Let’s start with the 800-lb. gorilla: Dura-Ace. Shimano usurped Campagnolo’s position is the top dog in the OEM category on bikes even before Bill Clinton became a household name. The combination of smooth and simple operation plus high value made the Japanese manufacturer’s parts not just acceptable, but sought after.
With the introduction of Hyperglide (which was the first system to add individually contoured cog teeth to aid shifting) back in 1989, Shimano drivetrains took a noticeable step ahead of its competition; that technology was added to the redesign of Dura-Ace that was introduced in 1991. That iteration of Dura-Ace gave us eight speeds and—more important—the first integrated control lever. I assembled a Schwinn Paramount (“One of the Waterford bikes!” I exclaimed when I opened the frame box) with the new Dura-Ace and I was just enough of a Campy grouch to proclaim (largely because Campy’s Ergo lever had yet to be introduced) that the integrated control lever was “unnecessary.”
It is, perhaps, fortuitous that I turned down a lucrative career in crystal ball reading.
Had Shimano not introduced that revision of the group, I shudder to think what Campagnolo would have dreamt up as a follow-up to C-Record. My fear is that it would have been prettier than the Taj Mahal, sported seven speeds and weighed 15 pounds. Eight-speed Dura-Ace turned the tables on Campagnolo and the venerable Italian manufacturer spent a good six years rocked back on its heels—until 9-speed Record went into production. In the 20 years since the introduction of STI in Dura-Ace, the group has lost nearly two pounds, gained two gears, offers wider gearing options for us mortals and improved brake modulation to allow you to choose between scrubbing a tiny bit of speed or making an emergency stop, plus everything in between. Shifting performance has continued to increase as well.
The trouble with Shimano is that it has become the de facto standard and due to the company’s patent attorneys, their voluminous filings have done more to stifle innovation than give the company a competitive edge. For as much as I love their innovation, I despise the work of their legal team. But that dominance owes to their sales team. Shimano figured out the OEM game in a way that Campagnolo still fails to replicate. Shimano gives great pricing to bike manufacturers and they produce their parts very near where most bikes are made and assembled. It’s easy to do business with Shimano, so for that reason many product managers go with them. You get a great bike at a good price.
Best Features: So let’s start with what there is to recommend Dura-Ace 7900. First is the operation of its levers. The two-lever operation of the shifting and the fact that the brake lever doubles as one of the shift levers makes the shifting on Dura-Ace fairly intuitive. The genius part of the shifting system is the fact that you can brake and downshift at the same time. It’s a feature that I used in crits to my advantage and one that continues to serve me well on group rides. It’s rare that I’m braking with any real force and not downshifting at the same time.
Am I out of gears? A quick push on the lever gives instant feedback to whether or not you’re in your biggest cog. That the front derailleur has enough mechanical advantage and stiffness to shift from the little ring to the big one even while you are out of the saddle and pedaling hard is pretty impressive.
Durability is another real selling point for Dura-Ace. With no carbon fiber to be found in the crank, the rear derailleur or even the front derailleur, a Dura-Ace bike is likely to fair a little better in a crash than a Campagnolo Record or Super Record-equipped bike.
The shape of the 7900 control lever is good in that it offers multiple hand positions. I frequently find myself riding with my hands resting half on the bar and half on the lever, as opposed to wrapping my hands fully around the lever body, a position I seem to save for getting out of the saddle. That the 7900 lever now offers brake lever reach adjustment is terrific. I don’t have big hands and I like to run the levers as close to the bar as possible. Another nice feature of the brakes is the quick release lever that allows you to open the brake for wide tires, or in the event of a wheel knocked out of true, the ability to open the brake on the fly and ride home without it rubbing.
Worst Features: Unfortunately, the shape of the 7900 control lever is as attractive as a Ford Pinto. Where the 7800 lever had a slightly sci-fi-edged ergonomicity to it, this new one is blocky and the plus that both cables are run under tape can’t overcome the fact that the lever has all the style of a banquet table. Even worse is how if you remove the faceplate off the lever and turn in the screw to adjust the reach on the brake lever you are left with this open-maw appearance that gives the lever a look that is simultaneously not aero and oddly hungry. Slack-jawed is synonymous with vacant.
What I can’t wrap my head around is how after 20 years of STI you can still move either shift lever a full centimeter and not execute a shift. What’s with all that wasted lever throw? I’ve asked in the past and I’ve gotten answers, but the answers never made enough sense for me to memorize or even believe. Lever play seems to be a vestige of an era when we didn’t know how to maximize ergonomics and performance in the pursuit of all-out excellence. It reminds me of the criticism that the Ford Mustang is deficient because while it has a V8 engine, Ford coaxed less than 400 horsepower from it. Porsche does better than that with only six cylinders. And those aforementioned lever faceplates? They corrode. Shimano has trouble with plating periodically. Those of us who live near the ocean can tell stories of corroded chainrings and crank arms through various iterations of Dura-Ace. The finish seems to be good on all the other parts, though.
It used to be really easy to slide a 5mm Allen key beneath the hood and loosen the lever clamp to adjust lever position. It’s a pain in the ass, now. It’s difficult to roll the lever hood up enough to get a 5mm ball driver in there. Do not like. Another feature I’m less than enthused about is the half polished/half matte finish on the brakes, derailleurs and crank. I suppose that there are lots of people out there who like this, but 7800 was a much more attractive group.
On the cassette front, Dura-Ace gives you eight different options, three of which begin with a 12t cog. I’m sorry, but most of us don’t live in a place where the descents are long enough and fast enough to make use of a 53×11 or even a 50×11, nor are we strong enough to sprint at better than 40 mph—a 50×11 spun at 120 rpm works out to 42.6 mph; I never sprinted that fast.
