It’s National Bike-to-Work Day here in the States, or as I like to call it “Day.” When you distill all the riding I’ve ever done, road, trail, etc., the most persistent “style” is commuting, in which I include errand running, date going-on and most all general transportation travel. If you ask, I’ll tell you I’m a roadie, but that mainly means that those are the bikes I drool over and dream about. And that’s what I ride to work.
Over the years, the bikes I’ve commuted on have morphed from old mountain bike frames with slicks, to cross bikes with fenders, to a plain old, go-fast road bike. Really, whatever bike seems right at the time is what gets ridden.
Rivendell founder Grant Peterson is on NPR today talking about how he thinks Americans should ride, i.e. more like Europeans, and we got to wondering how many of you, who we perceive of also, by and large, as roadies, are actually commuting as well.
If you’re here, you love the bike, but is it just a hobby for you, or is it a workhorse as well?
This week’s Group Ride asks: Do you commute? What do you ride? Do you kit up to go to work? Or do you wear your work clothes, a la Amsterdam? Do you have a complex shower/clothes storage strategy? What is your co-workers’ attitude toward your cyclo-commuting? And do you notice more people doing it now? Or less?
Last week I was invited to a small media camp that gave me the opportunity to spend some time on the Cervelo R5 and be among a select group of people to have actually ridden the Cervelo P5 time trial bike. Now, I don’t ride a lot of time trial bikes, but I’ve ridden enough of them over the years that when I climbed on the P5 I knew instantly that this was a cut above, an achievement befitting Cervelo.
I say befitting Cervelo because few companies have spent as much time in the wind tunnel in pursuit of the most aerodynamic of bikes. It’s a short list of companies that play in this particular arms race and Cervelo loves to point out that their engineers outnumber their bike models. Of course, the alternate view is that with so few bike models, how is that their competitors can make anything even close? Nevermind. I’m not going to answer that today.
What’s apparent is that this frame features far more aerodynamic shaping than its predecessor, the P4. The front triangle features a very deep aero section behind the head tube and the top tube expands downward as it reaches the head tube. Similarly, the junction between the seat tube and the top tube is much larger and features far more aerodynamic shaping than its predecessor. I hesitate to use the term “fairing” because that would lend the impression that these sections are more aerodynamic than structural in function. And obviously that can’t be the case.
Why? Well this little UCI-issued decal is why. Honest to blog, I don’t know how this design was approved by the UCI. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with the bike. On the contrary, it’s truly remarkable. No, the UCI’s rules regarding aerodynamic shaping strike me as nonsensically as the woman at the park today who was bitching loudly about kids, including my two-year-old, breaking the rules for riding bikes in the park, but I digress. Are these rules really doing any good? I’ve long maintained that the UCI’s primary argument against technological advances—rider safety—is a red herring. No company wants the PR black eye that would come from an insufficiently strong bike folding up during a sprint. The resulting press—and falloff in sales—would be far worse than any punishment the UCI could hand out.
The Aura base bar, stem and extensions are a Cervelo design produced by 3T. I’m told there are three different height mounts for the extensions. What I rode was the highest of the bunch and while it was good for a first ride, with a bit of time on the bike I’d swap the extension for something a bit more diminutive. The Aura also include two opportunities to mount a water bottle cage, either on the stem or between the extensions. Gone is the P4′s special water bottle. But at only 38cm in width, that base bar made out-of-the-saddle efforts feel a bit sketchy.
Most TT bikes smooth the transition from the seat and down tubes to the BB, but Cervelo chose to keep the seat and down tube profiles thin and suddenly bulge the frame right at the BB. It might seem counterproductive to stiffness, but when you look at those tree trunk chainstays, you can begin to understand how the bike delivers great stiffness under power.
The P5 is also notable because only one cable is evident—for the front brake—even when using a mechanical drivetrain. And for the Garmin-Barracuda riders who are on the bike (not all have made the switch because so few have been produced), even the Di2 battery is hidden from the wind. The Magura hydraulic brake system is said to be maintenance-free, but that would suggest it requires even less work than traditional brakes, which is tough for me to believe. I can say they aren’t easy to adjust; at least, not until someone who knows the system walks you through them.
Naturally, the only way to get the rear wheel to achieve it’s snug nest behind the seat tube is with track-style dropouts, which makes changing a wheel nearly as fun as ferret-legging, though not nearly as fast.
For the P5, Cervelo went with a less aggressive fit. Per size, the P5 has less stack and reach than the P4. Presumably this is to make the practically unavailable bike (there appear to be fewer than a dozen in circulation) more attractive to the hoards of triathletes who are lining up at Cervelo dealers to purchase the P5 when it does become available in wider numbers. And as built, this P5 goes for $6k. While that’s a lot of money, I was honestly surprised that it wasn’t more.
The bike I rode was a 56. This was a huge 56. With the saddle positioned all the way forward on the rails and with the seatpost inserted all the way into the frame (which is to say, the shortest possible distance from the BB to the saddle), the saddle height was 78cm. Put another way, to fit on the 56, you need an inseam of at least 32 inches.
