Fast Bike, Slow Bike


Cue the old codger voice-over: One thing I have noticed as a result of accumulating the miles over the past few days from the saddle of the ol' yellow Basso - riders coming up today have it easy. Times have changed.

In its heyday, the Basso was a svelte stallion. It was light, and that lightness made it quick out of the gate. With an 12-21 rear cluster and 52-42 up front there was nothing, between chasing Mr. Rogers at the Rose Bowl and chasing Tony up LaTuna Canyon, that it could not handle. Keep in mind the 21 was the bail out gear, the gear of last resort, and only used in extreme situations. Granted 52-12 was not going to win me many sprints, but it was just fine for sitting in. It was all we needed. Though maybe not all we wanted.

Fast forward to the present - carbon fibre this and carbon fibre that have made todays bikes a mere shadow of the weight they once were. That light weight translates into speed; todays bikes take a fraction of the effort to move. By comparison, the Basso now accelerates with all the speed and grace of a Budweiser clydesdale. Once it gets going it is buttery smooth; it is the get up and go that does not quite match up. When I pull into the stable at the end of a ride, the legs feel like they have put in twice the distance they actually did, you know, all wobbly and robot-like. What happened, I ask myself, knowing full well that the Basso would not be able to respond to the question? Certainly the steel didn't gain weight over the past twenty-five years. Neither would the accumulation of years cause it to move slower.

Yes, kids today have it pretty good. It is little wonder the current generation of upstart racers seems so much quicker. And it is not just the lightness, the gearing plays its part as well. While my generation was struggling to crank over those biggest of gears because that was the way it was done (never mind you, I know what that says about thinking for ourselves), today's kids have other models to learn from. And not just the gears - don't forget the crank lengths. Why I was perfectly happy and well adjusted with my 170 mm's, Mr. Smooth pedaler, until it was pointed out that I could add more power, more speed to compliment that smoothness, if only I would move up to 172.5 mm arms.

So bikes have changed over time, and maybe the way we ride them as well. Do bikes, like people, get older and slower? Or does comparing old and new cloud any comparison we might try to make? Would all these questions be moot if I simply turned the Basso into wall decor, and only rode the KHS?

Well, of course nothing has really changed for the old filly. It is as fast as ever it was, maybe even faster, since its component build is better (presumably) and certainly lighter. Twenty or so years of riding lighter bikes has a way of skewing perception, playing tricks with one's memories. Or, was the Basso and all its older steel contemporaries always rather sluggish and slow? Did we never realize that because, well because there was nothing else to compare it to. Did we just never notice until they became old and creaky, until the new kids took over? The Basso may not be the bike of choice when I saddle up these days, but there is something to say for that quarter-century pairing; we have aged together, and pretty much in tandem. The Basso may not be as speedy any more, it struggles perceptibly to get up to speed. But then if I am going to be truthful, I don't seem to be as speedy, and I certainly struggle more to get up to speed.

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