sadly, it couldn’t last. Permutations begat permutations. Crabon, aluminum, tubeless, tubes, rim, disc…some tires work well with some rims, some don’t; some tubeless tires “set up” easily on some rims and not on others. People debate the merits of various sealants, some of which don’t work well with certain tires, others of which don’t work well with certain other tires. One person swears by a tire, another person swears at it because the sidewalls weep beads of liquid latex like the sweaty brow of someone lying under oath, or won’t seat properly despite being repeatedly blasted with air. Tubeless-compatible rims still let you use tubes, but thanks to revised profiles mounting and seating everything is a much bigger hassle than it used to be. And some crabon rims simply like to eat tires, as I discovered back when I had a set on the Tan Tenovo:
Of course many cyclists actually like this. See, the more finicky wheels and tires become, the more opportunity there is for people to fuss and obsess over them like foodies foffing off over food trucks. And boy are there plenty of tires out there now for you to deposit into your Spank Bank of Suppleness! You can buy rebranded Panaracers from people who inundate you with charts and graphs:
Or you can buy nearly identical rebranded Panaracers from people who skip the data altogether and instead sell them as tickets to the cool kids’ club:
Both approaches, while different on the surface, seem purpose-built to insult your intelligence. (Both are also undeniably amusing, though for completely different reasons.) Whether it’s the tires or the marketing, it’s the same casing with a slightly different tread, and the differences are mainly cosmetic.
But while supple tires are mostly a harmless dalliance and an innocent indulgence, obsessing over aerodynamics is a crippling addiction that will put you on the road to ruin–and you’ll get there quickly due to your reduced drag coefficient:
I’m glad to see Jan Heine and Ultraromance and nascent Escape Collective and everyone else flourishing, and all of them enhance our mutual passion of cycling by giving us more over which to obsess–and I say this will all sincerity and not a trace of irony. Still, speaking strictly for myself, this is no way to live. Certainly I’ve flirted with suppleness:
And the Vengeance Bike is quite aerodynamic by 1980s standards:
But for the most part I indulge myself in other ways:
Like hopping on the Platypus and taking the long way to Target:
Speaking of Target, it’s always illuminating to see which bicycle tech trends have reached the department store market, and I see the latest one is 1x drivetrains:
At this rate I suspect they’ll be offering electronic shifting within the next 10-15 years, tops.
They say a full day spent on a Platypus is a good day indeed (well, I say it, but now that it’s in “print” it’s officially conventional wisdom), and since half the family had to be in Brooklyn later that day my elder son and I rode down there to meet them, stopping briefly at Randall’s Island:
That’s the Jones, bereft of kickstand at the moment, rolling in the grass like a dog in a patch of stink. The noble Platypus on the other hand stands proudly at attention, basking in the sun:
Our ride on this day carried us through four of the five boroughs, and we crossed various bridges, including the Macombs Dam Bridge:
The Triboro Bridge, which you’re technically not supposed to ride on, and which we both found deeply disconcerting:
Though it’s got some great views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge:
And finally the Pulaski Bridge, which mainlines you right into the heart of the gentriverse:
There’s still a pronounced updown/downtown disparity in New York City as far as bike lanes go, and while that’s changing it’s not really until you get to Astoria that things start feeling all buffed and burnished:
Though the thing about bike lanes is that on the weekend when the streets are quiet they don’t matter all that much, and during the week when the streets are a shitshow everyone just drives in them anyway so they don’t really matter all that much either.
Ultimately it’s about cultivating a good attitude and building a Bike Lane Of The Mind.
Anyway, it was a very pleasant journey–though we did hitch a ride back, and I was impressed the Saris SuperClamp accommodated both of these rather large bicycles with virtually no finagling:
Good thing I didn’t run afoul of the “Tyre Extinguishers.”