I like that phrase. It means absolutely nothing to us really, nothing tangible anyway, but it certainly gets the message across. I find it funny how we Brits have to measure everything in our own colloquial unit system to give it some kind of bizarre real world meaning. The Europeans must really struggle with our unit “collection” (seems more appropriate than system). Inches, feet, miles, ounces and pounds are all easily convertible with a little help from Google, but how many Europeans have even seen a Route Master, let alone weighed one and when it comes to the size of a football pitch are we talking Highbury or Wembley?
The mind boggles.
Thankfully for us, despite a recent influx of European brands into the UK, their marketing departments haven’t felt the need to translate their techy sales jargon from SI units into something we English can understand. As a recent engineering graduate I feel that publishing BB stiffness in Nm/degree is correct scientifically. However, I can’t help but feel that this is about as useful to the end user as elephants/inch or something even more elaborately English. I mean what the hell does it mean? Order of magnitude is an important consideration and although the numbers allow us to make comparisons to other bikes does anyone know if 90Nm/deg. is good or not? Is 7% stiffer than last years “stiff” still “stiff” or is it now “uber stiff”, if only till next year? I can’t help but feel that brands are using a safety in numbers approach, designing bikes to a test rig, not to the road or the user. I would love to be shot down if I am wrong…
I recently picked up a copy of “World of Mountain Biking”, a Future Publishing MTB magazine for the German market. There was a really nice piece by Steve Worland translated into German called “50 products that have changed mountain biking” (excuse the poor translation if you’re reading Steve). You might be surprised to hear that it wasn’t 50 framesets achieving incremental weight and stiffness advantages from the Schwinn Excelsior onwards, but primarily products that change how we interact with the bike and our cycling environment. Yeah sure there was a Trek OCLV frame in there but so was the Crud Catcher and Biopace chainrings. It was an excellent piece which really showed an appreciation of the importance of the “soft” things which affect our cycling experience.
Here’s a clearer example: sure Tom Boonen has a faster bike than Eddy Merckx did in his career (approximately 0.000428 Double-deckers lighter if you’re curious), but does that mean Boonen has had more enjoyment from his cycling experience than Eddie did? I doubt it. I often think about how little has changed in bike design in the last 100 years. A few materials advances aside really the bicycle hasn’t changed much at all; a series of 6 nodes in 2D are connected by essentially straight tubes. Mike Burrows impressed upon me many years ago that the reason bikes haven’t changed much is because they are already pretty close to “ideal”. A good point from someone who clearly understood marginal gains theory (think Lotus bike) and (perhaps) as a result has switched to riding ‘bents; about the only way you can achieve an un-marginal gain.
I recently read that Mr Merckx only found out he had one leg longer than the other 20 years after his racing career had finished. Now I am no biomechanics expert but I think this has probably has made more difference to his cycling experience than one of his current range of bikes can versus his old Peugeot. All those niggles and pains evaporated with a simple cleat shim at the expense of circa 9grams extra to push up the Tourmalet. Not a bad deal I reckon. So I won’t grumble next time someone charges £120 for a bike fit or it turns out that a heavier saddle fits my hips better. I might even not be so jealous of that man’s 404s next time I am on a start line.
My point? Enjoy the bike you’ve got, especially if it’s a Peugeot.