THE BIKE THAT’S LIGHTER THAN LIGHT
by Anne Foster
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States reserved titanium for military use, making it scarce, expensive and rarely used for bicycle components. After the fall of communism, Russia began exporting titanium for civilian use and it began to be used for bike components and eventually entire bikes: light, strong but relatively inexpensive. Source: Bicycle Design, Hadland and Lessing
Dave Perry, owner and mechanic at Bike Works in the Lower East Side, talked road bikes with me.
The true beauty of the road bike, Dave explained, is its malleability. “A road bike doesn’t have to have skinny tires. It can have medium width tires. So I like to think of it more as a wider range—it’s not just the road bike that you see in the Tour de France. You can have upright flat bars—sometimes that’s the best bike for commuting. Or other people like the drop bars.
“Obviously the new carbon fiber stuff can be much lighter than pretty much anything, but the rest of the bike has to have parts that are light, too. I had to get a carbon bike just to see what it was like.”
On the other hand, it’s not always about lightness and speed. Some road bikes are made with steel, which is heavier than carbon fiber.
“Steel…it’s a fine ride. I probably prefer it,” Dave said. Because of its ability to absorb shocks, steel makes for a comfy ride. And “You can trust it more…The steel bikes are just kind of there and you can repair them if necessary. Steel is real, you know…
Originally from California, Dave Perry had dreams of racing professionally until the day a young junior named Greg LeMond ” blew by me in a time trial… I realized he had a natural talent that none of us could touch. That was my last race pursuing a professional career.”
Dave came to Brooklyn in 1979 to study at Pratt. In New York he rode everywhere. “When you get to the city when you are young–or when you grow up here–the bike is the best way to get to know the whole city. It’s good for commuting obviously because of the autonomy. But really just riding around is a good way to get to know the city and just to relax.
“It used to be that you could really enjoy really traffic. There weren’t bike lanes so you would pretty much be forced into traffic unless you rode on one side of the road. But before there were bike lanes, you would just ride in traffic and that was always fun cause traffic doesn’t move that much faster than a cyclist does.”
Something as wonky-looking as drop handlebars seems like it must be a modern invention, but in fact the road bike as we know it evolved through the early decades of the twentieth century.
“The drop bar that we see today is a slight variation on the earlier bars that were maybe a little flatter, in other words they were like drop bars but not as drop.
Drop handlebars were invented by 187, during the high-wheeler era. Although an upright riding position is more comfortable, a stooped position reduces air resistance making it possible to go faster with less effort. Source: Bicycle Design, Hadland and Lessing
“The derailleur wasn’t perfected until the fifties or so. Now it’s an essential component of the road bike, and gives another facet to its flexibility of use.
“The other day I had to carry a 125-pound thing on a trailer. I have a hitch on my regular bike but that’s a big maximum weight to be dragging on a trailer and I needed my lowest gear to go over the bridge because it’s—what?—four or five percent grade? That’s enough to mean that with that much weight I was going walking pace in my lowest gear.
“So when you use your bike for a lot of things you need a wide ratio of gearing.
“One of my coolest feats on a bike was carrying a five-foot tall refrigerator on the handlebars of a ladies Phillips three-speed, for five kilometers with sectors of cobblestone and brick road. It was a prop for a performance by Melora Walters.”