My takeaways from the first week of the 100th Tour de France are as follows: 1) Corsica is beautiful, and despite the narrow, nervous, crashy, not-altogether-organized nature of the opening stages there, I need to put it on my “Places I Need to Ride My Bike” list; 2) As always, there are some tough sons-a-bitches in that peloton, including three of my favorites, Ryder Hesjedal, Ted King and Geraint Thomas; and 3) the sprint competition is going to be more fun to watch than usual, with Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Peter Sagan, Simon Gerrans and Mark Cavendish all taking sprint wins (and intermediate points) through the first week.
When you toss in that Daryl Impey has just become the first African to wear the yellow jersey, it is hard to argue that this version of the Grande Boucle lacks for drama, grit and flair.
You will note that I have not yet even mentioned the GC competition (Impey is in yellow, but he is not in the GC mix). On that score, rather than attempting anything resembling expert prognostication, a task better left to the right honorable Pelkey and/or his Irish partner in crime, I will only say that Nicolas Roche, Roman Kreuziger, Alejandro Valverde and a whole gaggle of Garmins are still comfortably within touching distance of the top.
That means, to me, that weeks two and possibly three will have more real players involved in the struggle for the jaundiced shirt than past iterations of this race have allowed. So that’s cool.
This week’s Group Ride asks, what is the story of this Tour for you so far? What are the surprises? What magic is yet to come? Take this wherever you want, the Tour does not submit itself to easy reduction. We could, quite possibly, talk about this all day. So start now.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, non-custom cycling clothing mostly sucked. I don’t think I’m insulting anyone or letting out any family secrets. Factor out Assos and you were left with a handful of pieces from Giordana and Pearl Izumi worth owning. Etxe Ondo, Nalini and Santini, while All very fine manufacturers, were nearly impossible to find unless you were on vacation in Europe and the Castelli stuff that was available in the U.S. was mostly entry-level, just a few octane higher than garbage.
On those occasions that the stuff where the garments themselves were made with notable quality, they failed in the looks department with all the assured regularity of new cars from Oldsmobile. It’s hard to imagine that another company on the planet has worked harder to avoid making consumers smile at their new products than Oldsmobile, though the Yugo does come to mind.
Lines like Giordana and Castelli were plagued with the misfortune of employing designers who lacked an understanding of cycling fashion, graphic design or even modern art. A rudimentary facility for any of those would have been helpful. Alas. Sometimes the stuff was so ugly I was unwilling to wear it, no matter how nice the jersey or bibs were made or fit.
As it turns out, treating a jersey like a canvas for an artist to put a picture on, isn’t exactly a look cyclists go for. So when I encountered Sugoi in ’96, they made an impression for the simple reason that their designs took such a fresh approach. Around this time, one of their jerseys was a particular favorite of mine. Called the Big Kahuna, it featured a Hawaiian print with King Kamehameha as well as a hula girl in a repeating pattern. It’s hard (if not impossible) to convey playful style in text, but it did something at a distance that was appealing: It looked like an abstract design that might appear on recreational clothing. The upshot is that it worked both close-up and at a distance, something that most century jerseys and the like fail at.
As much as I liked Sugoi stuff, there were some issues. The jerseys were cut for casual riders. Even the small jerseys were like floppy T-shirts on me. And the bib shorts were cut for hipsters—they had no ass. Fitting me into a pair of their bibs required a bunch of extra tugging.
Since then, Sugoi has evolved continuously. Sure, the company was sold and is part of Dorel, Cannondale’s parent, but the real import of that is the way it gave the company additional resources in design, materials and construction.
Lately, I’ve been wearing the RSE bibs and jersey. While I’ve kept an eye on the evolution of Sugoi, there was a time when the stuff didn’t have any style and didn’t look like the fit had improved. Dear reader, those days are gone. There are a number of companies that have elected to forego graphic design to give a garment its look and instead use a combination of different fabrics and creative patterning in order to create a stylish look that remains true to the garment’s function. Assos has been doing this for years. So has Giordana. Capo and Castelli are making terrific examples as well. The point here isn’t that companies have given up on sublimation; you’ll still find sublimated touches on many pieces, but the top pieces for many of these companies are relying less on sublimation than creative design to create a simple, yet stylish, look.
Honestly, I can’t recall the last time someone introduced a more completely white jersey than this that didn’t have the look of a plain, white T-shirt. My general reaction to solid white jerseys is to think that Fruit of the Loom does the look better. But not this time.
I should make clear the jersey isn’t completely white; there are two sets of hatching just above the breast on the front. Additionally, the lower hem of the jersey and the cuffs of the sleeves are grippers sublimated black with the Sugoi logo. They’re cut from the same material. The front of the jersey is cut primarily from Sugoi’s Revo material, a nylon and spandex blend that offers more stretch than polyester, which makes it more suitable to a form-following fit. The back of the jersey, the backs of the sleeves and two small accent spots on the front of the jersey are all cut from Sugoi’s Revoflex material, which is a highly breathable mesh meant to wick moisture away from the body and allow it to evaporate quickly thanks to the waffle pattern of the material.
