Every now and then I encounter a product so well done, so dialed in conception and execution that I end up at a loss for words. It’s as if the reviewer in me comes up against a massive existential, “Well yeah.” Were I French, then I’d be thinking, “Mais oui.” And while I’m not French, I mention that phrase because it goes “duh” one better, because the literal translation of mais oui is “but yes.” It’s an “of course” of a different feather.
Which is what brings me to the Wabi Woolens Sport Series Merino long-sleeve jersey. Merino wool is one of those phrases that when sighted on a hang tag makes most riders I know go, “ooh.” It conveys such a level of quality and comfort it’s as if those two words alone should command a 40 percent upcharge. Unfortunately, most Merino items I encounter ought to include the term alleged as an honorific. The difference between the very softest Merino items I own (typified by my Swobo base layer) to the coarsest (as exemplified by a pair of off-brand socks that really deserve a liner between me and them) can only be measured in orders of magnitude. It’s a bit like noting that the Ferrari 458 and Ford Focus are both cars. I mean, yes, but….
The Wabi Woolens jersey is arguably the best example of the Merino wool jersey I’ve ever worn. I’l note that it lacks the visual presentation of the old-school jerseys that enjoy that vaguely furry look found in women’s Cashmere sweaters, which is a little perceptual detail I really love, but for that one negligible exception, everything else about this jersey is what you want from a long-sleeve jersey.
I’m going to try not to belabor the point. The Merino is softer than baby bunnies. Wear a base layer with this jersey and the UN will write a resolution banning you from international travel for crimes against sheep. A common problem with Merino jerseys is stretch; I’ve loaded the pockets up on this thing for a three-hour ride and have yet to discover the tail of the jersey getting caught on my saddle. And they aren’t small pockets.
Wabi Woolens is based in Portland (Oregon, of course, not Maine) and like most products from Portland companies I encounter, there is a deep vein of practical running through this jersey. There’s a fourth, zippered pocket for a house key or other important (but small) item. The rear hem of the jersey is lined with a gripper to keep it positioned at the small of your back. And while some folks may prefer a full zipper, they use a high-quality 12-inch zipper which gives adequate ventilation. The cuffs and collar get a touch of added Lycra to help them retain their, but other than that, this is 100-percent Merino wool.
One of the traditional trouble points for long-sleeve jerseys—and jackets, for that matter—is sleeve length. Over the years most of the long-sleeve jerseys I’ve worn have had the dubious distinction of being equipped with sleeves that were too long by an inch or more. This thing is spot-on, at least for my arms. Lest you think I’m part T. Rex, I should mention that I buy my shirts off the rack.
My red jersey is less stop sign in color than brick, so it doesn’t completely agree with the color in this photo. I’ll admit that I’m not normally one to wear a completely plain jersey; I’m usually in my RKP or some other team-style kit, but there are times when a really plain-looking jersey and a pair of black bibs really suits my mood. And for those days, this jersey is perfect.
The jersey I wore goes for $175 (the short sleeve is $160) and while that’s a fair amount of money for a jersey, here’s another detail that I think help justifies it: I wore this jersey in weather as cool as 50 degrees and as warm as 75 degrees (that was an unexpected development that day), but I stayed comfortable throughout. So when evaluating the price, maybe the question to ask yourself is what versatility is worth.
Simply put, this is why people buy Merino wool jerseys.
Let me explain. In my junior year in college a friend of mine convinced me to give a local bike race a shot. I was in running shorts and tennis shoes and still finished second. I was bitten. A few months later, I was on the university team, doing really well and had more money into bikes and kit than I ever imagined I could spend on having fun.
When I graduated, I put my job hunt aside and got into racing as much and as often as I could. I probably put in 10,000 miles in 2010 and was on my way to topping that in ’11. Unfortunately, I had a crash in July and broke my hip, my pelvis and my collarbone. My front wheel hit a big, ugly pot hole on the way down a long descent and the carbon rim cracked, three spokes broke and I hit the ground hard enough to crack my hip and seriously break my pelvis and my collarbone. I was three months past my 26th birthday, so I was no longer on my parents’ insurance.
No insurance, no job and months’ worth of recovery time, I almost lost my house and only got by with help from family, friends and (I hate to admit it) credit cards. At this point, I am probably looking at debt approaching $50,000 or $60,000, most of it owed to doctors, the hospital and those credit card companies. I also have about $32,000 in student loans. I am finally back in the job hunt and my grades and résumé are probably good enough to land me a job, but I don’t see any way out of the financial mess I am in even with a good paying job. I’ve considered some of those debt consolidation companies who promise to negotiate your debt away for pennies on the dollar.
My basic questions are whether I can or should even think about talking to the debt company or should I consider bankruptcy. I have also wondered about suing the manufacturer of the wheel.
Wow and I thought my 2011 sucked.
Let’s start with your last question first. Suing a manufacturer for a defective product is probably going to be difficult, especially since you say you hit a “big, ugly pot hole” before it failed. Still it’s possible and you really need to speak with an attorney about something like that. Based on the limited information you provided, I sure as heck don’t feel comfortable telling you yes or no.
Let’s hope, though, that you still have the wheel and that an expert could reasonably conclude that your use was reasonable and that the failure was the result of a manufacturing defect or a failure of the product to live up to its promised level of performance.
There are three ways to approach product liability questions and your lawyer will walk you through each of them as the two of you decide if you have a case or not. As I mentioned, there is the question of a manufacturing defect, which generally means that the particular wheel you had was not built to the standards set by the manufacturer. If, for example, your particular wheel was made with measurably less carbon fiber material than the specs called for, that would be a “manufacturing defect.”
If the wheel manufacturer decided that it wanted to produce the world’s lightest bike wheel, but all of them had a habit of folding like an origami crane, that would be a “design defect.”
The good thing about product liability cases is that you don’t even have to show that the manufacturer was negligent (or as reckless as he would have to be in my design defect example), but just that the product was defective. Period. It’s a strict liability claim.
