Friday, December 2, 2016

The Speed of Sound

Now that bicycle frames are available in every conceivable configuration and material from boron to bamboo (you can get both from the same company by the way), the bicycle industry is finally admitting that it's mostly just tire volume and pressure that's informing your bicycle's ride quality and performance, which is why the roadies are allowed to use wider tires now:


See, they couldn't have told you that before, because if people knew then what they know now then nobody in their right mind would buy a carbon fiber bicycle.  They'd have simply kept what they had and bought some Paselas:


(28mm Pasela: the only road bike tire you need.)

Of course now they're telling you that you also need new wheels for your new wider tires, and of course disc brakes to stop them with, but that's a whole other story.

But there is another crucial factor that determines how your bike rides.  No, it's not your frame's elastic modulus or resonant frequency or cognitive dissonance or anything like that.  It's a far more profound quality called "acoustics:"


So how do your bicycle's acoustics affect its ride quality?  Well, they don't.  But you think they do, and that's what matters.  Consider, for example, that chain ejaculator we looked at yesterday:


This device keeps your chain in a constant state of moderate moistness, just like a Matthew McConaughey movie.  In so doing, it claims to increase your power transmission by 12 watts--which is a load of utter crap, as drivetrain efficiency is mostly a function of sprocket size and chain tension:

The researchers found two factors that seemed to affect the bicycle chain drive's efficiency. Surprisingly, lubrication was not one of them.

"The first factor was sprocket size," Spicer says. "The larger the sprocket, the higher the efficiency we recorded." The sprocket is the circular plate whose teeth catch the chain links and move them along. Between the front and rear sprockets, the chain links line up straight. But when the links reach the sprocket, they bend slightly as they curl around the gear. "When the sprocket is larger, the links bend at a smaller angle," Spicer explains. "There's less frictional work, and as a result, less energy is lost."

The second factor that affected efficiency was tension in the chain. The higher the chain tension, Spicer says, the higher the efficiency score. "This is actually not in the direction you'd expect, based simply on friction," he says. "It's not clear to us at this time why this occurs."

But try telling your ears that.  When your chain is thirsty for lube it makes pedaling your bike sound like you're raising a medieval drawbridge, which in turn makes your bike feel slower, even if it's really not.  So it makes perfect sense that a clueless Fred with a £250 chain-slathering device is going to mistake his bicycle's sudden silence for 12 more watts of pure, unadulterated speed.  (Until the thing malfunctions, dumps a bunch of chain lube onto the rear tire's contact patch, and causes him to crash--and I'm saying "him" because only a man would be dumb enough to buy one of these gadgets.)

The same thing goes for bottom bracket stiffness.  For years the bicycle industry has been telling us that your spindly, diminutive bottom brackets are robbing you of precious watts.  Consequently bottom bracket shells have gotten bigger and bigger, to the point where they're now just gaping holes that you have to stuff full of various adapters:


Do you really thing a giant sandwich of crush washers and spacers and seals and shims and washers and plastic sleeves and whatever else they stuff in there is somehow more efficient than the square taper cartridge bottom brackets of yesteryear?

Of course not.

The way your bottom bracket sounds, though, is hugely important.  For example, recently the generic stock bottom bracket on my Marin Pine Mountain 1 started making noise on the climbs, so I replaced it with one of those boringly solid Shimano Hollowtech II ones that last roughly forever:


Can you possibly discern bottom bracket stiffness or frame flex through two big fat 27.5+ tires at extremely low #whatpressureyourunning?  No.  Did swapping one pair of thread-in bearings for another make any appreciable difference apart from silencing the bike?  No.  But I can assure you that with a quiet bottom bracket I suddenly felt like I was rocketing up the same climbs upon which I had once struggled, and that I was riding a totally different bicycle, one that was somehow newer and better and maybe even lighter.  (A quiet bottom bracket is a powerful thing.)

Of course, the irony is that those new giant bottom bracket shells are more likely to creak, but it's a worthwhile trade-off because they also allow bike manufacturers to use gigantic crabon tubes, and that's where the real acoustic benefits come into play:



See, nothing sounds faster on a bicycle than a big hollow plastic tube.  It amplifies everything: the click of the shifter, the thrum of the road surface, the gun-cocking sound of your chain dropping into a smaller cog...  A plastic bike with giant tubes rolling on those whooshy plastic wheels sounds as tight and lively as a snare drum--and if you add the weaponized whirr of a loud freehub and the servo sound of an electronic shifting group then Fred's spank-bank doth overflow:



BikeHugger really oughta be careful because he's gonna go blind:



And of course gravel opens up a whole new exciting world of acoustical possibility:



Ah, so soothing...  It's like listening to a gentle spring rain fall on your windowsill while you're frying bacon in a skillet.  Sure, you can ride pretty much any bike on gravel, but you can expect tomorrow's dedicated gravel bikes to be 100% acoustically optimized to amplify that wonderful sound and keep you in a state of bacon-y bliss.

