I typically confuse actions with feelings. I say, “Man, I’d love to go for a ride right now,” or “I really need to sit down and do some writing,” but what I really mean is that there are feelings I want to have, brain states that frighten and soothe. I want flow, and I want progress, and I want forward movement that mostly lives inside me and only looks like moving through the world, sometimes on a bike, sometimes at a keyboard, sometimes not moving at all.
I want that bursting sense of possibility I get when I hammer out of the driveway and up the slight rise at the end of the road, the launch of a new ride and its palpable feeling of freedom, of escape, a buzzing in my guts as adrenalin collides with serotonin up in the old brain box. I fairly sprint for the top of the hill, the faster to get out into the world.
The first minutes, fingers to keyboard can be the same, escaping into my thoughts, spewing pre-formed phrases out onto the screen, bits of language that have been tumbling around temporally for hours and days. Sprinting to get them all out before the flow falters, before the dependent clauses dangle off the ends of their sentences and break, like a slipping chain, like a mental mis-shift.
I want to feel the desperate equilibrium of a long climb, the way head and lungs strike their fragile bargain, teetering there between capacity and rhythm, hovering in that magical place where I can’t seem to do more and can’t seem to do less, legs screaming but not loud enough to be heard, breathing heavy but not too heavy to lift, every track beneath my train of thought fully occupied by forward movement, and everything melts away but the climbing, the up.
I want that well worn spot at the end of the couch and a book in my hand and coffee cup perched there beneath the lamp, the clock’s ticking inaudible and unimportant, nowhere to be but fully inhabiting the ideas bound in ink and paper, racing through the pages, synapses singing, warm and wholly calm, every minute a moment and every hour an eternity at the same time. Timeless. Mental.
The frenetic moments off the front of the ride/race/ramble, when I marvel at my strength, wonder what I should do next, doubt it will last. All of it thrilling, even when it ends, like a solar flare of energy, accidental and necessary.
Or the post-ride feed. Sitting around a table with friends, cups steaming or ice jumbling against sugary salvation, the food arrayed before us like a trophy cabinet, and the inquest begins. Everyone did either more or less than they actually did, as suits their ego and the careful arrangements among friends. The mind capers in triumph at having done something worth doing, at having earned the reward.
Action and feeling are inseparable, the one leading to the other and back again in a tight loop of motivation and energy, and the cruel truth is that the same actions don’t always lead to the same feelings. The recipe is never so neat and easy. The rabbit is not always to be found in the hat, but sometimes only out in front of us, hovering in the mind’s eye just out of reach, and each of us a greyhound at the track, loping madly in circles.
Image: Matt O’Keefe
I know people who don’t wear T-shirts. They don’t make sense to me in the way that vegans don’t make sense to me. I get that they stand for something, that they have set high standards for themselves, but cool T-shirts are fun, full stop. Not wearing T-shirts, ever, is missing out on good-natured, low-key fun. Veganism is the same thing to me. Life without cheese—real cheese, not that imitation stuff—is something approaching pointless.
Me? I love a great T-shirt. And because I have a job that really never requires a suit or tie, let alone both, I can wear T-shirts just about every day. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve got plenty of stylish button-down shirts, stuff that makes me look entirely more presentable (not to mention professional) than any T-shirt ever will. But I live in California, which is laid-back the way George Clooney is cool. It’s as if laid-back hadn’t been invented until there was California; same thing for cool.
I’ve mentioned previously that the T-shirts we sell here on RKP were driven by entirely selfish concerns. They are shirts I wanted to wear, plain and simple. That a few hundred other people like them enough to buy one and (hopefully) wear it is what happens when luck collides with fun. Bam.
Reviewing T-shirts is reality-show lame, but with it being Christmas and all, I thought it would be fun to give a nod to some designs out there that have caught my eye of late. First up are a couple of designs from Stomach of Anger. As you have probably noticed, they are advertisers here on RKP. And judging from the out-clicks the ad has gotten, a great many of you have at least checked out their web site. I have to admit I was completely unfamiliar with them prior to them reaching out to advertise. I went and looked through their offerings and nearly laughed out loud when I saw the design above.
I like this Wiggins design because it riffs on another darling of England, The Who. It’s got a lot of my favorite qualities in a T-shirt: It is carried by an eye-catching design, depends on a certain amount of insider knowledge to make sense and most of all, it’s playful. And, of course, it’s a chance to make a statement about your views on your loves, or life in general. What’s not to like?
Of course, some shirts are less playful than just out-and-out irreverent, such as this shirt featuring Floyd Landis in a Santa Claus hat accompanied by his now-famous quote: “At some point people have to tell their kids that Santa Claus isn’t real.” It is perhaps one of the few ways I’ve seen to laugh at the fallout subsequent to the USADA Reasoned Decision.
