Two years ago Panache did a run of thermal bibs for us. They looked like the bibs above. Just like. That’s a pair of them.
I figure it’s time to do a run once again. Because this is a pretty specialized piece of gear, I’m not planning to order any for stock. This will be strictly done on a pre-order basis. So the bibs will look just like our current bibs, as evidenced below. They will feature the same ultra-comfortable Cytech pad found in our other bibs and like our current bibs, they will be industrial black, except for the white and red in our logo. It’ll be easy to keep clean and will match the rest of your jerseys.
The difference between our current bibs and the thermal ones is that the thermal bibs will look like the inside of these below.
And while we can’t guarantee these will make you look more handsome (or beautiful as the case may be), you’ll at least make people laugh with our nifty triple-entendre.
Shouldn’t the back panel always have something funny?
So here’s the deal. The thermal bibs will be $140 (the regular bibs go for $125). To cue up, just send us an email at: killerkit [at] redkiteprayer [dot] com. We’ll send you a Paypal invoice. This will be your only chance to pick up a set of these this year; they won’t be showing up in our store. I might ought to mention that we have lots of vests and arm warmers to go with them, for those of you who already have a jersey. Christmas is only five months away, right?
The best part is, once you’re riding in a set of these, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to get a pair.
I learned about Pearl Izumi in 1990 from a sales rep who walked into the bike shop I worked at to give us a technical presentation on their cycling apparel. To this day I don’t recall enough about what he said to be able to decide if the features were really that great or if he was just that good at tech presentations. Either way, he succeeded. I was sold. My grad-school-student bank account was thinner than the leg of a ballet dancer, but somehow I found the scratch necessary to order a long sleeve jersey.
I’ve still got that jersey in a container in my garage. It has held up remarkably well, which is as much a testament to my careful washing and inability to discard anything still functional as it is a verification of the durability of the clothing itself. The jersey had no rear pockets, so if you were going out for more than an hour or so, you needed to wear a jacket or vest with pockets. In the event that it wasn’t cold enough for both that jersey and a vest, you had a dilemma. How to solve that dilemma isn’t something I recall. But I do remember how I was convinced that no garment ever in the history of man-made fibers could wick moisture off my body as effectively. I stayed convinced, too, for the simple reason that it really did. Compared to the long-sleeve jerseys I owned from Avenir and Giordana, the Pearl Izumi jersey was better in every manner, save pocket inclusion. It pulled moisture off me like a cotton towel. It fit like a tailored dress shirt. The zipper was just long enough to conduct actual ventilation. It looked as stylish as a ’71 Mustang. The material was as comfortable as flannel sheets. And it had brand zing the way Clint Eastwood has irascible.
In 1990, Boulder, Colorado, was the epicenter of cool in cycling. All the best pros—international and domestic—were based there, along with a growing number of bike companies. The fact that Pearl Izumi was based there was simply confirmation that they had it going on. From that moment until sometime in the late 1990s, Pearl was the creme de la creme of cycling kit to me. I can recall season upon season where my friends and I would buy our team’s Voler jerseys but pass on the bibs and instead go with the Pearl Field/Micro/Ultrasensor bibs.
It’s hard for me to pin down why or how I lost interest in Pearl; it may be that I just reached a point where I was ready for a new top brand and I transferred my affection to Assos around 1998. Then, due to changes in management and shop distribution they all but disappeared from my radar for a good 10 years.
Last fall I got reintroduced to some of the line. They—Pearl Izumi—were something of a curiosity to me—the question being, had they progressed much? Sure, there were new materials, but I wondered about whether the cut of the jerseys and bibs had evolved in a significant way.
In the last six months I have ridden a lot of new kits. Some I have liked and will be reviewing. Some of the stuff I didn’t find remarkable enough to be worth the time required to write the review. My experience with all this new cycling clothing has taught me two interesting lessons, interesting because the lessons are divergent. The first lesson is that while cycling jerseys have come in two different cuts, generally referred to as “race” and “club,” those two cuts have evolved over the last five years. Race cuts are snugger, more form-following, and tend to use more Lycra or at least Lycra-adjacent materials to give them skinsuit-like cling. And while I don’t (won’t) wear club-cut jerseys, I’m noticing that many of the ones out there aren’t the spinnakers of yore. I’ve caught a few exceptions, such as some of Rapha’s pieces, but as the cliché goes, things are trending toward more form-following cuts, even if your personal dimensions are more Jon Voight than Jens Voigt.
Bibs, on the other hand, are cut in more lengths than ever before. This is mostly due to the incredible variety of gripper bands forming the bottom of the bibs. Capo is pushing the long bands that feature double-layer material simply folded over with no actual grippers. Assos is staying the traditional course with a narrow band backed with silicone gripper dots. The space in between is rich enough in options that you needn’t develop a hard-edged tan line on your thigh.
I’ve been wearing two different kits from Pearl’s line since this spring. One of the kits is the P.R.O. LTD Speed Jersey and In-R-Cool Bibs. The other is the P.R.O. Leader Jersey and Bibs.
