Friday Group Ride #297

Friday Group Ride #297

I was talking to Radio Freddy. He and I do some work together, but we also have long, rambling conversations about the bike business and how to be better at it. Freddy is something of a spiritual leader for me in terms of his sense what is good. He has strong, bordering on reverent appreciation for classic bike design, but he combines that with a keen eye for what’s good about the bike’s being built today.

What is cool, in any moment, is obviously highly subjective, and as we get older, or so Freddy and I were lamenting, it gets harder and harder to know if your view of such things has just become too distant to really understand anymore.

As an example, there is a profusion of steel road bikes featured on forums and fan sites, with level top tubes and fancy paint jobs. The construction methods seem to be sound enough, but what makes these bikes cool is their paint. Otherwise, they are just classically proportioned road bikes. They look good, but by and large I find them hard to get really excited about. That might be about me though. Perhaps they’re deeply cool in the way of a well-designed font, simple and elegant, and I am just failing to see it, because I am no longer cool myself (assuming I ever was).

Last week’s Group Ride took on the question of the ultimate value of high-end bikes, but implicit in the conversation that followed was a dichotomous take on what constitutes value. Most commenters enumerated the practical value of their preferred bike. Far fewer spoke of aesthetics, though I have to believe that a great measure of what is cool about a bike is how it looks.

Form=function. The medium is the message. And all that.

With NAHBS on the near horizon, it feels like a good time to explore the idea of what is cool. This week’s Group Ride asks, what do you see out there that’s cool right now? Do you think you know? Do you even care? Is cool the exclusive province of the young? Or does age confer wisdom on this subject, too?

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  1. souleur

    personally, cool to me is the following

    Anything Hipster is anti-cool….listen, they ruined Ray-Ban wayfarers not to mention beards. They take an old steel bike, place some heavy arse Vuelta hoops on it and a fixed cog and playing cards in the wheel and think they are in flynn. Its really not

    What is however is originality and authenticity. The craft. Lines like Sophia Loren in the 60’s or James Deans late Porsche. That my friends are cool. If your musical, its like the Avett Brothers, who are original, write and sing their goods. So anything Richard Sachs does if fucking cool cats, not to mention Darios fantastic works of art.

    So, what is cool?

    Lonely roads without dogs
    Canopy topped lined roads without cars
    Hills and out of the saddle hammering
    And Black Socks

  2. SBC

    To steal a line – it’s not about the bike. Depending on the decade, the subject might have been about Italian bikes and components, American bikes, titanium, carbon, SS, 29ers, and so on until you pass out from sheer confusion. No, no. Bike stuff has changed, the pendulum swings back and forth. No lasting truth can be found in things.

    That leaves people. And whomever is clearly, authentically, passionately in love with cycling is cool in my view.

  3. chuckster

    I think well thought out custom builders who stick to “form follows function” will always be cool.

    – I’m liking ti with beautiful welds and a small amount of well placed paint.
    – I also look forward to seeing more custom builds with almost no visible cable routing, through wireless and an internally routed rear brake – skipping unnecessary holes for cable entrance/exit would be cool to see as well. I don’t think everyone is onboard wireless yet but I can’t see a future without SRAM/Shimano/Campy top end wireless gruppos in a few years and they’re going to change a lot about frame building I believe.
    – Finally, classy not flashy… brown or black leather, don’t overdo the black carbon, and avoid bright white bar tape and fluorescent colors.
    (if only I could afford all of that!)

  4. mechaNICK

    What makes a bike cool is craftsmanship. That includes the finish, the welds (if applicable), and the adornments, but it also includes the geometry, the ride feel, and the parts kit. In short, everything about a “cool bike” was done on purpose.

  5. Aar

    To me, signature attributes on naked frames are really cool. When a knowledgable person can look at an unpainted bike and easily determine who made it, the craftsmanship is unmistakable. It’s all the better if those attributes are subtle in a form follows function manner.

    I’m speaking about signature dropouts, brake bridges, seat clusters, seat clusters, bi-laminate lugs or logo style bottom bracket drain holes. To me, though, the builders who develop a signature visual effect in their joinery at the head tube have really mastered their craft.

    Uncool = introducing a new “standard”. Here, I’m specifically thinking of bottom bracket standards but forcing a cyclist to use any obscure components that may not be available in the future just doesn’t earn any points from me.

  6. Peter Leach

    Cool = craftsmanship.
    Cool = classic lines.
    Cool = continuity of parts.
    Cool = clean.

    ps. I’m sorry, @Souleur, black socks aren’t cool.

