Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Is It Really Mansplaining?


I’ll confess, I’ve been accused of mansplaining. This term has been gaining in popularity since Rebecca Solnit published Men Explain Things to Me, but the act of mansplaining is as old as the hills. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, mansplaining is when a man, on the automatic assumption that he knows more than the woman he’s talking to, takes it upon himself to patiently and helpfully explain something to her, unbidden. Typically, he takes it for granted that a) her knowledge on the subject is lacking compared to his, and b) she is actually looking for guidance. To the extent his assumptions are unfounded, his explication is annoying.

Am I a chronic mansplainer? Well, that depends on where you draw the boundaries. To some, such as my teenage daughters, if a man explains something to a female, he’s automatically mansplaining. This post is about defining the boundaries a bit more accurately.

But first…

Before I get into what I believe is and isn’t mansplaining, I’d like to defend—to a point—the mansplainer. As I see it, his act isn’t rooted in “toxic masculinity” or any ill will toward women; that is, mansplaining is not equivalent to retrograde ideas like “a woman’s place is in the home.” The mansplainer is sincerely trying to help, and wants, I suspect, to seem useful and knowledgeable. He’s trying to impress, sure, but not to degrade. Of course, his assumption that the woman knows less than he, and desires his counsel, is degrading, but inadvertently. So the mansplainer is certainly clueless, but not, I think, malevolent.

As an example, consider this “New Yorker” cartoon showing three knights giving advice to Joan of Arc upon discovering she’s a woman. They’re all smiling earnestly, naturally expecting their counsel to be warmly received (never mind that Joan of Arc is a far more badass warrior than any of them).

Other types of -splaining

I would argue that many false charges of mansplaining stem from a simple lack, so far, of more precise labels. Just as the term “mansplaining” was itself long overdue, I think other terms ought to be created. I’m going to take a shot at this; after all, albertnet has been described as “the most influential linguistic-themed blog on the Internet” by … well, nobody. But still.


I was driving with my younger daughter on hard-packed snow recently, and explained to her about the Winter Mode in my car, and about using Geartronic to slow the car down via compression, rather than relying solely on the brakes. “Nice mansplaining,” she said.

Now, it is true that I’m a man (well, a guy at least) and that I was talking to a female. But was it unreasonable for me to assume that she didn’t know all about Winter Mode and Geartronic? Not at all … she’s only fifteen. One litmus test for mansplaining would be to swap out the recipient of the explanation: if I might just as well be explaining things in the same words to a male listener, then it’s not mansplaining. (And if I were the kind of old-fashioned dad who only explained car stuff to his sons and not to his daughters, the lack of explanation would be more sexist than what my daughter described as mansplaining.)

But what about the other assumption common with mansplaining: that the explanation will be automatically welcomed? Well, that’s where the fact of my being a parent comes in. The reality is, almost no information or advice given by any parent is welcomed by a teenaged offspring. As such, explaining how to drive in snow is no more or less welcome than showing your kid how to floss. So my lecture on Winter Mode and slowing the car via its transmission isn’t mansplaining, it’s dadsplaining. I assume my audience is less informed not because she’s female but because all teenagers are fairly clueless, and I offer the advice not because I expect that it’s welcome, but because giving advice is just what parents do. (The good ones at least.)


My older daughter is a cyclist. I once described to her how to position her cranks and pedals, and where to put her weight, when taking curves on a bumpy trail, contrasting this to how you carve a turn on a road bike. She instantly replied, “Way to mansplain, Dad.” Gee, knee-jerk reaction much?  I immediately dadsplained to her that when a cycling coach (which I am) describes a point of technique to a budding racer, that’s not mansplaining. “Would you have given that same advice to a boy?” she challenged me. I replied (honestly), “I would, and in fact I have.”

But is a coach’s advice always welcome? This depends on the athlete, I suppose. In the case of a high school cycling team, the athletes are teenagers, and it’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that teenagers don’t want to be told anything by any adult, even a coach. In this sense, the advice I’m providing—though it isn’t based on an assumption of feminine ignorance—does meet the standard for being unsolicited, so it’s perhaps half as annoying as mansplaining. So going forward I’ll plead guilty to coachsplaining if I’m called out by one of my riders. But is all coachsplaining also mansplaining? Definitely not.