I’m going to begin with the P.R.O. Leader Jersey and Bibs. This is Pearl’s super-call stuff. The moment I pulled on the bibs I could tell that this was a cut above. I’ve tried on so much stuff that seems amazing but I wonder how long it will last. Well these bibs are cut from 244g/m² (roughly 8.6 oz.) fabric, meaning it has some real heft to it. The sublimated side panels are, naturally, lighter—more like 6 oz. I’ve worn this kit mountain biking on several occasions because I figure if I go down it’s not going to vaporize the moment it comes into contact with the ground. These bibs, like the In-R-Cool bibs, receive a Coldblack treatment to reflect UV rays to keep you cooler.
Some manufacturers have gone crazy with multiple panels in their quest to create a better-fitting pair of bibs. But some, including Pearl Izumi and Assos, have gone the other direction on some of their bibs. Inventive patterning has allowed manufacturers to use material that stretches more in one direction than another, which has enabled them to reduce the number of necessary panels to make bibs fit properly. With the P.R.O. Leader Bibs, excluding the band for the gripper, each leg is made up of just two panels. That’s a six-panel short minus the bibs. That eliminated a few serge-seams on the inside of the short, making them more comfortable on your skin when you’re out for rides upwards of three hours.
The pad employed is Pearl’s P.R.O. Seamless 4D Chamois. I’ve had 4D stretch explained to me a few times (several companies are using pads or materials that they claim stretch in 4D), but I need to be honest and say that I’d like everyone just to cut this shit out. We live in a 3D world, and 4D isn’t really clever unless you’re a quantum physicist. For those working in textiles, just tell me the chamois has a lot of stretch and once I ride it, if you’re right, I’ll agree with you. Claiming a pad stretches in 4D is something I’m never really going to believe, either intellectually or viscerally. It’s a marketing fail.
But as failures go, this is a pretty terrific pad. At it’s thickest it’s supposed to be 13mm. I couldn’t measure it, but that sounds about right. There’s a central channel to relieve pressure on soft tissue and while I know that pressure relief is its primary mission, in many of these pads the thinner areas are really helpful in allowing the chamois to move with you without bunching up.
For me, the real test of a chamois comes when I have to make several out-of-the-saddle efforts in rapid succession. That repeated movement of standing up, accelerating, sitting back down and then standing up again won’t go well if the chamois doesn’t really move with me. At some point a lesser chamois will bunch up or catch on the saddle. The P.R.O. Seamless yadda yadda chamois kept my undercarriage happy as a kid on Coca-Cola.
The shorts feature a 10-inch inseam, largely due to the double-layer cuff that finishes the short. What’s surprising, though, is that the inside of the cuff is doted with silicone grippers; there are a dozen small diamond-shaped grippers on each cuff. I’m not really convinced they are necessary, though I can’t say they are a real disservice either. The bib straps are cut from Minerale polyester, a very lightweight and breathable poly that does a fine job of wicking moisture off my body.
The bibs are all black except for the sublimated side panels and the highlight trim on the bib straps. Visually, it’s a pretty traditional look, and in this case I consider that a selling point.
The P.R.O. Leader jersey is cut largely from nylon (91 percent) and elastane (9 percent), which makes it nearly stretchy as a skinsuit. The sleeves are stretchier still, for obvious reasons and are cut from polyester (80 percent) and elastane (20 percent). I’ve encountered a few jerseys of this variety that were so stretchy that once you loaded up the pockets you risked catching the hem of the jersey on your saddle. Some companies have used materials that stretch horizontally but not vertically, or lengthwise panels that simply didn’t stretch much. Pearl went a different direction. A big, stylized ‘X’ is laminated to the back panel of the jersey, allowing it to stretch some horizontally and just a touch vertically so that it will follow your contours without sagging. It’s a novel and effective approach and adds another visual element to the jersey. There are three small, highly breathable mesh panels employed to aid moisture transfer in critical areas, at the nape of the neck and the underarms.
All the In-R-Cool jerseys receive a Coldblack treatment to keep you cooler on hot days. Pearl claims the body of the jersey has an SPF of 50 while the sleeves are 40.
Of all the various pro-fit jerseys I’ve tried, the P.R.O. Leader has one of the very best fits I’ve encountered. It’s hard to explain the difference in feel between form-following and clingy. One feels natural, and makes me look presentable (MAMIL presentable, anyway) in the mirror, while the other causes claustrophobia while simultaneously eliciting a spider-web creepy factor. Honestly, I’m not sure which of these two effects is more surprising, but I’m clear that one won’t sell in bike shops.
The pockets on the P.R.O. Leader are a bit unconventional. It seems everyone is experimenting with unusual pocket configurations. For this jersey, the two side pockets are cut narrow. You can fit gels and packages of Clif Shot Bloks or tubes of Skratch or Osmo drink mix. You won’t be stuffing a Clif Bar in there; at least, not unless you like the idea of wrestling it out. What that does, though, is make the middle pocket big enough for a farmer’s fist. Inside that pocket is a second, slightly water resistant, radio pocket. There’s a buttonhole to run the earpiece cable inside the jersey, but because it’s not the sort of thing you can reach very easily, if you listen to music while riding, plan to leave your iPod on shuffle.
