Woodsmoke is one of my favorite aromas. Its first charry scents on the breeze signal the advent of winter. It also takes me back to the camping trip on which I met my wife, but that’s a different topic.
Pine is another scent I quite like. It’s that Christmas tree smell. Some people get it from the paper air freshener dandling from their rear view mirrors, others get it by dragging a freshly cut tree through their front door in advance of the holiday.
Fresh coffee puts off a nice bouquet. And while it’s a fragrance I appreciate year round, is it ever really better than on a cold morning, when the brew’s stimulative properties are enhanced by the warmth it imparts to your hands?
Of course, my dog smells bad, as dogs are wont to do, but I bury my nose in his neck anyway. It’s a stink I love. I’ll not list the stinks he loves.
Down in the garage, citrus degreaser mingles with lubricant to create a perfume I think of as “bike.” It clings to my tools and tool box, to the floor around my work stand, to the work stand, to the drive trains of all my bicycles. It’s a heady aroma that fairly suffuses the air down in my private bike shop. It’s a smell, to me, like grandma’s cookies, one that says ‘home.’
This week’s Group Ride is about smells. What are your favorite cycling smells? Where do you find them? Why do you like them? What do they say to you?
I’m going to let you in on a depressing little secret: Most people don’t read. It has it’s upside, though. I don’t think it’s possible to publish too many books on cycling, the Tour de France, indeed, even on Eddy Merckx. Those of us who actually read will swim in enjoyment while those who don’t read won’t threaten us with the sudden influx in interest in, say, Eddy Merckx’ stellar 1972 season (though you’ll be able to read more about that in the upcoming issue of peloton magazine).
I say that because I’d like Jean-Paul Vespini to write a whole set of books on the major climbs of the Tour de France. In addition to The Tour Is Won on the Alpe—which is about l’Alpe d’Huez—I’d like to see one on Mont Ventoux, and others on the Ballon d’Alsace, the Col du Galibier, the Col du Tourmalet and the Col de la Croix de Fer.
Of course, I don’t think Vespini would want to do that. The thesis of The Tour Is Won on the Alpe is that no single mountain has been more pivotal in the Tour de France than l’Alpe d’Huez. It’s a line-in-the-sand thesis. It really doesn’t leave any room for nuance.
Vespini uses the very facts of history to lay out how each time l’Alpe d’Huez was included in the Tour de France, it’s role wasn’t just important, it was downright pivotal. He shows how winning the stage won’t ensure victory in Paris; rather, pulling on yellow in the town of Huez is a sign of things to come.
It’s a charge not without its romance. If you are a Tour hopeful, you had better be prepared to deliver greatness on the Alpe. If you can’t muster there, history has shown your hopes are just fantasies.
Of course, history will show Vespini’s theory isn’t bulletproof. Laurent Fignon’s first two ascents of l’Alpe d’Huez ended with him pulling on the maillot jaune and keeping it straight to Paris, though in ’89 he only kept it until Paris. Greg LeMond losing the jersey on l’Alpe d’Huez only to take it back in Paris doesn’t follow the script.
It is that single fact more than any other that makes me want to see Vespini take his ability to connect dots and form theories and apply his considerable intellect to the Col du Tourmalet. How many other climbs have appeared in the Tour de France more often than the Tourmalet? After all, there are a million routes through the Alps, but any route through the Pyrenees that doesn’t include the Tourmalet seems incomplete.
What would Vespini say of other mountains? What would he discover?
Beyond refreshing our memories of the stages up l’Alpe d’Huez, Vespini does much to show how behind-the-scenes maneuvering made l’Alpe d’Huez a fairly regular part of the Tour. These are lively characters in a fascinating town. The stats he amasses over the years are a who’s who of greatness; that Laurent Fignon holds the record for the most high-placed finishes (five) is yet another indication of just how great le professeur really was.
As winter reading goes for cyclists, I think it’s only fair that prose should conjure the July sun to remind you of the sting of sweat in your eyes. Vespini’s book is a veritable greatest hits collection from epic days of the Tour de France.
Data-less riding is in vogue these days. Rolling around with no computer and only the feedback of lactic acid to tell you how hard (or not) you’re going has a minimalist appeal. Think of it as the fixie romance for those with legs too big to fit in skinny jeans. (Dude, come on, even Robin Zander wasn’t that skinny!)
Where was I? Oh yeah, sans details. I do get the appeal. I was once in a Specialized Concept Store and discussing the merits of a wattage device with a prospective customer. What I said wasn’t helpful to the sale: “If your hardest training is on group rides, wattage doesn’t matter. When the move comes, either you’re there or you’re not.”