Speaking of irreverent, the design above is being offered by Gage+Desoto. It was designed by the game studio Pajamahouse and takes a swipe at global warming. After all, if there’s no sea ice, the best option that polar bears, penguins and seals may have is the bicycle. I wish they had this in kids’ sizes; I’d get one for my son.
No one takes irreverence more seriously than the artists at Kukuxumusu (say Koo-koo-choo-moo-soo). They’re a Basque company I first ran across close to 10 years ago when riding through the Pyrenees. Many of their shirts use recurring themes; some play (prey?) on the longstanding tensions between the French and the Spanish, with the French portrayed as frogs with bulging eyes and the Spanish characterized as bulls. Others take swipes at the Catholic church for the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the church worldwide.
Recently, Kukuxumusu released its first cycling-themed shirt. In celebration of this year’s Vuelta start in Pamplona, the company teamed up with Miguel Indurain to offer a shirt that celebrated cycling. Some of their designs (particularly the ones celebrating the Festival of San Fermin) are like something straight out of Richard Scarry’s children’s books, with a cast of dozens and a great many ridiculous things worth noticing, if only you slow down enough to really look.
One of these days I’m going to talk them into doing a design for RKP. I have no idea how I’ll do this, or what subject might be used as it’s starting point, but I love what they do too much to give up.
Bell and Giro are two of the biggest names in bicycle helmets, and have been for the better part of 20 years. But in 1996 when Bell—which was #1 in sales—purchased Giro—which was #2 in sales—there were concerns that Bell would swallow Giro, that the two lines would become indistinguishable. Some 16 years’ worth of helmets by the two companies has shown that didn’t happen and isn’t going to happen. That the two manufacturers didn’t get homogenized into one behemoth that put out one helmet with two names is less a miracle than a demonstration that the two companies have remained not just distinct, but consistent in their differences over the years.
For as far back as I can remember, Bell bicycle helmets have been designed around heads that are more round than oval, circumferentially. As far back as my days as a shop wrench, I’ve known that to be true. Further, I also knew Giro helmets to be better suited to those with more oval heads. Despite that he was often called a blockhead, I’m a lot like Charlie Brown in that I’ve got a pretty round head. As a result, in the late ’80s and early- to mid-’90s, I wore Bell helmets. Somewhere around ’97 or ’98 Bell released the Evo Pro and it marked what was a departure from the old Bell fit. As compared to Giro, Specialized and most other manufacturers, the Evo Pro had a deeper fit. By that I mean that the helmet covered more of my head. I might not have noticed had it not been for two colliding facts. First, there was no way to stash sunglasses in the helmet. Second, the helmet came down so far over my head that it came in contact with my glasses. With every bump I encountered on the road there was a corresponding “thunk” of the helmet against my glasses.
No creak was every half this annoying.
So it went with each Bell helmet I tried for more than 10 years. Some even pressed against my eyewear; to mention this was uncomfortable is to commit a crime against the obvious.
Enter the Gage. I’m pleased to report that the Gage improves upon Bell’s too-deep-for-me fit. I respect that some folks never had the problem I did, but my head is not anomalous. I can’t have been the only person to experience this phenomenon. The fit does still feel deep-ish, but I’ve been able to wear this helmet with eyewear from Spy, Smith and Shimano without the helmet banging against the frames. However, the helmet still clunks against Oakley’s Racing Jackets and Assos’ too-cool-for-Beverly-Hills Zeghos are utterly incompatible with this helmet. And forget about trying to stash glasses in the vents. The temple vents are simply too far apart to accommodate any eyewear meant for the human head.
This $190 bucket continues with the design cues for which Bell has become known, in particular the symmetrically flared points at the back of the helmet that recall space-age looking tail fins of cars from the late 1950s and early 1960s.
This is the helmet Billy Blastoff’s grandson would wear.
Fortunately, somewhere around the time helmets’ vents numbered in the range of two dozen we marketing teams came to their senses and stopped counting them. I’ve stopped entertaining discussions of which helmet is best-ventilated. The last time a helmet left my head too hot, too sweaty on a summer day, hair was still big. To the degree that I still think about how well a helmet is ventilated, what I consider is that the helmets I’m wearing require a cycling cap beneath them once the temperature drops below 60 degrees (F).
