Let’s see what’s on my list. The winter is coming, and I’m going to need pieces and parts to deal with it. I need a new hardware kit for my Planet Bike fenders. All the screw tops are stripped out, because I put them on and take them off too much. I’m going to get a pair of TRP V-Brakes for my cross bike. When it gets colder and icier cantilevers become little more than an ugly, brake-lever-actuated noise.
I need new winter gloves, too. I’m going to try Craft’s Siberian this go round. I like a super warm glove that allows me to have control of all my fingers. I have a kajillion hats, but I’m going to add an Ibex Coppi wool hat, cause managing sweat and odor in the winter is really a matter of having enough wool to ride a new hat every day.
More wool. More wind front tights. Probably another pair of gloves, too. Just because.
With Interbike in the rear view mirror, America’s velo populace has visions of electronic derailleurs dancing in its collective head. We’ve seen what’s coming (assuming it ever gets to market) and we want it.
This week’s Group Ride isn’t a premature launch into winter, necessarily. That’s just what I’m looking at as I gear up. Those in warmer climes have other things on their mind.
The question is: What’s on your list? Is it a new bike? Which one? Some new components? Are they electronic? Some new clothes? What’s caught your eye? Give us your list and tell us why each thing is on it.
When I review a bike, I tend to hit the “road feel” aspect of a bike’s ride pretty hard. I’ve done it enough and gotten enough subsequent questions about just what I mean and what I value that it seems high time I spend devoted some pixels just to the subject of road feel.
It used to be that road feel or “ride quality” was an indispensable dimension of any bike review. Even Bicycling Magazine would address it in their famously brief reviews. Those publications that devoted more than a couple hundred words to a review tended to spend more time defining not only a given bike’s ride quality but also made an effort to assign some sort of value to the quality. I’m not seeing much conversation on the subject these days, save the reviews Ben Edwards pens for peloton magazine.
While it may seem that ride quality and road feel may be essentially two different phrases for the same phenomenon, I do see them differently and I believe historically that “ride quality” was often used to define not just the feel of the frame material, but the interplay of that material with the bike’s geometry. In a nutshell, I use road feel to address the sense of road I get based on the frame material alone. It has nothing to do with the frame’s overall stiffness.
So any discussion of road feel is limited to the sense of road the bicycle’s frame imparts to the rider. Many of the bike’s components can affect just what you experience. Ride a bike with 100 psi in the tires and then ride it again with 140 psi in the tires and you could be forgiven for believing you were on a different bike.
Bar, bar tape, seatpost, seat and tires will all affect road feel, but none of these will usually have the effect that a significant change in tire pressure will bring. Additionally, different shorts and different shoes will affect what you experience as well. When reviewing a bike, I never get the chance to normalize for more than wheels and tires. I’ve got a set of wheels I know intimately and have some trusted open tubulars on them. That will zero out the wheel/tire combo. Ride a bike long enough and you’ll even see through differences in shorts. All that aside, the most important feedback you get comes through your feet and butt.
Okay, so all those factors can skew what you feel, but that doesn’t answer the central question of why road feel matters.
I’m fascinated by road feel because it is one of a handful of the dimensions of a bike’s overall composition that can affect how I descend and corner. When a bike is pushed to its performance limit, road feel can have a profound influence on just how far I’m willing to go.
People will use descriptors such as “lively,” “dead,” “springy,” and even “razor-sharp” to discuss the way the bike feels as they ride it. That feel is road feedback. Think of your frame as a pair of glasses and the road as the sky. The frame you ride is essentially the lens color of your glasses. You can ride a frame that blots out most of the sunlight to tame a sunny day. Or it can be a high-contrast yellow lens for the low-light situations you find on early morning fall rides. And whether you choose a dark or light lens, the quality of that lens will determine the clarity with which you see.
While this may be obvious almost to redundant, the road surface has a huge influence on just what you experience. The smoother the road, the less input you get and the deader the bike will feel. Some amount of texture is helpful for descending and cornering.
When I first started reviewing bikes, my sense was that the changes I experienced in road feel related almost entirely to frame material, that all bikes created from a frame material were sort of static in feel. However, the market was being flooded with new steels and I quickly learned that some of the new oversize steel tube sets (such as Columbus EL-OS Nivacrom) felt different from older stuff (such as Columbus SL). Even though the material density was the same, the bikes felt different.
So why was that? The best information I have from engineers is that it was related to wall thickness. If density remains consistent, a thinner wall will transmit more vibration. Increase wall thickness or decrease density and the feel changes. Titanium is half as dense as steel; aluminum is a third as dense as steel.
