Perhaps we should discuss this elephant, the Tour de France, camped in our virtual living room. We have not been writing about the pros so much lately. This is less a conscious decision, and more just a reflection of natural inclinations. We are less interested in the pros generally and the Tour specifically, Padraig and I, than we have been in a loooongg time.
And why is that? Sadly, it seems to be a result of doping burnout. Perhaps we labored under a set of willful delusions, even after we knew how widespread doping was in the pro ranks, that allowed us to parse out teams and characters whom we like and on some level believed in. Thinking back on many of the posts and comment threads here on RKP over recent years, much of the discussion centers not on whether doping has been endemic, but rather on who is and who isn’t believable.
But when things came to a head last year, and confessions began flowing like champagne at a wedding, our ability to single out and separate the good guys from the bad guys was badly hampered. Seemingly good guys, minor players, had done bad things. We knew, but didn’t want to know. We thought we had accepted it, but we hadn’t. Our skepticism about the pro peloton was shown to be too conservative, not too cynical. Our ability to be entertained by the drama was overtaken by the burgeoning farce.
And so…this elephant.
Normally, this Group Ride would center on predictions for the race. Froome or Contador? What will Evans make of himself here in the twilight of his racing career? Which of the young pretenders will distinguish himself? Is Andy Schleck back, at last? Will he even finish? Those are just the tip of the French iceberg.
In some diminished way, we are interested in the answers. When you have cared so much for so long, it is hard to let go of the reflexive curiosity, the desire to engage friends in a serious discussion about a not-serious thing. But for us, the heat’s just not there, and we find ourselves far more interested in our kids’ riding or in the bikes and routes and stories of our friends.
Still, this week’s Group Ride is about the Tour de France. How do you feel about it now? Do you care who wins? If not, why not? You can tell us, Froome or Contador. You can answer any of the questions above, if that’s where you’re at, or maybe you can help us explain this feeling which is, in many ways, worse than the anger we used to indulge over the bad behavior of small and distant men. What is this new indifference, and will we, some of us, most of us, get back to that place of caring passionately?
I’m going to begin by saying that it’s not in my habit to write posts in response to a press release. Reprinting a press release isn’t RKP’s editorial mandate; put another way, being a mouthpiece for some company’s PR machine rubs me the wrong way. I like having a chance to check something out before I write about it. There have been a few occasions when I came close to writing something in the wake of an announcement because I thought the company or product was interesting enough to be worth chasing, but for reasons I’m not entirely clear on, I didn’t ultimately find those situations compelling enough to warrant moving forward with a piece.
So this is a first for RKP. And I think it’s warranted.
A new company, Recon Instruments, has introduced the Recon Jet, a heads-up display (HUD) for cyclists. Actually, it’s a lot more than that. In reading through the press release I had the sense that I could sit through an hour-long presentation about the Jet and still not understand all its functionality. The last time that happened was when I was introduced to Map My Ride founder Robin Thurston back in 2006.
If this were just a bike computer incorporated into a HUD, I wouldn’t be writing. This thing has more tricks than Batman’s utility belt. It’s a GPS unit. It has WiFi, Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity. Did I mention the HD camera? The polarized lens? Running all this is a 1GHz dual-core processor. This thing is more powerful than an iPhone 4s. Srsly. Battery life depends, of course, on just how much you’re doing with it, but will range between four and six hours. That’s not terrific, but where the Jet differs from most devices is that you can replace the battery while you’re out.
Its makers say the Jet is controlled by a precision optical touchscreen with gestures and clicks. It also includes a microphone and speakers. Voice commands could be just around the corner.
Recon Instruments says that the device adds only 28 grams to the glasses, balanced 14g per side. What I’m more curious about is what the glasses feel like on your head than what they weigh, and what screens below actually look like.
Those are just bullet-point capabilities, not actual features that either give you something useful or distract you from your ride. I’ve run across bike computers that promised the ability to recite Shakespeare, but were so hopelessly complicated in actual use that I took them off after only a week.
So this isn’t an endorsement. I’m not urging anyone to order a set, STAT.
This thing is open-platform, so other developers will be able to think up new capabilities for the Jet.
I have concerns about how much of my field of vision the Jet will obscure and I’m curious about how these will fare in a crash. I’m hoping there’s a crash replacement program of some sort.
