One of these days, I’m going to interview Tom Ritchey. When I do, I intend to ask him where he gets his ideas for new products. I don’t know that I’ll get an answer—I might as well ask Dave Matthews where he gets his song ideas—but I intend to ask him nonetheless.
For me, Ritchey Logic products have been shorthand for strong, lightweight and well-engineered solutions to essential parts and problems since before I became a cyclist. Over the years I’ve owned stems, seatposts, pedals and mini tools. I’ve reviewed probably a dozen bikes that spec’d Richey products for OEM sales. I can’t count the number of times that a Ritchey product at the time of its release was the lightest on the market.
That said, I purchased a WCS Carbon Post 18 months ago or so. While it has performed admirably, I don’t care for the two-bolt design. It is a frustration to adjust and changing saddles—which I do from time to time for the purpose of reviews—is a slow and time-consuming process.
Which brings me to the WCS Carbon 1-Bolt Post. The last time a seatpost impressed me was the Specialized Pavé seatpost and that was in 2003. There are plenty of 1-bolt posts out there. What makes the WCS Carbon 1-Bolt Post different is the nature of the clamp. Most of you won’t change saddles very often, so ease-of-installation probably won’t impress you much. Regardless, I’ve never experienced a seatpost on which saddle installation was quicker. But here’s a real selling point: As you tighten the seat clamp, there is no drift; wherever you place the saddle is where it stays. For purposes of fitting, I found this to be a notable benefit. Admittedly, once the saddle position is established, this stops being a selling point, but it impressed me for its ease.
My favorite feature of the seatpost isn’t specific to this one post, but rather Ritchey’s line of posts. Between the different iterations, Ritchey seatposts come in four diameters (27.0, 27.2, 30.9 and 31.6mm), four lengths (280, 300, 350 and 400mm) and four setbacks (0, 20, 30 and a whopping 45mm). The 1-Bolt post is available in three of those diameters (27.2, 30.9 and 31.6mm), two lengths (300 and 350mm) and two setbacks (0 and 30mm). The proliferation of production-sized carbon fiber frames shouldn’t mean a reduction in the ability to fit and its nice to see a company so dedicated to offering a wide variety in seatposts without resorting to a wonky solution—shims anyone?
It’s also lightweight. The post I reviewed weighed a bantam 172 grams. Naturally, the next question is what this lightweight post retails for either $214.95 or $224.95, depending on the seatposts diameter. Those who think it unreasonable to spend that much on a seatpost can save more than $125 and pick up the alloy version (which comes in all the same diameters and lengths as the carbon version
The clamp kit is available after market for $16.95 and comes in several different versions: 8 x 8.5mm (for Ritchey and Selle Italia carbon rail saddles) and 7 x 9.6mm (for Fi:zi’k carbon rail saddles). Different clamp kits exist for the carbon and alloy versions of the 1-bolt seatpost.
Waxing rhapsodic about a seatpost is about as silly as analyzing the stylistic underpinnings of Kelly Clarkson. That said, as a matter of minimalist industrial design, the 1-Bolt seatpost is elegant in its simplicity, both in ease of use and svelte appearance. Torque spec for either clamp is 12 Newton/meters, something I would encourage Ritchey to print on the packaging for the seatpost and the seat clamp; laser-etched on the clamp itself or printed on the seatpost wouldn’t be a bad idea.
The Streem saddle is Ritchey’s answer to the traditional saddle for those who would prefer their saddles not resemble toilet seats. The folks at Ritchey say it resembles an SLR, and while the bird’s-eye view sees the logic in this comparison, my last experience with the SLR was unpleasant enough (the saddle was upper-lip stiff) that I wouldn’t be eager to try one again.
The key to the saddle might be its patented “wing” design that suspends the shell of the saddle above the rails in order to cushion the rider from road vibration and shock. Or it may be that they are simply using a thinner shell, resulting in a more flexible base.
I’ve got fairly broad hips; in the Specialized Toupé I ride the 143mm-wide edition. I suspect that riders with narrower hips than I will find this saddle especially to their liking. For me it was rather minimal, but still worked. Anyone with hips wider than mine might find it akin to sitting on the top tube due to their sit bones falling at the edges of the saddle shell.
