Category Archives: Sports & Outdoors

Bicycle shorts evolved to solve problems that cyclists encountered as bicycles developed and allowed for longer rides and more time in the saddle. The bicycle started as a two wheeled scooter you could straddle. After pedals were attached and a transmission was developed, the greater mechanical advantages increased the useable range. Acceptance for exercise, commuting and travel resulted in quick development of the bicycle. As people rode their bikes further they discovered that their crotches needed better protection from their saddles.

Harken back to the early 1900’s and you will surmise that there were few flexible fabrics. Early shorts were made of durable wool fabrics and designs were modified from pants and knickers. With little flexibility or stretch, these early shorts required design characteristics to eliminate bunching for a more streamlined and sculpted fit. Multiple paneled shorts allowed the shorts manufacturers to better match the human form for less chafing and a more aerodynamic fit.

Multiple seams crisscrossing the center of the crotch came from copying existing pant designs, but created a problem for riders. To solve this, a chamois insert was developed to cover the seams and provide a smooth surface on which to sit. The material chosen was sheepskin leather, probably because it was well known as durable, softer than cow or horse leather, and already in use to reinforce clothing where extra protection and flexibility were needed. Regardless of its origin, leather chamois inserts became the norm in black wool shorts.

Over the last 20 plus years, fabric technology has allowed for many improvements in design, durability and easy of use. Today’s highly flexible and durable fabrics are easy to care for and provide many improvements. The standard today is a spandex-dominated fabric with a breathable, padded chamois insert. At this point “chamois” has become a generic term to define the smooth surfaced insert that covers the seams, just like the original leather chamois.

Why is this background important? To put to rest preconceptions that most of us have about today’s modern shorts. There are hundreds of brands of shorts in today’s marketplace. So what do you think about when you decide to buy a new pair of shorts? As avid cyclists of 30 years and now working for one of the few American manufacturers of cycling apparel, we feel confident in advising you that you can do whatever you want, as long as you have thought through for your needs and have a reason to do what you want.

Here are some things to think about when choose your next pair of shorts:

  • If it is one item, why is it called a pair?
  • What sort of chamois do I want?
  • Do the number of panels make a difference?
  • Who am I buying this from?
  • What is the best pair of shorts?

We can’t answer the first question so we’ll move on to the rest, but to see if you are skipping ahead, we won’t discuss them in the order presented. This discussion does not include baggy shorts which are typically a street-type short over a modified cycling short. Introducing a covering designed for carrying things in your pockets or to visually cover perfectly good cycling shorts with a less aerodynamic and more baggy fabric (read: more places for wear and rubbing) doesn’t make sense to us so, like a weird friend, we are going to ignore them for now.

The most common question for a person buying shorts has to be: “What is the best short?” and if stated slightly differently: “What is the best chamois?” If you were talking to an educated retailer, then you were probably queried about your likes and dislikes or riding style or issue with current shorts. If you were talking to your friend or riding buddy, then you were wasting your time and should have been doing long division in your head.

Many people confuse “most expensive” with best. The “best” shorts are those that fit and are most comfortable to you. Different shorts models are designed with differing numbers of panels, different lines for looks, constructed of differing materials and differing chamois inserts. How they fit you is a function of your unique anatomy, saddle type and set up, riding style and type of riding you prefer. There are no two butt, seat, chamois, skin type and riding style combinations that are exactly the same. What is perfect for your friend may not work for you – our friends have little taste, education, experience or feeling in their butts. At least, their’s do not seem as sensitive as your own refined buttocks.

That said, there is a general correlation between price and quality. In general, a more expensive pair of shorts will be made better and last longer. Many people find that the $30 (or less) shorts, made in Southeast Asia, on special at their on-line favorite discounter, are “the most comfortable short” they have ever worn. These same people seem disappointed when the shorts last only a year. Other people find that if it costs over $100 it has to be comfortable and defines their future expectations. Shorts, properly washed and not prematurely worn out by an errant saddle bag, should last many seasons. The concept is: first buy what fits, without consideration for cost, then determine the “value” or cost versus the expected longevity of the shorts. A $150 pair of shorts over five years, has the same value as a $30 pair that lasts one year.

