Monday, September 14, 2015

Five out-of-place trends in bicycling

You may not like what you read here about but since, as everyone, I'm entitled to my personal opinion, here is the list of 5 trends in bicycling that I find out-of-place and difficult to understand at very least.
5. Mountain bikes in a city (Where city bikes should work better)
This one is quite old, actually. In fact, I remember mountain bikes being the most popular bicycles used in cities back in the early 90's. But that was the time mountain bikes were fashionable so everyone had one.
If majority of urban bicycle riders use mountain bikes with suspension forks and disc brakes it's either a temporary fashion or something plain wrong with city's infrastructure.

Nevertheless, many times I heard claims that MTB is the best bike for the city because of its wide tires and suspension that makes riding on curbs or stairs easy.
The truth is, urban downhill competition aside, you shouldn't have to ride on stairs in a well-designed city. If you feel like you need a mountain bike to ride through your city then your city is not bike-friendly enough. This means - yes, in some cities MTBs are the best type of bicycle to move around but that's not something to be proud of.
4. Bikepacking (Where it's not necessary)
There is that new thing (It's been around for a few years already but it's still pretty new) - bikepacking. It's essentially the same as bicycle touring with the exception that instead of packing things neatly in panniers or some other bags and strapping them to racks on bike, we now pack everything into special bags that get then tied directly to the frame, seatpost or the handlebars.
Sometimes this makes sense. The idea to skip racks comes from riding bicycles in places where large panniers hanging on both sides of the bike simply get in the way. While they work quite well on an open road, panniers are just too bulky on a narrow single track trail. This is why you would see mountain bikes used for bike travels featuring frame bags and not traditional panniers.
But then, there are things I don't understand. I call it rack aversion. I think of it whenever I see a bike used on open roads but loaded with ridiculous (sometimes) number of various frame bags, strapped all over the place, instead of simply placing most of that stuff on the rear rack. Why can't you use rear panniers on a road bike like this?
Rack aversion in its fullest form
Unfortunately, very often you can't (easily). It's because of bikepacking, manufacturers started omitting rack mounts on newer frames. So sometimes even if you realize that instead of packing your stuff into 5 separate frame bags you can just throw it into 2 panniers and a small handlebar bag, you can't. Thanks to trendy bikepacking.
3. Electric mountain bikes on trails (Where it's just plain cheating)
By all means, electric bicycles are awesome. If you don't think so, try hauling four full grocery bags and two kids on a heavy cargo bike up a 10% hill. You will change your mind, I'm sure.
Way to get up the mountain and don't break a sweat? (Source:
But there is one exception. Electric motors come to the world of mountain biking as well. You would think - why not? Instead of just trying to ride uphill, or even walking your bike, you can now slowly keep rolling, saving time and energy. The problem is that unlike transportation cycling, mountain biking is purely recreational. That means sweating, huffing and puffing is a part of this experience. If you don't want to get tired, don't ride your mountain bike. Says me, who once spent 2 hours just to ride/walk the bike uphill in Austrian Alps only to ride it back down in 15 minutes. And it was well worth it.
2. Fixies and track bikes in a city (Where pretty much any other bike would work better)
I know this one is even more controversial. But seriously, track bikes were designed for a track (duh!) and I really have a hard time understanding how a bicycle that has a fixed gear, no brakes and handlebars that essentially force you to ride in drops all the time, can be useful in a city.
A city bike? I don't think so. (Source:
Fixies are (were?) fashionable and quickly our cities filled with young crowd riding on those brakeless, suicidal machines. Their arguments - it's a bike in it's purest form, no unnecessary add-ons, simple and efficient, only as much as you need to keep moving. All true. Just not for riding in a city.
Do you want to make your fixie really useful for urban riding? Make it a freewheel single speed, put both brakes on it and give it some fenders. It will stay simple, yet actually usable.
1. Helmets for city cycling (Even though you shouldn't need one)
I'm not sure if I can call it a trend. It's a widely accepted norm, except very few countries (Denmark, Holland) where it's an oddity and a few others where it's a requirement (Australia, New Zealand).
In some places helmets are required (Even Brad needs to wear one!). That's how city governors say: "We care about your safety". Removing cycle tracks at the same time to make more space for cars, of course.
But whenever I hear about various "safety events" (One coming up this weekend in my town) or local politicians talking about cycling safety, I know they will bring up the same shit as always - wear a helmet, it will keep you safe!
Few who have any political power want to face the ugly truth. Yes, helmets may save your life but won't work if you get ran over by a 5000lbs truck. I'm yet to see a single "bike safety event" where local politicians say: We were going to talk here about safety and most of you think: helmets. But we want to truly solve the problem not just pretend to do it. That's why were are pleased to announce that the next month we are starting construction of a protected bike lane on our main street."
Too bad this isn't going to happen. Real solutions are too complex, too expensive, too difficult. It's easier to play stupid.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with you on all these points!!! Awesome post. I would add one more: I've been seeing several most fat-tire bikes on the roads lately. Last weekend I saw two people on electric fat bikes at the farmer's market. Did they have racks? No! I think it's ridiculous! Even more silly than mountain bikes in the city.