I am among those who really wish “the past” would just go away, but it hasn’t yet. Is December 31 the absolute drop-dead date for grand-jury action on the Lance Armstrong case? Is there wiggle room?
I am not one of those lawyers who has a lot of experience with federal grand juries — either as an attorney or as a defendant — so I checked in with a friend who works as an assistant U.S. attorney in another district.
As is usually the case, there is a rule out there and my friend pointed me to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which sum up the question rather nicely.
Rule 6(g) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides:
(g) Discharging the Grand Jury. A grand jury must serve until the court discharges it, but it may serve more than 18 months only if the court, having determined that an extension is in the public interest, extends the grand jury’s service. An extension may be granted for no more than 6 months, except as otherwise provided by statute.
Given that it operates under a shroud of secrecy, it’s kind of hard to find out precisely when the grand jury was originally empaneled. Still you can make an educated guess. Most observers agree that the grand jury was originally charged with a far more general investigation into the distribution of performance-enhancing drugs in cycling. The impetus for that came after Joe Papp began to cooperate with authorities after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute performance-enhancing drugs, including human growth hormone and EPO, at a time when he was offering information against other athletes suspected of doping violations.
While Papp originally came into the public spotlight when he testified at the Floyd Landis doping hearings in 2007 as to the efficacy of testosterone use by cyclists, what appears to have caught the attention of federal authorities is information he offered regarding former Rock Racing rider Kayle Leogrande.
According to sources close to the investigation, one target was former Rock Racing owner Michael Ball, who was allegedly involved in the purchase of performance-enhancing drugs for other riders. (Ball was the owner of Rock & Republic Jeans, which has since sought bankruptcy protection, given that the market for $300 sequined blue jeans has pretty much dried up in these hard economic times.)
We first learned that Papp was cooperating with federal investigators and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency back in February of 2010. Now we shouldn’t assume that the grand jury was empaneled at that point. Papp’s testimony was probably reviewed in detail by Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Miller and Food and Drug Administration Criminal Division investigator Jeff Novitzky, the two men heading up the investigation. That had to take some time and most believe that the grand jury was formally empaneled around April of 2010. That would suggest that we’re close to the 20-month mark in the life of this grand jury.
So we’re beyond 18 months and we’re guessing that the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles has asked for — and received — the six-month extension provided for in Rule 6(g). The most likely justification for that is the complexity of the case involving not Michael Ball, but a much bigger target, Lance Armstrong, who came to the attention of investigators in May of 2010 after Floyd Landis very publicly leveled a number of doping allegations against the former Tour winner.
That Armstrong is now a focus of the grand jury’s efforts is pretty clear at this point. We’ve all heard of the parade of former teammates and staff subpoenaed in the matter. Had there been any doubt, that disappeared when Tyler Hamilton was interviewed on CBS’ “60 Minutes” show, offering details as to the testimony he presented to the grand jury.
Now, there has been very little news about the grand jury since the big flap over the Hamilton interview, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything happening out there in L.A. I’ve recently spoken with two attorneys whose clients have testified to the grand jury within the last 40 days. My guess is that the work is continuing, but Miller and Novitzky are staying quiet, as they are required to do.
Assuming the April 2010 empanelment date is right, the existing grand jury investigating Lance Armstrong could continue to work all the way up to April of 2012. So, we might hear of indictments being handed down some time in early 2012.
What if there are no indictments?
So what happens if the clock ticks by and we don’t hear of indictments by April or May of next year? Sure, that could be viewed as an indication that no charges will be filed against any of the subjects of the investigation. Indeed, the odds are good that you will probably hear statements from Armstrong’s attorneys that the absence of formal charges is an affirmation of his innocence … as it may well be.
However, the simple fact that the grand jury’s time has expired shouldn’t be considered definitive. If the U.S. Attorney’s office decides to continue pursuing the case, they have the option of empaneling a second grand jury, which would have full access to the records and transcripts from the first.
But as they say, “time waits for no one,” and it won’t wait for grand juries. Even though the grand-jury clock isn’t necessarily a big deal to the prosecution side, there is the whole question of the statute of limitations. Federal law (18 U.S.C. Section 3282) establishes that there cannot be prosecutions for most crimes committed more than five years prior to the issuance of an indictment. Certainly most of Landis’ allegations involve alleged acts that occurred much more than five years ago.