Now you hit a pot hole, so the defendant – if there is one – may claim that the damage resulted from extreme use that exceeds the warranty – either express or implied – of the product. You, in turn, might be able to say that even if it is not expressly mentioned in the warranty, the manufacturer implies that the rim is suitable for use on the open road – pot holes and all. You might also take a look at a recent Explainer on the topic of road hazards like pot holes and the like.
You might also want to check the “Recalls and Safety News” page of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to see if that particular product was subject to recall. Ideally, from a plaintiff’s perspective, the recall would have been issued after your accident, but you need to check. It’s actually pretty interesting to see how many bike-related products are subject to recall.
Again, these are just quick answers to very complicated questions and you really need to see an attorney about this one. Your damages sound like they would be significant, so if there is a case, there’s a good chance an attorney would pursue it on a contingency basis.
No matter what, you have some serious debt issues we need to look at.
First off, let’s just scratch the “debt consolidation companies” option off of the list. While there may be some perfectly great businesses out there whose sole intent is to help consumers out of their problems, I just haven’t run across any. What I have run across is companies that promise to help you through a debt crisis with rather vague allusions to “negotiations” that will eliminate the problem.
You may notice a number of those companies start with having you stop paying all of your bills and then make monthly payments to them while they 1) extract a fee for services and 2) try to contact your creditors in an effort to convince them to accept pennies on the dollar. Whether they succeed or not, they will still charge you. What’s more, even if they don’t end up using the money you’ve sent in to pay your bills, you might find it difficult – if not impossible – to get it back without a big fight. Hell, you can negotiate for yourself, although it takes patience and persistence and you don’t have to pay a fee.
Should you consider bankruptcy? You know that’s a tough decision, but it is one you might want to consider seriously. For most consumers, there are two bankruptcy options: Chapter 7, which involves a complete liquidation of your assets (more on that later) and a complete discharge of your consumer and medical debt. Unfortunately, student loan debt is generally not dischargable, so that $32,000 you mentioned will probably be around until you pay it off. There is one way out of student loan debt in a bankruptcy, but proving that repayment will pose an “undue hardship” on you is a tough hurdle. You need to speak with a bankruptcy attorney about that one, since it involves a lot more than the usual Chapter 7 or 13 would.
Still, you have $50,000 or $60,000 in dischargable debt and it may be worth considering bankruptcy as an option. From the sounds of it, you are probably pretty light on the asset side these days, so let’s talk about Chapter 7 first. As I said, on the downside, a Chapter 7 involves the liquidation of assets. On the plus side it is followed by the discharge of debt (with that damn student loan exception I mentioned).
You mention your house and, based on your age and such, I am going to assume that you are a recent home-buyer. Odds are pretty good that even though you are a homeowner your accumulated equity is probably less than the exemption that the bankruptcy court will allow. I know I sound vague here, but it’s because bankruptcy laws are a weird hybrid of federal and state statutes and the amount of the so-called “homestead” exemption varies from state to state. And by “varies” I don’t mean just a little bit, I mean by huge amounts.
Take my state of Wyoming, for example. If you were to seek bankruptcy protection under Chapter 7, you are allowed a $10,000 homestead exemption. In other words, you could have up to $10,000 of equity in your home. Double that if you’re filing jointly with a spouse.
Now, let’s say you live in the great state of Texas. There the homestead exemption is “unlimited” as long as the property in question doesn’t exceed 10 acres within city limits or 100 acres in rural areas (200 acres if you’re a family). Ten acres within city limits?!?!?!? I honestly think that the mansion in the old TV show “Dallas” would be exempt, while a guy who owns a beat-to-crap trailer home on a 100-foot-by-50-foot lot in Wyoming would not be. I have quite a few gripes about the Bankruptcy Code, but the variable homestead exemption is at the top of my list.
Anyway, you can find the state-by-state exemptions on-line and your attorney can certainly help you decide if Chapter 7 is right for you, given your state’s exemptions and exclusions.
Let’s assume for a moment, though, that you live down the street from me here in Wyoming and you have $50,000 in equity in your home. In addition you have a car that you love, but it’s worth far more than the $1800 exemption provided for under state law. You have other assets that exceed the list of exemptions and you want to protect all of them.
You don’t want to see your home sold and you don’t want to lose the car. What you can do there is talk to your attorney about a Chapter 13. That would stop any and all collection actions and help you establish a repayment plan with your creditors. Again, it’s more complicated than that and there are some things to consider regarding your student loans, so you need to speak with an attorney.
Bottom line, you do have options.
The Explainer is 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.
Follow me on Twitter: @Charles_Pelkey
The Spring Classics season is over. Shit. And true to form it offered up some legend-burnishing performances (Boonen’s Flanders/Roubaix double) and some jaw-slackening surprises (Gasparotto at Amstel Gold).
The big winner, Tommeke Boonen, just put the cherry(s) on top of what has already been a peach of a season for Omega Pharma-QuickStep (OPQS). They’ve gotten wins on the road from Francesco Chicchi, Levi Leipheimer, Gerald Ciolek, Peter Velits, Michal Kwiatkowski, Julien Vermote, Niki Terpstra and Sylvain Chavanel as well; 2011 Time Trial World Champion Tony Martin hasn’t even pitched in yet, quite possibly because he had an altogether too close encounter with a car while training earlier this month.
Other big winners must include Green Edge, who put Simon Gerrans on the top step of the podium at Milan-San Remo, and Astana who took the final prize of the spring at Liege-Bastogne-Liege with Maxim Iglinskiy.
BMC showed well with Alessandro Ballan on podiums at both Flanders and Roubaix, but for a team of this caliber (and payroll) a pair of third places and a lot of anonymous rides from last year’s rider-of-the-season, Philipe Gilbert, has to be seen as an abject failure.
RadioShack-Nissan-Trek-Jingleheimer-Schmidt will also feel about as happy as kid who’s dropped his ice cream after watching Fabian Cancellara face plant in the feed zone at Flanders, shattering his collarbone and a potential rematch with Boonen over the the cobbles of le Nord. In the Ardennes, where the Schleck brothers made most favorites lists, the team fired nothing but blanks.
