Disclaimer!: This post is meant to get some animated debate going if possible. It is not meant to devolve in a flamewar or
namecalling or to offend anyone. If you can't hack that, please don't read on or post... Thanks!
I have at times mentioned some of my ideas on bikes, but never in a thread of their own, in this long post i go into them in detail. Two of these ideas are:
1. Large Wheels (anything over 20 inch or possibly 24 inch) are a silly idea with little merit for 95 % of cyclist.
2. Unsprung (non leather?) saddles are a very bad idea for about 85 % of cyclists despite quite few cyclists using them.
Let me elaborate and please reply if you have read my elaboratoin and feel like replying.
1. I believe larger wheels have a lot more drawbacks than advantages over small ones.
Of my and Bike Friday's site:
-climb better due to a smaller diameter that needs to be rotated.
-accelerate faster for the same reason.
-are more responsive - they turn and steer more easily - the feel is rather like
having 'power steering' in your car.
-have a lower surface area, have lower wind resistance in headwinds.
When riding in a group, small wheels enable you to get closer together and draft
The design of many folders or other small wheeled bikes (Dahon Minibike for example) allows a smaller
and and lighter overall package than a regular bike, and smallness and lightness are factors in going
For those not into folders, there are more and more non folding small wheel frames available.
Also there are many smal wheeled bikes that despite the wheels will give the exact same dimensions and riding positions as a large wheeled bikes. To wit, Bike Fridays, Xootr Swifts etc.
About the small wheels are slow myth:
In fact tests have shown that up to 16 mp/h, the small wheel is more efficient
than a big wheel. Between 16 and 33 mp/h there is little difference. Over 33 mp/h
the gyroscopic effect of the big wheel makes it more effective. Most folks do not
go over 33 mp/h. Source: 1984 Olympic Men's Road Race Gold Medal winner,
Alexi Grewal during a conversation with Jeff Linder. Alexi owns a Pocket Rocket
(a higher end folder).
Note: 33 mp/h is more than 53 Kilometers per Hour! Even 7 time Tour De France winner Lance
Armstrong (arguably the world's fastest and best cyclist at the time of his last Tour Victory) averaged
just shy of 42 Kilometers per Hour in his last tour despite (because?) of large wheels and skinny tires
The world cycling hour record is about 56 Kilometers per Hour and there are probably about a dozen
guys in the world that can even get close to this. I for one know that i will never even be anywhere
near to going 33 mp/h under my own power (just like 99,9% of humanity).
Remember that large wheels originated from a time where there were no such
thing as gears - witness the direct drive Penny Farthing bike. Now, the size of the
wheel can be optimized - and that optimal size is a lot smaller than 26" or more.
Another reason for the prevalence of larger wheels is tradition and regulations. Most bike sanctioned bike races are subject to stringent regulations which prescribe almost everything including wheel size. Many of these regulations were drawn up at the dawn of cycling 80 to a 100 years ago and have changed relatively little. Wheel size is one thing that has had very little leeway despite mamy new (better?) designs, sizes and insight having come about. How many percent of cyclists actually compete in sanctioned and regulated races....? Not many, then why does the vast majority of cyclists run large wheels?
Think about HPV records or the fastest bikes out there, they tend to be achieved/build with 20 inch or smaller. This is due to the high efficiency and low winddrag of running small wheels and the design they allow. Even a fairly simple recumbent will allow the average rider to increase his average speed significantly, but that might be somewhat of another debate.
20 Inch and smaller also allows for smaller lighter frames that are just as stiff yet lighter and can also fold! Think of high end and low end folding bikes such as Moultons, Bike Fridays, Downtubes, Dahons, Bromptons etc.
Lastly smaller wheels can be (way) lighter yet stronger with the same amount of spokes. I have also learned that it is nearly impossible to warp a 20 inch wheel. According to a knowledgeable guy on bike forums "a 32-spoke, cross laced, 20 inch wheel is about equivalent in strength to a 44-spoke 700c.
(eg: bomb-proof)". My experience so far seems to confirm this. I jump off curbs and sometimes even in to them (not too much) no problems at all. I think this is another great benefit of a folder with smaller wheels. No way in hell i would dream of doing this with large wheels, they would almost certainly buckle and warp. And what cyclist likes that? It is one of the things that can really put a damper on cycling.
