It’s been a long time since I won anything. I can tell you, right now, this very day, I had forgotten what that felt like.
This morning I learned that Outside Magazine named Red Kite Prayer the best blog in cycling. That we even made the list was really terrific. I read through the list three or four times just to make sure I was reading it right. We were at the bottom of the list, but there was no mistaking that the numeral 1 was next to our name.
I admit, I feel like I dumped Philippe Gilbert at the foot of the Mur de Huy. This means more than any bike race I ever won. It would be easy to turn this into an ego-stroking moment of self-congratulations. I’d like to avoid that. While I’m proud to share this acknowledgement with you readers, there’s a deeper reason for mentioning this.
Outside has been a source of inspiration for me both personally and professionally for more than 20 years. The writers who have written for them are a “Who’s Who” among the best of those working in magazines. If you have worked for them, you know more about writing than just how to construct a grammatically correct sentence.
Their collection of features, “Out of the Noösphere,” served as a lighthouse for me when I was feeling lost in my graduate work. It reinforced in me my desire to write about cycling. I can remember thinking how I wanted to bring Outside-like writing to bike magazines. For me, this nod is an implicit endorsement of that quest, of my results.
As Robot said to me this morning, “This changes nothing … but you know, it’s really f***ing cool.”
In his biography of Eddy Merckx, Rik Vanwalleghem said that Merckx took almost no time to enjoy his victories, that as soon as he was off the podium he would begin stressing about the next race on his calendar and whether or not he could win.
I get it now. I do.
Back to work.
Plot spoiler: These are the finest wheels I’ve ever ridden in my life.
There. That’s out of the way. Now that I’ve eliminated any sense of drama from this review, I can get down to the matter at hand and discuss the experience of riding Zipp’s standard-bearer wheelset.
There’s an arms race in cycling that’s been escalating over the last 10 years. I think back on the most I could spend on a set of wheels or even a whole bike 10 years ago versus the colossal $2700 that these wheels go for and I choke. There’s nothing else in my life that has escalated as badly over that time, save the housing market and we see what happened with that. Somehow, I don’t see Zipp, HED or Lightweight wheels suddenly dropping in both price and value—not now, not in the future.
The math on this is difficult to avoid. For that much money you could outfit an entire Girl Scout troop with iPhones. Or you could provide the entire U.S. Army with bubble gum. Or you could purchase a single set of wheels that would do more to improve your performance than an extra two hours of training per week can.
These wheels are so sophisticated I could probably write about them for the rest of the week and not divulge any of Zipp’s trade secrets. The 404s possess three distinct features that have caused me to come to the conclusion I did.
First and foremost is the Firecrest rim shape. While I am aware that one of Zipp’s competitors claims to have arrived at the rounded rim profile at the same time as Zipp, the fact is when Zipp came out with Firecrest at Interbike in 2010, their competitors talked crap about the silly shape. The trick to Firecrest is that it treats the half of the rim behind the axle as a leading edge and that blunt shape improves the rim’s aerodynamics dramatically. The most surprising aspect of this is what is called vortex shedding.
Those of you who have ridden deep-section carbon rims and been buffeted by the wind have experienced vortex shedding. Every time the airflow attaches to the rim surface and then breaks free from it the wheel is buffeted and you feel it at the bar. That’s not even the most dramatic feature of the Firecrest shape. This is:
It’s more stable in a crosswind.
The rim shape causes a change in the wheel’s center of pressure. It’s a crazy term for the point of leverage the wind has on a wheel; it’s a very east-to-feel phenomenon. Ride a deep-section wheel in a crosswind. If the wind is blowing from right to left, you’ll be steered to the left. That’s because the center of pressure of most wheels is forward of the steering axis. Firecrest, on the other hand, shifts it almost in-line with the steering axis. Ride a Firecrest wheel in a crosswind and you’ll feel almost no pressure on the wheels. It’s a bit more complicated than that, as the way a rim sheds a vortex changes slightly as the wheel spins; the center of pressure can actually shift behind the steering axis slightly, steering you into the wind instead of pushing you across the road. It’s a remarkable sensation and results in a real increase in confidence compared to riding other deep-section wheels.
