Wednesday, September 17, 2008

If it ain't broke, fix it anyway

I'm really quite amazed at some of the "inventions" that people bring to market. So many things out there are solving problems that I didn't know I had.

Take the chainless bicycle, for instance. Did you know that the number one complaint people have about their bikes is chains and derailleurs? Wait--which is it, chains or derailleurs? Maybe they're complaints numbers one and two. Anyway, I had no idea of this. I thought that the principal complaint of most bicycle owners was that the stupid thing was sitting in the garage gathering dust, making it difficult to get the lawnmower out. Perhaps without the pesky chains and derailleurs most of these bicycles would do more than gather dust, and the neighbors would come bothering me, asking to use my floor pump, more than once a year.
At any rate, apparently there is a need to take the simple, efficient, and highly serviceable chain/derailleur setup and replace it with a shaft drive and internally-geared hub, neither of which is user-serviceable. Or bike shop-serviceable for that matter.

Evidently, this is a remarkable setup, as no less an expert on cycling matters than "Rain I." exclaimed: "The bike is amazing, and I love it. It is the best bike I have ever owned." After reading that testimonial, I know one thing for certain: Rain I. knows how to properly punctuate a compound sentence, correctly placing the comma before the conjunction.

Of course, this is not the only instance where someone has felt the bicycle chain, an innovation that has gone largely unchanged for nigh unto a century, was simply inadequate for the task. Kenny has a belt-driven single speed, which, according to Fatty, is pretty much like riding a chain-driven single speed, only a bit more quiet. Oh, and the belt drive requires a special frame that breaks apart at the rear dropouts. And the belt, made by the company that makes the special frame, is a bit too long for the special frame that they designed and made themselves, so it doesn't work quite as well as it should. But other than that, the belt is a significant improvement upon the temperamental and haphazardly reliable bicycle chain.

It's not as if the chain is the only part of the bike that's maligned for its simplicity and effectiveness. The saddle is another target of pseudo innovation that for no surprising reason doesn't seem to turn the status quo on its ear. All one has to do is thumb to the back of one of my favorite Rodale products to find ads extolling the virtues of noseless bicycle saddles, moon-shaped bicycle saddles, and other contraptions designed to make the ten miles people pedal their Huffys before tossing them in the rubbish bin just a bit more comfortable. The reality is that all they needed was a good pair of bib shorts and about two weeks of riding every day. And maybe some DZ Nuts if they're putting in a lot of miles, especially in hot weather. OK, and probably a bike that cost more than $79, so that it would actually work and be enjoyable to ride.

It's not like there isn't room for innovation and improvement in the world and even the bicycle industry. But you'd think that inventors would focus their energies on solving real problems that customers would actually spend money to fix.