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THE BIKE TODAY

The development of a bike today still continues, obviously, the objective always being to lighten its weight, create more efficent braking, have a higher number of gears which are easier to operate, as well as developing new suspension devices to make the cyclist more comfortable.

A racing bike, 2002.
A racing bike, 2002.
The bike consists basically of a frame, two wheels, gearing, brakes, handlebars and a saddle. Depending on the brand and the type, they can vary in their design, but generally they are all the same.

From my point of view, up until 1984 racing bikes didnšt change very much, at least on a superficial level. What was most important was lightness and stiffness in the frames and the wheels. Changes prior to 1984 are that rims are no longer made of metal, but of wood, in order to make the wheels lighter, and later when aluminium appears, wood is no longer used. These days, some wheels are made of carbon or ceramic, in an attempt to make them better constructed overall. The other important pre-1984 change was the use of the racing handlebars, which allowed you to alter your position more on the bike, and this in turn improved your efficency when making an effort on the bike, be it climbing or descending.

Moseršs Hour Record Bike, 1984.
Moser's Hour Record Bike, 1984.
I said that the bike did not change greatly until 1984, because that was when a revolution in bike construction began which continues today.

On the 19th of January, 1984, en Cedom, Mexico, the Hour Record, previously held by the great champion Eddy Merckx, fell into the hands of an Italian professional cyclist called Francesco Moser.

The Italian, who was a great track rider and an excellent time triallist, based his HR assault on a combination of technological innovations which no cyclist had used up until then.

For one thing, his physical preparation was based around a watch which indicated his heart rate (which we now call a pulseometer) and secondly, the bike lost its usual angles.

The top tube sloped downwards, allowing for a front wheel diameter which was smaller than the back wheelšs. Another new feature was the handlebars, which were no longer the conventional race bars, but instead had short final hooks which curved upwards. Another important introduction were the wheels, which had no spokes and instead were covered by discs: Today we call them disc wheels.

On January 19th, 1984 en Cedom, Mexico, Moser beat the Hour Record.
From then on, any cyclist who wanted to win had to keep a close eye on his bikešs weight for the mountain stages and having a better aerodynamic posture for the time trials. In this latter speciality, weight was not so important: in fact even a time trial bike was heavier, even though it might be tougher actually to get the bike rolling, it was easier to maintain the momentum.

Research is still being done on this area and other features have been introduced, such as tri-bars (previously a typical speciality for triathletes). This consisted of an extension attached to the handlebars, permitting better penetration through the air (instead of there being two areas of turbulence, there is only one). It also allows the athlete to have a more comfortable posture resting your fore-arm. By way of an anecdote, every cycling fan will remember how in 1989 the Frenchman Laurent Fignon lost the race leade in the final time trial from Versailles to Paris to the American Greg LeMond - who used tri-bars. Another development -which happened almost at the same time and which allowed better penetration through the air - was the aerodynamic helmet.

Greg LeMond, in the last time trial in Paris, which is where he succeeded in winning the Tour de France 1989.
Greg LeMond, in the time trial from Versailles to the Champs Elysees in Paris, which is where he succeeded in winning the Tour de France 1989.
Other improvements took place in the bikešs mechanics, based on the increase in the number of gears, from just one in the earliest days of the bike to two (one on each side of the back wheel, depending on whether you were climbing or riding on the flat, and the cyclist had to get off the bike to change from one to the other) to ten, thanks to the introduction of the derailleur gear. After two rings were introduced in the 1960s, later a third was added, particularly for mountain bikes.

Other mechanisms which have been introduced, improved or have actually disappeared from the basic safety bike model include clipless pedals (the cyclist detaches himself form the bike when he/she falls off and is no longer one single unit). Despite various timid attempts for this development to be introduced into the world of cycling, clipless pedals were not really accepted until 1985, when Bernard Hinault started using them on his racing bike.

Another improvement was when the gear shifters, usually located on the frame, then changed position onto the handlebars in 1992. This allowed a easier control of the bike because the cyclist avoids riding with one hand off the bars when he wanted to change gears.

As you can probably imagine, there have been other innovations based around making a bike lighter and more robust (the tubing has a greater diameter), as well as different mechanical systems and ball bearings which fortunately, with current technology can be used or discarded.


Mountain bike, 2002 model.
Apart from the typical model of the bike, there have been other types. There are trial bikes, bmx, amongst others and the most notable varation on the basic type in the 1980s was the mountain bike. This had begun to exist in California some 10 years before, thanks to the experience of two bike fans called Charlie Kelly and Gary Fisher.

They had a tough time at first, because the majority of the bike makers rejected this large, heavy bike in a world which was dominated by sleek racers. But it was extremely successful in the United States, where it responded to a demand in the market for first-time users, providing better balance (its centre of gravity is lower and the tyres are very fat) and most importantly very low gearing, so that even a beginner could go up steep slopes.

All of this widened a bike's field of action, allowing riders to go cross-country, far from motorized traffic, and they were better adapted to any normal user.

These days, those first mountain bikes which weighed 20 kilos have gradually given way to lighter models weighing approximately 11 kilos. Mountain biking is the pioneer industry in the introduction of many new devices for bikes, given its room for manouvre in terms of bike design which is lacking in the road bike industry. However, the improvements do eventually cross over from the younger branch of cycling to the older one.