The Who album “Who’s Next” was meant to be a concept album, called “Lifehouse,” the follow-up to “Tommy.” It was meant to resonate with Eastern mysticism and spirituality and was so ambitious it was meant to make Tommy seem like a kid’s musical. But Pete Townshend had a nervous breakdown once he realized he couldn’t explain the whole of the narrative in a song sequence. Rather than release a muddled and confused concept album, he ended up pulling the best songs into a single album. The result, “Who’s Next,” is considered by many rock critics to be one of the great rock albums of all time.
That seems a fair backdrop by which to introduce the Alex Gibney documentary, “The Armstrong Lie.” I’m not going to claim that this is one of the greatest documentaries ever committed to celluloid, but there can be no doubt that the result from his failed attempt to document Armstrong’s comeback makes a far more interesting film than what he had intended.
We live in an age where many documentarians editorialize; they manipulate the watcher to adopt the filmmaker’s viewpoint rather than allowing the viewer to draw his own conclusions. Michael Moore’s work is a great example of this. As much as I might agree with many of his positions, I’d rather not be subjected to an agenda. Present the info and if the dots are there, I’ll connect them for myself.
Early on, as Gibney was working on this film, it was often criticized as a puff piece. I heard those exact words used in conjunction with it; even Betsy Andreu uses those words in the film when being interviewed by Gibney. Reduced to its most contrasting elements, the film began as a celebration of Armstrong, then rounded on him in the wake of the USADA Reasoned Decision. Imagine a rock doc that captures a band at the height of their popularity, then checks back in with them four years later as they are breaking up. You see the elation that comes with adulation, and then you see the recrimination that comes with the broken spell. Oof.
When I walked out of the theater, I had a headache. I’d ridden such bumpy course of emotions I was exhausted. That’s the particular genius of this film. When I sat down, I vowed that I’d simply allow the film to tell its story and try not to impose my will on what I thought the story should be. “Let’s just see what story he tells,” I told myself. What happened was that I was taken back to each of those seven Tours, reminded of the adventure of watching those races play out. I was transported back in time to roads in the Alps and Pyrenees, to a bar in St. Jean de Maurienne where when Armstrong shot into the grass after Joseba Beloki crashed, a woman I knew screamed at the TV, “He’s cheating! He’s cheating!” and how I thought to myself, “You have no idea. You’re as right as you are wrong.”
There was the ache of injustice I felt for the Andreus every time they appeared on camera, the loathing I tasted for Stephanie McIlvain when her voicemail to Betsy Andreu was played, the schadenfreude that made me smile when Floyd Landis said, “At some point you gotta tell people Santa Claus isn’t real.”
In the interviews, I could still see Armstrong’s old charm, but I could also see the bully, the bluster. And yes, there were the lies. Enough of them to base a movie on. Gibney sought out archival footage in forgotten corners, stuff I’d never seen. Further, in addition to the Andreus, he interviewed Bicycling editor-at-large Bill Strickland, as well as former editor Steve Madden. He also interviewed Armstrong’s bete noir, David Walsh, as well as “The Secret Race” coauthor Daniel Coyle. He even got time with Michele Ferrari.
The film never tells you what to feel, what to decide, but it did lead me to a conclusion I’d not considered previously. While it’s easy to point to Floyd Landis as the catalyst for Armstrong’s downfall, I now think we’d elevated him to such heights, polished his story to such a chromed reflection that our American sensibilities simply wouldn’t permit us to leave him on a pedestal. Once the comeback was set in motion, so was his downfall. Had there been no Landis, there would still have been Jeff Novitzky and Tyler Hamilton. If there’d been no Hamilton, there’d still have been Levi Leipheimer. We were going to tear the Armstrong myth down, with prejudice. It’s just what this culture does. In that, Armstrong is that most American of myths. The key, I believe, isn’t that we can’t abide a hero, it’s that at some point we come to understand that any story so lofty, so heroic, must be built on some sort of lie. As much as we profess, as a culture, to want saints, deep down we know they don’t exist and we seem to delight in knocking them down to expose the lies. Armstrong himself observes, it’s not that he “lived a bunch of lies;” it’s that he “lived one big lie.”
Armstrong’s story will endure, not just in cycling, but in sport; he is the modern Icarus, and Gibney’s film is a clear-eyed account of both the rise and the fall. It makes me wonder, who’s next?