Amazingly, the saddle is available in four different configurations. Each shares the same shape and debossed leather look; what changes is the type of leather and the rail material.
The Aston Martin of the bunch is the 144g, real leather-covered, carbon railed Streem, available in Model T black or PRO white. It retails for $179.95. The Lexus features real leather, CrN/Ti rails (which are essentially Ti rails with a chromium-nitride coating which, from what I’ve read, helps when shaping the rails, making them less brittle) and available in black or white as well. Mine weighed 200g. Retail is a less-stratospheric $99.95.
Anyone offended by the high-end offerings can choose from Chrome-Moly rail, synthetic leather edition for $61.95 (said to weigh only 210g) or a steel rail, vinyl-covered version (250g claimed) for only $36.95. It’s refreshing to see a company meet consumers at such a variety of price points.
In riding both the carbon and Ti rail versions of this saddle, I had the impression that the carbon version did cut road vibration perceptibly, though slightly. Bump impact wasn’t cut at all, but then I wasn’t expecting a suspension post effect.
I’m not here to pass judgment on whether someone wants to build up a 13-pound bike. I can understand the desire to have an unsurpassably cool bike. I can also understand the urge to say, “Enough is enough.” That said, if you covet the carbon saddle (and believe me, I can understand why you might), make sure you purchase the 1-Bolt Clamp Kit, otherwise the 12Nm torque applied to too-small clamps will crush the carbon rails like teeth in celery.
Great saddles can be argued about ad nauseum; there’s no right answer. But this 1-Bolt seatpost is a thing of beauty; it truly epitomizes what Ritchey has always stood for in my mind—simple, lightweight and easy-to-adjust designs, the very meaning of elegant.
The British have given us this expression “Elephant in the room” (also, according to Wikipedia, “elephant in the sitting room”, “elephant in the living room”, “elephant in the parlor”, “elephant in the corner”, “elephant on the dinner table”, “elephant in the kitchen”, and “elephant on the coffee table”). And regardless of which room or on what piece of furniture the aforementioned pachyderm has chosen to rest his weary bones, the point is that the elephant is there, obvious, in plain sight. And yet, no one wants to talk about the elephant.
For a century, doping has been the elephant in cycling’s living room. In the early years of continental competition, riders were frequently charged with having cheated by drinking brandy during stages of grueling races. Later, amphetamines and cortisone crept in, and many of cycling’s greats were believed to be “doped” in these ways, including Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx and Jacques Anquetil. In the 1967 Tour de France, Tom Simpson died on the side of the road on Mont Ventoux, after mixing amphetamines with alcohol; his witches’ brew foreshadowed the even crazier concoctions such as pot belge that were to come. The sense that doping is a problem in modern cycling only is a misconception.
This elephant has always made himself comfortable, either on the chaise longue or perched happily next to the ottoman.
The British gave us the expression, and the Spanish have given us Alejandro Valverde, the top-ranked cyclist in the world last year by the UCI. Valverde is that rarest of riders, a strong climber who can time trial AND sprint. To earn his top UCI ranking, he won Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the 2008 Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré and the Spanish National Road Race Championship. He won Grand Tour Stages and the Vuelta a Murcia. In 2009, he won the Dauphiné again.
Valverde, at 29, is at the peak of his powers. He may well win the Vuelta a España, where he is, at time of writing, wearing the leader’s golden jersey. But what will it mean for the rider known as the Bala Verde(Green Bullet) if he does win? What will it mean for his team, Caisse d’Epargne? And what will it mean for pro cycling? There remains an elephant in the peloton.
What follows are facts: 1) Valverde rode for the Kelme team from 2002-2004. 2) During that time, Kelme’s riders were being cared for by Dr Eufemiano Fuentes. 3) In 2006, Fuentes was arrested after a large cache of blood bags, suspected to contain the blood of doped athletes, was found in his Madrid clinic. 4) The resulting scandal, known as Operación Puerto, implicated dozens of riders in the pro peloton. 5) In 2009, the Italian Olympic Committee professed to have linked one of the bags of blood, labelled “valv.piti” to Valverde, and subsequently brought the Spaniard to Italy to face doping charges. 6) Valverde maintained his innocence, but was banned from competing in Italy for two years anyway, which caused him to miss the Tour de France. 7) Valverde has filed an appeal to the Court of Arbitration of Sport with the hope of overturning his Italian ban and clearing his name. 8) A Spanish judge has sealed the evidence in the Operación Puerto case, preventing both Italian and cycling authorities from moving forward with prosecutions of any implicated riders.
