Classic Cycle Thursdays: Special 3D Edition!

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When last we met I’d just executed a cockpit swap on the Softride:

Well, shortly after that I headed out for a ride, and you can put on your 3D glasses…

,,,wait for it…


Hey, I didn’t say they’d actually do anything, did I?

Anyway, liberated of both that tortuous saddle and that contortionist cockpit, the Softride was…well it was still ugly:

However, as far as ride quality goes, it was a bike transformed. It felt fast and nimble, and without that ridiculous spring-loaded stem I could actually hop over stuff without feeling like I was jumping on a pogo stick. Moreover, it was the first day of spring, and I could sense it in everything around me; the air was chilly, but the sun shone brightly, and while the landscape was still barren I could feel it was pregnant with new life that would eventually sting me, cause my nose to run, and give me rashes:

The only problem was an occasional skipping in certain gears:

This was nothing new; it had been happening since I took delivery of the bike. I hadn’t been able to adjust it out of those horrid XTR shifters, but I figured the problem would disappear with the switch to friction, so I was surprised that it persisted. Stopping for a closer look, I then noticed that the chain appeared to be an 8-speed:

So either the 9-speed cassette doesn’t like the chain because it’s an 8-speed, or maybe it’s just worn, or maybe both, or maybe neither. Who knows? I suppose I’ll throw another chain on there, but to be honest it already feels kinda weird lavishing so much attention on this thing–not like putting lipstick on a pig exactly, but more like bathing one. In the case of both the swine and the Softride the thing’s gonna just wallow in mud until I eventually send it off to slaughter, so why bother?

But here’s the thing about pigs: they may be ugly, but they’re also intelligent and delicious. Similarly, the absurd-looking Softride is in fact a lot of fun to ride. You’d think it would be heavy, ponderous, and bouncy, but in fact in its new guise it all feels rather taut eager and it really wants to scamper:

As I mentioned in a previous post, Paul had suggested moving the saddle forward to reduce the ass-leverage catapult factor and sort of “tighten up” the beam. This seems to have worked; I do not feel like I’m bobbing too much while I’m pedaling at all, even when climbing. As I suspected, the bendy bamboo bars also complement the beam nicely, and the overall effect is that you feel comfy riding over moderately rough terrain while seated–and yet the bike otherwise behaves like a good old-fashioned rigid. Of course as I’ve also pointed out, all of this is exquisitely pointless, since you can get pretty much the same effect with a Brooks saddle and/or higher-volume tires–not to mention a longer wheelbase, though of course you can’t exactly retrofit that to your bike. Certainly my Rivendae and my Jones achieve more or less this same effect without resorting to a great big unsightly lizard tongue or having to move the saddle way forward. But that’s not the point; the point is that the much-maligned Softride is in no way beyond redemption, and like some sort of mangy stray mongrel it can even endear itself to you and make for an enjoyable (if unsightly and embarrassing) companion.

And of all the things I was right about when planning the cockpit swap, I was probably most right about the shifters, which have gone from being one of the worst things about the bike to being one of the best:

Chain-skipping notwithstanding (which is not the shifter’s fault anyway), they work and feel great, with the added benefit of looking like little goat horns or a pair of angry eyebrows.

After about an hour or so of flat, straight dirt scampering I arrived at some tight, twisty trails that run down the side of a steepish hill:

The bike was fun and playful in the manner of an essentially rigid 26-inch mountain bike, though its delightful willingness to scurry on flat terrain did not exactly translate into a confidence-inspiring ride in this context–after all, the bike is from a time when people hadn’t yet figured out a mountain bike shouldn’t try to throw you over the bars when you ride over a log, and so it is far from stable. Similarly, the beam is especially useless for actual mountain biking, since it does nothing to enhance traction or comfort when you’re out of the saddle (or arguably even when you’re in it), and serves only to introduce a maximum rider weight:

Between myself and my backpack, I’m not entirely confident that I was within that limit, but such are the risks one must take when one is an Old Crap Test Pilot.

Speaking of the beam, “choking up” on the saddle position does mean the end of it sticks out in the back and makes you look like you have a tail:


I highly recommend those shants for mixed-terrain scurrying, by the way.

So after all this, what do we make of the Softride?

Well, I would reiterate my assertion that the beam is almost entirely pointless, and that the original stem is not fit for use as a self-closing door hinge, let alone a bicycle component:

And yet, is the concept of suspending the rider instead of the bike all that crazy?

Well, not according to Specialized, who have recently repackaged it:

Or Cane Creek, who will sell you a bunch of expensive parts that essentially do the same thing:

And what about the beam? As I said, I wasn’t bouncing around on it, and there were times when pushing a big gear over a rough patch of trail or climbing while seated I even imagined it was helping to propel me. Isn’t that what Jan Heine calls “planing?”

Believe me, I’m not saying you should run out and get a Softride. But I am saying that the concept is completely in line with the most au courant bullshit thinking in the bicycle industry, and that if you’re all tight in the crotch over the latest Diverge but you think the Softride is a rolling joke then you’re deluding yourself, because you can’t embrace one without the other:

Also, this freakshow of a frame must be 30 years old. Sure, it’s a beam failure away from uselessness, but it hasn’t happened yet, and otherwise it accepts components that are common and cheap. Let’s see how many suspend-the-rider S-Wanks Divulges are still rolling around in 2053.

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