Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Naked Stem

61 degrees Fahrenheit. Calm wind. I'm planning on riding today for about twenty-three to twenty-five miles, or so. I've got about an hour before I can leave, and the ride I'm planning will be mostly flat, with only about 407 feet of elevation gain. In other words, this will be an easy ride and that's exactly what I need today.

Moments ago, I spent about seven minutes and removed the computer from the old bike, just like I promised myself I would. And, this ride today is going to be on the old bike. It's amazing how hard it is to get two sided tape itself and the subsequent residue off of aluminum, but it's all gone now, the computer sensors, mounts, o-rings, magnets, etc. stored away in my top desk drawer in my office with all my other bike stuff odds and ends.

When I was rubbing the residue off the top of my stem, it dawned on me that I can't even remember the last time I rode a bike with a naked stem like that. It looks pretty darned sleek. It looks pretty darned naked. Thin and aero. Retro, yet modern.

The Shimano Dura-Ace HS-7200 quill stem is not seen often in these modern times of integrated 1 1/8" headsets, in fact it's becoming quite uncommon to see quill stems at all on road bikes any more. But, what a beautiful design. The one on the old bike is one of the newer older ones, probably from 1982 to 1983, when Shimano was moving from the Dura-Ace 7200 to Dura-Ace 7400 era, which in my mind, is the high water mark for bicycle componentry and technological advance. It is the era that spelled the end of the dominance of down-tube shifters, ushered in index shifting and integrated shifter and brake levers to the masses.

Around that time, Shimano 600 became Shimano Ultegra, and the Dura-Ace HS-7200 was the last of a breed of components that resembled works of art as much as they functioned as superb mechanical components. This is the stem with the hidden clamp bolt. Ingenious and beautiful. All stems of this era were manufactured for Shimano by Nitto, which did, and still does, a superb job of manufacturing stems and bars in Japan.

When I took the computer base off this stem of mine on the old bike, I saw the beauty of that stem again. I had forgotten how classic, how noble, how sleek it looked, and how obvious the craftsmanship is that was poured into that stem by someone almost thirty years ago that really cared about what they were doing. That stem, that beauty and craftsmanship, has been there all the time I've been riding the old bike, it's just that I forgot it was there as I was busy measuring things that don't really matter, and busy trying to measure things that aren't really measurable when riding the old bike.

So today, I'm going to go riding for a while, and I'm going to be admiring the beauty and craftsmanship of that old stem on the old bike again for the first time. I'm going to be looking at it a lot and not just to admire it either, but because almost three thousand miles of riding the old bike over the past year has trained me to look there. It has trained me to look there to see how my cadence is doing, to see how fast I am riding, to see how far I have come, to see how far I have to go and to see what my computer has been telling me about my riding, about my trips and about myself.

I don't know what looking at my stem is going to tell me today. I won't find any data there. I won't see any flashing little arrows or squares egging me on to not waste my time on the bike. I won't find my speed or my cadence or my time or the time there. Maybe the goal today will be to simply enjoy the ride. To simply admire the beauty of one of the few remaining days of fall that won't be a little too cold. To see some leaves and smell some fireplace smells as I ride along not knowing my cadence or speed or time or the time. Maybe that's the idea. Maybe just enjoying the beauty of the day and the beauty of the old bike is the idea after all. Today when I look down at my stem, I'm going to be admiring the artistry and craftsmanship of a beautiful component manufactured almost thirty years ago by someone who cared about what they were doing. It mattered to them, and it matters to me. And I think that is going to be OK.

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