Most fabrics, including Lycra (a brand name for a spandex material), are sold by the pound (excluding highly specialized or limited editions). As the fabric gets heavier, the fabric gets more expensive. Most cycling spandex is between 6- and 8-ounce material (the weight of a square yard). An 8-ounce fabric is more expensive than a similar 6-ounce material. Is it “better?” That depends on what you like. If you want to feel like you are wearing nothing at all, you want a light, high quality material. If you like the feeling of support in your shorts, you would gravitate toward a heavier material, which at 8-ounces, will feel more “firm” on your legs. We have not found any appreciable difference in the thermal characteristics except when you are sitting at the cafÈ and no air is moving over your legs. Some older and some heavier riders prefer the firm feel of the heavier material. Often, a given manufacturer will have identically designed shorts in more than one material so that you can truly feel the difference in just the materials.

Probably more important than the materials are the basic design characteristics. Since there are so many manufacturers, we will keep our comments very general. Most shorts are designed in a “racing”/”sport” configuration or they are designed as an “entry level”/”touring” configuration. Any of these can be an 2, 4, 6 or 8 panel design. In general, a sport short will be lower rise (front and rear) and more articulated in the hip. An “articulated hip” means that the shorts are designed already bent over into a typical riding position. A touring short will typically be a higher rise (front and rear) and less articulated in the hip. These features are important depending on your personal modesty, amount of time spent in your shorts off the bike and how important it is to you to have a “racing” attitude. As to the number of panels, remember why they were created? To solve limited flexibility in older materials. With today’s spandex based materials the number of panels is not critical. Well fitting and comfortable designs come in all panel numbers and this factor is minimal compared to the overall design. We think 8-panel shorts are over rated and we wonder how a seam down the inside of each thigh actually helps the comfort when it provides another seam to cover or on which the threads can wear.

Another important variable is the chamois insert used for the short. There are almost as many chamois inserts as there are manufacturers. Again due to the overwhelming number of styles, we will keep our comments short. Chamois inserts are to provide coverage for the inside seams of the shorts and to provide a breathable pad to mellow the interface between your crotch and the saddle (padding). Let us make one thing perfectly clear, the chamois as a pad cannot make up for a saddle that isn’t set up properly or is not comfortable to your bottom. Will not, can not, does not!!! Now that we have that out of the way, here are some considerations. Is the pad micro-bacterially treated? Does the chamois insert have several seams of its own? Does the chamois insert fit the shorts?

A thicker chamois insert in a light-weight material short will not be well balanced and will tend to stick out where the material doesn’t hold it in. If the chamois is shaped (has more than one material and is seamed together, opportunities arise for chafing. If you choose a chamois insert that is shaped, the shapes (usually the arc around your leg) needs to fit your body. Small arc, big leg, bad fit! Do you live in a wet area? Does the chamois dry extra fast, or will you be growing mold in your chamois? The combinations are endless so look at the size, construction and materials and then try several – what looks good may not feel good and vice versa. Chamois inserts, probably more than the shorts themselves, require that you try several to feel the differences. You may think you need a thick chamois when in fact your saddle is comfortable and provides adequate padding and a thick chamois makes the interface less comfortable instead of better.

If you are going tour, we recommend fast drying chamois inserts so you don’t have to take as many pairs. We also recommend finding several chamois inserts you like and alternating them so you eliminate the repetitive motion injuries. Let’s face it, even if you sit in your comfy car seat for four hours, your butt gets sore. Reduce that surface area to two inches by six and it is normal to get sore, why make it worse by not varying the wear points?

Today there are several chamois insert enhancing materials available. Most of these involve a lubricant of sorts to minimize chafing. We have used some creams and some dry lubes and found them to provide the lubrication they promised. We do not know the long-term effect to your shorts. We do know that any petroleum-based lubricants will eat your petroleum-based shorts over time. This may initially appear as thinning or localized wear. We also wonder what affect these lubricants have on the breath-ability of the material.

