05 July 2012

A Softshot Slingride

Today I saw someone riding a bike I hadn't seen in a long time.  Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me and I couldn't get my cell phone out of my bag quickly enough.  Fortunately, it was easy enough to find a photo of it on the web:

Production of Softride bicycles seems to have begun during the late 1980's.  Apparently, they're still being made.  Although I haven't seen one on the road recently, I understand they're still popular with triathaloners. 

Softride bicycles appeared around the same time that Rock Shox forks first came onto the market, and other then-radical bicycle designs were being developed. 

Nearly all other bikes with suspension are designed to suspend the bike.  This makes sense when you realize that modern suspension systems were first developed mainly for mountain bikes.  Someone who's hopping over creeks or "jumping" from a rock face doesn't expect to be comfortable upon landing.  However, he or she wants the bike to remain as stable as possible, as this is the best way to keep the bike moving forward and prevent an accident.  

At least, I came to that conclusion from my own experiences of off-road riding. 

On the other hand, according to the designers of Softride, their stated goal was to "suspend the rider, not the bike."  Now, I'll admit that my time on a Softride was very limited and I thought it was uncomfortably bouncy.  However, other riders seemed to master it, or simply became accustomed to the sensation.  If they did, I can see why some liked it:  The shocks incurred on the road aren't nearly as great as one experiences in the woods and mountains.  Plus, road riders tend to spend more time and ride longer distances on their bikes.  So some might like a cushier bike. And, I suppose triathaloners might like the comfort of such a bike because they have to switch, sometimes abruptly, from the swimming or running segment to the cycling part of the race.

Around the same time Softride bikes made their appearance, an old riding buddy took to both the roads on a bike like this one:

This was yet another approach to suspension.  My old riding buddy, an engineering school dropout, once explained the principle behind it for me. I've since forgotten how it's supposed to work--or maybe I never understood it in the first place.  But he swore by Slingshots:  He had a mountain as well as a road version. 

I rode his bikes a few times.  While I wasn't entirely convinced by them, they made more sense to me than Softrides ever did.  

It's been at least a dozen years since I've ridden a Slingshot (or, for that matter, a Softride).  So, please forgive me if my memory is faulty and my description of the ride is less-than-detailed.  

People who have driven the Citroen GS or its descendants remark upon the fluid tautness of its suspension.  I have only ridden in such a car, but I could feel the difference between it and the "springier" suspension of American cars. The Slingshot's suspension felt something like the hydropneumatic system of a Citroen, on steroids.  

I might actually buy a Slingshot if I were going to have a barn full of bikes. (They're still being made, as they were back in the '90's, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.) But being limited to four bikes (still more than most people have, I know!), I am leery about paying full price for such a radical bike.

If I were a collector, I'd probably have at least one Slingshot and a Softride.  What I'd really like, though, is for Slingshot and Softride to collaborate on a mixte frame!

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