Our leader for the Friday Group Ride, Robot, is away on a badly needed vacation, so instead of just sitting in, I’m stepping in to make sure this ride rolls out as planned.
For the last few days I’ve been in Copper Mountain, Colorado, attending the introduction of the 2014 product line for Specialized. I’ve had the opportunity to be exposed to the latest and greatest in road products, none of which I’m allowed to discuss until next week when our embargo ends. Honestly, I don’t get invited to these events very often, but when I do, it feels a bit like visiting Santa’s workshop.
The interesting thing about visiting the launch of an entire model year, rather than a single product, is that I’m being exposed to bikes and products that aren’t normally part of what I write about. There were plenty of times in the past that I had a chance to be exposed to stuff outside my central interests, and I passed on them. Just why, I can no longer say.
With so many bikes out there, so many styles of riding and with a son for whom the world is a big unfolding adventure, I’ve begun thinking about what cycling will be for him. I’m not speaking of the Deuce; the lengths brothers will go to differentiate, he could wind up completely bookish. That’s because his brother Philip, also known as Mini-Shred, clearly loves bicycles. My choices in cycling are unlikely to be his choices.
People like to say cycling is an aspirational sport. By this we generally mean that it gives us a way to aspire to greater fitness, the better you. But the presence of my children in my life has changed my ideas about aspiration. I’m beginning to see things through the lens of what Mini-Shred’s enjoyment will be. As a result, it’s given me a fresh lease on what it means to be a cyclist. I love bikes, full stop. The future is likely to include some types of bikes I didn’t used to ride, if my near-religious experience on a six-inch travel bike yesterday is any indication.
All things being equal, we’d all like to be faster. That’s an easy aspiration to name. Today’s question takes that ideal in a different direction: What do you aspire to as a cyclist? Is it commuting by bike more? Is it ‘cross racing? Is it your first enduro? Do tell.
Image: Ian McLagan
It might be that turning one’s attention to the Tour de France in July is inevitable for the dedicated cyclist. If it’s July, we’re watching the Tour. So being among other cyclists for me means conversations that are as likely to include talk of the Tour as they are talk of the weather.
The conversations are different this year, as compared to other years. This is the first Tour in the wake of USADA’s Reasoned Decision, the first Tour since Tyler Hamilton’s “The Secret Race,” the first Tour since the fall of Lance Armstrong. As a result the viewing public no longer seem to be willing to watch with the general belief that the peloton is clean, that we can watch first and worry about positive tests if or when they turn up. We seem to be asking questions first and watching second.
And of course, the question on everyone’s lips is whether the yellow jersey is clean. It may be that Chris Froome is clean. It may be. However, we, the cycling fans that watch the Tour, are unsure what to believe. The old practice of accepting a rider as clean until a positive test has burned us badly. So while UCI head Pat McQuaid loves to tout just how much better the testing is now than it was when he assumed the office of the president. That may be, but if you’re injured in a car accident, the surgeon asks himself not whether the bleeding is less, but whether the bleeding has stopped. Imagine a doctor coming to you and saying, “Good news, you’re bleeding much less today.”
McQuaid just doesn’t understand that’s not acceptable. We don’t want a pretty clean sport, we want a clean sport. Reasonable people will understand that some riders will always cheat, always seek a shortcut to glory. The assurance we need is that the sport’s governing body is doing all they can to pursue a clean sport. It’s apparent that for many years the UCI has simply wanted the appearance of a clean sport, and this distinction helps to explain why in 2010 the UCI waited until October to reveal that Alberto Contador had tested positive at the Tour de France.
Following the stage 11 time trial, Froome has a lead of 3:25 over Alejandro Valverde. But within a minute of Valverde are Bauke Mollema, Alberto Contador, Roman Kreuziger and Laurens Ten Dam. Froome’s gap begs questions in this era. In watching the coverage we’ve seen how he amassed his gap, but we’re asking not how he got his gap, but what allowed him to get his gap.
The tragedy here is that Froome is being painted with a doper’s brush even though he’s never tested positive. Sure, we can talk about his third-fastest ascent of Ax 3 Domaines, but he’s not new to climbing with stunning talent in a Grand Tour. If Froome goes on to win the 2013 Tour, the ineffectiveness of the UCI will have cheated the rider of his deserved glory and us of the enjoyment of watching a true champion crowned.