Your shorts work best when they can breath and the chamois can fluff. To make sure this happens, wash them regularly. Get the sweat and road grime out and do not replace it with washing additives. Use a minimalist detergent with no fragrances, bleaches, softeners or any other additives. Baby detergents are very mild with no additives. Several sport washes are available that have been tested to leave no residue. We recommend these products to minimize retaining anything that might irritate your skin over time. Just sitting on that small space is hard enough without saddle sores or skin irritations.

In summary, we believe you should try several types of shorts and wear more than one type to break up the monotony. From time to time try different materials, chamois inserts and possibly lubricants. Wash regularly with a mild environmentally sensitive and non-accumulating detergent. Do not try to solve bike set up or saddle problems with a pair of shorts or chamois insert. Never try on a pair of shorts standing straight up, bend over like you are riding and see how they fit, we expect shorts to pooch out in back when you stand straight. We design them for riding, not standing there in front of a mirror or your significant other, that is what lingerie is for. Just like music, food and life, your butt sometimes just needs a change to be happy.

Bicycle Seat Posts 101

Diameters

Vary from about 25.8mm to 31.8mm. The seat post diameter has to match the seat tube’s inside diameter. Older European and Japanese aluminum frames, and ancient steel frames generally use the smaller diameter seat posts. Modern oversized aluminum frames have thinner seat tubes which require fatter seat posts to fill the hole. Classical steel frames use seat posts ranging from 26.2mm to 27.4mm, with 90 percent of them 27.2mm.

Lengths

From 180mm to 400mm. Road bike seat posts are shorter than mountain bike seat posts, but if you have a super long mountain bike seat post, you can still stick it into a road bike. If the extra length and few extra grams bothers you, chop it off.

Insertion

All seat posts have a minimum insertion mark. Sometimes it’s a maximum height mark–two names for the same thing. In any case, you have to make sure 65mm are inserted into the seat tube.

One-bolt clamps or two bolt clamps?

Think about it. If you’re holding a long beam above your head, clasping it with one hand, you’d best have a tight grip, or it’ll fall. Hold it with two hands, and your grip can relax dramatically.

One bolt posts are generally adequate and don’t take that as a backhanded endorsement. The best ones hold fine. The worst don’t.

One bolt posts are quicker to set up, but that’s more of an advantage to a bike shop guy trying to build his daily quota, than it is to you.

Two-bolt posts have a mechanical advantage (as noted above), but cost more to make, and take longer to set up, and that’s why they’re not as common.

SPO (Seat Post Offset)

SPO is how far the clamp sits behind the center of the post, and it’s an issue because it affects your saddle position. Most riders like to “sit behind” the pedals, and that requires putting the saddle as far to the rear as the seat post allows. A post with no offset (no SPO) doesn’t allow this.
Triathletes are the exception. They generally sit forward on the saddles, a position that works for them in tandem with the funny handlebars they like.

Bicycle Shifters 101

Road Bike Shifters

Downtube shifters

The traditional, classic road shifter. Favored for its lightweight, simple set-up, and short cables, which, back in the ‘60s and ‘70s riders believed made for quicker shifts due to less cable stretch. Modern cables don’t stretch enough to notice anyway, and speedwise, downtube shifters are the
slowest simply because you have to move your hand down there to get at ‘em; but they remain the favorite style among those who still favor them for a few other reasons:

  1. They look good. They’re isolated from the brake levers and handlebars, so they don’t muck up that part of the bike. They add something, visually, to the downtube, the longest tube on the bike, and one that looks lonely with nothing on it.
  2. They’re the lightest.
  3. They’re the cheapest to buy.
  4. In these days of late-entry riders willing to spend lunatic amounts of loot for overpriced, high-tech convenience shifters, some riders like the message downtube shifters send—that they’re comfortable enough on a bike, and experienced enough, to be able to remove one hand from the bar to shift; and that they realize muscle, not frenetic clicking, is what gets you over the hill.
Bar-End Shifters (BES)

Sometimes called “fingertip shifters” or “bar-con (control) shifters.” Introduced in the early ‘50s as an alternative to the downtube shifter, but never really won favor with the hardcore racers of that or any period. In the old days, racers said things like “cables too long, too much stretch!” and BES took hold only among tourists, tandem riders, and cyclo-cross racers, all of whom realized it was a good thing not to have to take your hands from the bars when controlling a heavily loaded bike or racing over rough terrain.