How good an idea is Firecrest? Well, after bagging on it as crazy, both HED and Enve have moved all their wheels in that direction. And while competitors may be trying to emulate the vortex shedding properties of Firecrest, they can’t copy the golf-ball-like surface of the ABLC (Aerodynamic Boundary Layer Control) that keeps the air moving by the rims.
If you were to buy a set of 404s for only one reason, Firecrest would be it. No other deep-section wheel I’ve ridden is as stable as the 404 Firecrest.
The Carbon Clincher technology is my next most favorite feature of these wheels. The time I spend in Malibu riding with friends means I’ve either personally melted or seen melted wheels by every manufacturer except Zipp and Easton. Last summer a small group of us did the now notorious descent of Las Flores Canyon. I rode the 404s and didn’t have a bit of trouble, despite some firm braking at times. After reaching the bottom I waited more than five minutes for a friend to arrive. He was concerned his ultra-zoot wheels from a certain German manufacturer would melt, so he stopped three times to let them cool off. Granted, this guy weighs a good 30 or 40 pounds more than I do, but if you can’t take a mountain descent on a set of wheels, what good are they?
Other than the fact that they don’t melt—which is reason enough to take note—they do have one other detail that make these clinchers pretty killer: The rim width. Roughly 25mm wide, any clincher you mount on these wheels can be removed with no tire lever (sweet) and gives the tire a much wider footprint, increasing traction without—I’m told—increasing rolling resistance (amazing). There is a however, here, however. Setting up brakes for a rim this wide isn’t easy and you have to adjust the brake shoe angle because of the angled braking surface. Swapping out these wheels for another set is going to result in at least a half hour of work, if not more.
The wheels’ next best feature are the 88/188 hubs. They are an improvement on the previous iteration of the hubs with which I experienced near constant creaking. Really effing annoying. These are stiffer and don’t creak. What is more impressive is how these things roll. Zipp uses grade 10 ball bearings in the hubs. That is, they are accurate to .10 of an inch. That 2.5 times as round as the grade .25 balls used in Dura-Ace and Record hubs.
You may not think that’s particularly impressive, but I can say from experience that when I’m inside a group, the combination of superior aerodynamics and fast-rolling hubs causes me to hit my brakes to modulate my speed because I begin rolling up on riders in front of me when we’re coasting.
My set weighed in at 1562 grams, just a couple grams off the advertised weight. I’ll call it even. The combination of aerodynamics and weight mean that they are not only killer on the flats, but they are light enough to be reasonable climbers.
Engineers at two different bike companies told me off the record they have taken a number of wheels to the wind tunnel to test with their TT bikes. Both said that tire choice has a huge effect on aerodynamics. Even so, both also said that no other wheels they have tested are as versatile as the 404s.
Here’s the strange thing I’ve noticed about riding with the 404s. While I have many friends who will train on heavy wheels and save the good stuff for race day, in reviewing these wheels, I didn’t have that luxury. I needed to get miles on them right away. Oh, and I’m not really racing, so there’s that, too. With the addition of the 404s, the increase in aerodynamics gave me enough of an edge that I was able to get to the front of the group rides more easily. That, in turn, gave me the ability to stay at the front more. The upshot may seem counterintuitive; the wheels didn’t make the ride easier for me. They made it easier for me to get to the front and flog myself more, rather than sitting in the pack just trying to hold on to my spot. It seems I train harder with faster wheels.
Honestly, suffering more—not less—is the last thing in the world I expected to have happen.
The next kilometer is a son of a bitch. It is always in my head when it ought not be. It’s that embarrassing thing that happened when I was a teen. It’s that thing my friend said before he died. It’s the persistent worry that I will run out of money before I run out of time. It runs over and over and over, a pedal stroke, a free wheel, an absurdity.
