Monday, December 1, 2008

The Party's Over: Derailed by the Economy

(Bronx pawn shop window)

Things, as they say, are tough all over. Usually I try to ignore the the problems of the world, choosing instead to focus my concern on the world of cycling, and for the most part I've been successful. (While millions of people must live without food, clothing, or shelter, I find myself worrying more about the fact that thousands of fixed-gears are being ridden without bar tape, brakes, or foot retention.) However, the signs of collapse are everywhere, and even I can no longer ignore them. What speaks more articulately of economic crisis than a "Marshal Seized" notice stuck to a tinted SUV window?

I'll tell you what: a "Marshal Seized" notice stuck to the tinted window of an SUV which boasts not only a tastefully understated mauve-and-lavender plaid color scheme...

...but also seating for 40 of your closest cologne-and-perfume-drenched friends.

I came upon this scene recently as I entered Prospect Park, and I'm not ashamed to say that I flung the Ironic Orange Julius Bike into a nearby copse of trees, dropped to my knees, and cried to the heavens over the injustice of it all. It's one thing when people are losing their houses, but it's another when they're losing the very things that make life worth living, like giant purple limousines. As much as I longed to see Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White emerge with his microbrew-swilling entourage from this block-long purple party machine one last time (with appropriate musical accompaniment of course), even I had to confront the fact that the party may very well be over--at least for the time being. With this awe-inspiring vehicle curbed and bound for auction, where it will most likely be snatched up by the premiere of some faraway post-Soviet republic, there's no question we are entering a new era of austerity and sobriety. For the next few years at least, sweet sixteens, proms, and weddings in the Brooklyn/Queens/Nassau area are about to get a little less magical but a lot more tasteful.

And the blight has also reached our nation's capital (or the general vicinity anyway), where at least one person has been forced to sell his penny-farthing:

52" Penny Farthing High Wheel Bicycle - $1300 (Frederick, MD)
Reply to: [deleted]
Date: 2008-11-24, 6:17AM EST

It's the next big thing a 130 years later! Oh the looks you’ll get ridin’ this bad boy! This is the Excelsior model. Extremely unique 52” front wheel and a 16” rear wheel! Shipping is a bear with these bikes, but buying locally will save you big shipping charges. I may even consider delivery. This bike was built in California and retails for $1500 + $300 shipping = $1800. It is in great condition and has even appeared in some local parades. Even looks great as décor! They are soooooooooo fun to ride! I have another one that I ride so I don’t need two….so my wife says. These are the next big thing...real link below:
Call eRiC if you’re interested at 301-514-[deleted]...guaranteed to make you smile!

Okay, admittedly the seller appears to be bowing to spousal pressure and not to financial need, yet you've got to admit that it's a sad day indeed when a man must part with his second p-far. (Personally, I think his wife is being unreasonable. Next she'll probably make him sell that third loom. Where does it end?!?)

Given that even I have been forced to confront the fact that things are bleak, you'd think that by now everybody else has as well--but you'd be wrong. I was poking around on the website of a popular mail-order bicycle retailer recently when I stumbled upon this:

Like many cyclists, I've known for some time now that Campagnolo have both moved to 11-speed and re-introduced the Super Record group. However, like many cyclists, I also didn't really pay attention because I didn't care. For this reason, I was unaware until viewing the aforementioned link of just how shockingly expensive this stuff is. And while the whole group is expensive, for some reason it was the $500 rear derailleur that really brought it all home for me. Sure, the $480 cassette is expensive, but I suppose if you're in the later stages of syphilis or something you can rationalize it by telling yourself it's only like $43 a cog, which is about the same price as a stainless steel singlespeed cog by Chris King--plus you get the spacers free! And sure, the $625 ergo levers are also ridiculously priced, but they're really not that much more than other top-end shifters, and if you're in the later stages of syphilis or something you can rationalize it by telling yourself that your hands spend a lot of time on your shifters and so somehow it's worth it. Plus, I went to take a closer look at the Super Record ergos on the Campagnolo website, and even though they're really ugly something about them was strangely endearing to me:

I struggled to put my finger on why this was, until I realized something about the cocked inward angle of the tops and the droopy lengths of the lever blades called to mind the visage of an expectant dog with floppy ears:

Or if you prefer:

Yes, I'm proud to say I drew that myself. Freehand!

