Expanding Your Reach

When the archaeologists of the future excavate our society and find our hieroglyphs, what do you think they’ll make of this one?

It’s clearly a human figure. Above it is another smaller human on a bicycle, and below it is an arrow indicating his crotch. I suppose a lot will depend on whether whatever civilization succeeds ours still uses bikes. If so, maybe they’ll work it out eventually. If not, they may just assume it’s a pictograph describing how babies are made.

And what will they think of the tiny houses we built for birds?

Birds don’t need us to build them houses, and yet we do it anyway:

In fact, not only do we build them houses, but we then create bird housing programs and tell people they don’t get to build the birds houses without first obtaining permission from the government:

Why? Are the houses subject to the building code? Does the county need to assess them in order to levy taxes on them? Or is it simply a matter of ensuring the houses are in keeping with the character of the neighborhood?

I mean you wouldn’t want someone coming a long and building one of these:

I’m assuming those birds are Photoshopped in there. No way a bird would go anywhere near that thing, it looks way too much like something you’d find at a chicken joint:

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this quote before, but we are talking about birds here so I’ll mention it again:

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

Instead, not only do we obsess about our own worries and desires too much, but we then project them onto the birds. And there’s your $289 Bauhaus birdhouse.

Meanwhile, the birds do what they want, when they want, and how they want to do it:

Just as NIMBYs will fight all new development yet build houses for the birds, motorists are more considerate towards geese crossing the street with goslings than they are towards human parents crossing with children.

As for me, if I’m going to fritter away my time I’d much rather ride bikes than build birdhouses:

Having renewed our vows, the newly-refinished Milwaukee and I are still very much in the honeymoon phase, and you’ve got to admit the color really looks great against an algae backdrop:

If you’re a traditionalist, it’s very easy to ascribe sinister motives to the bike industry, which is why I try to maintain perspective and give it the benefit of the doubt. At the same time, consider the medium reach brake:

Literature is replete with symbols of guilt. “Out, damn spot!,” utters Lady Macbeth. “I admit the deed! –tear up the planks! here, here! –It is the beating of his hideous heart!,” cries, uh, the guy from “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The bike industry should be similarly tormented by the medium reach brake, which on road bikes solves all of the problems the disc brake purports to solve, but which they resolutely refused to stock on any their bicycles. Instead, all the road bikes had short reach brakes with no clearance, or else if it was a drop bar bike with clearance it had cantilevers.

Now, I can assure you I have nothing but fondness and appreciation for the cantilever brake:

However, there’s no denying that if you’re not the hands-on type they can be a hassle. So when the bike industry started cranking out “comfort” road bikes in the early aughts, how come they didn’t just put medium reach brakes on them? Instead, either they made a bike with a tall headtube but the same short reach brakes and concomitant lack of tire and fender clearance, or a “touring” or “cyclocross” or “touring and/or cyclocross” bike with cantis. Consider Specialized–who, being Specialized–would have you believe they invented the idea of the comfortable road bike:

Yet it had short reach brakes! In retrospect, it’s insane that the medium reach brake was not the standard for all but the most hyper-focussed race bikes. There’s no discernible difference in performance between a short reach and a medium reach brake, and you could probably make up for the weight difference with a closer shave. Yet they easily accommodate 32mm tires:

Or fenders:

Both of which I’ve used often on this bike over the years.

I’m sure more knowledgeable people will list all the mainstream bikes that came with medium reach brakes that I’m missing, but as far as I remember over the past 25 years the only production road bike that leaps to mind (at least here in AMERICA) is the Giant Defy–which I seem to remember had them, but I wouldn’t swear to it:

Bicycling actually invited me to participate in that year’s Editors’ Choice confab–I was invited by then editor-in-chief Peter Flax, who has since disavowed me. For the record, this was the best bike that I rode while I was there, and even if I’m remembering wrong about the brakes it also stood out because it was the only bike I rode that had 25mm tires! How times have changed.

But yes, that aside, as far as producing sporty road bikes that also had decent clearance and brakes that didn’t require a protractor and an hour reading Sheldon Brown to adjust, all the bike industry had to do was design them with medium reach brakes across the board. Instead, they just played dumb and pretended there was nothing they could do about it…until they needed a brake system that worked with their stupid crabon rims, and then suddenly it was bikes with CLEARANCE, CLEARANCE, CLEARANCE!!!

Well hey, waddya know, wider tires were faster after all, now isn’t that CONVENIENT!?!

Of course you could have been riding those wire tires all along. But you need wider rims to enjoy the wider tires, right? And that requires disc brakes, doesn’t it? I dunno–even plump tire pusher Jan Heine himself says narrow rims are just fine.

Oddly the industry never seems to have taken a small tweak to the existing standard (a slightly longer brake) seriously, yet once they came up with something that required you to get new everything the tires puffed up like I do when I eat wheat:

I guess we’ve just got to keep building those birdhouses.

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