There is one very notable exception to that limit in the form of the 1970 Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), (18, U.S.C. Sections 1961-1968). RICO was designed to give prosecutors a package of options to pursue longtime criminal conspiracies.
At first glance, RICO does provide for a broader time horizon in that it requires a defendant to have committed at least two acts of “racketeering activity” within 10 years of commission of a prior act of racketeering activity. However, RICO’s wording can be confusing, especially that “pattern of racketing activity” language with the 10-year reference. The fact remains that RICO is still subject to the general five-year statute of limitations, unless bank fraud is involved, and then it can be extended to 10.
Now here’s the rub. Sources close to the investigation have hinted that the Armstrong investigation is focused on much more than doping and could involve significant financial transactions. RICO’s 10-year window also covers the Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act (31 U.S.C. Section 5311), which may be at issue here, since we’re dealing with allegations of moneys being transferred across international borders in order to advance a criminal conspiracy.
The bottom line is that yes, the clock is ticking, but we have a number of deadlines out there. We just have to read the indictments — if there are any — to see what argument prosecutors will use to justify pursuit of the case.
My buddy, the aforementioned assistant U.S. attorney, says he’s beginning to believe there won’t be indictments. Me? I’m not a betting man, so I am not going to venture a guess. All I know is that if there are indictments, they should make for some mighty interesting reading … and I always enjoy a good read.
The Explainer is now a regular feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
When I was eight-years-old, I awoke on Christmas morning to find a bright red BMX bike perched quietly in front of the tree. The moment I breached the living room and glimpsed that bike for the first time is a moment stuck in my head for eternity, or at least for my geologically narrow slice of it.
My next clear memory is of riding that bike, full tilt down the street, wearing a brand new Oshman’s track suit. No doubt I was on my way to rubbing my opulent good fortune in the faces of the other neighborhood kids. I had been wobbling along behind them all on a beat purple kiddie bike, silver sparkle saddle, for a full year. In a Christmas instant, I vaulted from worst to first.
Next to the moment I first learned to ride, training-wheel-free, under my own steam, that Christmas morning remains one of my most cherished memories, and if it’s true that we spend our whole cycling lives trying to recapture that first moment of freedom, there is a parallel drive to relive that first dream bike acquisition.
Now, you’re not a kid anymore, except possibly in mind and maturity, but just imagine the coming holiday promises a bike in front of a tree. Now, before we get all wrapped up in “but I don’t celebrate Christmas,” or “I don’t believe in Santa,” or “I don’t have a tree,” or even “I practice an ancient, animist religion that eschews the giving and/or receiving of gifts,” let’s just be kids for a minute here. All we have to believe today is that we’re going to wake up one morning in a week-and-a-half and find a dream bike in front of a tree, which, for whatever reason, is standing in our living room.
What’s the bike? What color is it? What are you gonna do with it? And, most importantly (or not at all), who is going to be envious?
I happen to have this bike in the works for myself. It’s a custom, Ti single-speed mountain bike, set up with tubeless 650b wheels, disc brakes and a generous application of kick ass. I’m not sure it will make it to the tree, or at least not the one set up in my living room.
Follow me on Twitter @thebicyclerobot!
In what counts for spare time I’ve got two book proposals I’ve been working on. One of them concerns frame builders. My online column for peloton, called Artisans, is meant to be background research for many of the builders I believe will be the subjects of the book. If you’ve never checked it out, you should drop by and read a few here.
Recently, I was on the phone with one of the legends of frame building. We got to talking about the dream that leads one to want to become a frame builder. I’ve always enjoyed talking to frame builders. They have that feel of brother-of-a-different-mother to me. The work is solitary, creative, essentially commercial in nature and requires simple acts to be repeated thousands of times to hone one’s craft. After a while, they find they begin exploring arcane ideas about heat, silver, steel. At a certain level, writing is no different. I find myself thinking about verbs and the relative evil of sentimentality.
The builder I was speaking to told me how he had dreamt that being a frame builder was like being a shop keeper, such as a tailor. You show up in the morning, open up, work a full day, then close up and head home. But the idea was that working alone was meant to foster craft and remove the need to crank out production-style work. He believed that working alone was the key to being able to perform artisanal work. But that’s not all: When he was starting out, he had a belief that most of the builders who weren’t employed by the big companies like Colnago worked in exactly that manner.
