I shot more than 200 images
today yesterday and there’s no way to both upload all of them now AND sleep tonight. So I’ve selected a group of portraits I shot. They were fun and the subjects delightful. Or maybe they are delightful and the subjects were fun. Regardless, as tired as I was when the show ended today, I didn’t really want to walk out.
Leading off the set is Sacha White of Vanilla, who I caught while he was making a small adjustment to my favorite booth of the show.
Jay SyCip, who manages Chris King’s Cielo program.
Jeremy SyCip, these days the one-man show behind Santa Rosa’s SyCip Cycles.Mike DeSalvo of DeSalvo Cycles relaxing during a calm moment.The ever practical Carl Strong; Carl’s aesthetic looks for function long before it seeks beauty. As a result, his frames are austere, but warm to the business end of the peloton.
Even if we never remembered Don Walker’s famous fillet-brazed frames, as the organizer of NAHBS, his place in the frame building world would be assured. If he wasn’t doing NAHBS, he’d be doing more frames.
David Wages of Ellis (it’s a family name) hangs out and talks to fans.
Frame building’s favorite iconoclast, Richard Sachs.Nick Crumpton gets excited.
It’s late. I got a late start and scrambled to see everything and nothing at once. I’ll fill in more in the coming days. The above seat cluster is by Mark DiNucci. It was some of the best lug work I saw today, performed by an absolute master.
I can’t tell you where or how I first heard of Assos apparel. It was some time in the early 1990s. What I can tell you was what lodged in my memory of the conversation: the emphatic assertion that Assos was better than anything I’d ever tried. It was as if a friend told me, “Look, I know you think The Who are the greatest band ever, but these guys are 10 times better and once you hear them, you’ll agree. Just trust me on this.”
Eventually, I located a catalog and saw that they made bib knickers with a synthetic chamois. Holy cow. After some more searching I learned that the only remotely convenient way to order a set was through O’Neil’s Bike Shop in Worcester, Mass. I called, discussed sizing and trusted them when they said to go with large (I’d never owned a large anything in cycling apparel), gave them my credit card info after taking a painfully deep breath and waited all of two days for the knickers to arrive.
The bibs were cut from Roubaix Lycra, and as this was the early 1990s, they were the first bib anything I’d ever seen to use the material. The front of the bib was cut high to give your torso extra insulation and they included a short zipper to help you when you needed to answer the call of nature. The pad was unquestionably superior to anything else I’d ever rested my undercarriage on. The cut was cycling’s answer to Armani, just impeccable. They changed my fall and spring riding in New England.
I still wear them.
As great as Assos’ jerseys, jackets and other apparel are, they are known for their bibs the way Ferrari is known for fast. Honestly, though, because their stuff lasts so long, it had been a while since I tried any of the current models. I elected to go with the F.I. Mille S5 bibs because they are made for the long day.
I’ve worn a bunch of bibs in the last two years. Some have been good. Some have featured Lycra thinner than saran wrap. The first thing I noticed about the Milles was the weight of the Lycra. It was substantial, like it was made to last.
The pad is made by Cytech, purveyors of the Elastic Interface brand of pads. Rather than this being yet another off-the-shelf (though often wonderful) pads, the unit contained within the Mille bibs is unique to more than Assos; it’s unique to these bibs. The golf-ball dimples are intended to relieve pressure and speed moisture transfer away from your netherest of regions.
The key to the Mille’s mission as a bib for all-day riding is the density of the foam used in the pad. I can tell you it offers greater support without increased thickness compared to other bibs, but that assessment may still seem subjective. Instead, I’ll offer this: It takes the Mille bibs a full day longer to dry on the rack than any other bibs I own. However, the pad’s most important feature isn’t the dimpling or the density of the foam; rather it’s the fact that it is manufactured with a cupped shape.
I’ve tried bibs with an allegedly anatomic curve before and noticed no significant improvement over traditional flat-made chamois. The Mille pad amazed me with its ability to keep everything situated just so without giving a corset-like squeeze. According to Assos’ internal research, the pocket of the chamois decreases pressure on the gear by 20 percent. How they arrived at this quantification, I can’t say, but I can tell you the claim has legs.
Between the foam and the cover of the pad is a thin mesh panel sewn in place to decrease sideways stretch. This is meant to keep the pad in position on the sit bones; it is Assos’ observation that if a pad stretches too much your sit bones can wind up between the two densest portions of the foam, as if you were slipping into a toilet seat that is too large. This wouldn’t be necessary in some shorts, but they feel it’s needed in these due to the high stretch factor of the Lycra.