Still, I could find nothing endearing about that stupid, ugly, overpriced, $500 rear derailleur no matter how hard I tried. Instead, I just sat there smoldering and quietly hating it. It actually bothered me that I hated it so much, so now that I was on the Campagnolo website I decided to read more about the Super Record group in the hopes that understanding it might make me hate it less. Here's what I learned:

Hmmm, "non plus ultra," you say? I don't know what that means, but I've heard that phrase used alongside other mind-blowingly expensive things and it sounds desirable. And what's that you say? "Sans pareil?" I freaking hate pareil! My last road group had pareil and it was totally making my shifters jam up at crucial moments, so perhaps it is worth the extra money for a group that doesn't have it. I think I'll read on:

Okay, now you're losing me. If Super Record was introduced in 1973, and it's now 2008, how can today be "21 years later"? Wouldn't that be 1994? Also, "umpteenth"? Really? If I'm going to pay all this money to get rid of pareil I expect precision. Using the word "umpteenth" is only slightly better than using the word "gazillion." I'm surprised they actually specify "11 speeds" and don't just say it's got "gobs of gears." This is all disappointing to say the least. And what about that rear derailleur?

Okay, it's $500, and all you can say is that it's "completely black" and that it's got "parallelogram geometry"? It's now 2008--or 1994 in Campagnolo time. What derailleur doesn't have parallelogram geometry? According to Sheldon Brown, the parallelogram derailleur has been around since like 1964. That was 44 years ago--or 30 years ago in Campagnolo time. Wait, don't tell me--the shifting on Super Record is indexed too, and it's fully compatible with round wheels that roll on pneumatic tires. Well, if Campagnolo is breaking this much ground, I certainly won't hesitate to break the bank.

Ah, wait, I know. It must be light. Really light. Sure, paying lots of money to shave grams is ridiculous behavior, but then again road cycling in general is ridiculous behavior. And while I certainly don't believe in spending lots of money for ultra-light components, I also get irritated when people condemn the practice by saying things like, "You know, the difference in weight between those two components is the same as a mouthful of liquid from your water bottle," or, "If you want to remove weight, lose it from your body, not your bike." These are bad arguments. I mean, you need liquid to ride competitively. Why would you shave weight by carrying less of it? And as far as the body thing goes, if you're truly competitive you want both your bike and your body to be as light as possible. Still, I do agree that it's important to keep component weight in perspective, and that's why instead of those tired old arguments I use New York State marijuana law:

It just so happens that drug weight penalties are a good yardstick for bike weight penalties. As you can see, being caught with 25 grams of marijuana or less merely results in a civil citation in New York State, and is only punishable by a $100 fine. That's less than half of what I had to pay when I ran a red light on my bike. In fact, I probably would have been better off being caught with some Wednesday weed instead. So if the police can't even be bothered to arrest you for having 25 grams of marijuana, then by extension it's kind of ridiculous to worry about a 25 gram weight difference in a bicycle component. And as the pot penalties increase, the chart can still be applied to bike weight--I think it's reasonable to consider carrying two unnecessary ounces on your race bike a misdemeanor, and I also feel that lugging ten extra pounds with you on a race bike is indeed a felony.

Given this, it would stand to reason then that the Campagnolo Super Record rear derailleur is astoundingly light, wouldn't it? Well, you'd think so, but it's not. I compared it to the other rear derailleurs on the popular retailer's site, and it turns out it's not particularly light at all:

In fact, the cheapest rear derailleur on the page was only 16 grams heavier than the Super Record, which in terms of weight penalty keeps you safely in civil-citation-with-no-jail-time territory:

Not only that, but it's also $421 dollars cheaper. That should buy you enough marijuana to get you some jail time.

Okay, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "I can't use that cheap derailleur with my Campagnolo puppy dog ears." Well, even if that's true, you can of course use a Chorus rear derailleur, stay under the 25 gram number, and save enough money to buy yourself a couple of Rival derailleurs to experiment with. (Or three months in jail if you buy marijuana instead.) You're also thinking, "Some of those cheaper derailleurs aren't 11-speed." Well, so what? Firstly, I'm guessing that in practice the only thing that makes that derailleur 11-speed is that it says "11" on it. Secondly, I have yet to find anybody who feels compelled to go to 11-speed anyway. Sure, people rushed to go to 10-speed, and to 9-speed, and so forth. But when Campagnolo came to the party with 11-speed it was kind of like when you meet an old friend who's still way into building bongs. "Hey, look what I made!" It was pretty cool in freshman year, but now it's just kind of pathetic.

But of course, we can't forget ceramic bearings. After all, ceramic bearings are the new gram-shaving, and if you're not using them you might as well be riding through two inches of mud, right? Well, thank goodness for $200 derailleur pulleys:

It's frightening to me that you can buy a brand-new SRAM Red derailleur and put these stupid things in it for the price of a single Campagnolo Super Record derailleur. Unfortunately, though, you will no longer be able to hire the purple party machine to take you to the bike shop.

Of course, my big question is whether the Campagnolo Super Record derailleur is compatible with Modolo Morphos shifters, as mandated by the Cosmic Kurt Loder:

Well, I'll defer to Lennard Zinn on that one, but I will say that they look less like a puppy dog's ears than they do the horrid maw of a fly:

Or if you prefer:

Yes, I drew that one freehand too. Though in hindsight, I may have had some subconscious inspiration: