Of all the cycling garments made I need to be honest and say that long sleeve jerseys are my least favorite. They hold plenty of promise, at least in terms of concept. Don a single garment to be worn over a base layer, no messing with arm warmers. They never work out that way, though.
First, sizing rarely works out. When I find the right length in the torso, the arms are either too long or, more common, too short. I tend to go on the smaller side for a more form-following fit. Even so, the sleeves are often baggy and end up flapping in the wind—unlike a good pair of arm warmers. So many of the ones I see lack a full zip, so should the day heat up unexpectedly, you can’t ventilate enough to keep from roasting. Yet another knock.
And then there’s the material. Most of the long sleeve jerseys I’ve worn that feature a brushed finish inside don’t really begin to breathe until you’re moving faster than 20 mph. That probably works for actual PROs whose base mile speed is undoubtedly several miles per hour above my own. Using the same material both front and back ensures that it won’t breathe adequately. I need a long sleeve jersey that will breathe once I’m moving faster than 15 or 16 miles per hour. Finding the right garment that allows you to strike that balance is more challenging than finding a Texas governor not on the take.
Enter the Assos iJ.tiburu. The iJ desgination stands for insulated jacket, but this is much closer in weight to a long-sleeve jersey, hence the comparison. New for 2011 (it replaces the elementOne), the tiburu is a piece I’ve been seeking since my first New England fall in 1989. Yeah, that far back.
The fit is, well, it’s an Assos fit, as you can tell from the photo (and I’m using their photo because it’s damn cool and does a better job of showing the piece than any photo I might shoot would). The fit of the tiburu is based on the Uno summer jersey. I wear a medium in Assos jerseys and jackets. The hem comes to my waist, maybe a centimeter below. The sleeves reach to my wrists, exactly. And while the jersey isn’t tight, it gives a non-flap fit so it won’t attract attention in the peloton. That, right there, is my biggest beef with loose clothing. In the peloton a long sleeve jersey or jacket that’s a size or two too large, or was given some just-in-case extra room, flaps around like a flag in a tornado and is distracting both to the eye and ear. As sure a mark of a Fred as there is.
Another mark of the Fred is the skirt. That is, the jersey purchased two sizes too large and ends up covering the rider’s butt. Sure it makes getting into the rear pockets easy, but it makes hooking the hem of the jersey on the nose of the saddle easier than getting wet in the ocean. Here’s the challenge though: I’ve worn a great many fleecy garments that sag over time. Not years, I mean in the course of a single ride. A jersey or jacket that fits at the start of the ride becomes a skirt three hours later. Not cool. One of the tiburu’s greatest features can’t be recognized on the rack or even in the first hour of riding. I’m not sure what constitutes the rear stabilizer panel design, but what I can tell you is that between the hem grippers and that stabilizer panel, the back of the jersey moves neither up nor down, no matter how long you’re out.
Naturally, the tiburu has all the details you’d expect from Assos. Three pockets rear plus a fourth zippered security pocket, and thanks to the stabilizer panel design, they are in the same place every time you reach back. Full-zip front. Big zipper pull to ventilate on the fly. Heavy-ish, somewhat breathable fleece, a material called RX, is used on the front of the arms and chest while the backs of the arms and the back of the garment receive a more breathable material, RXQ. You can think of RXQ as a cross between traditional waffle weaves and fleece, the combination of which results in what is arguably the fastest-wicking fleece I’ve ever worn. I put my belief to the test the last time I washed it. Twelve hours after I pulled it from the washer, I checked the garment hanging on the drying rack. It was fully dry.
Quick-dry is an absolute necessity, not just to keep you comfortable on the road, but because this is a $350 piece of gear, you’re going to want it to dry quickly so you can wear it frequently. I don’t know many riders who’ll buy two or three of these and stay married. If you happen to see someone with the full complement of black, white and red colorways, I bet they’re single.
I went with the red pictured here. Assos understands red the way Ferrari and some lipsticks understand red. It’s one of those colors you can get wrong. But notice, if you will, that the designs on the sleeves are not just simple black and white patterns but mirror image, reverse designs; the white blocks on the left sleeve become the black blocks on the right sleeve. It gives the tiburu an attractively asymmetric design without looking chaotic. Very PRO.
