This past week the Federal Trade Commission announced a revision to rules regarding testimonials and endorsements. It’s the first revision to the rules since 1980 and the first rule change to expressly address bloggers.
The media has largely portrayed this as aimed at mommy bloggers who endorse a product after receiving a truckload of it and celebrity Twitterers who rave about shoes, cell phones, fashions and other consumers goods without letting on if the Tweet was an honest fan statement or if it was a quid pro quo trade of item for endorsement.
My personal perception is that the further into the mainstream you move the more glowing the endorsements tend to be and the less likely they are to have come without some sort of palm-greasing. (I once satirized this on BKW by calling a pair of socks “the greatest socks ever in the history of the world.” You can read the review here.)
As I’m a blogger, this new rule revision applies to me as well. It’s as good an opportunity as I’m likely to get to offer some insight into how I do things.
A boss I had some years back (Garrett Lai at Bicycle Guide) told me there was only one promise he ever made or that I would ever make while on his staff. He told every manufacturer he dealt with: “I can’t promise a good review, but I can promise that if it doesn’t arrive here, I can’t review it.” I’ve stuck to that promise and it has served me well.
There are people in the bike industry who work on the principle that everything can be boiled down to a transaction. Theirs is a simple quid pro quo world: They buy an ad and believe it entitles them to a good review. Some of them don’t even think they need to send the product to get the review, a photo and press release should be enough to get the job done, right? After all, the positive outcome is a foregone conclusion. I tend to avoid these folks the way I avoid high-interest credit cards.
The flip side is that some magazines base their opinion on your ad budget. Buy a page and the review is pretty darn good. Buy a page a month all year long and you’ve got one terrific bike. There’s a site that charges companies to review a bike. Once the review is complete, they get a video to post on their site. Isn’t that the very definition of quid pro quo?
While you may be suspicious of how other media outlets conduct their business, your concern in reading Red Kite Prayer pertains to how I do business. So here it is in fairly simple terms.
When I write about a product, the review comes about in one of three ways:
1) I wanted to try it out based on what I’ve seen.
2) The company contacted me and asked me to give my honest opinion.
3) You readers suggested something and I decided to follow up.
When I write the review, the conclusions are based on one thing alone:
1) I write as honest an appraisal as I can in the hope that I’ll make the truest, most accurate statements about the product to be found.
No matter how a review starts, they each end the same way, with something I believe to be true. There have been times when I’ve realized I’ve overlooked something (I once neglected to mention how much I hated the sound of a freehub on a set of wheels), but I try to include everything I think is relevant to the reader, good, bad or indifferent. If I think the product is overwhelmingly bad or have reason to think the item (not the product) is defective and not representative of the production run, I’ll contact the manufacturer and start a dialog.
But what about those products I reviewed and liked? Am I compensated? The short answer is no. I’ve never made a deal to say something nice about a product in exchange for cash or product. I’ve been quoted on occasion (and I can’t say that I haven’t liked it), but I’ve never said something nice expressly for the purpose of wowing readers.
Were I to say something mythically positive, a mammoth compliment for a world-changing product, but something I didn’t believe, seeing my words quoted would pain me. That would be an opportunity to say something true I had lost. Getting at the truth of a product, an experience, a person, has always been my drive. If I miss the opportunity to say something true … well, that was just lousy writing and I haven’t pursued this craft for so long to do the job “half-assed,” as my father would say.
What about schwag? It’s true that some products don’t get returned. Every bike I’ve ever reviewed was returned. When I’ve reviewed something I’ve always done so with the expectation that it would be returned. For some companies, they find value in knowing I want to keep riding it. In this age of carbon fiber handlebars, stems, seats and seatposts, that price tag isn’t exactly cheap. For more expensive stuff, I’ve often asked what to put on the check should I want to keep it. Otherwise, there’s always the UPS call tag.
For some publications, there’s been an expectation that everything stays. I saw one San Fernando Valley-based magazine’s waiver that they would test a bicycle to the point of failure, that it wouldn’t be in working condition to be returned and consequently would wind up in the dumpster. I have my doubts about the actual fate of many of those bikes; I know some wound up being sold (by staffers) on Craigslist. Plenty of guys at plenty of magazines have kept bikes.
Do we really need the Federal Trade Commission to help us judge what’s ethical? I hope not. Could the fear of a fine cause some blogs to conduct business a little differently? I hope so. Is the potential of action on their part enough to increase your faith in the job I do? I doubt it. By now, you’ve already developed a pretty good sense about what I have to say. I try to be transparent in what I write. Yes, I have my preferences; I do like bikes that are stable at speed. I like a frame that doesn’t feel dead. And all things being equal, I’d prefer the part that is lighter. That said, I try to be up front about my preferences in order to give you a point from which to triangulate.
There are few absolutes in cycling, so if you know I like light stuff that gives great road feel and you don’t mind something kind of wooden feeling and a little heavier in order to save, say, $2000, then you can evaluate my statement on a relative basis. I think it’s helpful if we’re all clear that my 10 might be your seven and vice versa.
The FTC thinks that schwag is a dirty little secret. Dirty, maybe; secret, no. The secret has been out for some time, and while not all of us do the math the same way, some of us do think there is an ethical limit to what can linger in our garages, permanent-like. The real issue is the quid pro quo. What I can tell you is this: When you read a review in RKP, it has been written with no agenda and the recommendations have been made from a sincere desire to say something accurate, something true. You’ll never see a statement made for the sole purpose of stroking the manufacturer just so I can have something for free.
The Amaury Sport Organization has announced another unusual Tour de France route for 2010. Just as the 2009 route broke with tradition and started in the south of France, the 2010 route will break with at least one important tradition. However, it will pay homage to one of the Tour’s most enduring traditions, the Col du Tourmalet in a big way.