I didn’t get a chance to weigh the bike, but it felt light for a TT bike, like steel road bike territory. The other thing I noticed was that it didn’t ride like a paint shaker on the gnarled roads of Sonoma County. I rode through quite a bit of broken asphalt and was impressed that the bike didn’t have the unforgiving ride of many of Cervelo’s other aero designs, such as the SLC-SL.
All that is well and good, but frankly, there is only one thing to do when you climb on a rig of this sort: drill it. I wasn’t thrilled to learn (upon entering the shower) that I’d given up some skin from my fruit cup, but this is one of those go-fast machines that is ill-suited to the Sunday tour. There is little as compelling as free speed.
Did I mention this is the bike David Zabriskie just rode to victory and the yellow jersey at the Amgen Tour of California? Well, now I have.
Action images: Robertson/VeloDramatic
So last week I laid my hands on a SRAM 2012 Red group. To use a more colloquial phrasing, you might say that my stock has risen enough with the folks in Chicago that they were willing to provide me with a group for review. It suggests they have some regard for my work. Which is pretty cool, considering we’re this tiny, independent blog thingy.
My plan, at least initially, was to install the Red group on a bike and then right it until I was supremely overtrained, or somewhere thereabouts, and then write a post about my experience with it. I’m writing this post because of my experience with working on the new group. Why? Well, my previous experience as a mechanic is enough that this group really impressed me.
What you see above is a shot of the installation instructions. Ordinarily, what passes for installation instructions, on the rare occasions that they are created, is a tepid improvement over the boilerplate that you get in bicycle owners’ manuals. I’ve yet to see an owner’s manual that was anything but a CYA (cover your ass) document cooked up by a bunch of lawyers for the purpose of shielding a manufacturer from a lawsuit stemming from any sort of crash on a bike, including those where shoddy assembly may be an issue.
These installation and adjustment instructions are another matter. They begin by indicating which parts will be installed and where they go on the bike (not like that is big news though, huh?). Next, a legend indicates each of the tools that will be required from start to finish, and in exact detail. Those of you who have worked as wrenches will recall boxed bikes that often included a list of tools on the top of the box. That menu would include a screwdriver (sometimes two), pliers, a crescent wrench and often (though inexplicably) a hammer.
With the exception of the 10mm Allen key required to tighten the cranks, the 2012 Red is built around three different Allen keys—and no flippin’ Torx wrenches. A 5mm Allen is used to fix the component to the bike, i.e. brake and derailleur fixing bolts and control lever clamps. A 4mm Allen is used for gross adjustment, i.e. cable fixing bolts and brake shoe adjustment. Finally, a 2.5mm Allen is used for fine adjustment, i.e. derailleur set screws, brake centering adjustment and chain catcher position. That sort of consistency speeds a mechanic’s work.
The directions take nothing for granted. They show cable routing, torque values and color code different operations. While Shimano has at times had some good installation instructions, these were the most boiled-down and direct of any I can recall reading. The one criticism I do have is that I found that there is an overlap of steps between the installation of the front and rear derailleurs. Because of how the derailleurs are adjusted and when the chain is supposed to be installed, it’s not possible to do all of either the front or rear derailleur before moving on to the other. The steps need to be coordinated between the two (they are currently separate instruction sheets included with each component) so as to complete all the steps prior to chain installation before moving on to those that depend on the chain being present.
It’s a picky point, but these directions are so good that the one flaw sticks out. When I used to work as a mechanic, I had a system for assembling bikes. I started with bearings then moved on to bar/stem and saddle, then brakes, before going to the derailleurs, in broad strokes. SRAM’s team of technical writers seems close to being able to creating a manual for assembling an entire bicycle from the frame out; such a manual would have the ability to clarify what absolutely must be done first before moving on to other procedures, which could get interrupted by going back to finish something else the mechanic (me) left out. Assembling a bike is a good deal more difficult today than it was in the 1990s, despite the fact that frame prep with a Campy tool kit is almost never required. And given what many shops and studios charge for labor, and how busy those wrenches are, anything that can make labor more efficient is good.
I should add that a portion of my training is as a technical writer and I have worked as one in a variety of capacities, including writing instruction manuals. My eye may be a bit more critical than most. To be fair, Shimano’s more recent efforts aren’t bad (and they’ve improved over the years), but they are nowhere near this good.
With 2012 Red, SRAM moved to a locking, threaded BB washer to accommodate more different bottom brackets. It makes sense because bottom bracket standards are proliferating like rabbits during spring. I can report this was one of the easiest bottom bracket/crank installations of my life, if not the absolute easiest. And it has been utterly creak-free so far.
The shot above is a top-down view of the front derailleur and that grey line is an alignment guide for the front derailleur. Set that line in plane with the big chainring and the yaw technology of the new derailleur eliminates the need for trim.
So the line on the cage establishes the angle of the derailleur while this slightly polished guide line on the cage’s inner plate helps guide the height for the front derailleur. It really eliminates guesswork and multiple adjustments. Once angle and height are established, you move on to the set screws. Then, all that’s left is cable tension, and to their credit, SRAM includes an in-line barrel adjuster so that you can set cable tension in case the frame doesn’t include them; this has been an issue for me with both Shimano and Campagnolo.
