achilles
Beggars Would Ride

Did Achilles Know?

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About his heel, I mean? Did he know that he ­– the most badass warrior in a culture renowned for badass warriors, a one-man killing machine, the fearsome leader of the Myrmidons, greater in combat than any mortal, born of the goddess Thetis – was possessed with a fatal flaw, a vulnerability, a tiny spot on his heel, where his mother had held him as she dipped his body in the River Styx in order to shield him from any human-caused harm?

I want to believe he knew. Thetis had to have known, but regardless chose not to switch hands and dip his body entirely in the dark river’s protective anointment. And since she knew, so did the entire pantheon of Greek gods, because how else could Apollo have so unerringly guided the arrow that Paris shot right to the one tiny spot on the body of Achilles that could cause him injury? So you’d think, that as a concerned parent, she might have pulled Achilles to the side at some point during his childhood and laid down some truths: “Look, kid, you’re gonna get bored with this war shit, because killing is going to come easy for you. Nobody will stand a chance. You are faster, stronger, and more lethal than any warrior on earth. I was going to name you A-KILL-es, but Zeus didn’t think that was cool. Anyway, just remember, don’t let it go to your head, and whatever you do, KEEP YOUR HEELS COVERED.”

But maybe he didn’t know, and this was one of those mortal weaknesses that he had no clue was in play until it eventually proved to be his undoing. Hey, it happens. Especially when Greek deities are concerned. We all got our self-destructive blind spots. I’ve got a ton of the things, and am discovering new ones every day. Like just last week, I uncovered one that I hadn’t even realized I had been nursing for about 35 years. The integrated bar/stem.

ritcheybullmoose1

Sano. In 1984. For a gallery of the early 80s definitive mtb cool, check out this beautiful old Ritchey.

Admittedly, maybe an integrated bar/stem won’t be the death of me. But damn, I am such a sucker for them, in spite of the fact that they represent everything that I think is wrong with bicycles these days. It doesn’t matter. I covet them something fierce, and always have. I do not know why, but whatever draws me to these things is a compulsion that goes way, way back. I recall the day that I willingly traded the quill stem and rise bars on my teal green Diamondback Apex straight across for the Nitto Bullmoose bar from my buddy Dangerous Doug’s Ritchey. I thought I had won the lottery. So did Doug. Win-win, right? That was the first time. Hello, instant founding father pseudo-credibility. Farewell to any sort of handlebar adjustability.

Then there was the DeKerf tribute to that original Bullmoose, fashioned for threadless steerers out of the 1990’s most coveted material, tiiiiiiiiitaaaaaaaaaniiiiiiiiiiuuuuuuummmm. I had to have one. It was incredibly expensive, kind of flexy, and just as with the original Bullmoose it negated any possibility of adjusting stem length, bar reach, width, sweep or rotation. But, titanium! Right?!

Klein Mission Control? Yep. Had one of them too.

Each time I fell for these, I would remember the previous foray into touchpoint consolidation, and would work through a complex and irrational internal minefield of justifications that conveniently overlooked the fact that I was operating from a place of blind component lust and allowing my own misguided aesthetic desires to run roughshod all over my logical sensibilities. And each time, inevitably, some months down the line I would be wondering if my wrist pain could be alleviated by a few degrees more sweep, or a tiny little roll of the bars. I’d find myself thinking that it might be nice to raise the bars a skosh, or that 5 mm more or less stem would be just the ticket to get my front weight right in that perfect spot. So the bars would go away, and sensibility would once again be in control of the controls.

You know what I think is the best thing to happen in the evolution of mountain biking, from a mechanic’s perspective? Not tubeless tires. Not index shifting. Not hydraulic disc brakes. Not dropper posts. No. Those are all game-changing innovations, for sure, but to a mechanic they are also harbingers of “more work”, which is fine from the perspective of staying employed but not so awesome in the whole Marie Kondo joy-sparking scheme of things. The best thing to happen to this tired old bike mechanic is far more basic: threadless steerers and detachable faceplate stems. Okay, maybe that’s two things, but they kinda work together. Dialing in bar width, sweep, upsweep/roll, stem length and bar height is one of those incredibly simple yet nuanced acts that can yield instant, noticeable benefits in comfort and control. And thanks to detachable faceplate stems, this is one of the fastest, easiest, most readily accessible areas of adjustment you could hope for. Instant customization, right there at your fingertips, all you need is a hex key (or two).

I love that ease of adjustability, and the immediate, super tangible benefits that come from what is a very basic bit of experimentation. Some of us love bracketing our damping settings or obsessing over just the right token/chip volume in our forks, and some of us ride off into the woods with a backpack full of stems from time to time. In terms of bang for the buck tuning reward, getting my hand position dialed rates right up there with hitting the magic tire pressure number on new tire day. Low cost, high return. What’s not to love about that?