By the time he found out that wasn’t the case, he’d already been building on his own for a few years. What I’ve learned of most of the European shops is that their priorities were shifted toward maximizing efficiency to increase output. Most of the builders I’ve spoken to working in the U.S. in the 1970s and ’80s favored limited output so they could focus on quality. Indeed contract builders were common in Italy. There were some who kept a stock of their clients’ decals around for when they came calling.
What American builders—and consumers—seem to struggle to appreciate is that to most of the builders working in Europe up through the ’80s and ’90s is that the bicycle frame was a commodity rarely separated by more than paint and decals. Branding and identity were the province of paint, decals and sponsorship. That is, you could put Colnago paint and decals on any bike and—ergo—it was a Colnago. There wasn’t a belief that anything beneath the paint could be terribly special.
When you consider those early builders here in the U.S., that is the group that really helped put frame building on the map here in the 1970s, guys like Albert Eisentraut, Richard Sachs, Peter Weigle, Ben Serotta and Brian Baylis, they each epitomized that ideal of the solitary craftsman, at least early on. Nevermind the fact that Eisentraut and Serotta never really made a career of working alone, that romanticized notion of the shopkeeper craftsman that inspired many of them—and most of today’s builders as well—is largely a fiction.
This idealized vision held by a handful of American builders of just what the life and purpose of a one-man frame shop is is largely responsible for the state of frame building in the U.S. and even around the world. The example set by Sachs, Weigle and other one-man shops is directly responsible for the influx of guys like Sacha White of Vanilla and David Wages of Ellis. The irony is that Sachs and Weigle weren’t really responding to a tradition; they were inventing one.
Relationship counselors are in the business of reminding us that when we enter a relationship we rarely see the object of affection as they are. We see them as we want them to be. Think about that a second. Is there a better demonstration of a love of craft than setting out to be an artisan as part of a grand tradition that exists only in your mind?
On a couple of occasions in my life I’ve seen old-school soigneurs in action, up close. Their pre-race rituals are impressive less for what they are than what they betray about consistent deep-tissue massage. I’ve watched soigneurs perform pre-race massages in which they so loosened muscles that they could push their thumbs deep into a hamstring without a trace of resistance. Frankly, it looked kinda surreal.
The years have taken a toll on me. These days, I’m a bigger believer in the value of massage than even when I was racing both days of every weekend. Using an embrocation is a chance to give my legs a pre-ride massage and the benefit I experience is readily apparent. There’s a hill less than a mile from home, one I have to climb at the start of nearly every ride I do. While I haven’t performed any double-blind studies with control groups and other assorted scientific whatnot, I began noticing that on days when I was wearing embro, I felt better on that hill than if I was wearing knee or leg warmers. I didn’t have any agenda and didn’t start with a theory of any sort; I just started noticing that on some days I felt less stiff when I hit that hill. Actually, what I noticed was that some days I rode a little faster than other days.
Initially, I attributed it to how recovered I was. Then I noticed that sometimes I felt good even at the end of a higher-mileage week. Eventually it occurred to me that I ride a bit better when my legs smell good. Some of this, I must confess, doesn’t even involve my legs. After I massage the embro into my legs, I make sure to hit my left shoulder and lower back. Adding some heat there does a lot to loosen me up before the ride. The trick is to do it as early as possible after rising, and then avoiding contact with my son and the cats.
That’s just bound to end in tears.
Hibros is Italian maker of embrocations. And they have a selection of products like the Rolling Stones have albums. In looking through their selection at Interbike last year, the device above caught my eye. It is a pump dispenser for embrocation. Not only that, it features a dial indicator in the front that allows you to decide just how much heat you apply.
If there was one thing that fascinated me about watching Euro soigneurs in action it was seeing how they’d mix embros the way painters mix oils on a palette. They’d get a finger of this, a couple dabs of that and a drop of this other as they worked. And depending on whether they were working on hamstrings, quads or calves, that mix would change. To my eye it was a kind of sorcery.
The embro comes in replaceable cartridges and I was pleasantly surprised to find that you can’t screw up and install the no-heat cream in the heat slot and vice versa. Imagine the shock you’d get if you could put the heated version in the no-heat side. That brings me to my one knock against this stuff. Even when turned up all the way, the heat in this embro is pretty modest. Temperature-wise, it ranks below a Mad Alchemy “mellow” and Record Pregara Forte. I found I really only used it in late spring and cool summer mornings. Once conditions cooled off for fall, I switched to other stuff.
I like the feel of the cream and the smell, which leans heavily on menthol and camphor, is decidedly old-school.