With the release of the book “Wheelmen” by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell of the Wall Street Journal, Lance Armstrong, the US Postal Service, EPO and Greg LeMond are all back in the news. While I’m enjoying the book so far—Albergotti and O’Connell are fine writers and I’m hoping to pick up a few new details in their narrative—what cycling needs going into the off season isn’t more play on Armstrong. Rather, we would do well to focus on the way forward and what the new president of the UCI, Brian Cookson, is working on.
The trouble is, neither LeMond nor Armstrong are willing call it a day and just move forward. Armstrong is still holding out hope that he can sit down with WADA and weave a tale of doping that will rehabilitate his standing with them such that he’ll be able to compete before President Obama leaves office. Supposing for a second that he’s actually able to get his ban reduced to time served, that misses the larger point. The spell has been broken. No one wants to see Armstrong compete. No one.
I respect that Lance’s plan is get the ban cut, then go to Nike, et al, and secure new sponsorship. Maybe not at the rate he used to get, but get a positive cash flow going. What he doesn’t seem to fathom is that right now he is a guaranteed PR black eye. For anyone, but especially Nike.
It’s fair to wonder why Armstrong won’t just curl up in a corner to lick his wounds. Maybe that speaks to why he won the Tour seven times. And for those who are talking to the screen right now, screaming that he didn’t win the Tour, he did. Maybe not fair—or square—but the top of those fields was dirty. One doper beat all the other dopers. That was the game for those years.
The release of “Wheelmen” has served as the perfect opportunity to quote Greg LeMond on all things Lance. In a recent interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN LeMond opined that Armstrong would barely have cracked the top 30 as a clean rider. I’m not sure that anyone is in a position to make such a sweeping statement about him or the riders from that era. Armstrong dropped a lot of weight ahead of his fourth place at the ’98 Vuelta—and we have every reason to believe he was on EPO before the cancer. He only got better after the ’98 Vuelta, so what changed? Dutch estimates hold that 80 percent of the peloton was on EPO. Honestly, no one can say that had the entire peloton been clean that Armstrong wouldn’t have finished in the top ten.
LeMond went on to volunteer that he thought Armstrong ought to be in jail. There’s no doubt that Big Tex wronged a great many people. What he did to Emma O’Reilly and the Andreus has not ceased to trouble me. Losing a job for sticking with the truth under oath (as Frankie Andreu did) must qualify you as a martyr. But of Armstrong’s many sins none currently seem to hold the potential for sending him on an all-expense-paid trip to the big house. So why offer the opinion that he ought to be in jail? Certainly that’s not analysis, not the way his assertion that Armstrong wasn’t capable of winning the Tour clean was.
From the earliest days of the LeMond/Armstrong conflict there has been an unseemly, jealous and petty sense to LeMond’s dislike of Arrmstrong. What has always bugged me about LeMond’s ire for Armstrong was the same thing that disturbed me about David Walsh’s pursuit of him, that it seemed personal, blind to the other dopers. Walsh’s book “Seven Deadly Sins” traces his path and demonstrates the circumstances why Walsh was so focused on Armstrong. Without putting words in his mouth, I think it’s fair to summarize Walsh’s Armstrong quest as synecdoche, wherein one small part serves to stand for the whole—referring to your car as your wheels. For Walsh, Armstrong seems to have been (rightly) the tip of the iceberg.
It’s harder for LeMond to claim that he had an overarching concern for doping unless he’s more naive than anyone else who ever raced the Tour. We know that Miguel Indurain, Gianni Bugno, Claudio Chiappucci would never have taken the podium at the ’91 Tour without the aid of EPO. Why has he never called them out?
It’s interesting that when LeMond retired three years later that he didn’t reveal that he understand what had hit him. The reason he gave for his retirement was a pathology, mitochondrial myopathy, which he related to his brother-in-law mistaking him for a turkey. At the time, blaming his inability to kick Miguel Indurain’s ass on lead in his chest seemed the most graceful explanation. It was, however, wrong. The real explanation was simpler. LeMond was getting beat because there were dozens of guys on EPO. He was being forced to race well into the red zone for far longer than he had in previous tours. So why didn’t he say anything then?
Armstrong’s problem with LeMond was that he needed to believe LeMond doped in order to think that he was no worse. Armstrong may never let go of his belief that LeMond doped. There’s still a certain amount of derisive snorting about LeMond’s B12 miracle shot, administered near the end of the ’89 Giro. The stupid thing here is that the obvious doping alternative would be anabolic steroids, which were very easy to catch in the 1980s.
