1991: Searching for the Goodies among the Gadgets and Gimmicks (1990 Interbike report)

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in California and Texas Bicyclist, Jan-Feb 1991

The big dealer trade shows have come and gone and now we're heading into the new year. In spite of the threat of a depressed economy, optimism seems exceptionally high within the industry. Attendance at the trade shows, both in terms of manufacturers and visitors, was up at both Anaheim and Atlantic City. 1990 was an excellent year for the bicycle industry and most everybody seems poised in wait of an even better year in 1991. The dealers have made their best guesses as to their projected inventory needs and are awaiting the rise in business which the wonderful custom of making New Year's resolutions brings to the fitness industry after the post-Christmas slump. For myself, I'm hoping to be firm in my resolve to not be too cynical as I search for the goodies among the gadgets and the gimmicks of the 1991 product lineup. I reserve my underline key for the Gimmick Alert, but will otherwise try to remain quiet in my cynicism. Here's my best effort:

The Big Guys

Of course, the big guys of the bike industry, Shimano, Campy, and the others, all have new offerings. Most seem unnecessarily adorned with catchy names and labels, but amongst the marketing overkill a few potential goodies stand out. Shimano finally brings to the general public the Dura Ace STI Dual Control Levers which allow braking and shifting levers in one package. After watching Team Slurpee and other European pros, not to mention John Tomac in the ATB Worlds, using varying evolutions of this product for more than two years, it's nice to see them finally making it into the shops. Allowing braking and shifting while riding in the drops seems especially useful for criterium racing and other venues, but the extra 16 ounces on the bike seems a dubious tradeoff. Mated with the new Dual Pivot calipers, now available in the top three Shimano grouppos, these levers do provide possibly the finest braking known to date. For mountain bikes, Shimano brings low profile cantilevers and Servo Wave levers with a tiny window to view the new mechanism which modifies the rate of cable tension as the lever is pulled.

Campy casts its hand in the one-upmanship poker game with its 8 speed cassette hubs designed for either road or mountain bikes. (EEKS! A 24 speed bike!) Durability and adaptability are the themes here as the rear hub has an extra pawl and can run cogs from 11 to 34 teeth. That illusive 11 toother hasn't been seen for quite a while on bikes and qualifies as a top notch goodie in my book. Finally pouring time and energy into cog and chain design and production, Campy seems to have finally arrived at a working indexing system. Thank you, Valentino! For ATBs, Campy brings a GripShift knockoff known as Bullet handlebar grips. To change gears, twist the grips through the full 8 speed indexed range. If you're unsure which gear you've selected, simply read the number indicated in the tiny window. Tandem enthusiasts will be thrilled over the Italian giant's new tandem grouppo with braking and index shifting like never before, according to Tandem King Jim DeGraffenreid of Downey Cyclery.

Off Road Goodies

Nothing was more evident at the trade shows than the amount of inventive energies being poured into the ATBs. I could easily write a feature length piece simply on the innumerable suspension systems, but will only highlight a few here. Scott USA offers Unishocks, with adjustable dampening, but without oil, gas, or tons of moving parts. Simply install the Unishocks in place of your existing forks, and head for the bumpy trails. Manitou offers a similar retrofit system and touts the fact that it won't alter your bike's geometry or handling adversely as some others do. ActionTec offers another version of the fork retrofit shock with its ProAction Suspension System. This monoshock setup has all of the dampening components contained within the steerer tube. One of the more interesting shock systems is the Isolator Hub, a front hub with a built in cushioning system. Sandwiched between the shell and the cartridge bearings is a special urethane filler which absorbs shock and vibration. Though it doesn't offer the amount of dampening of the fork systems, it is a viable lightweight and maintenance free product. Complete bikes with suspension systems were also in abundance. Therein lies another article topic, but I will note two to show the range of possibilities. In the simplistic camp is the Moots YBB ("Why Be Beat?"). This limited production bike from the craftsmen in Steamboat Springs, CO, has a small dampener built into its wishbone seatstay. Extra beefy chain stays are allowed to flex on a vertical plane and actuate the wishbone's mini monoshock. Simple, with few extra parts, and only 5 additional ounces. On the other end of the suspension spectrum is the Offroad Pro-Flex, with swingarm elevated chainstays, wishbone monoshock, and the company's own Flexstem up front. Nearly 29 pounds , but certainly soft riding.

Clipless pedals for mountain bikes have finally arrived! The big three of the clipless market all have systems specifically designed for the rigors of off roading. They all allow full walking capability, too, making them especially useful for portaging or touring. Shimano got the ball rolling with its SPD system seen in use throughout 1990 on the ATB racing circuit. The recessed cleat and two-sided pedals are race proven and the shoes plenty comfy. Time's TWT setup has a one sided pedal and coverable recessed cleat, allowing use of the ultra stiff shoes with standard pedals. Look's off road system also has a recessed cleat and a two-sided pedal. Look's pedal, however, is designed for clipping in on just one side, providing the other side for when clipping in isn't wanted. A nice idea. All three systems are designed to discourage mud build up and are beefed up for extra durability.

Other Assorted Goodies

Remember those wild aero bars used by Greg LeMond in the Prologue of the Tour de France? Well, Scott USA is making them available to the general public now under the name Extreme. They offer a 16% aerodynamic benefit, versus the closest runner up's 12%. The Sun Valley, ID, aero innovators also unveiled two new off-road aero bars, the AT-4 Pro, with 4 positions, and the AT-3, with 3 positions and minimal weight. Kestrel has an amaziang new off-road fork with a 3 head tubes clamped together at the top, like off-road motorcycles. Despite the extra tubes, the super strong EMS momocoque fork weighs in at a mere 1.4 pounds. APS of Colorado Springs, CO, was one of many new fledgling companies which scraped together the capital to attend the big shows and dispaly their goods. Relying on real world experience, APS president Jim Freim, former Ultraman and and Double Ironman champ, presented the Snak-Pak, an ingenious little box which mounts to the top tube right behind the stem. Use the lidless box to hold food items in a readily accessible location. APS also showed the Tri-Pocket, a waist mounted water bottle holder. Amazingly, APS's version of this common product is the only one with a low cut right panel, for ease of bottle removal and replacement. A simple idea, but one which only an expereinced athlete could have invented and patented! Yet more companies have entered the sports nutrition market, joining longtime originators such as UNIPRO and Exceed. UNIPRO introduced ProOptimizer, a liquid meal replacement designed as a pre and post race meal for short course athletes, or as an on the bike complete nutritional source for endurance specialists. One of many new entries into the Powerbar arena is the X TRNR (cross trainer) bar. Besides providing the standard low fat, balanced, portable nutrition of other bars, the X TRNR includes a phosphate fuel which inhibits lactic acid buildup and muscle soreness and also increases oxygen uptake. Credit the manaufacturer, Gulf Industries, with merging solid portafoods with scientific performance nutrition.

I'm glad to see that the Gimmick Alert received little usage in this brief overview of new trends and products in the bicycle industry. Bicycle technology continues to evolve, and somewhere in the range from technoweenie to retrogrouch lies a comfortable spot for all of us. Let's get comfy!