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
A week ago RKP marked its fourth birthday. Where my brain was is anyone’s guess. I’m precisely the sort that would forget his own birthday if given half a chance, so maybe this shouldn’t be too surprising. It’s not like I didn’t have the Tour de France, my own riding, posts for RKP, two kids and a marriage to keep me busy. And frankly, no one orders a cake for a blog, right?
When I think of all that has transpired in the last year I wonder how I got through it. I’ve been through the events of my life plenty, so I won’t rehash them now, but when I look back I can’t help but be amazed at how the readership has remained utterly consistent. The particular trifecta of the beer fund, the Deuce ordeal and the resulting Kickstarter has done much to rewrite what I think the cycling community offers its own, the depth to which calling someone “our peeps” can resonate and initiate action.
The shot above was taken this past weekend in the kids’ race (actually, one of five our six) at the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix by my friend Ian McLagan. This is the kids’ equivalent of the 45+ Masters 1, 2, 3 race—it was 2, 3 and 4 year olds with no training wheels. Ian, like most of my friends, is a rider whose photo hobby could double as a part-time job if his day gig dries up. Last year he dropped by the race to do some shooting and stuck around for the kids’ race when he saw me. That’s when the following image was captured.
You’ve probably seen that shot here; you may also have seen it on the Specialized web site. Of these shots all I know to say is that Philip has great fun radar. He needs no introduction; he can find it himself. He’s got something of the performer in him and I think the constellation of something he loves and being encouraged to do it in a very public way really tickles him. He talks about the race and how much fun he had.
Prior to the moment above, one in which I was unable to restrain myself from cheering him like I’ve cheered nothing in my life, I spent the day at the race selling RKP t-shirts. The opportunity to do so came about thanks to a friend who supported the Kickstarter project at the Coppi level. He’s also on the board for the Southbay Wheelmen, the club that has put the race on for 50 or so years. Here’s where I thank Steve Whitsitt publicly for pulling a few strings to get me that booth space.
I sold far more shirts than I ever expected, thought I can’t say that I really had an expectation for how things would go. And while the result was as pleasant as it was unexpected, the real gift of the day was meeting a number of RKP readers. In every instance they asked about the Deuce and most said their wives had been asking how he is. I’ll reiterate what I told them, that Matthew is happy and healthy, and I really do mean happy. He’s a really smiley, easygoing kid. I confess that having people continue to ask about him is really touching. I think back on those 37 days and it all seems so dreamlike. From the daily routine of driving to the hospital to the meetings with the doctors, nurses, social workers and administrators, I can’t help but wonder if this is what an F1 driver feels when he looks at a photo of his car after he walks away from a crash. Really? I was in that?
What I’m less at ease with is how much more personal RKP has become in the last year. There’s always been a personal side to my work here, but in the last year, from my crash, to the death of my stepfather Byron, and of course to the baring of my life in Enter the Deuce, my work has taken on a “me” edge that isn’t always comfortable. Putting my sons out there has given—is giving—me a chance to write about some powerful experiences, but I’m not a stage parent, and that part of the equation is quease-inducing.
That note of caution is more for me, than you. As I write this, I’m sitting in a condo at Copper Mountain in Summit County, Colorado. Outside my window I-70 passes and I can see a doe grazing on the grass just above the highway. My head throbs thanks to the 9700-foot elevation. I’m here to check out new bikes and last night, when I met someone who contributed to the beer fund (the world gets smaller), I found myself asking whether the kids’ bikes would be shown as well.
So as RKP marks its fourth year, this is a fair occasion to note that what we do here has evolved a bit. It’ll probably change more, but your continued support is why I continue to explore unusual avenues. Thanks for reading.
Before I begin addressing the Sugoi RSE bibs specifically, I want to make a general statement about cycling shorts. Compared to what was available 20 years ago, today’s bib shorts are barely distant cousins. Few items have evolved as thoroughly (frames, wheels and helmets deserve a nod) in the last two decades as cycling shorts. To everyone who has had a hand in this, my entire undercarriage thanks you.
When I think back on the best stuff I had to wear 20 years ago, the RSE bibs would have been an off-the-chart hit had they been around then. Hell, back then bibs were still exotic; the shops I worked for all stocked regular shorts and if you wanted bibs, they were a special order item. Even 10 years ago, these would have been Prius (Pria?) among Ford Torinos. But it’s not the past, thankfully, and even the worst bibs out there are acceptable for two hours.
It’s summer, so I want to talk a bit about wicking. I encounter a lot of garments, both bibs and jerseys that claim to wick better than your garden-variety kit. Rarely do they turn out to actually keep me drier. The relative humidity of my environment makes an order magnitude greater difference than any fabric ever has. Put another way, when I lived in the desert everything wicked well. When I ride in Memphis, nothing wicks well.