I know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that one-piece bar/stem combos eliminate all that tuning potential, and restrict a rider to a single, non-adjustable reality. And I know that reality is always going to be something of a compromise. The odds of the fit being just right on a fixed bar/stem are far longer than they are for the fit to be less than optimal. Aside from it being very obvious at a glance to anyone with functioning eyes and an understanding of “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey”, I’ve been down this road before. Many times.

But there we were, a week ago, casting around for new test bike ideas. And what did I want to test, what bike was I drawn to like a moth to a flame, like Icarus to the sun (if we are going to somehow try and pull this ramble back into the realm of Greek mythology)? A Scott Genius 910. Everything I object to on a bike in one tidy package: Twin-Loc dual action remote lockout/travel adjust, an invisible shock that looks like a total pain in the ass to remove, a battery powered rear derailleur, a gaping hole directly above the headset where the cables enter the frame, and, you guessed it, a Syncros Hixon one piece bar/stem. The only thing it really lacks in terms of getting my dander up is an idler wheel somewhere above the bottom bracket.

And yet, I covet the damn thing. Same way I covet the Bontrager RSL integrated bar/stem on the new Fuel EX. Or the modern repop Ritchey did a few years back of the OG Bullmoose, only in carbon fiber. It’s wrong. I know it’s wrong. Yet I lust after it, knowing full well that it contains the very seed of my undoing, is the embodied nucleus of my future discontent. I know, that not far down the line, I will be disappointed. So I say to myself; “Go easy, boy. Don’t do it. You know what will happen.” And I wonder, did Achilles say to himself; “Dude, don’t kill Hector. It’s a setup. What was it mom said about my heels?”

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Comments

alexdi
+10 Mike Ferrentino Jerry Willows FlipSide NealWood dhr999 Andrew Major Dr.Flow Andy Eunson Timer cornedbeef

I won't buy that Scott until they route the brake line through the axle and up the stanchion. Then we can talk about the exposed pivots assaulting my eyeballs.

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cornedbeef
+9 danithemechanic Velocipedestrian cxfahrer FlipSide Rowdy Andrew Major Mike Ferrentino JT @canopyclosure

inspired by your coveted Scott Genius, I present you with the amazing Scott Speedster 50, headset routed housing ready for an one piece bar and stem, and equipped with Tourney. As a bike mechanic, I will inevitably have one of these in my stand that needs new cable and housing - and the cringe ill have as I write the quote for the labor. I guess job security, but I'm really disliking the aesthetic based "innovations" the industry is pushing on everyone to pump the prices.

also 1400 dollars for a road bike with tourney and mechanical brakes does not compute.

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danithemechanic
+4 cornedbeef Andy Eunson slimchances57 dhr999

Hopefully people won't buy it, but the real the problem is, the retailers and shops that would sell it.

As a mechanic a big part of my job is being honestly critic and advice the customer on how to better spend their hard earned cash, if people won't listen i can't help it but i'm sorry about those that would but to the wrong advice.

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Jotegir
-1 @canopyclosure

The one positive I'm hoping to come out of all this headset cable routing trickling down to "normal" price bikes like the above speedster is that hopefully they start routing the cables at the factory. All the bikes I've had to do frame up builds come with no cables pre-installed, and no cable guides to pull through installed like most MTB frames.

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pete@nsmb.com
+3 Velocipedestrian slimchances57 cornedbeef

Headset routing started on the road side, and at least in the performance sense (at the high end) there is an aerodynamic benefit. Not important for the 1400 dollar bike buyer, however making a lower cost bike look as close as possible to the higher end ones is, of course, important.

On the MTB side, of course it's entirely an aesthetic choice, and it sucks.

Prices also suck, but we've been hearing for two years now from many brands that prices were going to go up by 20-30 percent. No one paid attention to that, but it happened and now here we are. They'll be driven down a little bit by the inventory glut that is now coming.

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fartymarty
+8 Velocipedestrian Andy Eunson shapethings danithemechanic @canopyclosure Timer kcy4130 cornedbeef

"On the MTB side, of course it's entirely an aesthetic choice, and it sucks"

I couldn't agree more.  If there is no performance benefit there's no point.

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flattire2
0

but...integrated stem and handlebar saves like 80g!

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Timer
0

It doesn't even do that. The lightest stem/handlebar solutions are separate parts.

It may be possible that a carbon bar + aluminum stem combo will always be superior to a one piece carbon part.

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MTB_THETOWN
0

Aerodynamics matter in mountain biking too, especially if you do longer xc type races. If your favorite thing is going downhill and are using your brakes to control speed all the time anyway, aerodynamics matter a lot less. For me, it's definitely not worth the inconvenience,  but if I was lining up for Leadville I'd want every energy saving advantage I could get.