In the early 2000s (2003 perhaps?), I began using a Garmin Geko. It was a mostly lousy unit, but I loved the VAM function on it when I was climbing. Garmin is way past that now and because at least some of us bought those early Garmin units (I also had an eTrex), we now have units like the new 810. To help encourage some early adopters of their own, Recon is offering an introductory deal on the Jet. Until the final stage of the Tour de France—July 21—people can order a Jet for $499. After that they’ll go for $599. According to Recon’s site, the Jet is not yet available. They anticipate shipping the first units in December.
I am the guy who said he didn’t need his phone to be able to play music. And on the first phone I owned that could do that, the process was more difficult than operating a Polar heart rate monitor, so I never loaded any of my music to it. I also said I didn’t need a camera in my phone. As an iPhone user, my phone now does tons more than I could have imagined. I offer that as a prelude to the question of just how much more I need my bike computer to do. It would be easy to play the role of hater and rag on how I don’t need to be able to make phone calls with my glasses while riding my bike. However, I’m aware that that one idea—make phone call with glasses while riding bike—would have sent 10-year-old me into sci-fi heaven.
Take that Dick Tracy!
I’d have gone on bike rides just so I could make a phone call. My iPhone does things I don’t want to give up. I imagine if I start using the Jet I’ll find some of the things it does indispensable. Maybe. I’m willing to find out.
If you self-select as an early adopter, you can order a set here.
Six years ago the iPhone emerged onstage with the late Steve Jobs, a totem for those who believe in the transformational power of personal technology. It was a turning point that opened people up to giving technology a truly intimate role in their lives.
New pitfalls appeared on the path to enlightenment. There are many who spend more time staring into the glass screen of an iPhone than into the eyes of their children. Among cyclists, a sweatier narcissism can be found in the longing gaze at a Strava segment on a tiny screen.
Fortunately, cycling already had its iPhone moment. It was more than a century ago with the adoption of the “safety bicycle” as the high-wheel design phased out. With that perspective, we need not worry about being left behind technologically even if it feels like the sport’s essence is slipping from our hands.
The rider’s role remains essential, whether dashing in the dark to the store for a pint of half-and-half or carrying a sponsors millions on their shoulders at more than 50 kilometers an hour across the Arenberg’s cobbles. While driverless cars offer a rolling sanctuary for those burdened with an excruciating commute, a bike that steered and propelled itself risks being an abomination. If anything, driverless cars may make bikes the most exciting vehicles on the road.
The best wheelsets are lighter and more aerodynamic than ever. They are unmistakable for what they are, no matter the price tag, no matter the spoke count or the braking-surface material.
As for the rest of the machine, some perspective is in order. There are wonderful technological changes taking place in but whether they are revolutionary is an individual opinion. Much of it is about measurement, such as GPS bike computers replacing the Avocet two-button devices that are the equivalent of the cellular brick-phone.
For sure there are energetic debates over whether disc brakes have a place on road bikes, or even what size rotors are best. Electronic shifting sees cyclists choose sides quicker than Yankees and Mets fans. These back-and-forth are often so heartfelt because they are, in fact, fights over very small stakes. They also take place mostly online. Once on the road, it matters so much less if your rear cassette has 9, 10 or 11 cogs. Or if a servo changed gears for you or a disc rotor slowed your carving descent.
None of this enhances the feel the wind on your cheek. Or richens the laughter of a good friend. Or deepens the fatigue and gratitude of a hard ride.
We can mount more and more electronics on our bikes but cycling’s spirit is rooted in its analog years. Steel’s resurgence as a frame material is testament to this. It is a wonderfully defiant response to disposability and impermanence – twin curses of our age. These hand built frames are surely lighter and more refined than those ridden a century ago but their lineage is unmistakable. Like the hum of a ferrous railroad track ahead of a speeding train’s arrival, a similar energy is found in the muscular flex of a bottom bracket or the delightful ping of a stone ricocheting off a downtube. The Tour de France’s centennial this summer is a beautiful reminder of the sport’s continuity that is inherent in every steel bike even if the current generation of cycling icons may never have ridden the material.
The most memorable bikes are often our first. They were ridden with abandon before we learned to bind ourselves in straps to monitor our hearts and regard small screens with devotion instead of the horizon before us. These bikes were heavy, flexy and often cheap. Batteries had no role in our joy. In their imperfection was their attraction. Feeling, not knowledge, defined our riding.