Assembly and Maintenance: For the most part, installation of a new group is fast and easy. That’s good from a labor rate standpoint if you’re paying your local shop to work on your bike. Replacing a cable, however, is a real frustration. It used to be that you could feed a new cable in and the internals would guide the cable into the existing brake housing pretty effectively; with gear cables it was easy enough to pull the housing out of the lever while you ran the new cable. Running a new cable in a 7900 lever takes some time. On more than one occasion I’ve had to cut the electrical tape holding the housing to the bar before running the cable through and then sliding the housing onto the cable. Again, the upshot here is that if you do your own maintenance, it’s a time suck and if you’re paying someone else to do it, you’re spending more on labor.
I hear lots of people say they always replace their chain and cassette together. I replace my chain about every 2000 miles. When I was racing and my jumps had more spice (and torque), I replaced them every 1000 miles. Consequently, I don’t wear out cassettes. If you replace the chain often enough, the cassette cogs will last a long time.
Chainring wear has been very good with this group. I can recall friends eating through 7700-series chainrings in just a season.
Group Weight: 4.57 lbs. (2070g)
Best Internet Pricing: $1549
I’ve visited what feels like a hundred different cycling blogs. I love seeing what else is out there. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many I find myself visiting a third, fourth, fifth time. It’s once they become something that is part of my regular rotation that I really take note. Honestly, I’m surprised to learn what I find myself drawn back to repeatedly, those blogs that I need a fix of.
There’s a definite A-list. Competitive Cyclist’s “What’s New,” by Brendan Quirk, my old coworker Joe Lindsey’s “Boulder Report” and Bill Strickland’s “The Selection” are three that I wouldn’t want to live without. Fat Cyclist is my first-choice fix for humor and heart. But when it comes to European racing, I head to Pavé and The Inner Ring.
Bombshell alert: If you haven’t heard, Whit Yost has decided to cease publishing Pavé.
If ever I have experienced ambivalence, I’m having it right now. The thought that Pavé is going away is a lot like having a friend move away. I want a beer … or three. But by most definitions, there’s a silver lining. Two of the shining stars that made Pavé so great, Whit and Jeremy Rauch have agreed to contribute to RKP. I should be over the moon that two more stellar writers are joining RKP, but I can’t help be disappointed to see the blog go. And the thought that someone might think I was profiting off its demise would pain me. Worse, I see it through the lens of my own failures; as a result I understand it as the end of someone’s dream and that makes me really sad.
Whit and I have been in touch from time to time, sharing ideas and the requisite passion. How can you not? So when he informed me that he was going to wind Pavé down, I insisted that the cycling world shouldn’t lose his voice. The same, at minimum, for Jeremy. The truth is, there have been a number of great contributors at Pavé. I’m taking the biggest bite I can right now.
As if you need any justification for how good Whit’s work is, you’ll also be seeing his byline in Bicycling, both in print and online.
I’m going to level with you: I was never the guy who threw the party that everyone had to attend. That RKP—okay—that I have managed to recruit and attract so much extraordinary talent in just a few months time leaves me as pleasantly surprised as you. I’d have been okay if RKP was doing tomorrow exactly what it was doing last July. Not the same exact posts, mind you, but being based primarily on my and Robot’s work. Traffic was growing, the audience was happy and we were having fun doing work that we enjoyed doing. I swear to you, more than that was not necessary.
RKP has afforded me the opportunity to be the editor I always wanted to have. That is, to be encouraged to do good work and not worry about whether or not there was a ready audience or how the audience might benefit. Good prose is a benefit enough. But something’s happening here. RKP is becoming a repository for an alternative take on cycling writing. Richer, deeper, personal, it doesn’t qualify as journalism in the strictest sense.
In speaking to a few trusted friends about RKP’s growth they expressed some concern that RKP might end up focusing less on what our primary strength has been. In Competitive Cyclist’s End of the Year Awards Brendan Quirk wrote: “In reading RKP I’m often reminded of the days of yore when Campagnolo coined the phrase Quando La Tecnologia Diventa Emozione – ‘Where Technology Becomes Emotion.’ RKP is at its best when it focuses there — at that magical place in cycling where what we feel is inseparable from what we’re riding.”
I was as complimented by that as anything anyone has written about us. I don’t want four more contributors to do what Robot and I do. I want to see our bag of tricks grow. I want us to do more of the things we only occasionally do and I want to do it at the level of quality that our readers have come to expect. In adding Charles Pelkey, John Wilcockson, Whit Yost and Jeremy Rauch to RKP’s masthead, I’m certain that what you will find here will be broader editorially, but still in keeping with what you’ve come to expect from us. Our core mission of analysis, insight and inspiration will be well-served by these talented writers. And there’s a chance that such a great cast of characters will result in a prosodic critical mass, inspiring each of us to even better work in a verb-fueled synergy. Just maybe.
I hope you’re as excited for our future as I am.
When I’m out on the bike I get a lot of questions. Mostly they revolve around whatever the newest thing I’m riding, be it bike, clothing or what-have-you. What’s interesting is that the broader, more philosophical questions about equipment come late in a ride. They always have.
After we’ve punched some tickets, gone cross-eyed and been humbled, the late portion of the ride, as we cool down and head for home is when all the most interesting questions come up. They’ve ranged from what my favorite saddle (I’m really partial to the Fi’zi:k Antares) is to whether I’d ride steel on a course with a lot of climbing (um, no).
It was shortly after the Schleck chaingate that a newer rider asked me what group he should buy now that Andy Schleck had demonstrated that the Red drivetrain was defective and in need of an overhaul.
“Easy,” I said. “You should buy the one that never suffers a missed shift.”
Then I gave a hearty laugh.