SRAM indicated that their engineers had altered the lever body shape so that it would work at more different angles and bar shapes. I did try playing around a bit with different lever positions relative to the bar and it seemed like users would have plenty of options. If anything, it made it more difficult for me to find my preferred angle because so many seemed to work. Something they haven’t talked about are these little pads that cushion the hands from the bar. They sit just where the heel of your hand would normally be positioned against the bend of the bar. You have to work a bit more to get them positioned correctly before taping down the cable housing (it took a couple of tries for me), but their addition has been well worth it.
The redesigned hoods offer enough flexibility in the midsection that it’s easier to flip those hoods up than a starlet’s skirt, making it a snap to fit the 5mm Allen driver in to tighten the levers in place. This aspect of their levers and hoods is something that Campagnolo and Shimano would both do well to study.
Perhaps the least-changed component from the whole group—installation-wise, that is—are the brakes. My biggest note on the brakes was that the front brake was included with three different length fixing nuts for the fork. No Campy group I’ve ever had did that, though I can’t say with Shimano; it’s been a long time since I assembled a Shimano group from boxes as opposed to with a bike. It’s not uncommon to receive a few extra odds and ends when you pull the parts from display boxes.
Brake-shoe hardware is frequently a source of frustration. Trying to hold the pad in place well enough to get the hardware tight, but without the brake-shoe holder twisting can be difficult with some brakes. With the new Red it was a snap. And once I had the pads positioned, all I needed to center the brakes was a 13mm cone wrench. Just like old times.
Last but not least is the component whose photo led off this post, the rear derailleur. I’ve little to report here, except that the new design makes it easier to pull a wheel into the dropouts. Also, by giving the mechanic a choice of tools for the high and low set screws is nice. I love the fact that you can use a 2.5mm Allen wrench so that when you give the pedals a turn and the bike shakes some in the stand it’s less likely that the wrench will pop out of the screw it’s in.
My overwhelming sense with this group is that the engineers who were charged with developing this new group really listened to the feedback the company had received, not just from pro riders and race mechanics but also from workaday wrenches. This stuff was easy to install and even easier to adjust, and ultimately that gave me plenty of time to pull parts from the box and note how they seemed incomplete, like the parts weren’t all there, if only because it’s all so damn light.
In college, when I was doing an extremely rewarding and valuable liberal arts degree, I took a number of classes in the Philosophy of Identity taught by a former Finnish opera singer. Many of the texts assigned for these classes employed the classic brain-in-a-vat thought experiment to test out various theories of self-perception. They were all, without exception, stultifyingly boring, but the former opera singer was a very nice lady, and her classes fulfilled a requirement that allowed me to graduate a semester early and save my parents a half a metric ton of money.
My take away from those classes was that identity is a complicated mess of misperceptions and half-truths, much like the value proposition of a liberal arts degree.
Given the opportunity to talk about ourselves, we make bold statements like, “I am a cyclist” or “I am a writer,” as if those temporary actions derive from some deeper sense of purpose or intention. The bicycle is always a bicycle, unless it is destroyed, but is the cyclist still a cyclist when he stops cycling?
See, these are the sorts of annoying questions you get all day, once you’ve committed to the liberal arts.
In practical terms, we perpetuate the parts of temporary identity we like and want to project to other people. We are cyclists. You can tell by our shaven legs, bicycle-related t-shirts and funny tan lines. This part of identity is a creation, painting ourselves onto other people’s eyeballs. We spend obnoxious amounts of time (and money) on this. When it becomes too obvious that this is what we are doing, we are called vain, and we retreat into more covert ways to get our story across, like writing a blog.
The sociologist Charles Horton Cooley coined the term “Looking Glass Self” to describe the complicated ballet of projected identity. “I am not what I think I am,” he said. ” and I am not what you think I am; I am what I think you think I am.” By wearing this cool t-shirt, I give you the clues you need to form the right idea of me. Look at my funny, little hat. I am pretending I don’t look silly, because as a cyclist, this is what I do.
In the suburban milieu I move in, “what do you do?” is a common question, a way to figure out who someone is and how they fit into the world. Unless the person standing next to you at your kid’s soccer game has a white coat and stethoscope around their neck, what are you going to do?
What I usually say is, “I sell custom bicycles,” which invariably occasions looks of strained credulity and some mention of a bike hanging in a garage somewhere, rusting. When push comes to shove, I tell a more complete story, which often results in the same reaction. Sometimes, as it turns out, we give the world clues it fails to use to solve our personal mystery. My interlocutors look at me askance. “Custom bicycles,” their eyes say, “is that a real thing?”
It is, but it is probably not WHO I am.
What I would like to say, even to this vocational question, is “I am a cyclist,” but that implies one of two things. I am unemployed and riding my bike is the most worthwhile thing I can come up with to tell you about, or I get paid to ride a bike. I am a professional. Neither of those things is true, and they just make the conversation more complicated, so…
Maybe, if we accept Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am,” (tidbits like this are the province of the liberally educated) then the corollary, “I am what I think,” is also true. In that case, I really am a cyclist. In those moments when I ought to have been paying attention to Finnish opera singers, I was probably, at least mentally, riding my bike. Even now, as I’m typing, I’m up a hillside, rocking in the pedals, the wind stroking my helmetless hair (I eschew safety in my daydreams), the effort costing me nothing. I was breaking finish lines, kissing podium girls. I was busy.