More could have been expected from Team Sky and perhaps Katusha also, but the Spring seldom runs to script.
This week’s Group Ride looks back wistfully at the just-done spate of races and asks: Who were your winners and losers? What did you love? And what did you hate?
Image: Photoreporter Sirotti
In the last 10 years a funny thing has happened with saddle design. Saddle shapes have become ever more diverse in an all-consuming quest to improve comfort and decrease the chances that your undercarriage will suffer any negative side effects as a result of logging long and/or frequent miles on a bicycle. As those shapes have evolved (gotten weirder) the number of saddles I can comfortably ride has dropped precipitously. There are whole manufacturers out there whose work I really can’t ride … at all.
The flip side is worth mentioning though. The saddles that I do find comfortable are more comfortable than anything that was available in the past. Case in point: The new Fi’zi:k Kurve. While a great many saddles are moving away from designs with an arched side-to-side profile, the Fi’zi:k Kurve saddles are a bit old-school in that regard. The amount of curve isn’t so great as, say, a Rolls, but when I first sat down on one, the sense was that the saddle all but disappeared beneath me; it didn’t draw attention to itself. I should note that Fi’zi:k says that the curvature you see when off the saddle disappears once you’re on it. Why that happens is one of the saddles best characteristics. More on that in a sec.
The Kurve is different from other Fi’zi:k saddles in that the design is based around a plastic body that can be easily seen at the edge of the saddle. The 2014 aluminum rail (not rails, as it’s a single piece of cast aluminum) plugs into that body at the very edge, creating more surface area beneath the saddle that can flex without being restricted by the presence of the rails.
Fi’zi:k refers to the plastic body as the “hull.” Integrated into the hull is the three-layer composite shell that supports the rider. The structure is meant to be the next generation beyond wing flex (which is the way the saddle flexes at its sides) and twin flex (which is the way the saddle flexes under the weight-bearing sections) into what they are calling re:flex.
The idea here is that this saddle should flex with the rider’s movement more naturally than any previous Fi’zi:k saddle. That’s a tall order. If you’re familiar with the Spine Concept of Snake (the Arione shape), Chameleon (the Antares shape) and Bull (the Aliante shape), then selecting a saddle to fit you won’t be difficult. I’d been riding an Antares previously, so I went with the Chameleon.
I should mention that I’ve ridden both the Arione and the Aliante. I like the Aliante a lot. The Arione always seems comfortable enough when I first get on it, but ultimately I do notice numbness if I’m on one for too long. While I think the Spine Concept works well to address a rider’s needs based on flexibility, I do think Fi’zi:k is missing another important aspect of fit, namely saddle width. I know big guys who are also really flexible, but the Snake just isn’t wide enough for them. And in my case, while I love the Chameleon, I suspect if it were 5mm wider, I’d be a tad more comfortable. It’s been said I have a big, fat ass.
And it’s true.
One of the most interesting features of the Kurve is the nose piece that allows the rider to select just how firm the saddle is. I swore up and down to myself that I’d ride it with both the hard and soft nose pieces, just to see what the difference is. But I never did. After beginning with the soft nose piece, I couldn’t come up with a single reason to stop using it. It may be that my comfort trumped my integrity. How do you like that?
This saddle has been—for me—a revelation in terms of comfort. It has been the sort of revelation that the old Flite was back in the early 1990s. But this saddle might as well be the Flite’s wilier offspring. I found that I was most comfortable with the saddle set up a few millimeters forward of where I initially thought I would need to be. Being comfortable when climbing requires you to sit pretty far back on the saddle. Again, if the saddle were 5mm wider, I think I’d have more ability to move around even while climbing seated.
Unlike a lot of saddles out there, the Kurve has almost no foam in it. There’s very little padding of any kind. The cushioning you experience comes from the flex in the hull. As a result, this saddle needed no break-in time. I know this for fact because it hasn’t changed a bit from when I first started riding it.
The hull design has an ancillary benefit. I hate seeing leather or Lorica or Microtex (which is what is used on the Kurve) or whatever get scuffed up at the edges of a saddle. The hull prevents that by having the saddle cover end before the edge. And of course, you can pop out the logo clip in the back to install a velcro-less seat bag. Why other manufacturers haven’t licensed this design or done something similar defies comprehension considering we live in a world populated with bib shorts that can run upward of $200 per pair.
My Kurve came in at 226g. The suggested retail is $270. Because everyone’s ass is shaped differently, I’m not fool enough to tell you that this saddle will work for you. What I can tell you is that if you’ve been having saddle trouble, you ought to try out one or more of the Kurve saddles. Fi’zi:k has a demo program going; there is probably a dealer near you participating in it.
“The time has come,” the Roadie said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and clips—and single-tracks—
Of baby heads—and springs—
And why the trail sucks every watt—
And whether your freehub sings.”
—With all due apologies to the wonderful Lewis Carroll.
Other than last week’s post about the new 29er from BMC, it’s been a long time since I was last paid to write about the sport of mountain biking. It’s not that I wasn’t into mountain bikes or riding off road. Prior to moving to California and joining the staff of Bicycle Guide I spent half my time riding off road. But because BG was a road publication and freelancing was verboten, I didn’t do any writing about mountain bikes while there. Later, I sold my beloved Merlin mountain bike as I did everything possible to generate capital for my magazine Asphalt. After a while, it’s been so long since you’ve written about something it’s hard to convince an editor you’re the right guy.
I realized something recently. That hostility that used to exist between mountain bikers and roadies (and vice versa) has either died down or just never made much sense to most of you. It’s been apparent from our Friday Group Rides that many of you still own and ride mountain bikes. Heck, for a few of you, you’re mountain bikes are your favorite bikes. It seems if we were to include a bit of mountain content here and there the chance of a full-scale readership exodus is unlikely (though I could find myself deleting this post Saturday if we get four hits between now and dinner Friday).
So I sold some bikes on Ebay and picked up a Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper FSR 29er which was being turned over as part of a demo fleet.