I don’t expect a lot from a pair of bibs. To keep me happy, all you really need to do is use a fabric covering the chamois that will wick enough to keep me from feeling like I’m wearing swim trunks. And this isn’t something that happens by degrees. I’ve noticed that if I’ve been out for more than four hours and the pad isn’t keeping me dry, my hindquarters will get uncomfortable due to moisture on my skin. Keep me dry and it doesn’t happen. It’s pretty simple.
The FXE pad used in the RSE bibs features a center channel for pressure relief, an anti-microbial cover cut from Meryl Skinlife (which is what helped keep me reasonably dry) and four-way stretch to keep the bibs moving with your body. It’s also worth noting the the construction was laminar, meaning the layers weren’t sewn together. I encounter a lot of shorts where the pad seems good until you enter the fourth hour. With the RSE bibs, the thickest foam is reserved for the sit bones, while there’s still enough under the perineum to allow you to roll your hips and not feel like you’re riding some witch’s broomstick. I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It’s better than anything Sugoi has ever used in the past, the way Ernest Hemingway is better than Jackie Collins. Not really worth the conversation.
The construction of the bibs features a combination of flat-locked and laminated seams. It reduces bulk, which gives two benefits. First, it reduces the amount of material that can hold sweat, which helps keep you drier, and thus, more comfortable and second it reduces the irritation on your skin that can come from traditional serge or overlock seams. And the patterning is such that they eliminated the traditional inseam that runs down the inside of the thigh, to result in less chafing. The straps of the bibs are cut from a knit material that doesn’t require a finishing hem to keep it from unraveling. Nearly every manufacturer has a piece that uses this stuff, but Sugoi, to give the straps a bit more structure, laminated a second layer of material to each edge. It reduces stretch to better keep the bibs in place. The practice of laminating a second, narrow, strip of material is used at the top of the short to add durability.
At the back of the bibs just above the waist is a radio pocket with a buttonhole for the cable plus an extra guide loop at the top of the bibs. It’s all very well done, but it strikes me as about as useful as a second speed of reverse on a family sedan. When are you going to use it? Not many riders actually need a race radio at this point and for those who use a music player when you’re riding (this is something I do, but only when mountain biking), you’d never be able to change the music or adjust the volume if your player is in that pocket. Great execution but something I don’t see many people putting to use.
The leg grippers feature the same clean-edge knit found elsewhere in the bibs, only here there’s no extra layer of material laminated at the edge. The shorts are either all black or all white except for at the gripper, which is the one place where some sublimation is used for branding. The bands feature a weave with the silicone integrated into the fabric, so that it’s not a few dots to tug on your skin. The upside is that these bands don’t budge unless you’ve got embro on your leg. The bad news is because these bibs are cut to feature some compression, getting these bibs all the way up is a challenge. I kept readjusting even when out of the road to make sure that the chamois was properly docked in the harbor.
So how much compression do they offer? I would otherwise swear I had worn the wrong size, but according to their sizing guideline a guy with a 32-inch waist should be wearing a medium and medium I had. Put another way, don’t even dream of making a quick potty stop with these things on. You’ll need to ditch your jersey and pull the straps down (the front of the bibs rose above my belly button). To get them on, I advise using either embrocation or a shoe horn. With continued use I came to the conclusion that I’d be more comfortable going up one size and the act of pulling these one probably wouldn’t take five minutes. So like I said, while their sizing guidelines put me and my 32-inch waist in a medium, I’d be happier in a large. That also fits with my experience with other brands: If I wear their medium jersey, I’ll be a large in their bibs, and with the RSE jersey, their medium fit me. Me and my big, fat, American ass.
The RSE bibs go for $230 and come in two colors (black or white) and five sizes (small through 2XL). That might seem like a lot for a pair of bibs from a brand that isn’t first-tier, but these are as well made as anything at this price point. Except for how tight they are overall, the cut was good for me in that they allowed more room in the caboose for my aforementioned hindquarters than does a pair of bibs from some brands, such as Castelli. Were I shopping for a set, I’d try both the recommended size and the next larger size. My greatest concern about these bibs (and the jersey) isn’t the sizing, though. I wonder how many shops are going to sign on as dealers for Sugoi. My suspicion is that they’ll mostly be Cannondale dealers, and while that will help signal likely outlets, the RSE bibs and jersey deserve broad exposure. They are better than much of what I see people wearing.