So it goes with riding hard. Either it was hard enough, or it wasn’t. And if it wasn’t, it’s likely all you did is delay your next opportunity to train hard enough. For those of you struggling to get more than a few hours of riding per week, this perspective might be less helpful than gasoline to a firefighter. Apologies and all that; there’s a wheel review coming shortly.
I have tended to find computers and heart rate monitors most useful as a governor to my efforts. It’s easier to go too hard on a recovery ride than it is to gridlock Congress. I remain a big believer in using data to keep from overtaining and in these parts you can group ride yourself into overtaining in less than half a lunar cycle. The Easy-Bake Oven isn’t that easy.
Even for those who don’t want data overload on their rides, riding five or six days per week deserves to be tracked for the sake of planning recovery rides and rest weeks. Of late, I’ve suffered from two broken GPS units and have thus used my iPhone and the Map My Ride iPhone app to keep track of my riding while alleviating me of the self-doubt that plagues me every time I look down at those little numbers. Oh, the questions!
How much longer can I maintain this pace? Is the pace high enough? Why isn’t the pace higher? Should I be hurting this much? Is my form declining?
In a bookcase I have notebook after notebook of old training data. Most of those accumulated miles are unremarkable, but there were rides among them over roads and routes that I no longer recall. To have a full range of digital data on all those rides is something that I … well, I wouldn’t kill for it, but I might squash a bug or two.
When Map My Ride hit the Interwebs a few years back I was stunned to see someone finally offering what MotionBased had promised circa 2004. As a registered map nut (I get lost in maps the way some cooks get lost in the kitchen) I get an unnatural entertainment from looking at my route on a map. I love playing back in my head the climbs, turns and descents.
As I mentioned both my primary and back up GPS units threw a rod and, as a result, I’ve been using my iPhone to track my rides. It’s a nearly ideal solution for me. I’ve been relieved of knowing exactly how fast I’m going, which is bad news more often than good, and I still finish the ride with a file detailing my ride. Better still is the fact that I don’t have to download it to the site as the iPhone app does that for me within seconds of climbing off the bike. I bought an external battery to extend the life of my iPhone so I can ride for more than three hours, to boot.
I’ve looked at each of the services that allow a cyclist to download training data. For strictly training purposes, Training Peaks kills Map My Ride, but because I’m not trying to race anymore, and few people I know are training as seriously as is necessary to really utilize the full suite of features of Training Peaks, Map My Ride strikes me as a better overall package for most riders. I completely geek out on the mapping and elevation profile features. The social media aspect of Map My Ride makes it a powerful way to connect with friends as well, whether you’re just posting your rides to Facebook or connecting with other riders who seem to be on your riding wavelength.
When I contacted them to get a few images, they asked me to mention that they’ve got a couple of deals going for the Holidays. I dig this site. I dig their CEO (he’s a halogen bulb even in a room full of high-wattage incandescents) and I dig that they’ve been willing to take feedback from me on features they should add.
The first is:
Buy any new Premium membership and receive a FREE invisible Bracelet membership for one year!
Invisible Bracelet is a competitor to Road ID, but with an important twist. IB is creating a database of users so that emergency service providers have a complete set of contacts for you and your loved ones. Whether it’s a standard everyone adopts remains to be seen; regardless, it seems a powerful way to reach out to families in the event of an emergency. Learn more here.
The second is:
Gift your loved ones a Premium membership for a special discount price of only $19.99!
MMR is offering their bronze membership benefits as a “special holiday deal” for only $19.99 (regularly $29.99, and said to be a value of more than $71.00 given the monthly access price is $5.99). Learn more here.
My point: Killer Christmas Gift.
At the top of the steepest hill is the water tower. In the pre-dawn, six small lights bob and weave up the hill towards the tower, like a handful of winter moths drawn to a pulsing streetlight. Those six lights are six riders, strung out in line, strongest to weakest. They are training. In the dark.
The winter moth is one of very few moths that is active in the cold.
I am an ardent cyclist. As a New Englander, I pride myself on pushing the edge of winter cycling. Very few days pass without me throwing a leg over a bicycle. But you will not find me spinning my way up to the water tower in the blackness, looping at the top, diving down and hitting the hill again.
Winter Moths are considered an invasive species in North America. I find them stuck to the front door, sheltering in the heat of the lantern that hangs beside it. They sit quite still, even if, as my five-year-old is wont to do, you squash them. The are stubborn, intractable and persistent.
