February 11th, 2011

Ultimate Oma

A bicycle is small enough, and elegant enough, that truly my dears, need any expense be spared in its making? It is veritably the case with über schmick road bikes, that fortunes are spent just shaving some grams. Perfection for buyers is an end in itself, an unhealthy obsession maybe, but in the words of my friend CB King, the quest separates us from the animals. Musical instruments, suits, leather shoes, laptop computers, bicycles, beer, everything I'm into it seems, enjoys a lavishing of time and resources out of all proportion to what must do, in crude functional terms. I mean, wine functions like beer; eeeyew but the taste!

Apparently, this is a 2.8kg bike!

So it is that, for those of us who have spent years around road bikes, seeing ultimate machinery pass the 5, 10 and now 15K price mark, while weights have dropped below, 9, 8, and now 7kg, questions surround the low prices and low quality of bikes for commuting. Of course, in the case of bikes not intended for racing, weight may not concern many riders. Surely though, the vain, anal, and pedantic among us, would be happy to spend a few hundred more for comfort, durability, long lasting looks, fine craftsmanship, and design world cache in a bike for commuting. 

The 2011 North American Handmade Show will soon flood the web with its offings, among them no doubt a fair smattering of randonneur show bikes. In each case, someone will have spent years in his shed, superfinishing cable ends, taping bars in strips of his own skin, and handwriting the Bible with a fine sable brush beneath the BB. All well and good, if you are happy to join a one-hundred year waiting list, for a hand made bike for your grandson, hand made by the grandson of some moron without a real job. Frankly, I'm more interested in good old fashioned mass produced perfection, out of Taiwan, than deluding Americans that they can manufacture anything other than bombs. I stand with the wives of NAHMBS champions, hot-rod enthusiasts, and model train buffs, in saying they should not be encouraged. Anyone still commercially manufacturing bikes outside of China or Taiwan, has daddy issues. There, I have said it. It has been said.

The prompt for this little outburst, is a marvelous prototype I stumbled upon today while browsing the web. To my knowledge, it is the world's first titanium Oma. The only other place I know such a bike to exist, is in my imagination—where I've had something different in mind for the drive train, but never mind that. I note the designer has even ran up against the same problem that stops me from running off to Taiwan, to have a few dozen made: nobody currently makes tapering curved fork blades out of titanium. 

Thinking about the choice here of raw titanium, not even brushed, takes one back to ancient Greece, naturally, and Plato's proposed banning of artists from his ideal republic. In Plato's words, artists would give people a "taste for the florid" and make them less rational in their everyday lives. Well, there is nothing at all florid here, simply a classic, time honoured design, rendered in the strongest, lightest, best riding material. Such wonderful clarity of mind! And this at a time when the cost of titanium has fallen dramatically, and a number of bike makers in China have shown themselves capable of TIG welding paper thin tubing.