As not everyone is a fan of parabens (which are generally used as preservatives in cosmetics), I need to mention that the Hibros embro does include several parabens in its list of ingredients. If you tend to be sensitive to them, there are other options out there. The dispenser with two cartridges lists for $44 and 75ml replacement cartridges list for $15. Online I’ve found both for 10 to 15 percent less. You can check out Hibros stuff here.
The last few weeks have been interesting ones for RKP. In addition to the recognition from Outside Magazine as the top blog in cycling (one of the more surreal events of my life), email has been cascading in from readers to tell me what they thought of peloton magazine‘s eighth issue. It seems to have resonated with most readers.
Behind the scenes there have been a number of inquiries about advertising, plus a few more about gear to be reviewed. In every instance, the answer has been an easy yes. However, there’s more to “yes” than just the “yes” itself. I realized I needed help.
I’m excited to announce that I’ve enlisted said help.
Roger Wotton is RKP‘s new advertising sales director. He has been a friend for a good ten years. We were riding buddies first, teammates later and always bike industry colleagues. After six years in management with two of California’s top Specialized Concept Stores (Cynergy in Santa Monica and Surf City Cyclery in Huntington Beach), Roger wanted to move to Portland, Ore., to share an address with his girlfriend. RKP was the vehicle to make his move something other than professional suicide.
Roger’s an intense, focused and detail-oriented guy. He’s the perfect complement to my big-picture thinking thanks to his ability to implement a plan in real-world operations.
In the weeks and months ahead, you’ll be seeing some new advertisers and will notice more frequent postings and a bit better organization about what goes up when.
It’s my personal good fortune to enlist a guy with uncompromising personal standards and integrity. RKP doesn’t need a slick salesman; we need someone who can speak the bike industry’s language of quality and passion.
And then there’s the fact that his near-term success will contribute directly to you seeing Charles Pelkey’s work more often.
What I can’t stress enough is that this is a tiny operation. Every dollar that rolls in helps to support Charles, Robot, Roger and me. There are no hidden VP’s, no uber-presidents, no shareholders. Just some guys who have dedicated their careers to bikes. Pardon me while I thumb my nose at all the big Wall Street job creators. I’m at four (jobs, that is) and am aiming for a few more by the time the Spring Classics roll around.
I hope you’ll welcome him in the comments below. And if you want to talk advertising, drop him a note.
Cycling’s natural habitat is summer, same as the natural habitat of the panda bear is bamboo forest. It’s just how the sport is supposed to work. Consider: Speeding through the air on a hot day gives you a cooler experience than if you simply sat fanning yourself on a veranda. Sweating on said hot day goes over better if you’re not covered in clothing.
Go for a ride on a cold day and comfort gets complicated in a hurry. That convective cooling thing that works so well on a July day can be hell in December. Might as well rub ice cubes on your skin if you’re just going to go out in a jersey and shorts. You’ve got to stay warm, so you’ve got to cover up yards of skin. But you’re going to sweat, so your clothing needs to wick all that moisture away.
By now, you’ve learned all the basics to riding in the cold. We know that. Heck, I suspect most of you could teach a graduate seminar in winter base miles.
That said, there’s one piece of clothing that I think has been consistently under-appreciated: the thermal bib short.
That brings us to the Assos T.607 thermal bib shorts. In general, I don’t think there’s another piece of clothing on the market that could do more to increase a rider’s comfort in cold weather than the thermal bib short. The problem, as I see it, isn’t that riders haven’t been buying them. It’s that clothing companies make them too rarely and market them almost not at all. Getting retailers to stock them is like asking the attorney general to sell crack. Little wonder that I like to call them the secret weapon.
What amazes me is how we all think to put knee warmers and leg warmers on crafted from Roubaix Lycra and yet its furry warmth doesn’t seem necessary for protecting our more sensitive undercarriage bits.
Assos rates their thermal bibs to temperatures as cool as about 46 degrees. Those crazy Swiss. Such modesty! When hell freezes over, these babies will be on my ass as I ride my ‘cross bike through the icicle flames.
Justifying a $300 pair of bib shorts isn’t easy. It’s even harder if you’re married. And want to stay that way. However, there are three features in particular to recommend these. First is the classic Assos fit. Anyone who has enjoyed a pair of Assos bibs on a long ride knows that no other bibs on the planet offer more comfort in fewer panels, or even the same number of panels. The cut is almost identical to their top-selling Mille (say Mee-lay) bibs.