In broad strokes, the route sounds familiar enough. There will be two time trials, the first of which is the prologue, the second being the final time trial that falls on the Tour’s next-to-last day. There are six stages in the Alps and the Pyrenees, with just three mountain top finishes. Four stages will contain what the organizers call medium mountains and nine stages will be flat.
The Tour will begin Saturday, July 3 with an 8km prologue in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. In years with even numbers, the Tour traditionally starts in a nation outside France and will ride two or three stages in other nations before entering France.
Again, in even numbered years, such as this one, upon entering France, the route typically continues a streak of cool, wet stages across the north of France as it begins a counterclockwise loop around the country. Ultimately, this results in hitting the Pyrenees Mountains first. For 2010, however, the route makes a gradual zig-zag from Rotterdam on its way to the cities of Brussels, Spa, Porte du Hainaut, Reims, Montargis, Gueugnon and Station des Rousses, before hitting the Alps first. Along the way, we know the riders will hit some hills and cobbles known in the Spring Classics.
The 2010 route features just two days in the high Alps with one, the stage into Morzine-Avoriaz culminating in a mountain top finish. The two stages will be broken up by a rest day, which suggests the ASO wants the riders rested for a second hard day in the Alps. And while the stage to Morzine-Avoriaz will fall in stage 8, on Sunday, July 11, the second Alpine stage, which will take in three Category 1 climbs before tackling the hors categorie ascent of the Col de la Madeleine will come in stage 9, on Tuesday, July 13. Set your Tivo now.
The finish in the town of St. Jean de Maurienne will be followed on stage 10, Wednesday, July 14, with what Tour organizers call a “medium” mountain stage. While exact route details haven’t been released just yet (more on that later), don’t think for a second that this will be an easy day. The route travels from Chambery to Gap and can be expected to take in several climbs in the Chartreuse Mountains before climbing through the Vercors on the way to Gap. The stage could feature a half-dozen climbs, or more.
The following Sunday, July 18, is when the real fireworks start, so if you were afraid of a repeat of this year wait-till-the-last-minute-to-determine-the-winner route, welcome to your nightmare. To be fair, the final week will be dramatic, if somewhat unusual in that the rest day won’t be at the beginning of the week, Monday, a week following the last rest day, but on Wednesday, July 21, some nine days after the last rest day. The riders should be sufficiently weary by this point.
Sunday, July 18, features the second of the mountain top finishes, with riders ascending the excruciating 2001-meter Port de Pailheres before tackling the final climb of Ax-3 Domaines to finish at the ski station there; both climbs average more than eight percent.
Stage 15, on Monday, July 19, the riders tackle what is supposed to be the second of four days in the Pyrenees, but the stage is, by Tour de France standards, relatively tame. There is but one climb of more than 1500m, the 1755m Port de Bales, which comes, thankfully, very near the end of the stage.
In stages 16 and 17, on Tuesday, July 20, and Thursday, July 22, is the 2010 Tour’s most interesting feature: Two acents of the Col du Tourmalet. On July 20 it comes mid-way into a mammoth climbing stage that features the Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet, Soulor and Aubisque. Unfortunately, the stage also features 41km of gentle downhill following the day’s final descent off the Aubisque. Whoever wins the stage is likely to weigh more than 60kg (132 lbs.), unfortunately.
On July 22, the race gives us its queen stage and while it won’t have the most climbing by meter (that came on stage 16), it will be the most interesting day of the race. Following the climbs of the Col de Marie Blanque, the Col du Soulor (both Category 1), the race will climb the Col du Tourmalet for the second time and for only the second time in history the stage will finish atop the mountain. The last time that happened was 1974.
On the first ascent of the Tourmalet on stage 16, riders will approach from the Col d’Aspin, passing through the town of Sainte Marie de Campan before ascending the Tourmalet’s somewhat easier eastern flank, passing through the ski village of la Mongie on the way to the top. However, on stage 17, riders will approach from Argeles-Gazost and climb the mountain’s more brutal western flank. While both sides average a 7.4 percent gradient, the western side is much steeper near the top with long stretches above 12 percent and the last 100m or so at 15 percent. Because there is barely room enough for the bar that sits on the scalpel of a ridge, riders will likely descend the 4km to la Mongie to meet up with support staff, team vehicles, climb the podium and, of course, give a sample for doping control.
Stage 18 gives the riders a bit of a chance to recover with a flat stage headed for Bordeaux wine country. Stage 19, on Saturday, July 24, features a 51km time trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac through the dead-flat vineyards of the world’s most famous wine country. A transfer later that day will position riders for the annual parade into Paris.
Unlike the route introduction of many previous years, the ASO did not reveal all of the route information for each stage; that won’t be done until June. For many stages, the roads the riders will travel can be deduced from the towns situated at the foot of the climbs. If the riders pass through Argeles-Gazost and less than 20km later they are atop the Tourmalet, they can only be climbing the mountain’s western flank. So why withhold information about the route? While there could be a few reasons, there is one easy answer: Tour groups.
The ASO has done what it can to cut down on tour groups poaching premium watching spots. Tour companies advertising Tour de France itineraries have been sent cease and desist letters instructing them not to advertise such an itinerary unless they pay a fee (a rather exorbitant one last I read, one that would render any such tour an operating loss). On the Tour’s web site is an ad inviting folks to become Tour de France VIPs; the link takes you to a menu of three English-speaking and one French tour companies: Englishman Graham Baxter’s Sports Tours Int’l, the Aussie operation Bike Style Tours and a newer American outfit called Custom Getaways. On the French side is Ronan Pensec Travel.
It can be presumed these four operations are getting the same (or similar) hotel selection that the teams get, which will give them an advantage over any non-fee paying operation and when it comes to watching mountain stages, it’s locationlocationlocation. A well-chosen hotel will mean the difference between riding to your day’s end and getting in a car, van or bus and riding for an hour (or three) to your hotel.