But the vibration transmission is affected by other factors. Butting makes a huge impact on road feel. No matter what material is used, if the tubes are straight gauge, the bike will have a harsher feel; more vibration will radiate through the frame.
So what constitutes good road feel and how much vibration should a frame transmit? Well, there are a variety of opinions on this. The French manufacturer Time does all it can to eliminate as much road vibration as possible; they include materials like Kevlar to make the frames mute to vibration. There are other manufacturers, such as Specialized, Cannondale, Felt, Look, BH, Parlee and even Bottecchia that offer bikes with a nude finish; that is, decals and no paint. No paint means an absence of 80 to 100 grams of material that contributes nothing structural to the bike. When you’re talking about a potentially 800g frame, that means 10-12 percent of the bike’s weight does nothing to contribute to strength or stiffness. You might as well just wrap the frame with electrical tape.
While 80g of paint is a liability in the weight department, the presence of paint does an interesting thing to a bike’s road feel. It deadens the frame. Not terribly, but it does fundamentally change just how the bike feels.
I’ve had the opportunity to ride bikes from a couple of manufacturers with paint and then with a decal-only finish. The difference in feel has to do with high-frequency road vibration. It’s that high-frequency stuff that gives you the greatest sensitivity to the road conditions. And though Trek doesn’t offer (so far as I’ve seen) a single nude-finished frame, it’s absence suggests less that they aren’t concerned with road feel and more that they aren’t confident in the cosmetics of their unpainted frames.
While I could try to illustrate the point of sensitivity with the analogy of a condom, let’s go with a stereo instead. On a traditional stereo with volume, bass and treble controls, if you turn up the bass and then turn down the treble, you wind up with gangsta rap—a pumping sound that has little definition. Carbon fiber frames with nude finishes feature a little less volume overall (because the frames feature an incredible amount of internal butting at junctions) but offer clarity that can only come from keeping the treble cranked up. Think of top-40 radio and the way those melodies can carry even when played on a lousy department store PA.
The Trouble With Color
Painted carbon can look amazing. It can also give a manufacturer the opportunity to cover blemishes in substandard work. It even offers a very minor degree of impact resistance. But it does nothing for road feel.
Bikes like the Specialized Tarmac, Cannondale SuperSix EVO, Felt F-series and BH Ultralight feature next-generation carbon fiber construction that has eliminated the use of foam in junctions where compaction has traditionally been a problem. Internal forms help make sure the bike achieves optimal material compaction. I suppose there are others using these techniques, but these are the bikes I’m aware of so far. Tap a fingernail on the down tube of one of these bikes and you’ll hear a distinctly metallic sound. The greater the material density, the higher frequency the sound. Both frame strength and road feel benefit.
It’s easy to conclude that greater high-frequency sensitivity is strictly an aesthetic preference and that one can make a strong case for a frame that stamps out vibration like ants in a kitchen. Unfortunately, there are objective reasons to seek out a frame with less vibration damping.
If your goal is a frame that maximizes strength while still achieving a competitive ~800g weight, you have to go with a nude finish. I’ve yet to come across a bike that offers the strength and weight equal to the world’s top frames that also feels dead. I’m so glad. But, God, how I wish Cervelos were available in a paint-free scheme.
A final note: One needn’t ride on the roller coaster roads of Malibu to make use of the benefits of superior road feel. I try not to push bikes to the point of breaking the tires loose (at least, on the road), but when the roads are wet, a bike that gives me great feedback will help me get down a descent faster. And as a rider, the greatest challenge I ever face on two wheels is riding in the rain. Descending in the rain? Nearly guaranteed flow state, and it’s times like that I want all the data I can get, even if it’s 100 percent right-brained.
The last few weeks have been crazy enough that I’ve got a few different bike posts I’d planned to have up before Interbike that, well, I’m just now getting around to.
To some degree these are going to go up in reverse order of how the events have actually taken place. First up is the Cervelo S5; it will be followed (shortly) with reviews of the Focus Izalco Pro and Cervelo R3.
The S5 reviewette (new word, you heard it here first) came about as a result of Mark Reidy of True Communications. Mark is handling some endemic media duties for Cervelo and had the bright idea to get a bunch of S5s in different sizes and then host a bunch of writers to an afternoon ride in the canyons of Malibu.
Why more PR/marketing types don’t do this is an absolute wonder. If they did more of this, we’d be less inclined to call them hacks.
We met at the Starbucks that practically sits in the shadow of Pepperdine University (also known as the site of Landis’ Last Stand). Sit here for an hour and you’ll see someone paparazzi-worth. I’ve seen Pamela Anderson, Tony Danza, a Brolin, and scores of minor celebs whose faces I recognized but whose roles were as lost to me as the name of my kindergarten teacher.