As I said last week, I am easily distracted, even from my distractions.
And I like this idea of spontaneous identity, the one that comes from my daydreams and my passions. If I had paid closer attention, I might be able to tell you something about yourself as a brain-in-a-vat, something logically true but not altogether comforting. Unfortunately, that’s not how I roll (athankyouverymuch), even though I managed to graduate cum laude from an esteemed institution. The hard parts of academia escaped me. Call me liberally artistic.
In my mind, it all comes back to the stories we tell ourselves and others, personal myth-making. That these things may not, strictly-speaking, be true, or at least gross over-simplifications of who we really are, I find them comfortable and comforting.
Tell them all you’re a cyclist. Keep a straight face. Skip class/work/jury duty. Ride your bike. It’s who you are.
Illustration from L’homme de René Descartes, et la formation du foetus…. Paris: Compagnie des Libraires, 1729.
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[Editor's note: Due to an extraordinary amount of travel with little to no down time for posting, we've been a bit quieter than usual the last couple of days. It's why this post is a day late. Thanks for your patience.]
Over recent years, scientific training methods have brought a sort of parity to pro cycling that allows more and more riders to finish races together, even tough ones. As a result, to avoid too many mass finishes, organizers are making race finales ever more difficult. Just look at the two major stage races taking place this week and the number of riders finishing together at the end of difficult days in the saddle.
In Italy, after 10 stages and more than 40 hours of racing at the Giro d’Italia — including three summit finishes in the past four days — twenty-odd riders are still within two minutes of each other at the top of the overall standings. And here in the Amgen Tour of California, after two days and more than 20,000 feet of climbing, some 50 riders sit within a minute of race leader Peter Sagan.
Even hardened race followers felt that the California organizers had made their courses too tough this year, but the rugged climbs they included in Sonoma and Santa Cruz counties the first two days have failed to deliver the desired results. As Garmin-Barracuda team manager Jonathan Vaughters tweeted Monday night after 63 riders sprinted to the line in stage two at the Amgen Tour: “I anticipated a smaller group than that today.”
Over in Europe, the three Giro stages with uphill finishes have seen groups of 27, 25 and 33 battling for the win on the final climb. The only rider who has been able to separate himself (a little) from the group of race leaders is Domenico Pozzovivo — whose solo attack midway up the second-category Colle Molella on Sunday went virtually unopposed by the favorites who, like the Italian media, have marginalized the pocket-sized climber on the modest Colnago-CSF squad as a GC threat.
On Tuesday’s stage 10 finish in Assisi, the organizers made the hardest-possible finish, with the 15-percent grades of the San Damiano wall preceding the 11-percent climb on narrow, stone-paved streets into the heart of the medieval hilltop town. Even that spectacular finale didn’t produce huge time gaps, though the tough finish did its job of producing a new race leader in Joaquim “Purito” Rodriguez — with Garmin-Barracuda’s Ryder Hesjedal hanging tough in second place.
Sometimes, finishes can be too tough too frequently. The former Giro race director Angelo Zomegnan partly lost his job because he sought out ever-more spectacularly steep finishing climbs—which actually led to a too-tough course and a too predictable result last year. But even the normally conservative promoters of the Tour de France are inserting steeper climbs that they once considered too risky. At the upcoming Tour, race director Christian Prudhomme has decided to include for the first time in race history the Col du Grand-Colombier on stage 10 and the Col de Péguère on stage 14.
The Grand Colombier, just to the east of the French Alps, was used several times at the Tour’s “junior” race, the Tour de l’Avenir, in the 1970s when it was the springboard used by the legendary Soviet amateur Sergei Soukhoroutchenkov in his multiple overall victories. At 17km long and with an average gradient of 7.1 percent, it doesn’t sound too difficult, but it has long stretches of double-digit grades that make this tougher than many climbs in the Alps themselves.
The Péguère “wall” is even steeper, with the final 3.4km of its 9.4km tilting up at almost 14 percent, with pitches of 18 and 16 percent. There was talk of including the Péguère in the Tour route as long ago as the mid-1960s — and it was withdrawn after initial inclusion in 1973 — but the organizers considered this Pyrenean climb too steep and narrow and the road surface unsuitable. It will be the last climb of the day on July 15 and comes 39km from the stage 14 finish in Foix.
And, as last year, the Tour organizers are again spicing up the opening week of their race with three summit finishes. In 2011, those uphill endings saw stage wins for Philippe Gilbert on the Mont des Alouettes (stage one), Cadel Evans on the Mûr de Bretagne (stage four) and Rui Costa at Super-Besse (stage eight).
This year, the opening road stage into the Belgian city of Seraing was originally scheduled as a flat finish for sprinters, but Prudhomme changed it to a 2.5km climb, partly on cobbles, that will suit Gilbert. The next uphill finish comes on stage three at Boulogne-sur-Mer, where five climbs of around 10 percent each precede a 700-meter-long ramp to the line where Sylvain Chavanel won the 2011 French national championship. And stage seven’s finish on La Planche aux Belle Filles is completely new to the Tour, with its 6km climb at 8.5 percent featuring three double-digit sections that are likely to see an intriguing battle between the overall contenders.
