Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Another take on "If Apple made bikes"

Last week, the Practical Cyclist blogged about what a bicycle designed by Apple computer might look like:

  • Frame: Probably hydr0formed aluminum, welded, with smooth-dressed joints. The finish would be anodized ("nanochromatic" colors to match the iPod nano?) and clear-coated. All cables would be internally routed. The frame would be set up so that a minimum number of sizes (maybe just two: small and large) would accommodate all riders. This presumes a maximally adjustable seatpost and stem arrangement.
  • Drivetrain: Internally-geared rear hub, probably 8 speed, with an automatic shifter working off cadence and speed scnsors integrated in the frame. Belt drive. Gear range for city hills.
  • Brakes: Internal hub brakes front and rear. (Yes, the hubs will be big, but it'll be a clean look and low maintenance. Speaking of which...).
  • Maintenance: Carbon or aramid drive belt good for 10,000 miles. Sealed bearings everywhere. Aramid-belted tires (possibly tubeless) with interior goo to stop slow leaks. All cables Teflon-coated. An absolute minimum of hardware exposed to the elements. Here's where that famous Apple attention to detail will pay off.

As a guy who's been in the Windows-side of IT for a decade and who's played with DOS-based computers since the late 70s (thanks dad), I've got a thing or two to say about this.

Now, no one doubts that if Apple were to make a bike, it'd be quite the attention getter as Practical Cyclist says. It might even solve some problems many cyclists don't even think of as problems. It might even attract new people to cycling, which is a good thing all around.

But come on...for those of us who like to tinker, an Apple bike would certainly earn the title "EPIC FAIL." Here's my predictions about what an Apple bike would look like:

  • No 4mm bolts for water bottle cages, you'd have to have a special star screwdriver, purchased at the local Bike Genius bar in the Apple Store
  • They would invent a new tire size, thus making it all the more difficult for bike shops and bike geeks to stock replacement tires/tubes. Hello 27 and 3/8 inch tire, goodbye 700c, 26" or 29"!
  • Basic things that all bikes do would be missing from the first generation of the new Apple Bike (think Copy/Paste on your iPhone).
  • You couldn't ever upgrade your Apple bike. Brake pads worn out? Tough, buy a new bike or send the entire bike to Apple for replacement. Want to change out the bottom bracket, handlebars, or saddle for something new and lightweight? You just voided your warranty friend!
  • Any local bike shop that stocked the Apple Bike would be required to have its mechanics Apple Bike Certified (ABC) by attending training in Cupertino. Nevermind if you were a mechanic on Team Discovery in 2002, that's not good enough for the Apple Bike.
  • Little things would be out of place. Like the Quick Release lever would be on the drive side of the bike. The seat post would oddly use three bolts, not two, or four, or one.
  • New names: Apple would invent new names for things that already have names. Steering would become "Gesture Based Cycling," pedaling would become "Human Power Assist"
  • The Apple Bike would be announced with much fanfare and anticipation by Steve Jobs as the "One More Thing" but it wouldn't be released for at least six months. Upon release, it would immediately sell out, grace the cover of Time Magazine, and cause bike/computer geeks to once again roll their eyes as the full force of the Reality Distortion Field takes effect
  • A new sub-culture of Apple Bike Enthusiasts would loudly proclaim on the internet and elsewhere that the bicycle really didn't exist before Apple came into the market, that the Apple Bike is Bicycling Perfection. They'd probably even get a lycra-clad racer to star opposite the Mac Guy in new Apple Bike ads.

Now don't get me wrong, I love Apple and their fans and I think an Apple Bike would be a pretty interesting concept. But a bike from the "Think Different" company would certainly trend in the same direction their technology products have gone: towards proprietary technology, methods and processes. It's what makes Apple, Apple.

Even so, bring it on. I'd love to take the Apple bike Practical Cyclist describes for a long spin before returning to my tried and true steel Jamis.

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