My first ride on the bike was Saturday’s off-road gran fondo at the Sea Otter Classic. My form isn’t what you (or anyone) would call stellar, so rather than race—or do the full-distance road gran fondo—I thought it would be advisable that I sign up for the two-hour guided tour, so-to-speak. I spend a lot of time talking about how a new bike can make the sport fresh again, how even a really perfect piece of gear can brighten an ordinary ride. Riding that Stumpy over the fire roads and singletrack of Laguna Seca and Fort Ord was pretty close to taking up a whole new sport—and not sucking at it. And that’s the thing: the combination of 29-inch wheels, full suspension and 130mm of travel front and rear (as opposed to the 80mm travel of my old Rock Show Judy) allowed me to sail through stuff that would have given me a good deal of trouble on my old bike. Like I said, a whole new sport.
It may be that this is the nation’s only off-road gran fondo. I can’t say that for certain, but I’ve done a fair amount of checking. And while it may seem that calling an off-road fun ride a gran fondo is silly, I suspect that the term “gran fondo” did a lot to bring in riders who wanted a chance to ride the fire roads and trails in the area without having to enter a race—or get in the way of one. There didn’t seem to be that many riders at the start, but the finish sheet indicates there were more than 300 riders who completed the event, a bit less than half the size of the road event.
The course was essentially the cross country course with an extra, four-mile loop added on. Late in the cross country when riders begin the long climb back toward Laguna Seca, the gran fondo turns off to take an even steeper climb then tosses in a brief descent before rejoining the race course. All in all, the course had four sustained climbs to give you 3000 feet of climbing in just 20 miles. The longest single flat on the entire course came as you exited the one sag stop on the ride. It was 200 meters, tops.
Now to give you some idea of just how steep some of this terrain is, I won’t bother telling you about which climbs I flamed out on and had to walk because I couldn’t maintain either my direction or traction (there weren’t many, but there were a few). I think this will tell you more: Near the start there is a gravel descent that hits 13 percent. It’s pretty smooth and bends slightly to the right. My Garmin tells me I did 42 mph there. Strava thinks I only did 40.4, but what the hell. That’s got to be 10 mph faster than I’ve ever gone on a mountain bike (off road) before.
Did I mention I wasn’t nervous?
Normally, when I write up my experience at a gran fondo I like to give the arc of the day in broad strokes. The road gran fondo there is flat for a long way, then has a few steep rollers, then a long false flat climb that eventually turns into a real climb to Cahoon Summit followed by a descent into Carmel Valley where none of the drivers are interested in making room for cyclists, then a steep climb up Laureles Grade before the descent back to Hwy 68 and the climb back into Laguna Seca. Honestly, my memory of the off road gran fondo is just a blur of up and down and twisty. Not that I mind. The views were ever changing and the other riders present were really nice, even when they were passing my broken self.
In talking with other riders I heard a single complaint, one that was echoed by some of the riders of the road gran fondo. How can riders who did two different events on the same day have the same complaint you ask? Easy. They were forced to choose either the road or off-road gran fondo. They couldn’t do both, which would have been possible if, for instance, the road event was Saturday and the off-road event was held on Sunday. I heard from plenty of riders that they would have done both. Until someone complained, the thought hadn’t even occurred to me. I gotta admit, I’d have tried to carve out time enough to at least do the medio fondo (which is what they call the medium-length, 100km or so option in Italy). No Virginia, they aren’t all “gran” fondos.
So why bother paying an entry to a non-competitive off-road ride? Easy. It’s a chance to ride somewhere you don’t know at all and not have to worry about maps or even route slips. You can ride as hard or as easy as you want and you’ll have company for it. And then there are the touches like the fresh strawberries at the rest stop; there was other food there, but I had so many strawberries, I honestly don’t recall what else, besides some granola, was available. You know that won’t be sitting out on the trail waiting for you to show up.
I’m really hoping that next year they split the gran fondo to separate days so that I can do both, provided my fitness returns.
Back in January I was charged with writing peloton magazine’s look at SRAM’s new Red group. To do my job I was equipped with six or seven images and a bunch of copy. Then I went to work, connecting dots, describing features and noting differences. I was forced to stick with the objective. Some things were easy to discern: the new crank arm and its hollow construction, the re-shaped control levers and the elastomer bands encircling the cassette body. Other details were more circumspect: would the difficult and complicated construction of the chainrings really result in stiffer rings that provided better shifting? And just how did the new brake work? I had a photo and a description, but I was still clueless.
Well I had a chance to ride the new SRAM Red group at last weekend’s Sea Otter Classic. As is typical of SRAM’s visit to Laguna Seca, there was a ride Friday morning on new gear followed by a tech presentation on the parts before lunch. The loop took 1.5 hrs. and gave us a chance to do some climbing and descending along with a bit of flat-pounding.
I rode a Trek Madone 6.9 SSL equipped with the new parts. While I didn’t have a chance to weight the bike, I’ve picked up enough bikes in the low-14 lb. range to know this bike was light. Bantam-ish, even. The moment we pulled out the first thing I did was shift a few cogs up and down the cassette. I was curious to know if that stuff really made the group quieter.
Holy sheep stuffing, Batman, it works.
Instantly, Red went from the noisiest group I’d ever ridden to the quietest. Neat trick. I bet there’s a rabbit in that hat. The other thing I noticed almost as instantly was that, well yes, the levers did have a new shape that did make them easier to grip. The larger bump at the end of the lever body was welcome. But in that same flash I realized that the force required to execute a shift was much lower than it had been. There was a distinct improvement in rear shifting relative to my experience with Dura-Ace 7900, but the biggest improvement was in front shifting. But not only had the return springs been softened, the larger shift paddles on new Red made it easier to get two fingers on the lever to make that shift.