20 inch is also perfectly suited for (extended) loaded Touring as many tourers have demonstrated. I don't think Heinz Stucke would be using a 20 inch Bike Friday it if it wasn't for his trips.
Standardization. Quite some small wheel sizes are standardized, particularly 20 inch. You can get a plethora of rims, spokes and tires for these sizes, from the fastest skinniest slicks coupled with Carbon wheels to the Chunkiest toughest BMX tires and high spoke rims.
Comfort. Some people voice concerns that smaller wheels will be less comfortable. In my experience this is a non issue. Comfort is more dependent on frame design and material, saddle, tire selection and fitness. I could see how hardcore trail mountainbikers might need 24 inch to easily roll over large obstacles such as logs but for the rest... Freestyle BMX is 20 inch and they seem to do pretty well hitting large obstacles and jumps. This concern also ties in with my second point. Lastly, many of todays small wheeled bikes have an axle to axle distance which is the same as large wheeled bikes. In other words they handle and ride just like a larger bike except in the already mentioned respects/advantages.
2. We have been cheated out of comfort and durability (and possibly seduced into risking more injuries) by lemming like behaviour and ignorance when it comes to saddles... Sheldon Brown writes:
"Until the 1970s bike boom, virtually all bicycle saddles had springs. The only cyclists who rode un-sprung saddles were hard-core, high-intensity riders. These cyclists carried such a large proportion of their body weight on their legs that they didn't need springs in their saddles, and they were weight-concious enough to begrudge the weight of the springs. Sporty cylcists also preferred unsprung saddles because they made it easier to pedal rapid cadences without bouncing.
When the bike boom struck, and everybody in America bought a racing-style drop-bar ten speed, the unsprung saddle was part of the deal. Unfortunately, neither the un-sprung saddle, the drop handlebars, nor the narrow tires suited the needs of the more casual, "recreational" cyclist.
The mountain bike revolution was a movement away from the drop bar and the narrow tire, but the unsprung saddle remained. Since the mountain bike came with big fat squishy tires, the tire was able to provide enough shock-absorbency to make the bikes reasonably comfortable to ride. Unfortunately, those same tires also made the bikes slow and hard to pedal.
Despite fashion, I believe that saddles with built-in springs make a great deal of sense for most cyclists, who favor a fairly upright riding position which puts more of the rider's weight on the saddle."
Sure you can 'solve' some of the problem of discomfort on non sprung saddles by complex and expensive suspension systems subject to lots of slop and wear and tear. But again this makes little sense to me except possibly for downhill mountainbikers.
Sheldon Brown also writes:
"Tensioned Leather Saddles
Until the mid 1970s, most good quality bicycles came with tensioned leather saddles. These have a frame basically similar to that of the padded plastic saddle, but with a curved metal bridge connecting the two rear points of the "V". A thick piece of leather is rivetted to this bridge, and to an adjustable fitting at the nose of the saddle. The leather is suspended sort of like a hammock. A properly shaped leather saddle is an excellent choice for the high-mileage rider who doesn't mind the fact that it is a bit heavier than a plastic saddle. Leather saddles provide "give" by stretching and flexing, without the need for foam padding. The lack of foam greatly improves comfort in hot weather, as heat and perspiration can "breathe" through the porous leather." Leather saddles also "break in" to fit the particular shape of the rider, in much the same way as a baseball glove does."
"Every spring, bike shops sell scads of saddles to cyclists who come in because their old saddle has become uncomfortable since they stopped cycling in the fall. They went out for a ride or two, and found it much less comfortable than they remembered from the previous year. They've heard about the latest buzzword in saddle gimmicks, and they want one of those!
They buy the new saddle, put it on the bike, go for a few more rides, and find they're much more comfortable. They tell all their friends about their wonderful new saddle, and how they need one too...
But was it really the new, high-tech saddle...or was it just that the rider had become unaccustomed to cycling over the winter layoff? In many cases, working your way up over the course of a few short rides of gradually increasing length is all that is necessary, if you have a decent-quality saddle, properly adjusted. If you have previously been comfortable on your present saddle, don't be in a hurry to change.
Yes leather saddles do need more care and maintenance. On the other hand they last up to 3 or 4 decades. See the many Brooks threads for more info on this.
I realize i may be wrong or missing something (so i would really like some positive input) and that taste is something personal. However i just boggles my mind that what i write above may well be (partially) correct or factual... This would have pretty far reaching implications in some ways.
About Heinz Stucke