I hope you’ll pardon me for laughing at my own joke. I laughed long and loud over that. The rider in question didn’t follow me. I left him to ponder what I might have meant.
That belies a common question I get, though: Who makes the best component group?
I’ve got a few thousand miles each on Super Record, Dura-Ace and Red. I can speak to that question. Normally, I don’t like or do shootouts for a simple reason: Someone always loses. That said, there are specific reasons to recommend one group over another depending on your individual needs. For some riders, there may not be a compelling reason to go with one over the others, but for others, there may be a very clear choice.
Needs aside, I believe that each manufacturer is in for some constructive criticism. Each of those groups feature some blemishes that can and should be addressed.
And so, now that RKP’s traffic is big enough that we can’t be ignored, I’m about to embark on a series of posts that could well piss off some really nice people at companies that I previously hoped would advertise. Gulp.
Oh, a brief (but obvious) word on what defines a group. It used to be that a group included shift levers, brake levers, brakes, derailleurs, a bottom bracket, crank set, chain, cables, headset, hubs and pedals. These days integrated headsets are found in most frames, nearly all wheels are sold as complete wheelsets and pedals stopped being sold with groups not long after Look entered the market; a group no longer includes a headset, hubs or pedals.
Like I said, this is going to take a few posts to get through. Keep checking back.
I try to keep things simple. I ride my bike, and I write about it. That seems to be the one and only “technique” that works for me, and when I’m true to it, it’s true to me.
The problem comes when the motivation to ride everyday wanes, when getting out the door requires more mental calculus than my tax forms. That’s where I’ve been lately. Unlike past winters when I’ve ridden into the teeth of the wind, smiled, spit and rolled on, I’m finding it cold this year. My hands hurt. Rides aren’t leaving me satisfied and inspired. They’re leaving me trashed and tired, ragged and spent.
And the harder it gets, the worse is my rider’s block, the harder it is to get out the door. I am only really commuting now. Every other week or so the guys from the office drag me out for a trail ride, but I’m forcing myself. Even with a new bike, I’m forcing myself.
Fortunately, I’ve been this way before, and I have faith in the bike and faith in the process of riding and writing, and riding and writing, over and over until I’ve crossed all the invisible finish lines and rolled out of all the imaginary start houses and climbed all the unrated climbs and arrived at all the destinations that weren’t the point, because it’s the journey, right? Always the journey. Keep riding. Don’t stop. Find the rhythm.
Is it working? I’m riding everyday, or awfully close to it, and I’m still writing. I’m just not in that beautiful unconscious place you get to when you’re fit and motivated and every hill is a dragon to be slain and every ride is a deposit in that Swiss bank account in your soul. I’m faking it to make it. I’m muscling through, instead of finessing it.
In the past, when I’ve had conventional writer’s block, I’ve employed this basic method. Keep writing, or perhaps more importantly, keep reading. Find the inspiration. Write through all your bad ideas. Go back. Revise them. Make them worse. Start over. Put them in an envelope. Seal it. Light a match. Move on.
What I can’t figure is, the weather has been kind to me. It’s mid-January and we’ve had a dusting of snow. That’s it. The cold hasn’t even been very cold. Al Gore’s got his thumb on the thermostat, I guess. The conditions are right for success.
I must be one hard road ride away from salvation. Or maybe one day of trail flow, stump hurtling, switchback slaloming flow. Or maybe, just maybe, a few hours of wrenching will put me right.
I’ve done the hardest part. I’ve identified the problem. That allows me to accept ride invitations despite serious misgivings. That allows me to get out of bed before dawn and pull up the bib straps. Ride the bike and write about it. Keep it simple. Ride.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The typewriter … and other machines
The French reporter was sweating profusely as he pushed the telephone into an acoustic coupler, one of those slow-speed, low-tech contraptions we used to transmit stories before sleek laptops and Wi-Fi were developed. He hit the “go” button over and over, but nothing was passing through the modem to his newspaper in Paris. It looked like his story on Jeannie Longo’s silver medal at the 1992 Olympics was going to miss its deadline.
As he let forth a stream of “merde, alors” and “mon dieu”s, he tweaked the cables and forced the old-fashioned phone harder and harder into the coupler’s rubber receptacles, hoping the line would eventually stay clear long enough to work. His curses didn’t bother us, the few writers left in the makeshift pressroom at a Spanish elementary school; we’d all had similar experiences with inefficient technology. After countless tries, the French scribe’s rudimentary computer finally gave a satisfying “ping” to signal that the transmission was successful. He wiped his brow and breathed a sigh of relief.
The stories I was writing that day had later deadlines, but even back at the Olympic press village, my Tandy word processor and the Spanish phone lines had a connectivity problem. The words would slowly flow across the Tandy’s tiny screen and then cut off, only partway through the transmission. After a couple of hours of trying I gave up for the time being, and thought to myself: “I wish I had a typewriter.”
In the first 25 years of my writing career, I loved using a typewriter. There was something inspiring about winding a clean piece of paper onto the platen, the black cylinder at the heart of the machine, banging down on indestructible keys and seeing your story grow line by line in printed form. In fact, filmmaker Woody Allen likes the typewriter so much that he still writes on the same German-built Olympia portable he bought when he was in high school.
Before I discovered the charms of typewriters, journalists had been using them for a century. And coincidentally, the world’s first viable typewriter was invented the same year, 1868, that the first velocipede races were held in Paris and the world’s first cycling magazine, Vélocipède, was founded in eastern France.
It was on the typewriter that cycling journalists began writing dramatic tales of races that excited the public and brought the sport alive, at a time when newspapers were the only source of mass communication. The first long-distance bike races, initially for amateurs only, were Bordeaux-Paris and Paris-Brest-Paris in 1891, followed by Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1892 and Paris-Roubaix in 1896. Some were organized by cycling magazines, giving their readers an inside feel for the races and the athletes.