Judge Antonio Serrano, who has presided in often controversial fashion over the Puerto case, has hewn closely to the letter of the Spanish law. It seems that at the time of the raid on Fuentes’ clinic, the substances allegedly found in only a handful of the blood samples, were not in fact illegal in Spain. Serrano has, for that reason, closed the case against Fuentes and his co-defendants repeatedly. That the alleged doping agents are illegal under the laws of the UCI doesn’t trouble Serrano in the least. The thinking is that, since no laws were broken prior to the collection of the evidence, the evidence was seized unlawfully. Further, the handling of the blood by authorities has been problematic in its own right. The Italian Olympic Committee claims it has a bag of blood from Fuentes’ clinic and has matched it to Valverde. Quite how they got that blood, how it was handled and what jurisdiction they have over a Spanish rider involved in a closed Spanish court case are all questions hanging heavy in the air.
We know the following for sure: 1) The case against Valverde is largely circumstantial, because the blood in the bag alleged to be his has not been matched to a DNA sample submitted by the rider, and whether you believe his denials or not, he continues to ride, confident that he can clear his name. 2) While the Italian Olympic Committe, who take an active role in doping investigations in Italy, have banned him, the Spaniard has challenged their jurisdiction over his case, as any offenses purportedly occurred in Spain.
What follows is conjecture: 1) The UCI is said to be disappointed that the Spanish courts have sealed the case records, but it is entirely possible that they simply want to appear disappointed, because if, as suspected, the number and caliber of riders (close to 50) involved were all suspended, it would decimate the ProTour. 2) It is possible that Valverde was storing blood with Fuentes without having used it. He may have done what Ivan Basso eventually admitted to in the same Puerto case, which is “intending to dope.” 3) By continuing to ride and be tested, Valverde may be building a case for his innocence based on “clean” wins, that is, wins without positive dope tests. 4) If the Italians had actual proof, i.e. a DNA sample they could match to the bag of blood, then they presumably would have turned that evidence over to the UCI, which would effectively end Valverde’s efforts to clear himself. That the Italians haven’t done so, implies that their case is, in fact, only circumstantial.
If Valverde wins the Vuelta, there are two possible scenarios that could play out, each with drastically different consequences. First, it’s possible that a Valverde win will force all of this to be rehashed in the press, and perhaps more pressure will mount on the Spanish courts to release the case material, which would, of course unleash pandemonium, a pandemonium that’s been hibernating since 2006. This chain of events would take us back to Floyd Landis being stripped of his Tour de France win, of Michael Rasmussen being kicked out of the Tour while wearing the yellow jersey. It would indict the sport anew and quite possibly end Caisse d’Epargne and Valverde all in one fell swoop. It might put paid to the idea that the current testing program is sufficient. If Valverde, a rider many believe to have doped, can win without a positive, in competition test, then it’s fair to ask how effective the testing regime really is. Regardless, this is not what pro cycling needs, in what all of us hope is a new era of transparency and fairness.
Or, perhaps winning a Grand Tour without testing positive for EPO or CERA or testosterone or excess Nutella, will convince both the authorities and the fans that digging into the Puerto vault serves no real purpose. Valverde’s taken his lumps. Maybe he can move on now. Maybe we can all move on, forgiving dopers their past and celebrating the techniques and results of the teams who have taken on programs built around racing clean.
To be sure, someone, somewhere, at some point, is going to have to comprehensively address this latest elephant in the room. It remains to be seen whether the elephant will stand up and make his own presence felt, or whether he’ll simply slink out the back door leaving nothing but a vague odor and a deep dent in the couch.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Among American cycling fans Jonathan Vaughters’ Garmin-Slipstream formation has enjoyed the loyal love afforded a hometown team. That love has been based more on the team being “American” than on having actually kicked a lot of ass.