In the interest of full disclosure, Mark reminded us to bring our pedals no less than three times. Remember them I did. The shoes? Uh, a cat attempting to escape short-circuited me and I left the shoes behind. That’s not really the disclosure bit; this is: I did the whole ride in Vans and pushing giant downhill-style platform pedals.
The loop we chose had plenty of climbing. They were roads I know well and even though the shoes were wrong, I could tell plenty about the bike from the bar and saddle. The short answer is that I was surprised by my experience.
I’ve spoken with Phil White on a couple of occasions about his company’s designs. When last we spoke the S5 wasn’t yet out, but the S3 was. I’d told him about my review of the SLC-SL, which was the single most unpleasant-riding carbon fiber bike I’ve encountered. I could have more fun in front of a firing squad. White was adamant that the S3 would be a different experience. In riding the S5, I rather skipped a generation of development.
Latigo Canyon Road is a 12k climb and a fair bit of the asphalt is less than perfect. I know how my own bikes feel there. The only detail the S5 shares with the SLC-SL is that both are rather aerodynamic. Where the SLC-SL makes rough road feel like pavé, the S5 leaves it at rough. I’ve ridden other non-aero carbon fiber bikes that were less forgiving.
It was apparent in talking to him that White really favored Cervelo’s aero designs over its popular R-series. Honestly, I think they’d discontinue the R bikes if it wouldn’t hurt their sales. It’s an impression Mark backed up. He told me they don’t understand why someone would choose an R over an S.
Part of this has to do with what they understand about aerodynamics versus what most of us don’t understand about it. I’ve been told by several engineers and product managers that all the significant gains in bike design in the future will be in aerodynamics. The only way to make a bike significantly faster will be to make it more aerodynamic.
My response to the assertion that I should go with an aero road bike has been my regard for my undercarriage. I like it. I want to keep it. I want to avoid unnecessary scar tissue in my nether regions.
Is the S5 as comfortable as an R3? That seems to be the $64,000 question. The short answer is no. It’s not as comfortable. But it’s not the Muy Thai beating that I’ve come to expect either.
That minor loss of comfort was the most apparent difference to the R3 I’ve been riding. It’s difficult to try to quantify the aerodynamic gains; I’d have an easier time getting a feel for that on group rides. Time spent at the front of a group ride is where I get my best feedback on aerodynamics.
The crisp handling I’ve come to revere in the R3 was present in the S5. I was afraid it might not handle well on descents, but given that I did 45 mph coming down Decker Canyon in Vans, I’m going to suggest is indication that I was comfortable with the bike’s handling. I’ve gone faster, but never in sneakers.
You know what I’d really love to try? Either the R3 or the S5 in nude finishes—just decals, no paint. The liveliest carbon fiber frames I’ve ridden feature no paint. That’s for another post, though.
The aero road bike was a screwy idea five years ago. It was still bleeding edge two years ago. Today, I think the idea has come of age. There’s still a weight/torsional stiffness penalty with these bikes, but they are so much better than they used to be bikes like the S5 really don’t deserve to be compared to creations like the SLC-SL.
I’ve got to give White and his partner Gerard Vroomen credit. They have really taken a stand on aerodynamics. The aero road bike is something of a mission for them. They really don’t care what you think; they believe you’ll be faster on an aero bike, and from all appearances, they care more about your speed than your opinion.
For reasons unknown, this past Sunday, The New York Times ran a story on crashes in pro racing. It’s something I’ve been thinking about since this year’s Tour ended. Mostly because the reasons that most proffer don’t really explain what’s going on.
The Times article is here.
The biggest problem of all is that we’re relying on anecdotal evidence, and the Times is no different. The reporter gathered his anecdotes and offered them up. Ten deaths since 1995, though few mentioned because, they apparently aren’t worth mentioning. Thankfully, he does point out that no one is investigating. Seems to me that this is a matter for the UCI and the professional rider’s union (CPA) to investigate, but he doesn’t ask Pat McQuaid, nor CPA chief Gianni Bugno what they’re doing about it.
If racing my bike was my job, I’d want them investigating. At the very least, maybe an investigation of the reported crashes at the Giro, Tour, and Vuelta. The three big stage races. Maybe looking at them can help point to things that might merit further research.
With the Tour, the biggest cycling stage in the world, every team has an incentive to ride aggressively, everyone wants an opportunity to get in front of the camera, everyone wants a dig at a stage win, just about every racer is probably thinking, no matter what their assignment is, if they just do one more thing, they might be able to score yellow, just for a day, and it won’t derail their team leader’s chances at his stated goal. Seems like a recipe for lots of crashes.