Word from several insiders is that Trek Travel’s constant poaching of premium stage watching locations (complete with fenced-off, client-only areas) and hotels so chapped the ASO, they realized they had to clamp down on everyone. While some tour operators decided to focus on other locations in July (Dolomites, anyone?), others just bill their Tours differently; Trek Travel calls theirs Lance in France, which can mean but one thing for a tour starting July 3.
So what does this route mean for the racing? Naturally, we’re not likely to see a clear leader until the final week. Strategically, Alberto Contador is likely to race against Lance Armstrong and hope, a la Bernard Hinault, that blows the race apart. Armstrong will race The Shack against Contador’s team, no matter what team that is, attempting to wear them down and isolate Contador. Saxo Bank will race the brothers Andy and Frank Schleck as two sides of the same card.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The Astana team was the single most interesting story at this year’s Tour de France because it was really the only story of the 2009 Tour de France. Without Astana, Saxo Bank would have all but raced away from the rest of the field. During the Tour the conflict emanated from Lance Armstrong’s and Alberto Contador’s dual desires to win the Tour de France. That conflict produced a lot of collateral damage; top was Contador’s relationship with team director Johan Bruyneel. Additionally, rider relationships suffered and even tension emerged between some of the riders and support staff.
Things got weirder even before the Tour ended. Bruyneel had made it known that Alexander Vinokourov wasn’t exactly welcome at Astana. Bruyneel’s lack of interest in working with Astana’s raison d’etre is understandable; he has enough trouble projecting the image that Astana is a team of clean riders without accepting into the fold a rider coming back from a two-year suspension. As a result, Vinokourov issued the classic ultimatum: him or me. So Bruyneel announced his departure and told the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, “The reason for my leaving is that Vinokourov is back riding with Astana.”
Indications are that Bruyneel and Vinokourov have reached an uneasy truce by keeping their distance; Bruyneel hasn’t been seen at races Vinokourov in which has competed. It seemed a reasonable solution—avoid each other until Bruyneel’s exit to The Shack.
Which brings up the exodus. Armstrong’s exit was quick and easy; because he was unpaid he never had a contract—boom, he’s gone. Contador wants out but as been reported ad infinitum, he’s got another year on his contract and Astana hasn’t wanted to allow him to buy out his contract. Team Radio Shack has signed Andreas Kloden, Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner, Yaroslav Popovych, Haimar Zubeldia, Gregory Rast, Thomas Vaitkus and Sergio Paulinho. Swiss riders Steve Morabito and Michael Schar are leaving for BMC. That’s 11 of 28 riders leaving only four riders (Contador, Vinokourov, Dmitriy Muravyev and José Luis Rubiera) who have competed in the Tour de France.
Not so fast. Astana management have noticed the shrinking team and have put the kibosh on the departures of Kloden, Popovych, Zubeldia and Rast. Normally, a support rider buying out his contract is as eventful as purchasing batteries at Radio Shack, but while Astana’s management may have trouble making payroll (the final $2 million installment for the 2009 season has not yet been paid), they can do the math: If the Kazakhstan government loses the sport’s most successful director and every rider who wants to leave, the only veteran left from this year’s Tour de France team will be the beneficiary of Kazakhstan’s version of Affirmative Action: Dmitriy Muravyev. Were all these departures to take place, there’s no way the team would keep its ProTour license which would make it largely irrelevant as an international statement of cycling prowess.
The surprise here is that Astana’s management hasn’t done more to bolster the team by replacing those who have left or want to leave. If you consider just those riders who have definitely left—Armstrong, Leipheimer, Horner, Paulinho, Vaitkus, Morabito and Schar—the team is decimated and needs some serious recruiting. So why isn’t this happening?
The answer may lie in Contador’s woes. He has reported that each time he has a meeting with Astana management that meeting is followed by another meeting in which the new team representative discredits the previous team representative. Contador’s brother and agent, Fran, has refused to negotiate further until team leadership is clarified. If there’s no clear management structure in place (and that seems a reasonable conclusion) then it isn’t terribly surprising what little management there is agrees every rider who can be retained should be.
As a management strategy, it’s very short sighted. Riders can be expected to assist each other at key race times because they will want to have something for their palmarés when it’s time to negotiate with another team. However, morale will suffer and performances will suffer and that will hurt their value, which is why its imperative for Kloden and the rest to get out now. Bruyneel could sit on his hands for the year and The Shack would still want him for 2011; he’d be wanted anywhere.
There’s still time for a happy ending, though not much and perhaps not quite everyone.
Without any new signings, Astana will fall below the 25-rider minimum that the ProTour requires. Without 25 riders the team loses its ProTour status (one can imagine a last-ditch effort by the Kazakhstan government to give a license to any citizen who has won a bike race). With the team’s loss of its ProTour license, Contador could invoke a clause in his contract that grants his release should the team lose its ProTour status. This is one problem a new sponsor’s money can’t solve.
How many teams would have the funds to pay Contador at such a late date? It could be a stretch for Caisse d’Epargne and Contador isn’t likely to accept a cut in pay. However, word is Jonathan Vaughters has a sponsor waiting in the wings; should he land Contador, Garmin-Slipstream becomes Garmin-Somethingelse and Contador gets paid what he’s worth. That might finally give Vaughters reason enough to let Wiggins out of his contract so he can ride for Team Sky, which has more than enough budget to pay him what he’s worth as well as give him unquestioned leadership. A confidential source familiar with the team tells me Wiggins hates the management at Garmin-Slipstream and is desperate to leave.
Were Contador to finally escape Astana a new question would arise. What then of Bruyneel, Kloden, Zubeldia, Popovych and Rast? There’s no word on whether the five have similar ProTour requirement clauses in their contracts. Even if Astana management held them hostage for a year, it is unlikely the team could accomplish much. But after all the turmoil the great irony would be to see Bruyneel manage a decimated Astana led by Vinokourov—the only two people who stated publicly they would never work together, bound to the same team.
Agence France Presse has reported the death of Frank Vandenbroucke. The one-time great Belgian cyclist who scored 51 wins in his career was on vacation in Senegal when he died. Preliminary reports are that he died of a pulmonary embolism.