Of course, it isn’t the only ProTour team registered in the U.S., as Bob Stapleton’s Columbia-HTC team is based in San Luis Obispo, California. However, despite an American owner and one of two title sponsors being American, most cycling fans still perceive the team as European for two simple reasons: Most of its sport directors came from the former T-Mobile team and it has almost no American riders.
Critics of the team have noted a dissonance between the amount of media attention Garmin garners wherever it goes, and its results. The undercurrent being—the team really hasn’t earned its status.
Many of the headlines the team has generated have come as a result of its outspoken anti-doping stance. On paper there are several teams with anti-doping programs as stringent as Garmin’s, but Jonathan Vaughters is the media’s go-to guy for quotes on how to run a clean cycling team. To be fair, no one else is as articulate on the challenges a pro cyclist faces or the mixed signals a rider might receive when trying to balance the need to produce results with the need to recover.
Until recently, most of the team’s wins have come in stages of smaller stage races and four national championships. A stage win and the leader’s pink jersey at the Giro d’Italia were all it claim for Grand Tour performances beyond a host of top-five finishes in stages and general classification.
But in less than a week two different riders, Tyler Farrar and Ryder Hesjedal, won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana, giving the team its first Grand Tour stage wins. Back home, the team defended its title at the Tour of Missouri with David Zabriskie’s time trial win that culminated in overall victory. It was the first stage race victory for the talented time trialist.
Unless you’ve been sleeping through September, you know all that. Why bother to note this? There are a great many teams with little ability to win outside of their star rider. Garmin-Slipstream won stages in two different stage races—meaning two different squads—despite the fact that Christian Vande Velde had to withdraw from the Tour of Missouri.
It’s been easy to slag on Tom Danielson for his failed promise. A probably top-10 at the Vuelta doesn’t measure up to the promises that he would be America’s next Tour de France winner, after Lance Armstrong, of course. That said, until he was struck with a virus, he was lying fourth on the general classification. Even so, he stands to give his team its second top-10 finish in a Grand Tour this year. That may seem an achievement of dubious value but consider that Cofidis, AG2R La Mondiale, Euskaltel-Euskadi and Columbia-HTC won’t post two Grand Tour top-tens and Quick Step won’t even post one.
Tyler Farrar’s three stage wins at the Eneco Tour of Benelux are significant more for what they taught Farrar and his teammates and as a confidence-building exercise than for the wins themselves. Those wins were an imperative step toward winning his first Grand Tour stage.
For a team in only its first year of the ProTour, Garmin-Slipstream deserves recognition for the team’s rise to earned prominence. Still a darling of the media, the team has results to justify the interviews and TV time.
Photo: John Pierce, Photosport International
Since writing the post “Lines” the comments I’ve received here on the blog and on rides from friends have led me to write a little something on the zinc oxide I use. It’s a 45spf clear zinc oxide made by skin care company Ocean Potion.
Getting excited about zinc oxide is like getting excited about dishwashing soap. It’s not the stuff itself that is so exciting, but rather the result.
It offers broad spectrum protection for the face and lips, Retinol, blah, blah, blah. I’ve tried everything and it’s the only stuff I use on my face and lips now. I’ve done back-to-back eight-hour days in the Alps without getting tan lines on my forehead (helmet strap lines seem to be unavoidable, though).
I used to buy the stuff for about $8 at one of my local drug stores. Then I discovered it on Amazon for less than half the cost I’d been paying. The container only holds an ounce, but it gets me through a whole season.
I’ll keep trying embrocations, chamois creams and sunscreens in my search for the perfect treatment, but when it comes to my face, I’ve reached true satisfaction with this zinc oxide.
When painted matte finishes first appeared on bikes in the mid-1990s, I found the look novel. Then I tired of it, the way we all tired of florescent colors. The lack of a clearcoat over the decals made bikes look rather third-rate, cheap.
I have a different opinion of matte finishes in carbon fiber. When I see a matte finish on a carbon fiber bike, I see a frame that the manufacturer has optimized for weight and performance. At some point, someone will probably produce something of questionable quality that will make a lie of my assumption, but currently, the frames I see in matte finishes tend to be plenty stiff while weighing less than a kilogram (2.2 pounds).