The new brakes were a surprise. I’ve preferred SRAM and Campagnolo brakes to the 7900 brakes. My problem with the Dura-Ace stoppers is that they are rather grabby. It’s hard to touch those brakes to the rim with so little force as to scrub just a single mile per hour from your speed unless you’re at very high speed. Also, the response has seemed very linear. By contrast, Skeleton and (old) Red brakes have offered terrifically progressive braking that starts at almost nothing and goes all the way to full lock-up. The new brakes offer an even more progressive response thanks to that little linkage in the lower arm. I watched it work on and off the bike and still can’t describe how it works without pointing to the post on which the two arms swivel. It’s a truly fresh piece of thinking.
My experience was less than two hours. Hardly enough to get to know an entire groupset. Yet my experience was so notable all I wanted to do was keep riding it.
I’ll do a more in-depth review of the new Red soon; we have a group on the way I’m told. Here’s what I’ll leave you with: I know a number of who tried Red and decided it wasn’t for them. They have been more than willing to let me know why they didn’t like it. The complaints I heard at least three times are as follows:
- Lever body was too big for someone with small hands.
- Lever hoods were too smooth for sweaty hands.
- The front shifting was wimpy due to the titanium cage on the front derailleur.
- It was hard to drop a rear wheel out because the derailleur sat too far forward.
- The shifting is confusing.
Except for that last (which is easy enough to sort out if you just spend a day on a bike with Red), all those items have been sorted out.
I spent some time on the ride thinking back on when the last time was I rode a group that changed that much from one generation to the next. Now, to be fair, Campagnolo isn’t really part of this discussion because they prefer to do a few incremental changes every year. But given Shimano’s history, the jump from eight to nine speeds in both the Dura-Ace and Ultegra groups in ’97 and ’98, respectively, was the last time I was a wowed by the overhauling of a group. The folks at SRAM like to refer to this as a new group, not just an improved one. This may seem a semantic point, but if you have experience on the current Red parts, once you get on this new group, you’ll understand what they mean. They’ve earned the distinction.
A friend of mine owns a couple of bike shops. He’s one of those rare guys who is both soulfully passionate about cycling AND has the business sense to keep his shops afloat and moving forward in a variety of cool ways. He’s generous with his time (and his bikes), and he’s a guy you’d want to ride with and then probably go eat a whole table full of Mexican food afterwards. He’s one of the good guys.
So I thought it best to be perfectly honest with him when he asked me what I thought of his shops’ new logo, which basically consists of two flat, offset triangles, symbolizing the front and rear triangles of a standard road bike frame. Recalling my rudimentary art education and the few principles of design I’d had shared with me by aging hippie art teachers and bespectacled eurosnob design directors, I declared my disdain for his logo. “Too many diagonals,” I said. “It’s asymmetrical, and it breaks itself in half, and I don’t like it.”
Turns out, his wife designed it. So that was slick. Excellent critique on my part. Luckily, he laughed and ordered another beer, and the following day we rode some of the best singletrack I’ve ever seen. No harm. No foul.
But about those triangles.
Like you, I spend an inordinate and indefensible amount of time looking at 3D versions of those two triangles. This one is sloped that way. This one has a weird paint job. That one has a tall head tube that turns it into an odd rhombus more than a triangle, but the song remains mostly the same.
What is it about one set of conjoined triangles that makes it aesthetically pleasing while another looks like a badly designed coat hanger? I’m not sure I could tell you. In fact, what my buddy’s shop logo pointed out to me was that bicycles might actually be ugly.
Do this. Find a picture of a bare frame. Look at it for a minute. Try to divorce it, in your mind, from the purpose you know it will fulfill. See it, if you can, as just an object, rather than as a bicycle. The front triangle is probably not really even a triangle, what with the head tube stuck on the front. And the rear triangle, or triangles actually are different gauge tubing, which only adds to the asymmetry. They’ve got these weird hook things on the back, the drop outs, that look like attachments for a KitchenAid mixer. What is this thing? And what possible purpose could it fulfill?
Am I right?
Now shake that last thought out of your head and forget this whole little exercise. Stitch those triangles back together with their future fork and future wheels. Stick in a seat post and bolt on the cranks. Put yourself on it and ride up a hill, a steep one, into a thick fog. Feel the moisture creeping down past the edge of your cap and look down at the magic machine between your legs and watch the greasy road slide by beneath you. Hear your breath and look up the road and feel yourself rocking back and forth in the pedals.
A bicycle frame is, most of the time, two triangles braced against one another, the rear split in two to accept a wheel, but that’s not what I see when I look. Instead, I overlay this massively intricate context that takes in not just components and kit, but history and experience and pining for an ideal physical experience that probably doesn’t exist or at least isn’t available to me. Anyway, I imbue. I embellish.
And more than anything, that’s what makes my asinine critique of those two triangles so ridiculous, and what makes that shop logo so much better than anything I could have come up with myself.
How often have you heard the trope about modern art? “Oh, I could have done that.” Two large, mostly bare canvases. Technically anyone could have made them, and yet to say you could have, or even would have, is to deny everything about art, which is context. Outside of the “art world,” such as it is, we lack the context to make any sort of valid judgment of those pieces. In the abstract, if you’ll forgive the term, we have no frame of reference.
The best trick is to be able to see a thing both within and without context. Maybe low art gives us a good example, those posters with hidden images in them. You stare at them just the right way and suddenly a school of dolphins appears, and then, as you try to focus on them, they disappear again. It’s a neat trick, if completely horrible to actually look at.
The bike is the same. You look and see two triangles, useless, awkward shapes stuck together, and then you look again and see Bernard Hinault charging off the front, you remember that summer when your legs were good every single day, a certain shade of blue reminds you of a long line of bike builders huddled over their work in a small shop in Italy. Or your friends ride up on their triangles, bastardized versions of ads they’ve seen in magazines, before a group ride that is really more of a chat.
Two riders throw their triangles at the line, and one stands a step higher on the podium than the other. All over the Earth, builders are fashioning tubes into a million different iterations of the same thing, which is a bicycle and not just a pair of triangles at all.
Follow me on Twitter @thebicyclerobot.
Photo: Marcel Duchamp’s Roue de Bicyclette, 1913.
Maxim Iglinskiy’s impressive, yet shocking victory at the 98
th Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday ended a spring classics season that lived up to current expectations: predictably unpredictable.