(In this case, with my daughter, I was simultaneously dadsplaining and coachsplaining. One might argue that any advice from a dad will be taken as dadsplaining, which is true, but I think these terms are additive, not exclusive. She might be more inclined to follow the advice I provide in my coaching capacity.)


Before I get into geeksplaining I suppose I should clarify the sense of geek that I have in mind. One definition of geek is a person who bites the heads off of live chickens as a circus act. Another sense is pretty much synonymous with nerd or dork. But I’m talking about the modern sense of geek as “a person who is single-minded or accomplished in scientific or technical pursuits but is felt to be socially inept” (as the American Heritage Dictionary defines it).

My poor wife has had to put up with a lot of geeksplaining, because I’m an incurable bike geek. When I blather away on, say, the tricky matter of whether a compact crank should be off-limits to an accomplished cyclist, she has no choice but to gently cut me off by saying something like, “This interview is over” or “Don’t ever talk to me about bike gearing again.” In this case my bike-oriented monologue isn’t coachsplaining, because it’s obvious the information I’m imparting is useless to my audience. The problem is, sometimes I just can’t help myself. As William Wordsworth wrote, all good cycling lore is “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” Oh, wait—he said that about poetry, not bike talk. But the phenomenon is the same: I get overwhelmed with the pure technical satisfaction of bike arcana and just can’t keep it to myself.

At least geeksplaining isn’t sexist. Certainly it derives from irresponsible assumptions about the (would-be) listener, but the geeksplainer isn’t patronizing … his error consists of giving his audience too much credit for being able (and willing) to follow the explanation. My wife geeksplains too, usually on the topic of botany, and sometimes I get tired of uh-huh’ing and mm-hmm’ing and have to say something like, “Your mention of a single leaf blade vein reminds me of the single-chainring one-by-eleven drivetrains that are starting to dominate the mountain biking scene,” as a gentle reminder that I’m getting bored.


Do kids go out of their way to explain things to adults, on the assumption that we’re clueless? Well, they sure could; after all, there’s no way for us to keep track of, say, their rapidly evolving teen vernacular. But remember, at the root of mansplaining is a desire to be helpful. That’s essentially the antithesis of what it means to be a teenager. We adults, and parents in particular, will never be offered free information.

That said, teens do enjoy showcasing their exasperation at our ignorance. They’ll say, “Wait, you really mean to tell me you’ve never heard of ‘shipping’? Are you kidding me?!” or “You’ve never heard the word ‘swole’? Please tell me you’re joking.” They won’t tell us what these words mean, but they do take some effort to establish that they are far more knowledgeable than us adults.

There is one notable exception to this no-explaining guideline. When the subject of college admissions comes up, and specifically the incontrovertible fact that it’s waaaay harder to get into a good college now, you can count on an ambitious high school senior to kidsplain you half to death. (But you deserve it, since in your day top universities were practically giving away degrees and you know it.)


Is blogsplaining a thing? Are there wannabe writers out there who take it upon themselves to assume that there’s this vast Internet audience that knows less than they do about just about any topic, so it’s worth spewing forth a lot of (let’s face it) lightly or barely researched information because these vast hoards of readers are thirsty for it? Well, in that regard I think this post pretty much speaks for itself. Go ahead and light me up in the Comments section below. I know I’ve got it coming.

A note to my readers

A milestone came and went recently that I forgot to notice: the tenth anniversary of albertnet!  I probably should have celebrated by putting up crepe paper and balloons and giving my readers free food, or at least a big discount.  But this is only a blog and it’s free, so (as I often tell my kids) you’ll get nothing, and like it.

Okay, fine, here are some balloons.

For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Race Report - 2019 Fort Ord CCCX XC MTB


On my road cycling team, we have a tradition of sending around race reports, which detail everything about our races, starting with our goals, the way we tailored our training program to them, a mile-by-mile analysis of the race Strava file, a deep discourse on how the tactics played out, and an absorbing lesson in what worked, what didn’t, and what we’ll try next time.