Stakes are highest for most riders and teams at the Tour, no doubt. But there are big crashes at the Vuelta and Giro as well, and they often take out a favorite, or two. And every year, there are crashes at the Tour, and crashes at every race. Every year at the Tour, and other big races, favorites are either caught up in the crashes and drop out or are caught behind them and are knocked out of contention before the critical stages or sectors begin. We’re not always paying attention in other races. But somehow, this year seemed different. There were lots of explanations; the most interesting I read was a cleaner peloton is both more evenly matched and more fatigued.
Maybe more evenly-matched causes some problems, but more fatigued I find hard to believe. It strikes me that such a comment assumes that every last cyclist was doping, because otherwise, the clean cyclists would probably have been more fatigued ten or fifteen years ago than they are now. Even if every last cyclist was doping, there is plenty of evidence that there are both high-responders and low-responders to doping products, EPO in particular, and the low-responders would presumable be at a greater disadvantage than they are today, assuming a cleaner peloton.
I think it’s safe to rule out road conditions as being a big problem, as road conditions are generally better today than they were in the past. I also think it’s safe to rule out “road furniture” on the transitions in and out of towns for most crashes. I know the road furniture theory is a popular one, and the awful Craig Lewis-Marco Pinotti crash at this year’s Giro has been attributed to road furniture, but even their crash deserves at least a little questioning. Was there any footage of it? I couldn’t find any. Maybe road furniture is responsible, but maybe it was just what they hit and the cause was something else. Maybe the crash would have been worse had it not been for the road furniture. I have no reason to doubt either person’s sincerity, but unless we have a better idea of what happened it seems premature to assign blame.
To me, another strike against the road furniture theory is that at this year’s crash-ridden Tour, it didn’t seem like any crashes were the result of road furniture; most of the heavily-reported crashes seemed to have happened on straight roads or in the mountains. There’s also evidence that the Tour and other big races work with local governments to remove some traffic circles and speed bumps where they think their removal will improve safety. I noticed what appeared to be traffic circle modifications during the World Championships as well. I think it’s safe to rule out narrow roads, as not only were wider roads once seen as a culprit, but narrow roads were once all the peloton used.
I’d like to offer up a few alternative explanations to the common cries.
It’s possible that crashes are as common as they’ve always been, but that broken bones are more common today than they used to be, making the crashes more serious and more frequently race-ending. As such, I think one potential culprit is osteopenia. If you haven’t heard of it, consider it osteoporosis lite: bone mineral density is lower than normal. I think it should be considered a factor in all crashes where bone breakage occurs, whether it is in training or racing. Anecdotally, there seem to be more and more stories about guys breaking bones in training crashes the past several years. Even “normal” cyclists can have reduced bone density as a result of all the miles they put in, so a Tour rider, particularly a climber who has meticulously starved himself down to his ideal race weight, probably has thinned his bones beyond what the average mileage-hound has done. I heard physiologist Allen Lim discussing hearing about crashes and thinking that every crash has the potential to break bones during a Grand Tour. When I put it to Dr. Michael Ross, a former team doctor, he unhesitatingly said, “yes.” It also could be a sign of cortico-steroid abuse, something Dr. Ross pointed out, as the result is same. Yes, these guys are racing hard, yes, they’re going fast, yes, they’re hitting the ground hard, but looking at how emaciated riders like Brad Wiggins and Chris Horner are at their Tour weight, I have to imagine their bodies catabolized bone matter to keep going. It strikes me as an evolutionary strategy that certainly helped early humans survive famines, but it also could be how crashes are breaking collarbones, ribs, pelvises, wrists, hips, and so on. For all the discussion about injuries resulting from race crashes, lots of guys seem to be breaking bones training; Dutch rider Robert Gesink had his season ended for him shortly before the World Championships when he fractured his leg while out training.
Some have suggested the culprit could be the machine itself. The bikes don’t seem to be the problem as catastrophic failures from normal riding have largely disappeared, and it’s hard to believe that a bike breaking after hitting the ground is injuring riders. Others point to stiffer wheels and too-light bikes, but I doubt those lines of thinking. I’ve seen little evidence that wheels are vertically stiffer than they used to be, which would be where the problem would lie in straight-line crashes. Tires are just about the same today as they were 25 years ago, and bikes still flex and tire pressure can be adjusted to account for stiffness. Steve Tilford speculated on his blog that some of the sketchy downhill riding was due to racers not training on their race wheels. He may be right. But I think the problem might extend to all racing. Not all carbon-fiber braking surfaces brake equally well. Some are grabby, some pulse, some give the unsettling feeing they’re not slowing down, even in the dry, some work fine in the dry but are questionable in the wet. Most pros can only ride the wheels they sponsors want them to ride, so they could be stuck between taking the risk of crashing or taking the risk of getting dropped more easily. I think many amateur racers would take the same risk, at least in the dry. People might suggest disc brakes, but I even with discs, tire traction, or lack thereof, will be a problem in the wet.