The next kilometer is at least two kilometers long. It’s twice as steep as it was last time I was there, and I will surely blow up as soon as I get to it. There are monsters around every bend. There are potholes. The next kilometer is impossible, theoretical physics, antimatter, a unicorn.
This kilometer is hard enough. It deserves more of my attention. Honestly. I’m pedaling squares here. I’m slumped over like a drunk at closing time. How am I supposed to breathe like this? I’m going to crush these goddamned handlebars too. Loosen up, jackass. You’re burning watts with that death grip. Yes. Yes. This kilometer deserves much more attention.
The next kilometer is the cart, and I am the horse. It is the chicken, and I am the egg.
This kilometer is harder than it ought to be. Why am I so off today? Did I not eat enough? Did I not sleep well? Am I just off form? What the hell does that really mean? What is my form? Am I getting tendonitis in my knee? If this kilometer doesn’t give it to me, the next one probably will. Bernard Hinault had tendonitis in his knee. I am not Bernard Hinault.
The next kilometer. Is there a more pure expression of the future? In this present, everything is going worse in the future. It is going like it is going now, but more so. I don’t even dare think about the kilometer after the next kilometer. That would be pure hubris. That would be murder. Cain and Abel. Or worse, plucking that ancient apple and taking a bite. The stupid snake. Never trust a lizard with no arms.
The great mercy of cycling is that, at some point, the next kilometer becomes this kilometer enough that you run out of things to worry about, and you can slink off to the shower, pull on a fresh, clean shirt and some dry underpants, and begin the necessary process of revising the past, all those killer kilometers, into one nice smooth ride. Done. Dusted. And easy.
My education in embrocation (say that three times fast) came not from some Dutch soigneur who had prepared the legs of legions of chiseled Euro PROs as near-freezing rain fell. No, I got the decidedly less sophisticated advice from teammates. They were smart guys who had raced in Europe, but as it happens with all third-hand information, there were helpful bits that either no one ever told them, or were simply omitted by accident.
When I began purchasing embrocations, sorting through some of the Euro product lines was as difficult as making Hollandaise sauce, something I’ve still never done correctly. There were the embrocations themselves, but there were also pre-sport oils and liniments. And then there was post-riding stuff, too. The great source of my confusion was in distinguishing between an embrocation and any other pre-sport sauce. I mean, you’ve got to put the embro on before sport, so aren’t they both, technically pre-sport?
Eventually I came to understand that sometimes you put on a little extra heat before using another embrocation to seal your legs from cold rain. God how that helped me during spring races. And if you have an actual soigneur to do a massage before your race, you live in a realm where embrocation takes on the complexity of calculus.
That was never me. Post-sport rubs and their mission continued to elude me for years.
Funny how one injury can change everything. There are times when you need to ice something. I’m thinking a body part, not a gangster. There are also times when either keeping ice on that body part will be impossible (driving is one good reason) or there is simply no ice available. That’s when I realized that a cooling cream can be handy.
That said, most smell like a Mid-Century Modern medicine cabinet and leave the skin greasy to the touch even an hour later. Not a fave. Recently, I’ve been using a cream from Sportique called (obviously enough) Cooling Cream.
It’s heavy on the peppermint, menthol, camphor and eucalyptus oils. Wearing this stuff while eating a Peppermint Stick Clif Bar leaves me feeling like I’m at a candy cane factory at the North Pole. A terrific feeling, on balance.
There’s probably even less science on how a cream like this will do the same good (or even nearly so) as actual ice. I consider it a hedge in my favor; it has got to be better than nothing. Any time I have to drive to the start of a ride, I pack this tube in my bag so I can hit my shoulder with it once I’ve finished my field shower.
The 6-oz. tube has a suggested retail of $19.95. As I use only a little dab at a time, it could last me a few years, or at least until Alberto Contador’s case is adjudicated.
Learn more here.
