"We find lower pulse rate," says Borysewicz, in the pithy style of one still mastering English. "Always lower pulse rate for same amount work. Different results for different rider, but always lower pulse rate—three, four, five beats per minute." LeMond, at the top end of the scale, showed an improvement of 21 beats per minute over an 11-minute period. Borysewicz' conclusions, also tentative, were on the order of a possible 10% advantage with improved cams, and he, too, wanted to see more of Brown's machine. As an expert in the time trial (his junior teams, anchored by LeMond, have taken two world bronzes in two years), Borysewicz saw a possible application in this event. And as luck would have it, the indefatigable Brown has recently gotten his Selectocam sanctioned for world competition.
But time trials and lab indications aren't road testing, and in 1979 quite a few people still continued to regard Brown and his cam bikes with skepticism. Some pointed out that the records broken by Holder and Kingsbery were too old to count for much in the breaking, having been set on the bicycles of the day, over distances infrequently contested. Brown's answer was to get together with the Skunk River Bike Club of Ames, Iowa. Arrangements were quietly made to enter a Selectocam-equipped team in a unique cycling event known as Paris-Brest-Paris, a round-trip "race" between the two cities covering 750 miles.
Stemming from the same French tradition that produced the Tour de France, Paris-Brest-Paris is an exhausting competition. The winner generally takes a little less than two days to complete the distance, and it's hard to imagine a more complete test of man and machine in that space of time. Paris-Brest-Paris isn't a race in the usual sense, but a huge rally of cyclistes-sportifs, literally thousands of them. They go off in waves of hundreds, through a series of checkpoints, with considerable foundering along the way. And while it isn't in the strictest sense a race, it's run complete with factory teams, elaborate support crews, masseurs and all the rest of it. A truly Gallic phenomenon, Paris-Brest-Paris is an event that involves far more prestige than many conventional races. The French factory-sponsored teams are invariably strong, smart and well supported, and it's their turf. For a U.S. team, the confusion resulting from such a massive field and the effects of culture shock have made it an achievement just to finish decently.
It was into all this that the Skunk River Bike Club proposed to plunge in September 1979, with the Selectocam bike. Riding for the SRBC was Scott Dickson, of Ames, an above-average national-class rider, but no world-beater. He wasn't on the national team, and he had never even taken a nationals medal. Dickson didn't win Paris-Brest-Paris, but he was a completely astounding second with Brown's machine. It was an infinitely better finish than any previous U.S. entrant ever dreamed of. Skepticism about the Selectocam diminished sharply.
What Brown had done in this latest variant was to combine cam and derailleur drives on the same bike. He had also reduced the weight of the cam system to less than a pound and made it compatible with pretty much any derailleur bike on the market.
Earlier road testing had shown that while the cam was testing out as superior to conventional drive in big-gear situations (flat and rolling terrain), it lacked sprint capability and didn't work as well on long climbs. With the Selectocam, a rider goes in and out of cam and conventional modes as easily as shifting gears. This means that the huge range of gears available with cam drive is always there, and that one should be able to climb and sprint without penalty.
Though at present deep in litigation with Facet over the rights to the cam drive, a state of affairs that has put a hold on the availability of either the Selectocam or BioCam bike to the public, Brown continues to refine his invention. He points out that the cam application can be varied to match rider strength, body type and the kind of riding indicated. For serious competition, he says, it can be tailored to any rider. His goal now is to make a more sophisticated choice of cams and a bolt-on version of the Selectocam available to any rider.
What happens then? To begin with, a low-rpm pedaling technique will emerge, and possibly changes in frame geometry to maximize the benefits. The cam allows the use of unthinkably large gears, but those gears will be turned at 60 to 70 rpm. This would be considered a tourist tempo, in contrast to the 90 to 100 rpm of most competitive riders.
Former national champion John Allis says, "The cam drive may find its best application with a recumbent design, like that of Dr. David Gordon Wilson at MIT, now in production as the Avatar 2000, where the back is braced and the tendency is to push at the pedals rather than spin." Allis' observation is much to the point. The combination of reduced frontal resistance (resulting from the recumbent position), and the consequently greater thrusting power available, could produce, with the cam, a combined overall advantage as high as 20% to 25% at cruising speeds.
But the recumbent designs seem likely to be ridden only by the few. For the many who ride upright, even as you and I, Brown holds out the prospect of our being substantially more efficient.