So to recap, I'd estimate that (assuming correct fit and geometry of course) bicycle performance breaks down thusly:

Tire Pressure/Volume/Etc.--50%
Aesthetics:--20%*
Acoustics:--20%
Miscellaneous (wheels, frame materials, ergonomics, blah blah blah):--10%

*[For purposes of this analysis "aesthetics" also includes weight, since the only time it means anything is when some Fred lifts your bike at the coffee shop.]

In other equipment news, I guarantee you that Freds are going to be wearing self-lacing cycling shoes within the next two years:


Yep, you can add "lace tension" to the array of electronic systems riders will have monitor while on the bike, right alongside wattage output and shifter battery life and dropper post position and suspension setting and chain lube flow rate.  Come on, a drop-bar mounted "sprint" remote that increases lace tension by 2.5Nm increments?  The gimmicks practically invent themselves!

Though if self-lacing comes to Brooks then we'll really be in trouble:


(Pic from Lovely Bicycle)

I hear remote saddle lace tension adjustment will be an option on the new electronic shifting group from Rivendell:

(Rivendell's new bar end-mounted electronic shifter.)

Can't wait!

82 comments:

Atherton said...

1st podium!

Anonymous said...

First in NH!

Travis Knavel said...

Nice

dnk said...

bronze?

Anonymous said...

Doh! Not enough blood doping to beat Atheron...

Seattle lone wolf said...

Damn!

Fourhourerection said...

Yay. Now to read it.

Dane Watt said...

The day I get podium is the day I can die

Dane Watt said...

The day I get podium is the day I can die

Watch and Camera Guy said...

Top ten?

Old timer said...

Huh? What?

clyde said...

First on the left coast?

Anonymous said...

Read it.

Bagnall said...

At times the "accoustics" on my brompton on the daily commute feel like i'm riding with a parachute on. Two squirts on the rear triangle attachments with some cheapo lube, and i'm flying again. Or is it all in my head.......?

DeWayne Stark said...

"Do you really thing a giant sandwich" I thinged an egg salad sandwich yesterday it was great.

N/A said...

I'm running 32mm Paselas on my roadish bike. 28? What are you, some sort of masochist?

N/A said...

What crankset did you switch to, Wildcat?
I am eyeing this whole new cockamamy 1x stuff for a bike that I think would benefit from some gravel-readiness and I've been thinking a front-der delete would be good, too.

N/A said...

**Sorry if unclear: Which crankset for the Marin Husky Biek?

BikeSnobNYC said...

N/A,

28 still fits in a "regular" road bike with short-reach brakes.

--Wildcat Etc.

BikeSnobNYC said...

N/A,

Didn't switch crank, just BB.

Was going to put an old Shimano LX crank in there but didn't have the right chainring bolts.

--Wildcat Etc.

Poor Schmuck said...

"gaping holes that you have to stuff full of various adapters"

Have you been having an affair with my wife?

N/A said...

Ahh, thanks WC. Despite my retrogrouchy attitude I'm pretty thoroughly on-board with the Hollowtech system. Hard to beat for ease of use.

Grump said...

The tire that you mention, is probably the perfect tire for non-racers. (or for people who don't mind looking like non-racers)


dancesonpedals said...

My steel, 1996 fred bike does have clearance to fit a 25. (The tire rubs against the back of the seat tube)

More modern freds are evolving. The Trek Domanes my wife and I rented for our Blue Ridge Mountain getaway were sporting 28mm slicks.

Blade_Rockwall said...

Bike performance breakdown is genius. Come to think of it... "Bike Performance Breakdown" needs to be the new jam from MC SpandX

Gaffer Smythe said...

I knew something was familiar today, WC. You read LB's blog entry this morning, too.

*Idea for next book* Pack up the 17 kids and the wife and head to LB's little country of NI for tortuous hill riding and all the secret gravel you can handle.

Ryan Kelley said...

Not the first time, but def the recent: you are on to something with this "how the bike sounds" and relates to "marketing" and "secret messages"... if only people that "have no clue" knew about your blogs, my job as a "bike repair" professional would be a lot easier.