Wait, don’t leave! I was just kidding! All we actually write about is what we ate before and after, what we washed it down with, whether or not we hurled, and perhaps a few words about the race itself if and only if anything amusing happened. And because we’re all getting too old to spend a lot of time reading, we start with very brief summaries and work up from there. This report details my first mountain bike race in almost a year, the CCCX race at Fort Ord near Monterey, California. I raced with the Category 2 age 45+ group.

Executive summary
  • I had 1.5 dinners the night before and (this time) no beer
  • Race-day weather was iffy but basically dry other than my left foot; 
  • I suffered mightily but vaguely, due to the data-free, non-electronic void I found myself involuntarily plunged into; 
  • I lost the race but ate well afterward; 
  • Judging by the increasing itch on my legs, I might have been exposed to poison oak again.
Executive haiku

As head coach of my daughter’s high school mountain bike team, the Albany High Cougars, I commanded my daughter to solicit, in her capacity as team captain, race reports from her teammates. These can be as brief as the kids want and will ultimately get combined into a single, anonymous literary mash-up. So far she’s received only two contributions: mine and a (clean) limerick from another coach. Kids these days. Sheesh.

My contribution to the Cougar team report included this haiku:

Bikers out in force
Plucky Cougars kick it off
Crazy, kick-ass course

(The “it” in the second line refers to the bike racing season, this being the students’ first race of the year. It’ll be my last as well … the high school races don’t have any grown-up categories.)

Short version 

Race stats: 19.6 miles (vs. 23.2 last year), 1,608 vertical feet climbed (vs. 2,343 last year), ~1:25:00 race time (estimated – my bike computer died right before the race). Here’s the map and the elevation profile, like you care. 

    Pre-race Dinner: Cream of asparagus soup; hella bread & butter; 2/3 plate fettuccine Alfredo with chicken (not as good as what I make); at least half a plate of my daughter’s pasta (the most expensive one on the menu because that’s just how she rolls, with lots of seafood in it; she must have filled up on bread), including some delicious (and doubtless farmed) salmon, at Gino’s in Salinas (slogan: “Sorry our parking lot is so small”)

    Breakfast: A bunch of banana bread; several unwise bites of a burrito from the previous day’s lunch that had spent the night in the car; two cups motel coffee, black

    During race: two sleeves Clif shot blox: one Acai Berry & Rose Hips flavor, one Frankincense & Tea Tree Oil (actually, they might have been Mountain Berry and Salted Water Buffalo, er, Watermelon)

    Glycogen window treat: Clover chocolate milk – da bomb! Also some birthday cake that another team, in a neighboring tent, brought by. I love the plate … the kid’s mom must have forgotten he’s not 10 years old anymore.

    Lunch (post-race): hot-off-the-grill cheeseburger that was just dripping fat (in the best possible way); one half of a secondhand burger from my daughter that was starting to congeal (in a way that had its charms, actually); a hunk of tri-tip (if you’re not from California and haven’t heard of tri-tip, just think of it as steak that is better that what you’re getting); a hot dog that was weirdly salty, even by my standards, but good

    Dinner (post-race): Asian-ish noodles with tofu; sautéed bok choy; a bunch of chips and salsa because I’m getting back in touch with my inner fat bastard after dropping some weight for this race; one Lagunitas Maximus IPA featured in this official post-race Beck’st:

    I couldn’t get my head right for this race, for the longest time. I finally located my mojo during the last five minutes of my warm-up. I suffered pretty seriously, though not as much as last year because it was a demonstrably easier course (less climbing, shorter overall). I just missed the podium (i.e., came in sixth place), which was a bit of a letdown until I remembered that nobody cares anyway and I shouldn’t either.

    Long version

    The suffering started about three weeks before the race, because a) I stopped drinking beer, figuring it’d be a lot easier to lose weight than to build strength, and b) I fretted unduly about racing poorly. It’s an old story: I was pleased with my race last year and feared I wouldn’t live up to the new standard I’d set for myself.

