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Bicycles


Bicycles are great. They don't use expensive fuel, they don't get stuck in traffic jams, they are quicker around town than driving, and you can park them right outside the door of your destination. Or even take them inside for greater security. They are extremely useful. Only trouble is they're all made in such a fucking shitey way.

We start with the simple things. Nuts and bolts. Simple, basic fasteners that come in a range of standard sizes, covering pretty well all the requirements for holding simple machines together, all interchangeable due to standardisation, requiring a small and predictable range of spanner sizes to do them up.

Bloody bicycle designers can't even get this right. Why the fuck don't they use a standard thread? Why the fuck don't they use nuts that take standard spanner sizes? You end up with two separate collections of spare nuts and bolts: one for bicycles, and one for everything else. Try and use an ordinary nut on a bicycle and it won't fit. Same for spanners. Stupid sizes like 14mm, 15mm, 16mm which are vanishingly rare on any other kind of machine. And even those sizes are not a proper fit, as the sizes are in fact some freaked-out imperial measurement that has to be quoted in thirty-seconds of an inch (and therefore does not occur in an imperial spanner set either).

And not only are the fasteners not standard sizes, they're not even correctly sized. They are too small, and probably made of cheese to boot. The margin of error on tightening a wheel spindle nut, between "tight enough to stay put" and "tight enough to strip the thread", is minuscule. There isn't even the excuse of being threaded into ally - both nut and spindle are made of steel. Well, it's magnetic, so it's probably supposed to be steel. Perhaps it is cheese with a steel jacket.

Before you jump to conclusions, I'm not abusing them. Threads on machines other than bicycles do not give this problem. I don't strip threads on my motorbike. Indeed, I pull down head gaskets by feel if they're on an engine I know, and they do not fail. I'm not incompetent at tightening things.

Speaking of wheel spindles leads on to another piece of spanner-related idiocy - the cone adjusters for the bearings. Not only are the flats on these of the usual freaked out bicycle dimensions that require spanners useless on any other machine, they are too bloody thin to get a spanner on to them! So not only do you need a weird ass spanner size, you need a second weird ass spanner size and a grinder with which you remove most of the thickness of the spanner so you can actually get it on - which naturally makes it weak as weak and not really up to the job of holding the adjuster thing still while you tighten a locknut onto it.

And what is it with these cone bearings anyway? Talk about a pile of crap. There is no weather protection at all. There is a gap round the edge through which all manner of dirt and grit can get in, which mixes with the lubricant to form grinding paste. That's assuming that the lubricant hasn't all been washed out by water getting in round the edge - which also makes things rust. Keeping lubricant in there is a joke. If you're lucky there will be an oil hole through which you can squirt oil into the middle of the axle. More often there is not, and you just have to dribble oil around the outside and hope for the best. It all runs out down the spokes anyway, since there is no form of seal to stop it. Motorcycle wheels use proper grease-packed ball races with rubber seals. Bicycle wheels should use these too. But that wouldn't be a shitty enough design to pass muster for a bicycle.

The pedal crank bearings are another piece of crap. No seals and no decent lubrication facilities. All you can do is dribble oil over the point where the shaft goes inside and hope some of the oil goes in too. The temptation is to pour oil down the saddle tube to flood them and assure good lubrication. Very good idea - except some twat has decreed that there should be a hole in the bottom of the bearing holding bit, so all the oil pisses out on the floor as fast as you pour it in and never gets near the bearings.

The fixing of the pedals on to the crank is another area of crapness. Cotter pins, made of cheese, that work loose and have to be continually re-tightened... and wear the shaft in the process... Ever heard of splines? No, I thought not.

Another area where bicycles seem determined to use the shittiest design possible is in the brakes. Pressing rubber blocks onto the wheel rim, using an arrangement which fails to return properly to its ill-defined resting position. So you get one brake block rubbing on the rim and slowing you down when it's dry, and fuck all braking when it rains.