Next is the fact that the T.607 bibs use the same pad found in the Mille bibs. This is Assos’ thickest, broadest pad. No matter what you may think of big, thick pads, you haven’t pinned the needle on the comfort meter until you’ve worn bibs with this pad. And because the pad is generously cut, any time you spend off the bike (say in line at Starbucks) isn’t accompanied by an inappropriate anatomic demonstration. Ahem.
Why any company would go to the trouble of making a thermal bib and then not actually spec it with their best chamois defies both logic and explanation. You might as well buy a Ferrari and put Costco tires on it. Really? That’s your plan?
Roubaix Q is the other reason why if you’re going to bother to plunk money down for the secret weapon, you need to think about these bibs. Roubaix Q is a fleecy Lycra, but with a twist. It features a waffle pattern. Think old-school long johns. The pattern creates more space to trap air and keep you warm. And of all the Roubaix Lycras I’ve ever worn, Roubaix Q is the softest version ever to grace my caboose. Not that there’s anything particularly graceful about my caboose. The material used on the outside of the hips, where the wind makes more direct contact and in front on the lowest portion of the bibs to help keep your torso as warm as possible. A more traditional Roubaix fabric with a smoother finish is used in the high-wear areas of the bibs.
The bib uppers are essentially identical to the Mille bibs. It’s a lightweight material that helps wick moisture away quickly to keep you dry.
Assos has come out with a new set of knee warmers, the S7, also made from Roubaix Q, except for the portion just behind the knee, to reduce bulk. They run from mid-thigh to the bottom of the calf. They also run $85; that might seem like a lot for knee warmers, but other brands have appreciated, making these simply a bit more expensive, rather than hideously so.
The S7 knee warmers are a curious departure from all other knee warmers I’ve ever encountered. They lack a leg gripper on the top hem. I’m one of those fortunate souls who has rarely had trouble with leg grippers, either in my bibs or in my knee warmers. However, I know plenty of riders who complain of an allergy to the gripper material that results in uncomfortable skin irritation. Assos has designed the T.607 thermal bibs to hold the S7 knee warmers in place. The silicone gripper has a remarkable ability to hold the waffle surface of the S7 knee warmers in place.
I’ve tried the S7s with other bibs. They are nearly proprietary knee warmers. A few pairs of bibs have held them sufficiently in place, but they haven’t worked with most bibs I’ve tried. After a little more than an hour the knee warmers creep out, exposing the back of your thigh before just pulling out entirely. I suspect the key is to wear them with bibs that feature grippers that don’t lay in-line with the rest of the garment. Any gripper that protrudes from the surface of the hem, as Assos grippers do, will probably work.
What’s that you ask? You could just purchase knickers and be done with it? Well here’s the thing: I see this bib/knee warmer combo as the wintertime cycling-equivalent of the ragtop. During the week, when I have less time to get ready and get pressed into family duty the moment I walk in the door following the ride, embro isn’t really an option. So I can wear these bibs with these knee warmers. On the weekends, when I have more time on both the front-end and back-end of my ride, I can do embro and leave the knee warmers in the drawer.
The headset pictured above was manufactured the year Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States. The year the U.S. celebrated its bicentennial. The year Frampton Comes Alive! was released. The year Taxi Driver, All the President’s Men and Rocky hit the theaters.
I was riding a kid’s bike. Because I was still a kid.
I didn’t know who Chris King was or even what a sealed-bearing headset was until I moved to Massachusetts shortly after Greg LeMond’s second Tour victory. It was while working in one of the bike shops that served the huge college population that the shop manager educated me about the wonder of Chris King headsets. He showed me how well they were made, convinced me how little service they needed, demonstrated how they were impervious to nearly everything—including ham-fisted wrenches inclined to over-tighten a headset.
I’d long-since learned how a headset adjusted too tight would pit. The technical term is brinell. Whatever, we all called a headset ruined by over-tightening “indexed.” It was one of my favorite shop jokes.
King headsets were the most unlikely of devices. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that some little company in Santa Barbara, Calif., had come up with an answer to the headset that had no flaws, at least, none that I could find. Sure it was expensive, but if you never had to replace it and knew it would survive almost any event, then wasn’t it easily worth the price? Sure, the Campagnolo headsets were wonderful, but I’d had the fear of God instilled in me by another mechanic who taught me that if you over-tighten a headset—no matter how briefly—you’ve already started the brinelling. It’s bearing cancer. The headset is dead, but no one knows just yet. To this day, I’ve never run across an indexed King headset. I’m sure it has happened, but not often enough for me to encounter it.