New sports publications proliferated in that era, especially in France, where a turf battle between the two leading titles gave birth to the Tour de France in 1903. The first director of the Tour, Henri Desgrange, was also the editor of L’Auto, as was his successor Jacques Goddet. Their stories helped L’Auto (whose title was changed to L’Équipe after World War II) become the world’s biggest sports newspaper; and their daily opinion pieces during the Tour, along with the reports and feature stories of their contemporaries, helped create a rich fabric of cycling history.
During my early years in the Tour pressroom, I often sat next to two legendary French writers: L’Équipe’s senior cycling correspondent Pierre Chany and the novelist Antoine Blondin. They traveled together, almost always stopping for an extended lunch and a bottle or two of wine before driving to the finish, while listening to Radio Tour as they discussed the strategies for their respective stories.
Chany was the specialist. He not only analyzed tactics better than most journalists, but he also established a close relationship with the riders, notably Jacques Anquetil, and that enabled him to bring extra weight to his pieces (this was before the era of post-stage press conferences). Chany worked hard at crafting his daily report, gently striking the keys of his typewriter, usually under a plume of tobacco smoke, with a pack of Gitanes at his side.
Blondin, a friend of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, wrote a short, literary column for L’Équipe, starting with a title that was almost always a play on words. He contemplated every phrase before slowly setting pen to paper in perfect script. No, Blondin didn’t use a typewriter, but he was the exception that proved the rule.
Sometimes, I broke that rule too. At the 1978 world road championships in Germany’s Nürburgring, the early deadline I had for The Sunday Times coincided with the estimated finish time of the amateur road race. After dictating the early part of my report, written on the typewriter, to the copy-taker in London, I stayed on the phone, looked through a doorway toward the finish and ad-libbed the end of my piece as the racers sprinted for the line — headed by Gilbert Glaus of Switzerland.
A half-dozen years later, at the Tour, I had a little longer to write my piece after Scottish climber Robert Millar scored a stage win at Guzet-Neige in the Pyrénées. But the pressroom (and a telephone!) was 40km away in St. Girons. I sat in the back of our press car tapping away on the typewriter — but there were so many twists on the mountain road that I’d find myself typing on the same spot of paper as each turn sent the platen shooting from one side of the machine to the other. Still, with persistence, the story of Millar’s big victory did get written and dictated on time.
Now and then I would follow races by bike, with my portable typewriter tucked away in the panniers. One spring, I followed Paris-Nice that way (using trains to overcome long transfers between stages), and arrived at the pressroom each day in time to watch the finish, get some quotes and write my newspaper story. Since I had official press accreditation, I didn’t have a problem riding my bike along the race route — except once, at St. Etienne.
I was descending into the city about a half-hour ahead of the race, moving at a fair clip, when an over-zealous gendarme spotted me coming toward him. Assuming I had no right to be on the course, he dived out from the roadside to wrestle me and my bike to the ground, as if he were a rugby player making a game-saving tackle.
I was bruised and grazed, but more concerned about the health of my typewriter. Luckily, its case just cracked a little; there was nothing wrong with the keys. And no, I didn’t get arrested. The gendarme escorted me to his capitaine, who inspected my press credential and admonished his subordinate before sending me on my way.
Typewriters are sturdy machines, and I’d still be using one if Wi-Fi hadn’t taken us out of the dark ages in transmitting copy. Nonetheless, I keep my old Olympia Traveller de luxe portable in a closet, just in case an outage ever puts my laptop out of commission. That typewriter weighs 11½ pounds, more than twice the weight of my Apple MacBook, and it still works perfectly. Computers need replacing every few years, unlike the typewriter — as Woody Allen well knows.
Another retro wordsmith is Italian sportswriter Gianni Mura. Just as Blondin was an anomaly in the 1960s and’70s, navigating with a pen in a sea of typewriters, so Mura is a 21st century hold-out. The clip-clop of his 1960s Olivetti Lettera 32 often drowns out the quieter clatter of computer keys in our Tour pressrooms. And because he’s a smoker, like Chany and Blondin, Mura usually sets up shop outdoors. “I can concentrate better out here,” he tells you. Yet even Mura bows to modern technology: When he calls his copy through to La Repubblica in Milan, he uses a mobile phone.
Before cell phones came into general use, we used to search for payphones when driving between stage towns. You’d think that was a pretty safe method of communicating with our editors back in the office. Not always. One day at a Tour in the late-’80s, Gilles Goetghebuer of Cyclisme Internationale was standing in an all-glass French phone booth talking to his office when the line suddenly went dead. The reason? A passing car lost control and smashed into the phone booth, knocking it over, along with Gilles!
In today’s instant world, when we can watch live images of nearly every major bike race on laptops, tablets or smart phones, it’s easy to forget that for most of its history, cycling was reported on the typewriter. And there are days — say, my computer crashes or there’s no Internet access or I’m just feeling nostalgic — when, like that cursing French reporter at the ’92 Olympics, I wish the pre-laptop days of Anquetil, Blondin and Chany were still here.
Images of Robert Millar: John Pierce, Photosport International
We don’t usually have any trouble finding more than enough talent to populate the posts here at RKP. Today is really no different. Well, with one small exception. The Specialized v. Volagi case is about to start in San Jose. Because we like the work of both companies we sincerely hope this gets settled before the case goes to trial. But a trial may happen regardless of our feelings.
If a trial happens, the industry trade publication Bicycle Retailer wants a correspondent to cover the trial. We wouldn’t mind an intermittent update for the folks at home, too.
If you’re based anywhere near San Jose, have boatloads of free time to sit in court and can string together a dozen coherent sentences, we’d like to hear from you. Drop us a note here.