Compared to downtube shifters, BES are:

  1. heavier
  2. less aerodynamic
  3. more expensive
  4. more of a hassle to set up

But the differences are minimal in all cases, and the convenience they offer—halfway between that of a downtube shifter and a modern STI/ERGO shifter—makes a lot of sense without selling out completely and giving up simple mechanical design for convenience at all costs. It’s a good balance, smart.

BES are increasingly rare these days, and are kept alive only because triathletes and time-trialists use them on the ends of their funny bars. Campy and Shimano still make them, but the best ones we’ve used are the Supermix shifters shown in our print catalogue.

Shimano STI

STI stands for “Shimano Total Integration,” and refers to Shimano’s preference for integrating (or combining, or linking) previously separate bicycle components so that 1) If you buy one, you get the other; and 2) You can’t use one without the other. The STI program is double-edged. On the one hand, it is a pro-consumer/rider program that protects you from incompetent product managers/manufacturers who might otherwise put incompatible parts on the same bike. On the other hand, it is a way to prevent smaller, less-well-capitalized manufacturers from selling their parts to high-volume manufacturers. Back in 1986, almost all bike makers spec’d Shimano shifters, but a whole lot of them also spec’d Dia-Compe brake levers, which were clearly more desirable. Consequently, Shimano was left with millions of unsellable (for good reason) brake levers, and that—not answering a consumer demand for more convenience—was the impetus behind the next year’s STI. Riders who like STI, like it because they don’t have to move their hands to shift. You can access the shifters when your hands are on the brake lever hood/body, or from the drops. So, despite its shaky origins, it fullfills a need for some cyclists.

Behind the left brake lever is a secondary lever which moves inward with a push, shifting the front derailleur.

Behind the right brake lever is a corresponding secondary lever for the rear derailleur. Push it inward (toward the front wheel), shifting the rear derailleur.

STI braker/shifter units are heavier than a solo brake lever, but often weigh no more than an uncombined brake lever and shift lever. The brake lever bodies, where you spend most of your time, are irritatingly ergonomically perfect, at the expense of aesthetics. They are bulkier, and cyclists used to slender, compact, and nicely curved bicycle parts find them ugly, cyclops-looking units.

STI shifters don’t have a friction-shifting mode, and require Shimano-compatible derailleurs and gears. For someone starting out with all fresh stuff, that’s not a problem, since virtually all currently manufactured cassettes and freewheels are Shimano-compatible (just as most computer software is MicroSoft compatible).

Campagnolo ERGO shifters

Are Campy’s answer to Shimano’s STI. Campy went into ERGO reluctantly, and only after it was clear that downtube and bar-end shifters were not the way to capture new markets. ERGO shifter/levers have thumb-tabs mounted fairly discretely on the inside of each brake lever body, and Shimano-like secondary shift levers behind the brake lever.

To shift the front derailleur to a bigger chainwheel, push the secondary lever inward, toward the front wheel (same as with STI). To shift from a large chainwheel to a smaller one, push the thumb-tab down.

ERGO’s front shifting is non-indexed, which makes it compatible with anybody’s front derailleur, a good thing. Front shifting with ERGO tends to be slightly slower than with STI, although many people still prefer it.

To shift the rear derailleur to a larger cog (easier gear), push the right-hand secondary shifter inward. To shift to a smaller (harder) cog, push down the thumb-tab.