The surprise here is the the jersey has an understated look without looking plain-Jane.
There’s nothing really ground-breaking in its features. It’s got a full zipper, three pockets in back with a fourth, zippered, security pocket and is cut so that it follows the contours of a reasonably fit cyclist. It’s probably not cut slim enough for the Garmin team, but the medium works well on me.
There are two ways that these pro-fit jerseys go wrong, on the occasions the manufacturer didn’t get them right. The first is that the spandex content can be too high, making them ultra-stretchy, so that even in the appropriate size they end up feeling clingy. There’s a big difference between form-following and clingy. Think of the former as a hug and the latter as a needy girlfriend (or boyfriend). The second mistake some manufacturers will make is to cut the jersey too long. I’m not my former six-foot self. I’ve lost an inch due to spinal compression over the years, and as a result, I’ve run across some jerseys that are an inch or two too long; the hem ends up sitting on my butt, not at my waist, which is how these jerseys ought to be cut. With the RSE, I’m pleased to say Sugoi got the fit right.
Silicone is incorporated into the weave on the grippers, and because the hem and cuffs are each several centimeters long, and the grippers go the entire circumference of the sleeves and the jersey, once you put this jersey on, it doesn’t ride up on you. I like that.
What I like a bit less is that the Revo fabric seems to have a penchant for picking up any dye that bleeds off another garment. I’m in the process of riding some other new stuff from a competitor to Sugoi and some neon yellow dye bled into the RSE jersey. I’m not entirely sure where to place more of the fault, with the bleeder or the bleedee. This occurred in the hour after the laundry finished and before I hung it up. It’s been a while since I’ve encountered this issue. I’ll note that there were predominantly white jerseys from both Primal and Assos in the wash and they didn’t pick up any of the dye.
If I can get it out, I’ll let you know.
The dye issue aside, this is a terrific jersey. I like it much more than I expected. Is it worth $180? Yeah. I’ve encountered jerseys that were more expensive that delivered less. Plus, when I look at jerseys that run half as much, they seem to deliver less than half as much. Finally, for anyone who would like not to look like a billboard for someone else’s stuff, this is as low-key a look as you’ll find. Seriously, Sugoi deserves some praise for placing how you might want to look ahead of their branding considerations.
Next up, the RSE bibs.
My buddy Eric has moved twice in the last two years and has three kids. You math types out there probably have a differential equation to show that it wasn’t just likely that something would happen to his carbon fiber bike, it was unavoidable. But ask anyone who has ever had a carbon fiber frame damaged due to factors others think are inevitable and they’ll all tell you the same thing.
Inevitability can go suck it.
So before I dive into the specifics of what the damage was and how it was addressed, I should give you a tiny bit of back story on the frame itself. Eric, the owner of this frame isn’t just a buddy; he was also one of the people responsible for the beer fund. I know folks who know folks and at the end of the ’08 season Felt had some Garmin team frames that the team never took delivery of. I put Eric in touch with the right people and good things happened. Let me add, this is not the sort of transaction that gets advertised, but sometimes the right person gets lucky. His enthusiasm for this bike is what everyone ought to experience any time they buy a new bike.
This particular beauty is the previous generation of the F-series frame and is one of the rare Sprint layups. If memory serves, it tipped the scales at roughly 1100g (about a 10 percent increase in weight) but was closer 15 percent stiffer. Because this frame was painted, it was probably closer to 1300g. The important detail in this is that prior to his purchase, this frame had never been built, much less ridden, so the three-plus years of use he’d put on it were all it had. There was no chance there’d been any underlying damage due to previous use by a pro.
Unfortunately, one day Eric walked into the garage and noticed a crack on the non-drive-side seatstay. The crack wasn’t super-apparent, but it was noticeable and when he pressed on the carbon near the crack it would flex with some ease. Ugh.
He got in touch with me to ask about options. My one and only recommendation was that he contact Carbon Frame Repair. I’d met owner Joe Hendig at an event and was impressed with his work. He has worked in aerospace repairing carbon fiber structures (think carbon fiber jets and bombers) and doubles as a bike geek. It’s a handy combination, not unlike the electric guitar and Pete Townshend.
Eric says he wasn’t able to get a photo that captured the damage, but Joe at Carbon Frame Repair took a shot midway through the repair.
While this shot better shows the door to his repair shop than it does the seatstay (damn autofocus), you can still see clearly how layers of carbon fiber have been sanded away to remove damaged material, leaving a void that shows the inside of the seatstay. On a cognitive level, I understand the steps necessary to do the repair, but the reality of how to vacuum-bag a completed frame mystifies me. He talks a bit about the fact that he does the operation, and for those who don’t know why it’s necessary he explains how it’s important to achieving proper compaction so the frame will be as strong as before, not to mention weighing the same. Leaving a lot of old resin in the frame would add weight without adding any strength or even restoring the previous strength.