Ritte Racing’s Spencer Canon has been on my radar ever since he started his blog. I didn’t know who he was, but I knew he was one of mine. He had the knowledge of a lifer geek and a sense of humor that could rival BSNYC and Fat Cyclist. No easy task. I’d drop by the blog every now and then to get a laugh and then one day noticed, whoa, there are kits! There’s a club? He’s selling bikes?
Spencer almost certainly doesn’t describe the rise of Ritte this way, but in my view, he backed into a brand. When I look at Ritte, I see an aesthetic first, and products second. That’s probably a better way to build a brand than most do it, but I’ve never read a book that suggests this. People start with a product. Spencer started with a vibe.
We’ve been trying to hook up for a ride and general hang-out time for ages. Despite living less than 20 miles from me, I see him twice a year, but I see his team members and other assorted folks wearing his kits almost every damn day I’m on the bike. Neat trick.
We finally meshed schedules yesterday and had my shoulder been kinder, I could have spent the whole day riding around and chatting with Spencer. I meet a lot of people who burn with a holy light for cycling. Thank heaven. But I don’t meet that many who have the ability to bottle that passion and share it with others. Spencer is one of those guys. We could have done the stock thing of him sending me a bike to review, but that seemed to miss the point to both of us. Getting together was a chance to talk bikes and making a lasting and positive effect on a community you care for.
And ride a dirt road or two.
Ritte’s got six different models. I rode one of the newest, the Muur. Built by veteran framesmith Russ Denny to Spencer’s geometry, the Muur is a three carbon fiber tube frame paired with stainless steel lugs and a stainless steel rear triangle. Enve, from whom they source the carbon tubes and fork make enough different diameter tubes that he could have chosen any arrangement of carbon fiber and stainless steel. The stainless steel comes from KVA, Paragon and some raw stock Spencer has machined to his specs. So while he could have done a full carbon rear triangle, he chose to make that stainless and keep carbon in the front triangle. While most builders have moved away from that approach, his thinking was that the stainless rear triangle would give the bike some life while the carbon front triangle would retain the stiffness so many riders have come to expect from a carbon fiber bike.
We took in some Malibu roads that I know well, beginning with a climb that sorts pretenders from those who live right. I ain’t been livin’ right. Ugh. As I got out of the saddle on a few of the steep pitches I noticed a greater degree of stiffness than I’ve ever experienced on any of the old three-tube carbon bikes I’ve ridden in the past. What was surprising was that I could detect some flex just in the rear triangle. I think this bike would find a home among riders who like big miles and don’t want to give up the torsional stiffness we’ve come to enjoy on today’s bikes.
Spencer likes the down. I like that. The north side of Old Topanga is a descent that can be dropped with very little braking. Chasing him down its nearly memorized contours gave me a great chance to push the Muur a bit. What I notice when I go back to all steel bikes is that they don’t respond as crisply as newer carbon ones right at the point of entry to a sharp turn.
Allow me to digress a bit. In Malibu it’s really important, due to all the tight, off-camber and frequently decreasing radius turns, to wait until you can see the exit before trying to apex the turn. That means that I’m frequently letting the bike run straight, next to some painted line, until the last possible second, before diving into the turn.
With its stiff front triangle and Enve fork, the Muur tracked really well as I dove into turns. In that regard the bike felt more familiar to me than it ought.
Rather than head into the canyon roads, we dropped into the San Fernando Valley briefly to get onto the old Mulholland Highway, what locals refer to as Dirt Mulholland. We took that climb back up to a fire road descent that had everyone we passed doing double-takes. After all, if you can get an odd look riding those fire roads on a ‘cross bike (and I do) then a full-on road bike with 25mm clinchers is due for some slack-jawed WTFs.
Yeah, we would have been faster if we’d been on full-suspension 29ers, but I’m not convinced we would have had more fun.
And Spencer is a cat who clearly understands fun.
No legal stuff, no doping and very little cop talk today. I’m just answering a couple of questions that, for some reason, pop up in my in-box with some frequency.
To some, the answers might seem obvious, to others they may seem wrong, but I keep getting similar queries, so I thought I would include my take on two relatively common questions.
Picking that ‘life-time’ bike
I have been out of cycling for a long time and am just getting back into the sport after my professional career took more and more of my time and a long illness knocked me for a loop.
I finally have my health back and now I also have the time to devote to riding again. I went out to the garage the other day to pull down my old road bike and I think it may be time to put that 1983 Colnago, with a Super Record group, into retirement. I want a new bike. Money is a factor, but not a huge limiter.
I am 56, pretty much out-of-shape at this point and the odds are that I probably won’t be racing, but I do want to ride fast … at least as fast as I am able and not to be limited by my bike. If I put a lot of money into this, I want a bike that will last and do its job for years. I am probably going to go with another Campy group, but I am still trying to decide what frame to buy. Do you have any recommendations?
Gee thanks, man. You know that this is going to open a can of worms with that question. Virtually anyone who rides bikes has an opinion on this topic.
So, let me preface my answer with the caveat that it represents only my opinion and should be regarded as such. Mine is merely a suggestion and not a definitive recommendation.
You and I are pretty much in the same boat, Randall. Back in the day, I lived for little else but riding my bike. I made home purchase decisions based on access to good rides and even once quit a lucrative job, largely because the riding in D.C. pretty much sucked when compared to the wide open spaces of Wyoming. Nonetheless, life, law school, career and family all conspired to keep me off my bike and then getting sick last year sort of put the nail in the coffin. I’d like to say that I am a mere shadow of my former self, but that characterization would ignore the fact that I am much more of a man than I once was … if you catch my drift. But now things are looking up and I plan on hitting the road this year in hopes or racking up some serious mileage.
So what am I going to ride?