Part of Pear Izumi’s brand identity in the ’90s was the black/electric blue/screaming yellow color combination. My first Pearl jersey had it and I never tired of the look. I’m pleased to note they finally brought it back and this kit played those colors with style. I get concerned about any kit with too much black for reasons of visibility, but for reasons I can’t explain, this kit doesn’t appear as black as it actually is. In wearing it, I’ve had several people tell me it pops well due to where the yellow and blue designs are placed.
So what’s the damage? The bibs go for $200 and the jersey is $200. Some of you will squawk about how much money that is. And it is a fair amount of money for cycling kit, but when I consider this against Assos, Giordana and Rapha, this kit is a terrific value. It doesn’t stack up against Assos’ best work, but it’s competitive with their Uno line and costs less.
The jersey is available in a whopping seven sizes: Small, S/M, Medium, M/L, L, XL and XXL and the bibs are available in five sizes: Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large and XXL. I wore the S/M jersey and the Medium bibs. I’d compare the sizing favorably to most American brands. The S/M jersey is slightly larger than a Small in most brands (except for Euro lines like Castelli and Assos) and the Medium bibs line up nicely with most other American brands. Those tweener sizes of S/M and M/L are meant to give as dialed a fit as possible for an off-the-rack jersey.
Even though the fit is new, the materials are new and the look has been updated, this feels like a return to Pearl Izumi’s roots—great quality without going bankrupt.
My first serious road bike was a Specialized Expedition. It was a take-n0-prisoners touring bike meant for people disinclined to leave a forwarding address. It was a bike for people with ambition. On that bike I crossed the Continental Divide seven times in a single trip.
Like I said, it was meant for people with ambition. I didn’t say anything about brains.
In addition to the one big tour I did through the Rockies, I also did several shorter trips through New England. I commuted on that bike, raced ‘cross on it and bombed more than a few gravel roads. That bike helped me learn how fun touring can be. My disposition is such, though, that the bike may not have been necessary. I seem to be partial to touring, whether I have the touring bike or not.
Bike touring, though, isn’t the hip end of cycling. The touring bike is the pocket protector of the bike world. It’s not fast, and as a result lacks the sexy je ne c’est quoi that we automatically attribute to racing bikes. I get the attraction of the racing bike, but I must confess that I also get the attraction of the fully-loaded touring bike. It’s a bike with possibilities, a bike that’s prepared and maybe it’s just the Eagle Scout in me, but I resonate any time someone suggests that I should be prepared.
All this is to say, I have a very soft spot for bike touring.
It is with that in mind that I point your attention to the ad at the top of the home page, the one for Blackburn. Recently, they came to me and told me about a promotion they were doing. They were sponsoring a bunch of riders to go out and tackle ambitious tours. These weren’t two-day trips from Boston to the end of the Cape, no these were doozies. Canada to Mexico on the Pacific Coast Highway, and the Great Divide Route.
Can we just go over that again? Blackburn is SPONSORING riders to go on long tours. How amazing is that?
They call them the Blackburn Rangers. Little sheriff’s stars seem in order. The idea is a simple one: If you make touring gear, what better way to test your products than with people who will really put them through their paces. Lots of companies have a select roster of riders who comprise their torture chamber. What’s different about Blackburn Rangers is that they are riding completed products, so their role is less to test the product and make sure it works than to demonstrate proof of concept.
All that sounds nice, but then I got an email from Blackburn asking me if I wanted to intercept one of their riders coming down the Pacific Coast Highway and ride a bit.
Is Amanda Bynes cray-cray? Hellz yeah!
I met up with Jennifer at the Manhattan Beach Pier. She was actually on a rest day, which meant that she was likely to ride less than 30 miles that day and with less than her full load on the bike. She’d started her journey back in mid-June and as you read this she’s probably boarding a plane to head home to Seattle. She’d had the good sense to allow herself plenty of rest days, something on the order of every fourth or fifth day she took as a rest day.
Jennifer has been riding that Voodoo for more than 10 years, mostly as a bike commuter, but she’s also done some supported rides like STP, the Seattle to Portland ride. The rig, while serviceable, was nothing fancy: steel frame and fork, nine-speed drivetrain, double chainrings (not compact, no triple) and only a rear rack. No computer. I’m not sure I’ve met a more capable cyclist less concerned about equipment. What a trip.
Of course, that wasn’t where our conversation began. My first question was how she managed to find six weeks to ride her bike. Did she have a really understanding boss? Was she a freelancer? Trust fund?
Nope. She quit her job and her husband was chill about it.
She also left behind a chihuahua and when we stopped for chai in Venice, she was easily distracted by one just a few tables over.
When I asked her what the biggest surprise of the trip was she told me it was the people that she met. From other cyclists she encountered on the road to the folks she met off the bike, she was continually amazed by the kindness, warmth and generosity of the people she encountered. What she’d expected to get out of the trip was beautiful scenery, but it was in meeting people that she’d had her must pleasant and surprising encounters.
When I asked her about her favorite stretch she had ridden, she mentioned when she first rode into a Redwood forest, which would have been Del Norte State Forest, on the Pacific Coast a bit south of Crescent City, in far northern California. She talked about how she marveled not just at their massive presence, but how, from the saddle of a bike, she was able to take in the full effect of their size, that she didn’t have car windows letter boxing her view, how the scent of the forest washed over her as she rode and how she could feel the damp air of the forest on her skin.