There are nights when I sit up and pray that Assos will start offering fully custom clothing. This is yet another example why.
After flogging my road bikes around town all summer and early fall, the change in the weather has me thinking about the perfect everyday bike. Of course, where you live has a lot to do with what you ride.
I live in Boston. It snowed here last night shortly after it finished raining daggers. I was on my road bike with a stupid, clipped-on fender, and I got soaked and spent too much ride time wondering what hypothermia actually feels like. You start to feel warm, don’t you?
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
My challenges are: 1) I like to go fast. I do not have the patience to ride an upright bike with fat tires, fenders, panniers, etc. 2) I live at the top of a steep hill. The end of every ride features a kilometer that varies between 6% and 14%. It’s not a back breaker at all, but it’s always there whether I feel strong…or not. 3) We get a lot of rain, snow and in between slop.
So how do I go fast, keep a gear small enough to climb a real hill and keep the weather off me, all at the same time?
My current thinking is to build out a titanium cross bike with an internally geared rear hub. I’d run mini V-brakes for better stopping power. I’d put 28mm or 30mm tires on it and a good pair of fenders.
The titanium will resist the rust that comes from so much water and salt being sprayed at the frame for so many months out of the year. The internal hub will also add to weatherproofness and simplicity. I need my everyday bike to need less tuning. Simplicity is good. The mini Vs will stop when they’re wet. I have never run a pair of cantis that had that ability. In Boston’s winter rush hour, you want to be able to stop. Your life depends on it. Finally, the slightly wider tires give me stability in bad conditions, but still stay skinny enough to make time across town. I hate fenders, but they’re a no-brainer.
I think I will build this bike. Given my time constraints, I should have it ready for the first sunny day of Spring.
Anyway…this week’s Group Ride asks the question: What is your perfect everyday bike? Build it out for us. Explain your choices.
Do you live in the flats where a single-speed demon will do the trick? Do you live in a warm, dry place, where you can ride your carbon race bike 360 days a year? Do you live in the Yukon and have designs on a snow bike with 4inch tires? I cling to the perhaps foolish belief that there really is a perfect bike out there, and that if I listen to those who know better, and think as hard as I can, I will eventually build that bike and ride it all the way to the grave.
Read Part I here.
On a detail-by-detail basis the Izalco is perhaps one of the more unusual bikes I’ve ever seen. All of the cables (except for the front brake) are routed internally. The derailleur cables enter the frame at the head tube and run down channels in the down tube. The channels make noticeable bulges in the down tube. From everything I’ve seen over the years, this design feature should be terribly difficult to execute properly. The challenge is maintaining proper compaction for the carbon fiber around those tubes the cables pass through. What I’ve come to appreciate though is that frames with poor compaction have an oddly dead feeling, a sensation that’s different from a bike with deliberate vibration damping properties, such as some of the Time frames.
The Izalco doesn’t suffer that dead feeling. It’s a lively feeling bike, though not so lively as an unpainted carbon bike. So I’ve used the descriptors lively and crisp and I’ve mentioned that it’s not so stiff that it beats you up like some other carbon bikes I’ve ridden. The question is, where does that balance come from?
Part of that answer lies in details found in the top tube. The shot above is a top-down view from the saddle. The Izalco has one of the smallest (in diameter) top tubes of any carbon bike I’ve ever ridden. It’s close to round or actually round for most of its length beginning from the seat tube. Shortly before reaching the head tube it begins to swell, largely in width, less so vertically. The effect here is to counteract twisting at the head tube.
Years ago our concern with bikes was how stiff they were at the bottom bracket. It wasn’t hard to make the chain rub the front derailleur when you made a jump in the 53×19 on a steel bike. Carbon eliminated that but showed us something else that had been happening with steel bikes all along: frame twist, or lash as some called it. Tapered forks, big head tubes, big head tube-down tube junctions and swelling top tubes are all part of frame makers’ responses to that issue. It’s also why a carbon bike with a highish bottom bracket short wheelbase and not much trail can feel as neutral in handling as it does. I hated steel bikes with geometry figures like those.