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jt
+4 Mammal Pete Roggeman Carlos Matutes cornedbeef

That bike takes my missing working in the bike biz and throws it out the window with a kilo of C4 attached.

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danithemechanic
+6 Velocipedestrian kcy4130 Mike Ferrentino NealWood slimchances57 Andy Eunson

I did broke my Achille's heel, literally. I took off the cast yesterday. 

This injury made me comprehend the Achille's mith after many years: from ancient times to a not so distant past heel bone injuries were so debilitating that you were pretty much done. It's that one bone that won't let you walk, even when it's just got a crack, let alone when it's in pieces and you live in ancient Greece and casts have not been invented yet. 

The "all internal" bikes would be justified if they'd write "Do not disassemble" on the whole thing and not make any spares available, a la Shimano.

The whole internal concept relies on this idea anyway, make buying a whole new bike simpler and more cost effective than repairing the one you've got.

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kcy4130
0

I'm not a doctor or anything, but I'm pretty sure there are plenty of bones in the feet/ankle/leg/hip/back that'd keep one from walking if broken....? Or did you mean with modern medicine plates/rods/casts etc to get one back to gentle and painful weight bearing quicker than bones heal?

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danithemechanic
+1 kcy4130

Yeah you're right they'd all keep you from walking when broken but from what i read apparently none other has been historically an enigma to treat without a cast let alone without surgery, impairing your walking abilities drastically even after "healing".

A historical review of calcaneal fractures

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grinder
+4 kcy4130 Mike Ferrentino shenzhe dhr999

My Achilles heel, both figuratively and literally, is hard tail mountain bikes with sloping top tubes.  You know the frame designs with a nearly continuous line connecting the toptube and seatstays.  I get suckered in by the simplicity aesthetic.  Then I go try to ride some rooty rocky terrain really fast and think "f@ck, I am too old, my ankles can't take this anymore!".

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mammal
+2 Tim (aka DigitBikes/DirtBaggies) kcy4130

At least you can find a suspension bike with the same continuous TT/SS lines to satiate.

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Jotegir
+3 Mike Ferrentino Mammal Velocipedestrian

1. It's unfortunate for Achilles that nothing but sandals had been invented for footwear until after his time. You'd gotta think that if he was born in the era of Doc Martens (or, the FiveTen Freerider High Top, for all you mountain bikers out there), we'd still have him around.

2. A coworker got those RSL bars when they came out, they're really something in person looks-wise. If the dimensions worked for you, I say go for it! The major downside (imo) is they don't give you a lot of opportunity to pick obnoxious anodized colours, sadly.

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velocipedestrian
+2 Derek Baker Jotegir

Props for the obnoxious ano!

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mrbrett
+3 slimchances57 kcy4130 Spencer Nelson

Mike, do you have a podcast?

I’d think you could read instruction manuals for toasters and make it interesting.

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denomerdano
+1 Mike Ferrentino

*cheers in support from the stone seats of the Colosseum*

https://nsmb.com/articles/bontrager-rsl-trail-handlebar-stem/

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jddallager
+1 Andy Eunson

As always, Mike .... very insightful and provocative. Well done!

Re the aesthetics-driven and "engineer science project" bikes like the Scott Genius 910 .... I have used Montbell outdoor clothing for years. Very functional, durable, and reasonable cost/high value.

Their motto is: "Function is Beauty".   Spot on!!!!

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kos
+1 Mike Ferrentino

I've always been super-picky about bar roll settings.

After owning a race bike with a one-piece stem/bar unit I realized a lot of that has been silly confirmation bias.

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tim-lane
+1 Mike Ferrentino

The greatest stories get retold with new casting. Thetis = Galen Erso = whoever makes the internal routed headsets.

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lamar454
+1 mrbrett

Achilles's fatal flaw is that of hubris, excessive pride and overconfidence.

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hbelly13
+1 Andy Eunson

Esthetically bar/stem combos are great. However, functionally they just suck. I had Bullmoose bars which at least were strong for their time. On the contrary I broke/bent two Mission Controls and a third set was stolen off my otherwise locked bike forcing me into a two mile hilly walk of shame after my elective photography class let out. I recall getting my first threadless stem and bar (profile/control tech) and never looking back. Those latest Scott bikes look great, but they are way over and unnecessarily  complicated for me, but that is Scott's hallmark. However, maybe just maybe I could be swayed back to the one-piece bar/stem deal if I was to acquire one of these which I'd want to buy just for the name...   https://theradavist.com/btchn-bikes-jerk-stee l-enduro-full-suspension/

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tashi
+1 papa44

Man, I think both those bikes look great and if the buyers know what they’re getting into than I’m all for it. 