The only reason I know there are cyclists on the hill at that time of not-yet-day, is that my dog’s bodily functions sometimes force me from bed and out into the park before the alarm clock administers its daily shock therapy. Standing there at the edge of the road, dog urine steaming from the frosty grass, I watch six souls, heartier and more committed than I am, slogging their way up that cruel incline.
“There go the winter moths, ” I say to Eddie. He wags his tail and turns for home, where it’s warm and smells of brewing coffee.
What I most admire about those cyclists who ride the steepest hill over and over while the rest of the neighborhood sleeps is that they are completely anonymous. I have never seen Hushovd or Hincapie, Cancellara or Contador on that hill. If the winter moths are racers, it is at a level that will never be subjected to the hortatory stylings of Liggett or Sherwen. It is with no support vehicle, no soigneur to kneed tired muscles before work.
The pro peloton is full of hornets and fire flies, riders with the strength to sting and the style to dazzle, but then, they’re paid for their efforts. As this off-season grinds toward the New Year, we will see more and more of our heroes tweeting about training camps on Grand Cayman and Mallorca, and all the while the winter moths will be riding.
Straight up the steepest hill. In the dark.
Bike companies will, in some cases, say almost anything to cajole you into buying their product. From suggesting women (or men) will swoon in your presence to the possibility that victory is assured, marketing efforts have been known to make claims that would be laughed off even by those who still believe in Santa. You knew about Santa, right?
Oops, my bad.
In 2008, I was doing oodles of copy work for a bike industry company that shall go unnamed. That spring, I had a ringside seat for one team’s journey through the Spring Classics. Along the way, Zipp had some notable wheel failures, particularly at Flanders and Roubaix. I was able to gather that some folks were mad of the hopping variety.
That anyone would risk their most important rendezvous of the season on as-yet unproven technology struck me as undue sponsor influence. What else could explain a situation going so seriously south as Magnus Backstedt’s double pinch flat at Roubaix?
For the better part of the last year I’ve been hearing about how the redesigned Zipp 303 conquers the problems encountered in 2008 and 2009, how this wheel is literally twice as good as the previous wheel. What has surprised me about the presentations I’ve attended with Zipp staff has been how forthcoming about the wheel’s shortcomings in 2008. They really don’t hide the fact that the wheel didn’t do the job then. There wasn’t an ounce of spin-doctoring from the staff.
Such honesty is really refreshing.
Zipp enlisted Ben Edwards (formerly TestRider.com, now of peloton magazine—and yes, I do freelance for peloton and know and like Ben, but I have no incentive to promote this effort) to create a documentary that would help them catalog the improvements they made in a set of wheels that went from shattering the hopes of a former Roubaix winner to actually helping Fabian Cancellara win the race.
At 16 minutes, it’s short enough to be considered, uh, short, but in-depth enough to be bike-geek fascinating. I can smell spin faster than I detect skunk spray, though I like the scent no better and this is as devoid of it as any promotional film I’ve ever seen.
Even if you have no interest in paying thousands of dollars for a set of Zipp wheels, the film makes for interesting viewing for anyone curious about how products are developed, especially carbon fiber products.
Check it out here.
Thor Hushovd image by Tim DeWaele
Disclaimer: Mad Alchemy is an advertiser here at RKP. We hope you won’t be too surprised if we happen to like their products; it was our belief in their mission that made the relationship possible.
Checking out embrocations is a bit like candle shopping. The very first thing I do is unscrew the top and then bring the jar right up to my nose and inhale deeply. I enjoy the mystery of trying to figure out what ingredients have been combined witches’ cauldron style to give those creations their unique scent; it’s quite like wine tasting. As a candle shopper (and Yankee Candle fanatic) I never found candles labeled “Douglas Fir” terribly interesting. One-note creations lack depth and the adventure of figuring out the unique elements the give the blends their character. Show me a candle named “Christmas Cookie” or “Autumn Harvest” and I’ll show you a candle with some depth.
So it was that when I received the new Mad Alchemy Chris Jones Signature Blend that I opened the top, inserted my schnoz and breathed in what I detected were the very flavors of summer. It was distinctly mellow smelling and while that designation was more about the heat factor, I couldn’t help but think that descriptor was just as apt in metaphor. Coconut. That was the dominant tone of the scent and brought back memories of countless stunning beauties from my youth wearing Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion. Beneath that was the uncomplicated yet rich fragrance of vanilla.