    On top of that, my derailleur hanger broke during practice the week before the race, throwing my preparation into a tailspin. You’d think it’d be easy to scrounge up a new derailleur hanger but it turns out they’re almost as unique, one to the next, as snowflakes. Everyone recommended a different source for a replacement: Wheels Manufacturing, North Shore Billet, Amazon, some place in Italy, some place in France … by the time someone said, “Have you tried derailleurhanger.com?”  I thought he was joking—but he wasn’t. Thinking I wouldn’t get to (i.e., have to) race came as a relief, so then of course I fell into a deep pit of self-loathing over being relieved. Then the race got canceled (due to down trees on the course), so we postponed until the following week for the next race in the series, by which time the replacement derailleur hanger had arrived and I got to (i.e., had to) race after all.

    There was a mix-up at the motel, the Howard Johnson. I had reserved two queen beds but was given a single king. They kept saying they couldn’t upgrade me without charging more money, and I kept showing them my confirmation (on my phone) with the original price, for two beds. They kept saying that couldn’t be my confirmation because it purported to be directly from their website, whereas, they insisted, I’d booked through booking.com—which I hadn’t. I say “they” because a supervisor got involved. He was on the phone with the home office for a good while before figuring out the problem: they were simply looking at the wrong reservation. Seems a guy with a slightly similar name, Dennis Abraham or some such, had checked in earlier and they gave him my room, and then gave me his. They actually misread his name as mine, and vice-versa: the same category of error, twice in one day. “This explains why Dennis came down earlier to complain about not getting a king-size bed!” the guy said triumphantly, as though spending 20 minutes ironing out such a stupid mistake should be some kind of bonding experience for us both. 

    I woke in the morning to this weather:

    Fortunately, the rain subsided, though the race course was mighty wet. The whole morning my head was just filled with all this negative BS about my lack of fitness and the unsuitability of the course to my strengths (due to less climbing than last year). Yes, of course you’re correct: if I’m not fit, the lack of climbing is actually a boon. (The wimp who takes over my brain is also an idiot.) Fortunately my warm-up on the stationary trainer finally turned things around. Once I started to suffer, the sheer familiarity of the pain and high heart rate set things right. I became more robotic, which is a big step up from actually thinking. Plus I had the right music—my workout megamix—and in particular the Lil Wayne song “Mr. Carter” which is one of my favorites. I’ve never been able to figure out what, if anything, the song is about. It’s just a lot of blather, but really good blather.

    I got a really cool race number this year: 151. Why is that cool? Well, I told the kids I like it because it’s palindromic. That was my official story. The real reason I liked it is because this number shows up in some really cool music lyrics as a reference to a (now discontinued) brand of overproof Bacardi rum. In the song “One Mic,” Nas describes how his rap is “Pure, like a cup of virgin blood, mixed with/ 151, one sip’ll make a [fella] flip.” (Yeah, 151 is strong—it’s 75.5% alcohol.) Bob Schneider sings about a guy who is “Hard as boardwalk bubblegum/ And smooth as 151.” So, to live up to this number plate, my job was to be strong and smooth.

    Was I strong? Well, it wasn’t too bad. I did find that on the climbs I could put the hurt on people. I’d heard these climbs described as “really long” but they seemed really short. I think that’s the beauty of eating like a pig all the time and drinking beer but still riding bikes: you have to haul that around all that extra weight during training, and then when you start living sensibly three weeks before a race, and the pounds melt off, you still have some strength left over. (Not to overstate anything, of course, since I didn’t even make the podium.)

    Was I smooth? Well, I picked the right lines and never came to a stop or had to dab my foot, which is saying something because the course was pretty muddy and had some pretty sketchy uphill sections. Wow, I just realized how boring this is. Sorry.

    Eating was a bit of a problem, so when I found a fairly smooth stretch I ate most of an entire sleeve of Clif shot blox at once. This basically cemented my mouth shut for awhile, and left this thick film of blox goo (bloxfilm?) on my teeth, which improved my performance due to its sweetness. (Click here for details.)

    I had great support in the feed zone. It was a cool day and the laps were short, but I still went through 3½ bottles in four laps.

    There was this lone course marshal in the far-flung regions of the course, and I’d pass him twice per lap. He had this cow-bell he would ring like crazy, which was inordinately uplifting.

    There were several very deep puddles on the course that we’d bomb through, sending water gushing up everywhere like one of those amusement park water rides. Oddly, only my trailing foot would get splashed. By the end of the race I had a drenched left foot and a bone-dry right foot.