Paint, as it turns out can mean the difference between breaking the 1kg barrier and not. Even on small frames paint weighs at least 2 ounces (56 grams), often more. Think about it: Paint can add 3 oz. to a 56cm frame with no increase in stiffness whatsoever.
So I’ve been disappointed that it has been hard to find matte-finishes on bars, stems, seatposts and bottle cages. Matte finishes could reduce the weight of these components, sure, but more importantly, they would look more harmonious with the frame. And while it would seem to make sense to want matte finishes on the carbon fiber components of Campy groups and aftermarket cranks, I’ll give those a pass given the beating they can take.
But my prayers have been answered on one front for the first time. Blackburn offers a carbon fiber water bottle cage, the Camber CF, in either glossy or matte finish. I tried the matte finish, which matches my frame and found the advertised weight of 32g to be accurate; if the glossy finish weighs more, I can’t say. The topmost layer of carbon is a 3k weave, which is still the most popular top (cosmetic) layer of carbon for road frames, further helping to match the appearance of many bikes.
Last year I tried a set of handmade carbon fiber cages that weighed 14g apiece. The bottom tab broke on one, bottles bounced out and they scratched up the bottles, making them look like they’d rolled around on the road.
I’ve been using the Camber CFs for more than six months and they haven’t broken, hold bottles securely, and leave the appearance of said bottles unscathed. I’ll admit, a water bottle cage isn’t really worth writing home about, but it should never, ever detract from the look of a bike. Ideally, it should complement the look of a bike, underscoring what a cool ride you have.
The Camber CF retails for $39.99. Learn more at http://www.blackburndesign.com/.
No matter where you live, the summer heat has broken. Maybe there’s even a bit of a nip in the air. It can only mean one thing:
‘Cross season is here.
Of all the brands out there, one of my absolute favorites is Richard Sachs. Yes, he’s an advertiser. Yes, he’s a friend. End of full disclosure. Regardless, Richard is a go-fast guy who has fun with his “brand.”
Frankly, I think most frame builders and even a great many bike companies could use Sachs as an object lesson in how to brand. This new T-shirt embodies everything I dig about the guy: It is irreverent, stylish and passionate, not to mention strictly insider. It also captures the basic zeitgeist of ‘cross racers.
There’s not much to review in a T-shirt. Either it says something you want the world to know … or not.
If you want to follow Richard’s team’s exploits on knobby tires, click here.
I know what the French call “jacque merde” about racing in the pro peloton. My last race was a Sunday town line sprint that I lost by about five bike lengths, because I was busy trying to see if the ice cream truck was coming up behind us. Also, I’m an American, which means that, for me, cycling is a decidedly middle class affair, popular only among my Europhile and immigrant friends, a thing with its roots in working class factories and the hard man lifestyle we in this country associate most often with lumberjacks or commercial fishermen.
How I came to love European racing, a thing both distant and alien, is anyone’s guess, but fall in love I did. A ’70s childhood of BMX and then ten-speeding spilled out into a two-wheeled adulthood, spandex clad, tappy shoe shod and my eyes strained toward the East and the velocepedic cults of France, Belgium, Holland, Italy and Spain.
Having never properly raced, even domestically, I had yeoman’s job to understand what was happening up the Ventoux, down the Champs-Élyseés, over the cobbles and through the Ardennes. This was a process not only of internalizing the tactics of bicycle racing, but drinking deep from the sloppy and chaotic cup of this odd Euro sport.
No one, I mean no one, has done more to help me see into the world of pro bike racing than Samuel Abt, the legendary cycling correspondent for The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. In books such as: Off to the Races – 25 Years of Cycling Journalism; Up the Road – Cycling’s Modern Era from LeMond to Armstrong; A Season in Turmoil and Tour de France – Three Weeks to Glory, Abt collects his daily newspaper missives into wild and nuanced pastiches of the Euro racing life.
He gives voice to directeurs sportif, soigneurs, race organizers, the mayors of towns dying to have the major races grace them with their spiritual and monetary beneficence, as well as the riders, both legendary and journeymen, who animate the races. He describes the weather, the food, the farms and mountains. He is a writer, like John McPhee or Studs Terkel, who tells a story through the accumulation of minutely observed detail.