The label sports a pastiche of the perennial favorite surf wax, a brand whose stickers transcended surfers themselves: Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax. While the connection between summer and surf wax made a certain amount of sense to me, it wasn’t until I went to the Mad Alchemy site and read Pete’s description that I understood the intersection point between Chris Jones, surfing and this embrocation. Aha!
Because how you apply an embrocation will affect just how hot it is, I have realized that I need less of a Mad Alchemy embro on my legs to get the job done than I would use with most other brands. The friends who taught me had learned the old-school Euro method of applying enough embro that their legs gleamed with a glossy car wax look and remained slick to the touch. I’ve found that if I apply that much Mad Alchemy to my legs the mellow will carry me into temperatures I don’t think of as, well, mellow. Pete rates this as being effective from as low as 35 degrees to as warm as 70. In my experience, I wouldn’t use this if the temperature was above 65 degrees and I go light on it if the ride is going to be three hours or less. I applied this before the San Luis Obispo Gran Fondo and eight hours layer it was keeping me warm on the drive home. Pete credits the embro’s staying power to ultra-fresh ingredients he was able to source for this blend.
One word of caution: Shea butter has a rather orangy tint to it and that can leave visible marks on white Lycra should you choose to wear some on a cool day.
This is one of those rare embros where, at least for me, the scent alone conjures the heat of a summer day, ensuring my comfort no matter what it’s like outside.
A 4 oz., recyclable jar goes for $21.95 and 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Just Go Harder Foundation.
The Tour de France’s promotional caravan has been part of the race’s spectacle longer than most of us have been alive. In an age when terms like “leverage” and “ROI” had yet to be invented, the promotional caravan gave the Tour’s organizers a way to “monetize” the race and generate revenue from more than just the sale of newspapers.
For more than 10 years in the 1950s and ’60s, one of the Tour’s most distinctive attractions was an accordion-playing woman named Yvette Horner. The Serbian immigrant serenaded the bystanders and played at the podium presentation following each stage.
During the 2010 Tour the Amaury Sport Organization resurrected her Peugeot van that ferried her through each stage. The van was turned into a monument to her. Inside there are photos of her with Tour greats as well as shots of her playing her accordion while wearing the sombrero that became the trademark of her look.
Taped to the dash of the Peugeot is a shot of Horner with Louison Bobet.
Horner is said to have been a particular favorite of Bobet’s; there are numerous photographs of them together. She saw 11 Tours, from ’52 to ’64.
The shot above is from 1961 and Horner is present as the Tour’s father, Jacques Goddet, congratulates Jean Gainche, the wearer of the green jersey for most of the ’61 Tour, though Andre Darrigade would wear the jersey in Paris.
Before the Peugeot van was commissioned, Horner was ferried in a Citroen Traction Avant, seen above. Here presence was initially sponsored by Calor, a maker of electric irons, hair dryers, space heaters and other household appliances. Later, she was sponsored by Suze, a bitter aperitif.
For those who appreciated the pastiche elements of “The Triplets of Belleville,” Horner was immortalized in the accordioniste Rosie Riviere (a play on “Rosie the Riveter”), and Citroen’s Traction Avant was the basis for the car the gangsters drove during Madame Souza and Champion’s great escape. The Traction Avant was a front-wheel drive car, which is the basis for the joke of why the cars lost traction and flipped over backward on the steep hills of Belleville.
And while it might seem that Horner should have faded from both memory and history, CDs of her albums can be found on Amazon. She could play!
The Giro LX LF is a pair of gloves I’ve written about previously. I loved them the first time around, even at $70 per pair. And while that price isn’t what I’d call cheap, these gloves feel nothing short of extravagant. I can understand how someone might not choose to indulge in a pair of these, but maybe hint to their sweet one that a pair of gloves, such as these, would be downright memorable.
Giro recently updated the styling on these gloves. They now have two different styles, one being the all-black ninja and the other replaced the black palm of my previously-reviewed pair with a white palm.
These are PRO, not in the classic sense of something you’d expect to see gracing Eddy Merckx’ palms, but PRO in the ‘I’m going to wear the most comfortable and stylish cool-weather glove I’ve ever encountered’ sense. As much as I liked the originals, the white palm totally does it for me.
Of course, white has its, uh, challenges. I’ve worn my pair nearly daily for about a month (not quite). Long rides, short rides, hard and sweaty rides. Below is EXACTLY what they looked like this afternoon.
I’ve made no attempt to clean them up. They aren’t new-undies white anymore, but outside, in sunlight, they are close enough for the peloton. What’s their temperature range, you ask? I’ve worn them into the mid-40s and been grateful for them, though the combination of a hard ride, temps in the 60s and these gloves is a bit much. On easy rides, I can wear them into the upper 60s.
