Saturday, March 31, 2007

Bata Bikers...

...and other long lost cycling stuff...

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, which would be sometime prior to 1980 or thereabouts, I often rode to work wearing Bata Biker cycling shoes. They had canvas uppers with a stiff fiberglass midsole and a rippled rubber sole that worked well with toe clips and straps. The shoes were cheap and almost disposable. They were far better than sneakers for a big guy like me. I could even walk almost normally in them, unlike my racing shoes with their nailed-on cleats. Bata Bikers were a good choice for commuting.

Someone did a post about Grab-On grips recently, those big, ugly chunks of foam that were supposed to replace handlebar tape. You can blame him for starting me thinking along these lines. Now just between us, I admit that I actually put these monstrosities on my bike once. But I have a good excuse! I'd damaged my right elbow and I couldn't put any weight on it. Riding more than a few miles produced excruciating pain. In desperation, I fitted an adjustable stem and the Grab-On grips. Nothing helped and I had to stop riding until the elbow healed. It took about 18 months.

There are other items from that era that I miss and some that I don't. Whatever happened to those funky little hub reflectors? This was a leather strap with a small reflector dangling from it. The strap went around the rear hub, ostensibly as another reflector, but it also kept the hub nice and clean. Last year, one local mechanic did something similar by putting a LiveStrong bracelet around his hub.

I haven't seen nail pullers in quite a while, either. These are small wire devices that help to avoid flats by snagging nails or pieces of glass before they penetrate a tire. Since I'm an old fart, I reach down to brush off the tires on the Bianchi with my glove now and then. The fenders on my Centurion make this impossible.

While I really prefer the comfort of clipless pedal systems - I have wide feet, making toe clips and straps into modest torture devices - clipless pedals cannot be fitted with pedal reflectors. Those simple amber reflectors instantly identify a cyclist on a dark roadway. I put reflective tape on the crank arms, but I don't think it's as bright as a reflector, especially the DOT specification ones.

I had a jersey with a front pocket back then. It was located higher than a shirt pocket, almost up to the shoulder. Supposedly, this was to keep cigarettes dry, but something like this would be nice for commuting these days. I could put my work ID in there, and not have to rummage around in my back pockets for it. That's even worse when I have to wear a windbreaker. I've dropped my ID or keys going through the main security gate while fishing around in those back pockets.

And while I'm thinking of retro clothing, what about the resurgence of wool jerseys? I appreciate the styling and I understand the appeal, but I don't miss that stuff. Our moth population probably does. Wool is a great wicking fabric, but it takes more careful laundering than synthetics. I'm lazy. I'd rather just toss things in the washer and forget about them.

Other things I don't miss are randonneur bars and suicide levers. Randonneur bars looked like conventional dropped handlebars, but the center section was lower than the ends. This allowed the rider to sit more upright, just like a rise stem does these days. But my only objection to those bars is aesthetic. I simply don't like the way they look. Suicide levers, however, were a bad idea. They were extensions fitted to the brake levers and gave the rider the option of braking from the middle of the handlebar. There are several problems with this. First, the rider would be sitting higher with a higher center of gravity. His hands would be in the center of the bar, giving him less leverage over the front end of the bike. And finally, the extension levers introduced even more flex into an already flexible brake system since they were mostly used with center pull brakes.

Some bikes of that era came with a dérailleur guard, a metal rod that kept the rear dérailleur from getting bent in toward the wheel if the bike fell over on its right side. These were found mostly on low-end bikes, but the guard was a really good idea that never caught on. I don't know how many times I had to bend a dérailleur hanger back to the right position. This was done with a big adjustable wrench and without the benefit of a gauge. "Gauges? We don' need no stinkin' gauges!"

Whatever happened to those small tool kits that came along with a new bicycle? They weren't extensive, just some small stamped wrenches, tire levers, and maybe a patch kit. It was enough to get you home, maybe. Come to think of it, my Volkswagen came with a tool kit too. Damn, I'm getting old!