Well, like you, I have my share of old Italian road steeds. I have a beautiful all Super-Record-equipped 1979 Pinarello, a comparably equipped Colnago and a nice Holdsworth touring bike. I’m going to start my season on those. I’m old enough to remember when those things were the epitome of light and fast road machines and even though they appear to be tanks by today’s standards, they will certainly serve their purposes as I slowly work my way back into some semblance of fitness. Besides, I think pushing a slightly heavier ride will actually help and I sure don’t think I – as a heavier-than-I-want-to-be middle-aged lawyer – actually deserve to be riding something like a Pinarello Prince or the latest creation from the folks over at Ridley. I’m going back to my roots, for the first few months at least.
I think you might enjoy getting that old Colnago out on the road again. Admittedly, though, you will begin to eye bike catalogues with the same barely contained lust of a 13-year-old reading his first Playboy.
So what then? As you know, these days carbon is king. There are some gorgeous, stunningly light and remarkably designed rides out there on the market. The carbon fiber bikes I’ve ridden lately just amaze me and long ago made me question my adherence to the “steel is real” mantra. Yeah, I still love steel bikes, but dang, these things are something else. Can you imagine back in the `80s if any of us had cared if the UCI had imposed its 6.8kg minimum weight requirement? Now it’s the stuff of controversy.
I would certainly consider buying a high-end carbon bike, if I had the money (or if someone else was paying for it). What intrigued me about your question, though, is your desire to have a bike that lasts you for years. Call me old fashioned, but I remain a little wary of carbon’s ability to survive years’ worth of hazards, crashes or even those little lapses of attention we bike riders encounter.
Sure, your Colnago is resilient and all but if you want to upgrade, enjoy a bit of modern technology and still have a bike that you can expect to ride in a decade or two, I’d consider titanium. I have a bias here, but I love my titanium bikes. I have a couple of custom-made road bikes and a hard-tail Ibis Ti Mojo mountain bike that I got back in 1995. I still ride them and now my 17-year-old son, who is just an inch shorter than my six-foot-four height is also grabbing them for rides now and then.
I’ll avoid endorsing any particular builder, but there are still some real artists working in that material, whether you opt for a stock frame or have to spend a little extra on a custom.
Good luck, Randall, and maybe someday we’ll cross paths out there on the road.
The advantage of teamwork
Dear Explainer, you big LUG,
I saw a replay of a TdF stage this week, and it reminded me of a long-standing question I have about road racing. Why is wind resistance different behind a teammate than it is behind a non-teammate?
Say there’s a six rider breakaway midway through a long stage, composed of riders from only five different teams. Obviously, there are four riders in the break without teammates, and a pair of riders from the same team. Why do the commentators continually say that the teammates have an advantage over the others? What advantage?
Does the answer differ when there is a full peloton of dozens of riders, versus a small breakaway, versus just a pair of riders?
I’m ready to be enlightened. Please ‘splain away.
It’s actually pretty straight-forward, Gene. The advantage doesn’t really come from drafting on the wheel of a cooperating – or non-cooperating – rider, but rather from the fact that team has two cards to play in the break. It’s just a matter of having more options available.
First off, let’s look at the dynamics of a typical break in a stage race. As in any society, the peloton has its rules governing behavior. Once you’ve made it into a break, there is a general understanding that you pretty much need to cooperate with your fellow escapees for the majority of the race. To do otherwise would trigger what ol’ Paul Sherwen calls “argy bargy,” that uncooperative gamesmanship we usually don’t see until a break reaches the closing kilometers of a stage.
The big exception to the rule of cooperation occurs when a rider from the team of the race leader – or perhaps another GC contender who may be close to grabbing the lead – joins in. He is generally allowed to “monitor” the break and isn’t expected to join in a way that would threaten his team leader’s spot on GC.
In your scenario, the advantage enjoyed by the two teammates in the break doesn’t really come into play until the aforementioned argy bargy starts near the end of the stage. No, that advantage is not based on an aerodynamic difference between following a teammate or a competitor, but rather that the team can risk launching attacks and still have an option to play if it’s caught.
Assume, for a moment, that our six-man break is three kilometers from the finish and someone in the break makes a jump in an effort to get away from the rest of the group. Invariably, someone will try to chase him down. Ideally, for the chaser, he would like to be the only one in the group who joins up with the lone escapee. Odds are that in the absence of a hill he will probably succeed in pulling up the rest of the group with him, though. At that point, he’s tired and that sets up a chance for a strong counter-attack. Let’s say that comes from one of the two teammates in the break.
Obviously, his teammate isn’t going to be the one to chase (unless there’s bad blood or a breakdown in communication within the team) and he’ll be able to sit in and follow the wheels of the others as they pursue the break. Let’s also say due to exhaustion and/or bad luck that two of the others in the break have been dropped in the first round of attacks and we now have just three riders – including the teammate of the escapee – who manage to bridge the gap. Two of those riders have expended energy in the chase and teammate B is probably the freshest of the that trio. Once the gap is closed, it’s his turn to attack. If teammate A is able, his job is to simply stay on the wheels of the two chasers and recover. If the gap is closed again, it’s due to the efforts of the two riders without teammates and teammate A can try another dig. Not having to chase is huge advantage in that scenario and that’s where having a teammate in a break is a big plus.
Of course, there are a thousand things that can affect that scenario and it doesn’t always play out according to the “textbook.” Wind strength and direction, exhaustion, bad luck or even an errant TV car can play havoc with a break, so it’s not as predictable as a guy sitting in a TV studio (or doing Live Updates on your computer) might want to believe.
It’s that kind of tactical interplay that makes watching bike racing such a pleasure for me. It’s why I love bike racing and still think it’s the world’s best sport, not only in which to participate, but even to watch on TV. It sure beats watching football, which as a friend likes to say, needs cheerleaders and bands to keep your interest.
