And That Just Ain’t Right

Time-trial bicycle
The epitome of simplicity. No derailleurs, just a frame, crank, pedals, wheels, handlebar, seat, and one brake.

By David Ward

Can I just say? I don’t get it! Electronic shifting has been around for quite awhile but never quite caught on. And I understood that. But now, electronic shifting is being pushed heavily and is beginning to catch on. And I don’t get that. I mean, how hard is it to push a lever to shift?

If your legs can push the pedals, why can’t your finger push a shift lever? Before you begin to criticize me for just being a retro nut and a grouch, I have always been a great fan of innovation. Around 1987, I was one of the first to buy the latest innovation, a pair of clipless pedals. I loved them, even though one of my heroes, Sean Kelly, continued to use toe clips for the remainder of his career.

Next, I was quickly on board with Shimano’s newest trick, indexed shifting. I loved it. No more “grind and find it”. It took racing, and riding for that matter, to a whole new level. I was also one of the first to acquire a carbon fiber frame. And brake lever shifters

In fact, several years ago, I wrote an article taking old school technology to task. “Retro, schmetro” I said. I am all for innovation and advancement. But electronic shifting crosses a line for me.

I have idealized cycling in part because I provide all the power. I marvel at the synergy between my body and my bike. I am energized and empowered by it. I don’t need batteries. I don’t need to plug in. I don’t need a power line or a power grid. I don’t need solar panels or wind turbines. I just need food, and I consume plenty of that, let me assure you.

A bicycle requires nothing extrinsic besides me. It needs no gas, no electricity. It takes me great distances, through amazing countryside, to beautiful views and vistas, and among new and interesting places and people. All I need to do is get on and pedal. So, electronic shifting, or anything else that introduces an outside power source, feels to me like a betrayal.

It brings dissonance to that perfect synergy that my bike and I share. It is no longer me touching the shifter at which point the bike takes over to complete the shift. Rather, I touch a lever, this dissonant element intercedes between the bike and me, and delivers the kick that makes the shift. I’ll not have it, I say.

A bicycle is a magnificent machine. It is simple and sleek. Yes, we add things to it to help with performance and function. I could not climb without gears. Brakes give me control. Seat bags, pumps, racks, lights, etc. are all important accessories if you are going to be out on your bike. But the simpler I can make my bike, the better.

Indeed, I fell in love with the fixed gear bike I acquired a couple of years ago. It is the epitome of simplicity. No derailleurs, just a frame, crank, pedals, wheels, handlebar, seat, and one brake. Nothing more. Indeed, if I dared, and if it were not illegal, I would eliminate the brake. Perfect, and perfectly simple.

But whether it is a sleek and simple fixie, loaded touring bike, mountain bike, kid’s pink Barbie bike, recumbent or anything in between, it is an ideal and marvelous machine, 100% powered by the legs pushing the pedals. That is, unless it has electronic shifting. And that just ain’t right.

 

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