Red Kite Prayer has been around almost two-and-a-half years. In that time any proper corporate media conglomerate would have had at least a half dozen toothless contests to determine the next toothpaste Fabian Cancellara should use. We’ve avoided that urge, but not because we think we’re smarter than they are. It just never occurred to us to have a contest.
Maybe we’re not all that smart. Please do us a favor: Don’t consult our wives. They’ll confirm that for you and shred what little ego we have left.
So here’s the deal—We need a new name. No, not a new name for the blog, we like that just fine. We need a name for a little adventure we’re going to have. Late next summer RKP is going to host its first-ever reader event. We’re headed to New England where we’re going to ride some dirt roads, eat some fantastic food, enjoy some time with a special guest or two and make some new friends. As we’re still nailing down a few details, we’re not ready to make a proper announcement just yet.
In the meantime, this thing needs a name. It’s going to be large-scale fun in a location that is one of cycling’s undiscovered gems. And, frankly, if this one goes half as well as I imagine it at night when I wait for sleep, we’re going to have to do it again. In that place and others.
Here are a few other details: Seven days, six nights and only 20 spots for riders (there will be room for family). Ballpark price of $2500.
Robot and I have been texting ideas back and forth. Our musings have yielded Red Kite Player, Ronde van Red Kite, Red Kite Revenge, Tour du Kite, Prayer Week and Seven Days of the Kite. I think we were on the right track, but this would be so much more entertaining with the addition of some more horsepower. So we’re turning to you, dear readers. Name this thing. Come up with something awesome to help point out its impending awesomeness. Something that makes you want to attend. Any of those above are still game as well; if you like one, feel free to nominate it, or tweak it.
Robot, Pelkey and I will determine the winner with the aid of a secret military junta. There will be no recounts. Our choice will be entirely subjective. And final.
As the outcome will be entirely arbitrary, so will the length of the contest. We’ll call it a day when we stop seeing good entries, so act quickly. That should see us through to at least Tuesday.
The winner will receive a “To Suffer Is To Learn” T-shirt and an RKP cap.
Cast your vote in the comments section. Comments of “+1″ could potentially sway the judges.
Every week, it seems like there’s bad news on the pro team sponsorship front, a steady drumbeat that began with the announcement in August that team Highroad/HTC was unable to land a sponsor. In their wake, Leopard-Trek, the hot new team of 2010 merged with Team RadioShack. Then Team Geox, fresh of their surprise Vuelta victory lost their title sponsor. Garmin-Cervélo apparently secured and then lost a French co-sponsor, BigMat, which may or may not take a leading role on the French team FdJ. There are rumblings that Saxo Bank-Sungard (about to be Saxo Bank) isn’t on sound financial footing, but there have always been rumblings about Bjarne Riis’ formations. And Euskaltel-Euskadi, a reliable formation if there ever was one, is allegedly on shaky ground after next season.
It can be depressing. But we’re going about it as the cycling fans, like the cyclists, we are. We’re worried about doping; we think it might be the state of the world economy. Rational responses, and concerns I share. But I can’t help but feeling that we’re sane people in the psychiatric ward. There’s comfort in feeling right in crazytown, but it probably isn’t the way to success.
I see this most strongly when looking at how we beat ourselves up over doping. And how we let the world beat cycling up over doping. I have no doubt that doping is a problem in cycling. I want to get rid of the dopers, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. At the same time, I am certain that doping is a problem across the entire spectrum of sports, and cycling is doing more to root out doping than other sports. Yet when doping in sport comes up, cycling seems to get more attention than other sports, which work mightily to sweep their doping problems under their rugs. Look at how pro baseball tipped off their players when testing was first initiated. Look at how professional football barely gave a penalty for doping, and is now backing away from their pledge to test for human growth hormone. And this is before anyone discusses what seems to be common use of cortisone in pro football, something that is supposed to be strictly limited in cycling. The notorious Dr. Fuentes of Operacion Puerto fame claims he worked with football (soccer) and tennis players, yet nothing has been heard of that.