Kevin said...

My bike squeeking and creaking. Whew, I thought it was me getting old.

Frickus Rungus said...

I did a triathalon once (it was a dare, ok?) and I was astonished by how noisy the high end triathalon bikes were. I could hear the crabon amplified noises about 100ft before they passed me and 100ft after. I suppose this is a handy early warning system, since they are notorious for crashing unexpectedly. Gives you plenty of time to swerve out of their path.

Buffalo Bill said...

Pretty sure that electronic shifter is the velo orange model.
Here is the rivendell version.

Anonymous said...

I love the gumwall look of the paselas, too. Unfortunately they are no longer sold by (and routinely on sale at) Nashbar, so my last pair was $30 each. Lots of bikes look better with those.

Anonymous said...

You maybe on to something with the acoustics. I heard from a friend who heard from a friend that if you ride Crabon bikes backwards they create subliminal messages like playing Led Zeppelin records backwards.

recumbent conspiracy theorist said...

Has anyone seen the quiz?

Where's that confounded quiz?

Anonymous said...

Great, now you've let out the secret about 28mm Paselas. If I see anyone wearing Rapha riding on a pair that should be mine, you are toast.

The non-belted steel bead version ride absolutely great if you aren't in a place where flats are a constant concern. Damn, now I've mentioned them, too.

Anonymous said...

i fucking railed it but then blew up

Anonymous said...

+1 on quiet bikes are faster.

I've stopped at gas stations to scrounge bits of motor oil for chain lube. 4 mph benefit!

This week I oiled the spoke heads on my creakin' rear wheel. 2 mph benefit!

A mild seat squeak can costs 1 mph.

JLRB said...

If quiet bikes are faster, does riding with earbuds make you faster?

Fred Fredriksen said...

I used to just ride on dirt roads or paths. Now that it's called gravel, I need specific, new, expensive equipment.
Also, new Pee Wee Herman movie (I think on Netflix) in the Spring.

Anonymous said...

I think my bike's taint would really appreciate one of those chain bidets.

Spokey said...


damn

just realized it was friday and didn't get a quiz. i gots to start eating more carrots and salmon.

i hate noisy bieks. the thunderous rear rachet noise being an exception. but bb clicks and creaks drive me nuttz. just bought a new set of avid single digit 7s in a last ditch attempt to quell the front wheel scream.

Spokey said...


in other news

in case you thought freds were the only suckers:

just hear an ad on the radio for a http://www.squattypotty.com/ so i'm thinking it is for real (and not april 1).

janinedm said...

I was issued not one but 2 tickets this morning and I'm pretty sure I'm getting out of both. I was stopped on Adam clayton Powell b/t 114 and 113 by an unmarked car. The officer told me to pull forward to the media the next block up. He then told me he saw me run "like 5 lights" (he probably did). And then wrote two separate summons (in order to maximize my pain) for running lights on 112 and 113. So! Some of you may see my way out already. When i pulled across 113, it was with a green light and at his direction. He could not have seen me run 112 at the time of writing the ticket, because we were sitting there, facing southbound, looking at 112 which i wasn't going to cross without my ID and summonses. If he had picked any of the intersections behind me, I would have been screwed, but his laziness and desire to twist the knife may end up being my salvation. Oh, yeah. They are doing a ticket blitz uptown.

Drock said...

With help from the neighbor kids I found you need at least 60psi for any sort of judo action, anything less doesn't knock em out.

Missed Yesterday Yesterday, Spent Day Oiling Chain said...

Anyone whose never hit a hotel employee in the head with an ashtray is 1,000 times cooler than Russell Crowe.

Blind Justice ends on 1/20 said...

Janine @ 3:29 Sounds complicated, better bring Perry Mason & Leroy's Dog to court with you.

janinedm said...

It's simple. If we're sitting on the southbound side 7th ave b/t 113 and 112th when he's writing the ticket, how can he have seen me run the light on 112? Is he a pre-cog?

From Sweden with an Oil Supply said...

When I owned a SAAB I kept a pan under the engine to catch dripping oil. Used it on my chain, and lots of other stuff too, the SAAB constantly provided a fresh supply. I'm thinking the engine was engineered with bike chains, door hinges, etc, in mind, over the years I had two SAABs and both leaked.

The Princess Bride said...

Janine - Inconceivable. Even if he is a plain clothes member of the elite Undercover Bicycle Squad.

Sax Huret said...

