wooden-bicycle-from-poland-4This is an opinion piece by Reno Toffoli. Reno’s opinions don’t necessary represent the opinions of Your Group Ride or its advertisers but I always enjoy his rants. If you’d like to write an article for YGR, please email me at info@yourgroupride.com



It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of computers and electronics. Things with no moving parts that intermittently function correctly do not fascinate me the way they seem to fascinate most other people. Instead, they annoy the hell out of me. Any time electronic devices come within a 20 foot radius of me, they quit working correctly, usually at the exact moment that I need them most. I have absolutely no patience for this and I often end up throwing the offending device against something rather hard and experience great joy in watching all the pieces fly in chaotic little paths determined by their velocity, mass, and gravity. For me, these kinds of things just make my life more difficult, not easier. Because of that, I choose to live without them…for the most part.


My cell phone, for example, is just a phone and a camera. That’s about it. It’s about a half step away from being one of those old people cell phones with the really big buttons. I probably use the camera function more than anything else although it does have a cool star map thing in it that I find useful sometimes because I like stars, and space, and things like theoretical physics…at least the small bits of it that I can understand. I’m not real talkative or real social so telephones don’t excite me much. My phone does text but I use that even less than the regular phone part because texting is the most inefficient form of communication ever invented. Period.


As you’ve probably guessed by now, I enjoy the analog side of the universe much more than the 1, 0, on, off, it works, it doesn’t work, digital side of things. I like things that are tangible and tactile; things that you can touch, feel, see, smell, and hold, (except for that theoretical physics thing). I love machines and I love to watch machines work, fix them when they don’t work and try to make them work better. That’s what I’m about.


So let’s jump to our favorite machine…the one invented over a hundred years ago that at the core hasn’t really been improved a whole lot and the one that is still the most efficient (literally) form of transportation ever invented…yep, that one.


The thing about the bicycle is that it’s simple, and beautiful, and efficient, and it just works. You can make it more complicated, and it still works…it just needs more maintenance. You can see it work, and you can repair it when it doesn’t work. There’s no voodoo (unless it’s a Voodoo), or witchcraft, or magic smoke to let out. It’s simple, it works, done.


So why, then, is there this growing push to make bikes electronic? It started on road bikes 5 or so years ago (Mavic’s Zap from 1992 doesn’t count) when a certain Japanese company decided that it would be a good idea to create a drivetrain that shifted with electricity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of electricity; I teach it for crying out loud. Electricity has made me a lot of money over the years. I understand it, appreciate it, it’s great but I don’t want it on my bike.



Electricity is fine in a house or in a car. Yes, I’ll even go so far as to say that computers are the best things that ever happened to cars but I have degrees in this stuff and cars are my profession so I understand them, how they work (even the computer parts) and am able to diagnose and repair them. But, you see, houses and cars need electricity to work. I have a 52 year old car sitting in my garage and it still needs electricity to work. The difference with a bicycle is that it doesn’t. The bicycle works just fine without electricity or an electrically operated drivetrain.


Apparently these electronic drivetrains work great (or so I’m told). I don’t have enough money to buy one and also lack the interest. Plus I’m not a real fan of riding my bike on the road so the whole road bike electronic drivetrain thing seemed kind of something out on the fringes that didn’t really have anything to do with me.


For me, the beauty of the bicycle is that it’s a relatively simple machine and when it requires a charged battery to operate, you lose me. I don’t care if the battery is good for 400,000,000 shifts per charge; it’s going to be dead every time you want to ride your bike or die when you need it most….in high gear as you approach a 20% grade.  Now, instead of adjusting cables you have wiring to break or get ripped off, or have a bad connection and don’t forget the derailleur that costs $59,000 to replace every time you crash or your neighbor comes over and accidentally knocks your bike over on the drive side as he’s trying to borrow your lawnmower. Pass.


I don’t think that an electronic drivetrain or an electronically valved suspension fork would be something that made my life easier so I guess I’m not interested. Companies have been trying to sell electronically controlled suspension for years and it hasn’t caught on because it’s (A) expensive and, (B) it doesn’t work.


Regular suspension works phenomenally well and it’s simple. I understand things like air springs and damper circuits and shim stacks and all that stuff (that car knowledge comes in handy a lot of the time) so I get it and can work on it and maintain it. I also understand how to adjust a front derailleur so I have one of those too. As much as I understand how electronic drivetrains work, I still don’t want one.


And now the inevitable is happening…Shimano is introducing electronic shifting to the mountain bike world. I’m kind of thinking this is a bad idea because what happens to mountain bikes? Yeah, they do things like bounce off rocks, and have derailleurs torn off, and run in to stuff, and there are a lot of branches and things that would just love to tear the wiring off of everything. I don’t care where or how well it’s routed, it will happen. Unless you have a multi meter and a soldering iron, you won’t be fixing that on the trail. I can carry an extra cable and fix my clicky shifters in just under 7 minutes on the trail. Yes, I’ve done it more than once and timed myself.  I carry a lot of spare parts and tools on my back, even in races, because pushing a vehicle home (any vehicle) really sucks.


The analog and mechanical bicycle is a beautiful and soulful escape from all the electronic crap that surrounds us. If you want to get super simple and masochistic, you can even strip the bike down and take all the extra gears off of it, take the suspension off of it, take everything away but the wheels, frame, one set of gears, and the rest of the basics. That’s not my cup of tea but I understand the appeal. I think we need these escapes to stay connected to ourselves. I suppose if you really want to ditch everything, just put on a pair of shoes and start walking. Whatever does it for you. I like bikes so that’s my escape.


An electronic bike doesn’t make sense in my world so I don’t think I’ll be going there. Perhaps it’s appealing for some, but not this Analog Kid. I will admit I have cycle computers on my bikes but I’m kind of a stats geek and they work, I guess because they’re simple. I used a GPS unit for a while and it was interesting, but, like everything electronic, it eventually started acting up and I decided my life was better without it. The funny thing is that I don’t miss it. Strava? Forget it.


I’ve said it before…the beauty of cycling is that it can be anything you want it to be. So I’ll order mine up to ride on dirt. I like a frame made of metal, suspension on both ends, and a full range of gears. The only thing electronic I want is something that tells me how far I’ve gone and if the battery goes dead, I can still ride without it. I’ll also take some clipless pedals, carbon bars, and bar ends….yeah, gotta have bar ends. If you want to improve my drivetrain, give me something internal with 20-ish ratios that’s as reliable and doesn’t weigh (much)more than the external one it replaces. I’d be all over that. Call that order ‘The Analog Kid’ and I’ll buy it right up.


What are you having?