Look at sponsors in other sports. It’s easy to see that businesses have no trouble backing tainted athletes. Tiger Woods wrecked his carefully-cultivated public persona on his own, yet most of his sponsors stood by him. Accenture didn’t, but Rolex came on board. There has been no exodus of advertisers from The Super Bowl broadcast over drug use in football. Mark McGwire, the St. Louis Cardinals slugger was caught with steroids by a reporter in his big home run chase in 1998 (the reporter who noticed it in his locker): McGwire denied it, admitted it, and is still popular and employed by the team he “disgraced.” I don’t think sponsors care about perfect actors, but a patina of cleanliness and plausible deniability.
Doping isn’t a real issue. Nor is the world economy. There’s high unemployment, but corporate profits are at record levels. Products always need to be marketed. There’s a oft-repeated story told by marketers about how going in to The Great Depression, cereal manufacturers Kellogg’s and Post were about even in market share. Post decided to cut back on marketing, while Kellogg’s increased their marketing budget. At the end of the depression, Kellogg’s was the dominant player, a position they’ve held ever since.
Companies need to advertise their goods and services. Sometimes it’s something new; sometimes it’s reminding the public of something that’s already around. Some products always have a need to be marketed. Cars, banking, insurance, telecommunications, beverages, and lotteries are some of the evergreen advertisers. Massive companies with huge operating expenses and big advertising budgets. HTC, a mobile phone company, the most recent sponsor of Highroad, doubled their profits from $20 billion to $40 billion between 2010 and 2011. Whether or not this was a result of Highroad’s success is never discussed. Their advertising budget in the United States alone was $50 million per quarter, or $200 million dollars a year, starting in 2009. It’s easy to imagine their worldwide advertising budget was over a billion dollars annually. And that would make a $10 million dollar budget, probably much more than what Highroad received, for strong ProTour team is less than 1% of HTC’s advertising budget.
Highroad’s owner, Bob Stapleton claims that his team offered an amazing Return On Investment (ROI). HTC either disagreed or didn’t care. This plays against a core belief for the cycling fan: that their demographic is valuable. Let’s assume that Highroad had impressive data that showed investing in the team yielded an incredible ROI. It wasn’t enough.
American tifosi look at the growing popularity of the Tour de France in the U.S, with daily reports in major newspapers, dominating cable TV presence, and then add in the fact that the Tour is the most-watched sporting event in the world, eclipsed only by the quadrennial events of the Olympics and soccer’s World Cup, and figure that there must be advertising gold to be made out of camera time at the Tour. Mix that in with the growth of cycling both for commuting and recreation. It seems to herald a consumer who is tech savvy, spends on her health, and has plenty of disposable income.
For better or worse, perception plays a big part in determining value. Almost a decade ago, the ABC television network was poised to bring Late Night with David Letterman to their channel, which would have meant canceling Nightline. Funny thing was, Nightline had more viewers, but they were seen as less important than the Letterman viewers. And Nightline viewers made more money. They were deemed less important because they were older. Cycling could be suffering from a similar problem. Maybe cycling eyeballs aren’t important enough. Frustratingly, they will remain probably not important enough until they are.
But the reason our eyeballs might not be important enough is that ProTour-level racing has grown to cost sponsors something. It’s not nothing, but it’s not big money like a Formula One team (probably over $100 million) or an ad buy at the Super Bowl ($3 million every 30 seconds). This could put sponsoring a ProTour team out of reach for a passionate company chief, who might have sway in terms of how his company’s marketing budget is used, but not to the tune of several million dollars. At the same time, $10 million might be too small for the biggest companies to consider, as the impact might be hard to see, and consequently measure, as making a difference.