Bell remains differentiated against its competitors in another significant way: Their sizing runs smaller. A small from Bell is not the same thing as a small from Specialized, Giro or Lazer. When my boy hits his teenage years, his first leap into adult helmets will almost certainly be to a small Bell. I wear a small in the aforementioned brands, but with Bell I have to wear a medium, and I think this gets to the root of the deep fit for me. My head is just a bit too large for their small. While this is an issue for me, it means that a small Bell is a great option for others—particularly for women, who frequently have smaller heads than men.
There’s much to like about the Gage. Like its competitors, the Aeon and Prevail, the Gage uses lightweight webbing for the straps. Sure, the thinner straps help the helmet lose some weight, but that’s not the reason to like the material; less material means less sweat absorption. The thinner material is also more supple, making it more comfortable against your skin. It tends to get less funky, post-ride, as well. Which brings us to the X-Static pads; X-Static is a material that incorporates silver fibers to inhibit the growth of bacteria that make your helmet smell like skunk roadkill. This stuff works so well and has been so widely adopted in helmet spec it’s becoming industry standard. Cam-lock levers make strap adjustment both Cavendish-quick and magic-marker permanent.
Another practice that has become industry standard are the fusion-molded microshells that simultaneously increase a helmet’s durability and good looks. Speaking of which, even at this price, you get a choice of eight different finishes.
Bell’s occipital retention device is called the TAG, for Twin-Axis Gear, which is to say as the user tightens the device, it not only decreases the effective circumference of the helmet, it also moves upward to better cradle the occipital bump on smaller heads. It yields a fit that is eight-character-password secure.
The reality for me is that as much as I like this helmet, the fit issues will prevent it from being in my regular rotation of helmets. The good news is that it means there are a great many people out there who will find this helmet to be an ideal fit. Thank heaven for diversity in manufacturing.
It’s nice that Bell’s top-of-the-line helmet is a good $60 less than Giro’s. When the cost of so many things just continues to escalate, Bell deserves some praise for making a pro-worthy product without engaging in the price arms race.
I apologize, but I need to change gears and take a major detour from the usual column today.
Mired in self-pity, I sent Padraig a note early yesterday, saying that I was bailing early on my Friday, hit with the flu and thinking that I would delay – or skip – writing this week’s column. I went home. I crawled into bed. I felt sorry for myself (Wahhhh). I drifted off to sleep.
Early, this morning, I woke to the news that my dear friend Bob Torry (one of the best damn professors I’d ever had) died yesterday from complications related to ALS (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease).
A few minutes later, I learned that the beautiful little niece of one of my law school classmates was among those killed in the obscene act of violence that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, yesterday.
I can’t imagine sitting down and writing about sports, law or cycling while pretending what happened yesterday didn’t happen.
I did not know Emilie Parker, but I do know her aunt, having spent three years with her, locked into that myopic world known as law school. Emilie’s aunt, my classmate Jill, only recently lost her father in a cycling accident and now faces this. I can’t even imagine what Jill and the rest of her family are going through right now.
To put it into perspective, remember that Emilie was a first-grader. She was six years old. Six. That’s around 2300 days on this earth. It’s the age at which everyone is bright-eyed, enthusiastic and drinking in the wonders of a new life. None of us is bad at that age. Emilie was an innocent victim in the purest sense of the word.
I read, too, about a young woman, Victoria Soto, who taught at Sandy Hook. The 27-year-old selflessly and heroically threw herself between the shooter and her first-grade students, all of whom survived. She did not.
We use the word “hero” to describe a lot of people these days. We heap medals, riches and adulation on many far less deserving. We even call guys who are paid to ride bicycles around some of the most beautiful parts of the world “heroes,” largely for riding the aforementioned bikes just a bit faster than other guys who are paid quite nicely to do the same thing. Athletes? Yup. Heroes? Nope. It is Victoria Soto and her colleagues – unarmed, alone and devoted – who will forever epitomize the meaning of the word “hero” to me. (By the way, the next time some asshole tells you that teachers are lazy and overpaid, you might think of Victoria.)
What’s more, we use words like “tragedy” to describe events that truly only amount to a mere ripple in one’s life. The deaths of Emilie Parker, Victoria Soto and 25 others are real tragedies.
My friend Bob? He led a good, in many ways complete, albeit all-too-short, life. He was an English professor, a keen analyst of literature, film and religion and a terrifically funny dinner companion. I’m going to miss him terribly, but when I think of Bob, it will almost always be with a smile. I wish I could say the same about those poor kids in Connecticut. I wish I could say the same about Victoria Soto.
