The Explainer: Searching through the in-box

Dear Readers,
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.
― Charles

Picking that ‘life-time’ bike
Dear Explainer,
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?
― Randall

Dear Randall,
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.
― Charles

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.
― Gene

Dear Gene,
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
Dear Readers,
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.
― Tim

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.
– Charles

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 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.

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  1. M M Smith

    I just found this site through a link on “Competitive Cyclist”, this is fantastic. For Randall, I’d break out that old Colnago and just start riding again. That’s what i did in ’96 after a 16 year layoff, got out the old Windsor Pro from the early 70’s and just started riding till I figuered out what was next.

  2. Rich Wilson

    For lifetime bike, if you can perhaps check out in Sacramento this year.

    On tactics, there was a great stage a few years back in the Tour where the small surviving break was made of I think four, all from different teams, but all save one from the same country. I think Spain. It turned national, and the poor odd man out worked valiantly to cover the relentless attacks, but could not.

    Hopefully someone with a better memory than mine can pinpoint it. Wilcockson?

  3. Khal Spencer

    Old bikes never die,they get their triangles stretched out. I owned an early eighties Miyata Speciallisima, which came to me via a garage sale with its original five speed freewheel. I spread the rear triangle (an advantage of steel frames) and modernized it to a nine speed cogset. When I wasn’t riding it much, a fellow old fart bought it from me, put on some new wheels, and is still out riding.

    Agree on taking the positive approach to a law enforcement screwup–as long as we are not talking about truly egregious police misbehavior, that is. I’ve tried that a couple times in Los Alamos and its generally worked really well. Of course, YMMV.

    Three cheers for seeing JW on the masthead. Any chance you guys might have room for a certain cranky old S.O.B. from Colorado Springs?

  4. Rainbow

    Living upon the upside down of part the world where its dark when during your day it was difficult working out the reasons for your slippage off the pages of VN. So I’m thrilled that you got the sack rather than died off from VN, which was my initial suspicion for your gradual disappearance from its pages. Maybe in a few years time your old crew from the aforementioned will feel and look like the management from team ‘Cofidis’, or perhaps that is a poor analogy in the circumstances. But the good news is that you are a live, still, and we all can read ‘the explainer’ again at its new home. Please consider me an addition to your 65 +1 acolytes. ‘LiveLong’ Charles.

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