This could be why at least half the ProTeam organizations seems to have angel investors backing them. It also could be why many Pro Continental outfits have their jerseys littered NASCAR-style with small sponsors, many of whom get a benefit out of sponsorship, but the benefit is tied up with seeing themselves as good citizens or promoting their passion. These sponsors like the ROI, but it probably isn’t what drew them to get involved, nor is it what’s keeping them involved.
And this is the big place where being the rational person in the psych ward cannot only be counter-productive but self-defeating. We’re providing data that proves investing in a cycling team is a smart business decision. It makes us feel good that we can prove the value of bike racing. But in so doing, we’re giving out a means for potential sponsors to not only turn us down, but dismiss us. We’re telling potential sponsors we’re good for them, like we’re telling them to eat vegetables when they want to be sold on the idea that it’s a juicy steak.
While I’m sure there’s data demonstrating to potential sponsors of big time sport in the U.S. the value of sponsoring commercials during baseball games and the benefits of having a company name next to the scoreboard or any number of proposals involving businesses putting money into sports, I doubt the data is what sells the companies on putting their dollars behind a sport. I bet they’re sold on the passion, and yes, they have the data.
They way we’ve dealt with this reminds me of how cyclists advocate for cycling in the U.S. It makes sense on an environmental level, on a health level, on an economic level, and most cyclists are happy about that. Then a non-cyclist points out that a person riding a bike might get sweaty and the discussion is over.
We’ve tried rational. Rational doesn’t seem to be working. Maybe it’s time to roll out crazy, an attractive crazy, and start focusing on that.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
This past summer I had a get together with friends to celebrate the release of my book The No-Drop Zone. All I’d had in mind was a chance to enjoy a beer or three with some friends and a sense of accomplishment—and relief—at having the book out. I wanted to feel that release of pent-up steam from the boiler.
What I didn’t anticipate was that a half-dozen friends became one dozen, then two. A copy of the book was passed around the table and people would grab me to tell me how amazed they were by the book. With three years of effort invested in the book I deserve to feel some amount of pride in its achievement, in my accomplishment. I struggle with that. Often times, in my head, I’m still the twentysomething long hair walking into my first graduate seminar. No matter what I know objectively of the skill I’ve honed, my parents instilled in me a need to remain modest about my work that can curtail any urge to thump my chest. I tell people it’s less my book than a tribute to the sport’s many sages who took me under their wing. It’s both the truth and a way to dodge something I struggle to do in-person: accept praise.
Next week, peloton‘s eighth issue will be released. It’s a photo annual featuring the work of eight incredibly talented shooters, and it is carried by a 15,000-word manifesto I wrote in a week spent in a near-meditative state. While it’s not a book, its breadth of vision and ambition for an emotional connection with the reader caused me to lay it all out there. I can’t say I’m not nervous about what the audience’s reaction will be. I’m amazed to receive this opportunity to go as hard and deep as possible—it feels like my race radio just crackled and my team director told me to put my head down and drill it. Two hundred kilometers later I’m rolling into the velodrome at Roubaix, all alone. That I got this chance owes to a sequence of events I’ve been thinking about ever since driving home from the bar following the book party.
The first was approaching Maurice Tierney of Dirt Rag at the NORBA National at Mount Snow in 1991 and asking him about the possibility of freelancing for his mountain bike magazine. He was immediately receptive and told me about the sort of material he’d love to see more of.
The second was a phone call to Richard Fries, the publisher of The Ride magazine. I’d done some writing for them, but my contact at the magazine said Richard would be overseeing all the freelancers and if I wanted to continue writing for them, I needed to contact him. I waited a few weeks and then—despite my fear of calling someone I didn’t know—picked up the phone. At the other end, after I introduced myself, Richard said in a bright voice, “Oh, I know that name.” So began our friendship.