Our current bikes are the product of rational and informed choices, even if they cost more than half a year’s rent or a first car. The latest are stirring designs made from a supply of quality carbon fiber that Cold War fighter engineers would have sold their children for. They are adorned with wireless sensors and GPS navigation that the bicycle-making Wright Brothers would have put to good use — just not on the ground.
The best innovators like Steve Jobs understand innovation is less about technology than it is about discovering new ways to enhance a shared human experience.
Cyclists have known that all along.
On my first test run, I carefully rode for 30 minutes on the standard chain and then 30 minutes with the optimized, following the same protocol for both runs, the optimized came out ahead, but just. The second run was even clearer, the optimized was faster.
Then a friend suggested using the optimized first. And then the run with the standard chain was the faster. Yikes.
I reached out to Kreitler to see if the bearings could get faster after a warm-up period. Never heard back. The temperature during these early runs, according to the Garmin we were using, registered at .8˚ Fahrenheit difference. I didn’t have the means to see if the drum was heating up. I resolved to find a temperature correction formula as well as only test one chain per day.
As for temperature, I asked around and was pointed to the book Bicycling Science. The book posits that rolling resistance (Crr) changes by about .6% per degree Fahrenheit. Some recently tried to see if they could find those numbers, but in their tests they got .8% per degree Fahrenheit difference, and are wondering which to trust. So looking at the temperature differentials on the Garmin, I could have been getting anywhere from a 1.7-2.3% difference in Crr on the first day of testing, which, assuming the power was spot-on in both runs, is hard to know if it would be enough to make a difference I could find, but a difference all the same. I base this on looking at Tom Anhalt’s Crr spreadsheet and the accompanying article. He tests an Armadillo’s Crr being .0077, and 2.3% of that is .0001771, so the new Crr would be .0078771. As I didn’t measure either the tires or the loads going in, and I know my weight fluctuates over the course of the day, I’m reluctant to calculate the Crr for the tires I was riding. And finally, it’s hard to know how consistent the Garmin’s temperature measurement is.
|chain||tires||powermeter||Kreitler||interval||power||distance||speed mph||speed m/s||cadence||Temp|
|standard||Rubino Pro||Cinquo||gate open||4:00||153||1.015||15.225||6.806184||102||69|
|standard||Rubino Pro||Cinquo||gate open||4:00||200||1.164||17.46||7.8053184||99||69.8|
|standard||Rubino Pro||Cinquo||gate open||15:00||250||4.872||19.488||8.71191552||96||69.8|
|optimized||Rubino Pro||Cinquo||gate open||4:00||151||1.026||15.39||6.8799456||102||71.6|
|optimized||Rubino Pro||Cinquo||gate open||4:00||200||1.175||17.625||7.87908||101||71.6|
|optimized||Rubino Pro||Cinquo||gate open||15:00||250||4.865||19.46||8.6993984||96||71.6|
|standard||Rubino Pro||Cinquo||no resistance||15:00||251||6.33||25.32||11.3190528||92||68|
|optimized||Rubino Pro||Cinquo||no resistance||15:00||249||6.5||26||11.62304||94||68|
|standard||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||no resistance||15:00||154||4.868||19.472||8.70476288||106||73.5|
|standard||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||gate closed||15:00||247||5.365||21.46||9.5934784||93||67.7|
|optimized||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||no resistance||15:00||154||4.863||19.452||8.69582208||99||71.6|
|optimized||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||gate closed||15:00||247||5.482||21.928||9.80269312||94||69.8|
|optimized||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||no resistance||15:00||154||6.059||24.236||10.83446144||98||69.8|
|optimized||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||no resistance||15:00||154||6.159||24.636||11.01327744||100||69.8|
|standard||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||no resistance||15:00||154||5.785||23.14||10.3445056||99||64.4|
|standard||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||no resistance||15:00||154||5.786||23.144||10.34629376||99||64.4|
|optimized||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||no resistance||15:00||154||5.877||23.508||10.50901632||100||66.2|
|optimized||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||gate closed||15:00||247||5.842||23.368||10.44643072||96||64.4|
|optim&lubed||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||no resistance||15:00||154||5.915||23.66||10.5769664||96||68|
|optim&lubed||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||gate closed||15:00||205||5.228||20.912||9.34850048||91||64.5|
|optim&lubed||Zipp 303||Elsa Calibrated||no resistance||15:00||154||8.883||35.532||15.88422528||106||68|
That said, the optimized chain did beat the standard chain at identical power in most runs. And given days with two identical runs with the same chain, the second run was typically faster.