Here’s a shot from his web site of another repair he did that shows the work area in better focus:
I’ve seen a number of carbon fiber frames repaired. Many of them included lumps and wrinkles or other obvious cues that a repair had taken place. The lack of any effort to repaint them and conceal the repair was, honestly, unnerving. Of course, paint alone shouldn’t make you feel good about a bike that has experienced this:
As it happens, Joe has also repaired a number of surf boards and surfers won’t suffer a board that looks like it just returned from a war zone. Eric tells me he can’t see the repair, that the only way he even knows it’s not completely original is lack of the dashed lines denoting the argyle in the blue and orange diamonds. He says the color is spot-on.
This is the repaired side:
This is the undamaged side:
I’ve looked at a number of images and can’t find the repair. Eric tells me that the transition point happens in the “o” in Vittoria. What he says he can see in-person at reading distance is a slight change in color in the weave; the new stuff is lighter in color that the original. He took a number of images and says he couldn’t manage to record it. In his words, “The human eye can see it, but the camera can’t.” He adds, “At 10 feet, even I can’t see it. He blended the weave so well that the only way you can discern a difference is by the color.”
Joe at Carbon Frame Repair offers an a la carte menu for repairs. It varies by the severity of the damage, from “Mere Flesh Wound” all the way up to “Hella FUBARed.” Refinishing is separate and ranges from just clear coat (Raw Dog) to what Eric had done (Pimp My Repair). With shipping, Eric’s repair came to $540. The site does a nice job of spelling out what your expectations should be. From what I can tell, he’s a miracle worker with frames, but he can’t Lazarus everything. Some frames are beyond repair. And some stuff he doesn’t touch. He won’t do forks, any carbon components or some wheels.
Dude’s got 20 years of experience. It shows.
The repair took four weeks, start to finish, including shipping.
I have two boys and a garage full of carbon fiber. One day, hopefully not soon, I know I’m going to have an experience like Eric’s. It’s nice to know I won’t have to ask around about what to do when that day comes. Does that sound like an endorsement for a service provider I’ve never used? I’m okay with that.
If the day comes that your baby needs rescuing, just click here.
We rolled out of the grocery store parking lot, the meet up, and shimmied along the shoulder of the road to where the trail banked away up the hill. I said to Rob, “I just don’t ride mountain bikes enough to be any good at it,” and he said, “You seem like a capable enough rider.”
On the face of it, this was a compliment, but as I pistoned away awkwardly at the pedals, I circled back to that word, capable, and sussed it for its true meaning.
I recall sitting in my college counselor’s office, her in a high-backed leather chair, me in the standard issue plastic bowl chair endemic to high schools the world over, and her saying, “Well, John, we should maybe readjust your expectations a little. Your test scores suggest you’re capable of a lot more than your grades bear out.” The ensuing paragraph is lost to me now, but it certainly included the words ‘underachiever,’ ‘wasted potential,’ and ‘lazy.’
I nodded not-sagely. I could see her point, but that horse had already left the barn. “What does it really take,” I thought, “to sit through a liberal arts degree anyway?”
I had not yet broken a sweat, winding up through the rocks and soft dirt of the first climb, when all of this crystallized in my mind. Unwittingly, Rob had called out one of my great struggles.
To be capable is good. It is always preferable to to the other option, that state which finds you prone in a ditch off the side of the road or trail waiting for heart rate and will to return. Capable connotes the intersection of ability and potential. It is the blue sky overhead, the capacious mind, the hot-burning fire of imagination.
The trick, and this is especially true if the well of capacity runs deep, is that it takes a long time and a lot of effort to hoist that heavy bucket of capability up and out into the sunshine. Capability is good, but when it’s not wed to the drive to explore its every depth and contour, college counselors go branding you a lazy, underachiever.
In the end, I secured a B.A. cum laude in philosophy at a well-respected private university. It would have been a complete waste of time had I not met my wife while there and been pushed to take composition classes with a wise and patient author, a man whose kindness as regards my then (and possibly still) immature prose-style launched me on this path you find me now.
Being a capable cyclist has also allowed me to log a lot of miles over a period of decades. Very few of them passed quickly, and rare is the person who has marveled at my great skill on the bike. I am capable, but maybe not a natural.
The things is, somewhere in my soul, I reject many of the measures of capability. I have usually not seen the point of achievements, at least as they are commonly measured: grades, degrees, race placings, bank balances. If you can have these things, they are nice to have. If you can not, there are other things to focus your energy on.
The things I aspire to, patience, decency, peace, acceptance, truth and love, don’t chart very well. The things I got out of school, out of cycling, out of life, were never likely to be quantifiable in a way that meant something to anyone other than me. Maybe this is the patent rationalization of an underachiever, or maybe it’s just a simpler, more realistic way to live.
I am capable of showing up, of behaving reasonably well, and of enjoying myself. As near as I can tell, that’s the whole game, the whole challenge. And if there is one great thing I have become capable of, it is seeing that, at last, no matter how bad I am on a mountain bike.
Image: Matt O’Keefe