LOTS of riders, newbs and experienced alike, don’t have any interest in working on their own bikes and aren’t too fussed about the cost of their annual maintenance going up by $50-$100 if it means their new toy looks great.  

The basic roadie there is a cool looking bike with a functional group, the coolness factor increases the initial stoke and if the newb wears stuff out or wants to upgrade they have a “worthy” frame set to do so on. 

I have a couple buddies with aero road bikes in a similar price category to that mountain bike - they all bought em because they love the design and engineering involved, know they don’t “need” the aero advantage, and lack the time to work on their bikes but not the money to have someone else do it. I don’t see how their indulgent bike choice is much different than a fancy custom welded frame set other than style really.  Metal or carbon, integrated or otherwise, bikes are just fancy toys for rich people and some like their toys high-tech, some like them with a backstory and an artisanal paint job.

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xy9ine
0

though i still love (the idea of) the bullmoose bars on my OG diamondback mean streak (circa 1984), and the dekerf piece is trick af, i can't wrap my head around the modern integrated bar/stem iterations. let bygones be bygones?

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andy-eunson
0

Oh I love how they look but I’ve never been tempted myself. I had a one piece Cinelli on a road bike I bought used. The extension was too long so I sold it. I’m considering the Fuel ex in the spring with the XT build and it comes with that funky one piece stem bar. I’m thinking it will make an excellent selling feature for the old bike.  My practical side just won’t let me buy into those. Or hidden shocks. Now if Scott could hide the fork too, well then, that could be a game changer.

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taprider
+1 Andy Eunson

yep, should look like a track bike/singlespeed fixie with shaft drive

(not that would be new since it was done over 100 years ago)

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fartymarty
0

Mike - you totally blind sided me with the bar / stem combo - I thought this was going down the gearbox route.  The rear mech is truely the Archilles heel of the mtb (IMO).

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cxfahrer
0

The rear mech and the chain drive. Chains or belts, never mind. Any connecting parts between pedals and rear wheels, that are prone to get stuck with dirt and wear out fast or fall off when hitting a rock. 

An electric scooter is the fully integrated solution - but who wants that? These Scott bikes remind me of those awful scooters.

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fartymarty
+1 ZigaK

A broken mech is a ride killer, most other things you can deal with trailside.  I can live with a chain as they're repairable - belts less so.

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LoamtoHome
+2 dhr999 Andy Eunson

when was the last time you broke a derailleur?  I ride a lot and can't remember the last time.  With SRAM, the clutch just wears out.

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fartymarty
+1 Velocipedestrian

Touch wood it was about a year ago.  Managed to limp10 miles home... i would also love to jot have to clean the drive train after every ride.

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Bagheera
+1 Andrew Major

I broke/bent three within a year. Two major crashes (that left me mostly unharmed), one minor stupid one that hurt for weeks. That's why I proudly rock Deore R/Ds. I'd cry if the same thing happened with AXS.

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mikeferrentino
0

I was speaking of my own Achilles heel (figuratively, not literally) in this case. The bike itself? Pick a weakness - there are plenty to go around!

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fartymarty
0

As I read through the piece I got where you were going.

Maybe there's a follow up piece(s) with all archilles heels of the current mtb...

PS the engineer in me is way to "form follows function" to go anywhere near a one piece stem / bar (and a lot of other things for that matter).

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papa44
0

I got those little matchmaker things to mate my BikeYoke dropper lever and shifter to my hope brake levers. Even paid extra for a saint shifter as the zee shifters can’t be mated. Looks clean to me and even though I have to suffer the shifter positions being dictated by the brakes I still do it for a cleanish look, I’d run my brake hose through the stem like a bmx given half a chance and probably would get on board with headset routing if it was offered on a frame I liked, if it had internal guides at least

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mammal
0

So there's a theoretical scenario where you'd run brake lines through the stem, but not through the headset? Also, that third sentence is a DOOZY.

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papa44
0

No I’m saying id be up for trying either, in the spirit of the article I’m confessing that I’ll also put up with certain low level hardships for aesthetic reasons. For example, take my wife… badum tish

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velocipedestrian
0

I'm on the lookout for a discrete clamp for my shifter.

Damn thing came with some I-spec daftness and when I rotate the levers to my preferred position the shifter is too far under.

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papa44
0

You get used to the new shifter position. I ended up likening having one less thing to faff with endlessly looking for the sweet spot

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velocipedestrian
+1 cheapondirt

Nah, I'm all in on the endless faff of hunting the perfect setup.

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papa44
0

To which I can only say amen, it’s not like I don’t endlessly faff with every other component

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fartymarty
0

Velo - I used  https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2221629 for my I Spec B shifters.

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