Last year, the wins by Matt Goss (at Milan-San Remo), Nick Nuyens (Tour of Flanders) and Johan Vansummeren (Paris-Roubaix) came out of left field, while not even Philippe Gilbert believed he could do the Amstel Gold Race-Flèche Wallonne-Liège triple. This year, the upset winners were Simon Gerrans (San Remo), Enrico Gasparotto (Amstel) and Iglinskiy, while Tom Boonen’s sweep through the cobbled classics was just as unexpected as Gilbert’s hat trick in 2011.
Most of the factors that led to the season’s upset results were present at this past weekend’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège—which is arguably the toughest of all the spring classics and usually the most predictable. Not this time. To find out who are the biggest favorites to win La Doyenne (“the Oldest One”) fans generally turn to Europe’s most respected sports newspaper, L’Équipe.
For Sunday’s race, the French publication’s list began with its hottest picks: 5 stars for defending champion Gilbert and Flèche Wallonne winner Joaquim Rodriguez; 4 stars for Olympic road champ Samuel Sanchez; 3 stars for two-time Liège winner Alejandro Valverde, three-time podium finisher Fränk Schleck and Gilbert’s former lieutenant Jelle Vanendert; two stars for Flèche Brabançonne winner Thomas Voeckler, San Remo winner Gerrans and fresh-from-the-Giro del Trentino Damiano Cunego; and, just one star for Amstel winner Enrico Gasparotto and on-form Vincenzo Nibali.
If Europe’s supposedly best-informed journalists selected 11 favorites and didn’t even name Iglinskiy as an outsider then who would have picked the Kazakh? Furthermore, their long shots, Nibali and Gasparotto, ended up in second and third places. What no one—except perhaps the wily Astana Proteam manager Giuseppe Martinelli—really considered was that (1) the Kazakh-financed squad had been racing well all week, and (2) Iglinskiy had been released from the cannon-fodder role he usually plays because veteran team captain and two-time Liège winner Alexander Vinokourov was searching for better form at the Tour of Turkey.
Sunday morning, Vinokourov, 38, called Iglinskiy, 31, at his Liège hotel, telling him it was a race he could win and advising him to be patient. “He told me to stay cool and do my best,” Iglinskiy said at his post-race press conference.
Schlecks suffer in the cold
With heavy rain and hail showers, and strong winds blowing from the southwest, the outward passage from Liège to the border town of Bastogne followed the organizers’ slowest schedule of 38 kph. None of the favored teams bothered to put a rider in the early breakaway, and an indication of how the race would play out only came when Rodriguez’s Katusha teammates increased the tempo to cut the break’s lead from 12 minutes to two by the time the first serious climbs came with 100 of the 257.5km race still to go.
On the ultra-steep Stockeu climb (where Eddy Merckx would usually start the attacks that earned him a record five wins at Liège), it looked like Fränk Schleck was going to have a good day. His brother Andy was sitting on the wheels of RadioShack-Nissan-Trek teammates Chris Horner and Jan Bakelants, making the pace high enough to shed the peloton’s weaker elements, while Maxime Montfort, who comes from this part of Belgium, was taking care of the elder Schleck.
Looks clearly deceived on this occasion, because Horner and the Schleck brothers were all suffering from the cold, wet conditions and faded from view on the windswept plateau before descending to the Ourthe Valley and the crucial climb of La Redoute. Describing the RadioShack team’s effort, Montfort said, “The key point in the race was 10km before La Redoute [when] you have to fight to be in good position. But right then it was raining and so cold it was almost snowing. We were thinking more about getting our rain jackets instead of moving up.”
Team manager Johan Bruyneel confirmed his riders’ physical (and mental) state: “[When] Fränk came back to the car [for his jacket], he was shaking, quite frozen….” As for Horner, he confirmed that he and his team leader were badly placed at that point. “I started at the back on La Redoute [and] if you start at the back on an important climb, you aren’t going to make anything happen. Today, I got too cold, so things went bad there,” Horner said on his team Web site. “It’s difficult to race when you weigh 63 kilos (139 pounds) and it’s this cold.”
With his numb hands unable to use the brake levers safely, Horner abandoned the race, along with his hard-man teammate Jens Voigt and their colleagues Joost Posthuma and Laurent Didier. At the end of the day, Andy Schleck and Bakelants would finish in a 25-man group 5:39 back, while brother Fränk was the best of the team, placing 23rd in a 20-man group with Montfort, 2:11 down.
BMC raced with honor
When the RadioShack team’s challenge disappeared, Gilbert’s BMC Racing squad fulfilled its responsibilities for the race favorite. American workhorse Brook Bookwalter pulled the peloton through the frigid weather (as low as the high-30s Fahrenheit) over the wearing climbs of the Rosier, Maquisard and Mont-Theux before his compatriot Tejay Van Garderen took over. They were riding at a high level and high pace to answer a danger posed by Europcar’s Pierre Rolland and Movistar’s Vasil Kiryienka, both strong climbers, who counterattacked over the Haute-Levée climb, with 85km to go, and quickly caught the morning’s six-man break.
“It was necessary to make the race harder to favor Thomas [Voeckler],” Rolland said, referring to his team leader. Rolland — who won the 2011 Tour de France stage at L’Alpe d’Huez — traveled to the race straight from Italy’s Trentino stage race, where he placed 10th on last Friday’s Pordoi mountaintop finish. The young Frenchman’s efforts on the climbs split the lead group apart and after La Redoute, only Kiryienka, one of Valverde’s teammates, and the Italian Dario Cataldo of Omega-Quick Step, could match him.
Ironically, while Rolland and Kiryienka were making the race hard over La Redoute, 34.5km from the finish, their team leaders were struggling on the climb’s lower slopes. First, Voeckler hit the deck: “It was raining and perhaps I skidded on a manhole cover,” he said. His teammate Cyril Gautier waited for his leader but Voeckler had to go it alone up the Redoute’s double-digit-percentage grades. It was here that Valverde, also suffering from the cold, dropped his chain and changed bikes with teammate Angel Madrazo.