Stranger still is the fact that these bibs are cut from just four (4!) panels. There are bibs out in the world with so many panels, I’ve lost count. In talking with the folks at Assos they tell me that the key to the success of the Mille bibs is the orientation of the fabric panels so that they stretch in the directions the body requires. I’m told that their patterning is hell on efficient use of the material, but they manage to make it work by incorporating the scraps into items like gloves.
With only four panels, the subject of seams and how they are finished loses importance because the opportunity for irritation has been cut so drastically. The actual bib portion of the shorts is made from an exceptionally lightweight polyester with a waffle-type weave, again, for moisture movement away from the body.
For all those of you doubtful that you possess the kind of cyclist’s body ideal for which Assos clothing is typically cut, these bibs, I can assure you, offer virtually all cyclists a chance to go Swiss. They come in six sizes—small through TIR (which is what they put on the back of trucks in Europe to indicate wide loads). I wear large in Assos, Castelli and Panache, but medium in most American lines. Draw what comparisons you may.
While the bibs I reviewed were basic black and required no special treatment in the laundry—that is, nothing beyond the basics of cold, gentle, hang dry—they do come in other colors including blue, white and red. And let me tell you, there are lipsticks and Ferraris that wish their red was as lust-inducing as the red found in Assos garments.
I’ll admit that I had largely made up my mind about whether or not I liked the Mille bibs within four or five seconds of pulling the straps over my shoulders. The combination of support and comfort was unlike anything I’d ever felt. Five hours later when I got off the bike the undercarriage was two-hour happy.
The grippers on the Mille bibs are dots of silicone spaced approximately every 2cm around the leg band. I’ve never had trouble with grippers the way some of my friends have, but I suspect that some folks may find these more comfortable than some of the grippers out there. Or maybe not; it’s impossible for me to say.
The reflective tags that protrude from the centerline seams at the front and back of each leg are well done and will certainly aid your visibility to alert drivers. But probably only the alert ones.
Assos takes a lot of guff for making products that are (to some) incomprehensibly expensive. Last fall at Interbike I had the opportunity to talk to some of Assos’ higher-ups. The message was loud and clear. They are driven to make the very best clothing they can. If it costs more, so be it. COO Carl Bergman told me that he works long hours and doesn’t get to ride as much as he’d like. When he gets on the bike, he wants every minute to count; he wants an exceptional experience.
“This is our passion,” he told me. I got the impression that he’d leave the bike industry rather than compromise on principles.
To help convey the belief that these aren’t just another pair of bibs, Assos takes an unusual approach in packaging them. They come in a box (okay, big deal), but in that box the buyer also receives a washing bag, laundry soap and a container of Assos’ beloved chamois cream. Think of the purchase as a starter kit rather than just a pair of bibs. There’s no doubt that paying $260 for a pair of bibs is a lot of money, but I think they do an admirable job of conveying the idea that you’re getting your nickels’-worth.
Consider for a moment my tale of the bib knickers. Suppose for a moment that you purchase a pair of Assos bibs and they last five seasons. How many other bibs do you own that have lasted that long? I expect that with reasonable care they will last even longer than that. Amortized over the life of the garment, $260 isn’t such a bad investment. My last pair of Voler bibs may have cost 25 percent of what the Mille bibs do, but they didn’t really even hold up a full season. C’est la vie.
My one criticism of this garment? It’s actually a criticism of Assos as a whole. Their naming conventions are arcane to the point of lacking meaning. I’ve got a graduate degree—in English!—and until their staff identifies a piece by name, I swear I don’t know what to call it. This is where they ought to take a page from BMW’s playbook. Their model numbers do a face-value service to identifying the rank of the vehicle within their line.
My personal experience with the Mille bibs is that they are as close to flawless as I’ve experienced. There’s no question they are superior to anything else I’ve worn.
Of course, such a positive review leaves RKP open to the criticism that Assos in effect purchased this review by virtue of the fact that they advertise on the blog. As I’m sensitive to any and all criticism the blog receives, I can say I don’t need the hassle that comes with selling editorial. I have been paid to write glowing copy for a fair number of manufacturers; in each and every case, I was a hired gun and as such, my name wasn’t attached. I believe in what Assos creates and I believe in their quest to continually outdo themselves.
When I get to the end of my life, I may not have enjoyed driving a Ferrari, tasted Chateau d’Yquem or finished a Grand Tour, but I can say I got to log miles in Assos clothing. That’s more relevant to my personal bucket list.
It’s not Alberto’s fault. He peed in a cup. His pee went to Germany. Some Germans found things in the pee that ought not be in pee. It was bad pee … you know … as pee goes. And so, chaos ensued.
Let us not rehash the chaos in full, but let me provide you this brief synopsis: pee>adverse analytical finding>consternation>press leak>rumors>sanctions>bureaucracy>more bureaucracy>politics (i.e. more bureaucracy)>interminable wait>proposed suspension>acquittal.