Given the chance to be plucked out of Southern California and returned to any spot on her tour via helicopter, she said that was the spot.
Most of us don’t carpe that diem often enough. I’ll admit that I did more than just covet Jennifer’s adventure, I envied it. And while envy may be one of the seven deadly sins, in this instance I think it may have served a useful purpose in reminding me that it’s a big world. I need to get out and see more.
GU Brand Ambassador Yuri Hauswald got me an update on how Brian Vaughn is doing at the Colorado Trail Race. He rolled in to Copper Mountain Sunday afternoon around 2:30. This was some 17 sleepless hours after leaving Leadville. Over those same 17 hours, Yuri says it rained the entire time. The upshot here is that Brian, at eight days in was two days past what he thought would be required to finish the event and with more than a full day of riding remaining, has called it a day, so to speak.
Somewhere between Leadville and Searle Pass outside of Copper Mountain, Brian encountered a very steep and rocky ascent that, when combined with rain, was simply to difficult to climb on the bike and turned into a marathon hike-a-bike in the darkness. He caught himself falling asleep on his handlebar even as he pushed his bike uphill. The plan had been to bivvy at some point during the night so that he could recharge some, and while the rain was a nuisance, the real problem he faced was that the terrain was so steep he couldn’t find a suitable (safe) spot on which to lie down. So he kept hiking. No imagine doing that, doing 17 hours, doing a hike in mountain bike shoes, doing it all in rain gear. The mind reels.
A good piece of this story is the coordination that went on behind the scenes just to make sure that Yuri was able to intercept Brian for photos and updates. Brian began calling it their “Spider Senses” after Spider Man. They weren’t far into the event when Yuri arrived in one town only 40 minutes ahead of Brian. At Marshall Pass he pulled up in a parking lot in town and a mere 10 minutes later Brian pulled up to the Honda Element. At Cottonwood Canyon, their arrivals were so close you’d think they had synchronized watches. Because of Yuri’s desire to intercept Brian as often as possible, there were only three nights Yuri was able to secure a motel room for sleep. So he was catching most of his Zs in the back of the rented Element. One morning he woke, saw Brian’s bike next to the Element but had to walk over to a bunch of sage to find him bedded down in his mummy bag. The Spider Senses were more important than city dwellers like me might recognize at first. Yuri reports that once he was more than a few miles outside of town he would lose cell reception, so coordination was the province of maps and right-brained math. At junctions, had he been late, there would have been no real way to tell.
On one occasion, Yuri took a wrong turn off Hwy 114 in the Grand Mesa-Umcompahgre-Gunnison National Forest and got lost, and when your entire presence is predicated on a photo or two, a high-five and a hug, missing even that would feel disastrous.
I need to pause to recognize the winner of this thing, Jefe Branham. Whatever you may think you know about tough, I suspect this guy could redefine it for you. Branham, who lives in Gunnison, Colo., won the thing in a bit more than four days. He covered a whopping 562 miles in 4:04:35, giving him an average of 134 miles covered per day. How’d he do it? By stopping a bit more than two hours per day. That suggests really brief refueling stops, iodine tablets and just an hour of sleep per day. In case you’re wondering, Branham won the event last year and was third in 2011. Adding to the drama of Branham’s performance was Jesse Jakomait’s second-place finish, which came roughly 45 minutes after Branham. The two swapped the lead a few times, making for what would have been a thrilling visual event, if only there’d been video crews strewn all over the Colorado High Country.
Brian said he was surprised by how changeable the trail could be, even within a single mile. It could go from sandy to rocky to every singletrack rider’s dream, that particular form of dirt like pressed brown sugar that is at once reasonably fast but offers traction like bubblegum on a shoe. The overwhelming refrain is that the trail was far more difficult in the riding than expected. Apparently, there were few sections that were what you’d call easy, or at least nontechnical, and it’s fair to imagine that a steady diet of difficult will carry consequences.
I’m hoping I’ll be able to talk with Brian a bit in the next day or two and can bring you some direct quotes. For now, it sounds like he’s focusing on sleep. I don’t know if he permits himself beer, but I’d venture that he’s earned at least one.
Some years back when I was an editor at Bicycle Guide, my colleague Joe Lindsey and I had the occasion to meet with a gentleman hawking electric bikes. He was the head of marketing for some electric bike company that is now less-remembered than Major Matt Mason. In 1997 the idea of an electric bike was a good deal less accepted than it is today. Worse yet, the pitch was a good deal less refined. The poor guy was desperate and it was evident in his voice, his pitch, his face. His big play was, “But it’s easier!”
Joe, in his wonderfully soft-spoken and gentle, but direct, manner responded, ‘Well, you see, our readers like the work. They want to pedal hard.’ There was a bit more to the conversation, but there was little to do at that point other than wish him well. I told him we weren’t hostile to what he was doing, but we just weren’t the right outlet. As we walked away, I turned back for a moment and the look on his face was less hang-dog than hanged-man. Returning to the office empty-handed clearly wasn’t how this little excursion was supposed to go and his next stop appeared to be the gallows. There have been few occasions in my life when I have said anything to someone that made them look sadder. I’ve never been so acutely aware what it meant to pity someone as I did that day.