In coming weeks, we will yammer endlessly about the the factors that contributed to this tragedy. Some will, with good reason, say that it’s a problem rooted in a ridiculously easy availability of guns, whose sole purpose is to inflict maximum damage on as many people in as short a time as possible. We have the world’s highest per-capita gun ownership rate, at 88.8 per 100 Americans. But that can’t be the only explanation. Take our neighbors to the North. Gun ownership in Canada ranks 13th in the world and, in parts of the country, approaches that of the U.S., but they’re actually civilized about it. We are not. Recent data shows Canada has about 170 gun-related homicides (0.5 per 100,000) per year. We have a declining rate, but it’s still around 9,500 (3.0/100,000). There have to be other factors at play.
Others – like the esteemed former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee – offered that it was because we’ve eliminated prayer in our schools. Really?
While those all along the political spectrum will shout their respective opinions in an effort to score political points from this tragedy. Some will strike a chord, others will just seem nuts. Meanwhile, we may take a deep breath and wonder what kind of help was – or should have been – available to that twisted and tortured soul who carried out this obscenity.
As an attorney, I’ve recently taken on cases involving the mentally ill and find that the system in this country is woefully inadequate when it comes to identifying and offering early treatment to those who need it. For the most part, we wait until things turn serious and then take extreme measures to address what is now a critical problem … unless it’s too late, as it was in Newtown. Ours is not a proactive mental healthcare system. It’s reactive, often reacting when it’s far too late to do any good.
No, there is no simple answer. The availability of mental health care, gun control or even school prayer … none of them offers a simple solution to a complicated set of problems.
But the first step may be for all of us to realize we, as a country, and we as a people, have a problem. How is it that we can look around and not see the inherent humanity, the innate beauty, in an Emilie; in the selfless soul of Victoria Soto … or even recognize the pain and agony of that distorted and tortured mind of Adam Lanza? We have a problem. We have a serious, serious problem.
We do need to talk.
I got back from my ride this morning to a link sent to my by my wife. It was for a piece on the shooting in Sandy Hook. My day took a nose dive I could not have anticipated, one that I struggle to understand.
I know no one who has been able to take the recurring shootings here in the U.S. in stride, anyone who has been able to process these in a way that leaves them unscathed. But this one is different because so many of the victims were children. We speak of how children are our future and while that’s true, what we see when we look at children isn’t the future, not mine, not yours. What we see is potential.
I’d like to think potential is what keeps so many of you coming back to RKP week after week. The bicycle is a means to an unknown but better future. It’s a good time waiting to happen. It’s an expression of a better, stronger, smarter us. It’s a fresh connection, a new friend, a strengthened bond with on old friend, the thread of our social fabric. It’s a bee line out of the doldrums, faster acting than Prozac, and a chance to see something remarkable with each new turn.
My love of the bicycle has, I hope, taught me something of how to love my son. He is nothing if not potential with a heart beat. He might race bikes. He might take up gymnastics. He might play soccer. He could easily do all of those things—in the same week. I don’t really care which of them he does. It’s been enough to see him have fun and to watch how the possibilities play out. He’s that book of a lifetime, the story that I can’t wait to see unfold. I don’t care where the story goes, even if it leads to stoner Xbox addict. I’m willing to give him the room to explore the great big world.
When I think of all those families in Sandy Hook, my heart breaks. All those lives, all those stories we’ll never see play out. Who knows what those kids might have done. A cure for cancer, an Olympic Gold medal, President of the United States—they were tales unwritten; they might have done anything.
Go hug the people you love.
It’s the Christmas season and with that comes a myriad of changes to our routines. There’s the change in traffic; with so many people out shopping, it makes it seem like there are twice as many people on the road both when I’m out for training rides and later in the day when I try to run any errand. There’s the fact that it’s mid-December; with the planet approaching the winter solstice almost everyone in the Northern Hemisphere is experiencing colder temperatures on rides—and you all fortunate enough to be in the Southern Hemisphere and headed into summer can do us all a favor and try not to rub it in. Let’s not forget all the gifts; with Christmas comes the opportunity to get stuff we want, not to mention the chance to express our love for others in the form of the gifts we give them.
We’ve talked here previously about who you would like to give the gift of cycling to. The rich array of answers was fascinating as much for the why of how you chose as for the who that you did choose.
I’ll admit, when I was a kid, I was much more focused on the getting than the giving. I didn’t put much into the giving and so the dividends—that sense of pleasure you get from seeing another person light up when they receive your gift—were pretty insignificant. It took a while to realize that the more I put into it, the more I got out of it.
This year, the gift I’d most like to give isn’t cycling, it’s learning. I’ve already given my son cycling this year; I’m glad I didn’t wait until his birthday or Christmas to give him the gift of cycling—we’ve had so much fun, I feel like I got Christmas back in April. So now I’m trying to figure out a way to afford an iPad mini for him. He’s becoming more interested in computers but if we give him free access to our iPad, we will never get access to it again. Still, I have this feeling that an iPad can’t top having given him a bike earlier this year.
