Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Product Failure and User Error: Asigning Blame and Rejecting Excuses.

We all have the friend who flats out of the winning break every time he managed to get there. He or she is the one who takes the hole shot in a Verge race and then throws their chain and gets lapped. Better yet, he gets the whole shot and then snaps his chain and crashes out half the field (thanks to Zach for reminding me of that incident).

He is the friend who is constantly destroying gear. These are riders who ride so hard that they prematurely ruin gear. Cracked frames, tacoed wheels, freehub bodies catastrophically notched, multiple flats, derailleur hangers sheared off, wheels always knocked out of true.

I am talking about the guy who regularly experiences product failure. Sometimes rider weight is a factor, which is understandable and excusable; we compete in a sport where very few professionals are over 160 lbs. Weight is not what I am talking about. I am talking about inexplicable and consistent product failure.

There are many skills that one must master before they can be considered an seasoned competitive cyclist: holding a wheel, taking predictable and logical lines, high speed cornering, pacelining, working efficiently as a group and as part of a group, sprinting, climbing, cadence control, proper nutrition (before, during and after rides), maintenance, mechanics and hand signaling. I am deliberately leaving out the esoteric fashion rules, as those contain more than one post worth of material, and furthermore, I think that it is valuable for people to learn cycling fashion from experience instead of being told.

I would like to add one more skill to the list of imperative skills to learn: Not destroying bike parts. This would include practicing proper maintenance beyond lubing the chain and pumping tires, proper bike handling so that the bike it not thrust full force into every pothole and divot that the rider goes over, proper preparation before the ride so that tire pressure is optimized for the conditions on the road and using clip on fenders when the riding is sloppy (prevents wear on the drivetrain and brakes) and being light on the bike so that when you do hit an unexpected pothole, it doesn’t cause you to flat every time (at 175lbs I ride through potholes daily and almost never flat).

Bad luck happens. Flats happen. Products fail sometimes. But there are riders, we all know who that are, who experience these failures far more often than most. Some of them experience multiple failures in the same ride or race. When this happens and happens often, one must apply Occam’s razor and deduce that luck has nothing to do with it; user error is at fault.

Some of these riders will use mechanical failure as an excuse for poor performance in a race. Somehow having a mechanical absolves the rider of all responsibility for their misfortune. As if getting dropped often due to overly frequent mechanicals is more honorable than getting dropped due to lack of fitness.

I am not having any of it. Once or twice a season it is acceptable for a mechanical to take you out of a race. If it is every other race, then the mechanical failure is a reflection of the rider’s lack of skill in one of the key areas of cycling: don’t abuse your bicycle.


pvb said...

Thinly veiled, McKittrick. Whatever.

RMM said...


While you were involved with some of the incidents that were used in this post, I included incidents from many other riders, including my own Zipp freehub shredding example. You are certainly not even the worst offender.
Please don't take offense, as none is meant.

Yash Katsumi said...

I think I had a mechanical in EVERY race except for Suckerbrook last season.

RMM said...

And you are the staunchest advocate of being able to do your own bike work!

Yash Katsumi said...

Yeah, no matter how much you prepare, if you hit that piece of glass, or someone crashes in front of you and you drop your chain, you are still screwed.

Yash Katsumi said...

Also, i don't know of anyone who has taken the hole shot and have gotten lapped.

colin h. said...

While it is true that i ride my shit very hard, i think i am still with PVB and yash on this one. some seasons the bad luck just pours it on and you finish half your races. and no amount of technical or mechanical savvy can save you from glass or other rider error. not to mention, this sport is a least a little bit about pushing the envelope of what you and your equipment can do... and pushing envelopes does always end well.