These may not be the coolest long finger cycling gloves crafted from leather ever made. I’m okay with that. But if you know of something better, don’t tell me. I’m satisfied with these.
Papa needs a brand new bag. I mean that literally. I need a new commuter bag. I have three or four jammed into the front hall closet, but none of them is answering my needs quite the way I would like.
I have a North Face day pack. It’s small, and it makes my back sweaty, and I have packed it full of climbing shoes and chalk bags and tape and harness and all that other stuff that makes it not usable for bicycle commuting, but pretty good for quick rock climbing trips.
I have a small messenger style bag made from used sail cloth and salvaged inner tubes made by Teamwork Bags. I stenciled an image of Fausto Coppi on its pristine white surface, and it’s very stylish, but also very small, and not entirely water proof, and it just won’t do for wintertime transit.
I have a medium-sized courier bag from Chrome, the Metropolis, which is capacious and durable, but not that comfortable. I am a fan, generally, of the courier bag, because it allows me to access storage while in the saddle, but the one-shouldered burden begins to wear me down and the cross strap constricts my breathing (when tight enough to secure the load), which makes climbing difficult. We have a love/hate relationship, like Oprah and cake.
There have been other bags of course, either handed down to nephews (my original courier bag), or given away to a friend (a Pearl Izumi, purpose built courier backpack), but none of them has been so overwhelmingly awesome that I’d buy a replacement.
This week’s Group Ride asks the questions: What bag do you ride with? Do you love it? What do you love about it? Why did you buy it? What could be better about it? What would you buy right now, if you were buying a bag?
I am hoping that your valuable input will guide my search and Santa’s sleigh. Most of my riding, since the arrival of those two irascible little demons I call my sons, is commuting and/or errands. I carry a bag on the bike so often that when I don’t, I feel a bit naked. So this is an important question.
My current thinking is a largish, waterproof backpack, but I am swayable. I defer, mostly, to your wisdom. The only thing I will not consider is panniers. I just don’t like the way they feel (or look). BUT…if you’re a pannier-devotee, I want to hear about that too. Tell us why.
I cut my teeth as a mechanic wearing a blue Shimano shop apron with a Park Y-wrench in my right hand. Somewhere along the line I figured out how not to wind up slathered in buff-colored Campy grease or (worse) the black of road grime chain lube sludge. The upshot is that I outgrew the need for a shop apron, though they never really stopped being handy for keeping tools within reach at all times.
What I didn’t think would ever change was the usefulness of the Park Y-wrench. Of course, it’s not that 4-, 5- or 6mm Allen bolts are no longer used (well, the 6mm has gotten rather rare); rather, the materials from which those bolts are made and the objects they seek to secure have gotten as delicate as the attitude of a two-year-old child shy on sleep. I’m just sayin’.
I still have two Park Y-wrenches; one has got to be nearly 20 years old. It’s still useful, but the need to use a torque wrench to secure most of the bolts on my bikes means that when I’m doing bike work I keep the Effetto Mariposa Giustaforza torque wrench in my back pocket with the 4mm bit inserted and the 5mm bit in my pocket as well.
That I struggle to secure seat binder bolts to arcane torque ratings such as 5.4Nm seems ridiculous. I don’t fault the torque wrench which seems reasonably precise. I just wonder who came up with these crazed ratings and why. I mean, aren’t they using all the same torque wrenches as the rest of us? I can barely tell the difference between 6- and 7Nm, but it doesn’t stop me from doing my diligent best.
I’ll admit $175 is a lot to spend on a tool that doesn’t require an electrical outlet. However, I see the tool not for its expense, but its savings. What this could save a rider in frames, seatposts, handlebars and stems (and even some saddles these days) is far more than the cost of this one tool. Think of it as an insurance plan with a single payment.
A few years ago I reviewed the Effetto Mariposa Giustaforza for BKW. Absolutely nothing has changed since I reviewed it, but I came to the conclusion that if I plan to offer as many gear reviews as possible between now and the end of the gift-buying season, I ought to include a few items whose usefulness transcends their newness.
For riders doing even modest work on their bikes, I believe the versatility of the tool and education in just what constitutes tight makes it as indispensable as a water bottle.
If you’re shopping for the cyclist in your life, this thing isn’t an extravagance, but the clearest possible way you can find to tell your loved one that you care that he or she rides on a properly maintained (read safe) bicycle.