After lots of runs, and lots of frustration realizing how carefully I had to control for variables and wishing I had been able to stay on the same components at the same calibration and same temperature for every run, it seems that I probably found small benefits. Interestingly, the results recorded show the difference between the optimized and standard chain to be greater than 6cm per second, not that the numbers I found are reliable due to the power meter variations and the questions as to how to correct for temperature.
The testing itself was eye-opening. The first thing is that taking the time and attention to make sure all the variables are properly controlled is hard. The second thing is that even with all that effort, I found myself questioning the results, worried that the unquantified made the measurable differences. To me, the experience showed if I’m going to sweat any detail, better sweat all the details because otherwise the effort could be for naught. It’s swell to have a fast chain, but if I ride the wrong tire, or the right tire at the wrong pressure, or too thick a grease on the bearings, the power saved by one component could be more than offset by insufficient attention paid to another. This is why the top racing teams often have people who figure this stuff out (“performance directors”) and then they nag the mechanics to get it all dialed in properly—in some cases it gets undone by a competitor making a boneheaded equipment choice. It seems that the smart strategy in the marginal gains game is pick off the easy gains first, and then, as focus and budget allows, go for the harder ones. Even non-racers can benefit from marginal gains so long as they choose wisely. On the flip side, it’s a waste of resources to spend on all one’s budget looking for marginal power savings, and then lack the funds to travel comfortably to your primary racing goal of the year.
I’ll trust Friction Facts tests because Smith has demonstrated he’s careful, transparent, thorough, and thoughtful–and Smith is also giving away the details of his wax mix on the Friction Facts website, so it’s hard to accuse him of skewing the results to favor a service he sells.. I should add “for now,” as new data questioning everything could come to light some day. With the chain, looking at the tests he’s produced and talking with him, doing the full-on optimization makes sense only when I’ve got everything in life, training, and my bike set and I’m heading to some kind of championship event. Melting plain paraffin and bathing a chain in it looks like it can get people most of the way to the special treatment, and if it’s easy to do, it could be a real help to do it right before a major event if you have the time. A good master link, like Wippermann’s, can make this operation pretty fast and simple. And short of that there are thin lubes FF tested that are good for everyday use.
One of the other questions I had with the optimized chain is how it would fare in terms of durability. Could it manage several time trials? A long road race? A stage race? What about riding in rain and grit? At the end of the test, after riding the optimized chain 111mi indoors, we took the chain outside into the final throes of NYC winter. The first outside ride was the day after a snowfall, and it was pretty messy. We did 50 miles that day, and then another 44 miles before squeaks started emanating from the chain. FF’s Smith states that the chain efficiency decreases before squeaks start happening, and our last run before applying Rock ‘n Roll Gold lube was slower than the first run after applying the lube. RnR is both what I had handy, and a lube that tested very well for FF.
The wax treatment probably isn’t effective for a stage race, but for long road races, time trials, and especially track racing, it could be a relatively easy performance boost.
I didn’t expect this test to focus on testing methodology and controlling variables, but that’s where the focus shifted as I started to analyze results. At the same time, it was a valuable lesson and good practice for the future, both in terms of testing and looking for performance gains. It is frustrating not to be able to re-create at home any assurance that the gains found in labs can be found in real-world testing, but that’s the nature of marginal gains, and why they’re hard to find.
I want to thank Velimpex for suggesting said test, providing the chains, and for Friction Facts for their work and time.
The quest to make the bike go faster never ends. Once the big things are taken care of, it’s time to focus on the little things. And when the little things seem dialed, it’s probably a good idea to check back on the big things, just in case something has changed. And then back to the little, just because something else might have been overlooked.
When I read about Friction Facts and their claims that variations in chains and chain lube results in a measurable difference in terms of energy cost to propel a bike, I was intrigued. Especially when part of the solution was a proprietary paraffin mix. A semi-secret sauce? How much better could high-tech old-school waxing be? I purchased the set of reports they had on offer to take a look. Turns out, the differences can be big.
This piece gets fairly technical. There’s a reason. I’m trying to explain everything on the assumption that the reader isn’t familiar with every little bit of info. And, as with watts, little things can add up to make big differences.