Fast-forward 10 years. My buddy Jim buys his wife an electric bike as a way for her to run errands without always getting in the car. She’s lucky enough to have an exceedingly local life and rarely has to travel more than three miles from home. So one day she rolls up to the coffee shop as we’re hanging out post-ride. To my eye, with its 20-inch wheels and ultra-long stem extension (essentially a handlebar mast), it looks to me more like a travel bike than a proper bike. Naturally, Jim begins egging me on to take it for a spin. My refusals go unheeded; he doesn’t care that I’m in cleats, that it doesn’t fit, that I’m trying to be polite about not being interested. So I get on. The variety of bike she had included a twist throttle, meaning you could pedal, add in some electric power, or just ride it like an electric scooter.
As I rolled out, I did what cyclists do—I pedaled. That’s when Jim yelled after me, “Use the throttle!”
When I did, the resulting kick had a curious effect: I smiled. Actually, I didn’t just smile, I grinned. I didn’t need a mirror to know how large it was; I could feel my cheeks press against my helmet straps. Were I prone to embarrassment due to shows of public emotion, this would have sent me to a closet. Fortunately, I’m not easily flustered by my own actions, so as I headed back up the hill to my friends, it didn’t really bother me that they gave hearty laughs when they saw my smile set to 11.
The particular combination of acceleration and nearly noiseless operation is what made the electric bike such a revelation. Cars and motorcycles have taught us that big accelerations with motors make big noises. We’ve been taught to expect big throttle action to result in equal parts velocity and noise. After all, only half the love of muscle cars is a love of speed. The other half is a love for the growl, the aural conflagration that is the internal combustion engine. Lions wish they could sound so impressive. But when you take out the scream, no matter how lovely a symphony of pipes and explosions may furnish it, the combination of all-out-attack quickening and child’s-toy noise breaks our expectations, making the experience tantamount to a joke. And any time you multiply fun by funny, the result is a tightening of facial muscles combined with involuntary hiccups of air.
Yeah, I grinned and laughed.
I tell you that to explain why when the folks at Specialized rolled out the Turbo—their electric bike with a price tag like a top-notch race bike—and said, “You’re guaranteed to smile,” well, that’s when I didn’t laugh.
Now before anyone thinks this is a full-fledged review of the Turbo, let me say I’ve had exactly one ride on this thing and it was roughly as long as a network sitcom. That’s not really enough for me to do what I’d call a review. But as an introduction to a product, well, it had the same effect of a tasting pour at a winery. Yes, I’d like to purchase a whole bottle of that, please.
The first, biggest, difference between the Turbo was … hell, kinda everything. I’d like to point to how there’s no throttle, that instead there is a four-setting switch that dictates just how much electric assist you receive. I’d also like to point out how it handles like a regular bike, and how the gimongous battery fits into the down tube to keep the center of gravity as low as possible to improve the handling. They are all really stellar features that make the Turbo a very different line of thinking in the electric bike category.
It’s when the switch that determines how much assist you get is in the fourth and highest setting that the bike is at its most incandescent glory. For every watt you put into the pedals, the Turbo matches it, just like when your employer gives you a dollar-for-dollar match for contributing to NPR. The payoff for a watt-for-watt contribution, though, is way more fun. This is on the order of first-kiss exciting.
The Turbo will actually teach you a thing or two about riding, as well. Because it multiplies your wattage, if you pedal in squares, the bike will surge with each pedal stroke. I’ve never ridden anything that does more to reward a smooth spin. The handling is as balanced as a liberal arts degree. It’s nimble, but not too quick, and stable, but not lazy.
Now, I should make clear that this thing weighs more than both of my sons put together, more than most downhill bikes, more than a book by David Foster Wallace. It’s a good thing you won’t need to load this onto a roof rack; it’s unlikely most cyclists could lift it that high (I’m speaking for myself here). The good news is the wheels are military grade and roll up and down curbs with the nonchalance of a dump truck over flowers. Let me be blunt: This is a real bike, through-and-through.
The genius marketing move would be a $100 million TV ad campaign in which consumers were challenged not to giggle. Don’t giggle, get $100. Giggle and … you get to keep riding for another hour. I tell you, this thing is better than Six Flags.
At some point I may enjoy the opportunity (and I do mean enjoy) to do a full review on a Turbo. The challenge for the bike isn’t that you need to be convinced that the big, red S did its homework. It employs a proprietary battery developed by the same folks who do batteries for Apple’s mobile devices. Yeah, it’s like that. The bike employs myriad features to make sure it’s as easy to use as an iPhone. Actually, it’s easier.
The challenge with this bike is the suggested retail of $5900. If we compare this to purchasing a mountain bike from Specialized, the difference is that the mountain bike is a passion-driven discretionary purchase. We all-cap WANT a mountain bike. That purchase is aspirational—I’m gonna have so much fun on this! But the Turbo is much less likely to be seen through quite the same recreational lens. Sure, it will for plenty of people who aren’t currently cyclists, but I’d like to think that part of the Turbo’s charm and promise will be its ability to make believers out of existing cyclists. I harbor this suspicion that if thousands of dedicated riders were to add these to their quiver for commuting and errand duty (CED), that would be yet another win not just for this bike or electric bikes as a category, but for cycling as a whole.