Another potential culprit is the training schedules of racers. At one time, pros probably raced much, much more before showing up to the Tour—the Tour came after both the Vuelta and the Giro and racers typically raced from February into June with smaller training blocs in between. Yes, they might not have been as fast as racers today, their training and nutrition wasn’t as precise, but by racing, they were training themselves to be more skilled in the peloton. And now the peloton is bigger. Riding in a pack takes skill, a skill that is honed by practice, unless there are some Wii games I don’t know about. Some weekend warriors in the US race more than Tour contenders between the start of their season and the Tour. Consider that this year, Chris Horner didn’t race at all between his victory at the Tour of California in May and the start of the Tour. Alberto Contador didn’t race at all between his Giro victory and the Spanish nationals, where he raced the time trial and road race, and then came to the Tour.
Or maybe the converse is true. Cadel Evans barely raced all spring and seemed to be able to race his few races with no crashing issues, though his preference is to race at the front. Maybe the pack as a whole are better bike handlers today and more comfortable riding closer to one another which makes it easier to crash several riders at once when one thing goes wrong.
The biggest issue is probably randomness, volume, and the nature of riding in the peloton. Just take an assembled group of cyclists, 189 riders is 21 teams worth, and have them ride an average of 100 miles a day for three weeks. Even if they were all riding solo, there would be crashes. Knowing how many riders go down in training and how frequently would be interesting to know, and something to compare to all the race crashes.
Some point to the packs being bigger as a culprit in crashes. There could be something to this, though the phenomenon of large fields began in 1986 when 210 riders started. And this time probably is when the super-large fields started occurring at the top races throughout cycling. Previous to this, it seems that races were in the range of 30-50% smaller and largely composed of teams racing in their home country—the Tour with French riders on French teams, the Vuelta with Spanish riders, the Giro with Italian and so on.
For riders, racing is their job and they owe it to themselves to demand research to determine what the real issues and culprits are. At the same time, they probably shouldn’t push for any changes until serious research is done. As a response to the extreme length of the 1987 Tour (22 teams of nine riders apiece riding 25 stages totaling 4231km), there was a movement to standardize the lengths of Grand Tours and shorten stages. This was seen as doing, among other things, reducing the incentive to dope. We know how that worked out.
Race radios are sure to come up as a safety thing. There’s no easy answer with them. Yes, directors can alert their riders to dangers up ahead, but there are downsides to trusting the voice in your ear. What if the director is wrong? What if riders interpret silence to mean everything is safe ahead? When hard helmets were first mandated by the USCF in the 1986, there was an argument that people would take more risks because they knew their head was safe. That never made sense. But I read a story about Erik Zabel’s role for the HTC-Highroad team. Supposedly he’d preview the stage finish and then relay what he saw to the team car, and Ralf Aldag or Brian Holm would then tell the riders. He apparently saw a turn that looked tricky but was convinced the leadout train could take it without braking. Hincapie lead through, didn’t touch his brakes, and Cavendish won the stage. Did this make for safer racing? The first guys made it through and probably so did the entire field. But what if he had been wrong? Is it good for the riders to trust such judgements?
It’s situations like these when I’m glad I’m not a pro bike racer. But it also makes me wonder how safe conditions are for all bike racing.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The saying “it’s like riding a bike” is one of those adages that we, as cyclists, are prone to feeling pride for. It’s as if we have placed something unforgettable on an altar. The greater truth behind those words is not of body, but of brain.
Neuroscientists are learning that the way the brain is wired isn’t as we once believed—static and unchanging, like the number of floors in a skyscraper. They have learned that the brain is more like a cube farm, with paths changing, walls moving and new lighting changing the landscape in response to the life we live.
I did my first race in nine years today, my first cyclocross race in ten years. Techniques I haven’t practiced or needed in ten years came back like a light bulb flicked on in a seldom-visited basement. While I do all my braking on road bikes with my index fingers, on mountain bikes and on ‘cross bikes, I do all my braking with my middle fingers. Though that practice has lain as dormant as breaststroke, it’s no less ingrained—my middle fingers went out without a thought.
The first time I stood up to accelerate I kept my arms relatively straight and my ass back. That’s not the weight distribution I use on the road. And I favored my rear brake in turns the way I normally favor my front brake. It’s not something I thought through, I simply did.