Voeckler made a huge effort to make it back to the small group of leaders, still being led by Van Garderen, but Valverde would not. As for another Spanish favorite, Sanchez of Euskaltel-Euskadi, his day started badly when his best teammate Igor Anton crashed in the streets of Liège and broke his collarbone. Things got worse when Sanchez’s rear derailleur broke at the foot of the Stockeu “wall” and he had to chase for a long time when the race was heating up over the Haute-Levée and Rosier climbs. Showing his resilience (and his downhill skills on the mostly slick descents), Sanchez came through to take an eventual seventh place.
As has happened in each of the five times it has been included in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Roche aux Faucons climb saw the decisive moments of the race. In front, Rolland dropped his last companions, while Van Garderen finally pulled over after his marathon effort at the front to let teammate Santambrogio keep setting the pace for Gilbert. The American team’s impressive show left Gilbert in the place he needed to be, but when you are not on your very best form it’s impossible to fake it in a race as long and tough as this one—especially in conditions that were cold and wet one moment, and still cold and windy when the sun came out.
So Gilbert was in the ideal position going up the Faucons climb, which starts on a wide residential street and ends on a narrow rural back road between tall trees. The Belgian champion was able to follow the first attacks by Nibali and Vanendert after they passed Rolland, but he was slow to take up the chase behind Nibali when the Italian accelerated after going over the top a couple of lengths clear. Gilbert got within 30 meters of the Liquigas rider on the downhill, but that was it. Nibali was flying clear with the wind at his back.
“I tried to follow Nibali but I put myself in the red and couldn’t recuperate,” Gilbert said. “From that point on, I knew it would be difficult for me.” Indeed, when the group split in two on the uncategorized climb 2km after the Roche aux Faucons, Gilbert was in the back half.
Ahead, the chase was taken up by the three teams still with two or three riders: Astana, Katusha and Europcar. As a result, the long downhill through Seraing (where the opening road stage of the Tour de France will finish on July 1) resulted in rapid, yet tactical racing, with Rodriguez and Iglinskiy emerging as Nibali’s only challengers.
Battle on Saint-Nicolas
Working together, the little Spanish climber and the solid Kazakh team rider were faster on the crosswind sections before reaching the vicious ascent of Saint-Nicolas—which starts with a 10-percent pitch up a narrow street through this working-class neighborhood and ends with a couple of steep turns before reaching a kilometer of flatter roads high above the city of Liège.
It was on this climb where the road was exposed to the crosswinds that the race was won and lost. Gilbert fell off the pace in the chase group. The cold and distance got to Rodriguez, who could only watch as Iglinskiy rode away from him up the hill, while Garmin-Barracuda’s Dan Martin climbed past the Katusha man with Rolland on his wheel (they’d both be caught on the run-in to the finish). And Nibali struggled, his body jerking with the effort as he sat in the saddle, unable to get more speed or power into his pedals.
Over the top, with 5.5km to go, Iglinskiy had closed from a 40-second to a 15-second deficit. And his catch of the leader within sight of the one-kilometer-to-go archway was inevitable. After Iglinskiy rode clear to a 21-second victory, Nibali was close to tears following his epic yet finally heartbreaking effort. “I don’t think I made any mistakes,” he told reporters. “I just lacked a little strength in my legs in the finale. There was lots of wind on Saint-Nicolas and I left most of my strength there.”
Over at the Astana team car, where they were celebrating the squad’s second upset win in eight days, with first Gasparotto and now Iglinskiy. Their directeur sportif Guido Bontempi said, “It’s a big surprise for us. We prepared the race from Gasparotto’s perspective, but we gave carte blanche to Iglinskiy, to react according to the circumstances. And that’s what he did….”
Follow me on Twitter: @johnwilcockson
Some thoughts from Sunday’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege:
1. Maxim Iglinskiy capped a terrific week for Astana, winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege after overtaking a fading Vincenzo Nibali with a little more than one kilometer left to race. While certainly an outsider, Iglinskiy’s win wasn’t a total shock. In fact, in looking over the Kazakh’s resume, he appears to be a poor man’s Philippe Gilbert. Consistent spring contenders, (Iglinskiy is better than you might think) both riders have won the Strade Bianche and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. They also both won stages at the Dauphiné earlier in their careers. Of course, Gilbert’s resume is much longer and contains many more major victories, but considering Iglinsky came millions of Euros cheaper than his Belgian counterpart, Astana is doubtlessly happy with the return on its investment.
2. Iglinskiy’s win underscored a terrific team effort from Astana. Well-represented all day (their jerseys are hard to miss), the team placed two riders in the first group chasing Nibali. Enrico Gasparotto’s third-place finish put an exclamation mark on a successful day for the squad while confirming that his win in last weekend’s Amstel Gold Race was no fluke. The squad has now won two of the last three editions of Liege. (I wonder if Alexandre Vinokourov had some pre-race advice for his teammates.)
3. As for Nibali, his ride yesterday bookended his performance at Milan-San Remo, the season’s first Monument. In both races, the Liquigas rider initiated the final selection, but succumbed to a rider that few had predicted to play a dominant role in the event’s outcome. It’s been a while since we’ve had a grand tour champion prove himself to be a legitimate contender in the spring classics—let’s hope Nibali returns next year ready to contend again. Now the Italian must decide whether or not to compete in his home grand tour. While the Giro is a tempting option, he’s better suited for this year’s Tour de France.
4. Speaking of this year’s Tour de France, RadioShack’s Schleck brothers played little role in Sunday’s race. Perhaps they were tired from their efforts to have Kim Anderson reinstated in the squad’s management team for July’s Tour de France. A win Sunday would have spoken a lot louder if you ask me.
5. Back to the race: Twitter was buzzing Sunday with people complaining of boredom during the race’s final hour. At first, I felt compelled to defend the riders. The weather was horrible and the course was difficult—one must remember that these men are indeed human. But in hindsight, it seems to me that several teams with top contenders could and should have done more to make the race difficult, thereby eliminating “outsiders” like Iglinsky before they had a chance to play a role in the finale.
