Robot’s Useless Reviews – Cables

We hate cables. The sooner we can get rid of cables the better. I didn’t want to say anything while cables were still in the room, but I never liked them. They’re stretchy. They fray. They’re hard to adjust, and no one wants to look at them anymore.

God, I miss cables.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the two-wheeled spaceships I pilot now. I love the telepathic controls, my brain waves shifting the gears, the anti-lock braking systems that moderate and modulate, the parts of the bike that just disappear when I no longer want them to be there and then magically return when I need them. Today’s bikes are shapeshifters.

But cables symbolize a simpler time, and who couldn’t yearn for simplicity in this time of socially mediated cruelty and the news cycle as gladiatorial combat. Sure, I regularly failed to properly trim and adjust my derailleurs then, but I wasn’t worried about cyber-crime as much. Yeah, my rim calipers were the stopping equivalent of the Flintstones digging their heels in to stop their stone car, but at least you could get a nice road bike under $2000.

I blame Reagan (but I’m of an age the Gipper’s presidency serves as an inflection point between the sexy ’70s and the locked-down ’80s, the pivot from bikes for hundreds of dollars to bikes for thousands of dollars). Greed was good, for some.

Dear reader, please ignore that last paragraph in its entirety. Quite what an aging film star with a penchant for jellybeans has to do with anything cycling-related is anyone’s guess, but we all need scapegoats, and the ’80s were my teen years.

As with most technological improvements, we were doing pretty well with cables before the industry gave us wires and hydro lines. We were all rolling around real good. Riding bikes was fun. Did the new technology make the riding experience better? Almost certainly. Did we need it to be better? Debatable. Did we need bikes to get more expensive? Definitely not.

I was at a bike shop once, a big one, a good one. This was in 2017 or 2018, and I was talking with some of the salespeople about electronic shifting, trying to get some sense for how many high-end bikes they were selling (I sold high-end bikes at the time), and one of them laughed and said, “Cables are for poor people.” At the time, this struck me as both cruel and true. The industry was marching hard towards electronics, and the rise in bike prices that accompanied that march benefited a lot of people who sold bikes for a living.

Cables were some sort of equalizer, a people’s technology. They were cheap to install and cheap (and relatively easy) to replace.

Listen to me, talking as though they’re gone entirely, like the Woolly Mammoth or human decency. Of course, I have and still ride several bikes with cable actuated shifting and brakes. They are sublime bicycles, despite their cables, maybe because of them.

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