Most recently, Vandenbroucke had been riding for the Cinelli-Down Under team and had been a columnist for the Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad. A byline had appeared as recently as last week.
Readers of RKP are well aware of Vandenbroucke’s troubled past. Following a stellar season in 1999 when he won Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Omloop Het Volk and two stages of the Vuelta a Espana, Vandenbroucke’s career spun out of control following an initial drug bust in 1999. His additional drug busts, DUI and suicide attempt are well documented and reducing his troubles to a handful of nouns is a disservice.
Vandenbroucke’s descent into depression and further drug use is eerily similar to that of Marco Pantani. It would be easy to reduce his story to a cautionary tale: Kids, don’t do drugs!
However, the reality is much more shocking. Our body of knowledge about the use of performance-enhancing drugs really hasn’t included the assumption that top-ranked cyclists busted for drugs will turn to recreational drugs and a plummet into depression. Following his bust, Vandenbroucke teammate David Millar says he fell into a terrible depression he buried in alcohol, but somehow he turned it around.
Could it be a pattern is emerging? Indications are Marco Pantani turned to recreational drugs following his bust for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Same for Jan Ullrich. We know Tyler Hamilton battled depression following his suspension for a positive test.
What do we have to expect from Mr. Full Disclosure, Bernard Kohl? (I’ll address his ongoing monthly interviews with new revelations in another post.)
I’ve made my peace with Vandenbroucke and the riders who won the Classics and Grand Tours of the 1990s. Given the circumstances, he was truly one of the better riders of his generation and deserves an extra measure of panache in our memories for announcing—before the race—on which hill he would attack at the ’99 L-B-L. The shot above of him at the finish has defined for many the hard-man style the Belgians are known for: the legs coated with embrocation, the shoe covers and arm warmers pushed to the wrists; only a man for the Classics can make 55 degrees look like a bright summer day.
Despite flashes of brilliance (what else would you call his second place at the 2003 Tour of Flanders), VdB never returned to his winning ways following his first bust.
Even if you hated Vandenbroucke for his drug use, I hope you can lament his death and the loss that means for cycling. He was, after all, one of our own, a guy who loved to go fast, a hard man who understood style, had a heart for the red line, and a family man who leaves behind both his parents and a daughter.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
In Part II of my interview with Steve Hampsten I get Steve to talk about several of his big loves in equipment: 650B wheels, the constructeur movement and Columbus MAX tubing. His perspective isn’t what I’d call mainstream, but his rationale is so clear that the alternative he offers is truly compelling.
PB—You’ve been at ground zero for the constructeur movement and 650B wheels. What is it about those that interests you and what practical value do you think they offer the average cyclist?
SH—Constructeur bikes—which I’ll define as a made-to-order frame and fork designed to work with dedicated lights, fenders, and (usually) a front bag and rack—have become pretty popular of late. I think they’re an attempt at creating a bicycle that will work well in the real world in terms of being usable in varying types of weather and lighting conditions, and when carrying more than just a spare tube and a gel. As a designer with a hands-on approach, I find integrating the racks, lights, tires, and fenders of these bikes to be both challenging and rewarding—each one is just a little different.
650B wheels are interesting and becoming more so each year. A 650B x 38mm tire offers roughly the same outside diameter as a 700c x 23mm tire—so it’s essentially the same wheel size that most of us are used to but with a much larger volume of air. They’re nice when riding on really rough roads, when carrying a heavy load, when you want that certain Frenchy je ne sais quois—or when you want all three. Currently I have three 650B flat-bar bikes in the works: all three designed as shopping bikes but each is taking a different approach in one form or another.
We should see at least two new 650B x 38mm tires this year—the size many feel is ideal for this wheel—and I think they’ll be better quality than anything we’ve seen previously. It’s maybe not the ideal go-fast tire size but it is comfortable, grippy, and elegantly classic-looking.
PB—How would you compare/contrast the use of 650B wheels to the newish road bike category of endurance bikes like the Specialized Roubaix, Trek Pilot and Felt Z-series which share a longer wheelbase, slacker head tube angle, more fork rake and longer head tube resulting in a higher bar position?
SH—I wouldn’t really compare them at all. The three you mention are closer to our own Strada Bianca and to the Moots Mootour/IF Club Racer/ Co-Mo Nor’wester than they are to a 650B bike like the Rivendell Saluki or Tournesol Pavé. I think most 700C bikes are good for moving a rider and (maybe) a small load over a variety of road surfaces but as the load increases—or the surface becomes less smooth—then smaller wheels with bigger tires start to make more sense. But I like that bigger companies are offering bikes that aren’t simply dumbed-down Pro Tour race bikes, that they’re entertaining the idea there might be more riding experiences to be had than simply hammering along a road in mad pursuit of … what?
PB—Let’s talk a practical consideration: For better or worse, most riders on most group rides are running a 23mm tire at 8 bar (and some guys are running pressure much higher than that). Rolling resistance is much lower than running a 28mm tire at 7 bar or less. That’s some noticeable extra wattage you have to put out to maintain pace with the ride. Do you maintain that these bikes are appropriate for most roadies?
SH—Well Patrick, I’ll have to disagree here with you here: I don’t think that skinny tires pumped hard roll much faster than fatter tires run slightly softer. I agree they FEEL faster because you’re getting more feedback from the road surface and you’re bouncing over all the little bumps and most folks think that feels like speed. I like my skinny tires for some riding and I like the fatties for other rides. I do notice the larger tires seem a little more sluggish to accelerate, which they should as it’s more weight to get moving. But on gravel or on a bumpy road, I’ll take the bigger tire as they feel smoother when rolling and more planted in corners. Horses for courses, as they say.
PB—If you could only ride one bike, a bike that needed to be versatile enough to do your favorite group rides and more, what would that bike be? What size wheels would it have? What would the geo be? What frame material? And heck, what parts would you put on it?