Okay, on to what is one of my favorite features of the Izalco: its sizing. The Izalco isn’t a bike for midgets or giants. Okay, not to be flip about this, it won’t accommodate the absolute widest array of riders. Riders shorter than 5’4″ are probably not going to be able to ride this bike; women that tall or less so will almost certainly have to look elsewhere. And that crack about giants? That was a bit of hyperbole. Anyone taller than about 6’1″ is likely going to have an issue getting fit on this bike. So why do I like it so much? Because Focus offers the Izalco in eight sizes between its smallest size (a 52cm top tube) and its largest (a 58.8cm top tube).
Let’s put this in perspective. Most companies design their size run in 2cm increments and work out from a 56cm top tube, which is the size around which most bikes are designed. It’s also the first production sample which is why if you’ve got an engineer who’s 6’2″ things can get a little weird. So most companies would go 52, 54, 56, 58 and 60cm sizes. That’s five sizes covering a slightly broader range than what Focus offers. Their run goes like this: 52, 52.5, 53.7, 54.3, 55.5, 57, 58.2 and 58.8. Okay, so there’s no linear function that can explain those particular increments chosen, but the largest single jump in top tube length is 1.5cm, from the 55.5 to the 57 (which I’m guessing was their start size). Not another review of this bike has made mention of its eight sizes and that truly is one of its best features. I don’t care what other production carbon lines you’ve looked at, if you’ve had fit issues and aren’t shopping at petites or big and tall, the Izalco comes in a size that will fit you.
I can’t explain the asymmetric lines of the Izalco, but I must say the contours remind me of some of the finer examples of industrial engineering I’ve seen. And by the way, that K-Edge chain catcher is spec’d with the FSA compact crank. It’s a great example of Focus’ attention to detail.
Okay, back to geometry. The 3T Funda Pro fork is available in three rakes. Focus chose to spec the 43mm rake on each size. What that means is that four sizes—from the 55.5 to the 58.8—all have the same trail because they all share the same 73.5-degree head tube angle. As the sizes get smaller, the trail increases because the head tube angles get progressively slacker. The 54.3 TT gets a 72.5 HTA, the 53.7 gets a 72, the 52.5 gets a 71.5 and the 52 gets a 71.25. Going to a 45mm rake for those small sizes would seem to make sense.
My experience with the 57 was really enjoyable. Equipped with Ultegra, the bike weighed in at 16.5 lbs. It was enough heavier than most other bikes I’m riding that I noticed the extra weight when trying to accelerate for sprints on group rides and on those early ramps on longer climbs. Which is to say that I never noticed the weight, except when I noticed it and at those moments, because I was deep in the red, I’d have paid good money to lose two pounds from that bike. I’d have paid even more to drop that much or more from me as well, but I’m done with eating like a broke college student.
There’s a road in Malibu called Stunt. It’s among the many tricky descents there, but unlike the great majority of others it’s a road that sits right at the threshold of my ability. On the right day with the right bike, I can get down Stunt without touching my brakes. The Izalco is one of maybe five bikes I’ve descended Stunt on and never touched the stoppers. When I say it offers truly precise handling, I mean it’s a bike I count among a rarefied few, though that list has begun to grow.
Honestly, I’m glad they didn’t send me the sub-5 kilo Izaclo Ultimate. I’d have had to buy it.
Focus is one of those bike brands that has fascinated me since they first appeared on my radar five or so years ago. The company is more than 15 years old and was started by a German PRO mountain biker, Mike Kluge. He was one of the gods of cross country back in the early ’90s. It’s possible I ran across the early mountain bikes, but if I did, they didn’t stay in the database.
It was the sponsorship of the German Milram Team that made me really take notice. There are literally dozens of brands around the world that offer an incredible range of bicycles but they do no in-house engineering. What that means is that they have product managers who design bikes a la carte, picking options off a menu, beginning with frame material and geometry and finishing with every part detail down to cable housing. Send them graphic files for your decals and what you end up with is your bike. A good example of this in the U.S. is Jamis; a popular French one is Go Sport.