Cosmetically, they’re an improvement over STI, because the cables don’t exit the levers sideways, and the levers look pretty normal from the front (no “cyclops” look). Functionally, they’re Shimano’s equal. Certain shifts are made faster by STI, others are faster by ERGO, but in the areas of speed and convenience, both have plenty to offer even the most shifting-obsessed rider. Most people like to defend what they own, and sell their friends on it, but anybody who badmouths the function of either STI or ERGO has become too dependent on technology for their own good, and probably couldn’t write a letter to a friend without a keyboard and email.

Kelly TakeOffs

If you like the convenience of STI and ERGO, but don’t like the expense, the limitations, or the whole idea of buying into technology that was ill-born in the first place and now just feeds on itself (not to imply that there’s anything wrong with that); then get Kelly TakeOffs. (www.Kellybike.com).

Invented by Oakland, CA resident Chris Kelly as an alternative to STI and ERGO, this is one small-company gimmick that really works. The TakeOffs are tubular steel mounts that on one end attach to the handlbars under the brake lever bodies, and at the other end, allow you to mount any old downtube shifter inboard of the brake levers, so you can shift while grasping the brake lever hoods, or down in the drops, or with your hands on the top ofthe bars. In other words, from more positions than either STI or ERGO. What’s more, since the lever position is visible and changes according to what gear you’re in, you get a visual indication of the gear, just as you do with downtube shifters or bar-end shifters. ERGO doesn’t do that. STI does it if you get the fancy version, but you have to read a dial, and if convenience is your end-all, that’s not as good as glancing at a lever and thinking “I’m just about maxed out back there.”

Another wonderful thing about TakeOffs is that most downtube shifters have a friction option, so you needn’t completely give shut off the portion of your brain that controls things like sensitivity and feedback. What’s more, in friction mode, you can use any derailleur with any chain or freewheel or cassette. Finally, the levers are so accessible that any supposed benefit of indexing virtually vanishes—the lever are right there, so easy to dial in,that it’s no inconvenience at all. It’s not the hurdle it is with downtube shifters (not a huge hurdle with them but one many riders would rather not jump, anyway).

Functionally, TakeOffs with downtube shifters work the same as downtube shifters, in that you pull the left one back to shift a front derailleur outward, to a larger (higher gear) chainring; and you pull the right one back to shift to a larger (lower gear) rear cog.

The only drawback to TakeOffs is that the tube that exits from the underside of the brake lever sort of interferes with a normal grip, the one with your fingers curling underneath the brake lever body. It’s not a huge deal—there’s still room there, but on any other brake lever, there’s nothing there, and on the TakeOffs, there’s that dang tube. You get used to it easily enough, and if the other benefits appeal to you, don’t think twice, it’s all right.

Sidepull Brake Calipers 101

Sidepull brakes are good for skinny to medium road tires, up to about an inch and a quarter wide. They connect directly to the brake lever by a cable and housing, so the frame doesn’t need any extra cable stops or hangers, as is the case with cantilever brakes. Most mechanics, whether they’re pros or novices, find sidepull brakes easier than cantilvers to set up, adjust, and maintain.

Sidepulls aren’t good for fat tires, because fat tires don’t fit under the arches.

Also, they aren’t as fender-friendly as cantilevers are, for the same reason, although if the frame designer does his or her job right, and you pick the right sidepull and don’t go too fat on the tires, you can fit fenders under them.
There are two main types of sidepulls: Single Pivot and Dual-Pivot

Single pivot sidepulls offer more fender clearance than do dual-pivot styles, and are lighter, but they aren’t as powerful. If you’re really heavy, or ride a loaded bike downhill, or have weak hands, or any combination thereof, a dual-pivot is better than a Single-pivot style.

Dual-Pivot sidepulls offer the simple set-up of any sidepull, but approach cantilevers in power. The price they pay is more weight and less fender clearance. Dual-Pivot sidepulls have virtually taken over, and the only Single-pivot styles still available are NOS (new old stock) made in the pre-Dual-pivot ’70s and’80s.

