“Smug is blindness, I don’t want to see.” Bono sang that, if I’m right.
The urban cycling demographics, smug as we are, are blind to the #1 function of the street, which is to provide a stage on which each of us can parade our consumer choices. Look at any street scene from the 1800s, at all those flaneurs and macaronis, and tell me the street is just some kind of funnel for transit.
I would sooner have you tell me restaurants just provide food, or that fancy hotels provide places to sleep. No, the street is a catwalk and we go there to show off our shoes, handbags, bicycles, hairdos, ghetto blasters over our shoulders, our fancy new cars, or whatever we have that says something about our tribe, its values and tastes. You would know the definitive sourcebook.
The campaigns we are now engaged in for bike infrastructure got moving earlier than most would acknowledge, with the fixie craze of the early 2000s. Bikes had been less of a visible presence on streets than sparrows or squirrels. Fixies were like peacocks and drew attention to cycling. Cycle-chic and the omafiets craze let girls join the fun. Soon parents could be hipsters as well, once bakfietsen started being exported from Holland. Since then we’ve seen a general emptying of rafters that has put anything lugged back into the bike fleet. But where to from here?
The most enduring symbol of motordom’s bullying presence in the parade is the street legal sports car. Now that Velodom has exhausted every retro fad (except perhaps Moulton F-frames), it is time for us to thrust some boys’ toys into the fray along side them, in front of them, over them, or wherever they land.
I spent last weekend in New York as a guest of Shimano’s head designers and marketing team and for the next year at least will be partnering with them on the next chapter after fixies and Dutch bikes. My vision: help the public imagine cities that totally revolve around cycling. Their complimentary vision: to create a new class of cycling: urban sports cycling. Mountain bikes owners have hills. Owners of urban sports bikes will have cities to play in, just like owners of Lamborghinis.
Time for a smugness test. Do you dislike the idea of a new urban sports category for scorning of women? Do you dislike the idea because Mikael Colville Andersen would dislike it? Do you dislike the idea for not matching your cliched image of Holland, having never really spent too much time there? If you answered yes to all three, congratulations, you’re incurably smug. If you would rather see cities transformed, read on.
In its styling Metrea takes cues from coveted products among the youth demographic like headphones. Weight is slightly compromised for style’s sake making this the ideal groupset for a burgeoning category of designer bikes like Biomega and Mokumono, or bike frames exploring the limits of rapid-prototyping, local making or recyclability.
The main designer, a super cool cat named Daisuke Noborio who designed the new Dura Ace groupset as well, wants you to feel a sense of zen calm when you clean your cranks and are reminded by the black finish that you are seeing raw aluminium beside it: feel chi emanating from every grain! You would be amazed to learn just how uniquely Japanese design sensibilities are among Shimano’s inventors and industrial designers. I’ve enjoyed some deeply philosophical conversations about aesthetics with some real superstars of design.
Road racing bikes have levers you can just reach from the hoods and just reach from the drops, but can’t reach perfectly from either position. Since when we’re riding in cities we spend all our time on the hoods, there’s a case for perfectly accommodating that one position.
Shimano gave me an 11-by-1 prototype to test ride in the 5Boro bike ride last weekend in New York. Naturally I was faster than anyone there so did the whole of Queens and Brooklyn on the rivet overtaking and picking lines as though I were in some never ending sprint finish, waves of pleasure rolling over me mile after mile, not just the few hundred meters right at the end. Who cares that I didn’t see much of New York. It was like having every one of Mario’s best moments edited into an hour of my life.
Snappy changing from a 105 equivalent rear cassette. Disk brakes. 30mm high-pressure tires. Aero rims and bladed spokes. SPD pedals and Shimano’s urban cleat shoes that you could just about wear with a suit. All very good.
What the guys at Shimano have done is invent a whole new kind of cockpit full of new possibilities.
Because with an 11-by-1 your left hand has almost nothing to do, I can imagine having my iPhone mounted off to the left where I can operate it with my left thumb while keeping my hand on the bars. Give me bluetooth headphones and a microphone and I could make all my work calls between places. Better still, how about a waterproof tablet occupying the whole of the space laid out between the two hand grips? Derailleur groupsets are for bikes designed for taking into buildings over your shoulder, not chaining between beaters out on the street, so why not let the bike be a part of your office that you take between meetings?
With the extra length in the H-Bars you feel like you’re flying an X-Wing Star Fighter. Lasers would be awesome, but failing that, left and right LED lights running from a hub generator and integrated in to the end of the bars… that would be cool. The left light could be super focused and shot with a trigger. Pew pew. The Metrea groupset could be the thing to free teenaged boys from Call of Duty.
The other thing I realised in an instant is the hoods reach so far forward that you can cup your hands over the front of them and rest your elbows on the back of the H-bars. Instantly you’re in a full-on aero position, not actually designed for (yet) but very rewarding.
Most of the time though you’re fairly upright, in the hood position or higher. Shimano are talking this up as an entirely new riding position. Feel free to disagree, but they may be the first to actively market this riding position.
To be honest, it’s an odd piece of gear, as aesthetically removed from a yuppy Porteur as a Dr. Smith’s laser gun and a Colt-45. But it’s the perfect compliment to many new bikes coming onto the market for the visually literate and very fussy and does that thing great componentry does, and that’s disappear like your shoes when you’re running.
It’s the bike you want when you’re running late for a meeting or asserting your superior station in life compared to owners of sports cars.