From an article called “When Autumn Comes” in Up the Road, Abt writes:
“Out in the countryside of France, the fields are brown and barren, their corn long harvested and the stalks chopped down for fodder. Until the stubble is plowed under when winter wheat is planted, the landscape is bleak and the air full of despair.
“For professional bicycle riders, April is not the cruelest month. Far from it. In April, hopes for a successful season are as green as the shoots just then starting to push through the fields that the riders pass in their early races. The cruelest month is really October, when the nine-month racing season ends and the riders finally know what they have failed to accomplish.”
From the introduction to Off to the Races:
“Far up the road, spectators had already jammed the switchback curves of Alpe d’Huez. The police finally gave up trying to estimate the size of the crowd and could only say it was more than the usual 300,000 to 400,000 who waited each year for the bicycle riders in the Tour de France to climb the peak. This Sunday morning in July, while the sun burned off traces of fog in the valley and melted a bit of the glaciers permanently atop the French Alps, the crowd was waiting for one rider. “Allez, Simon,” the banners said. But by then it was over.”
I have read the biographies, Anquetil, Merckx, Pantani, et. al., and I have read the various histories, and almost without exception I have enjoyed them, but no books have brought me to Europe to smell the dust of the hot French summer or feel the ice cold Belgian rain quite like Abt’s have.
These collections of his writings also serve as charming reminders of how the superstars saw the world before they were superstars. Here we find one Lance Armstrong, in 1993, talking about Miguel Indurain, from Up the Road:
‘“He’s got a super attitude,” he said. “He’s not obnoxious, he’s quiet, he respects the other riders, he never fusses. He’s so mild-mannered. I really like him.”
“So much so that the 29-year-old Spaniard seems to have become a role model for the likeable and sensitive Armstrong, who has occasionally been considered brash. “I still have a temper and an attitude sometimes,” he confessed.
“I wouldn’t mind molding myself into his sort of character,” he said. “Really quiet, just goes about his business.”’
You may watch Versus on your American television. You may steal a Eurosport feed from some Internet backwater. You may stand by the early season roadside in California, waiting for the peloton to streak by, but short of spending a season in Europe (a luxury I’ve never been able to indulge) it’s very hard to get the flavor of the sport. In this sense, if Paris Roubaix is a dish, Sam Abt is an able chef, translating that uniquely Franco-Belgian treat for an American palette.
Thanks to Da Robot of the Bottom Bracket Blog for this appreciation.
My morning routine before a ride has a script as rehearsed as a prime-time sitcom. The very first thing I do is put on sunblock. While it’s true years of childhood thick-headedness has left me at risk for skin cancer, I use sunblock and zinc oxide as much to prevent today’s burn as tomorrow’s melanoma.
But there’s a funny middle ground to my practice. I’ve given up on the battle to combat tan lines on my arms and legs. No amount of zinc oxide, even the toothpaste-white variety that Frankie Andreu used to cover his nose during the Tour de France each summer, can keep me from developing a demarcation as sudden and graphic as the panels of a police cruiser.
Ankles, quads, biceps and wrists, and during longer summer tours, even my fingers appear as mismatched to the rest of my body as a thrift-store outfit. I don’t go shirtless at the pool or beach more out of a sense of propriety than concern for burning. No one should subject the unprepared public for patchwork appearance I present.
So while my extremities are the basis for my personal Waterloo, my forehead and face are the castle keep. I refuse to yield the billboard above my eyebrows to advertise which helmet I use by virtue of the tan lines burned into my domed pate.
And the harder I work to slather my forehead, nose and lips with some goo that promises to shield me from the mayhem of UVA, UVB, UVC and UVZ, the more I love the PROs who have given up any pretense of being anything other than a PRO cyclist. Chin strap lines, vent hole diamonds, eyewear borders and most especially dirt tattoos, in the face and head of a PRO post-race I see the simplest, clearest reminder that while I can buy the equipment, the clothing, even ride the same roads, my dedication has something theirs does not: bounds.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International
A few years ago I got to spend a few months riding Zipp’s Contour SL bar. It was the first carbon fiber handlebar I had ridden that weighed less than 200 grams and one of the more comfortable wing bars I’ve tried to date. It was stiffer than single-malt Scotch straight from the bottle.