For example, Gilbert’s BMC squad was clearly focused on controlling the race in preparation for what it hoped would be a decisive attack by Gilbert (or someone else). Unfortunately, this kept too many riders and teams in contention after La Redoute. Without a major selection at this point in the race, there were too many men left to settle things over the remaining 30 kilometers.
7. The same can be said of Katusha. With Joaquim Rodriguez and Daniel Moreno they had a reason and the manpower to make the race more selective sooner—but they chose to sit-on. Some might say that Oscar Freire’s surprising resiliency gave the team an extra card to play should the race have stayed together all the way to Liege. (But that was an unlikely result—Freire’s performance was more a product of controlled racing than anything else.)
BMC can at least say they were racing to protect the chances of the defending chapion—they technically didn’t have to make the race (although that’s a slippery slope). Katusha made a mistake by basing this year’s tactics on last year’s favorite (Gilbert). Sometimes bringing the race to your competition is more effective than waiting for it to come to you.
8. Speaking of Gilbert, this spring was a minor catastrophe for the Belgian Champion. Last week I said that a win yesterday would have appeased his fans and softened his critics. Now it appears only a world championship will do the trick. Gilbert’s performance illustrates the importance of good health and good luck, while also reminding us that winning brings even loftier expectations the next time around. Hopefully Gilbert—who’s only 29, by the way—learned some valuable lessons from his experiences over the past two months. Look for him to be at his best once again next spring.
9. And if Gilbert didn’t already miss Jelle Vanendert, he certainly does now. I still can’t believe he didn’t make more of an effort to bring him along to BMC. That said, Tejay Van Garderen rode one heck of a race yesterday on behalf of Gilbert. The American now heads to Romandie before taking another crack at winning the Tour of California.
10. What a spring for Specialized and SRAM, huh?
That’s it for me—what’s on your mind?
Follow me on Twitter: @whityost
Image: Photoreporter Sirotti
In telling members of my family that I was headed to Monterey for a week—without my wife or son—there were, inevitably, questions about just what my justification was. How important could a bike event that wasn’t the Tour de France be? My response helped make fresh an event I’ve been going to for something like 15 years.
I told family and non-cycling friends that the Sea Otter Classic has more different types of racing in one place than any other event I’ve ever attended—nay, any event I’ve ever heard of. Early on, it was a mountain bike event. Then it added a couple of road events. Today, it’s much, much more. It’s easier to define what it doesn’t have than all that it does; other than cyclocross (which would be kinda silly in spring), all that’s missing is BMX (no track) and track (they did try running some events in San Jose a few years back, but that seemed to be a bridge too far). What really helped round out the festival, making it more non-racer friendly was the addition of two gran fondos, one on-road, the other off-road.
The real glue holding the event together seems less the racing than the expo. The Sea Otter was made in the mold of the season opener of the 1990s, the Cactus Cup and the old NORBA Nationals in Big Bear and Mammouth Mountain. Those events drew spectators in a way other races failed to achieve thanks in no small part to the expo areas they hosted. Today, Sea Otter is something of a spring Outdoor Demo. Companies like SRAM use it as an opportunity to launch products so they can achieve attention for products that either weren’t ready or might have gotten lost in the shuffle of Eurobike or Interbike. Sea Otter’s expo is so large that what you could easily get through in an afternoon 14 years ago can now require a methodical approach spanning three days.
Did I mention, it’s fun as hell?
Perhaps nothing has done more to cement in my mind the idea that the Sea Otter is one of the best events in cycling, an event that can draw anyone with even the slightest interest in things two-wheeled than the photo that leads this post. Last year I wrote a feature for peloton magazine about the New England bike industry and one of the most significant figures within it was mountain bike pioneer Chris Chance. I spent two months trying to find Chance. No dice. Then, as I’m talking to John Neugent of Neuvation Cycling fame, Chance walks up and says hi. I had no idea that John had helped Chris get his job at Witcomb Cycles working with Richard Sachs and Peter Weigle.
File this under “you can’t make this up”: Chance lives in mountain bike heaven these days. He’s in Marin County. And I’ve got his business card.
This year my role was a good bit different than in years past. While I still played journalist to some degree, checking out new products, much of my job was in support of our two ad guys, Roger Wotton and recent addition Nick Ramey. Nick has joined us to help land advertising for Charles Pelkey’s Live Update Guy. Rather than paying Charles a flat contributor fee the way most freelancers are treated, we’re treating him like the star that he is: we’ll be paying him a percentage of the ad revenue. Why do I mention this? Well, the companies that have expressed interest in advertising on LUG are interested precisely because it’s Charles. We hope you’ll think kindly of those companies once we are able to sign a contract or two.
The closest thing to a failing the event has is that sometimes the racing seems like a sideshow, or worse, a distraction when compared to the expo. It can be jarring to walk by the many tents set up and see some racer straddling a bike, clearly still out of breath from a recently finished event. But the image above really speaks to my love of the event. It’s a chance to bump into cycling (not just industry) friends. And Rapha, by the way, took the opportunity to use Sea Otter to introduce a few new products. I wore the brand new bib shorts and will soon try their new base layers. They also have a new series of casual shirts (it’s kind of insulting to call them T-shirts) that speak to the company’s love of the history of the sport. You’ll hear more about those very soon.
Then there’s the stuff you never expected to see, like this creation from Paul Sadoff, or the stunning Ibis Maximus. Sadoff rescued some S&S couplers from a damaged bike and then used a bunch of other scraps and orphaned parts to build up this bike for little other than his labor.
Unfortunately, I missed some friends and a few companies that were showing stuff I was really interested in because I had to skedaddle (only time you’ll hear that verb on this blog, I promise) for home and a book signing (no pictures, thank heaven) on Saturday afternoon. I’ll be honest, the LA Times Festival of Books was the only thing that could get me to leave Sea Otter early.
And this year was the first year I rode off-road at Laguna Seca … ever. What the hell is the world coming to? Stay tuned, I’ll tell you more.