I don’t think of RKP as a place where I give. I do what I’m naturally inclined to do—write—and then I have the good fortune to have a bunch of people stop by to read my work, not to mention the work of others, work that I publish because I think it’s pretty terrific.
But this FGR is going to be a little different. What do YOU want? I don’t mean what gear, what destination, what win—I’m wondering what it is you’d like from RKP? I’ve got designs for next year, things I’d like to do more of, ways I’d like to expand our content. But I’m curious, if we were to give you a gift of content (perhaps even something else?) what would you like to see us do more of; what new areas of content would you welcome?
I doubt very much the team that dreamt up the Ziploc snack-size baggy ever considered that it might be used to protect a device worth hundreds of dollars, rather than dispensing munchies. The fact remains: The #1 protector of iPhones that I see in use by cyclists is the Ziploc bag. At least, that’s what I see here in Southern California, where protecting a smart phone is an afterthought of less importance than, say, zipping your fly after a trip to the bathroom. During my recent trip to Memphis, however, I saw nary an iPhone in anything other than a water-resistant Otter Box. The combined effect caused me to wonder if I was in a city populated by nothing but ex-Navy SEALs.
I’ve wanted something that could offer my phone a bit of protection while also allowing me to keep track of a credit card and some cash. Something that made me look, well, look less homeless than using a plastic bag did.
I ran across the Lezyne Phone Wallet at Interbike and it was one of those revelations that is just what makes the show such a great adventure. I’ve been using one on rides where there’s a chance that I’ll stop for coffee. It’s got pockets for three cards (enough for a hotel room key plus two credit cards), a pleated pocket to hold some cash (and keep any change separated from the glass of your smart phone) and a zippered compartment for your smart phone. The zipper is water resistant and the seams around it are welded; add to that the water-resistant nylon material the wallet is cut from and you have something that offers at least as much protection from water as a baggy, not to mention it’s a good deal more functional.
The zippered cash compartment and the card pockets are contained in a flap that closes (thanks to Velcro) over a clear panel in the case so that you can actually use the phone a bit without removing it from the wallet. Not that you can place a call that way (trust me, I tried), but you can read a text message or email; hell, you can update your status on Facebook if you’re so motivated.
I try not to be. Motivated in that way, I mean.
The wallet is big enough to hold an iPhone 4 or 5 or any of the other myriad devices that you typically see. That flexibility of use is, unfortunately, the device’s only downfall. It measures roughly 5.5 inches by 3.5 inches—big enough that you are unlikely to get anything other than this into a jersey pocket. That said, the wallet features a zipper pull with a large loop that makes it easy to yank the wallet from your pocket should you hear your phone ringing.
I’m hesitant to be too critical of an item that goes for $19.99 that is also a clear improvement over anything I’ve previously used. Picking on this would be like complaining about a $2 slice of pizza—how bad can it be? It’s $2 and it’s pizza!
I like the Phone Wallet. I have to be honest though and say I’d like it a bit more if it were a bit smaller and more specifically adapted to my model of phone. Given the ubiquity of iPhones, it seems like it wouldn’t be a bad investment to offer iPhone 4- and 5-specific models alongside this more generic version. A snugger fit would make it easier to use the phone inside the wallet and leave a bit of room in that jersey pocket so you can stash a bit more food.
Thank heaven someone is thinking creatively about how to organize your stuff.
I’ve been aware of Knog products for years. Their Interbike booths have been places of wonder to visit each year, sometimes less for the products themselves than the presentation. One recent booth wasn’t so much a trade show exhibit as it was the 32-headed love child between a Euro disco and a roomful of architectural dioramas. I could have spent the whole night there.
But we’re talking about lights, or at least, we’re meant to be.
I’ve dealt with my share of blinky lights that pierce the darkness with the hope that they’ll remind drivers to go around rather than over me. Honestly, some aren’t all that bright. Most of the rechargeable ones I’ve encountered have batteries and/or charging systems fussier than my three year old (and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone except maybe one former girlfriend), while a great many of them are difficult to mount—even to a jersey pocket.
If you’d told me 10 years ago that one day four LEDs could be produce this much light, I’d have laughed until I snorted. The first time I turned the Blinder 4 Cross (a front light featuring white LEDs) on and turned it around to look at it, I turned it back around with all the haste of someone releasing the wild animal that has just bit them. It was brighter than some gifted kids. The front light is rated at 80 Lumens which, on paper, isn’t a lot and by not a lot I mean less than a night light, but my experience actually riding with this light is that it’s a good deal more useful.