Since then, I haven’t encountered many truly sub-200g bars. Lots of companies advertise that their super-light Ultrabar X weighs less than your conscience, but a simple fact distinguishes reality from marketing hype: mold. Well, the plural: molds.
Most companies producing bars in the 200-250g range are doing so because they produce all the bars in halves, trim the sections to length and then bond them to the clamp section. Three pieces. The extra weight comes from the overlapped carbon in the bonded areas.
All sub-200g road bike handlebars have in common monocoque construction. The key to producing one is machining a mold for each size and each bend. Given that carbon fiber handlebars start in cost around $250 and run upwards of $500, each new mold can run a few thousand dollars to cut, a company has to sell a shipping container’s worth of bars to recoup the development cost and turn a profit.
To achieve its low weight the Zipp engineers had to resort to what may seem like a bit of old tech. To combine ultra-low weight and race-worthy stiffness the engineers had to employ a round bar profile throughout its length—no cable grooves, no wing shape. The wing shape adds about 20g. My test bar weighed all of 177g.
zipp_bar_dropsWith the SL bar, the company’s lightest offering, riders can choose from four widths (38, 40, 42 and 44cm c-c) and three different bends (traditional, ergo and compact). That’s 12 molds total. It’s a significant commiment to fit and comfort at the high end of the market.
My review bar was the 42cm compact (or as they call it, short and shallow). No matter what you call it, the compact bend, when compared to more traditional bars, reduces both reach and drop, usually in the range of a half to a full centimeter. While I’ve heard some riders deride the compact bar for making your drop position as the same as your bar top position, anyone who has compromised flexibility (rhymes with 40th birthday) can appreciate three usable hand positions. Unless you are still racing, comfort rates more highly than aerodynamics, and three usable positions is a winner.
This was my first experience with a compact bend and the big thing I noticed was how easy it was to ride in the drop position after having spent time on the hoods. The short drop from the hoods to the drops is easy to manage four hours into a ride when my hamstrings start to tighten up.
What I found most unusual about the short and shallow drop was the bend of the drop. The traditional bend is a bar that has fallen out of favor with product managers, but not with pros. No less than Lance Armstrong still runs a traditional bend bar on his bike. I prefer the ergo bend, but found the short and shallow to be a most unusual compromise. The bar bend isn’t as tight as a traditional, but because it doesn’t flatten out the way an ergo bend does, you don’t turn your wrist when in the drops. On the off-chance you may not have noticed, when using a traditional bend bar, your hands don’t bend at the wrist when using the drops, but when using an ergo bend, you hands bend sharply at the wrist. Anyone who has ever had carpal tunnel syndrome can tell you ongoing road shock makes ergo bars hell due to the wrist bend.
It took me a few weeks to get accustomed to the different bend. It seemed to reduce the reach to the levers a bit (I couldn’t figure out a decent way to measure this) and gave me a very comfortable position for descending. Under hard sprinting the bar felt unusually stiff, if not the stiffest bar I’ve used, then easily in the top three.
I assume the SL stands for Super Light. If so, mission accomplished. Price-wise, the bar sits squarely in the middle of the price range of carbon bars at $375. So the tally is: very light (lightest?), very stiff (stiffest?) and not most expensive. I like those numbers.
A few words about the SL145 stem: I’ve used a few different carbon fiber stems that have a certain amount of flex. While I don’t mind vertical flex in a stem due to the comfort it can bring, I never notice flex in that plane. What I notice is twist when I grab the levers and stand up. Years ago I had a very light, very trick titanium quill stem that twisted like Chubby Checker.
The Zipp SL145 doesn’t twist. At all. I’ve ridden it in the 120 and 130mm lengths and couldn’t detect any change in flexibility. Zipp reports the stem is made from 50 different pieces of carbon fiber in order to achieve its combination of stiffness and low weight (my 120mm weighed 152g). It retails for a cool $200.
