"Come on, vamanos - everybody let's go -
Come on let's get to it - I know that we can do it!"
-Travel Song (From Dora the Explorer)
With Wildflower just over six weeks away, I’ve been spending as much time on the bike as possible. Note that I said “as much as possible”, which is entirely different than “as much as I’d like to”, but nevertheless – I’m hoping to log a lot of hours in the saddle between now and May.
I also mentioned that I’ve been bike shopping, to replace the almost 25-year-old modified steel frame road bike that I’ve raced on for almost 10 years. Retiring my old-school bike will certainly be a watershed moment in my triathlon career, and will probably command its own post in the very near future.
Anyway, after countless hours of Internet shopping, reading hundreds of bike reviews, comparing spec sheets, and seeking advice from several bike dealers, you could say that I’ve got a bad case of bikes on the brain (I’d call it a bike jones, but then I’d have to write to Michelle and explain what a jones is. This way I save myself a few minutes. I’m cutting corners anywhere I can lately.) This mindset has become so prevalent, that last week at the playground, I even started casting an analytical eye on the Dora the Explorer ride belonging to my 3-year-old daughter:
To the casual observer, it’s a basic-looking toddler bike. But after you’ve done the kind of research I’ve done recently, things aren’t as simple as they appear. In fact, I’ve concluded that she may be riding a more technologically advanced machine than the one I used in my last half-Ironman.
Here’s a breakdown of the Dora bike, starting with the frame:
First, note the shape of the downtube (diagonal bar): wide and elliptical, just like aerodynamic time trial frames. In fact, compare that shape with the $5000 carbon fiber Cervelo that’s featured on the cover of this month’s Triathlete Magazine alongside … um … something else. I think it’s some girl or something. I can’t really remember.
At any rate – nowadays, round skinny frame tubes are for chumps. Wide and aero is where the action is. And in that regard, Dora’s got exactly the right profile.
Note one more thing about the downtube: there are no shifter or brake cables running down the side of the frame. Today’s high-end tri bikes have internal housing for the cables, meaning they run inside the tube to decrease drag. OK, sure - in Dora’s case, the cables are missing because it’s a one-speed bike with a coaster brake. But there’s no arguing the aerodynamics; Dora’s clearly built for speed.
Now look at the seat tube on Dora’s ride – there’s a seat post cutout! This is a feature possessed by only the most aggressive tri-bikes. It’s the exact same concept displayed on this Kestrel Airfoil that Chris McCormack rode to 2nd place at the Ironman World Championships last October. As far as frame geometry goes, Dora’s in the same category as the best riders in the world.
Alas, there’s a reason the Dora bike retails for $39.99 instead of $3999. The designers neglected some easy adjustments that could further decrease the bike’s profile. It’s like halfway through the design process, they suddenly remembered they were making a children’s bike. But there aren’t any omissions that can’t be properly addressed with a little tinkering.
For example, let’s take a look at the cockpit:
That’s Backpack riding on the front handlebar, with Map tucked inside of it. They’re both friends of Dora and her monkey, Boots. Backpack carries things Dora needs, and Map helps her figure out where she’s going. Unfortunately, these two accessories are a bit dated, and could easily be swapped out for more aggressive components.
Backpack could be replaced by a smaller, sleeker equipment pack, mounted under the saddle at the back of the bike. This leaves room at the front of the bike for an aerodynamic fluid canister and straw setup like on this Kuota bike that Norman Stadler rode on his way to victory at Kona last year. My girl loves drinking from a straw – and if there’s any way to put a berry smoothie in that aero container, I think she could ride all day long.
As for Map … well … the notion of navigational devices made of paper is very 20th Century. With only a minor weight increase, Map can be replaced by a wireless cyclocomputer system with GPS capability. My daughter will not only know where she is, but how fast she got there, and the net climbing and descent she has traversed. When she gets home, she can download the information onto our PC, which will help her develop computer skills that she’ll need for something important (for instance, blogging about her oddball father) someday.
Finally, two very obvious adjustments: 1) Those wide handlebars aren’t necessarily a dealbreaker, but this Dora bike really needs a good set of aerobars. If I slap a pair of Profiles on the front end, her wind resistance is cut in half – just like that. And 2) The training wheels on the back add extraneous weight, and they limit the bike’s cornering ability. So as soon as she gets her balance down, the training wheels come off, the aero bars go on, and my girl starts pulling 20mph into a headwind.
OK, so I’m kidding with most of this. Or maybe half-kidding. I’m at least one-quarter kidding. I guess I’m most amazed at how the trickle-down phenomena of cutting-edge bike technology can impact even the most basic recreational riders. When 3-year-olds are riding on bikes inspired by wind-tunnel engineers, you can’t help but be impressed.
And then there’s this: part of the fun of bike shopping is imagining the possibilities that are available to any of us. We picture ourselves riding the same bikes the pros ride, and suddenly our athletic potential seems limitless. That’s been my mindset for the past several days.
It’s the exact same sentiment I have in raising a 3-year-old girl: the possibilities in her life right now are innumerable, and her potential is infinite. Best of all, this kind of fantastic feeling is one that will remain long after I’ve purchased my new bike.
March 21, 2007
"Come on, vamanos - everybody let's go -