Oh, there are these miraculous brake blocks that are supposed to work in the wet. I remember seeing them tested on Tomorrow's World when they first came out. In the studio, they worked fine, and I went and got a set as soon as I could. Tried them in the wet - yes, they did work fine. For the first couple of miles. Then the magic surface absorbed sufficient greasy crap off the road that they didn't work any better than standard rubber blocks. They did make the most horrendous screeching noise though. Their only good point is that the magic surface is a lot more resistant to wear than rubber, so they last for ever - so you end up making a horrendous screech every time you stop for years and years.

Look at the brakes on a motorcycle. They work in the wet. Bicycles need brakes that work in the wet too. None of this "oh, it's only a bicycle so we're OK to fit it with cheap shit brakes that don't work" attitude. Having to rely on putting your feet down is just not good enough. It's not safe and it fucks your shoes.

The brakes aren't even well mounted to the frame. They're hung on this long spindly bolt about a quarter of an inch in diameter. When you put the brakes on what happens? Yes, it bends. And the wobbliness in the mounting causes the brakes to judder and grab. If they must use such a fundamentally crap mounting system, they could at least use a 15mm diameter steel rod instead of a poxy 5mm or so bolt (with threads all the way along).

One of the most stupendously moronic pieces of stupid design on a bicycle concerns the tubes that extend from the saddle mounting downwards and backwards to the rear wheel spindle. They are ALL attached BEHIND the spindle - so you need to split the chain to get it on and off. All that fucking about with split links, or worse, punching rivets out - and in again. Totally unnecessary. If the aforesaid tube joined the frame a few inches AHEAD of the rear wheel spindle there would be no need for them to interfere with the chain; you could just use a continuous loop with no weak points or awkward pain in the arse riveting operations. Funnily enough, most motorcycles are designed in such a way as to allow the use of a continuous chain. But the bicycle once again is a shining example of how not to do it - without even the excuse of cheapness, as it would be just as easy to manufacture it to a sensible design.

They can't even get things right on such a simple matter as getting the air into the tyres. Not only are there three different valve fittings, when cars and motorcycles manage fine all using the same fitting - the little flexible adaptors that connect the pump to the valve are universally complete and utter shite. To be specific, the ferrules that hold the end fittings on to the flexible tube are persuaded to stay in place by showing them the crimping machine and saying "now don't come off will you?" The result is that it doesn't take very long before the end fittings are really loose, leak out more air than goes into the tyre, and eventually fly off altogether at the most inconvenient moment. All because some twat can't be arsed to set up the crimping machine properly. They manage to crimp things properly on car tyre pumps. A bicycle pump will be inflating tyres at about three times the pressure of car tyres, so it should be crimped better, not worse.

Then there is the matter of lights. This is one area where things are not always shite - if you are lucky enough to get a bicycle with a Sturmey-Archer hub dynamo. These are much more efficient than most bicycle dynamos as they have no drive losses, and they begin generating at below walking pace. Unfortunately, they're not made any more. The choice is now between a bottle dynamo, with its associated horrendous drive losses, or a Japanese hub dynamo, where the stupid bastards have used a gear train to speed up its rotation. This is not necessary, as is demonstrated by the ability of the Sturmey-Archer design to generate at very low speeds. Clever magnetic design beats brute force and ignorance any day. And it avoids drive losses.

Don't even think of mentioning battery lights. Batteries run out. Batteries run out at the most inconvenient moments. Batteries cost a fucking fortune. Rechargeable batteries, depending on the technology used, either can't be given a top-up charge (NiCd) or self-discharge at an infuriating rate so they're always flat when you want to use them. Or both. Not to mention how hard it is to find a charger that's sufficiently well designed not to fuck the batteries within 10 cycles.

As for the twats who sell lights with "krypton bulbs" so that people are persuaded into buying them by subconscious memories of Superman and Kryptonite, without realising that the bulbs have a quoted lifetime of 10 hours and cost as much as ten full-size household light bulbs - having the world's supply of ultra-short-lifetime bulbs smashed into shards and stuffed up their arses is a fate too good for them.