Anyway, the whole tactical game in cycling is a great topic and someone should write a book. Fortunately, someone has. My old friend Thomas Prehn, who had a reputation for riding smart back in the 1980s wrote “Racing Tactics for Cyclists,” which serves as primer for those getting into the sport, either as a racer, a spectator or both. (Even though I am listed as a co-author in some editions of the book, you’ll be relieved to know that the important stuff is from Thomas and not from me.)
I might suggest keeping one on the coffee table next summer when you’re watching the Tour. It will certainly come in handy when the invariable “what the hell is he doing?” question comes up during coverage.
Follow-up to last week’s column
I received a number of emails regarding my most recent column on searches and seizures. The lawyers in the audience tend to agree that you really can’t win when you consent to a search and let the cops rifle through your car and/or possessions. My advice pretty much stands: Do your best to politely decline and tell the officer involved that you simply do not consent to searches.
Anyway, I also received a note from a former police officer. For purposes of full disclosure, I’ve known this particular officer for about 35 years. He and I first met on a day when I may – or may not – have inhaled. It was the `70s, come on.
Over the years, Officer Tim moved up the ranks and eventually became the chief of his department. He offers a really sage suggestion to James, the reader who posed last week’s question:
Hey, pretty good article you posted this morning. But, I would add one further bit of advice for anyone who has this type of experience.
After the fact, don’t discount the value of a well-worded letter to the head of the agency, and perhaps copied to whatever governing body that individual reports to. (In the case the Sheriff and the Board of Country Commissioners. The County Commission doesn’t have any real control over what the Sheriff does, but they do control the budget and have some political clout). Contrary to popular belief, the type of behavior on the part of the deputy in this incident is not universally accepted within the law enforcement community, particularly among Chiefs and Sheriffs.
While it’s entirely possible that a letter to this sheriff would result in a raise for the deputy in question, it’s also possible that he would slap himself on the forehead and say something like “dammit I told these guys to knock this (stuff) off.”
He might be the progressive sort of law enforcement executive who hates this kind of crap and would like to bring about change within his agency, but in order to do that he needs to know what’s going on out there. It’s amazing how much can go on under his radar, and a good letter can bring important information to his attention. You correctly point out a number of problems with this encounter, and a good Chief or Sheriff knows that any one of them can result in big headaches for him. We hate headaches. Hate `em.
My suggestion to James would be to send that sheriff a copy of his message to you along with your response. It might be worth adding a further description of the damaged property (not everyone is a bike geek), including its value; a photograph wouldn’t hurt. I would include a copy of the repair bill.
Keep the tone polite, respectful and generally supportive of law enforcement. There’s a psychology to that. An angry fire and brimstone threatening lawsuits and all that is likely to get a response that goes something like “oh yeah? Well scew you too…” (A sheriff I once worked for made a point of standing on a chair and dropping one such letter into the trash.)
A respectful, well-worded letter is more likely to get a “he’s got a good point” sort of response. I can’t guarantee how this sheriff might respond, but I can say that when I was on the receiving end of this sort of complaint I may have hated getting it, but I appreciated the information.
Yup, Officer Tim is right. While I suggested sending a bill to the department—with little expectation of success—Tim may be correct in assuming that James actually did encounter a deputy whose actions were not in keeping with his own department’s policy. So do send the bill, but include all of the materials Tim suggested and hope for some justice.
Finally, I wanted to welcome my former colleague John Wilcockson to Red Kite Prayer. I used to read John’s stuff back in the days of Winning magazine and first met him in person when he interviewed me for my first job at VeloNews back in the summer of 1994. We’ve been through a lot over the years, working late into the night on deadline, driving the roads of France and arguing about all kinds things. Heck, we even got laid off on the same day last July.
I, for one, was pleased to learn that John was joining the crew here. There are not a lot of guys out there with the kind of journalistic chops JW has earned over the years. Yup, he and I have disagreed on a lot of things (I tend to be the skeptical and grumpy old guy in most of our debates, even though John is my senior) but I’ve always had a great deal of respect for his work and his insights into the sport.
This is going to be fun.
The Explainer is now a weekly 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.
Well, it’s Cross Nationals week. All day we’re getting text updates on the new age-bracket national champs, and here in the States the elite race is coming Sunday in Madison, Wisconsin.
It is more or less accepted, I think, that cyclocross has arrived with the masses this season. A ramping popularity seems finally to have reached critical mass.
Historically a way for road racers to keep fit in the off-season, cyclocross has long since become a discipline and focus unto itself, and, at least in this country, it has a unique culture that thumbs its nose at the more, shall we say, rigid culture of road racing.
Cross is inclusive. It’s fun. It has cow bells and heckling. It has beer and dollar primes and donut hand ups. There is a sense, among most racers, that they’re in it together, slogging through the mud, sliding out in off-camber turns, tromping through the sand or dancing through the barriers. Cross invites you to race for survival, if not the podium.
Stars like Katie Compton, Jeremy Powers, Ryan Trebon, Tim Johnson, Jonathan Page, and Kaitlin Antoneau have shown cross’s more charming side, and the more down-to-earth atmosphere at events brings fans closer to the stars. Not that you always want to get closer to someone covered in mud and gasping for breath.
This week’s Group Ride asks the question: Are you watching cyclocross? Are you following it some other way? Does this thing have legs? Or is this just another bandwagon for cycling nuts to jump on?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
JP: When you look at the domestic peloton these days, what do you think about the health of the sponsorship scene?
TS: Overall, cycling is healthy. Not racing, but cycling. The numbers are there for commuters, riders, racers. It’s an aging demographic, but it works for lots of people. Most cyclists have no interest in racing. You don’t need to be in racing to be a supporter of cycling.