On those mornings when I leave the house when it’s still pitch dark and there’s no glow on the horizon (it’s happened a few times in the last week), the Blinder 4 Cross has thrown enough light to actually help as a headlight. I didn’t set out with that desire, mind you; there was enough light being cast by the streetlights that my only concern was being seen by drivers. That the Blinder 4 Cross could actually illuminate the road in front of me was a real surprise. Of course, if I was traveling faster than about 12 mph I outran the light thrown, but I have enough uphill on the way to the start of my ride thatI was moving pretty slow. On full burn, Knog says the Blinder 4 Cross will last for three hours. I’ve gotten about a week’s worth of use from a single charge and all I need the light for is getting to the start of the ride, so that sounds about right to me; I get a week’s-worth of use from a single charge. It has four other settings and if switched to the Eco Flash a single charge should last 50 hours.
The Blinder 4V (a rear light featuring red LEDs) throws 44 Lumens which, again, on paper is absolutely dim. Dim, that is, until you actually stare directly into the flashing lights which generate enough light to spark seizures in the dead. Like the front version, the Blinder 4V offers five modes of use, ranging from steady (three-hour burn) to the 50-hour run time on the Eco Flash.
Charging these things is a snap. There’s a flip-out USB plug so that you don’t need a special charger, yet another outlet or anything fancy. Just plug it into your computer for a few hours. For those of you who are commuters, the ability to charge both your lights during your workday is useful like beer after manual labor.
Both lights come in a variety of colors and even styles to match your bike and your personal sense of style. At $44.95 apiece, these things ain’t cheap, but when I think back on what I’ve spent for other lights in the past, these are a good bit more useful, as evidenced by their clamp system. I’ve heard criticisms of the rubber bands that Knog uses for mounts on their Blinder-series lights. I can see how with repeated mountings (if you shift them from bike to bike as I do) they may eventually break. And at nearly $50, that would be a colossal frustration. Sure, you could strap the light to your bar or seatpost with a couple of zip ties, but really? What I can say is that if you’re switching them from bike to bike, the clamp system is pie-easy and wit-quick. In the past, moving lights was time consuming enough that I’ve had to appoint a single bike as my early morning winter bike.
Final thought: As bright as they are easy. If only kids were like this.
Everyone agrees that confidence in professional cycling has to be restored after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report revealed the sport’s sordid underbelly: the rampant blood doping within Lance Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service team and the ease with which riders fooled the anti-doping authorities (and the cycling community) at the height of the EPO era. And everyone—from the fans to the teams, from the riders to the organizers, from the officials to the media—knows that cycling’s longtime culture of doping has to be eliminated before the sport can truly move forward. The question is: How do we do it?
At the last count, three significant initiatives were on the table: the first, proposed in late October after the UCI’s acceptance of USADA’s decision to suspend Armstrong for life from Olympic sports and give the whistle blowers the minimum, six-month suspensions, was the Manifesto for Credible Cycling (MCC). Launched by five major European newspapers, the MCC focused on restructuring pro cycling, stiffening penalties and adhering to the anti-doping regulations in a similar way to the “clean” teams’ Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Crédible (MPCC), an association that has gained greater acceptance and more members in recent weeks.
The second initiative was made public last week by Change Cycling Now (CCN), a group founded by Australian Jaimie Fuller, chairman of the Swiss-based compression sportswear company, Skins, and spearheaded by campaigning anti-doping journalists, Irishmen David Walsh and Paul Kimmage. The group’s Charter of the Willing has a similar agenda to that of the MCC, except it first seeks the resignation of UCI president Pat McQuaid and his predecessor Hein Verbruggen—with CCN putting forward Greg LeMond’s candidature as a potential interim UCI president. The group also posited the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an idea that the UCI Management Committee considered and voted down a few weeks ago.
The third initiative has come from the UCI itself. Its Stakeholder Consultation, first announced a month ago, is now seeking feedback from the sport’s major stakeholders prior to a comprehensive review of the best ideas in the first quarter of next year. The UCI has already approached CCN for its input, and it has sent letters out to riders, teams, race organizers, national federations, administrators, sponsors, industry representatives, anti-doping organizations and sports bodies, asking for comments on a list of topics such as anti-doping, globalization, riders and the racing calendar—including the UCI’s potential joint venture with a group headed by Czech billionaire Zdenek Bakala to strengthen the pro cycling calendar that was announced this week. Among the goals are wider participation in cycling and identifying ways to make the sport even more interesting for spectators.