SH—It’d be a welded steel frame from light tubing, probably with a steel fork and for 57mm-reach calipers, same as our Classic model. 700c x 25 or 28mm tires for the day-to-day stuff, maybe 24mm Vittoria Pavé with fenders for the six damp months a year up here, 33.3mm tires for the epic rides. 73 X 72.8, 46mm rake, 70mm BB drop, chainstays at 420mm. I like handbuilt wheels, anything from the Chris King catalog, and SRAM Force is my current favorite kit. Thomson, Fi’zi:k, Deda Zero100 bars, King Cages … bliss.
PB—How many people actually work for Hampsten? Tell us a bit more, if you would, about Max and Martin.
SH—Hampsten is me as the only full-time employee. I have a part-time mechanic, Chris Boedecker, who helps with assembly, repairs, and wheelbuilding as needed. Max does the in-house welded frames and has been building our custom racks, Martin does all of our lugged frames/forks and makes our extra brazed forks as needed.
Max Kullaway started at Rhygin, then moved over to Merlin where he learned to weld – this was back in their days in MA – then worked at Seven until moving out here a couple of years ago. He’s working at a local metal fabrication outfit and also welding titanium frames for Davidson. He and fellow ex-Sevenite, Bernard Georges, have started their own framebuilding gig called 333fab—say “triple-three-fab”—building steel and ti frames for both road and cyclocross. In his spare time Max welds some frames for me, here at my shop – he’s a busy lad!
Martin Tweedy took the framebuilding class at UBI back in 1996 or so then became the first employee at Match Bicycle Company where he brazed several hundred lugged frames for Schwinn Paramount, Beckman, and Rivendell. When Match closed up he worked for Dave Levy at Ti Cycles doing Dave’s brazed frames as well as helping with the Hampsten frames then coming out of Dave’s shop. He had his own line of “Palmares”-badged lugged frames and he has built almost all of the lugged Hampsten frames since 2001. Martin is credited with creating the Hampsten Gran Paradiso/Race geometry back when we worked together at Match; Dave Levy gets most of the credit for the Strada Bianca geometry.
PB—How important is frame material to you? Do you have a preferred frame material?
SH—I like materials that can be welded or brazed. Currently I’m loving my steel frames for their springy resilience but I’m also looking forward to putting some miles in on my aluminum winter bike—I think having a light, stiff bike makes me go a little harder on the hills and maybe slows the fitness degeneration as the days get colder and darker. Titanium feels good too but I just haven’t been grabbing my ti bike as much this year. But overall I’ll take frame fit and design over material choice—I think a good frame can be built from any of the materials out there. (As a footnote: I sure liked all my carbon bikes from Parlee and I can’t imagine that anyone could do carbon better. But Parlee’s pricing moved to a point where I didn’t feel comfortable offering their frames and we parted ways amicably.)
PB—You’ve been getting into building with Columbus MAX. If there’s a stiffer ferrous tubeset on the market, I haven’t ridden it. It’s stiffer than almost every aluminum frame I’ve ridden. Is MAX strictly the domain of the big man, or does it have other applications?
SH—It’s not the tubeset that’s overly stiff, it’s what you do with it that determines how the frame will ride. We’re talking about a top tube that is 31.8mm, bi-axially ovalized, butts are .7/.4/.7mm, and the down tube is 35mm with .8/.5/.8, also ovalized on opposing axes. The seat tube is pretty standard, we don’t use the MAX seatstays, and the chainstays are tall but not crazy heavy. Overall I’d say the wall thicknesses are what we would typically use on many of our steel frames but the MAX diameters are increased by almost 10% which should give an increase in stiffness of about 20%. We don’t use the MAX forks and we save some weight by welding rather than using the MAX lugs and BB shell.
So I could take that tubing and build you a really stiff, short wheel-based race bike and we could pair it with some tall rims and skinny tires pumped hard and we could make it ride like crap—stiff enough to rattle your fillings.
Or we could lengthen the wheelbase, slacken the angles, and orient the top tube so that the oval section was flexing at the head tube, and combine with a carbon or light steel fork. I’d use some lighter seat stays, possibly replace the chainstays with something smaller, put you on some hand-built 3-cross wheels with 28mm tires pumped to 85-90psi and make sure there was enough dirt, cobbles, and/or gravel on the ride to get your attention – then you would see the beauty of the MAX tubeset.
I think it helps to be at or above 180 pounds and to not be too hung up on the weight of the bike but I think MAX is a good example of older technology that still works great today. More on MAX here.
The Hampsten name is associated with a lot in the world of bicycles. Sure, there was Andy’s career as a racer; there’s the tour company Cinghiale Cycling Tours; an olive oil company, Extra Virgin Olive Oil; and perhaps best known these days is the bike company, Hampsten. If it’s Andy’s reputation that brings people in, it’s dealing with Steve that seals the deal. He’s a warm and thoughtful guy whose desire to combine proven technology and affordability has made him a voice of reason to many who can’t rationalize a $10,000 bicycle.
I shot these photos during a Cinghiale Cycling Tours training camp in Los Alamos, Calif. The days were spent riding through Santa Barbara County and the evenings spent eating gourmet meals prepared in part by Steve and accompanied by local Pinots and Chardonnays.
PB—Let’s start with the most basic question about you and Hampsten Cycles. Where does Andy stop and you start? Specifically, how do you two dovetail your roles in the company?
SH—Andy sells bikes—mostly to his Cinghiale Cycling Tours customers—and he works with his customers in choosing the right size, model, and equipment. He helps with the fine-tuning of new models and provides feedback as we move along; he also has the unerring ability to shoot down my crappy ideas: “No, we don’t need a Hampsten mountain bike.” I’d say his customers account for a third of our bike sales.
Two of Andy’s big contributions to the company have been the Strada Bianca and what we now call our Travelissimo—our S & S-coupled travel bike. They are two of our biggest sellers and it’s a bonus that they’re bikes Andy rides himself and feels passionate about.
