When I was initiated into proper roadiedom, I was taught that if you were serious about doing things the right way, the Euro way, then you did things a certain way. The quickest way to show others you knew what you were doing was to show up on a Campagnolo-equipped bike with a Cinelli bar, stem and seatpost. Your saddle was Italian and your tape was the same color as your decals or the accent color in the windows of your lugs.
That mindset, though it created some gorgeous bikes that served well for tens of thousands of miles, squashed some great ideas over the years. I’m reminded of a Pasadena company, Sweet Parts, that made cranks and stems from steel of surprising stiffness and low weight. Alas, in the mid-1990s it was hard to get a rider to break rank with those suites of parts used in the gruppo or other componentry. After all, if your bar, stem and seatpost were supposed to match, what did you pair an oddball stem to?
Times change, and so do bikes. And while sometimes too much emphasis is placed on weight, it is tough to argue that today’s bikes aren’t noticeably superior in almost every performance aspect: Lower weight makes them easier to accelerate and speeds climbing; increased frame stiffness improves power transmission and more sophisticated componentry has improved shifting, given us more gears and increased brake modulation.
The proliferation of aftermarket components—everything from bars to brakes—means that we’re more accustomed to seeing bikes with parts that may not match. Zipp helped lead the way into this fray some years back. In fact, carbon fiber has been the company’s bread and butter for close to 15 years. Fortunately, the 3k weave used in many carbon fiber parts makes them more similar than not, even if the decals don’t match.
Zipp’s latest crankset for road (as opposed to TT/Tri) use is the VumaQuad. It uses a four-arm spider (the crankarm is one of the four arms of the spider) and is available in two different chainring configurations, either 53/39t or 50/34t; interestingly, both configurations use a 110mm bolt-circle diameter, so you can change chainrings out depending on the conditions or your fitness. The crankset is available in four lengths: 170, 172.5, 175 or 180mm. The spindle is oversized and machined from aluminum to the new BB30 standard; it is integrated into the non-drive arm and secures to the drive-side arm with a self-extracting bolt. And because Zipp is predicated on making you faster, the bottom bracket is offered with ceramic bearings (as well as precision steel); the cups are available in either English or Italian threads. All this in a sub-600g package.
My review setup was 50/34 rings with 175mm arms and ceramic bearings. I tried the cranks first on a bike that previously had a set of carbon fiber cranks that had some detectable flex. I immediately noticed the increased stiffness as well as a weight reduction. The easier spin of the bearings was noticeable (if not hugely apparent) when I sat down and shifted to a small gear for a hill; I felt like I was turning out an extra 10 watts or so.
Next, I swapped the crank over to my preferred ride. This frame is stiffer at the bottom bracket and I was curious to see how much of an improvement I’d feel over the Super Record Ultra-Torque crankset (a review of the Super Record will be coming). The change I felt was comparable to my first ride on the Dura-Ace 7800 crankset—I was stunned by the seamless transmission of power. I had the sense that the bike itself was stiffer at the bottom bracket, even though I knew that wasn’t the case.
Ten years ago I had concerns about parts not matching on my bike. Five years ago I had concerns about the durability of carbon fiber cranks. Last year I started wondering if you could even tell whether your bike had ceramic bearings anywhere other than the wheels. The VumaQuad has super-hero-like powers to alleviate me of anxiety and improve my performance. Of course, all this performance will cost you; $1250 (with ceramic bearings) is a weekend getaway at a swanky resort, but there’s no question in my mind this crankset is superior to every crank I have tried from Campagnolo, Shimano, Specialized and FSA. Honestly though, for that kind of money, you shouldn’t be left wondering if it was worth it.
There isn’t a community in the United States working harder to convince the rest of the country that it is the preeminent cycling city than Portland. There are lots of great cycling cities, but Portland wants to be known as more than just a great place to ride. Cyclists there are working hard to foster a cycling culture that permeates the very fabric of life, so that cycling is no more fringe than TV.
As if to prove a point, members of the Portand cycling community have come together to put on an event this coming fall called Oregon Manifest. I like the name if for no other reason than it makes an ironic reference to the concept of Manifest Destiny. Just what would happen to the United States if the culture of cycling-mad Oregon spread south and east?
Oregon Manifest runs from October 2 through November 8, 2009. For six consecutive weekends, cyclists will descend upon Portland for a variety of events. Events include a builder’s challenge, cyclocross races, single speed races, the Oregon Handmade Bicycle Show and more.
While the Oregon Handmade Bicycle Show is an obvious draw, one of the most interesting events of the OM will be the Construtor’s Challenge. While I can try to explain it, the explanation is better in their words. From the release:
The Constructor’s Design Challenge will present bicycle frame builders and designers from around the nation with the opportunity to create an innovative, modern transportation bike—a technical challenge combining engineering dexterity with fabrication mettle. The country’s most accomplished makers of hand-built, custom bikes will take up the challenge, including Vanilla from Portland, Igleheart from Wenham, MA., and Independent Fabrication from Somerville, MA. More than 40 builders are expected to field entries.
“The Constructor’s Design Challenge is the centerpiece of this year’s Oregon Manifest,” explained Jocelyn SyCip, Oregon Manifest‘s Director. “If the bicycle is ever to realize its potential to change the urban transportation landscape – and mindset – it’ll take a bike that can multi-task the demands of everyday urban transport. The Constructor’s Design Challenge is a unique way to jump start the conversation about what constitutes a great, modern, all-around transportation bike.”
Pardon a little piece of postmodern commentary on my part. I don’t see Red Kite Prayer as a traditional cycling media outlet. There are plenty of avenues for you to get the facts or find out about events you might like. I’m recommending this because in talking with people involved, I sense a passion larger than can be contained in a simple press release or web site. For the people behind the Oregon Manifest, the future is two-wheeled and green. Their vision might be so strange as to seem sci-fi, but their world has no room for the dystopia of Philip K. Dick and Robert Heinlein. They’ve overcome the entropy of society and are bringing cycling-friendly city planning to a city near you.
The Constructor’s Design Challenge has a second part that will cauterize pixels worldwide—a 77-mile race that all completed creations will be raced over. The Rapha-conceived event will merge epic cycling events with eco-transportation is a way that ought to set back the cause of green cycling 20 years. Who wants to think of “getting there” as a challenge? But then those of us who love bicycles want green transportation that is functional, romantic and at least a touch lively.
One of the more impressive aspects of the Oregon Manifest is the way that the organizers have rallied the local troops. Chris King is a presenting sponsor. Locally based companies such as Swobo, Castelli and the United Bicycle Institute along with less likely entities such as the City of Portland, Travel Portland and the Portland Development Commission. It’s easy to dismiss support from the local government for an event that promotes the local community, but when you consider just how hard it is to try to recruit city leaders to the cycling cause, then you begin to see what a great pitch those behind Oregon Manifest have going.
ASO has a dilemma. Cycling fans all over the world don’t much like the course for the 2009 Tour de France. The criticism of the course has been consistent: No fireworks. It’s a shame, really. The Tour’s technical director created a course that was intended to make stage 20 up Mt. Ventoux pivotal.
It’s easy to make the case for ASO’s decision: They wanted the outcome of the race to remain in play for as long as possible. It was a response to what they considered conservative racing on previous mountain stages when the leaders would ride tempo marking each other and rarely attacking. They wanted a worthy victor to be found at the last possible moment—on the slopes of Mt. Ventoux.
It’s an interesting idea, but the dissatisfaction the public feels illustrates the problem. You follow the Tour de France to see dramatic racing on a daily basis. If ASO wants a winner-take-all race decided on hors categorie climbs, then they should revive the Classique des Alpes.
Any one stage would have been acceptable in another year’s course. A mountain stage without a mountain finish isn’t a problem, but when there are so many of them they become a pattern, we’re deprived of the detonations that are so thrilling.
Further, had the GC been more thoroughly clarified, if not decided, then George Hincapie would not have been in a position to take the yellow jersey, if only for a day. Garmin had their reason to chase—to avoid a split—but as an example of negative racing, what they did was minor compared to Columbia’s efforts to disrupt the sprint. Chases get disrupted all the time, but everyone expects a sprint to unfold with all possible haste.
To be utterly fair to the ASO, if their goal was drama, then they did, in fact, succeed. In movie making, the worst thing that a director can allow to happen is for the audience to become bored and tune out. In “Psycho,” that Janet Leigh takes a shower isn’t interesting, but our anticipation keeps us riveted. Our expectation for drama has kept us tuning in.
The sense of relief at the mountaintop finish on Verbiers elicited world-wide Twitters of “fireworks.” The shame for ASO is that while the audience is happy, Verbiers provided exactly the thing they wanted to avoid—a GC selection so clear as to determine the final victor.
But that’s the score isn’t it? Contador is almost unquestionably the finest rider in the race. It’s unlikely any GC contender can put even a minute into him in the final TT.
The question remains: Did ASO really miss the mark? After all, you, I, and the rest of the world have been on the edge of our seats waiting for Anthony Perkins to pull back the shower curtain. However, the course does have a significant flaw. By awarding double points to the final climb of each stage, rather than just those final climbs placed at the end of the stage and used for an uphill finish, the organizer has allowed the polka-dot jersey of the King of the Mountains to be held by the least deserving leader of the classification since Laurent Jalabert won it in 2002 (as likable as Jalabert is, he wasn’t the best climber that year, not by a longshot), after finishing the race in 42nd place overall, more than 1:17 down on Lance Armstrong. Franco Pellizotti sits in 46th place, 24.26 down on Contador.
Jalabert’s win was the reason the ASO elected to double points on the final climb of each stage. Had the organizer awarded double points only on Arcalis and Verbiers, Pellizotti would not be in the polka-dot jersey and Alberto Contador would be within striking distance of it, if not already in possession of the famed maillot pois.
We’re more than two weeks into the Tour and the first real shakeout in the GC has just taken place. The ASO rarely makes the same mistake twice, so we’re not likely to see another Tour take this long to separate the gold from the ore.
Contador’s performance on Verbier puts his muscle-flexing on Arcalis in a new light. While his attack on Arcalis did nothing to dispel the leadership tension within the team, he did the team a huge favor by not taking the yellow jersey in the Pyrenees. Astana would have been worked by now if they had spent the last week defending the jersey.
Contador may be possessed of more self-confidence than one might otherwise guess. And though Cadel Evans told the AFP that Bradley Wiggins could still win the Tour, it seems more than likely the only podium spot that’s still in play is that lowest spot. It could go to either Wiggins or Andy Schleck … or maybe Andreas Kloden.
Provided Contador doesn’t lose time in the Annecy time trial, his lead should allow him to ride conservatively on Mont Ventoux. He may be the only rider who won’t have to worry about attacks. Perhaps the most interesting question remaining is if Bruyneel will try to sweep the podium with Contador, Armstrong and Kloden. It would be an historic performance.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International.
When it comes to cycling eyewear, Oakley has been the first word on both style and function for more than 20 years. There aren’t many markets in which a manufacturer can claim such unchallenged supremacy. Porsche has Ferrari, Coke has Pepsi and even Lance Armstrong had Jan Ullrich.
But Oakley? When was the last time another eyewear manufacturer posed serious competition for Oakley? Giro is making serious inroads, but they don’t have the market share yet. Specialized? As good as their stuff is, they don’t yet pose much of a threat. What about Smith or Dragon? Ha. Briko? They are the preferred eyewear only to the Lion King’s tifosi. No, Sherman, we’ll have to get in the Way-Back Machine and visit 1989 when the 7-Eleven team was sponsored by Bollé to find eyewear that gave Oakley a run for their money.
A textbook could be written on the paths of both companies since then. Oakley would be the case study on how to expand credibly into new segments while Bollé would be the case study on how to throw away market share and utterly slink out of a category. Bollé still has a presence in North America, but honestly, it might be easier to find a ninja at night than to locate a cyclist wearing their shades.
Thinking back on memorable images of cyclists wearing Oakleys over the years and the product line is well represented. There’s Andy Hampsten on the Gavia wearing his Factory Pilots. Don’t forget Greg LeMond time trialing down the Champs Elysees in his Razor Blades. What about Lance Armstrong’s first Tour win in his M Frames?
Even Oakley’s more capable competitors over the years (think Rudy Project and Briko) are known for designs that are more responses to Oakley than innovative looks.
The Jawbone is a new design that takes some of the design cues familiar to the Racing Jacket and updates them for the 21st century. It’s a distinctive look for sure. Gone are the frame vents, replaced by lens vents while the frame flairs that blended the Racing Jacket’s frame to the eye sockets have been toned down.
Looks aside, the Jawbone has some very cutting-edge technology. The first, most obvious new feature is the Switchlock technology, a hinged mechanism that allows you to change lenses without having to overcome any frame tension. Flip the nosebridge up, swing the lower half of the lens (the namesake jawbone) outward and the lens slides right out. This is a quantum improvement over the broken M Frames that thousands experienced in trying to change lenses. The Switchlock technology does have one glaring problem, but I’ll get to that.
The lenses receive Oakley’s Hydrophobic coating which helps prevent water and sweat from leaving streaks and sheens. It definitely makes a difference and the lens vents eliminate fogging while in motion. When stopped at a light on a cool morning, not so much. In fact, when stopped, they seem to fog even faster than my Radars and my M Frames.
The Jawbones are part of a new generation of Oakelys that bring polarization to performance eyewear, and while the feature definitely rates a premium, the added clarity is terrific for morning and evening riding when glare is especially likely.
I’ve been an Oakley customer for more than 20 years. For me, it has come down to two reasons: lens clarity and styling. As much as I want a pair of shades to look PRO, their looks wouldn’t matter if the lens didn’t offer the clarity I’ve come to expect and that may be the secret to Oakley’s success. Even if you dismiss the other features of Oakley glasses—the incredible array of lens tints, impact protection and UV protection—they have raised the bar so high on distortion-free, clear optics that most other brands simply don’t compare.
I’ve been wearing the Jawbone for several months now and I really like them. However, they pose a problem any time I’m in traffic. The outside edge of the frame and especially the hinge swivel for the Switchlock obscures some of the peripheral vision I need when I’m checking traffic. Now if I was logging my miles on race courses, this wouldn’t be an issue; however, in getting to and from my group rides, I look back—a lot. I’ve learned to sit up a bit more and twist a touch more, but because I switch between glasses, I don’t ever seem to do this on my first look back of the day. If you purchase a pair of these to be your sole eyewear, you’ll probably adapt more quickly than I did.
The standard Jawbone goes for $195 at retail. It is available in a Transitions lens ($245) or Polarized ($250).
The withdrawal of Levi Leipheimer from the 2009 Tour de France due to a broken wrist is a sad twist for the race. It’s a loss on a number of levels, though it doesn’t change the race in the way some may think.
The first, biggest loss is that to Leipheimer himself. He was on stellar form and would possibly have had his second podium finish at the Tour. But this is yet another year where Leipheimer’s potential remains a question mark. Just what can he do as a leader?
The second is obviously to Astana. Only one other team in history has been able to use a guy sitting in the top five on GC to help control the race. When you think of legendary watchdogs, it is hard to find one more capable than Leipheimer.
Psychologically, Lance Armstrong has experienced a setback. Armstrong places a premium on riders’ whose loyalty is beyond question. That said, still has plenty of support in the form of Andreas Kloden and Yaroslav Popovych for when the race hits the high Alps and Mont Ventoux.
Unless Armstrong completely detonates on Mont Ventoux, the 2009 Tour de France will recalibrate our ideas about what a cyclist can achieve as he ages. Even if Contador wins the race, fewer people will think a guy who has had his 35th birthday is incapable of winning a Grand Tour. The question in Leipheimer’s case is will he ever be presented with an opportunity to arrive at the start of a Grand Tour properly trained and supported for unquestioned leadership.
The best thing that could happen for Leipheimer is to take his time healing up and then build back up for a run at the Vuelta a Espana. Of course, should Contador not win the Tour de France—and Armstrong doesn’t have to win, Contador just has to lose—he will likely want his own shot at the Vuelta which would resign Leipheimer yet again to the roll of World’s Finest Domestique.
But what does Leipheimer’s absence really do to the Tour? It means very little to the competition between Armstrong and Contador on a direct basis. Though it is true that Andy Hampsten was forced to chase Bernard Hinault on one occasion in the Alps at the ’86 Tour, it is almost impossible to conceive of a situation in which Leipheimer would have been asked (and Bruyneel would have allowed) to chase down his own teammate. In short, Leipheimer’s greatest threat to Contador was psychological; knowing Leipheimer was loyal to Amstrong may have made him something of a deterrent to Contador.
Leipheimer’s greatest use was always in controlling the attacks of other teams. As a result, his absence will make it harder for Astana to neutralize other teams late in a stage. While that fact may strike many of you as obvious to the point of stupidity, the upshot is truly interesting.
Late-stage attacks from the likes of Carlos Sastre, Andy Schleck or Christian Vande Velde (it seems a little unlikely that Bradley Wiggins or Tony Martin will mount a stunning attack) will give both Armstrong and Contador an opportunity to follow and counterattack. A less neutralized competition should actually increase the fireworks between Astana’s two leaders.
And what of Leipheimer’s post-recovery future? It simply can’t be guessed. Had anyone suggested Leipheimer would return to Bruyneel’s fold to both achieve his best-ever form and be reduced to a support role at Grand Tours, most observant cycling fans would have scoffed. It’s a new take on irony, huh?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Cyclists are a diverse bunch. Some are quirky, some are smart, some so fast you’re not sure you can hang on and some are funny, really funny. Once in a generation, you find a rider who contains each of those gifts by the shipping container. They invariably touch lives and remain memorable long after our last encounter.
Chris Hipp was one of those rare individuals. The California-transplanted Texan had raced at the PRO level since the 1980s. He was known as a determined, fearsome and fair competitor. He raced across the United States and had the good fortune to call guys like Bob Mionske, Steve Larsen and Seth Pelusi teammates.
Hipp was best known by his nickname, Hippstar. Rather than compose something that doesn’t quite get to the heart of the man, to do him justice I turned to brothers David and Roger Worthington who have known the Hippstar since the 1980s, and with him founded team Labor Power in 1990. Few know him the way these two do.
The arcane and the sublime Legend of The Hippstar …
Cycling great and True Original, Chris Hipp forever ended his earthly Tour de Force on July 14, 2009. He was riding his bike near his home in Redwood City, CA. Chris was understood by few, but respected/admired/entertained by many. A complex cat with many layers.
Chris was a guru, a best friend and Labor Power Teammate from 1994. His radius of influence spans from his original stomping grounds in Dallas, Texas (where he united with my brother Roger Worthington to form Labor Power) to the U.S. edges of the East and West Coasts … and beyond.
For those of you asking “Who is Chris Hipp?” Truth be told, he was a closet genius who created new computer server and graphics software. Such an esteemed egghead that the New York Times has already assigned a featured Obit on his life.
For those of you asking “Who is Chris Hipp?” truth be told, just yesterday the swarming media blitz focused on another Texas Warrior named Lance Armstrong. Imagine Lance, currently sitting in 3rd place after 10 stages in the TDF … surrounded by 800 reporters from 45 countries. All feeding off him for The Story of The Day. And the man who owns an untouchable 7 Tour Titles stops dead in his tracks. Within hours of our quirky, warm friend’s passing …
Lance Armstrong Twittered:
Just heard the news. I’m stunned. Knew Chris Hipp since the 80′s. He was a great man. We’ll miss him. RIP Chris Hipp (1:52 PM Jul 14th).
Within hours of the sad news we heard from 100′s of blogging cyclists, including Bob Mionske (formerly with Saturn Pro Team, currently practicing bike law in Wisconsin):
I met Chris in Dallas over 20 years ago when my team was in town for the Tour of Texas. He told me all about his battles with some junior and kept telling me how strong he was. I scoffed at him. Maybe this kid was good compared to HIM but I was not impressed. This ‘kid’ is going for his 8th Tour de France this week…. A few years later Chris and I were teammates on Celestial Seasonings. Very cool guy, lots of power and super smart. Could sprint with all the hot shots on the team which irked them, to my delight. I met lots of incredible riders in my day but if I had to hang around with someone off the bike I preferred intelligent, creative and funny and Chris was tops in all three.”
For the record, on a red-ant infested crit course outside Richardson, Texas, the Hippster out kicked Lance on many Tuesday Night “World Championships.” That was … Back in the Day. Still, while myself and Roger race the Masters age-grades events, Chris at age 48, was still competing and winning against the young guns … he called them the “Pro Dreamers.” Chris was wicked fast with a high top end and gnarly skills. When the comp got squeamish, the Hippster got calm … yet fierce. Let them scrub speed! I will close!
With Chris and his common-law-wife Lorraine, I was fortunate to travel to the south of France, then Barcelona, Spain, the last two Octobers. Some people say the Hippster had a European style … those who knew him better believed he had an Extra-Terrestrial Style.
He was the steely Marvel Comics character, Captain Nimrod (see the Labor Jersey art design) … visiting us less advanced human Nimrods from a far away Planet Nimrodicus in a far away galaxy. Which perhaps explains how he was able to communicate with cats, dogs, birds, emus, aardvarks and llamas on this planet. He had “reptilian bird” instincts within. Hippstar lived his life in graceful Flight. Soaring, diving, arcing, whirlybirding like a cosmic prankster in the sky.
He truly loved Lorraine. They had a wonderful love and mutual fanship. Back in Texas in the 90′s, Lorraine and my brother Roger saw the soft side of the otherwise stoic Dream Crusher.
I have a sweet image of the two. My Last trip to Nor-Cal, to race the majestic Pescadero Road Race was in June. After the long drive, I knock on the door and hear Hipp chirp: “Hey-Man-Whats-Goin-On…C’MON IN Hawkstar!” I entered to find a muscle-ripped, and battle-scarred, barebacked Hippstar sitting on a chair, watching Speed Television (they enjoyed any type of racing on the telly—from Monaco Gran Prix Trials, to the Tuscaloosa Monster Tractor Pull!) Lorraine was carefully grooming Chris’ granite head with the shears. They turned and smiled like two shining lighthouses. I was instantly at home. I also remember coming up to race the historic Mt. Hamilton this year. I brought Chris the “Nimrod Racing” kit … a goof that he loved. We both wore the kits at the local “Wrecked ‘em” ride to the ripple of giggles and bemusement of the pack. “Nimrod Nation” lead by Captain Nimrod and his disciples! After Pescadero, we donned the same kits for a really cool ride semi-parallel to the San Andreas Fault line, across the Golden Gate to Sausalito. After lunch, a train ride south back to Redwood City. We were joined by Lorraine and her sweet friend Tanja. I cherish those adventures.
Chris decided to avoid the climbs at Mt. Hamilton and Pescadero. But he was as geeked up to participate as I was. Why? Because this allowed him to follow both my race and the Pro race, on the road, on his moto, with the camera clicking. He would zoom down those technical descents, up the valleys to find the perfect vista to capture the colors of the pel and the countryside. On his website, he posted his photos, including videos of the sprint finishes. He really was an artist and photo-journalist. Flying on his moto, carving corners like no other, without laminates, Chris had the street credit to infiltrate the caravan of officials and support. I know for a fact that the promoters and even the Bluecoats gave Hipp a hall pass. Nobody else could pull that off.
I believe he knew his time was limited. So he documented every epic ride like maybe it was his last. And boy, did he know how to have fun on the bike. He was the Mayor of Norcal. The leader of the Famous Hippstar Adventure Rides.
The Hippster was fast. He could go from uber-stoic to uber-silly in 8 nano-seconds. From distant to generous in 7 nano-seconds. From wooden to kind-hearted in 6 nano-seconds. From here and gone in … I dunno. How does one quantify the space and time of a starburst, a piece of art and an echo of light, love, and cackling laughter.
Someone said that as hard as Chris turned the screws in a race, he didn’t have a deathwish—he had a lifewish. Someone else said he crammed 200 years of living into 48 years. Those two statements really encapsulate him for me.
Tonight the foxhole is less safe without him. But alas, he was 12 pounds of joy and wisdom in a 10-pound bag. Chris, per your advice … I will do my freaking hardest to spread the overflow of light and tranquility which you unselfishly gave. I will do my best to live in the moment as you taught. And if I come up short, while in the Grind … I know, you will forgive … and you will wait for me, cause I can’t find my Gaw-Dammed left shoe….
Chris. You Oak. You Legend. You Capitan. You Supernova. You Masterpiece. I will never, ever forget you. And I love you.
Chris Hipp died today. Worst sentence I ever wrote. He was on his way to an early morning training ride. He never got there. Apparently suffered an aneurysm. I’m fairly certain he would’ve won the city limit sprint otherwise.