All these initiatives are in addition to the recently formed Independent Commission that is looking into the contentious issues revealed by the USADA report—including allegations that the UCI turned a blind eye to Armstrong’s alleged positive drug test at the 2002 Tour of Switzerland. Sir Philip Otton, an eminent British appeals judge who has extensive experience with similar cases in other sports, heads the commission. He and his two colleagues on the commission’s panel have already begun work and are due to host a three-week hearing in London next April before submitting a report to the UCI by June 1, 2013.
The necessity for a redirection in pro cycling was best summed up by Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport, one of the five journals that launched the MCC, which wrote: “The entire fabric of cycling has been rotten for too long. From the mid-1990s to today more than 400 professional cyclists have been disqualified or embroiled in doping investigations. The Lance Armstrong affair and the disturbing news coming out of the current investigation in Padua (Italy) show that the entire world of cycling has come through an extremely long and dark time. But we believe that the sport can start afresh—as long as a few rules are changed.”
The MCC newspapers opined, “It is impossible to start afresh with the existing structure” and suggested that future drug testing be instigated by WADA and administered by the national anti-doping agencies, and that penalties for doping be made more severe. In fact, WADA has already proposed doubling suspensions for “heavy” drugs and blood doping from two to four years in the draft for its new code that comes into effect in 2015.
As for the MCC’s demand that WADA spearhead future drug testing in cycling (rather than the UCI), that would be difficult to implement because WADA’s mission is to establish its all-encompassing anti-doping code and ensure that there is “a harmonized approach to anti-doping in all sports and all countries.” So if cycling-specific testing were added to its responsibilities that policy would have to apply to every other Olympic sport—which would be too costly for WADA, whose limited funding is split between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and national governments. And its budget already has to cover such things as code compliance monitoring, cooperation with law enforcement agencies, drug-detection research, accreditation of testing labs, maintaining the ADAMS whereabouts database, coordinating regional anti-doping organizations and education programs, and athlete outreach.
Currently, drug testing for the sport of cycling is shared between the IOC, WADA, national anti-doping agencies, and the UCI. It should also be noted that a major part of the UCI’s anti-doping efforts is its pioneering biological passport program, started five years ago, which now monitors a pool of almost 1,000 pro racers—and gleans information from all the relevant anti-doping organizations. And as UCI medical officer Mario Zorzoli said recently, “Essentially, we are moving from the toxicology approach … to a more forensic science approach.” This means that there will be even greater emphasis on collaboration between the IOC, WADA, national agencies and the UCI—while WADA is keen to step up its coordination with international criminal agencies and national police forces in countries where doping is already a criminal offense.
What all this means is that it is getting more and more difficult for athletes who are doping to avoid detection, not just in cycling but also in all the sports that are adopting the passport program. Cheating cyclists had a free run in the 1990s because EPO was undetectable, and the USADA report showed that blood doping was rampant (along with micro-dosing with EPO) prior to the implementation of the UCI’s biological passport program in January 2008. The “forensic approach” is the way forward, and the success of that policy depends on the input of such things as establishing stricter anti-doping codes within every team, self-policing among athletes, and continued (and stepped-up) collaboration between all the various anti-doping agencies.
Considering the discussions that have already taken place between the ProTeams, the major race organizers, the Athletes Commission and the UCI, and the feedback being sought in the Stakeholders Consultation process, it seems that all parties have the intent to work together to rebuild the sport. Obviously, there are some issues that need greater consideration than others, especially the thorny one on whether (or how) to integrate past dopers into a cleaner future. One route toward that goal is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but that could be a gigantic, highly expensive undertaking that might take years to complete.
It so happens that the co-owner and manager of one of the teams affiliated with the MPCC, Jonathan Vaughters of Garmin-Sharp, who also chairs the pro cycling teams association, tweeted this last Friday: “I hear and understand the ‘clean the house out’ argument. Problem is, if we do it, with honesty from all, [there] won’t be anyone left to turn lights off. I might also add that without total honesty from all, instead of ex-dopers running business, you’ll have lying ex-dopers instead.”
Perhaps a better way to go is for teams to renew their clean-up efforts and perhaps conduct their own truth-and-reconciliation processes. That is what is already happening at Team Sky, though some critics (including Vaughters) are saying that the British squad has gone too far in its “zero tolerance” campaign, in forcing staff members to resign if they admit to any past connection with doping.
The major catalyst for restoring confidence in pro cycling has to be the independent Otton Commission, which must fully resolve the unfinished business of the USADA report, including a verdict on whether the UCI administration acted corruptly in regard to ignoring (or not taking seriously) the warning signs that doping in cycling was systemic. The commission’s findings will determine whether the next steps forward should be undertaken by a new, independent entity, the UCI’s current administration, an interim president, or the president who’s elected by delegates from the world’s 170 or so national cycling federations at next September’s UCI congress.
