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Innovation and Invention


Cycling has, I guess, always been a cutting-edge kind of activity. From the moment that the first Velocipedes first saw the light of day, bicycle manufacturers have innovated and continued to develop their products; making the most of contemporary technologies. You only have to look at the advanced composite construction of today’s bikes to see how this evolution has filtered down – right to consumer level.


And, that says nothing for the technology happily strapped to your handlebars. It’s fair to say that the computing power contained in that tiny GPS unit hung haphazardly from your bars by plastic and rubber bands would have dwarfed the entire mainframe setup that NASA used to land Messrs Armstrong et al on the moon.

 Yes, as cyclists, we are out there, man; constantly pushing the envelope.

This Does Not Compute…


Of course, technology is fine – when it works. The flipside to that is the moment that something fails and you suddenly have to rely upon good old-fashioned common-sense. It’s at times like this you realise just how dependent we are all becoming on these rider aides and, if I’m honest, I wonder if this is really a good thing?


With my trusty Garmin confidently displaying an, ‘On Course’ message, clearly reinforced with a neatly defined virtual road, I was sure that the flint-ridden muddy farm track now unfolding before me would be but a temporary break in the road surface. In this certain knowledge, I issued my order; “Maintain course and heading “. With the authority in my voice I commanded as, Dutifully, Mooga and Wet Wipe followed.  


Following a rapid descent on a rutted unmade track heavily peppered with sharp stones and God knows what else, the voice of doubt was whispering to me. On any other day, I would have simply pushed on and resigned myself to chalking this one up to experience. Today, however, aboard my treasured Carbon Fibre 4.5 Domane road bike, the voice of doubt won. Rolling gently to a stop my mind went into immediate contingency planning mode; my eyes transfixed on the 2 square inches of LCD that had got us into this mess in the first place.


Lost – a Familiar Location for the SMCC!...


As Wet Wipe and Mooga drew alongside me, Wet Wipe opened the dialogue, “Where the f@$k are we?” he asked, further qualifying this with, “I’ve never been down here before!” Characteristically, Mooga chipped in, “I have; on my f@£*ing mountain bike!”


Being lost in deepest, darkest Essex is a regular occurrence for the SMCC; you only have to read any of my blogs to know that. But when two of the riders are aboard their Sunday best steeds, one of those riders being perched atop a brand spanking new set of Zipp Carbon wheels and the term, ‘lost’ actually translates as, ‘off road’ then the situation is somewhat different.


Given that I had, for the day, been thrust into the role of Captain and Navigator (after Wilson spat the dummy), I was feeling the pressure. With the onus now on me to lead us safely back to smooth tarmac, my tiny mind was near meltdown. After some considered consultation of the map flickering on the display before me, I have to confess that I was still clueless. I decided to push on, my qualification for this being, “it’s got to lead somewhere!”


With rutted, muddy track giving way to ploughed field, I knew we were in trouble. But, a leader must never show fear and so, with courage, I pushed on- and, bolstered by the confident poise of their Captain, the team followed.


Living up to the Hype…


With Treks’s wonderful frame technology ironing out the bumps for me, I was briefly reminded of the  promotional video for this bike and ‘Spartacus’ rattling madly across punishing Pave as he put the prototype Doame through it’s paces. I realised that, unlike GPS, here was a technology that did what it set out to; I was almost as comfortable aboard my stunning 4.5 Domane as I would have been aboard my mountain bike. The large gap now building between me and me and the remainder of the SMCC was testament to the edge that this outstanding bike was giving me. My progress was only halted by the sudden appearance of a security gate.


Finding the gate was both good and bad. It was good in that, just yards beyond lay Tarmac and civilisation; bad in that this track was clearly private property and, judging by the complex nature of the electrically operated gate, heavily protected private property at that. We didn’t hang around in hastily climbing over said obstruction to the sanctuary of the Queens highway.


With a ribbon of tarmac now laid before us like red carpet, the tension of the last 15 minutes released itself as we all broke down into hysterical laughter. As we remounted and set about a hasty exit, I reflected that although technology had got us into that mess, it was also technology that got us out of it.


Engineering Excellence…


I’ve already mentioned the outstanding qualities of the Domane frameset. Bear in mind that Mooga was aboard a Madone (a much more race-focussed machine) and that poor Wet Wipe aboard his trusty old Dawes and you begin to realise just how significant this little victory was for us! We had taken three very different road bikes; all (except mine) designed to be ridden on silky smooth Tarmac, and punished them with a surface that any self-respecting mountain bike would be proud to have covered. What’s more, they had all performed admirably – well beyond their original design brief and parameters.



The rest of the ride unfolded fairly uneventfully – apart from Wet Wipe picking up another puncture (a ride with Wet Wipe would not be a ride with Wet Wipe without at least one puncture). As we stood around his stricken bike, he was prompted to test the Dawes even further; picking it up and literally throwing it into a bush!! I have to say that as I watched this I felt a tinge of guilt for the poor Dawes; it wasn’t the bike’s fault that some idiot had just led it across a surface almost designed to shred bicycle tyres – the blame for that lay fairly with the Garmin!


The Tiniest Oversight…


Basking in my usual endorphin-addled, coffee soaked post-ride glow, I took a while to fiddle with the Garmin and try to figure out what had happened. After much trudging through meaningless menus, I came across a setting within the ‘Navigation Features’ settings. One little tick box – labelled ‘Lock on Roads?’ The empty tick box next to this setting effectively gives the unit free-reign to plot a course across anything that is mapped – from shiny hard top to forest trail. One little tick that had led us deep into somewhere we did not want to be (and probably should not have been in the first place).


But, I can’t pin the blame on the GPS unit alone. God only knows why common sense abandoned me (and, in fact, the whole of the group) but it did. Such was our faith in the technology that we abandoned all reasonable thought processes; becoming pawns in the game that unfolded around us. The consequences were not dire – but they could have been. Blind faith in technology has cost people their lives (in extreme examples) and, in this example, it nearly cost Mooga and I our best bikes.


Common Sense – Never Leave Home without it!


The lesson for me is that whilst technology is great, it is simply an aide; no more. It is there to enhance my experience; not dictate it. As much as I believe in the power of technology I have resolved to make sure that, along with inner tubes, energy gels and Co2 inflator, I always take my common sense along on every ride. And so, the next time the view of reality does not match the virtual reality on the screen before me, I will switch back to good old tried and tested grey matter – until there is parity once more.


Whatever you take with you the next time you clip in – make sure that common sense and rational thought are with you every time you ride. GPS is fantastic; but you are amazing!