Softride “Side Effects” bike
This is more than just a mid ’90’s Softride mountain bike to me.
This is a platform for some of the half-baked ideas that have made it into the bike world. A few of these ideas were good ones that were simply poorly executed. Some of these ideas produced side effects that were detrimental to performance, safety, or enjoyment of the ride.
To start, take a look at the Softride beam. The idea: Suspend the rider instead of the bike. The execution: A fiberglass beam to flex up and down, ostensibly with a motion damping layer running the length of the beam. The side effects: Beam flex that could unpredictably change the saddle height (thereby interfering with pedaling efficiency) by as much as eight inches. A tendency to catapult the rider off of the bike and little to no help in keeping the wheels in contact with the trail.
Now let’s take a look at the beam’s evil twin, the flex stem. Once again, the idea was to insulate the rider from bumps in the trail without resorting to the more complicated and heavier suspension fork. The execution: a sprung parallelogram design that in the era of long 13 to 15cm mountain bike stems resulted in about 5cm of undamped travel and spring action. The side effect with these stems was that the handlebars could pull your center of gravity forward at times when you really needed to get further back in order to maintain control of the bike.
A better idea to introduce flex and comfort to the front end of your mountain bike would have been the Scott AT-4 handlebars. These things were very flexy and a little narrow (even for early ‘90’s mountain bikes) but are mainly included on this bike because they look funny.
Next up is Shimano’s disastrous dual-control mountain bike levers. The idea with these things was that you could operate everything on your bike with one pair of levers. What they came up with: Brake levers that you would pull to stop (of course), shift to a higher gear by pushing down, and shift to a lower gear by “pushing” up on the levers with the backs of your fingers. Some people learned to love these levers. I had to reach out and pull up on the lever with my whole hand. Shimano knew this might be a problem so if you couldn’t get your fingers to work like they intended there was a prosthetic lever that could be bolted onto the underside of the brake lever to make it operate like Shimano’s regular trigger shifters.
Along with these levers came the “Rapid Rise” rear derailleur that reversed the action and thereby reversed the roles of spring tension and cable actuation within the rear derailleur. The most precise shifts happened when switching to a lower gear (when most of us want the help). Rapid Rise worked well and was actually a pretty good idea, and so the side effects that came with Shimano’s dual control levers would have to be the death of the associated Rapid Rise derailleurs along with the debilitating hand cramps.
The “Eggbeater” pedals have stood the test of time, and there are a lot of riders who swear by them. That doesn’t mean they were a good idea.
The inspiration for these was to create a super light pedal that could be clipped into no matter which edge or side that you stepped on. The resultant design was very light and could in fact be engaged very easily, even in the most muddy or chaotic of trail conditions. The side effects? One, if the underside of the pedal were to contact anything on the trail, the pedal would release the cleat. Two, should you forget your cycling shoes at home, or wish to just take your bike for a four-block ride to the store, you were out of luck. Eggbeater pedals made a bike unrideable without the correct footwear and cleats.
Honorable mention goes to the early ‘90’s Onza pedals that used temperature sensitive elastomers to control the cleat engagement mechanism. They worked great at 70 degrees fahrenheit, you couldn’t keep your shoes hooked in at 90 degrees, and simply couldn’t use them if it was below 40.
Lastly we have the cut-out saddle, taken to the extreme. The idea was simply “If a small amount of material removed in the crotch area of a bike saddle is good to relieve pressure from sensitive anatomy, then a lot of material removed would be better. The execution? Well, see for yourself. In case it’s not obvious, the side effect of sitting on this saddle is intense pain from the remaining plastic cutting into one’s inner thighs as well as temporary blindness. This one is still available, so I’m not going provide the manufacturer’s name. Just beware.
Other ideas that didn’t make it onto this bike (yet) include Spinergy Spox or Rev-X wheels, Biopace chainrings, the discontinued Pedro’s brand bearing grease that transformed into glue within about 18 months, steering dampers, hydraulic rim brakes, and Tioga “Farmer John” tires.