The value to the book Albergotti and O’Connell have written is that it is likely to serve as the functional narrative for the EPO era. Because there are people who dismiss everything Tyler Hamilton says, because he previously lied, and because the USADA Reasoned Decision isn’t packaged as a single story, “Wheelmen” may prove to be the definitive version of this story.
The upshot to this is that any further attempt by Armstrong to confess as a means to rehabilitate his image, which will really only be a pretext to getting back to competition, will have to meet a very high bar of revelation. Not only will he need to reveal the juiciest of details behind everything everyone else has documented, but the days of him denying eyewitness accounts are over. Sure, he can deny all he wants, but the problem he faces is that the days of giving him the benefit of the doubt are over. In a he said/she said, we used to award him the point. What he doesn’t seem to follow is that we no longer give his word any weight. This is a point that can’t be exaggerated. If Charles Manson said he watched Armstrong eat babies, no matter what Armstrong said, any reasonable person would send his toothbrush to the lab.
The problem isn’t that Armstrong doesn’t know what the truth is, it’s that he doesn’t understand that he doesn’t have the ability to shape the story anymore. Until he understands that, there’s no reason for him to speak. Until he really understands what “the full truth” means, he’s useless to cycling.
But what of LeMond? He has all of American cycling at his feet. Oakley and Giro have apologized to him. Who knows how many others have quietly made amends. He’s won three Tours, beaten Bernard Hinault into submission, had a bike line developed, distributed and sold by Trek. He is now working with Time to produce his bikes, while he has taken on the distributorship of Time here in the U.S.
By any measure, it’s a charmed existence. Yet, the feature most common to all his dealings is conflict, most often exemplified by lawsuits.
Game, set, match. They are all his. When will he find peace, happiness?
[Ed. note: We reached out to LeMond with a request for an interview but got no response.]
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
RKP has applied for a $250,000 grant through a program with Chase Small Business called Mission Main Street. To be considered, though, we need a little love. Specifically, we need 250 votes, one for every $1000 awarded in order to be considered.
So what would we do with that money? Hire more contributors, mostly. We’ve been talking to a number of people about bringing them on to RKP. This grant could allow us to do all we want with all of them for at least three years. It would also allow us to pay contributors who have just been writing for us with no reward other than love and fame. They’ve gotten lots of the former, but perhaps not enough of the latter. Contributors aren’t the only addition. Management is the other addition, specifically, someone to mind day-to-day stuff. It’s help we sorely need.
And you, dear reader, you have the opportunity to help us. You’ve come through for us in ways big and small. We’re grateful for all you’ve done. This one is a small ask: Please click on this link right here and then hit the button that says “VOTE.”
Trust us, your vote could change lives. As always, thanks for reading.
Now that Pat McQuaid has been voted out of the UCI presidency and the troubled institution is being led by Brian Cookson, there is some reasonable hope that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be formed and testimony will take place. Given how cycling has been governed since the UCI was formed, this is a turn of events so surprising and unlikely it is befitting an Aaron Sorkin screenplay.
Let’s imagine it for a second: Someone will be willing to pay attention as Jesus Manzano speaks.
Consider that Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton will have an opportunity to sit down in the same room as members of the UCI, tell everything they saw and took part in while members of U.S. Postal and Phonak, and when finished Pat McQuaid won’t be there to call them “scumbags.”
Now that we have the faith that the UCI has a president who will actually do what he says, and that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission will convene, we have a question to consider: How far back should the TRC look? Technically, the choice of how far to look back belongs to Cookson or whoever he charges with running the TRC, but that Cookson is president now owes much to public outcry. We do have a voice and the success of a TRC will rest on public satisfaction.
So who should testify? The TRC should do more than just listen to riders and team personnel. We should hear from as many doctors, pharmacists and lab techs as possible. Let’s include the odd motorcycle driver or two. This testimony will be key in corroborating what the riders say. Anyone watching social media has noticed that there’s some suspicion about whether George Hincapie, Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie, Tom Danielson and Levi Leipheimer confessed all of their doping to USADA or not. Testimony from medical professionals and coaches will have the ability to confirm their previous testimony or demonstrate that they withheld some activity. It will also show just how fearful riders were of Travis Tygart, or not.