A BB 386 EVO shell is so large I have to wonder if there's a weight penalty to using it, especially since I can't have threaded shells because it loses the weight wars to have them.

janinedm said...

Sax Huret, 9.5 times out of 10, the biggest weight penalty on a bike is the rider.

Lieutenant Oblivious said...

The real reason for all these new press in bottom bracket standards is that the big box bike manufacturers save like $0.84 per frame by not having to thread the bottom brackets! Then they come up with the marketing of enhanced stiffness, etc.

tim joe comstock said...

From now on I want everyone to call me Mad Dog

Bike Snob said...

janinedm,

I love it, please keep us posted!

--Wildcat Rock Machine

HDEB said...

Janinedm -- yesterday I was DRIVING on 125th and I gridlocked several intersections and watched another driver go the wrong way for half a block -- no tickets issued. Motorists are immunue from tickets in NYC so long as their vehicles are fancy enough and their skin the correct shade.

You are GUILTY ... of not supporting the automotive and fossil fuel industry while traveling.

two degrees said...

for those in the know....tire pressure.does it work better in NC,SC or TX?(prolly TX..land of lance)

bad boy of the north said...

that sucks janinedm.sorry to hear about the ticket blitz.

SoFlo'd said...

First of all... random extemporaneous quotations:

"I read your book, you magnificent bastard..." G. C. Patton

"If you do one stupid thing well, you better keep doing it or you’re an idiot." some guy...

"Sic wheelz fooo...." Billy "big bird" DeBlasio (local hero)

''Tis the season bitches..." Prez Obama

Any regular readers of this blog need to buy at least 3 of Snobbys books... period. colon. semicolon... etc... (ok, ok, one is fine too...)
"Writing is hard..." little willie shakespeare (about writing stuff)

Annd.. a cap.. his limited edition IS limited.. or the jersey...
(to be honest the jersey is sartorially sublime.. o_O)
"I'm totally cereal.." Al Gore (about manbearpig)

Second of all...

Gravel, tire width, sounds n colors... etc...

Gravel is ez, try sand on asphalt at 20+ weeee... sound? Pain.
Agony incarnate... death to fun time... oww... road rasherama...
etc... (etc... is a fun thing to type btw, try it...)

"Don no matter yo preshess u runnin'..." Howling Wolf, also Bill De...

"Not my actual experience, but I read it in a book... " Jor Velcome

32's 'cause I wanna live... (gatorz 'cause flats suck)

Wind, rain, cars, trucks, all louder than tires... etc...

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die..." Roy Batty

Any similarities of actual quotes by living, dead or fictitious people are purely coincidental... etc...

Last but not least... etc...

Manny say "sup..."

https://youtube.com/watch?v=VWSIuBdVlfg
https://vimeo.com/65260098
https://youtube.com/watch?v=hfnJxyX4pSk

MattWLA said...

You know, I once rode my neighbors wide tubed CX bike and quite enjoyed the feel. I couldn't quite put my finger on why I liked it, but I remember that the shifter felt "stronger", the shifts were clean yet would resonate through the frame. The frame felt hollow, yet stiff. You are on to something snob.

leroy said...

Janinedm-- I wonder if the ticket blitz uptown has anything to do with Transportation Alternatives' ride uptown on Saturday 12/3 from noon to 2pm starting at 106th and Amsterdam. TA is co-sponsoring it with LatinosRun to highlight the need for a protected bike lane on upper Amsterdam Ave.

Dulcie Canton is helping to organize it. Folks may recall her as the cyclist who was run over from behind and left unconscious by a hit and run driver. All of it was caught on a security camera, including the license plate of the driver who lived several blocks from the crash, but the NYPD couldn't be bothered to investigate.

So of course, now the NYPD will enforce Vision Zero with a ticket blitz on cyclists.

Ride safe all. And keep riding if for no other reason than to piss off assholes.

But Janinedm, remember we live in a post-fact world. Your common sense defense likely will be heard by a functionary with little interest in facts. That doesn't mean you don't go in fighting. You must. But know that truth and justice in that particular arena are rare commodities.

leroy said...

And if you are interested in riding with Ms. Canton tomorrow starting at noon at Amsterdam and 106th, you can rsvp her at dulcie.canton@transalt.org

Citibike is lending 40 bikes for the ride.

Lieutenant Oblivion said...

Janinedm, further to Leroy's comment, consider going to court with an attorney, if you represent yourself and the cop shows up, the judge may allow him to correct his mistake on the ticket in court and find you guilty.