    The skies looked ominous the whole day, and we got sprinkled on by just a bit of rain, but ultimately the weather held out the whole race.

    Other than some crazy fast descents, nothing that exciting happened (other than going almost anaerobic by the top of every climb) until the last lap. My teammate Dean, a fellow coach, had won his Cat 3 race earlier in the day with a well-timed attack on the final climb, and said the climb suited our team perfectly (living, as we do, in a really hilly place such that every single ride prepares us for climbing). On the last lap of my race, I saw this guy I’d remembered from the start line and had been chasing for the whole race (though most of the time he was too far ahead to even see). He raced for the Woodside Beasts, a rival high school team, meaning he’s a coach too. I started to close in on him on the final climb, right toward the end of the race. It looked like I wasn’t gaining fast enough and that he’d hold me off, except that I could tell he was just dying.

    I dug deep, deeper, and deepest, and literally 50 feet from the end of the climb I finally passed him. Damn, what a sucker-punch! I’ll bet he’s still pissed off about it! Now was the tricky part—holding him off on the fast, technical descent to the finish line. I’m not that great a descender because my wife would kill me if I crashed. I went for broke, and presently on a narrow single-track section came up on a young high school girl who wasn’t going that fast. I knew if I got stuck behind her, the Beast would catch up and surely pass me in the twisty bits near the finish line. On the other hand, there was no place to pass except the thick bramble alongside the trail. Bramble is a notoriously tricky surface to ride on, because the ground can be really bumpy, even rock-infested, beneath the brush, and you won’t know until you’re on it. I took the gamble, and though it was indeed bumpy—my bike heaved like a bucking bronco—I made it past the girl, returned to the single-track, and never saw the Beast again.

    I came across the finish line in a world of hurt, lungs burning, chest heaving, and Dean said, “Would you like me to take your bike?” I thought that was a great suggestion but couldn’t figure out how to make it happen. Dean had vanished! Where did he go? Oh, he’s back there! I finally realized that I needed to actually stop my bike. It’s just that I had forgotten how.

    For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

    Thursday, February 7, 2019

    Counterpoint - Shimano and Campy “Design Blunders”


    An alert reader sent me an article from “road.cc” magazine that isn’t very recent but is timeless: “Retro: Shimano and Campagnolo’s greatest design blunders.” I found the story interesting and entertaining, but I take issue with a few of its points. (As a blogger, this is kind of my job.)  If you’re a bike geek, read on. If not, bail out now and go back to your Sudoku, your yoga, or your Arduino, so you can feel all superior.

    Campagnolo Delta brakes

    Delta brakes were the “road.cc” article’s headliner. “Looked great, worked indifferently, weighed lots,” we’re told. To be honest, I’m not in love with the looks:

    I never got to try these myself; even though most of my friends and I had pretty sweet bikes by 1986, we couldn’t afford top-of-the-line C-Record. Actually, at that time I had a full Dura-Ace equipped Team Miyata and a Campy Super Record equipped Mercian, so I could have swung the Delta brakes had I really wanted them. But I was growing disenchanted with Campagnolo’s sudden spasm of innovation, which brought us lots of low-end components, bizarre designs, and eventually the Syncro indexed shifter, which was about as well-made and well-received as the movie “Gigli.”

    Though I’d heard Delta brakes didn’t work that well, I sure don’t remember seeing any footage of riders totally stacking because of them. Back then, cyclists (at least, my friends and I) cared mostly about brand, weight, durability, and serviceability—we could forgive less-than-perfect function. For example, it was widely acknowledged even in the early ‘80s that Dura-Ace derailleurs actually shifted better than Campy, but most people didn’t really care—they loved how durable, serviceable, and no-nonsense Campy was. Meanwhile, it was well known that Suntour Superbe Pro brakes, with their weird orange-brown pads, only worked well in dry conditions, but nobody seemed to begrudge them this.

    Where I can’t agree with “road.cc” is their calling Delta brakes a design blunder. Sure, these brakes were a nightmare for mechanics, but couldn’t we say the same thing about Sturmey-Archer 3-speed internal-geared hubs, which were phenomenally popular for decades? Okay, I’ll grant that Delta brakes were possibly the first factory recall Campagnolo ever had. But to knock them for their overcomplicated design is to wrongly assume that their main job was to provide optimum braking performance to pro racers. That’s kind of backwards: it was the pro teams’ job to use and promote whatever their sponsors gave them. And while these brakes were heavy didn’t work that well, they had one thing totally going for them: they were distinctive.