I raise this point because with Focus I wasn’t sure at first if they fell into this category or not. I took my first serious look at the line in 2008 and saw frame shapes that demonstrated quite clearly they weren’t buying open-mold designs. I was intrigued.
The Izalco is unusual in that its frame design is asymmetric at the bottom bracket. A small rib runs down the center of the seat tube (not asymmetric) and then curls to the left (from the rider’s POV) toward the crank (very asymmetric). I’ve been told this is meant to counteract twisting forces exerted on the frame as a result of torque that comes from the drivetrain. I have to confess that I’m a bit suspicious of the real necessity of this particular design feature for most riders. That said, I’m aware that an engineer with one prominent American manufacturer told me how when one of the giants of the Euro peloton rode their TT frame you could see the rear triangle flex in the direction of the drivetrain. That expression of wattage notwithstanding, my concern about asymmetric designs is just how necessary they are.
The Izalco is easily one of the most exciting bikes I rode this year. This bike handled with the precision I’ve come to expect from a top design. As I’ve mentioned, when I review a bike I make sure to do a few rides up to Malibu and take it on the canyon roads there. I recognize that very few places in the U.S. have roads as challenging these; I go for two reasons:
- When I push a bike here, so long as it performs well, I know it will perform for you even if you’re 200 lbs. and put out 1200 watts in a sprint.
- It’s a helluva a lot of fun.
At a point when most companies are designing their own forks for use with their frames, I’ve noticed this 3T fork on bikes from several manufacturers. There’s a good reason why: It provided plenty of stiffness when the bike was leaned over in turns. But stiffness isn’t an arbitrary improvement that can be applied to any bike. What I can say from experience is that if a fork flexes side-to-side the bike won’t track well in corners and that whole “confident handling” thing goes out the window faster than a housefly. The easiest way to illustrate this is by taking a turn with 60 psi in your front tire. Once you get into that range of pressure, the sidewall of the tire starts to squirm and occasionally buckle under hard cornering. It’s a slightly more extreme version of what happens when a fork flexes side-to-side. Trust me, you won’t like it.
The Izalco Pro is a few rungs down the ladder from their ne plus ultra Izalco Ultimate. The carbon used in the layup varies a bit, but the two bikes use the same mold and the Pro gets the same 3T Funda fork as the Izalco Team. What I rode was the Izalco Pro 3.0, the least expensive of the pro series of bikes. This was without doubt the best riding and most intelligently spec’d $2700 [update: this price is what I've seen on the Internet; the suggested retail for the bike is $4040] carbon fiber bike I’ve ever encountered. I could probably conclude the review with that previous sentence, but it’s worth telling you a bit more about why.
As I mentioned, the 3T fork is stiff laterally. It gives the bike crisp handling. The mungo BB area pictured above combines a BB30 bottom bracket with seemingly more carbon fiber than can be found in the hood of a tuner car. But like designs were seeing from Cervelo, Specialized and others, the seatstays on the Izalco have the wispy appearance of bridge supports. I’ve been on carbon fiber bikes that were stiff to the point of being harsh; I can recall notable examples from Look and Orbea, models that have (thankfully) been discontinued.
So how can Focus offer so much bike for so little money? Well, that’s one of the brand’s real selling points. Parts spec is more an art than a science. It’s less about what you pick than how you negotiate, and whoever serves as Focus’ road product manager is quite the negotiator.
Stay tuned for Part II.
I got quite the shock this past summer when I noticed during a visit to Giro’s web site that all the eyewear was gone, save a few pair of goggles. Specialized dittoed around the same time. Instantly, two of my three favorite eyewear lines had gone the route of the Dodo. Naturally, the other of my favorites, Oakley, isn’t going anywhere, but they are precisely why Giro and Specialized are out of the eyewear market. They won’t say so specifically, but that’s always the problem when you enter a market and there’s one gorilla and it weighs 12,000 pounds.