I haven't seen any of those cheap, zinc-plated spokes in a long while. Good riddance. Stainless steel ones are much better. You can't beat chromed ones for flash, though, and I understand they're still around. I never built a wheel with chromed spokes but I think they look marvelous.

When I started racing, the rules required a helmet. So like everyone else, I wore one of those leather strap helmets, a 'leather hair net'. It may have provided some protection against abrasion, but if you fetched up against anything hard, it was essentially worthless. Still, it was better than nothing, just not a lot better than nothing. I'd like to have one now, so I could wear it on a group ride now and then. Imagine the ride nannie's horror!

I bought one of the Bell Bikers as soon as they were available. By today's standards, that hard shell helmet was heavy and noisy. The vents whistled! It offered much better protection than the leather hair net but it was far less comfortable.

At about the same time, the Skid Lid was introduced. The manufacturer said it could withstand multiple impacts because it used closed-cell foam as the shock absorbing material rather than Styrofoam. Now, speaking for myself, I wanted to avoid even a single fall and I never planned for multiple ones. But there was one guy in our club who had a great deal of strength and not much in the way of smarts. He was a squirrelly, dangerous rider to be around. He wore a Skid Lid, and it made him easier to spot and avoid in a pack.

I don't miss those skinny, Italian cycling shoes, either. They surely looked sleek and fast, but the Marquis de Sade designed them. Are all Italian cyclists skinny little guys? I don't think so. Why make shoes that are only three inches wide and seem to ratchet tighter with each passing mile?

What about funky white saddles? I looked through Bicycling magazine's annual buyer's guide - a fine piece of bike porn - and found some bikes still adorned with white saddles. I thought they died a peaceful death back in the 90's. Naturally, I still have one out in the garage. For that matter, I have a couple of Brooks Professionals out there too, but I LIKE them!

If I hang onto some of my old junk long enough, it'll be stylish again and I can bask in the admiration of all those other cyclists who envy those of us on the cutting edge of fashion!

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Blogger Fritz said...

Derailleur guards: I've seen these on low-end children's bikes -- the ones with 24" wheels and smaller.

I've tried doing the tire wipe on my rear tire too on my Centurion, which is also equipped with fenders.

I also want some cycling gear with front pockets. It's difficult reaching for my work badge and bus passes when it's in a back pocket and I'm also wearing a messenger bag.

9:07 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Ah yes, I remember all the things you've written about. I even have a set of "nail catchers" (I usually heard them called "tire savers") buried somewhere in a bin I believe.

As you said, some things are to be missed, some not. I like having a bike or two with clips and straps, just for fun, but clipless pedals are great.

Oh, and try some of the "new wool".. it's much more comfortable and a lot of it is machine washable. Wool is making a comeback, and I love it.

7:26 AM  
Blogger Coelecanth said...

I put a hub band on my finace's cruiser bike. The old Sturmy-Archer hub leaks a little and it needed something to keep it clean. I've never seen a pre-made band that had a refector on it though, I want one!

We always made them out of an old tube. Cut a strip, put a hole in one end and notch an arrow shape on the other and voila. I wonder if I'm old enough now that these skills have become retro-chic rather than obsolete?

3:21 PM  
Blogger bobfairlane said...

FB Group Bring back Bata Bikers. Company responds

6:27 PM  
Blogger bobfairlane said...

It may be difficult to add reflectors to clipless pedals, but it can be done. Cut pieces of milk jugs to make strips about 2x5" long. Glue the ends on the bottoms of the pedals (single sided only, and bend the strips repeatedly until they stay down. Glue reflectors (small round ones work best or add reflective tape. If you have 2 sided sPD, screw some old cleats to a couple saw-kerfs, and nail the reflectors to the backs of those. Then you can take them off for race day/off road riding. If you like electronics though, get some LED flashing leg straps. I drive a truck for a job and those really!!! show up in the driver's eye.

6:35 PM  

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