Snob, please tell us you turned down an invitation from Brooks to contribute to their new book, The Brooks Compendium of Cycling Culture, € 36.

In celebration of our 150th Anniversary we realised a unique book to mark this special occasion. Published by Thames & Hudson, this book is a collection of fascinating views on the bicycle and its cultural influence, featuring contributions from Guy Andrews, Ron Arad, Bella Bathurst, Matt Brammeier, Will Butler-Adams, Antony Cairns, Taz Darling, Geoff Dyer, Timothy Everest, Joe W. Hall, Caren Hartley, Frank Herholdt, Guy Kesteven, Joe MacLaren, George Marshall, David Millar, Simon Mottram, Martin Parr, Laura Quick, Amy Sherlock, Sir Paul Smith, Tom Southam, Mark Sutton, Bernard Thompson, Jack Thurston, Richard Wentworth, and Ben Wilson.

I don't know who any of the above are. If Brooks didn't ask you, they suck!

Sax Huret said...

@ Lieutenant Oblivious

Besides cheaper production costs, it also lets them cut corners on quality control. Every so many threaded frames have to be binned after delivery from the manufacturer and can't be sold. Without threads you can push some hot messes out the door to consumers, just look at Cervélo.

wle said...

So to recap, I'd estimate that
(assuming correct fit and geometry of course)
bicycle performance breaks down thusly:

Tire Pressure/Volume/Etc.--50%
Aesthetics:--20%*
Acoustics:--20%


=====SO IT REALLY IS #whatpressureyourunning AFTER ALL!!

wle said...

so if quiet bieks are faster, why are the fred bikes all noisy?

or is that self-mansplain-atory?

BikeSnobNYC said...

wle,

As I said above:

See, nothing sounds faster on a bicycle than a big hollow plastic tube. It amplifies everything: the click of the shifter, the thrum of the road surface, the gun-cocking sound of your chain dropping into a smaller cog... A plastic bike with giant tubes rolling on those whooshy plastic wheels sounds as tight and lively as a snare drum--and if you add the weaponized whirr of a loud freehub and the servo sound of an electronic shifting group then Fred's spank-bank doth overflow:

--Wildcat Etc.

Heard Mentality said...

Judging a bike's performance by the noises made is a sound idea.

Anonymous said...

"Literally glued to the road"... that can't be good.

And what are "ground effects?"

McFly said...

Poor Schmuck is a funny motherfucker.

JLRB said...

Flatted Monday within a mile of home - flatted today 1/2 a block from the place where I pretend to work. 2 different bikes
#whynotme

Justice is Blind, but sure does have an appetite. said...

Janine, keep a close eye on the judge. If the cop shows up and a box of donuts mysteriously shows up on the floor next to the judge BEWARE!

Movie Trailer Voice - "In a World..." said...

Janine, I young woman I know received a ticket in LA for Jaywalking. While the cop was ticketing her a hand full of cyclists blew through the intersection against the light and a couple of cars made turns without coming even close to a complete stop (I've heard of the "California Roll Through" for Stop Signs, guess it applies to lights too). Cop ignored them, even though he was easily close enough to yell at the cyclists to stop. Must be a West Coast thing, cars and BIKES are OK, on foot is a no go.

Eric the Infrequent said...

Well now I actually know why all the bikes sound so awfully noisy in those fredly videos. I think that would drive me crazy.

Freddy Murcks said...

Hollowtech II forevah!

janinedm said...

Leroy, give your dog my thanks for the advice. I'm interviewing lawyers. I've decided that I would rather spend thousands on lawyers if I have to (though my conversations say it won't quite come to that), than give one uncontested penny to the city. Alas, this may mean that my dream of getting my leg hair permanently lasered off may have to wait another year.

janinedm said...

I see now that the thanks are owed to Lt Obvs.

Dewie Cheetum and Howe shaort do you want it said...

We offer a combined legal service and laser hair removal

Maximus said...

I'm thinking of uploading some high end bike porn soundtracks to iTunes. Download and play the acoustic accompaniment of your choice. One for every Fred genre.

Mix it up if you wish - the swoosh of deep section carbon wheels on the mountain bike ride. The violent clack of a di2 gear change under cat 3 pressure while cruising to the shops. Etc and on...

bad boy of the north said...

ahh,a nice snowy morning to begin the week.

Jim Katzin said...

Then there's Frank Zappa playing the bicycle:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MewcnFl_6Y

Elmer Fudd said...

Be vewy, vewy quiet

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