As much as I love Oakley, Giro and Specialized had become favorites because they were offering some killer lens tints that were just a bit better suited to where I live than anywhere else. The issue is that I’m on the bike early and our climate frequently includes low cloud cover, what gets referred to around here as marine layer. My taste runs to relatively light-tinted lenses, and though they let lots of light through (though not as much as a high visibility yellow or orange), they still feature a light mirror coating to keep them from looking, well, boring.
Giro did a great job with its rose silver tint. I was hyperventilating when I thought I’d never find a pair of shades with such a great lens tint again.
Enter the Spy Alpha and its rose with blue mirror tint. I like eyewear that looks like it means business, and while I like the Oakley Jawbone, it seems that’s the one shade everyone is wearing, so the Alpha is a refreshing switch for me. They are lightweight, don’t feel brittle to the touch and feature grippers that keep the shades in place without getting grabby, which is how I’ve described some glasses that have overly developed nose and ear grippers. The frames are constructed from a material called Grilamid, which I’m told is virtually indestructible.
The lenses benefit from both hydrophobic and oleophobic coatings. They hydrophobic coating repels water and helps in fog, mist and light rain, but the oleophobic coating repels oils and dust and is the one that makes rinsing sweat off of the lenses a real snap.
The Alpha also provides another really respectable service: It helps ratchet down the arms battle of eyewear pricing. It seems like the first thing to go in a crash are the glasses; I’ve seen people escape without a nick on their helmet, only to notice their lenses are scratched beyond use. At only $119, should something happen to yours, the impact isn’t quite so dear.
One aspect of Spy’s marketing materials is that they make clear just how much wrap each model gives. That is, traditional fashion eyewear doesn’t feature a wraparound look, while performance models need that in large doses in order to offer an unobstructed but protected view. Spy offers four different grades of wrap. Their fashion stuff gets a 4. In-between stuff gets a 6. Performance models come in at 8 and 9. The Alphas are an 8, very much in line with other typical performance eyewear, like the Oakley Radars.
The Alphas also feature temple vents and unlike the vents in some glasses I’ve tried over the years, the vents in the Alphas actually work. As long as I’m moving they don’t fog over, even if I’m moving slowly. I’ve worn glasses from some manufacturers that would fog during a slow roll at a stop sign.
It used to be that keeping your expensive eyewear safe was harder than trying to get through the airport with an undamaged lithograph (I know a thing or two about this). Spy offers the Commando Kit, which includes a case, three lens tints, and a carry/wipe bag. That package is a little pricier, of course, going for $159.
Spy has a dozen more technologies that I could use to try to convince you these are great glasses, but I’ve got a better way to recommend them. If you’re ready for a fresh look and a great value, check these out.
The facts of my past include a host of nouns that people used to define me. Altar Boy. Skateboarder. Drummer. Boy Scout. Slacker. Cyclist. Writer. Each of those identities were just conduits for me to get at the verbs that made my life sometimes bearable, occasionally interesting. It’s true that there were times when I clung to one or more of those titles as if my very existence depended on the shape they gave to my identity.
Bits of each of those pasts can return like phone calls from long-lost friends.
When I studied music we followed the development of Western tonality through history, following the gradual addition of complexity in the music. That complexity could be largely summed up as dissonance. In the era of Gregorian Chant, there was very little dissonance. Johann Sebastian Bach was, by any standard, an exceedingly dissonant composer. We analyzed each fly in the ointment, notes referred to as passing tones, neighboring tones and little shockers called escape tones.
Every dissonance demanded a solution. From diminished sevenths to French sixths, every wayward chord was a gang banger in an ashram, Courtney Love at First Communion. Something had to be done.
This process of gradually increasing complexity and dissonance kept ratcheting up over centuries until we reached the German composer Richard Wagner. Examine a Wagner score on a count-by-count basis and you soon discover that he never stayed in a single key for more than a measure or two. The speed with which he moved was disorienting, and sometimes resulted in the ability to read passages in more than one key. It was fair to ask if you faced entry or exit.