Brake Reach

Brake Reach is the distance from the centerbolt to the center of the brake pad when that brake pad is at the bottom of the slot. (Brake calipers have vertical slots that allow you to move the brake pads up or down, so they mate with your rims perfectly.)

Short reach brakes typically “reach” up to 49mm, sometimes 50mm from the brake bolt.

Standard reach brakes (usually called Long Reach these days; but in the old days they were standard, so the name sticks) reach up to 56 or 57mm. The increased reach allows the frame maker to make a longer fork and place the rear brake bridge higher on the seat stays, which gives more room for fenders or fatter tires.

How They Attach: Allen nuts or Hex Nuts?

Brakes attach to the fork crown and seat stay bridge with a threaded bolt, which is secured by either a standard hex nut (“nutted”) or an allen nut (“allen”).

Nutted brakes were the old way, and are still the easiest kind to use if you’re attaching fenders; but not by much. Some riders point out that nutted brakes are safer because you can tell by looking if the nut comes loose. Allen nuts are generally coated with a Loctite-type goop that prevents them from vibrating loose, though, so just snug them up tight when you install them, and don’t worry about it after that.

Stems 101

Anatomy

quill – the portion that fits into the fork’s steer tube, providing the connection between handlebar and front wheel. There are two important quill dimensions: diameter and length.

On modern decent-or-better bicycles, quill diameters vary from 22.2mm (7/8-inch) on traditional/normal bikes, to 25.4mm (1-inch) on burly mountain bikes and many tandems.

Quill lengths are measured from the bottom of the quill to the top of the quill, and vary from 125mm to 280mm. The traditional-length road stem quill is 135mm long. Stems start to look funny up around 200mm.

extension – the part of the stem that extends forward to the handlebar clamp. Some manufacturers measure extensions from different points than other manufacturers, but nominally, it’s from the center of the quill to the center of the bar clamp. The shortest extensions are 50mm; the longest are 140mm.

handlebar clamp – the part that actually grabs ahold of the handlebar.

Some clamp with one bolt, some with two, it doesn’t matter. What matters is diameter, and there are two common ones.

25.4mm (one-inch): For old cheap road bars and all mountain bikes. 26.0mm: For most modern road bars.

MATERIALS

Aluminum, Steel
The “classic” aluminum stem is cold-forged, shiny, slender, smooth, and has an angle (measured between the quill and extension) of 72 to 73 degrees. Cold forging is a process in which a solid bar of aluminum is bent to the desired angle, then smashed into shape between forging dies. It is called cold-forging, not because the aluminum is cold when it takes place, but because in another process, called HOT forging, the aluminum is much hotter. It should be “warm forging,” but it’s not.

Cold forging does good things. Mainly, it imparts a grain to the aluminum, not unlike the grain in wood. More importantly, in cold forging, the grain follows the contours of the aluminum, exactly as it does in a crooked tree branch. That contoured grain adds incredible strength to the piece.

Cheaper stems are cast; a process in which molten aluminum is poured into a mold. There are two common casting techniques.

The “good” way is Gravity Casting: After the aluminum is poured into the mold, the pre-stem is allowed to cool naturally (slowly), during which the bubbles in the liquid aluminum gravitate to the top and are expelled, leaving a fairly dense (though grainless) cast stem. Gravity cast stems are not as strong as cold-forged ones, but they’re still pretty good. Certainly strong enough for road use.

The worse way, Pressure Casting, starts out the same as Gravity Casting, but instead of letting the bubbles float up and out of the mold, the aluminum is subject to external pressure, intended to force the bubbles out; and then it is force-cooled. Pressure cast stems are strong enough for most uses also, but are more brittle than either Gravity Cast or cold-forged ones.

TIG-Welded
Aluminum can also be tig-welded. Usua

Steel Stems
Are usually TIG-welded

Dimensions
Quill

Bike Saddles

Saddles come in more variety than any other bicycle component. Plastic, leather, wide, skinny, holes for preventing impotency, no holes for preventing impotency, embroidered racy/midlife crisis saddles, tilting saddles, hammock saddles, and no doubt new and revolutionary designs are being developed right now.