  7. TC

    Cool is racing to win. No one cares what color your socks are if you win. And if you lose, you’re a loser- no one cares what color some loser’s socks are.

  8. Pat O'Brien

    When you don’t care what others think, pretty much anything you ride or wear is cool. Especially cycling caps, American made, on or off the bike.

  9. Michael

    Man, Robot does Tower of Power! What is hip, tell me tell me, if you think you know!

    In my opinion, the coolest bike (or jersey or shorts or …) is the one you completely forget about beneath you after 10 minutes on it. I want the feelings of the ride and don’t want to think about the bike itself. After the ride, sure, stare at the bike, if you wish, and clean it and give it some love. But cool is forgetting about everything but the ride.

    So, in response to your question, I guess I don’t care what someone else thinks is cool, nor do I judge it (although I am always open to recommendations of something someone else likes). What is cool FOR ME is what works for me. What is cool for you is what works for you. And I don’t care what it looks like.

  10. hautacam

    Classically proportioned steel bikes are cool. Ditto well-proportioned aluminum or Ti or carbon bikes. A well-equipped and well-finished and well-proportioned bike is indeed anything of beauty. There are many kinds of beauty. The bike- show display LeMonds from a year or so ago illustrated all of this nicely, as does a quick trip thru the current Cinelli bike catalog.

    Deep-v carbon rims (or deep alu rims, for that matter) on a classically proportioned steel bike are an abomination. Exhibit 1, see above Colnago.

    Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, YMMV, just my $0.02, ATMO, etc. etc. disclaimer disclaimer disclaimer.

    1. Pat O'Brien

      Real cool! Our local NICA team (Beuna Colts Mountain Bike Team) won the state title (AZ) in 2015. They are supported by both bike shops in town. How cool is that?

  11. souleur

    I just bought a Mike Mullett, branded MM702 on the BB shell.

    i think that is cool
    reading up and discovery of a man who welded bikes like this one….is cool
    she’s a minty blue
    I will put my golden arrow grouppo on her
    with black hoops, a black cinelli quill and black old american classic post and minimalist saddle

    and the obvious is that riding a mullett in the ozarks for some reason….is both dangerous and cool

  12. Greg

    Snow conditions yesterday were good to ride my new 29 + hardtail on the local trails. I soon forgot what I was riding and just had loads of fun rolling over everything. The best bike is the one that makes you forget that you’re even riding at all but just living the moment.

  13. phaedrus

    What one thinks is cool says less about the object than it does about the person. I think Pirsig put that seed into my head (replace cool with quality and it seems to work).

    What I find to be cool is people out riding bikes. I like to see families unloading at the local “park & ride” lot getting their things together for the big ride. Their mileage will me lower than mine, but their experience might be much greater.

    My gear is expensive and nice. It feels fast, and might enhance my experience some, but the kid riding with his parents on a nice day might have an experience of a lifetime that my gear can’t touch.

  14. Les Priest

    The rider.
    The bike can be any vintage but it’s a road bike: Meant to be ridden fast, won’t whiten teeth or make you ‘kewl’. The bike is clean & adjusted properly. Probably has white bar tape & a white saddle. If it had ‘Lawyer tabs’ they have been filed off.
    The rider spins 90rpm effortlessly, the upper body does not move. They ride fast & do not get into pissing matches with the traffic. He/she looks like they’re riding somewhere to do intervals or 100k, before lunch.
    Fashions change, in lugs & sock colour but the rider rides on; over the hill into the setting sun…

  15. Zach

    Those in the know are cool. That’s not an exclusive reference to Mr Tulio.

    Slammed stems are cool when you don’t brag about them. A silent bike is cool when you and your partners all ride along without a word. Clean bikes are cool when it’s clean every ride.

    It’s cool to follow accepted standards but only when you don’t tell others you’re following them. When the stranger with a smooth pedal stroke and shiny legs gives you a nod and points to your rear derailleur because you only use 1 limit screw, that recognition is the coolness that we all really seek to achieve. That’s cool.

  16. normanzo

    Lots of nice bicycles out there, old and new. One new maker that I like very much is VYNL. Aluminum road race bikes with practical, racy geometry and a beautiful, simple esthetic. I am a proud owner of two Spooky Skeletors, so this type of machine appeals to me in its performance and esthetic. Also like Spooky, the frames are made in the states, which is nice.

    Another notable bike is Open Cycle’s U.P. (Unbeaten Path) bike. How nice to make a bike that can be setup to cover such varied terrain and its light and understated in its styling?

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