Even some of the most devoted of biblical scholars are unfamiliar with the Book of Jobst. I, however, have a dog-eared copy on my bookshelf. The working title, I should admit straightaway, is not actually "The Book of Jobst". The publisher opted, instead, for The Bicycle Wheel
, but rest assured, for generations of mechanics and wheelbuilders, Jobst's 147-page opus to the wheel was nothing shy of divinely inspired.
Jobst who? If you're asking that question, well, I don't blame you, but it makes my inner unicorn want to trot down to the nearest bar and drink itself blind. Jobst Brandt was, first and foremost, a bad ass on a bike. A tall, lanky powerhouse of a rider who, for decades, had a reputation as one of the toughest, hardest-driving riders in Northern California. Interestingly, Jobst Brandt was not a racer, though he had a profound influence on many young racers, including Tom Ritchey, who would soon pioneer the sport of mountain biking.
Racing--particularly road racing--was full of tactics like sucking a stronger guy's wheel, staying cozy and fresh in his draft and then blowing by him at the sprint finish. That kind of thing struck Jobst Brandt as craven. Jobst believed in going hard, pulling at the front and tearing off your friends' legs and battering them about the heads with their bloodied limbs.
Even the best racers of the day studiously avoided Jobst's Sunday rides, which were ostensibly road rides, but would often devolve into miles of mach-speed riding on dirt. Because Jobst rode insane miles off road and because he put a hurt on bike components and, most importantly, because he was a full-time working engineer, Jobst Brandt was also a font of iron-hard opinions about what makes a wheel strong and what makes a wheel an inexpensive, weak and frustrating pile of shit. After years of building wheels himself and getting angry with riders whose ultra-light wheels broke and screwed up the progress of that weekly death march-slash-ride, Jobst funneled all of his knowledge, insight and, at times, anger, into that Book of Jobst. If you are even slightly interested in the physics, limitations and practicalities of the bicycle wheel, you should pick up a copy.
Like so many other riders, I spent hours poring over the pages of The Bicycle Wheel
. The end result was that I was (and, to some degree, still am
) suspicious of wheels that incorporate the latest space-age materials or opt for the lightest spoke lacing patterns because they shave grams or look insanely cool. Lines such as "It is generally better to be wrong in favor of strength than light weight." and "High quality means durable and reliable, not esoteric, super light, or trendy." and "In most cases it is best to build standard wheels - standard wheels, but good ones - and not yield to fashion, folklore, or advertising." all drive home Jobst's basic world view.
Having been weaned on the teachings contained in The Book of Jobst, I'll admit to having a bias against wheels that strike me as prizing fashion over function.
But where do you draw the line?
Materials change or, more precisely, new materials rise to the fore and our understanding of "old" materials changes. Manufacturing techniques change as well. And because these things are true, the material that might not have made sense for rims or spokes or nipples yesterday, might become not only feasible, but downright awesome tomorrow. There was a time, after all, when the world's best horse-and-buggy man looked at the first steel-spoked wheel that crossed his path and raised his fist to the heavens and cried, "Steel is entirely inappropriate for spokes. Nothing will ever replace a good length of hand-turned ash!" Or something like that. I actually don't know if ash is a better spoke material than, say, teak or yew or whatever... The point is that times change and, at times, our preconceptions probably should as well. At the very least, we should re-examine those preconceptions and ask if they are wanting.
So, here's the poll question: Do you prize traditional, tried and true materials, lacing patterns and the like in your wheels? Or is "traditional" just code for "outdated"? Are you absolutely open to running anything and everything when it comes to wheels? Any new technology and material that comes down the pike is fair game? Where do you stand?