Another suspicion: if the Turbo is unlikely to be a passion purchase the way a new bike usually is, something will need to make the purchase easier to swallow. After all, this will still be a discretionary—i.e., not a necessity—purchase for most people who consider buying one. There’s a chance that Ed Begley might ditch his electric car for one, but I can’t imagine too many people will turn to the Turbo as their sole means of transportation, at least in the good ole United States of Murka.
With that in mind, what I think Specialized ought to do is partner with GE Capital to come up with a financing program for the Turbo. There’s already a one-year-same-as-cash deal, but that means your monthly nut is the same as the payment for a very nice car. I’m thinking something that brings the monthly payment down below $200. At that point, I’d consider it.
It’s interesting to me that the Turbo is just a bike. It’s not a utility bike. There are (thus far) no accessories for it like racks or trailers for CED. Wouldn’t that increase the attraction for this bike? Wait, that gives me an idea.
Hey Mike, make if you’ll make a bakfiet Turbo and offer a financing plan, I’ll be first in line.
Faulkner said, “I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it,” which is another way of saying that writing is less about a pen scratching against a piece of paper or fingers dancing on a keyboard than it is about thinking. The process of putting into print the ideas in your head forces you to confront and evaluate them in a concrete way that can often lead to quite surprising changes of view.
Cycling, I think it can be argued, is another metier that facilitates deep thought and truth seeking. A long solo ride can be meditative. It can help you strip away your fears and insecurities. It can help you see what’s happening in your life for what it really is.
Padraig and I have been working on his new book, and in it, this idea comes up again and again, that the bike brings clarity, that many of us make our life’s biggest decisions while in the saddle. To get married or not. To have children or not. To go back to school or break up with our boy/girlfriend. To quit our job or ride cross country.
I have yet to tell my wife, when she asks if I think we should adopt a baby elephant, “I don’t know. Let me ride on it,” but something like that thought does occur to me. Let me write about it. Let me ride about it. We’ll see.
This week’s Group Ride asks, what is the biggest decision you’ve made on your bike? How did it turn out? Is there a certain place you ride to do your best thinking? Or will anywhere do? Do you need to be alone, or can you get to the same place even in a group? Or with a friend?
Image: Matt O’Keefe
Tuesday morning I drove up to the East Bay to take part in an event promoting Fred “Fast Freddie” Rodriguez’ upcoming gran fondo. The event was held at his community space, which is equal parts cycling shrine and bike fit studio. It holds an amazing collection of bike racing memorabilia from Freddie and his friend Alex Osborne, with stuff spanning back to at least the early ’80s.
The community space, which is located in a cool part of Oakland, is kind of a cycling clubhouse. When Freddie is in town, he leads rides there for his foundation, the Fast Freddie Foundation. The charity’s mission is to introduce inner-city kids to cycling. Freddie likes to point out that as he grew up in Los Angeles, riding the road kept him off the streets. It was his way to avoid the gang life and drugs to which many adolescents fall victim. The foundation works to provide kids with bikes, clothing and equipment and then help them learn the ropes of the sport.
The fit studio portion of the community space is operated by Berkeley-based Innersport Chiropractic. The owner of Innersport, Jessica Greaux, has been a friend since I served as a guide on a tour of Tuscany she was a part of. We hit it off and have remained in touch since. So when Jess asked me if I wanted to come up and be a part of the evening to celebrate the upcoming gran fondo and hang for a bit with her and her Pit Bull/Greyhound mix, Finn, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.
My role there was to do a short reading of work from “Why We Ride” and then (hopefully) sell some T-shirts and books. As “Why We Ride” is still in the final stages of editing, I didn’t have copies of that to bring along, so I brought some copies of my previous book, “The No-Drop Zone.”
Freddie spent some time talking up the upcoming fondo, which looks to be pretty fun. The long route is 89 miles and begins at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, Calif. It opens with a stiff climb and then heads south toward Castro Valley before turning northeast to San Ramon. From there the ride climbs Mount Diablo, a mainstay of Bay-Area suffering. The top of Diablo comes almost exactly half-way into the ride, but the climbing is far from over. Once down from Diablo, the ride heads northwest to Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill before winding between Briones Regional Park and Briones Reservoir and back into Berkeley. That climb that opens the ride becomes the descent on the way back to the finish.
While I can’t offer any insight into the organization or support the ride will provide, I can say that I’d love to ride the course. I’m not sure I can make the date—Saturday, August 17—line up for me, but if not this year, then next.
Even though I’m busier than a beer vendor at a football game, I carved enough time out of my schedule to include a session with Innersport’s Mitchell Reiss, who took me through some of the fit services Innersport offers, including saddle and foot pressure testing. There will be a separate post on that coming soon.
So while there was wifi aplenty, driving to the Bay Area and back on successive days has left me with less time to do my job than I’d like. So I’m feeling a bit guilty about winking out of existence for two days this week. What I’m doing here is backing into an apology. Let me know how I’m doing.