Since the acquittal, which is provisional in as much as there are still periods of appeal and counter-appeal to be slogged through, Alberto’s name has been closely associated with, depending on your viewpoint, cheating and/or justice. He has been much maligned, and also much revered.
But Alberto and his pee, such as they are, aren’t really that important to the story. They are only the messenger.
The story is really about everything that’s wrong with professional cycling. The truth is that some professional cyclists take prohibited drugs to improve their performances. The system in place to stop them from doing that doesn’t work very well. The authorities charged with enforcing the rules are incompetent or complicit. Interests are conflicted. The federations, teams, sponsors and riders can’t get together on solutions. Enforcement varies wildly depending on the country you happen to be from. The processes are slow, plodding and interminable. Even the semblance of fairness does not exist.
This is the story. It is a sad one. It’ll even make you angry, if you let it. This story will go on and on and on. Like a classic Russian novel, the names of the characters will change. Allegiances will shift. Alliances will form and break. All the foibles and failings of this human species will find expression at some point. Count on it.
Right now, Alberto is only the messenger. He is just one character for better AND for worse. Don’t shoot him. It won’t help anyone.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Bike Effect is a new bike studio in Los Angeles (Santa Monica, technically), one of only two in the city and the only one on the west side. Owners Steven and Alison are also the place to find Rapha clothing in Southern California. On Saturday, they hosted Slate Olson and the Rapha Team for the first-ever Rapha Gentlemen’s Ride in L.A.
It was the perfect opportunity to see the full Rapha line in person. Pieces I’d only dreamed about were on display in every color available. With plenty of coffee and pastries (they had the best croissants I’ve had in L.A.), roughly 50 riders fueled up for the coming ride through the Santa Monica Mountains.
The big climbs of the day were Topanga, Fernwood and Saddle Peak, followed by the descent of Stunt and the climb up Piuma and Schueren and back over Saddle Peak before the final drop down Tuna Canyon.
Naturally, there was a bit of curiosity concerning just whether or not a ride on a gorgeous day in SoCal could constitute a Rapha ride. Those concerns were alleviated when it began raining on the descent of Stunt. Based on appearances, there were plenty of people used to wet, but not used to wet and downhill at the same time.
The concept store business model takes a certain amount of heat from cycling enthusiasts. On the one hand, they tend to be beautiful stores. Merchandise is well-displayed, everything is clearly priced and their stock is often relatively consistent (i.e. they tend to keep your favorite tire in stock). Of course, the critical view is that they are homogenized, expensive and squeeze out any line that is remotely competitive with the primary line, be it Trek, Specialized or Giant.
Cynergy Cycles is a Specialized Concept Store in Santa Monica, California. In an attempt to help break the perception that a Specialized Concept Store has very little that isn’t Specialized, they invited customers and representatives of a few of their European lines to come and mingle one evening. As I’m a fan of anything a shop can do to break up the business-as-usual approach, I made sure to drop by.
The Buru promises to be the only top you’ll need on a moderately cool day.
Handlebar Coffee Roasters is a new line of coffee and café in Santa Barbara.
The owners are former PROs Kim Anderson who won the Route de France in 2009 and Aaron Olson who won stages of the Tours of Ireland and Poland among other achievements. Both are alums of Bob Stapleton’s High Road (previously T-Mobile) formation. They are genuinely charming folks with a real passion for coffee.
Despite all the hullabaloo surrounding the Contador verdict and the Armstrong retirement, I really, really, really needed to focus this week’s Group Ride on something cycling-related, rather legalistic, medicinal or scientific. This need derives not so much from a lack of interest in the former, but rather in a desire to push back the tide of outrage and despair as regards our sport at its pointiest end.
You see, I rode my bicycle this morning. After my plaintive cry of a post earlier in the week, I have been gifted some good weather. Flesh has seen sunlight. Vitamin D has been absorbed. It’s not yet Spring really, but we’ve been given a taste, and for that I am thankful.
So rather than roll around in the misery and controversy, I thought we should talk about riding bikes. After all, as I sped (oh, yes, I sped) across town on my faithful Torelli, neither Alberto nor Lance was riding shotgun. I encountered no blood bags or McQuaids. Cycling, it must be said, doesn’t depend on any of those persons or things.
And so, with all due apology to our readers in the Southern Hemisphere, this week’s Group Ride asks: What are you looking forward to this spring? Is it a long ride, a return to regular training? A big race perhaps? Have you allowed yourself to utter the names Het Volk or Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne yet? Has razor met leg? Is there a new bike in your near future?
