Cunntributions To the Art

Ten years after the ‘invention’ of the compact road frame–and twenty five years after I raced my slopey Cunningham road bike at the Tour of Texas– Bicycle Retailer (BRAIN) says Giant Bicycle Co. “introduced the world to compact geometry”.

Here at Cunningham Applied Grandiosity, we plead to differ. We do so every decade or so.

The Oct. 1 2000 issue of BRAIN claimed “Compact Road Bikes Go Against Road Tradition”

We know about ‘tradition’. Charlie’s bikes nodded politely in that direction, but Preferred Not To.

Much was made of the hazards of aluminum frames before the fat unpainted tubes became acceptable. Well, maybe not ‘unpainted’ …

Being the official spokesperson for the Polite One, I decided, rather than write another letter to the magazine (and cc. it to Giant) to let it all blog out.
Commercial bluster needs pruning, scales need to be zero’d, stories need to be repeated.

This one is the old yarn about racing around on the least beautiful bike in the peloton. It was in 1982. I get shivers thinking about how strong and stupid I was then, how little I knew about bike handling, and how to handle officials ( being the coach’s pet mattered as much as one’s VO2 max), etc.
Gunning for a slot on the L.A. Olympic team, I elbowed my way into as many serious races as chutzpah allowed, among them the 82 and 84 Tour of Texas. Talentwise, I was unpolished, but my aluminum road bike attracted a lot of attention.
One day, while recovering at the Camp Mabry sprint practices, Nelson Vails cruised up alongside me. Women raced with the men (I did about one lap for every three the guys did, but picked up a bit more speed and snap).

“What’s that ugly thing you’re riding?”
“My custom road bike. At least the welds are beautiful, eh?”
Then the lap bell rang, he shot ahead, and I was off the back as usual. For the next two weeks, when he’d see me, he’d just shake his head in disbelief, repeating: “UGG–LEEE!”
“As long as you spell my name right, Nelson.”

Two months later, at the ultra hilly Nevada City Classic ( fifty-year old race with 20,000 spectators) flatland sprinter Melody Wrong piped up from the back row: “Hey, Jacquie, isn’t that your mountain bike? Isn’t it against UCI rules?”

She would last maybe three laps, no worries there. Hopeless riders often draw confidence from shattering the (presumably) fragile poise of others. But me and the Ham got so much of it, i we liked to see who would launch the ‘compliment’ and at which ‘crux’ moment it came…

Scared of anything different.

Even the governing body stipulated the size of logos and color of shorts, socks, but oddly ignored helmets. The ‘hairnet’ was all anyone wore.

I forgot to mention I was also the only one in the women’s elite pack with a white mixing bowl on my head.

Fast forward to the 1992 Ore Ida, a grueling twelve-day test of legs, team tactics–and, apparently, the patience of the peloton. I was still riding the same bike. Susan DeMattei was my WOMBATS teammate.

It was the rainy start of the Gallina Pass race.
I was ready on the line with a hundred shivering women, with my swim goggles, cashmere arm warmers, and mixing bowl. By now the bowls were required, and they stopped being uncool.
You know, that bike is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen!

One row ahead of me, Team Shaklee’s powerhouse LaWeasel Stompkins was stooping pretty low. What did she have to worry about? I’d been finishing in 132nd place all week.

“Thank you!” I grinned.

Poor thing must’ve missed breakfast.

Thing is, she was right. I never clean my bike.

“It wasn’t MEANT as a compliment” she shot back.
“Right you are! Say, aren’t they doing the countdown..?”

LaWeasel and her ilk helped inspire me to check out the fat tire domain, where any old clunker would do.

Otto (my bike) was ahead of its time, weighing nearly nothing, being supple (unlike Klein’s thick-tubed neon bikes) and strong. It became clear that the bike (not the rider) can be the important thing during those certain moments of rich technological ferment (this moment of forced modesty brought to you by TruthTellers, a subsidiary of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company).

In other words, any bozo on my bike would have kicked ass.

I’m just glad I got to be the one because…well, because I was r-e-a-l-l-y nice to all the new ladies on the line. My comments ran along someone coarser, jokey lines.

Nevertheless, we’re glad Giant has seen the light and will lead the way toward greater appreciation of bicycle diversity, and broader (fatter?) definitions of bicycle beauty (hint: efficiency, stiffness, lightness…not paint color!!)
Any guesses about what’s in store for 2010 ?

How about old things being cool?

~ by jacquiephelan on July 19, 2008.

2 Responses to “Cunntributions To the Art”

  1. No less a cyclist than Eddy Merckx lambasted Cunningham rider Todd DeAngelis about his aluminum, sloping road bike. Too ugly, not traditional, etc etc – to which Todd replied (perhaps in his head) but so light, so stiff, so right.

  2. I Think old / vintage things / technology are very fu*k&g COOL.
    KEEPING the PAST PRESENT is what I live for …There was
    never anything wrong with things that work right – RIGHT !?!
    I’m the “unracer” and YOU have inspired me to ride in
    winter too . Thanks to you and my girlfriend – I ‘m a desert first
    antique on a fossil guy . Thanks G.P. THANK YOU JACQUIE !!!

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