A saddle should be:

  1. Wide enough to support your sit bones (ischial tuberosites, pronounced “ishi-ul tuber ossitees”). They’re called sit bones because you’re supposed to sit on them. If it is too narrow, your sit bones will straddle the saddle, and the saddle will push up into you. If you’re a woman, it’ll crush your folds. If you’re a guy, it’ll smash your penile artery, and make your penis go numb. It is our opinion that 170mm is wide enough for all men and 70 percent of women, although “women’s specific” saddles are usually about 220mmm wide.
  2. Skinny enough in the mid portion so your thighs don’t rub it and get all chafed. How skinny is skinny enough depends on how you pedal, how fat your thighs are, and your pedaling position. The more upright you are, the wider the saddle can be.

Men’s saddles are longer, front to rear, than are women’s saddles. The added length supports the external plumbing.

Women’s saddles are usually wider in the rear, because women’s sit bones are wider (designed for giving birth). Women’s saddles usually are shorter front to rear, because they have no external plumbing to support.

Materials

Leather is the traditional saddle material. It looks the best. It smells the best. It usually weighs the most, requires 100 miles of riding to break it in, and a certain amount of maintenance.

If the prospect of breaking it in and maintaining it scares you, get a plastic saddle. If you go through several plastic saddle saddles and still aren’t comfortable, get a Brooks B.17.

Plastic-base saddles are far easier and faster to make, and if they’re shaped right and padded properly, they work well for most people. They require no break-in or maintenance, and that always appeals to a certain number of riders. They’re the most popular kind, because they can be mass produced cheaply, leaving plenty of money remaining to promote and sell them.

Everyone cannot but have noticed – and it is starting to be documented – that bikers as a breed are getting older, the average age of club members and rally goers is climbing as no new blood is coming in. Why?

I will split my views here into three as each has its’ own reasons – being bikes, events and music; I am writing this after the August Bank Holiday weekend which saw me take in a pub rock disco, Rock City at Nottingham and a Classic Bike Show.

Bikes first then – when I started riding, as most of us did, we rode what we could afford, fixed/ customised/ tuned them ourselves. We dreamed of huge machines – litre+ – machines we would one day buy. As we got older and earned more money we moved up the capacity ladder until we got to our dream bikes, or maybe you’re still climbing?
Today, performance, handling and braking beyond the best ever 80’s Jap superbike is available off the shelf in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and reliability comes with it fitted as standard for 99 quid down and convenient monthly payments, suits you sir. Who wants to spend months building a streetfighter when you can have a Bandit 12 instead?

Buying a big bike is no longer a prerequisite to going fast – and the new blood we are seeking is buying the modern 600’s as they will thrash a GSX / GPz / XS 11 in every department except one – acceptability. 

Taff the author in his band Slingshot

In a conversation with a teenaged lad at Rock City this weekend (more of that below) he said he was doing his test and was looking at either a CBR 600 or a Hornet, which would be the best one to buy to fit in? That young people are worried that they will be ignored or looked down on at a club or event due to their ride is a worrying discovery.

I was in various local clubs for around 7 years and in the end walked away from it all as it had nothing left to offer me – but every club of that ilk has at least one who looks down upon people who have less rally badges than him.

I have also had that attitude from people who were at junior school when I did my first rally – the ‘new blood’ of biking – who are copying their elders for the most part. So it is no wonder that young people considering the biker lifestyle go elsewhere; It is bad enough to get through your multistage test now without having to follow rules from someone old enough to be your father – the last thing you are looking to do when in your late teens / early 20’s.

Which takes us nicely on to events – attendances down across the board and why? As everyone is older and has wives and kids, they just come down for the Saturday night – so now you know why the numbers on Saturday night bear no relation to the number of tents in the field.

Young people are not coming for a very simple reason – we have nothing to offer them, in the main. Some of the larger events are waking up but the ‘disco on Friday, rally games / bike show / rock covers band / raffle on Saturday’ formula is still the norm – this hasn’t changed since I started rallying 15 years ago.

