Gilbert wrote -
>American riders have been directed toward lower stem positions I
>feel because of our background and heritage in track and then criterium
>racing (and coaches from these disciplines). Euro's grew up with much more
>long road and stage racing than their American counterparts.
And thank you, Gilbert. That's a subject I've been thinking of for some time. It goes beyond racing, too - because while Europe and England had vibrant cycling club cultures to develop and then transmit collective experience to new riders, the small pockets of serious cyclists in this country for much of the 20th Century tended to be dominated by racing cyclists. American racing cyclists tended to be pretty conservative, too ... fixed-gear track bikes were the primary racing bikes over here for how long? Into the early 50s, wasn't it? You flip through Peter Nye's book and see guys racing on the road on track iron at least through the late 40s, and the bikes have the low bars and high BB we associate with such machines.
Now, this is not to denigrate anybody - indeed, I feel much gratitude to folks like Gene Portuesi, Mike Walden, et al ... but the folks who kept the cycling flame alive in the U.S. at mid-century were a small group, and one or two guys' views could have a long, long reach. I still think there's a really good scholarly paper to be done on this idea.
Sure, there were exceptions to the racing fraternity's world view - Dr. Clifford Graves, who probably reached an older, more affluent group of riders; Spence Wolfe (sp?), whose adaptations of the equipment of the day to touring use still draw respectful looks from those of us who know what they are; and maybe Charlie Hamburger up in Massachusetts, though Sheldon can probably far more about him than I can. All the same, I think that in this country, the influence of racing was not counterbalanced as much by other types of cycling as it was in other nations.
Now, I'm saying all this while remembering that when I was a wee tad, the bikes all the American authors pushed were more sport-touring machines. Think Sloane, think Ballantine, even dear old Tom Cuthbertson - they all warned against getting a machine designed for winning the TdF and planning to load it up with panniers for touring.
I'll throw in an interesting tidbit I have noticed, and maybe some of you have, too. If you go back to Nancy Neiman Baranet's book from about 1970, she talks about the tops of the bars being level with the saddle. About the same time, Sloane was writing about the bars being no lower than one inch below saddle height ... by the mid-80s, it seems to me the books are suggesting the top of the stem at around 2 inches below the saddle ... and now, of course, it is lower still.