Lorraine has been comforted all day by many of their friends. She’s an incredibly strong and brave woman — I know Chris loved her deeply.
I know I speak for many of you when I say the obvious—we’re hurting. We lost a strange and unique friend. He was many things: a hard core spee-r-inter, an inquisitive explorer (he loved maps), a cybergeek (he invented a server gizmo called the Blade but never got the credit he deserved), a pioneer in graphics (he wrote my law firm’s first news letter in 1990), a student of technofop (he preferred Gary Neuman to Jimi Hendrix), and one of the warmest guys on the planet, which is odd because he always complained about not being warmed up before the final sprint. He helped found Team Labor Power in 1990. In the past few years, when I took an extended time out and others moved on, he kept the Labor dream alive, single-handedly and with pride.
He helped write the cyclist’s dictionary, giving us words and phrases like: “pounding idiots,” “stoopid sport,” 12k dreamer,” “gritty not pritty,” and of course “EEEDEEEOTTS!.” He had an uncanny ear for odd sounds. He could entertain himself for hours making exotic chirps, trills, flutters and hoots. I think he was actually able to talk to the birds who frequented the feeder outside his window. I know he was able to talk to his cats.
We’ve all got a million Hipp Star stories. In the near future, we will want to hold a tribute to the Hipp Star. Thinking out loud, perhaps a Friday night tribute dinner followed by a group ride the next morning. The trick is in finding a time that will be convenient to greatest number of people.
Chris’ remaining survivor is his brother Michael, who lives in Dallas. Chris and Lorraine met in Dallas about 15 years ago and they didn’t migrate to Redwood City until about 2000 (don’t hold me to the dates) so they have about a zillion friends in both states.
Stay tuned for details about logistics of the tribute (he’d like that I used that word—he pretty much admitted that he was “logistically impaired”). We want to celebrate the quirky trajectory of his life. He’s one of the few people I’ve known who really did mature like one of those fine wines you hear about without losing his playfulness. In my view, Hipp had found his stride. He was poised and comfortable with the size and scope of his life. He was the guy you wanted to share a foxhole with when the bullets started flying.
You just knew he was going to keep his cool and help get you out of there unscathed. He made me feel safe. “Never quit,” he always told me, with a mixture of sternness and optimism. “You never know what will happen in the end, you just might rally.
Peace be with you Brother Hipp Star. May you always take that Great Big
City Limit Sign Sprint in the Sky.
Labor for Life,
Working for a bike company is a dream come true for most die-hard cyclists. It’s a job, to be sure, as any other job, but the motivation to get out of bed is easier to find even on the worst days.
Working for a bike company that sponsors a PRO team adds a touch of excitement during the racing season. You get to see the products you’ve worked so hard to help bring to fruition take on a new life. And yes, there is a difference between riding a product you contributed to and seeing a PRO ride it on TV.
Some of the companies out there have begun to take a more novel approach to equipping their teams. By now you’ve seen some shots of Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador’s special bikes made for them by Trek. These bikes are no different than the others they ride, but what is remarkable is how the guys in creative were given the chance to do something fun. There’s nothing like having your boss come to you and say, “Go nuts.”
Short story short—there’s nothing too remarkable about this post; I just wanted to take the opportunity to show off some creative work that has hours of effort in it. You probably won’t ever be able to see the bikes up close unless both they and you are at Interbike … which could happen, right?
It’s a charge for a designer to do something meant to be out of the ordinary. They deserve a nod for the fun stuff they do. These guys are stars; they eat Adobe Illustrator files for breakfast and suck on vector files like candy.
In 2007, when Specialized began sponsoring the Quick Step team, company representatives showed up at a winter training camp for the team with bikes for each and every rider. In the case of some riders, they actually showed up with two bikes if the size of their previous Time bike didn’t translate exactly to the Specialized bike.
In Tom Boonen’s case, the company came equipped with both a 58 and a 61 Tarmac. The 61 had the top tube length Boonen needed, but the head tube, he determined was too long. He couldn’t achieve the more than 10cm drop from the saddle to the handlebar with the 61; the bar was just too high. So Specialized left him with the 58cm frame and made a custom stem for him at their Morgan Hill fabrication shop. While no one has said exactly how long the stem was, indications are it was 15cm in length.
The season started … and so did Boonen’s back troubles. The PR fallout for Specialized didn’t seem too bad, unless you searched the message boards, and on those they were being murdered. Ditto for the talk on group rides.
With Boonen’s results suffering Specialized undertook a radical solution; working from the fit measurements of his previous Time, they recreated his fit exactly by building him a custom Tarmac and later a custom Roubaix from aluminum.
And yet the criticism of Specialized continued. Riders wondered why they weren’t building custom carbon bikes for Boonen. In fact, they were, but they wanted to make sure he was happy with the fit before they spent in excess of $25k cutting a mold. Those who have watched “This Old House” are familiar with the maxim, “Measure twice, cut once.”
As fate would have it, Boonen’s bike is just enough of a tweener size that the company has considered adding it to their size range.