However, if the TRC only looks back as far as 1999, it won’t be far enough. We will have little reason to be satisfied. The TRC needs the freedom, resources and time necessary to take testimony from anyone with a heartbeat. That means we should listen to Belgian soigneurs from the 1950s. We should listen to guys like Lucien Aimar, who was a domestique for Jacques Anquetil. And yes, we should listen to Eddy Merckx.
Why go so far back? Because it will educate the sport’s governing body, riders, team staff, the public and sponsors—in short every stakeholder the sport has—on how entrenched doping and attitudes toward doping have been. Because it was ingrained at an institutional level, it will show that cycling takes doping not just more seriously than any other sport, but as seriously as one may take it. That is what will be necessary to win back sponsor and audience confidence.
The reality is that we won’t hear from everyone we would like to. We must also accept that the UCI is unlikely to allow the TRC to run for five years. They need to focus their effort, concentrate on the biggest part of the problem. To that end, I suggest that we do what we can to encourage testimony from as far back as 1990.
Based on everything I’ve learned about the rise of oxygen-vector doping, I think we can put a date on when doping fundamentally change in pro cycling. That date? May 18,1990. With it comes a specific location: Bari, Italy. That was the day and the location of the prologue for the 1990 Giro d’Italia, which was won by Gianni Bugno. Bugno went on to wear the pink jersey for the 19 days, all the way to the finish in Milan. It was the first time a rider had led the Giro from start to finish since Eddy Merckx did it in 1973. Because we know Bugno worked with Francesco Conconi and testing revealed a high hematocrit—for which he was sanctioned—I think it’s fair to mark this as the date when racing grand tours changed. Fair enough, that is, until we get testimony through a TRC.
Simply put, the 1990 Giro was the first grand tour won with the aid of EPO.
While EPO use changed the whole of racing, it had the greatest effect on the grand tours, where being able to stay out of the red zone thanks to extra red blood cells paid dividends as the race wore on. It was during the 1990 season that Bugno and Claudio Chiappucci stormed to prominence. A year later Miguel Indurain won his first Tour de France, and like Chiappucci and Bugno, Big Mig counted Conconi among his advisors.
The 1990 season was a turning point in that not only did it see the first grand tour won with the aid of EPO (the Giro), it also saw the last clean win in the Tour de France prior to two generations of wins tainted by oxygen-vector doping. Has there been a clean winner of the Tour since Greg LeMond’s 1990 win? Very probably, but certainly not between 1991 and 2006. The possibility of a clean winner seems to have grown more convincing with each year since 2007.
A TRC has the ability to settle this question.
Now, regarding LeMond, it’s easy enough to find comments on Facebook or Twitter from people willing to accuse him of having doped. Even without a TRC, the evidence suggests that in 1989 each of the grand tours was won without oxygen-vector doping. The Vuelta was won by Pedro Delgado, the Giro by Laurent Fignon and the Tour by LeMond. Each of those guys had won a grand tour prior to the availability of EPO. While we know that both Delgado and Fignon doped, we have reason to believe they weren’t using EPO in ’89. What’s interesting about ’89 is that this is the year Chiappucci, Bugno and Indurain began to threaten the GC. In ’89 Chiappucci finished 46th and 81st in the Giro and Tour, respectively. A year later? A remarkable 12th and 2nd. In ’88, Bugno withdrew from the Giro and finished the Tour in 62nd. In ’89 he went 23rd and 11th. In ’90, of course, he won the Giro and finished the Tour in 7th. Indurain’s rise was more gradual, less outwardly suspicious; he finished 97th in the ’87 Tour, but gradually climbed the ranks up to 47th, 17th and 10th before winning.
What makes all three of these riders of a piece is the fact that they started anonymously before rising to prominence. LeMond, Fignon, Merckx and Bernard Hinault all share in common the fact that their brilliance and potential shown early on. LeMond differs only in that he didn’t win his first Tour—he was third.
Lance Armstrong is accused of being at the center of the greatest doping program in history, the greatest sporting fraud ever perpetrated. It’s a charge we can’t really resolve. If there was a greater sporting fraud, it hasn’t been exposed. Ultimately, this isn’t a terribly important question. What the Armstrong fall has done, however, is to open the public’s eyes to the breadth of doping that has taken place. It has introduced suspicion into the cycling fan’s vocabulary. The problem before us is how to put this behind us. We may never put the genie back in the bottle, but a TRC has the ability to educate us on more than just who doped; it has the ability to clear those who did not dope.