The racing in California and Italy this week shows that the parity between riders is a fact of modern pro racing, and that closeness will only become stronger in future years. That’s bad news for sprinters, who will be getting fewer opportunities to unleash their high-speed skills, but good news for the fans, who will delight in more finales like that spectacular arrival in Assisi on Tuesday.
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Image: Photoreporter Sirotti
No one can stay on their bike at the Giro d’Italia this year. From the roll out in Denmark, it’s been bodies on the road. Mark Cavendish took stage 2 after a crash in the closing 150 meters. Theo Bos lost his front wheel and took out a slew of others. This was after Pink Jersey wearer Taylor Phinney crashed with 8kms to go, and then chased back on to save the shirt.
Stage 3 saw Matt Goss win, but the big story was behind him, where Roberto Ferrari of Androni-Giacottoli made a sudden dart to the right, taking out Cavendish, Phinney and others. It was Phinney’s second time on the ground in two days, and the toll would show on the youngster’s face in the TTT on Stage 4 where he relinquished his leader’s jersey to Ramunas Navardauskas of Garmin-Barracuda.
More bad luck for the American on Stage 5, where he was caught up behind a crash 35kms out, but fought his way back to the lined-out group.
Then it was time for Garmin-Baracuda to get theirs, as Stage 6 saw the abandonment of Tyler Farrar. Thor Hushovd and Roman Feillu got off their bikes too, though the circumstances of their exits was still unclear.
There was an interesting piece about all the pile-ups in today’s sprints on Bicycling.com the other day, touching on some of the themes we hear regularly now. Too much speed, too little respect, the UCI’s stupid rules, all of it contributing to the chaos.
But, what do you think is going on? A year on from Wouter Weylandt’s death, how will top-level racing get safer? Or is this just how it is, a sport for tough guys and girls, willing to sacrifice skin and bone for elusive success? Is this the downside of pro-racing, or is it just part of the entertainment, sick as that may sound?
After the first, second and third innings, as my son’s team finished batting and took the field, I had to remind him to go back from his position to get his glove off the bench. So eager was he to get out there and play, that the glove escaped his attention. The parents sitting near me all laughed. It was a knowing and empathetic laugh. There is a reason 7-year-olds don’t run the world. After the bottom of the fourth, he remembered finally.
When I was his age, I was the same, all want and no focus, turning cart wheels at second base, diving for balls not-yet-hit, writing my own legend in the soft gray matter of my frontal lobe, while all around me the real world blundered on mundanely.
At seven and eight and then nine-years-old, I rode a red BMX, heavy as New Hampshire granite, blue pads on top tube, stem and handlebar. I jumped it off stout pieces of ply-wood braced against piles of brick or cinder block, a long driveway/runway and the sharpest take off I could muster. Evel Knievel with skinned knees and no helmet, tearing through the woods and launching off every bump in the dirt or curb cut I could find. It was a different time.
Adolescence put paid to those notions. BMX stopped being cool. I began to worry about my shoes. I put time into sports more respected by the fairer lot, and as the girls paid me more attention, I clamored for more and more of that attention. The old BMX grew cobwebs in the shed, and then found a new boy to carry through the woods and off ill-conceived ramps.
That’s when my brother’s Panasonic Villager, long-abandoned and far too large, came out of retirement. My teen ardor gave that bike a purpose, a means to visit young ladies even further afield than my suburban youth had dared contemplate. And ungainly as it was, I rediscovered riding on that bike. For a spell, in afternoons after school, I would ride it slowly, in figure eights, around the driveway. I could spend hours that way, spinning ever more slowly, fumbling at the beginnings of a track stand when I had no idea that was even a thing. This was meditative time, just me, quiet on the bike, feeling its shifting gravity under me and dancing the awkward dance at the end of youth.
What ended my youth, ultimately, was drugs and alcohol. They dragged me forcibly out of childhood with its warm, dry shelter of oblivious dependence into a crueler place, where I began to have to solve serious problems for myself. Just functioning on a (somewhat) socially acceptable level, was hard work. It didn’t leave much time for aimless figure eights.
Eventually though, the bike came back, first as transportation, then as transformation. The thing is, I can’t be on a bike very long before it draws me back into all the things that are good about being free and on the move and under your own steam. The bike didn’t get me clean and sober. That would be too cute. But when I did finally get myself over the hump into sobriety, the bike was there to reshape my lifestyle and give me back some measure of health.
Suddenly, I was a cyclist. I rode to and from work. I bought a proper road bike and then a mountain bike. I bought shoes and pedals and kit. I woke up at the crack to hit the trails before work. I did long road rides with friends on weekends. People taught me how to ride in a group, how to climb more efficiently, how to sprint for town lines.
And then somehow work overtook it all. I had a sort of aimless career, by which I mean I didn’t care what I did that much. I chased money and promotions for no reason I could name. I’m not even sure I knew I was doing it, just swept up in the flow of moving on and getting more and doing more and having more, until the bikes started to go dusty again. By then, most of my riding buddies had moved away. The whole thing lost its inertia, became inert.
I have never considered myself a suit-guy, but there I was, in a suit. You can sit in a lot of meetings in a lot of starchy dress shirts, wondering to yourself how you got there. I did. Hell, I even ran a lot of those meetings. Before I decided it was time to run FROM those meetings.