    I challenge anybody to deny that the Delta brakeset was the most recognizable bike component anyone ever made. You could spot them a mile away. And since pro road teams didn’t generally mix and match components, the Delta brakes signified that the whole bike was Campy-equipped. This was important for Campagnolo because after years of dominance (as of 1986, 16 of the previous 20 Tours de France had been won on Campagnolo equipment), they were suddenly being seriously challenged by totally reengineered Dura-Ace and Mavic components. Lots of budget-conscious riders had been riding Suntour components for years, but now Campagnolo was battling to maintain leadership at the high end. (Over time they have certainly lost their prominence; amazingly, only 2 of the last 20 Tours de France were won on Campy-equipped bikes.)

    In the mid-’80s, for Campagnolo to show the casual observer they were still on top demanded that their gear totally stand out, and at this job the Delta brake did brilliantly. Check out this famous cycling photo:

    It’s plainly obvious what components Stephen Roche was riding when he won the 1987 World Championship road race. Adding the logo on this Campagnolo ad was almost beside the point:

    Who cares if highly skilled pro racers had a harder time braking? Using Delta brakes enhanced their ability to showcase their sponsor’s product line, which was their job, after all. To the extent this improved sales for Campagnolo, the revenue growth was probably in the rapidly growing lower-end groups like Victory, Triomphe, and Athena, which had traditional brakes that worked fine. In other words, the crummy design of Delta brakes probably helped the company without hurting anyone.

    When Campagnolo finally retired the Delta brakes and needed something else to differentiate their C-Record brakeset from lower models, they gave it a fake blue gemstone in the center nut and called them Cobalto.

    These were a big step backward aesthetically, particularly because the gemstone wasn’t a real stone—it was a cheesy-looking fake, affixed to the (flat-topped) center nut with adhesive. In other words, it was basically a sticker, and these stickers tended to fall off. I remember ribbing a friend about all the Cracker Jack he was going to have to buy to find another set of Cobalto “stones.”

    Actual braking be damned … the Delta brakes at least did one thing well.

    Shimano Dyna-Drive pedals

    I also cannot agree with “road.cc” that Dyna-Drive pedals were a blunder. I loved these pedals and used them until 1992 (i.e., 8 years after they were discontinued). Alexi Grewal loved them too, and in fact used them on the otherwise Suntour-equipped bike he rode to victory in the 1984 Olympic road race. (Since they weren’t standard issue for his team bike, he probably paid for his Dyna-Drive setup—pedals, crankset, and bottom bracket—out of his own pocket.)

    Why did I like Dyna-Drive pedals? Is it because, as “road.cc” attests, they cornered better? Naw, that was never the point. The benefit was that they enabled you to lower your saddle by two centimeters, for better aerodynamics. For a tall guy, it was great—you could get a better draft. I finally didn’t feel as much like a big gawky dork sticking out above the peloton. (I know I’ve left myself wide open here … please add your insult in the Comments section below.)

    Dyna-Drive pedals also offered an adjustable toe clip, which no other pedal did at that time, and they were light. And yeah, they also did have better cornering clearance (especially the Dura-Ace AX version). Meanwhile, by having no axle, these pedals put your foot right at the axis of rotation, instead of above it. This just felt better. Why? Hard to describe, but think of a unicycle … pretty ungainly, right? Now think of one of those “giraffe” unicycles, where the rider is way up in the air, with his bottom bracket at least a couple feet above the wheel axle. Waaaay more unstable. That’s kind of how my foot felt on a traditional pedal, compared to the Dyna-Drive.

    Another benefit of this no-axle arrangement is that it was really easy to get your foot into the toe clip. Maybe this wasn’t a huge deal, but if you ever rode with toe clips you know how tricky that could be, giving the toe clip just the right downward tap to spin the pedal around so you could jam your foot in at the right point in the spin. Screwing this up at the start of a criterium was a perennial danger, and I never screwed it up with the Dyna-Drives.

