Friday, September 28, 2012

What's in the Stand: Mr. Merckx Stopped by for a Visit

E. Merckx
This bike is just really pretty. Merckx frames, especially steel ones, have all kinds of neat little touches that show how much time and attention went into making the bike look totally pro. The paint is usually really nice, I like the retro look of the lettering and the head badge, and I'm a total sucker for the little EM logo on the seat stay caps and how they made it look like a bicycle. They usually have some kind of internal cable routing for the rear brake as well which I think really adds to the clean look of a road bike.
I would love to own an older Merckx frame someday, though that falls into the "unattainable fantasy" end of my bike-related hopes and dreams. They're expensive when they're new and a certain generation of these frames (the generation that I like) are fairly collectible. When you see a nice one it's usually owned by someone who knows what they have and they aren't willing to part with it for less than a small fortune. I've seen a few beat up Merckx frames that have been converted into townies by the Fixerati and it makes my heart sad every time. With a heavy sigh I'll concede that at least they are still being ridden and that, for better or worse, is what bikes were meant to do. For the present I'll restrain my affection for these bikes to pawing over someone else's ride while I have it in the repair stand.

All issues of provenance and manufacture aside, the bike brings two topics to mind; handlebar accessories and bicycle computers.

This bike's owner is a follower of the "Too Much is Never Enough" school of thought when it comes to handlebar accessories. He has aero bars, arm pads, and two different computers. That's a lot of stuff draped over, bolted to, and affixed to the handlebars. All of it is purpose specific, the owner could probably give you a sound explanation for why each particular item is there, and none of the reasons would be bad...but I don't like it. If we were to digress into discussions about personal taste in bike aesthetics, I would describe mine as being fairly minimalist. I like luggage, particularly handlebar bags for longer rides, and I do use a Garmin 500 on my personal bike, but there are ways to install such things where they don't make the bike look cluttered. I like handlebars to be clean, if only so I'm not having to reach around a whole bunch of stuff when I'm riding the bike. It's particularly noticeable on a bike like this where the overall aesthetic is a little retro, a little bit like race machines from the '70s. On a steel road frame with nice, narrow tubes I like things to be pretty stripped down, if only so it looks like it's about to be smashed through the mud and cobbles of the Spring Classics.

I'm usually confused by people's relationship with their cycling computers. More often than not I see bikes with either broken or non-functional computers on the handlebars. Even more strange are the bikes I handle with parts of broken computers still attached when the customer has just finished telling me that they don't have the other pieces any more. The same goes for light mounts. There are so many bicycles cruising around with broken or old light mounts attached to the handlebars, and more often than not the rider doesn't own the lights any more. It's crazy. Just take them off if you know you aren't going to use them any more.
This bike had two computers, a heart rate monitor and a Campagnolo Ergobrain setup. Both of them were set up in such a way that if you were to get out on the aero bars you would have them about six inches from your face. I suppose that's a good way to keep your eye on your heart rate but I would find it distracting. The Ergobrain computer is worth a mention because it's complicated, expensive, and doesn't exist anymore (though there are rumblings from the Campagnolo camp that they are going to implement a similar computer again sometime soon). The Campagnolo Ergobrain is a wired computer that has sensors that extend to a wheel magnet, and the ergo shifters. When it's properly set up it tells you all kinds of things, such as speed, cadence, mileage, and your particular gear combo at the moment. It's very similar to the Shimano Flightdeck computers and they have a similarly difficult set up procedure. The computer has to be installed when the bars are untaped so wires can be run along the handlebar and plugged into the shifters. Wires are also extended along the downtube to the sensor for the wheel magnet. When you program the computer you have to know the tooth count for every cog on your cassette and your chainrings so the computer can accurately generate your data given a particular gear ratio. It generates your cadence data by doing fancy math, which is odd since computers with actual cadence sensors have been around for about as long as this computer.

The man himself, Mr. Eddy Merckx

It all makes my head spin. The best thing that ever happened to cycling computers was the creation of Garmin's line of GPS-enabled goodies. When I got mine I became an immediate convert. They're small, they're easy to use, and they provide way more data than a computer like the Ergobrain or a Shimano Flightdeck ever could. It won't tell you what your current gear combo is, but I like to think that's reasonably easy to figure out without a computer (Hint: look between your knees at the gears).

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