Re: [CR]Riding Theory vs. Design vs. Materials vs. Nationality

Example: Events:Cirque du Cyclisme:2007
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 2004 09:00:00 -0700
From: "Jan Heine" <>
Subject: Re: [CR]Riding Theory vs. Design vs. Materials vs. Nationality

I do not know anything about bikes before 1930, and racing bikes before 1945, so I cannot comment on that. Since then, while some old bikes truly were awful, for the most part, the better bikes work well for their intended use. Most of them are absolutely lovely to ride.

Here are a few random thoughts:

For example, on bad roads and extreme distances at moderate speeds (compared to today's racing), you'd be better off on a 1940s racing bike than on a modern one. If Fausto Coppi had been offered Lance's carbon bike, he probably would have stuck with his Bianchi. The taller frame, slacker head angle, fatter tires, etc., all combine to make the bike more comfortable and easier to handle for the long distances.

In my opinion, sizing a vintage bike like you would your modern bike is missing the point. Imagine yourself buying one back then, and think of the size they would have given you. A give-away is that many old bikes have relatively short top tubes. It's not that the top tubes are short, but that the seat tubes are longer!

Back then, there also was more rider preference. Coppi had his seat all the way down, Koblet (see below) actually had his bars quite a bit lower than his seat. Not like a modern bike, but much more so than Coppi. (Of course, Koblet was very tall, and maybe they just didn't want to build a frame taller than any they had made in the past, so he had to make do with a compromise.)

The bicycle makers of old weren't stupid, and in any case, if a smaller frame would give better handling, they would have used it. (With bikes being exchanged among team-mates after crashes, etc., I have no doubt riders tried smaller frames and didn't like them.)

Randonneurs have found recently that geometries and frame sizing as was used until the 1960s results in a more suitable bike - we rarely go faster than 20 mph, we spend long hours (days) in the saddle, and the roads in the U.S. are getting worse with every SUV that is sold. The guys on modern racing bikes, which often are designed for criteriums, are pretty worn out at the end of the day, while those on more suitable bikes aren't. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to enter a criterium on my Alex Singer, either. The stable handling and great cornering are nice on the open road, but in a crit pack, you need a bike that moves before you have realized that you need to move. On the open road, such a bike becomes tiresome after a hundred miles because it moves on its own as you get tired, especially if you don't maintain the crit pace of 27 mph, at which speed the bike rides like a dream. Much slower, it becomes unstable.

Certainly, some things have changed with the fashions. Cadences were higher in the past, when racers still had the memory of fixed gears in their legs. A tall gear of 50-14, nowadays considered too small by most weekend warriors, was sufficient for Koblet to win the Tour de France in 1951 (see Vintage Bicycle Quarterly Vol. 2, No. 2 for the bike and gears Koblet used). Seats have gone higher, bars have gone lower (but nowadays, racers rarely use the drops, so their position when going fast hasn't changed much, they simply gave up the more upright position because they don't need to rest during the shorter races of today).

One of the few advances in positioning are aero bars for short and medium distance time trials. They provide a very real benefit. Even the "funny" aero bikes so much in fashion fell by the wayside long before the UCI banned them.

Some things turn full circle, like Lance using higher cadences than most racers in recent years. Maybe some day, we'll find seats going down a bit and bars going up. In fact, most bikes in the Tour have higher bars than most bikes I see on the trail on weekends. But then, even today's short Tour stages are long compared to most weekend warriors rides. And randonneurs usually ride with their seats "too low" by modern standards.

I don't know much about National preferences. At least for racing, the makers looked at each others bike during the big tours. The differences seem minor. For cyclotouring, it is a different issue. The national differences were extreme, but mostly were because some countries had a cycling press with a strong cyclotouring focus (like France), while others didn't, so their touring bikes resembled racers. -- Jan Heine, Seattle Editor/Publisher Vintage Bicycle Quarterly
>There's a chickens-to-eggs relation here no doubt.
>I'm wondering how theories of rider postion, frame & component
>design, materials, "national flavour" affected riding style, bike
>set-up and such. Perhaps even road conditions.
>For example: If there was a rider from the 1920's along side a rider
>from the 70's, what would one notice about bike set-up, cadence,
>rider postion etc...? Also, would there be a noticable difference
>between and English rider and a French rider?
>I've heard that "a while ago" - 1960's? 1950's? - common practice
>was to have the largest frame possible such that the saddle had to
>be full down into the seat tube.
>I wonder what it would feel like to ride a period correct bike from
>a very distant period.
>Can anyone comment?
>Richard Cielec
>Chicago, Illinois
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