The next was a phone call placed on a snowy March morning. I’d been trying to get an interview with Bicycle Guide, a magazine I thought was beyond cool. For reasons I couldn’t understand, they kept seeming to circle, but not interview me. So I picked up the phone at 9:00 am with the plan of leaving a message for the editor, Garrett Lai. After all, I was on the East Coast, he on the West. A deep voice answered. What the hell? I thought. He told me how he was working crazy hours because they were a man down. So I said, “You need work done. I want to do the work. You should hire me.” At least four more times in that conversation I told him point blank: hire me. Eventually he said, “Alright, let me talk to HR;” 24 hours later I had a plane ticket to Los Angeles. By the end of the day I had an offer.
In the wake of the demise of my magazine Asphalt, I was trying to imagine a way for me to re-enter the bike industry as a writer. I was depressed and wasn’t sure I could get arrested, even if I pepper-sprayed an entire preschool. One night I was trolling Craigslist when I ran across a listing for a publisher looking for someone to write a mountain biking guidebook to Los Angeles. Menasha Ridge Press’ acquisitions editor Russell Helms became a friend and confidant and six months later I was writing a road riding guide book to my adopted home. It was that relationship that led to the opportunity to write The No-Drop Zone.
Fast forward another year or so and one evening I send Brad Roe, the editor of Road Bike Action a query. I’d written a post for Belgium Knee Warmers but upon completion, I realized it really didn’t fit. I wanted it to receive a home and I wrote Brad with the hope that RBA‘s web site might provide an audience. His was an enthusiastic yes. Two months later he was in touch with an offer to write one of the more fun features I’ve ever penned, “Magic or Mutiny”, which you can find reprinted here.
For most, the lesson here is that it pays to get off your ass and network. That’s not my takeaway. I’m fundamentally introverted; reaching out to people I don’t know is painful and scary. At each turn these people received me enthusiastically, made me feel welcome and like I had something important to contribute. Had even one of those people been in the middle of a bad day and rebuffed me—the pretty girl who spurns the advances of the guy with romance in his eyes—I can say in all likelihood I wouldn’t be here writing this to you now.
To each of those men who entertained my approach, as skilled, daft, ill-prepared or urgent as I might have been, I’m here to say thank you. Maurice, Richard, Garrett, Russell and Brad: I’m grateful for the opportunities you gave me. I hope that you feel your efforts on my behalf were rewarded. I’ll never forget what you did for me.
Thanksgiving is one of our favorite holidays. Setting aside the cornucopial bacchanal of the Turkey Day table and a day at home with our families to laugh, cry and remind ourselves why we don’t do this more often, the opportunity to express gratitude for the gifts we’ve been given, unwrapped and unconditionally, is just really nice.
There’s a chill in the air here in the Northern U.S. Warmers of the arm, knee, leg and toe variety have become de rigueur. Wood smoke wafts on the wind. We are grateful for neoprene and fleece linings, for street lighting and the warmth of home.
The economy has been bad on a global scale, but our wheels keep rolling. Our goods are durable. If anything, a down economy gives us more reasons to ride, to save on health club membership, to save on gas, to remind ourselves what’s important. Global bike sales have actually risen over the last two seasons, evidence that the bike can play a part in the new “green” economy. We are grateful for the solutions hanging in our garages and for the ability to ride places where others will only drive.
Ours is, by any measure, a luxury hobby. RKP readers are generally affluent enough to express opinions about the high-end component offerings from SRAM, Shimano and Campagnolo. While not all of us would call ourselves rich, we move in a world of choices that most of the world doesn’t have. We’re grateful to be able to argue over component groups as if there were a correct answer, and to debate the merits of the various frame materials as if we were building the next space shuttle. We’re grateful for the ability to take the bike too seriously and for the good sense to laugh at ourselves when we do so.
Thanksgiving is a family holiday, and it occurs to us that the bike is most often a way to get away from family, even if, in the end, it helps us to be better fathers/mothers/daughters/son/brothers/sisters/people. We are grateful for this time off the bike to reap the dividends it provides and to share it with those we love.
Finally, we are grateful for this big, stupid, amorphous, unwieldy internet that brings us all together and grows our cycling family across the continents and time zones into its own great big, stupid, amorphous, unwieldy but wonderful mess.
