Robot’s Useless Reviews – The Softride Beam

Someone once told me that when you focus on one aspect of a design, to the exclusion of all others, you end up with the engineering equivalent of a flaming turd. I’m paraphrasing there, but I think you get the point, despite the “technical jargon.” The Beam may have been just such a turd, which is perhaps why it inspired one of the most popular posts ever to grace the pixels of this fine non-rag.

Before going any further, I should also say that I have never ridden a Softride Beam, but that’s in keeping with the uselessness of these reviews. The reader might assume that I will therefore be unfairly assailing this little gem from cycling history, but the reader is often wrong, which may be why we get along so well. You don’t come to the Useless Reviews to nod your head and say, “YES!” You come here to feel soothed by the performative wrongness. It’s ok to be wrong.

Do read Mr. Kinevil’s treatise on this bike if you have time. Here Joe Parkin (HSN) shreds the Beam in its guise as a mountain bike.

Let’s do it together.

For those too young to remember, The Softride Beam was a bike with no seat tube or seat stays. The top tube was suspended, which left the saddle sort of floating in space. The idea here was that less total bike would be more aerodynamic (Softrides were primarily ridden by triathletes) and the ride would be smoother, because suspension. For those who might ridicule Softride’s designers, it bears recognizing that their bike was the logical conclusion of many of the dumb ideas the industry fed riders in the ’90s about what makes a bike good. Softride were not alone in gamboling down the path of cycling lunacy. Furthermore, the company and bikes would likely still be in circulation if the UCI hadn’t banned the design in 2007.

The UCI isn’t much into technology. They’re more about control (and extortion). Anyhoo.

In my revisionist history of this dazzling bicycle, the Softride was made for people who had suffered massive spinal injuries maybe, or those whimsical adults who couldn’t find an Inchworm in their size. One of the undeniable benefits of the Softride Beam was its adaptive saddle height. Another was its early-triathlete-warning-system, or ETWS, by which you could readily identify someone likely to harangue you with unsought info on their progress “with the swim.”

Here are two equivalent statements: 1) We will go faster and be more aerodynamic if we remove two of the main, load-bearing components of the bicycle frame. And, 2) We will go to heaven if we drink this Kool-Aid laced with cyanide.

My point here is that humans embrace ALL KINDS of illogical and inane ideas, and the power of human embrace is such that, once we decide, in both heart and mind, we are extremely reluctant to let go. That’s why we’re so easily manipulated and look like such idiots most of the time. No one has yet convinced racoons to wear pants or fish to swim backwards, but a triathlete will shave their eyebrows and run backwards if you suggest to them it might be the fastest way to shave seconds off their PB.

Don’t chuckle. Non-triathletes are no better. We’ve all got a metaphorical Softride Beam in our closets somewhere.

I would love to see a return of the Beam. In my ideal scenario, the top tube is spring loaded. The bikes are raced on a track. At random, activation devices pop up on the track and the top tube ejects the rider. This is something like a cross between NASCAR and Mario Kart. Amusing sound effects accompany each rider’s ejection. Perhaps they are all wearing those inflatable, not-even-vaguely racist sumo suits, so they can survive being catapulted off the bike periodically, remounting for even more fun.

I’d watch that.

Join the conversation
  1. tcfrog says

    I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the Jonestown massacre was carried out using poisoned Flavor-aid, not Kool-aid

    1. Pat Navin says

      Says the North American Marketing Manager for Kool-Aid.

    2. Emlyn Lewis says

      @tcfrog – I feel as thought I’ve maligned Kool-Aid, which was never my intent. I appreciate the correction. OH YEAH!!

    3. Barry Johnson says

      Flavor-Aid from Jel Sert which in itself sounds like an adult product coming in three various levels of firmness allowing you to adjust your Soft Beam

  2. Pat Navin says

    Your bike idea should be accompanied by one of these EVOC suits.

    1. Bruce Pierce says

      I never rode one either but I did come across someone who swore that, handled by competent pilot, the Softride was a killer crit bike.

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