The bike pictured here is the prototype Roubaix built for the three-time winner. While I haven’t heard definitively, I suspect Columbus Airplane (not Starship) tubing was used, given the bike’s weight and stiffness.
It’s a big bike by any standard. The top tube is 59cm on horizontal. The stem is 14cm and the bar is 44cm (center-to-center); both are aluminum. Reach from the nose of the saddle to the center of the stem is a whopping 63cm thanks to the 10.5cm drop from the saddle to the bar. And it is unmistakably a Roubaix thanks to the 42.5cm chainstays and the 60cm front-center. Saddle height is 80cm and his crank length is 177.5mm, naturally. With 25mm tubulars, the bottom bracket height would have been 27cm.
There’s a ding in the top tube from a hit and scratches along the left side of the downtube, signs of battle damage from the Hell of the North. Since it’s creation the bike has been with either Quick Step or Specialized; this is its first trip away from the Specialized HQ since coming back to the states. One other curious detail, as per the request of some team riders, this bike uses a Time fork painted to match rather than the Roubaix fork.
In the last six months I’ve ridden four different saddles and am about to start riding a fifth. It’s four more saddles than I’d generally recommend for all but those looking for a new place to rest the glutes. The problem of finding a workable saddle is unlike any other fit issue. A two- to three-hour fitting can determine exactly the way your bike should be set up, down to the millimeter. Five minutes with a new bar will tell you if it’s going to work or not.
But saddles are a tougher challenge. Often you won’t know that a new saddle isn’t working until you’re more than 40 miles into a ride and the realization carries a penalty of discomfort that plays out over the rest of the day.
Trek and Specialized have created nifty little devices that can reveal how wide your sit bones are so you’ll know how broad a saddle you need. And yet, the shape of the saddle remains unfathomable until you’re actually on it.
There are retailers out there who will allow you to try a saddle and return it if it doesn’t work, but those retailers aren’t as common as feathers on a duck, which is why I’m so gaga over the new demo program that Competitive Cyclist just announced.
Competitive Cyclist will send you their 11 most popular saddles for a week. You’ll have some work ahead of you and will need a weekend with few honey-do items on it, but 11 saddles that are known to work for others is an opportunity with a solution waiting to be found. It is cycling’s answer to the differential equation: The answer is there; you just have to knuckle down and do the work to find it.
Which brings me to a larger point: the preeminence of Competitive Cyclist. When it comes to Internet retailing of bicycles and parts, no one else comes close.
But Competitive Cyclist is the anti-christ, isn’t it? It’s an Internet retailer, embodying all that is unholy and antithetical to the traditional cycling experience. Internet bike shops aren’t shops at all; they discount parts to within pennies of their worth, making their dollars on volume and caring as much about your cycling experience as the person in the drive-through window cares about your food.
Say what you want about other sites, Competitive Cyclist will make you rethink the intersection point between Internet retailing and quality. They aren’t the low-price leader. The operation is PRO, the way Columbia-HTC’s train is PRO. I’ve seen a bike they’ve packed come out of the box and I think most manufacturers could pick up pointers on how to reduce damage in shipping if they looked to their packing.
Then there’s the site itself. There are manufacturers with sites lacking the professional polish of Competitive Cyclist. The design is cleaner than ammonia and prettier than veined marble. It’s the online response to today’s top-end bike studios. The photos are original and so well executed, you don’t really need to hold the product to get excited about it. Frankly, their site is better lit than most shops I walk in.
If it seems that I’m bagging on brick-and-mortar retailers, I’m not. I love great shops. I can wander around a well-appointed shop for hours, but when I think back on the shops I first visited, there was a level of knowledge that I don’t often see today. By contrast, the staff at Competitive Cyclist seem to know their product line so well, you wonder if maybe they have more miles on the stuff than the manufacturer does.
Clear-eyed, witty and sporting a breadth of experience that our club elders always had, their copy should be studied by most of the cycling journalists out there. Brendan Quirk is an excellent writer and those who work for him are held to exceptional standards.
But a detailed product write-up does not necessarily make for information you can trust. What makes me trust their copy is that the opinions and insights echo my own experience. I adore the Capo Forma and Assos clothing lines. So do they. What happens when you’ve got a buddy who, like you, loves the same film directors you do? You listen to his recommendations and if he tells you, “There is a new guy you’ve got to check out,” you add it to your Netflix queue.
Competitive Cyclist’s product line hasn’t been easy to amass. Internet retailing doesn’t have a great reputation in the bike industry and most manufacturers are working harder to prevent their products from being sold on the net than they are to open new accounts. The discount mentality has made many manufacturers run screaming from Internet retailing out of a fear they’ll lose the brick and mortar shops. Adding lines to Competitive Cyclist’s offerings is a real challenge, but you don’t hear Quirk complaining; he has built solid relationships with lines he believes in, lines that seem to be standing by him, lines you still see in the brick and mortar shops.
Quirk’s “What’s New” section is one of the best blogs in the industry. It’s a window into the operation, Quirk’s personal interests and riding, his take on industry trends and crises and a bit of humor and criticism as well. To be needled by Quirk is to have your closest friend give you a breath mint and say, “Dude, you have got to take care of that.” If you’re in his sights, it’s because he’s interested and if you get a critique, it means he’s watching, closely.