Chain and Drag
Friction Facts tested five top-of-the line ten-speed chains, with five samples each, and averaged the results. According to Friction Facts, the standard Wippermann Connex 10S1 chain, Wippermann’s lightest chain, a chain I’ve run on my bike many times, has 8.85 watts of drag straight out of the box when the five samples tested at 250w were averaged. In the tests, the 10S1 also showed the least variation from chain-to-chain, with the spread between the least efficient and most efficient a total of .45w. And when the 10S1 was relubed with light oil, the friction dropped to 7.04w at 250w. In other words, a 1.81w difference (0.724%) is found by changing lubes. And the differences are much bigger for “optimized” chains, with many of them coming closer to 5w, a whopping 2%!
In case you’re wondering, the oil used for the Friction Facts tests was a non-cycling oil. Specifically, an electric motor oil from a company that doesn’t make or market cycling-specific lubricants. This was a deliberate choice, both to show no favoritism to any bike-specific brand, and because the oil has no additives, like Teflon, that could potentially affect results.
1.81w is pretty small, but all things being equal, can result in some noticeable differences. To give a sense of what kind of difference 1.81w makes, we went to Analytic Cycling. If you haven’t been to the site, it is a must-visit of the tech set. The calculators are incredible.
Utilizing the Speed For Given Power calculator, you can quantify what 1.81w means. Because it is in a part that directly propels the bike, the wattage can be directly added to the rider’s power. Assuming the default frontal area, average drag coefficient, riding at sea level on a typical asphalt road and no wind, a 150lb rider pedaling a 17lb bike at 250w goes 11.22 meters per second or 25.01mph. Take that 1.81w savings and add it to your power, and the same rider goes 11.25m/s or 25.17mph. In other words 3cm farther per second translates into .16mph increase in speed. Or .64mi in four hours—over a kilometer difference in a four-hour ride by changing chain lube. Even at an easier 200w, where the same rider is doing 10.78m/s, the rider with the lubed chain is still traveling 3cm faster every second.
This is why looking for “marginal gains” is something just about everybody should consider. Marginal gains is a term the Sky professional racing team has popularized. Essentially, it means that accruing tiny improvements, on the order of one percent or so, wherever they can be found, can add up to race-winning differences. It’s hard to imagine that people wouldn’t want the cumulative effect of small gains, even if they can barely feel them. And it’s easy to see why professional cyclists should care: ride the 80 hours or so of a Grand Tour as a time trial, that marginal savings could be worth over 20 kilometers, or almost a half-hour.
In other words, 1.81w is a big deal. Wondering if the data was reliable, I got in touch with Tom Petrie, whose company, Velimpex, imports and distributes Wippermann chains. Presumably a chain expert, I figured he might have something to say on the matter. He got back to me with a proposal. Test two Wippermann chains out in real-world conditions; see if the difference is measurable. One was the stock 10s1, the other was the stock 10s1 with the Friction Facts chain wax applied. He sent one chain directly to me, another to Friction Facts, who did their magic and sent it my way.
Jason Smith, the man behind FF, sends a report along with each chain he optimizes. The particular chain he sent had 5.51w of friction, 3.34w lower than standard, with factory lube, in the range of what he reports is possible with Wippermann, and above the 5w guarantee he has for the other chains he optimizes. But his reports indicate that he’s been unable to get the Wippermann chains down to 5w. Still, the 3.34w drop in resistance takes that same person above from going 11.22m/s to 11.28m/s. an extra 6cm per second, an extra .22mph, raising that same theoretical rider’s speed from 25.01 to 25.23mph. After four hours, you’ve gone .88mi farther.
Wippermann comes with an advantage in chain testing. Their Connex link is a tool-free, reusable master link, which makes swapping chains easy. It’s also something that Smith recommends using with all the chains he optimizes. This way, you can warm up on your standard chain, swap out the standard chain for the optimized one in less than a minute, put in the rear disc, clean hands, and head for the start house.
I started with the two Wippermann 10S1 chains. My basic idea was: take them out of the box, size them identically and then alternate chains on repeated tests. Do many indoor sessions so the tests are repeated over time, and then take the optimized chain out and see how long it goes before it starts squeaking. Smith actually runs the chains he optimizes for 20 minutes before sending them out, so there isn’t a need for any break-in period. And, as he believes the treatment is good for around 200 miles, there’s little reason to waste any mileage on breaking it in. Since that chain wasn’t going to be cleaned, we also started with the standard chain straight out of the box, no lubing or cleaning. It would be our daily chain and would only get wiped down, if necessary, before an indoor session, and only lubed when absolutely necessary. This way, I figured I’d be treating the regular and optimized chains the way people looking for performance advantages would be.