So I began purchasing Chris King headsets. Every time I overhauled a bike I owned, I’d replace the headset in it with a King unit. I even figured out how to overhaul the headset that was in my Merlin mountain bike. I had some dental tools that would allow me to remove the C-clips so I could clean out the bearings and races and then squirt fresh grease back in. When I sold that bike 11 years after first building it up the headset was as smooth as it was the day I installed it, and that was no small feat given that the first five years I had that mountain bike I rode it with a Ritchey fork. Put another way, it was rigid, and that means that headset took a beating.
Ultimately I sold each of those bikes and I suspect that no matter how many parts have been replaced on them, the headsets are still going.
King came on as an advertiser last week. Enthusiast media and advertisers have a curious, symbiotic and sometimes grossly incestuous relationship. Readers often wonder (understandably, if we’re honest) just how much of that love was earned rather than purchased. I count Chris King himself an acquaintance. Two of his employees are friends. We’ve been circling around one another, professing our attraction, flirting a bit, but never heading out for the date.
So last week, they finally asked me out. It means a lot to me both personally and professionally. I always wanted our advertisers to be a collection of companies that I believed it, that in aggregate it would be an implicit statement about not just who believes in RKP‘s content, but also an indication of what we respect.
I plain, flat-out, like these guys and this company. At this point it would be easy to request a Cielo bike, a set of wheels, just a set of hubs, or yet another headset. I’ll probably review something of theirs in the not-too-distant future. Why? Like I said, I like the stuff and it would be fun to try something of theirs I haven’t had the chance to ride much, if at all.
That said, I’ve wanted this blog to be transparent in how it works, what the relationships are, and it occurred to me when I received the new ad from King that what I really wanted to talk about were those headsets I no longer own. It’s funny, but once a company starts advertising, getting product to review usually becomes exponentially easier. It’s an odd phenomenon.
Because RKP started so small, we weren’t on everyone’s radar. And despite amazing readership growth, there are still companies that don’t return my phone calls. This, despite my 20+ years in the industry. So there are times when the publication of content about a company and the arrival of a company’s ad can seem oddly coincidental. In our case, it’s just taken some time to get some of these relationships going. Because what we are doing isn’t published by one of the traditional, mainstream publishers, there are loads of companies who have taken a wait-and-see attitude.
We’re talking to a bunch of companies about advertising with us. We’ve also got a fun announcement looming. These changes, these additions are part of a larger plan. I want to offer more of the kinds of content that RKP provides. I’d like to bring in a few new voices, people I think would fit with what you’ve come to enjoy here. Advertising is the engine that will drive that. And to the degree that we end up writing about those advertisers, it’s because we liked what they were doing long before they requested our media kit.
For as long as I’ve been in cycling my significant others have all either been or become cyclists. In the case of the girlfriend in undergraduate school, I advocated that she take up cycling. It made perfect sense to me. Maybe she stuck with it, maybe not.
In one relationship I expressed my concern that the object of affection wasn’t a cyclist and, therefore, might have a tough time understanding me, my life. So she offered to get a bike. She stayed with cycling longer than she stayed with me.
I rarely advocate that someone take up this sport. I’m more comfortable when it works by attraction. I’d rather you sell yourself on cycling than me deliver my best pitch for why you need it in your life. I’m far more comfortable with congratulating new riders on a choice well-made.
Actual cycling clubs aside, being a cyclist has the feel of being a member of a club. There’s a secret handshake element to it. And it’s natural to want to share that with people you dig.
Which brings us to this week’s question: If you could bring one person into the sport who would it be? We’re not talking just a bike, but giving them all the tools: the bike, the clothing, the skills and the love for the culture itself. Ultimately, that’s what we’re talking about—giving someone more than just an activity, it’s giving them a whole life. Who in your life would you like to enjoy the experience in a manner as rich and complete as your own? And of course, we’re a curious bunch: Why?
Hat tip to Robot; he posed the question.
If you are reading these words, you are, in all likelihood, extremely knowledgeable about cycling. Ours is not a hobbyist’s site. It is written by and for people who live their lives on two wheels. It caters to the kind of person who immerses him or herself in the magazine review of a new component group and spends days, weeks or months contemplating parts choices. RKP readers dream about visiting the sport’s iconic places and riding its legendary routes. We are more than passionate. We are inflamed.