Whatever action is carried out, it’s the hope and expectation of everyone concerned, including proponents of the MCC, MPCC and CCN, that the public’s confidence in cycling will be restored and the sport will be in a position to begin building toward a brighter, cleaner future.
Follow me on Twitter: @johnwilcockson
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
In the winter of 2000, I was standing in The Gap, trying to pick out a belt to go with some shoes I’d recently purchased when I ran across some microfleece gloves. They were on special for $7, because winter ends sometime in mid-January, and that old, unseasonal stock has to be cleared out, right? The material was thin by fleece standards, maybe five very compressible millimeters. I had some team gloves that were stretched out and I slid the microfleece beneath them, so that I had full-finger gloves with the grip of a traditional cycling glove while avoiding the liability of the bulky fingers that come with so many full-finger gloves. Here’s the thing: That combo kept my hands happy into the mid-40s, well below what I would have imagined I might tolerate.
Alas, the gloves wore out after six or seven years of use and I had to move on to other solutions. I’ve been searching for something as useful ever since. Or perhaps I should say I was searching for something as useful until I tried the Assos Insulator Gloves. I’ve been through gloves from a number of companies—seven at last count—basically anyone who offered something lightweight I tried. It’s not that the gloves in question were lousy, but either they weren’t as warm as what I’d had, or they were as warm as what I’d had, but were bulkier, so they reduced dexterity. The frustration has run for years for one simple reason—I’ve never been able to find microfleece gloves of quite the variety I purchased all those years ago.
I reached a point where I simply became curious about what was out there because I was so dissatisfied with everything I’d tried and that dissatisfaction metastisised to my wallet; I became willing to pay a king’s ransom just to get the glove I wanted. Even at full retail, the gloves I’d gotten from The Gap had only gone for $24; at that price I’d have purchased a couple of pair—if I could find them.
Enter the Assos insulatorGlove L1_S7. These are hands-down the lightest full-finger glove I can find. Unlike what I used previously, these feature a smooth polyester finish on the outside dotted with Assos’ silicone ProGrip to give your fingers a solid purchase on control levers, something I admit the original gloves lacked. At first glance, the suggested retail of $49.99 may seem pricey, but a quick review of some similar gloves shows they are going for $40 to $45. I prefer the Insulator Glove over other options for two reasons; first, due to excellent patterning resulting in very few seams, there’s a good deal less spare material inside the glove than I’ve found with competitors’ products. More seams increases bulk and decreases dexterity and sensitivity. Second, the glove has an exceptional fit, which owes something to the fact that it comes in a whopping seven sizes; I wear medium, the same size I wear in Assos jerseys and jackets.
These gloves have kept my hands warm into the low 50s. When combined with a slightly stretched out short-finger glove, they’ll keep me happy to the mid-40s. Life in Southern California means I don’t often encounter conditions colder than that. But I recently spent nearly three weeks in Memphis and that gave me the chance to try out the earlyWinterGlove_s7.
Most of the glove is constructed from a fleece-lined polyester; it’s surprisingly flexible given its weight. A second panel cut from a more durable polyamide, dotted with silicone grippers, is sewn over portions of the palm, as well as the thumb, and the middle and index fingertips for excellent grip. A long gauntlet ensures that the glove won’t leave your wrists exposed to the elements and a final gripper panel is sewn onto the inner side of the gauntlet to help you pull the gloves on. And as you can see from the photo, the way the glove is constructed, the thumb is articulated outward to make gripping the bar more comfortable.
While I Memphis I rode in temperatures ranging from the mid-70s all the way down to the mid-30s. On those mid-30s days I’d combine the Insulator Glove with the Early Winter Glove and stay fairly comfortable. Assos indicates the Early Winter Glove can be used in temperatures ranging from 43 to 54 degrees, Fahrenheit. Honestly, I’ve never worn the Early Winter Glove alone. I stick with the Insulator Glove until conditions are just too cold for it, and then I add the Early Winter Glove. Carrying a retail price of $139.99, this glove is definitely on the expensive side—I’ve seen gloves using similar materials for $100 to $130—but like the Insulator Glove, there are very few seams on the glove to help reduce excess material, and it is cut in seven sizes.
Think about it: Most manufacturers usually offer gloves in four or five sizes at best. A very few offer six sizes in gloves. When was the last time you ran across a manufacturer that offered gloves in seven sizes? In my experience, the effectiveness of a pair of gloves has more to do with patterning (how many pieces of material are used—more pieces means more seams) and sizing. I’ve yet to encounter any gloves cut from similar materials that fit as well or offer as much comfort.