When I was at the Specialized Global Press launch recently, I attended a presentation on the Specialized electric bike called the Turbo. I also had a chance to ride one. The experience of riding the bike came into direct conflict with what have traditionally been my views on electric bikes. Case in point: there’s a guy I encounter from time to time on the bike path near my home. He’s in office casual dress, wears a ginormous motorcycle helmet and when he seems me, needs to race me. Even if I’m only going 14 mph. I can’t help but think he’s being a bit of a putz. Of course you’re faster than me, dude; you’re on an electric bike. And no, I’m not going to race you, even if I’m pedaling hard. The thing is, none of that thinking is helpful.
Allow me to digress: I feel like I know the struggle of the werewolf not to shift form in the presence of a full moon. The most interesting literature of werewolves holds that they are, among all the bad creatures of the horror world, the ones least at peace with their evilness. Victims of werewolves, they are slaves to the power of the moon and lack the ability to choose their victims the way vampires do. No one, not even a loved one, is safe in their presence. A great example is the John Landis film, “An American Werewolf in London.”
Somewhere along the line, I was bitten by the creature that imparts snobbery to its victims. This is the dark side of refined taste, the ability to appreciate excellence. Somewhere along the line, the appreciation for greatness becomes a hunger for it. It’s that space where, after seeing The Who live, your buddy’s garage band will not only no longer do, it downright hurts your ears.
I can be as much the elitist roadie snob as anyone you’ve met. I know I came by that as a result of being a student of the sport. I watched how the pros pedaled, how they sized their clothing, when they shifted, how the braked and all the rest. From tube socks to jerseys so large the pockets hung down over the saddle, I catalogued all the sins not to commit. As a result, I’ve got a keen eye for all the violations. This isn’t just a matter of style; I can give you several objective and even helpful reasons why you shouldn’t wear a windbreaker that is two sizes too big for you. The trouble is, it’s not enough not to say anything to the offending rider. I’m aware that each time I judge another cyclist as having fallen short of the rules, I’m being a prick. I don’t like that guy. Every day when I roll out, I have to remind myself that anyone on a bicycle is one of my people, even if they don’t identify with me. They can think me a MAMIL all they want; they don’t have to be friendly to me. I just need to be friendly to them.
I’ve had to work at that acceptance, and it really has been work for me, but I had a little recently when I was out for a mountain bike ride in Annadel State Forest with Greg Fisher of Bike Monkey. We encountered a woman new to mountain biking, at least as far as doing it off-road. She was gingerly picking her way through some rocks and apologized for holding us up, then in her own defense she said, “At least I’m not at home on the couch, right?”
We can forgive her for wanting a little reinforcement, can’t we?
In response I said, “You’re out here; you’re on a bike; you’re one of us.” At that, she smiled. I did, too. I had a couple of reasons to smile, the first being there was a time when I really couldn’t have welcomed her the way I did. She was in cotton, had tennis shoes on, needed to drop 50 pounds … I could go on. But where a cyclist might see a non-rider faking it, all the rest of the world sees another person on a bike. And this is an occasion when the rest of the world is right. We may see incandescent cycling clothing as what separates the devoted from the dilettantes, but it’s really just another reason for non-cyclists—real non-bike-riding people—to dislike us.
I bring this us vs. them mentality up because hostility to cycling is rising with the addition of bike sharing programs and more people choosing to commute by bicycle. The conservative punditry has made this crazy leap that the desire to make cycling easier for people—thanks to bike sharing programs, bike lanes, sharrows and minimum safe distance passing laws—is, in fact, a subversive grass-roots effort to take away cars. By making the world safer for bikes, we’re going to take away cars. I can’t begin to tell you how much I despise this variety of fear mongering.
It’s hard to parse a fear, chiefly because fears are largely rooted in irrational thought. Hard, but not impossible. My suspicion is that these folks, as characterized by The Wall Street Journal‘s Dorothy Rabinowitz and John Kobylt of the John and Ken Show, see us as early adopters. We are the non-smokers who are going to complain to government about all the cancer that cigarettes are causing and we are going to force our nonsmoking-ness on those poor, freedom-loving smokers and deprive them of the simple pleasure just having a few puffs of a butt. Think of all the deaths cars have caused. Surely cyclists—those evil, non-job-holding, non-tax-paying, light-running rebels to decent, civilized society—will use traffic deaths as Exhibit A as we make our case for why we should stop burning fossil fuels, save the planet, wreck the economy, destroy our way of life and then demand everyone grow a handlebar mustache, Rabinowitz included.
We really are the bane of society, aren’t we?
My point is that there is a real us vs. them split, and for my part, I’ve realized that it would be helpful for me to do what I can to welcome everyone I see on a bike as a cyclist. In calling inexperienced riders cyclists, we help them begin to self-select as one of us. I think that’s important because as cycling and cycling infrastructure becomes a bigger political football, we will be well-served to do all we can to convince every Huffy owner they are one of us, that their riding matters, not just to them, but to us as well.
Thanks to electric bikes and bike share programs, cycling is increasing in numbers. This is a good thing, full stop. Clueless new riders are going to weave in bike lanes, blow lights and generally frighten everyone nearby, whether they are other cyclists or drivers. In my mind, I’m telling myself this is just part of the learning curve and that in the long term this will be good for cycling in general. And I’m being careful not to use the term “sport.”