He’s involved with clothing design and special projects and he helped drive the recent Rich Roat/House Industries-produced Gavia poster. He has good ideas and strong instincts and he has the sense to leave the day-to-day stuff to me – I think we make a good team.
PB—How’d you get into what you’re doing and what’s your background?
SH—Well, Patrick, I started working in bike shops in 1976 and continued off-and-on for about ten years, was even part owner of famed J. Stone and Sons Cycles (I was a “Son”) in Grand Forks, ND, for a while. About 1982 I started cooking in restaurants in Madison and Seattle, focusing on French, Italian, and American food. In 1997 I started welding and working with steel and most of 1998 was spent building frames and forks at Match Bicycle Company. When Match closed down I continued welding, blacksmithing, and fabricating part-time until about 2005, but 1999 was when Andy and I had the idea that putting our name on the downtube might be a fun thing to do.
So I had been involved in batch-building lugged frames and forks and I spent some time at Ti Cycles with Dave Levy and I have a good idea of how carbon and titanium frames are built. I can braze steel and I can weld steel and aluminum but I don’t do any of it well enough or efficiently enough for it to make sense for me to be the principal builder. I could learn, I suppose, but I really enjoy what I’m doing now. Maybe someday, start brazing some lugs….
PB—Hampsten Cycles is different from some operations in that you don’t build too many frames in house. Who are your current suppliers?
SH—This year we’ll build about fifty frames, most of which become whole bicycles. Of those, about 25%, or 12.5 frames, will be built in-house by Max and Martin. Of the rest, I’m getting aluminum frames from Co-Motion, welded steel and stainless frames from Independent Fabrication, and titanium frames come from both Kent Eriksen and Moots Cycles. We’ve done some one-off titanium and stainless frames in our Seattle shop but my preference is that we stick with steel here.
I’d like to see the overall numbers creep up and I’d like to see us do more frames in-house. I love the Colorado-built ti frames because they don’t have to be painted: order the frame and—boom—six weeks later it’s ready. Ditto with the frames from IF and Co-Mo; they have excellent welders and great paint departments and they make the whole process so painless.
But there is also a beauty in designing a frame for a customer and working out the details with Max or Martin and seeing this lovely creature birthed in my own shop, then sending it off to paint and having it come back perfect. The in-house stuff we do may not be quantifiably “better” than what we get from our suppliers but the welding, brazing, and painting is every bit as good. And given the little touches we can do to each frame in terms of tube selection, dropout and casting choices, and in the details – all this makes it more of a one-off.
PB—What draws you to a particular builder—what makes you want to work with someone?
SH—I think there is a look I go for when evaluating a builder as a possible supplier: simple lines, round tubes, perfect welds/brazing/bonding, and I’ve got to feel comfortable talking with them. Some of the people who supply us are friends of ours going in but with others it’s simply a case of dumb luck. As an example: I approached Independent Fabrication at a time when we were having trouble getting steel frames. I had always been a big fan of theirs but I didn’t really know anyone there—I had ordered a fork or two but that was it. Despite seeing plenty of examples of their work it never occurred to me that I might ask them to build for us—but once I did it just seemed like the most natural thing in the world.
PB—Is each of your suppliers building both stock sizing and custom frames?
SH—Nope, everything we do right now is custom, made for a particular customer. However, I am working on a line of non-custom, less expensive frames, name as-yet undecided, and our plan is to build all of them in-house—we should see these early 2010.
PB—What differentiates a Hampsten from an Ericksen or Co-Motion?
SH—I spend a good amount of time talking to and/or emailing my customers, after which I create a drawing in BikeCAD for that customer’s frame. I spec all dimensions, angles, tube diameters, etc, then I send the drawing to Kent [Ericksen] or Co-Mo or whomever for fabrication. Occasionally, I’ll have some discussion with Kent, Dwan [Shepard of Co-Motion], et al, on tube selection or other detailed aspect of the frame—and I gain a lot from talking with these guys—but I never get the sense that our bikes really look like theirs. I have the numbers I like to work with, they have their own—it’s not like any of us are doing anything radical in terms of fit or handling but I do feel that there are certain signatures one can look for from most builders or designers.
PB—Bill McGann of Torelli once told me he relished the opportunity to hire framebuilders to build particular bikes to his spec, rather than braze the frames himself because not building allowed him time to focus on big picture issues. He could spend more time balancing the quality of tubing, build and price for a model or thinking through the geometry of a particular model relative to its use. What requires the biggest investment of energy for you on a daily basis if it’s not the act of building?
SH—My day probably looks like that of many people who run a small business: I spend a good portion of time talking with and emailing customers, both potential and those with bikes or frames on order, tidying up details and answering questions. I’m responsible for all the ordering, paying taxes/bills/contractors, making sure my insurance and licenses are in order, keeping the shop and office clean—and I do most of the new bike assembly and repairs. In my “spare” time I try to work on new models and ideas for the months ahead, things that I want to present on the website and/or blog. I write all the text for the website, answer a surprisingly large amount of emails, and have occasional writing projects like this interview right here. I’m currently working on a new website and on the new “brand.” It’s almost a relief that I’m not the guy with the welding or brazing torch or half that stuff wouldn’t happen.
As October begins to blow leaves from the trees and the European season winds down, there are two big races left in 2009. The first is Paris-Tours. The second is the race to pry Alberto Contador out of his Astana contract. This is a race with a number of riders, all hoping to cross the line with 2010’s presumptive Tour de France favorite on their roster.
First, Contador has a year left on his Astana contract, so Astana have to be favorites to keep the mercurial Spaniard. This is technically true. But if the Kazahks lose their ProTour license, and UCI head Pat McQuaid has indicated that the governing body is evaluating Astana’s licensure, they might be inclined to cash out their assets (i.e. Contador) and pull out altogether.