The plan was to ride with them doing repeated runs on my Kreitler rollers at three different loads: 150, 250, and 300 watts, to see if I could find any differences at the different power numbers and if those differences could change depending on load. I’d do one chain for a half hour. Then the other.
The only way to know if the differences, assuming there were differences, are actually there, is to control as many variables as possible. I used a digital pressure gauge to make sure the tires were within 1psi of 105psi for every ride. I made sure the room was within a narrow temperature range of a few degrees Fahrenheit. I let the bike sit in the room for at least 15 minutes before starting to make sure the power meter was properly acclimated. I zeroed out the power meter offset before each test. I either used the rollers with no resistance or with the headwind unit attached and the gate closed.
A perfect scenario would have been to have a test bike just for riding indoors. But I went with my regular road bike that was going indoors and out in the winter. So there could be variations on bearing drag and the wear of the tires could potentially make a difference. I started the test on Vittoria Rubino Pro tires, but as they looked pretty worn and was worried they wouldn’t last through the test period. So, after a few runs, I swapped in Specialized Armadillo Elites, a nice slow super-durable tire.
I also ended up having to send back my Quarq Cinqo and replaced with a Quarq Elsa. This was a potential boon, as the Elsa is supposed to be more accurate than the Cinqo. But here you’ll see the limitation of testing with a powermeter. The Cinqo has a claimed accuracy of +/-2%, a 4% potential variation. Assuming +/- 2%, 3.34w is equal to the variation at 83.5w of power. The Quarq Elsa has a claimed accuracy of +/- 1.5%, where the margin of error spread equals the power savings at 111.3w. And after we changed chain rings and tested the accuracy thereof, we ended up recalibrating the Elsa.
The idea of testing out the chains at three different loads, 150, 250, and 300 watts is to find if the change in load could result in any differences. I ended up riding at 154w and 247w, and the 300w ended up being a bit too optimistic in terms of what I could consistently hold for fifteen minutes.
I took the chains out of the boxes, sized them, and then kept them separated. They’re easy to tell apart at the start. One has wax flakes all over it and the links feel stiff to the touch. It’s a bit hard to believe the chain is faster that way. But, as I started to pedal, the wax flew off so quickly on the first run that there was no need to clean it. The other one was slightly greasy. I left it as is.
Tune in tomorrow for Part II.
The email came in from Coach Peter, a digital ray of sunshine at the end of a rainy spring. The final baseball game of the season, the one they added as a “fun” add-on for the boys after a relentless stretch of games that had us slumped in our fold up chairs, swatting mosquitoes in the grassy verge off the 3rd baseline.
I love to watch my boys play baseball, but I am extremely excited that baseball is over. Maybe I’ll see what bike riding is like.
I am excited, mutedly, for the Tour de France. Is it possible to be mutedly excited? Maybe not. I’ll tell you, I could care less who wins this Tour. I don’t care about Team Sky’s internal dynamic. I don’t care what Alberto Contador thinks about anything. But I am excited for the sound of the Tour in the background, the site of the peloton snaking its way around France, the rhythm of it, day-after-day. It defines my July and suggests a vacation is in the offing. I am excited for a vacation.
I’m building myself a new bike, a sort of burly road, gravel-grinding, winter commuter bike, custom paint, maximal nerdery. What is more exciting than a new bike? It’s a rhetorical question. Nothing. Nothing is more exciting. Stop even thinking about the birth of your children. Lighten up. This is a bike blog.
I’m also excited about RKP. This will sound silly and perhaps a little immodest, but the work of the last few months, especially on Padraig’s forthcoming book, has me feeling bullish about what we’re doing here. We have always understood the mandate to write about cycling, but events of the past year have broadened that mandate. It feels like we have a better sense of what we’re doing now than we ever have before. Sometimes I get bogged down in writing and rewriting individual pieces, and I lose sight of the larger project, but I’m excited that I see it now and am happy to be a small part of it.