And, in this case, cortisone won’t help. We have to find something to do with all that passion. As I see it, we can use it as a cudgel or a welcome mat, a velvet rope or a revolving door. We can turn cycling into a country club, or we can turn it into a national park.
I vote national park.
Mainly when laypeople come to me for advice about a bicycle, they do so apologetically. They want to be able to go for a ride with their kids, but they need help fixing a flat or lubing a chain. They don’t know how to do these things, and they know I know how, and they feel inferior, which is awful. In the worst cases, they say to me, “I know my bike is probably junk, but it’s all I’ve got.”
I say, better to crank a rusty chain through a busted derailleur than to sit on the couch and dream about a bike you can’t afford, or worse, to dream about no bike at all.
Generally speaking, I try to maintain the attitude that all bicycles, of whatever quality, are good things to have, and I try to be as humbly helpful as I can as I fix a flat or put a chain back on its ring for a neighbor. In my mind, it doesn’t matter what you’re riding as long as you’re riding.
My intentions are noble. How I behave varies.
To my cyclist friends I can spew a torrent of highly opinionated blather based mainly on received wisdom and unconscious prejudice. Why would anyone ride this? Why would anyone like that? If you buy X, Y or Z, you obviously have no idea what you’re doing. Why is everybody doing it wrong?
This is the other side of my brain talking, the insecure side, the side that secretly fears I’ve bought the wrong thing, that I’m not good enough at X,Y or Z and that it is plainly obvious to everyone else that I have no idea what I’m doing. None of those sentiments helps me go faster or have more fun, and their outward expression, as barbed opinion, does nothing but create a withering sense of inferiority in those who would simply aspire to ride.
As I go along I become more and more immersed in cycling and the cycling industry. My first post here was a little over two years ago. At the time I was little more than an avid commuter and a weekend warrior. Padraig gave me an opportunity to write for RKP, and I seized it with both keyboard-rattling hands. Doors opened. I walked through. Today I make my living entirely within the industry (more on that in a later post), and I am grateful to be able to earn my keep by pursuing my passions for both riding and writing about it.
But you have to be careful what you wish for.
Someone once told me that being successful as a writer requires a devotion to the craft, which is to say, a willingness to practice a lot, and also clinging tightly to the compass of your own experience. As soon as you start to spew too much received wisdom, as soon as you concede effort to the expedience of cultural shorthand, you are lost. Practice hard. Tell the truth as you’ve lived it.
I think/hope it’s that simple.
The big challenge I have encountered in the bike industry is one of exclusion. Those with high standards are keen to impose them on other people. We lose touch with reality. It’s a simple thing. We aspire to build and ride the best stuff. Quite what to do with those who don’t share those same aspirations is beyond us. We can do one of two things. We can look down on them. We can turn our club house into a country club.
Or we can fix their flats, reseat their chains and hope they have a good ride.
My experience suggests that riding a bike is awesome. When I was seven years-old and riding some ridiculous, purple junker of a bike, with a dented chain guard that rubbed the chain and made this signature whizz-bang sound whenever I pedaled, I had as much fun, maybe more, than I do now on all manner of high-end bikes. Perhaps I am jaded now. Perhaps the high-end bike does yield a high-end ride. I am in a different place than I was then, but it is not a better place.
A few months ago, I was on a company trip to the Bay Area, and some customers took me on a ride up into Marin. Part of our route took in a bike path through a bucolic suburb, and it was packed with both roadies on their way to serpentine climbs and families on their way to elaborate playgrounds and picnic lunches. I was on a custom, carbon road machine, probably $8,000 worth of technology, and I had to dodge to one side to avoid a little boy, on his first bike, a beatific smile plastered across his face, along with some drool and bits of breakfast.
The kid was having fun. I had one of my better days this year, twisting and turning and rolling through some of the country’s absolute best roads, but I don’t think what I felt touched what that kid had going on, on his way to the jungle gym and a valedictory juice box.
It is instructive to keep stuff like that in mind as you’re crapping on your buddy’s entry-level component group or trying to tell a customer half of what they stock is a waste of metal and shelf space. That’s all non-productive. All of us who share this passion for cycling, all of us who are known informally within our neighborhoods or amongst our friends as “experts,” we’re all selling cycling. We’re representing the lifestyle. We owe it to ourselves, and to those who would join us, to swing the door wide open, to make sure our buddy enjoys the shit out of that entry-level gruppo, and that even snot-nosed kids can slalom carelessly down the path to the cycling life.