What are you grateful for?
By now you’re aware that there’s a relatively new kid on the block in terms of bike magazines. Peloton magazine is entering its second year of publication and is growing like an adolescent with an overactive pituitary. Which is a good thing in this case as we don’t have to buy it any clothes. I’m grateful to every one of you who has already subscribed to the magazine. You lot can drop back by later when the real post for today is finished.
This is a sales pitch pure and simple.
There’s always some fine print, so let’s get that out of the way. I do a lot of work for peloton. Most months, they are my single biggest source of income. They purchased that ad at the right. I’ve been bought and paid for. (Hey FTC: Are you happy now?) That said, no one asked me to write this post. As per usual, it’s from the heart.
You may notice that the ad mentions a discounted subscription. While you don’t have to be an RKP reader to get this deal, currently this blog is the only place outside of peloton that this is being advertised. That should tell you something about highly regarded the RKP readership is.
If you haven’t already subscribed to peloton, please tell a loved one to get you this for the holidays. One of ‘em; we don’t care which holiday.
Brad Roe, Tim Schamber, Ben Edwards, Adam Reek and the rest of the team are doing something truly different. This isn’t just a great bike magazine, it’s a great magazine, full stop. They are a great media company. They are doing something to show that artful photography and prose printed on paper still matters, that there’s a place for quality in this world, that we don’t need another commodity focus-grouped into existence.
And here’s the other trick: If you think they’ve been adventurous so far (and they have), with more readers, their budget grows to do even more surprising things. Years from now, I suspect one night you’ll finish an issue and as you set it down you’re going to wonder, “How did we ever get along before there was peloton?”
I ask myself the same thing every damn day.
And if that wasn’t enough, check out this preview of Issue 08.
Fuel for the ride. Indeed.
Those first days of school are an indoctrination. We executed the circles, the lines, the angles that make up the letters movement by movement, like sheets of paper spat from a printer. The repetition is as much to remind those little brains what to think as how to draw a curve. Soon it’s numbers, then math, the problems factored until the result is automatic, as natural as falling rain.
It seems as if each new problem, every conjugated verb is a lack of faith, a basic statement of mistrust, disbelief that we’ve learned anything at all. Over and over. It’s the shorthand for what numbs the brain, a rejection of process, a plea that there are other efforts in life, good reason to chase new pursuits, other ways to learn if this one didn’t work.
What most of us didn’t realize was how long division was rarely about the divisor, never about speed. The repetition was a study in process, a lesson in work. How many of us bored of it, anxious to move on to something fresh, something new, anything different?
Those early school days were an introduction to concepts that as cyclists we hold to be self-evident truths. Of course, most of us didn’t appreciate the true nature of what we were learning. How in doing addition problems over and over we were learning what work is. What it means to train.
But here we are, tens of thousands of kilometers—or miles—later. A spin so perfected we know the difference between 172.5mm and 175mm cranks. We feel the slip of a seatpost in the knees. Work, in its simplest sense, is our only path to speed, to experience, to enlightenment.
One of the legends of frame building told me that he thought the only want to hone the craft of frame building was by spending some years in a production environment. It’s not until you’ve done dropouts or bottom bracket shells for days on end and are sick of them that you can hope to gain the experience necessary to develop that muscle memory. That’s the point, he said. Once you’ve done several thousand dropouts, when you pick up the torch you don’t have to worry about remembering just what to do, it’s automatic. Not until you don’t have to worry about the craft are you in a position to think about it.
Think about how many times you’ve been sliding back in a group and made that tiny acceleration to move onto the wheel of a rider coming by you. You may do it a dozen times or more even in a short ride. Somewhere in our past it stopped being an exercise in how to do; rather, the very thing you do.
For at least some of us, those years in school were just an interruption in the fun we wanted to have. Cycling gave us the chance to have fun for hours on end. And not until we got our fill of fun did we begin to think about what it means to really work.