This week’s Group Ride, not mysteriously, asks what YOU are excited about. Doesn’t have to be bike-related. Can be, but doesn’t have to be. Sometimes we have to look outside our small lives and narrow focuses for the inspiration to continue on, to try to do what we do better. What’s going on that we ought to be excited about?
VeloPress has released a new book celebrating the 100th Tour de France called, obviously enough, Tour de France 100. The text is written by Richard Moore, the author of such volumes as In Search of Robert Millar and Slaying the Badger. And while Moore gets top billing, the book’s subtitle is “A photographic history of the world’s greatest race.” The true stars of this book are the many photographers whose names appear in 6 pt. type at the back of the book. Moore’s role as author is to give context and overview rather than try to replay each of the 100 editions of the race. It’s a study of the sport’s stars, the ultimate box set of the race’s iconic events.
The book is built largely from the Getty archives, with many previous photo agencies co-presented with the Getty name, such as Gamma-Keystone and Popperfoto. The photo world sometimes grouses about the dominance of Getty, but in buying up so many archives they made a book like this not just possible, but richer for it. Sometimes the permissions process is too onerous to include the images that would best fit the account; it’s a shame. Worth noting is the work of photographer Roger Viollet, who is the star of the show for the first half of the book. While you’ll recognize an image here or there, the bulk of the images prior to the 1990s are likely to be new to you.
Were this a slide show, Moore’s text would make for the perfect narration, reminding us of the storylines that dominated each year’s race. He not only covers the racing action, he brings in the present, reminding us that Raymond Poulidor is still a fixture of the Tour, and in that is not only a part of the rich history of the race, but he’s a part of the race’s public face even now.
Moore doesn’t shy from the topic of doping, either. Had he dodged the subject, this book would have suffered for it. He addresses the scandals throughout the years head-on, and while Lance Armstrong may have been expunged from the record books, this volume points out perfectly a point I’ve made previously about making peace with our past: Mellow Johnny is still in the photos.
Moore’s love for the race comes through in that he neither shies from the race’s more sordid events, nor does he condemn them. It’s a deft balance he strikes and in doing so he has created an account of the race befitting its title.
Coffee table books on cycling are so plentiful that coming up with a new excuse for one is hard, but if ever there was a reason for a photographic retrospective of the Tour, the passage of its 100th edition is it. This 11″ x 12 1/2″ edition is the largest format book on cycling in my collection, and at 250 pages, it’s not a slim volume either. With a suggested retail of just $34.95, this book is a no-brainer for any cyclist’s collection.
Mostly Sunny. That’s what I was promised, both by the weather app on my phone, and a quick consult with the weather site I look to for more detailed back up. Before leaving the house, I removed the clip-on fender I had affixed. That’s how confident I was in the guidance I’d received.
So when, in the waning hours of my work day, a massive black cloud slid across the horizon, a cloud so pregnant with watery anger that it was tinged with a menacing yellow, I knew I had been betrayed.
As a cyclist, practitioners of the meteorological arts have generally been my friends down the years. How many times have they warned me of a possible drenching? How many times have they informed of a dramatic temperature shift in the offing? If not exactly oracular in their pronouncements, I’d bet on my local weather people as the house bets its own hand in Vegas.
When at last the cloud burst, thunder rumbling from its edges, the deluge overwhelmed drains and gutters and sprang up from the pavement in rebellion at being cast down. We peered from the front office window and wondered at the fragility of our pale forms. Someone, somewhere penned a fresh bible verse.
At that point, there was the suggestion we might load our bikes into the company van and decamp with our tails tucked, but then Neil said flatly, “I’m riding.” And just as quickly as the storm had pitched up, the mood in the room changed as well. The consensus came that, while not Devo, we were still, in fact, men.
Mine is a short commute, five miles, and so I had little more than a pair of regular shorts and a cotton t-shirt with which to steel myself against the elements. I resigned myself to a drenching. I’ve been drenched before and will be again. NBD.
But maybe the thing you just never get used to is that sensation of cold water flying up your backside, that direct assault on your comfort zone. It unsettles. It offends. The cyclist’s bidet.
When I arrived home my wife cheerfully asked, “How was your ride?” This cheery greeting is the just dessert of the cyclo-spouse, the small recompense for having been abandoned for the bike over a period of years. I chuckled when I heard it. Betrayed by the weatherman, mocked by the wife.
Then I turned and showed her my wet, sandy ass. “Pretty good,” I said, “mostly sunny.”
Image: Matt O’Keefe