Whatever posturing Alexander Vinokourov has done in his comeback from a two-year doping ban is just that, posturing. No one is going to run a pro team on the back of a 36-year-old unrepentant doper. If they’re daft enough to soldier on, and remember they’ll need to sign a full roster of riders after the Lance walked off all the strongest riders for his new RadioShack team, they’ll do so knowing they’re not likely to get invited to the Tour de France, both because of Vinokourov’s past and they’re own dearth of quality riders.
Next in line is Caisse d’Epargne, and they don’t need Contador unless they believe Alejandro Valverde’s troubles with the doping authorities aren’t going away. They’ll want a horse in the Grand Tour GC race in that case. I suppose they might think of sweeping the Tours with Valverde and Contador doing the podium tap dance. That would be a good trick, but does anyone think they have the support team to do that? No. I don’t either.
Garmin-Slipstream, who won’t talk about signing Contador except to say how awesome that would be, don’t need Contador either, unless they think Bradley Wiggins is going to force his way out of the team and into a Team Sky uniform. Sky is a British team. Wiggins is British. They can offer him a uniform that doesn’t look like a preppy car accident. You can see why Wiggins would want that. In the event of Wiggo’s defection, then Jonathan Vaughters might do worse than picking up Contador as a replacement.
Then there’s Quick Step. Now this one really makes sense to me. Packed full of talent for one-day Classics, the Belgian squad only needs to add a real GC man to strike bowel-clenching fear into the rest of the peloton. Signing Contador will cost money Quick Step doesn’t have, but the Spaniard is a bankable asset. Perhaps the Belgian floor maker can secure an additional loan to do a deal. Patrick Lefevre, the team’s manager, has even promised to hold five roster spots open to hire support riders just for Contador. Really, it’s shameless.
Finally, there has been talk of Contador forming his own team, but with the Shack and Team Sky entering the fray, the ProTour simply won’t support a third brand new team, even if Contador and his handlers could pull together a passable roster in time, which they can’t. So forget about it.
These are the moving pieces: Astana’s license, Alejandro Valverde’s DNA, Bradley Wiggins’ sense of national pride, Jonathan Vaughter’s argyle sweater vest, Quick Step’s line of credit.
Everything depends on Astana. Allegedly they’ve made all the financial guarantees necessary through the end of 2010, so there oughtn’t be a repeat of 2009’s bounced paychecks. But between 2009’s foibles, the return of the pariah, Vinokourov, and the loss of so many top-riders, it might be too big an ask for the Kazakh’s to go on. Once the door is open for Contador to leave, and believe me it will be, then it’s race on.
If the Kazakh consortium behind Astana is smart, they’ll let Contador’s price rise over the next month before doing a deal. As the holiday lights go up, what Astana can hope to get in return for their prize pony will dwindle. Teams will have to finalize rosters, make out budgets and firm up plans. Astana will be seen as desperate if they hold on too long.
It may well be that Garmin and Caisse d’Epargne are just waiting to see what happens with Wiggins and Valverde before tabling their best offers. Quick Step’s best bet is to make a deal before one of those other dominoes falls, because they likely don’t have the cash to compete otherwise.
When I reviewed the Zipp SL145 previously I noted its steller performance. It’s stiff like a belt of Scotch and light enough to keep weight weenies quiet. However, it was not without flaw. My one criticism of the stem was that the faceplate corroded. Living near the Pacific Ocean, any metal part with inadequate plating suffers an ignominious demise as its surface corrodes. I can only take flaking chrome or other plating for so long before I replace the part.
At Interbike my contact at Zipp informed me that the SL145 had a new faceplate that, hopefully, wouldn’t suffer the same corrosion the old one had. I haven’t gotten any technical details on the faceplate yet, but the surface appears to be shot peened with a polished center section.
The new faceplate will be standard with all SL145 stems. Zipp has not yet determined if the faceplate will be available aftermarket, something I encouraged them to offer for those who experienced the same issue I did. If you need a new faceplate, I encourage you to leave a comment to show the folks at Zipp the need.
I’ll report back next spring with the results of my experience with the new faceplate.
Rather than beat around the bush and try to build a case for why I think Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo was incredible, I’ll just tell you straight out: This was the prettiest organized ride I’ve done in the United States.
I’ve done organized rides all over the country. My barometer for beauty demands one basic feature—elevation change. Without it, you don’t get many thrilling vistas. As a result, most of my top 10 prettiest events are held in California.
Previously, my top three were the Tour of the Unknown Coast in Humboldt County, the Tour of the California Alps (also known as the Markleeville Death Ride) outside of Lake Tahoe, and the Mulholland Challenge in Malibu, in that order. They’ve been bumped down a notch now.
More than 20 years ago, the increasingly ambitious Coor’s Classic expanded to California. One of the roads it used was King Ridge Road in western Sonoma County. It’s a road that has been consistently cited as one of California’s gems, but talk of Sonoma County cycling usually fails to mention just how challenging the road is.
King Ridge Road may have been the crown jewel in a stunning ride, but it was only one road. The descent into Jenner was the most beautiful seaside descent I’ve done.
I had a succession of flats that day (something I’ll address in another post) and so any hope I had of turning a fast time got dashed. As a result, I gave myself permission to stop for photos from time to time, rather than just shooting from the saddle.
With 3500 riders on the road at once, there were riders in view at all times, and despite getting in to the last two rest stops on the later side, they were still well stocked. Nearly as impressive as the ride itself was the number of volunteers who turned out to help. Police manned each and every intersection, ensuring everyone turned the correct direction and allowing safe passage to the riders free of traffic.
The concept of a timed century has been slow to catch on in the United States, despite its incredible popularity in Europe. Its time has come. If Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo is any indication, racers are beginning to see the value in a timed century as opposed to yet another industrial park crit.
This is one ride I’ll definitely be back for.
By the time I walked out of the Interbike show last Friday I was threadbare. My feet hurt like they never did when I went on long hikes in the Boy Scouts, but then, I was 30 years younger and the trails a good deal softer than the polished concrete floor of the Sands Convention Center.