And though I hadn’t practiced dismounts and remounts, I swung my right leg over the saddle and slid it between the frame and my left leg like I’ve been doing it once a day for a dozen years. The one moment in which I became conscious of my movement was after I landed on my saddle the second or third time. There was a brief flash of recognition that I hadn’t done that little toe bounce that so many of us do when we fear committing to our weight to an airborne approach to that saddle. I was coming down on the right side of my pelvis, keeping the delicate bits out of the landing zone.
While I knew I still knew how to ride a bike going in and that I’d manage my way through the technical aspects of riding a ‘cross course, the question mark in my head was whether I’d be able to find that old feeling again. The feeling to which I refer is the one is which you’re fully committed to the endeavor. The race becomes a sort of question.
Once posed, the question reduces the barriers, berms, run-ups, serpentine turns, curbs and other obstacles to spice. The actual meal is your fitness. Can you go hard enough that you cease to think about the obstacles and instead focus on your physical limits?
There were moments when I took stock and wasn’t really pleased at just how slow I was. Mine was an anonymous finish—which was perfectly fitting. For most of the race I was going so hard I couldn’t have told you my name.
Thor Hushovd was having a crappy year as world champion until the Tour de France rolled around. He failed to win any of the spring classics, and publicly questioned the tactics of his Garmin-Cervelo team. And then he spent the first week of the Tour covered in yellow glory, even leading out a sprint for Tyler Farrar on July 4th, just in case anyone thought he couldn’t be a team player.
This weekend he’ll defend the rainbow stripes against a tough field in what may or may not be a sprint finish. The Danish World’s course isn’t hard enough to weed out the fast men on its own, with just over 100 meters of climbing on the 14km circuit that makes up the bulk of the race, but the actual line is at the top of a short incline, so that may open the door to a rider like Phillipe Gilbert or Peter Sagan, both of whom can go fast on less than flat run ins.
The odds-makers are still tipping Mark Cavendish to win it all. Can you imagine a more grating world champion than Cavendish? Does this guy need rainbow stripes to bolster his ego. If it gets any bigger, they’re going to have to come up with a new riding position for him so it doesn’t create too much wind drag on his bursts for the line.
Also on the favorites list are Hushovd, his Norwegian teammate Edvald Boasson-Hagen, Spanish veteran Oscar Freire and Aussie fast man Matt Goss, though there are a number of Australian riders who could claim the prize given the right conditions. The weather forecast calls for 64F (18C) and some cloud cover.
Sounds fast to me.
This week’s Group Ride asks: Who do you think will win? Will the Geels Hill finish be enough to derail the lead outs and tip the race in favor of a freelancer? Who are your dark horses?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Every now and then you slip down the rabbit hole and aren’t even aware how it happened.
Last fall, Byron from Bike Hugger referred a tweet to me in which the Twitterer asked just what embrocation is. I started to reply with a 140-character techsplanation and then realized (thank heaven) that I had promised the world I would try not to go all Dr. Spock on Twitter.
So I had some fun.
I suggested that embrocation is “heat in a jar, cream of courage, a forcefield of awesomeness.”
No sooner had I composed my little near-haiku that I realized I had an idea for Pete Smith at Mad Alchemy. As much as I love embrocations, start oils and chamois creams, the companies behind them rarely have any personality. They can be forgiven for that; giving a substance you rub on your body much personality can be like trying to draw a smiley face on a plank of wood. On the other side, if it had too much personality it could get creepy.
For reasons I can’t explain Mad Alchemy seems to have struck a balance between straightforward products and a brand with a sense of fun. So I fired off an email to Pete and suggested I had a name for a new product: Cream of Courage. His response: Let’s do a custom embro.
How could I say no?
I asked Pete to dash up something that smelled like a Provençal herb garden. Heavy on the lavender and rosemary and then improvise from there. He made several non-warming blends for me to try and following a second round we settled on a blend that leads with lavender, has a strong undercurrent of rosemary, plus dashes of sage and mint. It’s the sort of scent that lingers pleasantly in any room you enter. You become a one-cyclist air decorator.
Usually, we seem to be working the other end of the spectrum. Ahem.
Pete’s a genius. It’s unquestionably my favorite embro of all time, but then, it’s exactly what I asked for. (Though I gotta admit, last season’s Chris Jones Signature was distinctly amazing.)
Because it’s almost always chilly for my morning rides here in the South Bay, but rarely ever frigid, I went for a mellow heat which should be good enough to keep your gams happy into the 40s and has the staying power of the spring classics—this stuff will heat for six hours … more if you use it liberally.