Today, there’s a dissonance in my life that perhaps only Wagner could celebrate. I’ve been wrestling with a pinched nerve in my neck for years. I will go through periods where treatment allows me to forget about it and ride for eight hours pain-free. Other times, I’m relegated to two hours if I’m lucky. Recently, the old tricks haven’t been working, perhaps only because my riding life was too busy to allow me to hang up the bike for more than a day or two. I’ve wrestled with hanging up the bike for two weeks now, able to leave it for four or five days, then unable to resist the draw of the salt air and heading out once again.
There were times when I analyzed Wagner that I’d see a chord so dissonant I wasn’t sure how to define it, how it was being resolved. It was the aural equivalent of seeing a yard sale on the freeway and being unsure of which way to try to navigate around it. Is the problem the treatment I’m seeking? Could it be that I really just haven’t been patient enough? Have I not been aggressive and dedicated enough in my exercises? My ice?
Should I consider the possibility this is just age and what I’m relegated?
There’s no getting in the Wayback Machine and telling all those self-annointed masters of bicycle fit who put me on bikes that were too big for me to fuck off. Which is precisely what I should have done all those years ago. It’s why I have this trouble now. It’s why I vibrate when the departure time for my group rides passes. Why, when given the chance to begin work earlier, I sit down to the keyboard with something other than glee. Why shots on Facebook of a friend winning a ‘cross race left me grinding my teeth. Why I was stir-crazy shortly after lunch.
There’s a tension. Sure, there’s the literal tension in my shoulder. A Chinese massage therapist who worked on me today described it mostly by banging his fists together. There’s a tension between my urge to ride and my ability to ride. Between my past and my future. Between my willingness to work and my ability to work. Between my physical health and my mental health.
Knowing that what keeps me sane is also what keeps me sick is one of those Wagner chords. In it, I hear no music, just notes clashing with all the frayed calm of glass breaking. Were I to back up and listen to the whole of the phrase, music would pass through, making each of those lines a little story of building tension, followed by resolution.
We received the news this week that Geox, the Italian shoe company, elected at the very last moment to remove their financial backing of Mauro Gianetti’s Geox-TMC pro team. Joe Lindsey did a good job of breaking it all down here. Long story short, Gianetti, the man behind the Saunier-Duval collapse, has been limping his team forward year after year, by signing short-term sponsorship deals.
Some combination of his past association with doped riders, the instability of the world economy, his team’s inability to secure a ProTour license, his team’s further inability to win a significant number of races, AND the UCI’s convoluted and often unfair points system for determining team ranking, have all come together to put a long list of riders and team staff out of business at precisely the moment when most of their potential employers have finalized hiring for the season.
The losers here are Gianetti, any rider he has under contract, any staff, Geox, who look like bumbling idiots, the UCI who yet again fail to create an even playing field and/or a sound financial proposition for sponsors interested in the sport, and the fans. More or less anyone standing near the blast zone got some on them.
The question is, what needs to be done to keep Geox (or Pegasus, or HTC) from happening again?
My own proposal would be to assign a transmittable value to a ProTour license, and to a ProContinental license for that matter. Then issue a finite number of licenses, and when a team wants to enter the sport, it’s incumbent upon them to acquire the necessary license from one of the owners. This is a de facto franchise system which gives the license a life quite independent of the UCI and their wacky rules. It would guarantee entry to the biggest events, and stabilize the year-to-year roster jumping that occurs with riders anxious to get off one sinking raft in favor of another. It also gives sponsors a tangible asset to attach themselves to, and the teams a coherent and consistent face to present to fans.
One might argue that wealthy individuals and/or entities could buy and hold hostage one of a few precious licenses, but with guaranteed entry to big events, the value of the license would be too great to simply sit on.
This is, of course, a radical idea, and it would require the UCI to become something it has never been in its entire history, which is to say progressive in its thinking.
But maybe there is a better way. What do you think?
Fear is a hairy beast with razor claws and dripping fangs. It is there in the dark, and it is there in the light, and it is there in the rain, sun, sleet and snow. Fear spills off station wagons swerving wildly with cell phone gesticulations, and it drops heavily off of box trucks, threatening to swallow the lane. It lurks quietly in potholes, and swings freely on the hinges of driver’s side doors. Fear will eat you if you let it. It never stops being hungry.
