When Looks Beats Works

I just finished reading an entertaining and informative Kevin Cameron Cycle World article about cooling fins, "The Fascination With Fins." [You might be disappointed to discover there is nothing about Finland in the article.] There is some terrific stuff about how practical engineering and ascetics often combine to make some very artistic mechanical systems. Lots of information about how motorcyclists didn’t take to the look of fan-powered air-cooled motorcycles because the look reminded “motorcyclists of the weak putt-putt engines in lawn mowers and golf carts.” The most important byproduct of air-cooled engines is that the limits to moving heat via air requires that what Kevin calls “Ideological Purity” (the look of air-cooling) also requires engineers put a cap on peak output before the heat fries the motor. Shade tree mechanics have fooled with removing those limits and testing the power-limit assumptions for at least 100 years and scrap and junk yards are full of the results. Liquid cooling just works better. Liquid cooling even works better for high efficiency electric motors (and batteries). As much as I hate plumbing, it’s pretty obvious that it is necessary.

Scanning around the reader comments and a couple other new bike articles was an education in how much humans value appearances over function. For instance this guy who “bought a new [Honda] 500x a few months ago. Love the bike. I would however like a second brake disc, I think this will be a good upgrade. Mine brakes just fine, but they could of course be better. I also think a bike just looks better with twin discs.” It would have never occurred to me that someone would like a front wheel laden with an unnecessary 2nd disk and the associated complications just because “it looks better with twin discs.” I absolutely don’t see the overpowering attraction of symmetry and the fact that a large single disc delivers more stopping power than two small discs. For my money, brakes are generally ugly so the less space given to to lookin’ at them the better.

But I’ve long since realized that what I like to look at and what a whole lot of people like are totally different.

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