Pete doesn’t seem to be desperate for business; he didn’t need this order, but I’ve really enjoyed doing this because I like him and what he’s about and this was way more fun than just writing another glowing review of one of his embros. This was a genuine chance to put my money where my mouth is.
They say an addict can’t begin to recover until he or she hits rock bottom. Read the literature. It’s full of the tales of men and women who have stared into the abyss, who’ve seen their own death writ large, in vivid color across the insides of their eyelids. Profound things happen. Human minds, roiling chemistry sets of hormone and electricity, change slowly, heal themselves, become worthy and admirable again. The word miracle gets thrown around like poker chips in a casino.
We say here at RKP that ‘to suffer is to learn.’ There is a parallel.
On the bike, we confront our limits. We push ourselves out to the edge of what we think we’re capable of, find trap doors, move on into undreamed of places. We do super human things.
What addicts do by virtue of their disease, cyclists do by their own volition. They empty themselves out and root around in their exhausted minds and bodies to see what’s left, panning for gold.
I struggled for a long time with the whole notion of spirituality. I’d never heard anyone define it in a way I could take seriously. I imagined spirits, floating and diaphanous, at the fringes of a room. I conjured religious iconography, saints with bright gold halos, garish depictions of the crucifixion. I shook my head and chuckled.
But then someone said to me, “Spirituality describes the connections you make to the world around you. You connect to your friends and family, but those connections are invisible. You can’t touch them. You can’t see them. They are spiritual.” Made sense to me. Finally.
Spiritual growth, then, is the strengthening of your connections to the people around you and the world as a whole. The stronger your spiritual connections the safer and less alone you feel. You gain mental strength. That strength may express itself as respect, considerateness, love, compassion, forgiveness, wonder, etc. I’m a cynic and skeptic by nature, but even I can buy into the value of that sort of spirituality.
My neighbor is a cyclist, until recently more of a mountain biker than a roadie. In fact, the other day he was talking about how much more he enjoys riding on the road than he’d expected to. For years, he had loved the feeling of being out in the woods, finding his rhythm on the trail, communing, as it were, with nature. He was surprised to be able to feel some of those same feelings on a skinny-tired machine, on the pavement, with a group of friends.
I told him, I think it’s about where the bike takes you. Whether your front shock is clicking and popping down a rooted section of single track or your freewheel is singing down a twisty stretch of asphalt, you are out at the edges of yourself, mind focused, senses saturated. This is our version of getting high, the absolute zenith of cycling, what my friend Padraig might call a ‘flow state.’
Buddhists have an interesting way of talking about these spiritual moments. They believe that we, as humans, draw a false line between ourselves and the world. We willfully sever the connection. And, the more we hold ourselves apart from the world, the more we suffer. The greater our connection to others and to the world around us, the greater our serenity.
The pivotal moment in recovery from addiction, that moment at which we hit bottom and see that we have to turn back, is a moment of spiritual awakening. I have been there, down the bottom of the mine shaft. It is not pretty. It is dark and terrifying.
Is this not like what we feel on the bike, when we’re in the red, when we’ve been in the red for too long. Our physical strength breaks down. We grow afraid that we can’t go on. The top? The bottom? They are just words that describe the edges of our experience. Our defenses are down. We’re too exhausted to keep them up.
And then, if we’re lucky, the line between our self and the world blurs, and we understand, if only for a moment, what’s really important.
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Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
I saw a great number of items I was very excited to get on and ride. The new Zipp 303 topped my list. But before I get into that I need to make a disclosure:
I wrote this year’s Zipp catalog.
That makes me ripe for the criticism that I’ve been paid for, but I’d like to assert that’s not the case. Here’s why: I’ve been a fan of their products for a good 15 years. I was a fan of their stuff even after former CEO Andy Ording tore me a new one for not making a favorable review favorable enough. I was scared of him, but not of their products. I agreed to write the catalog because I revere their work and champed at the chance to look under the hood.
I separate my editorial work from my mar/com client work. They are different hats and the way I work, I can’t really take someone on as a client if I don’t believe in their work.
I know things about this wheel I really can’t reveal. What I can tell is that the combination of this rim depth with the Firecrest shape makes this wheel exceedingly light and fast. To find a wheel this light (1498 for carbon clincher set and 1198 for tubular set) and yet offer as much claimed aerodynamic advantage without imposing a handling penalty on the rider is difficult.
I can’t yet attest to the aerodynamics of this wheel, but I know firsthand how well the Firecrest shape works in the 404 and 808 and it is mind boggling. I can also attest to how fast the hubs are and how nice it is to corner on rims as wide as these because of the broader tire profile. I want to ride these things in the worst way.