Share your hopes and dreams with us. Wax optimistic. Start now.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
I want to wear less clothing. I don’t want to ride nude (insert your own saddle sore joke here), but about half of what was required this morning would be a delight. Today, there are bib knickers, baselayer, midlayer, windproof jersey, wind tights, under socks, wool oversocks, shoes and toe warmers. Two pairs of gloves. A skull cap and wool over hat. Oh, and a jacket.
To that end, I want some warmth; 40 degrees (F) will do. Not the 12 I encountered at ride time today. Just enough that my sweat won’t threaten hypothermia at a long traffic light. Let me not seem greedy. I need no langourous Bermudan heat. Just a temperature not expressed in negative degrees centigrade.
I want a lane. It need not be painted. It need only exist, a space between here and there in which to roll. A dry, flat substrate, bereft of ice, sand and salt. An unpocked surface, without the sand traps and water hazards of a PGA golf course.
I want time. Not the half hour I have to dash from kindergarten drop off to early work meeting. I want hours. Multiple. To roll and roll and roll. To purge my weary mind of its weariness. I want to ride up and out of the city, to where the smell of cow shit hangs in the air, to turn around at a coffee shop that also sells shotgun shells.
I want a champion. Not a litany of chemically-enhanced avatars. I want to watch races and forget there are rules. I want to un-know the names of UCI officials and blood-modifying serums. I want to read stories that contain no quotes from lawyers or PR reps.
Wanting is wishing, and wishing is dreaming. My roots, in the hills of mid-Wales and the cities of New England, have taught me not to dream too big. There comes a point where your subconscious sets the bar so high that real world disappointment is the only inevitable result. I want to be a better me, but I have given up on x-ray vision and the ability to fly.
I just want to ride.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The Spanish Cycling Federation has determined that Alberto Contador is innocent of doping charges. The four-member panel hearing the case elected to rule based not on the presence of Clenbuterol in his specimen, but on article 296 of the UCI doping regulations that stipulates:
If the Rider establishes in an individual case that he bears No Fault or Negligence, the otherwise applicable period of Ineligibility shall be eliminated.
The important verb here is “establishes.” It’s not quite “proves” but it’s a fairly high standard. Article 22 states:
The UCI and its National Federations shall have the burden of establishing that an anti-doping rule violation has occurred. The standard of proof shall be whether the UCI or its National Federation has established an anti-doping rule violation to the comfortable satisfaction of the hearing panel bearing in mind the seriousness of the allegation which is made. This standard of proof in all cases is greater than a mere balance of probability but less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Where these Anti- Doping Rules place the burden of proof upon the License-Holder alleged to have committed an anti- doping rule violation to rebut a presumption or establish specified facts or circumstances, the stan- dard of proof shall be by a balance of probability, except as provided in articles 295 and 305 where the License-Holder must satisfy a higher burden of proof.
The Tour Down Under
Langkawi. Qatar. Down Under. These are the new code words for the early season. There was a time when conjuring the spring for the PROs used terms like Besseges, Omloop or Nice. Today, early season races like the Tour Down under or the Tour of Qatar give riders a chance to enjoy racing in warm weather at a point when nearly all of us are doing what we can to muster the fortitude to head out the door for a ride that even for the luckiest among us may only nip the 50s. And with the winter we’ve had this year, many riders can’t really even contemplate trying to ride slick 700C tires on the roads and the dream of riding in weather that isn’t frozen is just that—a dream that will go unfulfilled this week, next week, and probably some weeks to come.
It’s difficult to watch someone lead a peloton in short sleeves over a sand-washed blacktop or through monsoon rains. Difficult not only for the fact that the PROs are flying along at 40 mph or more as if they were motor pacing, but difficult because our options are fewer, usually involving either a thermal jacket or the trainer.
We look to the gods of the peloton for inspiration, something us to help suck it up and get out for four of five hours when it would really be much easier just to stay in with a book and the family. We want to see them in jackets and tights or arm warmers, vest and slathered with an embro that could melt the paint off your car.
Little can make us appreciate their suffering more, or wish to emulate it more than a long, quiet shot of the peloton rolling along at 22 mph, the riders hands on the bar tops, the leaders evenly spaced across across the front with the order of bricks in a wall. You tell yourself: See?! Even the PROs know how to keep it in check in the early season.
Never mind the fact that 30 miles from the finish the pace will ratchet up to the fury of the Tasmanian Devil, we love the juxtaposition. After all, nothing can make the peloton seem faster than having seen them ride slow. And that’s what we need right now. Whether you’re braving the elements or the trainer, it’s so much easier to summon the strength necessary to suffer when you know someone else is out there, someone you know is tougher, stronger and more dedicated. That’s the very font of inspiration.
Of course, there’s always the chance that seeing the peloton enjoy weather of which we can only dream may inspire us to log miles no matter how miserable it is outside.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International