There is another sad tale regarding the products of Messrs. Sturmey and Archer. The three-speed gear. No longer manufactured. What do we have instead? The vilest abuse of a chain and sprocket ever to excrete itself from the festering mess of some so-called designer's brain. The derailleur. Oh yes, you can sell them, because people are stupid and are impressed by large numbers of possible ratios. Never mind that no fucker needs 21 ratios, never mind that you can't actually use them all because the mistreatment of chain and sprocket gets too gross at the extremes. Never mind that the spread of ratios is not actually all that wide, just very finely spaced, which makes them even more useless. Never mind that you can't change gear when stationary so if you have to make an unexpected stop you're stuck in totally the wrong gear to pull away again. Never mind that if you try and rectify that situation by pedalling backwards the fucking chain comes off. Or if you bounce too hard over the potholes that infest the roads the fucking chain comes off. Or the losses in the chain going round the derailleur mechanism. Or the fiddly adjustments to make it all sort of work right. Or the sheer engineering grossness of running the chain at angles way off the plane of the sprocket and making it jump gears under load. Or the sheer stupidity of putting the gear change levers on the crossbar or the down tube or something equally moronic (one of the few things mountain bikes do get right). Give me a three-speed any day.

Then there is the way the practicality of the bicycle is compromised by the lack of certain features which are universal on better-designed vehicles: A Parking Brake and a Centre Stand. Ever tried loading up a bicycle with luggage when the fucking thing falls over every time you touch it? The designers obviously haven't. For fuck's sake, it's a vehicle. It's supposed to transport stuff. Journeys tend to involve taking stuff somewhere, or bringing it back... if you're not carrying anything with you you needn't have gone, could have done whatever it is over the phone or by letter or by email or whatever. So a machine for making journeys needs facilities for loading, carrying and unloading. And I haven't mentioned the feeble spindly excuses for carrier racks that bicycles have.

Practicality is also compromised by the saddle design. Why is it so hard to find a comfortable saddle? What fuckwit thought it would be a good idea to support almost your entire weight by supporting a sensitive part of the body on a rock hard ridge? More to the point, perhaps, what kind of fuckwits buy these instruments of torture again and again and again? Presumably they are not much good at sex. If you're going to support your body weight on the perineum - and it would be rather hard to pedal with any other method of support, unfortunately - the support needs to be soft and well-padded. As should be blindingly obvious to any human being with anything approaching normal sensory function. Presumably this is why I see so many young lads riding around standing on the pedals all the time, though I would have thought padding the saddle would be a far less tiring solution.

And finally, Mountain Bikes... just as shite as ordinary bicycles but the shite parts are all made in Japan, cost a bloody fortune, aren't interchangeable with ordinary parts, tend to be made of monkey metal... plus the bike is more attractive to thieves. They are just a bloody rip-off, a waste of money. Oh yes, and they ALL have derailleur gears, and the big chunky tyres, as well as being expensive, have a much higher rolling resistance, so a lot more of the rider's precious energy output goes into heating up the tyres.

Oh, but that's OK because it's good exercise? Bollocks. I don't ride a bicycle for exercise. I ride it because, among other things, it enables me to get from A to B with considerably less expenditure of physical effort than walking it. I pump the tyres up rock hard and cycle along yellow lines to reduce the rolling resistance. I slow down when afflicted by headwinds or adverse gradients. I freewheel when the gradient is in my favour. I don't go very fast on the flat. I use lots of oil. I have no desire to charge about puffing and panting and sweating like a cunt. Crap tyres with high rolling resistance are a complete no-no. Same goes for inefficient dynamos.

Then when mountain bikes try to go "high tech" what do we get? They abandon one of the things the traditional bicycle design does manage to get right - the triangulated frame with sleeved brazed joints - and weld a bunch of beams together in a cross. Then they repeat the same tired old mistakes of motorcycle suspension design - telescopic front forks and a rear suspension unit positioned such that the geometry gives a falling rate. I mean for fuck's sake. What are they on? They've read all the books on "How Not To Do It" and thought "fuck it, it's a bicycle, none of this applies"? Chicken's tits. At least give it a triangulated frame, a leading link front end and rear suspension units mounted from the rear wheel spindle to the crossbar/saddle tube joint.




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