An advertiser can use a bike in their marketing without sponsoring racing. Racing leads to another layer of cycling which leads to people riding bikes. Making bike racing a little more user friendly or making people more aware of it and why it’s an interesting activity.
So cycling itself is very healthy. Especially in our cities where it’s used more and more as a tool. Bike racing, the sponsorship, ebbs and flows, like car racing. Is racing necessary? It goes back to human nature.
I think a lot of the sponsorships … It’s expensive to sponsor a national (level) bike team. When you look at the money and measuring the return on investment, that’s the issue. If they could get return of investment at half the cost, it would be a much easier decision. It’s hard to get an American team to get to the level of Tour of California. It’s not an inexpensive activity to be involved in. Cost is a factor.
GoDaddy chooses the Super Bowl, which costs $3 million every 30 seconds. Why that and why not cycling? Car companies want to advertise how tough their trucks are, and the Super Bowl might be an easy decision.
The brand wants to get involved in an activity their customers are involved in. When it’s the non-endemics, why do they need to be in cycling? You have to make that link. Just putting your name on the team and hoping it works is not a good use of your marketing dollars
JP: What about with the international peloton?
TS: In the European peloton, you see a lot more, you can kind of segment, you can see the sponsorship and see the segments or strategy a little clearer. There have only been a few true global brands that do cycling. Is Rabobank a Global Brand? I don’t think so, but they’re primarily a Dutch initiative. Their metrics, and they’re an example where they’re deep in Holland and deep across all cycling activities in Holland. It’s an example of a marketing plan where you see a return on investment.
Liquigas-Cannondale might be a business-to-business deal. I think Lampre, what is Lampre? The French brands have been national brands. There’s been Toshiba, an international brand. Motorola had potential, it was paid out of a variety budgets, but was a national brand. T-Mobile was an international brand. It had a German-American axis, but it was a national brand.
The day when more teams market globally, it will help the stability of the sport. In terms of the teams that have been around for a long time, they still don’t have a reason to go everywhere. I don’t think Liquigas sells in Holland. You have categories of true internationals, nationals, and business-to-business. There are teams based on a business relationship model. Not too many of those coming to mind at the moment. A business-to-business team is one that doesn’t influence consumers so much, but trying to get your dealer base or certain dealers.
JP: How about the now-departed Navigators Cycling Team (which was a pro team from 1995-2007)? Weren’t they a patron?
TS: When Navigators activated, it was business-to-business model. But to their credit, they were always trying to bring customers to entertain, even internationally.
JP: If ROI is important and Highroad had such an impressive ROI, why do you think they couldn’t land a sponsor?
TS: No matter how good your numbers are, and I believe Bob had numbers to back up their sponsorships, the people believing those numbers need to be inside those companies. The team, to be successful, they have to be people in the company, pounding their chests just as hard as the Bob Stapletons and Tom Schulers about how great sponsorship is. If you had that, the sponsorship lasts. You had it at T-Mobile and Saturn.
You can get all kinds of metrics and I wouldn’t doubt that Bob’s ROI were significant, certainly enough to justify continuing or finding a new sponsor. But the people in the company have to be touting those numbers.
He turned around a ship that was taking on a lot of water. He ran a good program, and seemed to, through Cavendish and victories, I would have put him at the top of the heap for providing a return. He’s probably had six different sponsors in there. But again, if it’s just three years, it probably didn’t work as well as they could have for the company.
JP: Do you need to find the “champions” of cycling to sponsor a professional cycling team?
TS: You need to have people inside (the company) to believe in it. It can’t be just one person. It has to be a recognition inside the company of ‘this thing works for us.’ You can’t tap someone on the head and say ‘now you’re a believer.’
We had brand managers at Saturn come and go all the time. A new person may come in and want to look at different metrics. They’re skeptical, but they look in the field and look around. I can understand how someone who inherited a cycling team comes in not being a believer. Cycling teams are multi-dimensional in terms of what they can offer a company.
JP: When people discuss what seems to be worse and worse news for top-level teams, two concerns are repeated, one is the state of the global economy, the second is drugs in the sport. Do you think these things are scaring away sponsors or limiting what is happening?
TS: The global economy in general, the general trepidation of people to spend money and make those decisions. As tenuous as cycling sponsorship is, we’ve had the same go/no go decision rate in both good times and bad. You can say banks aren’t loaning money now, but I can’t say people aren’t considering cycling now. UHC (UnitedHealthCare) is a good contra indicator.
And drugs, I think we’re kind of, I think Stapleton alluded to it. It could be a country-by-country basis; it might not be as significant. In Germany, it could. Over there, at least, there are some pretty strong metrics in place to measure. But when you lose television coverage of your biggest event. So Bob’s comments are directed at the German market as much as anything. Has doping impacted the sponsorship we’ve gotten in America? I don’t think so. Vaughters program is working on moving out of that era, as was Stapleton’s. Wherever there’s a disaster, there’s an opportunity, too. Net-net, I’m not sure. I have to believe what Bob says when he says it has been an impact.
The public doesn’t seem to like The Cobra (Riccardo Ricco). But David Millar, guys like him are still heroes. I think at the end of the day, everyone feels that if it was my kid and that was the circumstances, I could understand it.
As cyclists, we might be bigger conspiracy theorists, and more skeptical. I agree that corporate America doesn’t care as much.
JP: What do you think teams should be doing to improve their chances to land a good sponsor?
TS: I think it’s incumbent on all the team managers to make that sponsorship as valuable to sponsors, and that’s how they can help ensure longevity. Pure impressions is one thing. If it leads to more traffic to the store, more purchases, and it’s incumbent on the managers to make things work and that will go a way to increasing the longevity of the sponsorship.