Two weeks ago I got bumped by a Ford Explorer pulling up to a stop sign. Its driver thought that he and his vehicle could get around me before reaching the end of the street. He yanked his wheel to the left, veered into the other lane and gunned his engine, swerving back into my lane at the last possible moment. At best he’d have cut me off. At worst, he’d have run me over. I was lucky simply to have been bumped.
I stayed upright. And angry.
Having been in this situation before, which is to say, uncomfortably close to another human being playing fast and loose with my safety, I knew what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to get over it. The driver, in fact drivers generally, are not bothered when they do things like this. They simply drive away, maybe shaking their heads in disbelief at the folly of those of us who would dare to ride bikes on public roads. Occasionally I come in contact with a driver who is willing to take responsibility when he or she makes a mistake, but for the most part, those who drive badly do so because they are unwilling to be responsible for their actions.
If bad drivers don’t care about their close calls, why should I? Should they be able to driveway carelessly, while I am left behind to simmer and stew, to spew profanity and froth in impotent self-righteousness? No. The thing to do is accept what’s happened, swallow it whole for what it was, and then move on. A wise person told me that nursing resentments of this sort is like allowing morons to live, rent-free, in your head.
So when I am well-adjusted and fully in control of my faculties (very seldom) I can balance the need to beware of large moving objects with the need to continue riding, for transportation, physical health and sanity. The trick, and oh, what a trick it is, is to remain consciously blind to the danger that surrounds you, and simultaneously hyper-aware of every hard bit of pavement or sharp bit of metal that enters your air space. This is the Zen koan of riding your bicycle on the road.
As is typical, I have had difficulty letting go of these near death encounters. It is a thing much easier said than done. Since the encounter with my not-friend in the Explorer, I have been on edge whenever I have been on my bike. I have been quick to anger, even when I’ve been consciously resisting the impulse. This, it would seem, is the order of events. I simply have to wait until the feeling subsides, until I feel relatively safe again.
Last night, it was pouring rain. The light has recently fled our evening commute, so we’ve added darkness to the joy of being soaking wet. Stubborn git that I am, I pulled on my rain gear and disembarked from the office. Within a few moments I was enduring the gritty spray off Volvos and Subarus. With the verge entirely swamped, I tried to take a little of the lane to prevent myself from having to ride through 4 inches of standing water. My road companions in their cars mostly failed to yield any space. I was buzzed by a Chevy Suburban and then by a minivan. I began to seethe, and then to feel sad. To feel such little disregard for your bodily safety can be massively discouraging.
When I arrived home, my wife knew exactly what I was thinking and feeling. What a relief to be able to come home to someone who understands. Is this what inspired Dylan to write Shelter From the Storm?
I have to let these things go. I have to take responsibility for my own part. I choose to put myself in harm’s way. Traffic is traffic. You can complain about it. You can wish for people to change, for things to get better, but mostly those things are achieved at a glacial pace, and I intend to keep riding. Come hell AND high water, I intend to keep riding.
So I hug my wife, and I sit down to dinner with my kids, who talk too much and play with their food rather than eating it, and all is right and well with the world. And I return to the Zen koan of riding with both a keen attention to life-threatening danger and a blissful disregard for the monsters that lurk round every corner.
* Taken from Kipling’s Fear.
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The 2012 Tour de France route has been announced and ASO calls it a balanced route. Before I get to why I think that’s hogwash, I need to explain why RKP has been silent the last few days. Just this morning I finished what is easily the most ambitious assignment I’ve ever had the challenge to meet. For its eighth issue, peloton magazine is doing something quite outside the norm. My role was to compose a single, sweeping feature that will (hopefully) tie together the issue’s many elements. What I turned in this morning was nearly 15,000 words; writing it took everything I had. I meant to do a mini-post to let everyone know what was up, but I rarely looked at anything other than that MS Word document.
If ever you’ve wanted to see a bike magazine step outside the norm and do something surprising and give you a fresh take on what a bike magazine can be, this is it. They’ve assembled an incredible range of work and I’m hoping that my contribution plays its part. Nevermind the opportunity they’ve given me, they are doing something brave and I hope that if you’re not already reading the magazine, you at least check out this issue, if not purchase a subscription.