I’ve often wondered why you couldn’t choose saddles based on how firm they are or why you couldn’t adjust how firm they are. I’m not talking Sleep Number Bed complicated, but what if you could adjust the saddle’s tension with a 5mm wrench under the saddle? Nevermind, Fi’zi:k finally took care of this.
The nose piece shown above comes in three slightly different lengths that adjust the tension of the saddle. Genius move. I’ve got an Antares that I’ll be riding very shortly.
Whether you ride the Arione, Aliante or Antares, you’ll be able to get this new version of the saddle and adjust it to your comfort level. I’ll be starting off with the soft … and wonder if I’ll have any desire to go firmer.
Too rare is it that bikes and kits are matched. This Indy Fab with Mill Valley’s Studio Velo kit by Capo had PRO written all over it.
Best pint glass of the show: The frosted Capo glasses.
My favorite steel road frame this year was this decidedly old-school Fondriest. I reviewed one of these back in ’98 and even though it was fairly flexy, it was a terrific frame from a handling standpoint.
The thing that clinched my love for this frame was the combination of stylish Italian paint and real chrome.
Yah, yah, I know chrome is about a green as Rick Perry, but I can’t not look. I wiped my drool off before leaving.
When it comes to ‘cross and cool, Ritchey’s Swiss Cross has always been a straight flush. Few bikes ever achieve this fine a marriage of style, utility and function. I harbor the suspicion that if while aboard this rig you yell “track,” the poor SOB ahead of you will look back and on seeing this bike, just get out of your way.
Maybe I can review one … from say October through Christmas.
For all the talk of electronic shifting at this year’s Interbike, the overwhelming winner was Shimano’s Ultegra group. My media contacts confessed a few weaknesses in the Dura-Ace system (such as the fact that it wasn’t 100 percent waterproof) and stressed that Ultegra Di2 corrected for any perceived issues, even if it was roughly one pound heavier.
It’s fair to ask how I define a winner. The answer is simple, really. Nearly every bike company of note had at least one bike spec’d with Ultegra Di2. From Bianchi to Specialized, the stuff was easy to find, which indicates it’s in real production. And despite its reported price tag, I happened to notice this bike below:
The German brand Focus is best known as the brand that Milram rode before the sun set on their sponsorship. What they are less known for is spec that kills at the bike’s given price point. This Cayo was equipped with Ultegra Di2.
Big fat hairy deal you say. Well, the bike has a suggested retail of $4300. I didn’t see a bike with Di2 carry a lower suggested retail while I was at the show. It’s possible that I missed something (I missed a lot, including—quite deliberately—the entire Taiwanese Pavillion), but almost every bike I saw that was spec’d with Ultegra Di2 had a suggested retail of $5000, so $4300 is a pretty big discount.
This Pashley display took the verisimilitude approach to marketing the brand. It caught me less for how evocative it was of the brand heritage than for its apparent authentic the appearance was. I found myself looking at details to judge just how correct they were. It was a fresh take on the use of booth space. Next year they should do a collaboration with Brooks. I’d pay an entry fee if they erected an English country manor inside the Sands Convention Center.
The best jersey I saw at Interbike. Full stop.
This is Mark Cavendish’s bike from the Tour de France, at least, it was his bike for those stages he raced following when he assumed leadership of the points competition. I see lots of bikes that were raced at the Tour, but this was interesting because unlike most bikes, it shed a little insight on the rider who raced it.
Cav’s Venge was interesting for the fact that he was actually running Dura-Ace Di2. You might be surprised how often I receive press releases about something a sponsored PRO is allegedly riding, only I don’t see it in any of the images of said rider I receive from John Pierce. Hmm. Cav’s bike featured the outboard shifters mounted high in the hooks of the bar and just protruding through the tape.
For all the talk we hear of Specialized lending its sponsored teams the genius of their in-house fit guru, Scott Holz (literally the best I’ve ever seen in action), it hasn’t been hard to guess that some riders reject objective knowledge in favor of old-school Euro fit stylings. Cav’s 52cm frame paired with this monster 14cm stem belongs in the hall of fame on Slam that Stem. Very PRO, though not particularly agile. It does, however, confirm something Chris D’Alusio told me he learned about Cavendish from riding with him: The rider does generates all his power and steering from below the waist.
Assos, in their inimitable Swiss style showed me a cornucopia of items I lusted for. Unfortunately, of the offerings I was most interested in (below) I never got a real look at.
I mean, what the hell is this? Why don’t I know more about it? I got sidetracked by a new offering I can’t discuss until mid-November; well, that and a gin and tonic.