Aside from simply dispensing the truth, a TRC will freshly frame the achievement of riders like LeMond, riders who would have accomplished more were it not for the rise of EPO. A TRC that reaches back to 1990 will give us a new way to define courage.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
I was a middle-class kid, as tormented by boredom as by the peer pressure of my preppy cohort. Bound for college and an easy passage to comfortable adulthood, nonetheless I acted out in all sorts of ways. I listened to punk rock bands and drank too much and did all the drugs I could. I grew my hair, and then I shaved my head. I rode a bike.
There is power in alienation, in embracing otherness and using it as a motivator. There is power in the anger that comes from being treated differently, even when the difference is small or manufactured. The greatest conformists among us still want to be rebels. It’s an attractive image, rebels in our minds, if not in our realities.
Our twenty-year-old selves were self-styled iconoclasts. We wrote bad, angry songs and reveled in having no money. The bike was an integral and functional part of that manufactured poverty, an expression of the freedom we wanted, mainly from other people’s reasonable expectations.
The truth is that, even with our tattoos and ardent devotion to the most unlistenable music, we were never so unique. In a country of 300 million people, even being one-in-300 makes you part of a counter-culture, one-million strong. Maybe none of the old punk bands we idolized made a lot of money from selling records to willfully poor kids after their shows, but that doesn’t mean a million or more people didn’t find a way to know and love their songs.
Cycling is that same brand of marginal, at least here in the States. We the be-lycra’d few, with our too-thin bodies (sometimes) and our shaved legs often hold ourselves apart, a smug counterpoint to the football-loving masses. Cars and bikes might as well be sharks and minnows. Are you with the sharks? Of course not.
Cyclists are different. We wear small funny hats and shoes we can’t walk in. We obsess over races that take place in France and Belgium and Italy and Spain, races with strategies as transparent as pond water. We are worldly, thoughtful, nuanced.
More than 70,000 of us took out race licenses with USA Cycling last year. According to the League of American Bicyclists there are about 57 million of us in total, cyclists. We are not minnows. We are not marginal. These are not sexy truths. This is not fist in the air stuff.
I’m older now, and though the music in my headphones is still loud and inaccessible to most of my peers, I’m turning out spreadsheets, booking orders, and plotting marketing strategies like a grown up. I am usually planning my next tattoo, but the ink never runs because I spend the money on hockey skates and summer camp for my kids.
I’m not dangerous. I’m not weird.
Still, rebellion is motivation. Every time I pull on layers of wool topped with Gore-Tex I rebel against the weather. Every time I cut the corner of someone’s backyard to get to a trail some kids have thrashed into the woods, I push back against the constraints of adulthood. It’s bullshit, small stuff, but it works for me.
Motivation is priceless, and sometimes you have to get some flavor of aggro with yourself, with society, or with the laws of physics, just to get out the door. I sometimes shudder to think of the poses I struck as a young, angry man, except they brought me this far. They put me on my bike.
And thank god for that.
I am still not quite sure I believe that Brian Cookson has been elected president of the UCI. In my mind, there is still room for a CAS appeal or some other evil legal machination to reseat Pat McQuaid, returning us to the dark ages from which are only just now stumbling, blinking, into the half-light of the modern day.
If however it is true, and Cookson is the man, then we can begin to ask the very serious question, who is Brian Cookson really? Up to this point, it has been sufficient for him only to be Not Pat McQuaid. Not Pat McQuaid is enormously popular as it turns out. That guy has global appeal.
But this Brian Cookson could be anybody. I don’t think I’m alone in adjudging his campaign statements as nothing but anodyne crap aimed at not offending anyone. His was the sort of promise-rich, plan-poor presentation that would almost certainly never earn my vote, even for a seat on the local garden committee. If I’m honest though, in this case I would have supported the guy even if I thought he was incompetent. At least, we’d have had a different incompetent to talk about.
But defying my skepticism, there is already good stuff happening, right things being said. There is this, and then there is this. In fact, the very first thing the new man did was this, which was probably a good idea and shows just how low the incumbent had sunk in reasonable people’s estimation.
Who knows if any of the stuff on that laptop will see the light of day, but the simple act of seizing it shows where Cookson’s head is at. Stay tuned for the next story where all of the office furniture in the UCI’s Aigle headquarters gets dragged out onto the front lawn and burned. Stay tuned for pictures of the Bishop of Lausanne getting invited down for an exorcism. This could get fun.
