Yesterday Hani and I were discussing lycra, leg-shaving, and other facets of modern cyclists. I thought I’d follow up with a very quick comparison of the modern look versus what I consider a much more “raw”, more attractive look: bikes and attire from the golden age of bicycling just prior and after World War II.

Lycra may make you more streamlined, but it also makes you look ridiculous. Furthermore it requires that you stay within 5 feet of your bicycle or immediately change clothes; a lycra-clad cyclist without a bicycle is a thing from a bad science-fiction movie.

Lance Armstrong dressed to kill... for a clown convention

Lance Armstrong dressed to kill... for a clown convention

Personally I think the classic short-shorts and jersey is much more “real”. Lycra says “I’ve got a 50 function bike computer, an intimate knowledge of the wind shear forces on this road, and a bottle of liquid designed specifically to my body’s chemistry; I have the technical advantage over you.” The classic attire says “I don’t need gadgetry; I’m going to beat you because I’m just plain better than you.”

Ken Russell doesn't need rainbow-colored clothing vaccuum pumped to his skin  to whip you on a hill.

Ken Russell doesn't need rainbow-colored clothing vaccuum pumped to his skin to whip you on a hill.

(If Lance’s bike gets a scratch his team simply throws him another off the rack. Ken Russell finished second in his first race riding a welded aluminum bike with a cracked fork.)

This follows over into bikes as well. A modern track bike is a carbon-fiber monstrosity. I showed the image below to Hani; she was perplexed how one would ride it. That’s a reasonable response – this thing resembles a bicycle only in silhouette. Sure it looks pretty cool, but there’s something lacking. It doesn’t have that light, wirey feel to it – it resorts to paint to imply speed rather than an airy, raw, powerful frame.

A bicycle purporting to be a carbon-fiber custom-made track bike.  Could also be an alien mothership.

A bicycle purporting to be a carbon-fiber custom-made track bike. Could also be an alien mothership.

Now maybe it’s just me, but that sort of bike wouldn’t intimidate me, where I the sort of person likely to be in a velodrome. The rider is putting a huge amount of money and technology into the bicycle, when in reality I’m not racing the bicycle, I’m racing the rider. I’m sure it is technologically superior than the steel lugged-frame bikes of the 40s and 50s, but be honest: wouldn’t you be more scared to find yourself on a grass path facing someone the bike below?

A sexy bicycle.

A sexy bicycle.

This bike says “don’t worry about the bike. You’ll be looking at the rider’s back for the last 200 meters anyway.” The rider of this bike isn’t going to be dressed like a Christmas tree, weighing the chin-strap on his helmet, or shooting chemical cocktails into his veins, he’s going to beating you.

There’s something to be said (indeed, I’ve said quite a bit!) about the “elemental” approach: metal, rubber, cloth. Forget high-tech gadgetry, artificial elastic jumpsuits, carbon-fiber frames, wind-tunnel tested angles: the classic cyclists didn’t need trickery.


I still haven’t written about the theft of my bike and my glorious replacement. At the rate I write updates it is likely that the bike itself will transform – Optimus Bicyclus – and apply itself to the computer. In fact, I claim that this is the reason for my slow posting schedule; for the majority of the day I hide behind the couch, watching, waiting, for gears to turn, cranks to… crank, and the frame itself to bend into an unspeakable killing machine.

We will see.

I researched locking strategies. Apparently a combination lock can hold a thief back for somewhere between 30 seconds and 5 minutes, depending on whose advice you are taking. The fact that my lock used the combination “1234” and was typically scrambled to “1235” (or, if I was feeling particularly clever, “0234”) probably didn’t help security.

My research indicates that the best strategy involves more than one type of lock, with each wheel locked to the frame and to the rack or permanent structure. I decided on two key locks: one U-lock and one chain-lock. The U-lock locks the rear (more expensive) wheel to the frame and together, to the rack. The chain locks the front wheel to the frame and to the rack.

It is wise to use multiple lock types as the tools needed to break each are different (and bulky).

I leave the U-lock on campus at my typical lockup-location. I make sure to park the bike next to examples of a variety of other locking strategies: a bike locked only to itself with a chain lock, a bike locked via a U-lock on the front wheel only (quick-release, anyone?) and a mountain bike that hasn’t moved in 12 days. I figure any thief could have their pick of more attractive, easier-to-steal bikes, so mine should be fine.

When I’m away from campus I carry only the chain-lock. It is lighter and easier to lock to strangely shaped structures and I don’t leave the bike unnattended for very long.

When I’m at home, I keep the bike indoors. This is good for three reasons: one, it avoids elemental damage (have to watch out for those black puddings); two, it removes the threat of theft; three, it looks cool in my living room.

I read an article on Slashdot today on the subject of passwords. Apparently a secure password is not that important. Wait, I take that back, that was the article from several days ago. Today’s article was that securing your password is very important. Regardless, there were associated comments suggesting alternate approaches: passphrases, biometrics, etc. each with their own disadvantage.

This made me think: shouldn’t a secure authentication system use complementary systems? Like the bike, each is defeated via specific methods which are not applicable to the other. A password can be found in a post-it, guessed, or cracked, but a finger-print requires physical presence or spy-like tactics. A fingerprint can’t be changed to adjust for security lapses, but a password can.

Why not a key and a password? A computer cracker is unlikely to also be an expert in duplicating (or stealing) keys.

How about a passphrase, a combination lock, and a fingerprint? Unless you expect to be attacked by a multi-skilled computer hacker / safe cracker / private detective, you are in good shape. Two of those three can be changed at will (with varying difficulties) and one is person-specific.

Personally, I can’t log into my laptop before entering a short essay on the concepts of “self” and “identity”, freestyle-rapping for between 28 and 33 seconds, submitting to a pelvic CT scan (with contrast), and passing my thumb over a fingerprint scanner… located at the bottom of a 50 foot shark pool.