Letter from the US Technical Editor: The unattainable quest for perfection

by James Huang


A U.S. mobile telecom company put out a great commercial a while ago that really hit home for me. In it, a wheel falls off of a kid’s Power Wheels truck. A car’s rearview mirror snaps off. The face of a wristwatch is clouded with condensation. A refrigerator’s automatic ice cube maker spews its contents into an unattended kitchen. A visibly irritated woman drags a three-wheeled suitcase through an airport.

“When things aren’t made well, you find out, sooner or later,” a faceless voice says in the background. “If something is important, if it matters, it should just work, right?”

The commercial ends with a little Asian kid screaming in frustration — which seems oddly appropriate here.

My point is that to the general public, bikes are toys, distractions, horrifically overpriced symbols of our unwillingness to grow up. But to us, riding bikes matters. It’s important. It’s the reason we get up at 5am to beat the midday heat, or return to work on Mondays more physically exhausted than when we left the previous Friday. It’s why our bikes cost more than our cars, and why we buy the latest cycling kit while our street clothes are 10 years old. Durability suddenly becomes top priority when shopping for household products, because any problems would cut into saddle time.

Riding bikes is what keeps us sane and happy. It’s what makes us who we are and what joins us all together, regardless of fitness level, income, discipline, or experience.

What makes us all utterly insane and distinctly unhappy, however, is when our bikes distract us from the riding. Cycling may be a sport of man and machine, but the best and most memorable rides are the ones where the bike is invisible beneath you.

More than a decade at this beat — writing about bicycles and bicycle technology — has taught me that there’s no such thing as a perfect product. But I like to think that I have a decent handle on when something contributes meaningfully to the enjoyment and beauty of riding.

The best pieces of equipment aren’t always the most expensive, newest, or most popular. Rather, they’re the ones that reliably perform their intended purpose and actually make our rides better, whether that means helping us go faster, farther, easing the pain of a climb, or just making us smile when we step back to look at our beloved two-wheeled machines.

As a new hire coming into a well-established brand, I’m aware of what CyclingTips means to all of you. My intent is certainly not to stamp my personal brand on that or to unnecessarily shake up what a growing legion of cyclists has come to passionately enjoy and love.

What I do hope to do, though, is continue the outstanding precedent established by CyclingTips Tech Editor Matt Wikstrom. Product reviews will still be extremely thorough, rigorous, and fair; he and I will still showcase gear that we think is worth telling you about; and we’ll do our very best to keep you up to date on the latest trends and tech developments — all with the unique perspective that makes CyclingTips what it is.

I’m not going to say that I don’t have ideas for ways we can expand the tech coverage on CyclingTips. A favorite car magazine of mine operates under the tagline “No Boring Cars,” and I hope to bring the philosophy of “No Boring Bikes” here. Keep in mind, “interesting” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something worth riding, either. Whether it be a bike, a groupset, a set of wheels, clothing, or whatever, you can rest assured that if I’m going to bother presenting something to you at all — whether it’s a positive or negative review — it will have been for a good reason.

There may be no such thing as a perfect product but as any diehard tinkerer or engineer knows, perfection is nevertheless always the goal; even the best thing can always be better. The trick is doing so without breaking the thing you’re trying to improve. Therein lies my challenge joining CyclingTips. But I’m up to the daunting task at hand and I hope you’ll help me in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

This will be a bit of a learning process for me, so if you like something I’ve done, let me know; even more so if you don’t. I’m not immune to criticism, and am hardly thin-skinned, so feel free to chime in whenever you feel the need via email, Twitter, Instagram, or just down in the comments section below anything with my byline. And if you have any suggestions for things you’d like to see — or things you don’t — then by all means, voice your opinion.

Okay, that’s enough yip-yap for now. You’re not here to read about me — though you made it to the bottom, so thanks for that. Now, I’ve got some work to do.

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