My only criticism of the stem is the face place. I live near the ocean and occasionally I encounter an aluminum part with what is in my view substandard plating. I’ve ridden this two copies of this stem and despite judicious cleaning, my time near the beach has caused the face plate to corrode and the plating to flake off with fewer than six months of riding. For 90 percent of the country, this won’t be an issue, but those of us who live near salt air will find this phenomenon frustrating. Zipp needs to offer either replacement face plates or—better yet—they need to improve the plating on the face plate.
Taken as a whole, the SL bar and SL145 stem are truly exceptional. Light enough to keep climbers happy, stiff enough to keep the sprinters jazzed and with enough fit choices to satisfy the fussiest fit, they are a formidable combination, an inarguable choice for any rider determined to find the optimal combination of fit, comfort, stiffness and weight without having to pay top dollar.
Before I entered my first race, before I’d joined my first club, indeed, on my very first group ride I began learning that most elemental of pack riding skills, the paceline. At first, my ability to regulate the distance between my front wheel and another rider’s rear wheel yo-yoed the way the teen girls treated me when I was in high school: comeherecomeherecomehere, getawaygetawaygetaway, comehere.
Over-geared, I would mash the pedals until I was zooming for a friend’s freewheel. Once inside that breath stopping three-foot perimeter, I’d scrub speed until the riders behind would tell me they didn’t want to see my brakes move or me stop pedaling. I wondered what the logical outcome of a paceline, me pedaling nonstop and no brakes would be. I guessed it would involve someone asking what my Rh factor was.
Soon enough, I was following wheels and only occasionally diving for the margins. Then I began hearing admonitions about surging, or more correctly, not surging. I learned to avoid stepping on the gas the moment I saw the open road. A powerful male hormone singed my cortex, demanding that I lay wood with nothing in front of me but the road itself, but I learned to control the urge and with a bit of coaching, how to sense when I was clear of the wheel behind me. You see, the riders who taught me believed if you could talk, you weren’t doing your part. They called neither “clear” nor “last.”
Over the flat farmland of the South, our small group of rarely more than eight would paceline deep into nowhere and back to our cars at the edge of town. The single rotating, double paceline was our tool of choice.
Taking inventory of each of the cues they taught me, I wonder how I learned it all in a single summer. I also marvel at how easily I can fall out of practice. Knowing when to pull off from the front of a paceline is easy to forget if 19 of 20 rides are in large groups.
Sometime during that summer a friend, also new to pack riding, made the mistake of following the rider in front of him as he tried to pull off. Once the chaos subsided and the shouts cooled, the tutorial began. Under no circumstances were you to follow the wheel of a rider who had done his turn. If you were hammered, you did your turn at or above your redline and waited to detonate until you were at the back of the group. You were to drop off silently and not disrupt the rotation unless it was to give the rider ahead of you the one permissible call: “You’re in.”
It might seem easy to romanticize or even mythologize a visceral education undertaken more than 20 years ago. It probably is. However, I have an easy objective metric for just how effectively they imparted their arcane wisdom. I knocked out my first 100-mile ride (it was not an organized century) with seven other riders in five hours on a flat to rolling course. When I consider my fitness at the time the achievement was as unlikely as climbing Mount Everest without bottled oxygen while texting my BFF.
The epitome of this skill is, of course, what the Flemish Masters know: the echelon. It’s a tough variation to learn as it means not only reading the paceline, but also reading the wind at the same time. Compounding matters is the fact that it is difficult to find opportunities to take feel safe taking the whole of a lane with only six or eight guys.
The reward that comes from finding that pocket in the echelon is drug-like. Once in the slot it’s as if you downshifted a cog. Once, late into a five-hour ride another rider and I attempted to organize an echelon to get the horses in the barn a little quicker. An argument actually broke out about which direction the echelon was to rotate. Soon enough we got the leading line moving into the spike of the wind and hiding those who had just pulled off.
The greatest thing about the echelon isn’t the speed, but what it illustrates. The array of bodies paints a portrait of the wind itself. The more angular the arrangement of riders, the stronger the crosswind. Some of my favorite shots from the Spring Classics are those photos of echelons spread from gutter to gutter, the few seconds between groups a gulf too great to cross.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International