I’m always keen to reflect on some of the popular myths and expressions that float around amongst the general public, and I don’t say this in a conceited or patronising way, it’s a subject that really fascinates me and I rack my brains as I wonder where these ideas come from.
Let’s consider a few of the favourites. Anyone who had a medium to low end racing bike in the 1980s will remember ’ safety’ or ‘duo’ brake levers, these were wobbly extensions to the bike’s wholly adequate original brake levers. If you were a desperate cycle salesman, you might succumb to using them in your sales pitch, but safety wasn’t something they offered. If everything on the braking system was perfect and adjusted to millimetre tolerances, they might slow you down, on a good day. After a succession of distraught and petrified customers who had hoped for a quick stop using their ‘duo’ levers, you tended to leave them out of your sales talk. I remember that this type of bike usually had solid plastic saddles as well. Perhaps it was to take your mind off the awful brakes, or maybe because of them.
Or how about those people who think that there are no inner tubes in their tyres? Granted, years ago top racing bikes used tubulars, which were tyre and inner tube all in one and actually glued onto the wheel. But you won’t expect them on a flat handlebar 3 speed.
Probably my all time favourite is the one finger lift. This is when some sage person, taking great care to find the point of balance on the top tube, picks a bike up using only his index finger. If they can do that with consummate ease, then it’s the true benchmark of a quality bicycle. In the iconic scenario, you get a group of these connoisseurs all vying to do the old one finger lift with much nodding and mumbling of appreciation. Oh, if only weight was the only thing that defined a good bike. The lightest bike I ever had was as flexible as a 12” ruler and some of my best efforts simply went in flexing the frame, not driving me forward.
What about the super careful who always park their bike in top gear so that the gear cable is not under tension? Well it is true that new gear cables stretch, but you’re best to get them stretched and adjusted once and for all. Once they’ve done all their stretching that’s it. Don’t prolong the agony by releasing the tension every two minutes.
And how about all those weird things that people hope to find in a bike shop? Electrical goods ? Well possibly. Carbide, not for old time cycle lights you understand, but to dispatch a few moles that are ruining the garden. Or valve rubber for fishermen.
I’ll never forget the guy who asked me for some disraeli gears for his bike. It happens to be one of my favourite ‘long playing’ albums, I think they’re called vinyls now, and I have a rare stereo copy, so I sold him some derailleur gears instead. He seemed just as happy!