Rock festivals now are no longer limited to the stage and a beer tent – popular add-ons include Internet café’s, Skateboard ramps, Playstation tents…and they take the people we are looking to attract away from us.

And while we’re on the subject – the Internet. This can be nicely summed up by two versions of the same question I am commonly asked at biking gigs with our band, Slingshot. Older persons ask “Have you got a flyer with some info?”. Younger persons ask “Have you got a website?”.

We do have a website and don’t have paper flyers – but when this is imparted to the older petitioner approximately 70% aren’t online and don’t want to be. To the younger people, not being online is as alien to them as being without a bike is to us.

We find our weekend party venues in magazines – they find theirs on the ‘Net or via mobile phones. The chap at Rock City mentioned earlier tapped me on the shoulder for one reason – for my sins I was wearing a Bikersweb t-shirt and he had clocked the web address on the back, asked me what was on the site. Now I am pretty confident that without the w3 & .co.uk bits either side of it he would have walked past oblivious.

Clubs are starting to get online as they usually have one member clued up enough to get it together – but once again usually nothing to catch a young person’s attention, just the usual “This is us, our bikes and us pissed at a rally”. It’s not enough.

Music. Slingshot is one of the aforementioned rock covers band – and as such should have a sell-by date. In pubs this is rapidly approaching as we run out of local pubs who book rock bands – but biker gigs just get bigger all the time. Now we play a wide variety of music including 90’s stuff, but once again this is the exception. The rule is still the bog standard covers or blues band for a rally, with one of the club members doing a rock disco of sorts. If I had a quid for every time I’ve heard a band do “Paranoid” at a rally I’d be shopping for a gold-plated Hayabusa.

Bulldog this year got in on it – Kill II This, Therapy?, Fun Lovin’ Criminals up there as headliners – and drew in younger punters because of it, but so far they are in isolation.

Again not enough. Think you can relate to the younger audience cos’ you know the words to “Enter Sandman”? Wake up, Metallica’s black album was recorded 9 YEARS AGO. Take a look at your record collection. What, you’ve got one? Most young people don’t even own a turntable. Got any Fear Factory, Static X, Slipknot?

On Friday I took my classic rock disco out to a local pub and had a handful of 30 somethings requesting Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Def Leppard et al. Saturday at Rock City we were queuing to get in and feeling very old when we did due to the overwhelmingly teenaged persons inside. And all because of the music being played.

The rave tent is now a staple at the larger events – who are starting to draw in the younger punters. The older bikers moan about it but they are packed out when the bands finish. Drum and Bass kicks like metal never did – with my rock disco I play metal all night but it is always ‘Firestarter’ that takes out my speaker cones…

To quote a Thin Lizzy song -‘What fate the future holds? It ain’t pretty…’ What we are looking at here is plain and simple extinction. Currently it is recoverable but natural wastage of the “marriage / house / baby forces sale” variety coupled to young persons going elsewhere is going to change 30-somethings trying to appeal to teenagers into 40 and 50-somethings before you know it. Who are going to have NO chance. Do you get down and party hard with YOUR grandparents?

So, let us choose a model for our salvation; Cher. Now I’m not exhorting us all to have plastic surgery and prance around in body stockings (although some bikers already do) – but how does a 54-year-old singer score platinum album and single sales worldwide in the late ’90s? Answer: Reinvention.

Cher took a long hard look at the rock ballads, turned her back on them and went into the studio with some trendy young things and turned out the “Believe” album. Some of her older fans went ‘Urrgh’ but she is still touring 2 years later on the strength of the sales.

We have to do the same – we have to tap into what the new generation wants, integrate this with the current fare – like Bulldog this year – how difficult would it be to bring a club members’ kids’ Playstation along for the weekend? There are endless teenaged bands out there who have a peer following and can be booked to play for pocket money.

Or we can just simply pat each other on the back about how great things are without all this modern rubbish and sit back and watch our numbers dwindle away until we are a sufficiently easy target to be legislated out of existence.

Your choice.