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I’m on this planet once that I know of. I say that a lot. A whole lot. I don’t have the answers to what happens next. I know what I’d like, but I don’t have a vote. As a result, I give a lot of thought to what I want my ride on this rock to be.
I want to enjoy myself.
For some, that means perpetual laziness, doing as little that’s not immediately recreational as possible. In high school a buddy told me he planned to do all he could to stay stoned for the rest of his life. He was of the opinion that going through his entire life baked was the best possible scenario. He’s a hospital administrator now. What happened in between is an event I’m not privy to.
As I said, I’d like to enjoy myself while I’m here. For me, that means riding, spending time with my family, and writing as much as possible. Good writing is work in its truest sense, but in that endeavor I can lose myself for hours. It’s terrific fun and a process in which I discover something new about the world with each new sentence. Me, a Mac and a blank Microsoft Word document is a party.
So where does all this intersect with training equipment? Easy. Why ride crap? It’s one thing if you’ve got the income of a college student on work study, but if you’re gainfully employed and not putting six kids through Yale, then you probably spend a bit on bike stuff here and there.
People come up with a lot of crazy rules—and I don’t mean any of the stuff that winds up before the Supreme Court. I’m referring to the idea that some equipment you just don’t ride except in extraordinary circumstances, like the five races one might do per year.
Back when I raced every weekend, I had a great set of wheels that I did keep as my dedicated race wheels. They were tubulars and I didn’t train on them because I didn’t want to risk knocking them out of true or flatting them the day before a race. Some of this is rooted in another age’s practicality. If your history in racing goes back to the time of stuff like Fiamme Red label rims which would flat-spot on a driveway ramp, then you may recall that keeping wheels true could be as hard as keep a meth addict clean. I can recall feeling that I’d been introduced to the secret handshake when I learned that wheels would stay true for longer if as you built them you concentrated on keeping tension even on all the spokes.
Wheels are far more durable today.
So how much use were my finicky race wheels receiving? When I was actively racing I might spend as many as 30 days riding them in a year. That’s one month out of 12. Seems kinda sad to think my life only measured up to my best equipment one-twelfth of the time.
I stopped racing a few years back.
This year, if I recall correctly, I rode three gran fondos. I’d like to have ridden more, but injuries set the agenda, so-to-speak. What I can’t fathom is why I would own a set of wheels that I would reserve just for those days. In my mind the math goes: I only ride my good wheels on special days. I only had three special days. I rode my wheels three times. Why make the investment if you’re never going to use them? And any piece of equipment that gets ridden on three of 365 days really isn’t getting used.
The hell with that. I want as many great days on the bike as I can have. And if I own a piece of equipment that increases my enjoyment when out riding, I see no point in not riding it. Enjoyment is a motivation virus. The more fun something is, the more I want to do it. If I have a truly exceptional ride one day, I’m that much more inclined to make sure I don’t miss my next ride.
The converse is all the corollary you need: When you’re hurt, your motivation for getting on the bike is at perigee. Who will get on a bike if riding is only going to be a source of pain, not suffering, but pain?
Let me back up a minute. I can see a certain logic to a set of wheels that maybe you reserve just for the weekend. Some of my weekday rides take in more sand than I’d like and roads that can be rough on wheels. I can see putting a lesser set of wheels on for a few rides a week.
Let’s look at this from a different angle. Most nights, I have a glass of wine, maybe two, with dinner. I will occasionally open a bottle that runs as much as a decent tire. The problem is that it lasts at absolute most three dinners. Then it’s gone. Imagine having a bottle of wine that you pay for once and can drink every night for a couple of years. If that were the case I’d be drinking $100 Russian River Pinots every flippin’ night.
Why spend $5000 (or more) on a bike and then ride it in a cheap pair of bibs and with crap wheels? Who would only use an $800 GPS on their big rides? My wife would shoot me if I only wore my good helmet on the weekend.
Owning a great set of wheels or a killer pair of bibs means having the tools to enjoy a better experience. If this blog is about anything, it’s about enjoying cycling. You shouldn’t suffer because your cheap saddle is uncomfortable. You should suffer because you drilled it at the front with the group single file behind you for 2k.
I’ve never been in the army, but I think they had it right: Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.