I don’t know why I drift away from cycling periodically. I love riding, and I love the bike as a tool and as an object. I love what it does for me, and I believe in it as a lifestyle. I’m just easily distracted.
Parenthood finally put me back on the bike, again. This wasn’t the prosaic ride of father and son through neighborhood streets. That happened, but more importantly I understood that time for fitness was no longer available. If I continued to drive or take the train to work, I would forgo the one good opportunity (two actually) I had to exercise each day, the commute.
I love commuting by bike, the rhythm of it, in and out, back and forth, each trip pumping out the endorphins you need to deal with being at work, or returning home to wailing children. And then, of course, as I said, I can’t be on a bike very long before it draws me back in.
This cycling world is full of people who will tell you that they were born to ride, that it’s the most important thing in their life, and that it defines them as a person. I don’t know about all that. My experience has been uneven and non-linear, and I have learned better than to try to tell you much about my future.
I can say that the bike has always been there for me. Every time I wander off, I come back, and it’s there, and all the revelations that come along with riding come to me, and I dive back in, headfirst. And then I’m riding with friends and on my own, during the week and on weekends. Asphalt and gravel and dirt. In the rain and the cold. Sometimes, because I am who I am, even I forget my gloves.
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Late last week I received a rather last-minute invitation from the PR machine at Specialized. They were wondering if I might be able to carve out a day to spend with Tom Boonen, Levi Leipheimer and the members of Omega Pharma-Quickstep’s Tour of California squad. After a quick consult with Mrs. Padraig, I started packing. I mean, who says no?
Now, I’m not going to try to snow you. We all know that this was a visit that didn’t carry the journalistic weight of a post-race press conference. Like I care. I am, at my core, a fan of all things cycling (okay, most things cycling; I’m still unwilling to ride a recumbent). And even though I have at times been critical of Tom Boonen for losing his focus as a professional athlete, I’ve been an admirer of his since his U.S. Postal days.
So I took a brief tour of OPQ’s makeshift service course before heading to the big, red S for our ride. I learned a few things while checking out their set up. First, almost the entire team is still on SRAM’s original Red group. Yes, Boonen won Roubaix on 2012 Red, but all the bikes I saw other than his featured Black Red. I also asked a bit about what bikes the riders receive and how much steering they receive about what bike should be ridden when. Specialized is pretty proud of the fact that Tommeke won Ghent-Wevelgem on a Venge, Flanders on a Tarmac and Roubaix on a Roubaix. So I’ve been curious to know how much of this was rider preference vs. sponsor input. I was surprised to learn that it’s 100 percent up to the rider. Getting this answer once from a team liaison was good, but not good enough. So I asked around a bit more, finally asking Boonen himself about his bike choice. Each time I got the same answer.
Each rider is given two Venges and two Tarmacs at the beginning of the season. They also receive a Roubaix for Roubaix. Boonen indicated that his bike of preference is the Venge and he goes for the Tarmac when the course is a bit rougher.
As one of the largest bike companies in the world, Specialized is a complicated entity. They’ve engaged in some business practices that have soured some people, notably the lawsuits with Volagi and Giro. And it’s not too hard to find former employees who can’t quite rinse the bitter taste from their mouths. Even among the happy, current employees, there’s widespread acknowledgement that Sinyard demands a lot from his workforce. In the same breath people add that he isn’t shy with the praise, though, and they do feel valued. I hate the phrase “work hard and play hard” because it has become such a cliché, but if ever there was an organization where the saying is applicable, Specialized is arguably it.
It’s a pretty rare day that any of the stars that Specialized sponsors actually visits the HQ. To my knowledge, this was the first time Boonen had visited; same for teammates like former world champion Bert Grabsch. The marketing team laid siege to the building, putting up posters, making up personalized stickers to put on the shower lockers each of the riders would use (alas, Leipheimer didn’t make it due to his ongoing recovery), embroidering towels and wash cloths, catering lunch and plenty more.
Is this sort of red-carpet treatment something that means much to the riders? I kinda doubt it. Sure, it must be fun for them, but this particular lot seemed on the introverted side and happy just to keep to themselves. I think it means a great deal more to the employees of Specialized. It’s easy for most of them to spend months or a year (or more) on a project and not necessarily see that translate to a big pro win. So events like these are a great way for them to connect to their work in a bigger-picture way. And let’s be honest, going out for your company’s lunch ride accompanied by some of the world’s finest pros has got be pretty stinkin’ cool.
The shot above is one of my favorites from the Specialized lunch ride that day. Unlike other occasions when the big boys join a group ride, these guys sifted through the group and spent some time chatting with the staffers. The pace stayed pretty mellow so that moving through the group wasn’t exactly risky among this unknown quantity.
At one point one of the members of the marketing team rode up to me and asked if I wanted to get my picture with any of the riders. I’m rather camera shy these days, even though I used to spend more time in front of the camera than behind it, so I initially said no. Part of my motivation was thinking that this is really about the Specialized employees and the event was really meant to give them a chance to interact with these athletes.
Then I came to my senses.