Each year at the end of the show I have this nasty habit of walking through the parking structure on my way to my car during which time I will suddenly flash on all the companies I never met with. This year was a bit of a switch in that the flashes I experienced were of the companies that I realized hadn’t had a booth at the show.
I was shocked when I couldn’t find Ochsner Imports on the map. I was embarrassed when I thought back on having seen Rudy Reimer, my contact there, in the Italian Pavilion and told him I’d meant to make an appointment to see him, but that I’d drop by later. His response: “Yeah sure.” It seemed a little brusque at the time, but then my statement had probably seemed ingenuine. What a gaff.
I had expected to see Red Rose Imports, the distributor for Carrera, Olmo, and Nalini’s custom clothing line. I had expected to see custom clothing manufacturers Verge, Pactimo and VO Max at the show. It’s not uncommon to see a line like Serotta or Independent Fabrication be at the show for a year or two and then drop out, only to return the following year, but again there was no Indy Fab. Serotta was at the show but sharing booth space with Ford, to what purpose I’m still not sure, but when I did my initial search of exhibitors online, they didn’t turn up. I must have flubbed the search or just couldn’t read at the time.
Cervelo put on a very nice reception/party Thursday night, and while I had several fascinating conversations, I didn’t have any interesting/substantive conversations about the Cervelo line of bikes, which was, after all, my bigger mission at Interbike.
Cross Vegas was a great race and a wonderful event with more than double the turnout of the first year I attended, but I was tired enough by the time the men’s event got underway I would have been happier back at the hotel, getting ready for the next day. Each day I heard people tell stories about being out drinking and carousing until 3, 4 even 6 o’clock in the morning. Those who can pull it off have my admiration (and a fair dollop of envy). I try not to be a spoilsport, but even having the opportunity to write about such a fun industry is something I regard with gratitude and I don’t want to be falling asleep as I load photos, or am trying to string together subject and predicate to form comprehensible sentences. Writing good (well? decently?) stuff is a great enough challenge even when firing on all cylinders.
Most of the manufacturers I spoke with said they weren’t writing orders at the show. Their reps had done that already. Most retailers confirmed that practice and said their only reason to be at the show was to actually see their lines in person for the first time, or to check out other lines they were considering picking up. A few told me that they probably wouldn’t be back next year.
Interbike says numbers were up this year, despite the down economy. That might be true from an objective perspective. However, from my little crow’s nest, this was the weakest Interbike show since I last went to the Philly show back in 1995.
A great many manufacturers I spoke with refused to speak on the record about their challenges with Interbike. The two biggest complaints were: too little return on investment and too little time with the dealers. More and more companies are focusing their efforts on marketing directly to the consumer in print, online and sometimes TV advertising. And rather than constantly searching for new dealers, most manufacturers are working to strengthen their relationship with the dealers they have. A dealer even gives them a captive audience for days, not an hour.
The good news is that dealers are a savvier bunch than they used to be. Interbike used to be the perfect place to sell a line based on the parts spec of a bike. Most dealers I spoke with told me the questions they ask now aren’t about parts spec and frame material but about support. What kind of support will they get; what will the dating be?
For manufacturers, Interbike is most useful for selling a new dealer on your line. Existing dealers can be addressed in large dealer events like those Trek, Specialized, Giant and Cannondale have or they can be reached out to with on-site visits with a demo fleet the way Specialized, Cannondale and Felt already do. Everyone seemed to agree that Interbike wasn’t a good atmosphere for education.
One aspect of Interbike I haven’t heard addressed elsewhere is how Outdoor Demo has changed the nature of conversations between shop staff. It used to be you’d hear retailers ask each other, “Have you seen the X?” Today, the question is, “Have you ridden the X?” Cycling ought to be a meritocracy and word of mouth between the people in the trenches can cause a powerful stir.
I like Interbike. I loathe Las Vegas, but I’ll go wherever the event is held. I like seeing the people, the new products, and watching how the industry trends. That said, I came away from this year’s show convinced that Interbike isn’t meeting the needs of manufacturers or retailers. Many people I spoke to go because they don’t have a better alternative, not because it meets their needs. There’s no one to blame for this; it’s not a matter of the folks at Interbike being asleep at the switch. Rather, the market is evolving and while people seem to agree that there is a need for a trade show, to be considered a success (not just passable), Interbike needs to meet the needs of a changing industry.
So here are my suggestions to the folks at Nielsen Business Media, the owners of Interbike:
1) Why not focus on a solely Outdoor Demo format? It’ll cut costs dramatically for manufacturers and give many companies an added incentive to offer more bikes to ride at the demo, thereby cutting down on the amount of time waiting to get bikes to ride, which would give riders more time to ride each day. Getting through more than eight bikes in a day was tough for most riders.
2) Were Outdoor Demo held in a space large enough, booths could be arranged in a large oval to keep those walking between booths on the inside of the oval and those leaving for rides on the outside of it. Think LAX—cars on the inner loop, planes outside the loop of terminals. This would cut down on the crush of bikes and walkers weaving between the 10×10 tents.
3) Leave Bootleg Canyon. Given the number of facial lacerations I’ve seen at the show the last two years, some of the trails are way beyond the skill level of at least some of the riders, but the blowing dust is hell on bikes, contact lenses and cameras. Were Outdoor Demo held somewhere a trifle more pleasant, say Marin County, equipment wouldn’t suffer so and there might be fewer injuries and a bit less sunburn. I know that Las Vegas is king because of the low airfares and plentiful and cheap hotel rooms, but if the show better met the needs of all attendees, I bet you’d sell space to Trek, Specialized, Giant and Cannondale. And if you were selling space to them, you’d be selling it to Cervelo, Felt, Seven, Lynskey, etc. And if all those companies were present, retailers wouldn’t pass it up, even if it were noticeably more expensive than this year’s trip to Vegas.