Now, about that Tour: This is the heart-healthy diet version of the Tour. The ASO suggests this Tour will reward a more well-rounded rider, but to my eye, there’s just less racing. The prologue is typically brief at only 6km. No biggie, right? However, there won’t be a team time trial and the two individual time trials measure 38 and 52km, respectively. That’s less than 100km total of time trials. During the age of Anquetil and Merckx, there were often ITTs that measured 100km. What is interesting is that the first ITT comes the day before the first rest day. That has often been a mountain stage; we should expect to see incredibly high average speeds due to the short distance followed by a rest day.
For 2012 there will only be five mountain stages with two mountain top finishes. There will be four medium mountain stages and one of those, stage 7, gets a mountain top finish. It will be the first of the mountain top finishes and, unfortunately, La Planche des Belles Filles tops out at only 3788 feet, barely enough to make Category 2.
The other two mountain top finishes are split between the Alps and the Pyrenees. Stage 11 leaves Albertville and heads for La Toussuire, taking in the north side of the Col de la Madeleine, the Col de la Croix de Fer before dropping back down (likely via the Glandon) into the valley for the assault on La Toussuire. This stage’s twin in the Pyrenees comes on stage 16, the day after the second rest day. Riders will tackle the Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde and finish with the downhill run into Bagneres-de-Luchon. The final mountain finish won’t come until the next day on the climb to Peyragudes. It’s a relatively unknown climb, but it has few secrets. The climb is 20k and averages just 4.3 percent. The trick is that the first 10k is almost entirely less than 4 percent but then the next 6k gets quite steep, averaging between 7 and 10 percent. The final 3k is between 4 and 7 percent.
While this edition leaves out a number of historic and seeming must-have climbs such as l’Alpe d’Huez and the Col du Galibier, the organizers did choose to include the Col du Grand Colombier. This is a ferocious climb and should be the site of some detonations. Unfortunately, it comes some 40km from the finish, which means it seems unlikely the gaps at the top will be held to the finish.
It’s the Tour de France, so the race will be exciting no matter what. However, I think with this course the ASO have made several statements:
- They liked Cadel Evans as a victor and they wouldn’t mind him winning again.
- They don’t mind Andy Schleck getting beat.
- They aren’t fans of the all-day, slo-mo attack; they’d rather have fireworks on the last climb.
- If Alberto Contador wants to win, he’ll need to spend some time on his TT bike.
One of my co-workers showed me a magazine photo of a 7-11 rider, Davis Phinney, on a Huffy. The year was 1987. The bikes were white and red, and the builder was none other than Ben Serotta. As with so many of the things we see in pro cycling, appearances were not quite what they seemed.
With effective marketing, you can put a label on anything and pass it off as a gold nugget.
But where does the quality of a thing live? It is one thing to take a pair of super light, super stiff wheels, for example, and redecal them with the logos of another maker of super light, super stiff wheels. Clearly the decals are just decals. The wheels are where the quality lives. It is easy to heft them in one hand and know what is there.
But what happens when a company gets purchased? New management comes in. Designs and procedures change, but all the while the label stays the same. In fact, in many cases the new ownership has simply purchased the label to pump out lower cost crap at high prices, trading on the company’s prior reputation. And how many once-great bike companies have we seen blunder down this path? I’ll let you supply the names.
Is the quality of the thing in the hands of the creator, by which I mean the founder or lead designer at the company? Is it in the people on the factory floor who turn out the products? Is it in the ephemeral style of the object? Or is it a combination of many intangible factors?
New management isn’t always a bad thing, but it is always a different thing. Is a bike company, founded by one charismatic and inspired individual, the same company when its ownership passes into the hands of a conglomerate, when its factory moves from one country to another? All of these things pass by beneath the stoic label on the component box or the impassive crest on the head badge.
We regularly see vintage brands reborn under the guidance of a new set of investors/operators. What are those brands? Are they consistent with the originals? Does the quality of the thing live on in the idea of what once was? What do you think?