“Well, if someone was to accidentally on purpose get a photo of me next to Tom Boonen, I wouldn’t object.”
A few ks later, “Hey Patrick, look what I brought you!”
I turn and it’s Tom Boonen. After a brief reintroduction I admitted that I was among that army of journalists who had been rough on him in the past. So it was with some delight that I was able to tell him that in rediscovering his old form and having the spring he did, I was pleased for him. He was as gracious as one might hope. We talked a bit about what he changed for this season and while the details were plenty interesting, what captivated me was hearing him talk about going back to old-school training and just logging thousands of kilometers. I nearly fell of my saddle when he said, “I told the guys, let’s do this old school, like back when we were juniors.”
He was so relaxed about his training and yet there was an animation to him as he talked about riding. Say what you want, Tom Boonen really loves to ride his bike.
Most cyclists set some sort of challenge each year to give them an incentive to get into shape. For many years, my challenge has been a long ride in the Rockies west of my adopted hometown of Boulder, Colorado, on my May 5 birthday. I began this now annual rite of springtime at age 50, when I mapped out a 50-mile route to ride with a couple-dozen colleagues from the office. It was a day of strong southerly winds and only half the group made it to the final loop through the foothills. I’ve been adding a mile to the ride every year since then, and now most of it is in the mountains rather than on the plains.
That’s probably the wrong way to go about this venture. Friends say, “You should be riding on flat roads.” And they ask, “What are going to do when you’re in your 80s or 90s?” So I remind them of the 100-year-old French cyclist, Robert Marchand, who set a world hour record of 24.25 kilometers for his age group on the UCI Velodrome in Switzerland back in February. My sister tells me that I should switch my ride to kilometers, and that’s a choice I do think about … but not for long. I grew up with miles, so miles it remains.
I did have a few concerns in the lead-up to this year’s birthday ride last Saturday. Although I run three times a week to stay in shape, I didn’t take my first 2012 bike ride until late March — mainly because of some hectic traveling and new work schedules. However, I did manage to get in 10 short rides before May 5, including a longest one of 30 miles that went over a climb destined for this August’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge. That gave me the confidence I could again tackle my birthday ride and its 6,000 feet of climbing.
My bike, I have to admit, was in far worse shape than I was. Fortunately, I managed to get a booking with Vecchio’s Bicicletteria, the iconic Boulder bike shop, whose owner Peter Chisholm worked his magic, fitting new pedals, chain, hub bearings and cone, cable housings, inner tubes, brake pads and a bar-end stop. When I took it for a spin the night before the ride, I couldn’t believe how smoothly everything was working. Thanks, Peter!
So my bike was ready, I was ready, and I knew the two (younger) friends coming with me had been riding a lot. Even the weather was looking good: a forecast for partly cloudy skies, high-50s early in the day, high-60s in the high country and high-70s back in Boulder. As for the ride itself, I’d modified the course to include an initial loop on some of the dirt roads used in this year’s Boulder-Roubaix race.
Because cell-phone coverage is spotty in the deep canyons of the Rockies and up on the high-altitude Peak-to-Peak Highway, I knew I wouldn’t get any live coverage of Saturday’s opening time trial at the Giro d’Italia — but I was looking forward to watching the Gazzetta dello Sport video of the stage when I got home. I was of course hoping that local hero Taylor Phinney, who has trained on these Colorado roads for years, would have the form to take the 2012 Giro’s first pink jersey on this Cinco de Mayo.
Besides sharing a birthday with such diverse characters as “Monty Python” comic Michael Palin and singers Adele, Chris Brown and Tammy Wynette, I expect unusual things tend to happen on my birthday. When I did the May 5 ride in 2000 — already a dozen years ago! — I learned that morning that Gino Bartali had died at 85. Later in the day, I heard that Lance Armstrong, on a Tour de France scouting trip, crashed heavily descending a mountain pass in the Pyrenees. And, in the heavens that night 12 years ago, there was a very rare conjunction of the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the Moon. Some day!
This year, besides the start of the Giro in Denmark, May 5 would see a “supermoon” and a meteor shower from Halley’s comet. That would come later. First, there were birthday cards to open, Facebook greetings to read and phone calls to take before I set off on another challenging ride.
My watch read 7:30 when I spotted Steve circling the road near the end of his street. We reached across to shake hands and he wished me “Happy Birthday.” We were soon on our way, heading east, when we were passed (with a quick greeting) by two spin-class coaches from Steve’s gym who were out training on their full triathlon rigs. Seeing dozens of other riders (and generally being passed by them!) became a pattern of the day. That’s because it was a Saturday. When my birthday is on a weekday, I usually ride alone and rarely see another cyclist.
This time, I wasn’t alone. Steve’s a lawyer with the Native American Rights Fund and a recreational cyclist. He was wearing his Triple Bypass jersey, reminding me that every July he does the infamous 120-mile mass ride over the 11,000-foot Juniper, Loveland and Vail Passes. It helps to have a strong riding companion! And his wife Martha, who oversees my weight training most weeks, would join us where our route entered the canyons.
But first we pounded along the dirt roads through a springtime paradise of infinite green, riding past rushing creeks, open meadows and an organic farm called “Pastures of Plenty” — which seemed to sum it all up. After a brief connection with Highway 36, busy with groups of cyclists heading north in the bright sunshine, we joined Martha and started up the 16-mile climb toward the Gold Rush-era village of Ward at 9,000 feet elevation.