I no longer see people on electric bikes as the other, as having more in common with drivers and motorcycle riders than with bicycles. In my mind, we need them. The us of cyclists can never be too big; that tent can grow to accept everyone on two wheels and as a friend once said to me years ago when I asked him how many people I should invite to my party, “It can never be too big. The bigger the party, the better the time.”
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, “So Cool, So Psycho,” Brian Vaughn, the Chief Endurance Officer of GU is undertaking the Colorado Trail Race. This event sounds so positively unhinged that when Brian told me about it I, a guy in no position to require anything of anyone at GU, demanded updates whenever feasible. Yuri Hauswald just sent me the shot above, which he snapped at a post office where Brian was retrieving a pre-arranged mail-drop.
Something I left out of yesterday’s post is the live tracker that will allow you to follow all the crazy action. It can be found here.
Strictly speaking, this endeavor isn’t the typical sort of editorial we serve up on RKP. Maybe it’s because I find Brian fascinating, or maybe it’s because I’ve been thinking a lot about bike touring lately (and missing it a bit more than I might ordinarily due to kids at home), but I’ve wanted to follow this trip through Yuri and try to see it through the eyes of someone there. Lord knows I wouldn’t actually want to do this particular assault on one’s own body.
I got a few text messages and images from Yuri a short while ago. Apparently, things aren’t exactly stellar for Brian. As reader Jason noted in the comments on yesterday’s post, Brian went off-course, and ended up descending into Silverton on the road. He says the trail has been much tougher than expected and Brian is making progress at something like half the rate he expected. These first two days may have been difficult, but the next two days, which will have sustained episodes above 13,000 feet are to be a good deal harder.
After my brief experience at 9700 feet, I really can’t imagine trying to pedal a heavier-than-usual bike up singletrack climbs at elevations north of 12,000 feet. At least, not if I hadn’t been living in Boulder or something similar. But Brian, like me, lives at sea level. The obvious answer, EPO, has something of a bad rap around these parts, doesn’t it? I don’t think it fits within his moral compass to employ. Similarly, I’m betting that he decided to forego vasodilators.
Hopefully we can get some pictures of the sweet singletrack, even if it’s not with Brian in action on it.
Every now and then you encounter the perfect intersection between athlete and event. Consider Eddy Merckx and his seven victories at Milan-San Remo. The guy could climb like a squirrel up a tree; he could descend like a hawk diving at prey and he could sprint like there was a lion behind him. You might say he was made for that race.
Last year when I met Brian Vaughn, the CEO (Chief Endurance Officer) at GU, he stuck me as a fresh expression of the human potential movement. Instead of being some grandfatherly psychologist hunched over a lectern announcing pithy sayings to convince you that you are the only thing standing between you and your greatness, Brian, I could tell, saw things a little differently. He might say it differently, might pitch it differently, but to my eye, he sees athletes and goals and what stands between most athletes and their goals is optimal event nutrition.
He speaks of athletes unlocking their true potential, of setting records, of plumbing new depths within themselves.
And in a world where we value those who “walk the walk,” Brian is all-in. He’s lean like I wish I was, gentle like my stepfather was, and there’s a glint in his eye that tells me he’s got a sense of fun as adaptable as a child’s. I don’t just dig him, I’d like to spend more time with him.
But that won’t happen this week. As I write this, Brian is six hours into the Colorado Trail Race. It’s a mountain bike race. Straightforward, right? It’s a race from Durango to Denver? Straightforward, right? It’s a mountain bike race from Durango to Denver. Crazy, right? The course is—you guessed it—the Colorado Trail.
The event is like RAAM in that when the starter’s pistol went off this morning at 4:00 am in Durango, it was on. But it’s not like RAAM because there’s no crew. There’s also no entry fee, no registration and no support whatsoever. It’s you and your wits. It’s what you bring, what you stop to source and what you leave the trail to buy. All you have to do is ride 485 miles with about 70,000 feet of climbing over roughly 300 miles of it is singletrack. Insane.
Brian’s goal is six days, I’m told. Clearly, he’s not going to do the whole thing on GU—gels or chomps—but what strikes me is that the question is less the what than the how. He can leave the trail and roll into a town for a meal at a restaurant and a hotel room. Or he can eat bark and sleep in a bivy shelter. His call. I don’t know much of his plans, but GU’s brand ambassador, Yuri Hauswald, is going to be shadowing him in an attempt to document some of this crazy adventure. I’m hoping we can get an update or two on how this goes to make for some more reading for you all. Yuri can tell a compelling story; I just don’t know how he will find Brian, or if he will even find him.
And if you’re thinking he’s got this wired, let me share with you a little tidbit from NICA Executive Director Austin McInerny: “I suggested to him maybe he should bring a whole first aid kit.”
Let me be clear. Such an event would be a nightmare for me personally. It doesn’t sound like fun for me. But I’m fascinated by the possibilities for someone who looks at this event and thinks, “Ooh! Fun.!”
Check out the site for the Colorado Trail Race here. Brian might be hard to find; Yuri’s updates (f we get any) less so.