    Yeah, the bearings were hard to adjust, and needed servicing more often than, say, a Campy pedal, but compared to overhauling a Dura-Ace Octalink bottom bracket, or seating a new tubeless mountain bike tire, or truing a modern wheel with its paucity of spokes, this was really no big deal. I was such a vocal fan of this system, my nickname on the UC Santa Barbara cycling team was “Dana-Drive.”

    (I do wholeheartedly agree with the comment “road.cc” made about how pedals, with their ubiquitous 9/16” thread diameter, are “the last true standard in bike parts.” Check out these three pedals, from the 1960s-era monstrosity to one of the last high-end non-clipless pedals to a fairly current Dura-Ace … any of them could be installed just fine on my old three-speed’s cottered crank.)

    Shimano Biopace chainrings

    Don’t get me wrong, I always thought Biopace was a completely lame innovation. But when “road.cc” describes it as “ill-fated” I have to protest. This is one of those products that is so universally reviled in retrospect, nobody wants to admit having ever embraced it. It’s kind of the bike industry equivalent of the expression “YOLO.” Everybody groans at how utterly stupid that expression was, and yet it was insanely popular—for a time. As the “Huffington Post” reported, “the expression ... quickly went from a simple motivational phrase to a social death wish.” In contrast, Biopace, though similarly denounced by bike veterans now, was hugely popular for almost a decade, from 1983 to 1993. I worked at bike shops for much of this period, and I can tell you, Biopace chainrings (and their down-market cousin, SR OvalTech) were everywhere. They were a real pestilence.

    Why did I hate them? Well, for one thing, they made adjusting a front derailleur really hard. Derailleurs of that era were barely up to the task to begin with, and setting them high enough to clear the tallest tooth created a big gap for other parts of the chainring. Given other common problems certain bike models had, like bad chain lines, getting the front derailleur to shift well with Biopace rings became a real chore.

    The other problem with these stupid oval rings was that they put me in a tough moral position. When customers came to the shop looking to buy a set (or, as happened surprisingly often, using Biopace as an excuse to buy a whole new bike), I had to pretend to support the idea. “My doctor says these will reduce knee strain!” a customer would say, and I had to offer some noncommittal response like, “Well, you should always listen to your doctor!” rather than express my true opinion, which was that Biopace was complete malarkey.

    I never actually owned a set of these chainrings. I’d just jump on my friend’s bike and ride around a bit, noting how awful the pedaling felt, and particularly how exaggerated the effect was in the little chainring vs. the middle and outer ones. Why should this have been the case? If the effect of this shape is good, wouldn’t you dial in the same improved pedaling characteristic for all three rings? It never made any sense to me. (I think there were limitations in what could be economically produced.) My intuition told me to avoid these silly chainrings, and even when a new bike came with them, I’d incur extra expense to put round rings on there.

    So yeah, I completely agree that Biopace was lame—but “ill-fated”? As with the Campagnolo Delta brakes, we have to concede that bike component companies are for-profit corporations. Their job is to persuade people to replace their perfectly good equipment with new (also perfectly good) equipment. In an ideal world, everything new the industry came up with would be demonstrably better, but innovation just doesn’t happen that fast. If companies don’t keep that hype- and gimmick-driven money coming in, they can’t afford the R&D that produces significant improvements. When I ride my modern mountain bike, with its carbon frame, hydraulic brakes, and super-crisp shifting, I’m pretty blown away … and if this technology was funded on the backs of suckers who wasted money on the drivetrain equivalent of snake oil, I can’t bring myself to care. Given its long period of cash production, to write Biopace off as “ill-fated” is a bit of a stretch.

    Will oval chainrings ever make a comeback? Of course, so long as there’s money to be made. Certain Team Sky riders have used them, such as Chris Froome. I think oval chainrings’ main benefit to him is the ability they confer to poo-poo accusations that his power stats are “not normal.” He (and others) claim that oval chainrings will cause the power readings to read anywhere from 4% to 6% high. This is pure bullshit of course, just like the myth that Froome is clean. All this being said, I have no issue with oval rings enjoying a resurgence … after all, the industry can use the money, and I don’t work at bike shops anymore.

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