As my weights coach followed me up the long, long climb’s culminating double-digit grade, with me feeling like a sagging Vincenzo Nibali muscling his way up the Côte de Saint-Nicolas in last month’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, I was happy to hear her tell me: “Good job!” Usually, I have the deck at the Ward village store to myself. But on this pleasantly warm Saturday morning, there was a never-ending stream of riders, most of them stopping to eat homemade cookies, pump black coffee from a Thermos and guzzle 99-cent cans of Coke. We joined them.
The three of us then climbed the last little drag up to Peak-to-Peak. I told Martha that this scenic byway was built by “unemployed” workers during the Great Depression, and it was originally planned to link Long’s Peak with Pike’s Peak, but only its northern half was completed before the war started. I’m glad this half was built, because riding the always-curving, roller-coaster road, with close-up views of snow-covered peaks and distant views of the plains, is always the highlight of my ride. Back in the 1980s, I saw the likes of Andy Hampsten and Greg LeMond doing battle on Peak-to-Peak in the Coors Classic, and this coming August their successors Tom Danielson, Tejay Van Garderen, Levi Leipheimer and Christian Vande Velde will be racing up and down these hills in the USA Pro Challenge.
Martha, Steve and I flew down the last long downhill into Nederland, and continued on, riding against the wind up the dead-end valley to Eldora before returning to Ned and a leisurely al-fresco lunch at the Whistler’s Café. All that remained was a 20-mile dash back to base, descending 3,000 feet in the canyon alongside the fast-flowing Boulder Creek. It was an exhilarating ending to our ride, followed by the excitement of learning that, after two other onetime Boulder residents, Hampsten and Vande Velde, Boulder native Phinney had become only the third American to don the Giro’s maglia rosa.
Thanks, Taylor. Thanks, Peter. Thanks, Steve. Thanks Martha. Good job!
Follow me on Twitter: @johnwilcockson
Image: Photoreporter Sirotti
When I first pulled the Giro Apeckx shoes out of the box, my reaction was lackluster. The problem wasn’t with the shoe, it was with me. It just took me a month to figure that out. What I didn’t appreciate when I first looked at them or when I first wore them or even when I got back from my first three-hour ride in them was what a value they are. Without really thinking, I had assumed these were the next step down the Giro line from the Factor.
That would be the $224.95 Trans, not the Apeckx. I was wrong.
When I lived in Massachusetts I often rode with a compass. The roads in the Berkshires twisted and turned with so little logic that I’d often find myself at intersections in the middle of nowhere and pull out the compass only to realize, “Oh, that’s east. Wow.”
Finding out the Apeckx retails for $149.95 was a similar experience. It was a helluva a shock, if I’m honest. And I couldn’t resist running this review on the heels of my assessment of the Rapha Grand Tour shoes.
Here’s all I’m going to say about the appearance of the Apeckx: I dig the interplay of black and white on this shoe. Even after riding in sloppy conditions, they are easy to clean up. Okay, I’m done. You’re either going to like them, or not. Let’s move on to the stuff that will get the conversation rolling. They also make a black shoe with silver highlights for those who want a more conservative look.
My 42s are a relatively high-volume shoe. Theoretically, the fit is the same as the Factor, but there are some minor differences in the fit. Some of it is volume in the instep and some of it has to do with the strap just behind the toe box. The strap behind the toe box appears to be slightly longer and more flexible on the Apeckx. I end up with less exposed velcro but also less restriction behind the toes.
Now, I’ve tried the Apeckx with both the included footbeds and Giro’s SuperNatural adjustable-fit footbeds that came with my Factors. The footbeds included with the Apeckx aren’t garbage, but there’s nothing special about them. When I added the SuperNatural footbeds they went from good to remarkable. The sole is made from Zytel—nylon—and is exceptionally stiff, perhaps the stiffest non-carbon fiber sole I’ve ridden. That detail becomes all the more impressive when you look at just how thick the soles are, which is to say, while they aren’t as thin as the EC90s used in the Factor, they are a good deal thinner than those found in many competitors’ shoes I’ve worn.
When I think back on all the shoes I’ve worn over the years, and how many of them retailed for more than $200 and how superior these are to most of them, I’m really impressed. Sure, it’s unfair to compare this generation to the previous, but the mind can’t help but draw comparisons. Honestly, I didn’t think you could get this much shoe for $150.
Here’s my one real criticism of this shoe: Someone inclined to spend $150 on a pair of shoes strikes me as unlikely to spend another $50 (that’s a 33 percent add-on) to ride with the SuperNatural footbeds. And that’s a shame, because with the addition of those footbeds I’d put these shoes up against a great many shoes in the $200 to $250 range. The question on my mind is what it would cost to add the footbeds to the shoes. They are great shoes given their price. But suppose they included the SuperNatural footbeds and charged $180. The improvement in fit and ride quality (not to mention power transfer, because every time your foot flexes and flattens during the pedal stroke that’s a loss in power) would make them easily the best sub-$200 shoes on the market.
A guy can dream, can’t he?