For me, Competitive Cyclist is a virtual bike studio. All it lacks, aside from the bricks and mortar, is the ability to fit you and given the incredible execution of the rest of the site, if they thought they could fit me via web cam, I’d give it a shot. As it is, their online fit guide is a good start, good enough to get you the right size bike and headed to someone to do an in-person fitting. And if you doubt that they know what they are talking about when it comes to fitting, just read their differentiation of sizing and fit between Cervelo’s RS and R3 models. It’s better than anything I’ve seen in any of the bike magazines.
Frankly, the danger that Competitive Cyclist represents is in vacuuming dollars from geeked-out cyclists’ wallets until households can’t afford basics like toilet paper and wine. If these guys get offed, the first person of interest I’d look for would be the spouse of their best customer.
When Alberto Contador attacked the leaders with 2km on stage 7 to go to the finish at the ski station of Arcalis, the move looked as natural as Derek Fisher backing up to shoot a three. Tactically, it made sense. Other attacks, notably Cadel Evans’ move that Contador jumped on immediately, had been tested, but rather than wait for someone to bring the race to him, Contador launched. He’s a climber and stage 7 is the only mountain top finish in the Pyrenees. To make the most of his climbing ability, he needs the uphill finish.
Contador’s acceleration, which no other rider was able to match, left Lance Armstrong to follow wheels. At no point did the seven-time Tour winner appear to be under pressure, but then, this was the first real mountain stage and for Armstrong the experience must have been tantamount to racing with a restrictor plate.
The surprise was learning that Contador’s move wasn’t part of the plan.
“No one had specific instructions to attack,” said Bruyneel told the AFP when asked if he had given Contador the green light to go.
Johan Bruyneel’s Tour de France teams have been marked by a singularity of mission and disciplined racing. Each rider knows his role going in. There is no freelancing.
Those who bothered to read Positively False by Floyd Landis got a window in to the running of the U.S. Postal Service team that isn’t widely available. No matter what you might think of Landis, we have little reason to think he would fabricate a deteriorating relationship with his team leader and director.
In telling the story of the 2004 season and Tour de France, Landis details his frustrations with broken equipment, his inability to get a time trial bike to train on and contract negotiations (or lack thereof) for most of the season.
In his telling, the frustrations seem reasonable, not the petulant tantrums of some narcissist who things he’s the new star. But Armstrong and Bruyneel decided they had a problem on hand. Landis was a “rebel.”
He tells how Bruyneel and Armstrong treated him with suspicion, spoke in sarcastic tones to him—and perhaps more importantly—about him to other members of the team. There’s a lesson to be learned in those pages: Don’t break rank.
Contador broke rank. Armstrong said, “I was a bit surprised.”
What he added was a first. “Things didn’t go according to the plan we’d set out earlier, but it didn’t matter. It was a fine day overall.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, new in our product line is Lance Armstrong Signature Damage Control.
Armstrong was content to let the other teams wonder who was in charge as long as it appeared he was free to play his hand. But Contador as a loose cannon? I wonder how many people have imagined that possibility.
Seven straight Tour de France victories taught those who watched closely an important lesson about Armstrong: His name could just as easily be Dr. Bruce Banner. An angry Armstrong is an Armstrong difficult to beat, and if he thinks Contador isn’t going to stick to the game plan, then all bets are off.
In theory, Contador’s move should have put him unquestionably into team leadership, but because he waited until 2km to go, the attack didn’t result in much. While the acceleration was impressive, it came so late it could be considered timid. That wasn’t Eddy Merckx charging across the Pyrenees alone for more than 100km to take the stage, it was a kid racing his engine at a stoplight.
Two seconds on Armstrong is a sneeze. If Contador truly wanted to assert his dominance within Astana, he should have attacked at the foot of the climb, pulled back Feillu, won the stage and pulled on yellow.
Of course, then he would have saddled his team with defending the yellow jersey for an inconceivable 14 stages, but it would have shackled Armstrong with the role of super-domestique for the remainder of the Tour.
As it is, all Contador did was prove to Bruyneel and Armstrong that he can’t be trusted.
Isn’t this the guy who complained that he couldn’t get his team’s full support? He didn’t like Leipheimer’s riding at the 2008 Vuelta, suggesting that Leipheimer pursued personal ambitions when he should have been saving energy to defend Contador’s lead. Contador can’t complain about his teammates freelancing if he can’t stick to the script. By breaking rank, he’s not just racing Saxo Bank, Garmin-Slipstream, Cervelo Test Team, Silence-Lotto and the few other teams with GC aspirations, he’ll be racing his own team.
And while Sergio Paulinho may have been selected precisely for his loyalty to Contador, Bruyneel and Armstrong can use Contador’s disloyalty to drive a wedge between him and the rest of the team.
Contador will find out the true meaning of isolated on stage 8. Worse yet, he has played his best card; he’ll have trouble catching his team by surprise again.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International.