Zen and the art of bicycle building

Miss part one of this story?

The bike that attracted my attention, though, was at the other end of the scale, at least in terms of cost.

Instead of exploring every aspect of titaniums properties, with cost as no object, the frame builders at Habanero use titaniums properties to make an affordable bike (at least affordable by race-bike standards). Instead of trying to make it ultra-light, they controlled cost and used straight-guage tubes.

The stays are a constant (large) diameter, which reduces cost and also gives me the stiffness I like.

The brushed finish is the most beautiful among unfinished titanium offerings, at least to my eye. There are no curved tubes in sight, and certainly no aero tubes.

The bike is built in an aircraft plant in Asia by competent artisans who approach their work with high standards but not with the kind of mystical commitment to detailing that shrouds many high-end bikes.

Even so, any normal person can talk to Mark Hickey, Habaneros owner and designer, and get a custom offering as well. You can tell that he likes bikes, and wants people to have good ones. As a design feature, reasonable cost ranks highly with me.

So, here are two examples from nearly opposite ends of the cost spectrum that epitomize my own design sensibilities.

Other examples abound, whether its a Quintana Roo that reflects the vision of Dan Empfield to bring real tri-bikes to the masses, or a Cervlo that tells us about the way Gerard Vroomen worships (and understands) aerodynamic efficiency. The designers have a sense of quality, and it shows in their product.

Think about whats important to you. The bicycle is the most expensive apparatus a triathlete will buy. If you are an experienced rider, and understand the riding characteristics you want, seek out designers who address those characteristics.

Such advice is easy. What if you know nothing about bikes (or about engineering)? In addition to researching as much as you can, open your eyes. In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maitenence author Robert Pirsig tells a story about stopping at a motel for the night on his cross-country motorcycle trip.

He notices the simple woodwork around the doors and windows. He is not a carpenter. Even so, he clearly sees that the hand of the carpenter belongs to someone who likes wood and cares about how well its worked.

But we should look past the artisanship as well.

Pirsig tells another story about a mechanic who worked on his motorcycle. He was listening to music on the radio, used the wrong wrench on a bolt, ruined it, replaced it with the wrong bolt, and delivered the motorcycle not working properly.

This escalating lack of quality started with the attitude of the mechanic. This example works for designers, too you can see their attitude in the product. You can feel it. Its deeper than the paint.

Bikes do have a soul, after all. It is the soul of the designer. Objective fact reinforces an understanding of it, but even the least technical among us can feel it.

As technically analytical as I am, nearly every bike Ive owned spoke to my soul. I like to think of this as my pipeline to the designer.

Rick Denney is a civil engineer with extensive experience as a bike mechanic and a prolific contributor to various internet forums on bicycle technology. He is also, by his own words, a dedicated but utterly untalented and uncompetitive triathlete who can be found training on one of his eight bikes in the hills of Northern Virginia.

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