05 November 2013

November Discs

Those of us who are writers or other creative artists have our own ways of getting started.  One obvious way for a writer is, of course, reading.  But many of us also follow visual cues such--or, as you might expect, take walks or bike rides.

When I first started writing poetry, I would sometimes begin my work with word associations.  For example, if I looked at the sky, I might write that word, then "flight", "wind", "skip", "bliss" or other words, and write a couple of lines using those words.

These days, I sometimes play a version of that game, if you will, on Google or some other search engine.  I might type in a word or phrase and see what comes up.

I did that a moment ago.  I typed in "bicycle november" and came up with a bunch of things, including a shop called November Bicycles.

Of course, I checked them out.  They're very much a racing-oriented shop, so I may not ever buy anything from them.  However, I like its owners' philosophy--or, at least, what I gleaned of it from the blog that's part of their site.

For one thing, they feel that racing bikes--and, especially wheels--cost too much.  So, as they explain, they market their own products and bypass many of the distribution channels through which other retailers obtain the merchandise they sell.

And they clearly have their own opinions about riding and equipment.  At least those opinions seem to be based on experience and common sense--and, unlike at least one other would be philosopher-bicycle retailer, they're  not evangelizing or selling a lifestyle.

Mike and Dave of November Bicycles

One blog post I found particularly interesting was "My Opinion On Disc Brakes."  In it, the author admits that he uses discs on at least one of his bikes.  But he also doesn't relish the prospect of them becoming the de facto industry standard for all bikes.  For one thing, trying to squeeze them into a road bike, which has narrower frame spacing than a mountain or cyclo-cross bike, can be problematic, especially if the bike has an 11-cog rear cassette.  The only way it seems possible to make it work is to use a brake with a smaller rotor, which negates most of the advantage a disc is supposed to have over caliper brakes.

About that advantage, he's skeptical, if not doubtful.  He also mentions problems in keeping them adjusted:  On some models, on some bikes,it's all but impossible to keep the pads mounted close enough to the rotor so that braking response is quick and powerful, without the pad occasionally rubbing on the rotor as you ride.  So you choose between response, power and modulation or being able to ride at more than a snail's pace.

What I found interesting is that the arguments he makes against disc brakes--except for the difficulty of using them with 11 (or even 10) cogs are ones I and any number of other mechanics could have made thirty years ago.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, "new" ideas in bike design (or almost any other area, for that matter) almost always are reiterations of things that had been done before.  For example, German manufacturer Altenberger made dual-pivot sidepull caliper brakes during the 1960's and '70's.  A few bikes were equipped with them; as one mechanic lamented, "They have the worst features of center pulls and side pulls, and none of the good features."  About twenty years ago, Shimano resurrected the dual-pivot concept and eliminated most of the problems encountered on the Altenbergers.

So it was with disc brakes.  As I recall, a Japanese company, a French company and Phil Wood made them.  For the latter, it was probably the only faulty product he ever made:  They were recalled.  But they, and the others, had the same problems with adjustability and issues with rotor size the author of November Bicycles mentions.  

Back in my day, the only bicycles that used discs were tandems.  Because tandeming has always been one of the smaller niches of the bicycling world, ideas, innovations and products developed for them rarely find their way onto other kinds of bikes.  That, and the problems I mentioned, are the reasons why disc brakes all but disappeared by the mid-1980's.


  1. I often drove my bike shop owner crazy with my ideas. Mid 70's I wanted to get my perfect touring frame built and suggested that tandem discs seemed like a brilliant idea compared to rubbing brake blocks on slippy and heating rims on a steep decent. You will never see discs on solo machines was his reply, how I regret not following my heart...

  2. Coline--I can understand getting disc brakes for a bike like the one you describe. I just don't want to see them forced on everyone else or for caliper brakes and parts to become difficult to find.