This week’s Group Ride asks, now that Cookson is elected, what ought to be his top priority to move the sport forward? I am guessing that many will want a Truth & Reconciliation process first, but the sport has so many pressing challenges. There is the ongoing effort to drive doping from the sport through proper testing and maintenance of the Biological Passport program. There is the alarming exodus of sponsorship money at the top of the sport. There is the promotion of women’s cycling, and the reorganization of the UCI World Tour. Do we look forward, to borrow a phrase, or do we look back? What is most important now? What are your top three items for Brian Cookson’s to-do list?
Padraig: When fitting a customer for a bike, how do you usually work? How often is it in person?
Brian Baylis: Every customer is different. If they can get here, that’s the best way. Anyone who’s going to buy a Baylis has had a lot of bikes. They are real, dedicated cyclists. They usually come with a bike they like and they know why they like it. It’s just asking a lot of questions. You have no idea why, but I’m asking questions. I’m writing down things and by the end I have all the dimensions I need. It takes probably a 100 questions or so. What do you like, what don’t you like, what would you change?
I need three photos of rider on bike: bar tops, hooks, hoods. It’s not unusual for their not to be any significant changes. All they have to tell me is what they want. I know what to do.
Padraig: Let’s talk about geometry: Would you say your all your bikes have a consistent ride that is your signature, or do you vary your geometry based on the customer’s preferences and needs?
Brian Baylis: The answer to that should be apparent but I respond to what the customer’s needs are. I’ve owned over 100 bikes in 40 years. I’ve made myself over 50 bikes. You learn a thing or two about how bikes ride when you own that many.
You have to respect what the rider wants the experience to be.
Padraig: What informs your sense of color?
Brian Baylis: It started off with Imron in ’74 when we first started using it. Imron was brand new. They still didn’t know how to do metallics. They were fleet truck colors. Not really classy looking on the bike. I wanted good paint colors. I tried lacquers. That didn’t work. I asked the paint shop to put pearls in Imron. I was probably the first to do pearl in Imron, definitely the first to do it on bicycles.
I hate metallic Imron colors. I like pearls.
I learned I could make all my own colors by purchasing toners. Most of my colors are two or three layers, custom-mixed on the spot. Most are in layers, techniques no one was using back in the day. I’ve been mixing my own colors for 40 years.
Padraig: How long is the wait for new customers?
Brian Baylis: I really don’t tell anybody anything. I’ve been in a catchup mode and overseeing a remodel of my home. I tell people I’m not taking orders, but I take orders as a feel like it. It’s no rhyme or reason. I don’t want to take on anything that’ll make it hard to catch up. There are so many tire kickers … I hate taking the time to quote someone and then having them say it’s too expensive.
Padraig: In the interest of keeping the tire kickers to a minimum, what’s your pricing like?
Brian Baylis: They start at $5000 and go up. What I do for $5000 is what you generally see. You come to me for a reason. Sometimes someone comes to me and says I want a Baylis, but I want to keep it simple to keep the cost down. I tell them, ‘Then you don’t want a Baylis.’
Most of the work is in the mitering, cleaning, preparation. I may only spend eight hours on the lugs. I make a drawing for every single bike; it’s an individual bike down to every single tube.
Padraig: What’s your life away from building like? Are you racing or do you have outside interests?
Brian Baylis: I love playing drums, been doing it a long time. And I’m good at it. I make knives, too, and stained glass as well.
Postscript: Unfortunately for me and anyone else who’d like to purchase one of Brian’s frame’s, he has announced his retirement. His last day of building will occur on 11/12/13. This is a real loss to the community. Those his output was never high, it was always stellar. I liken it to the rate at which Peter Gabriel releases albums. We can only hope that his retirement is unsatisfying and that he chooses to light his torch again someday. Until then, enjoy the riding, Brian.
Padraig: Where are you based?
Brian Baylis: I guess technically La Mesa, not San Diego. We’ll call La Mesa headquarters.
Padraig: Is that where you grew up?
Brian Baylis: I grew up in initially in Burbank and from 10 or so lived in Huntington Beach. When I discovered cycling I was just graduating high school in Huntington Beach. I would call my hometown Huntington Beach.
Padraig: When did you move to San Diego?
Brian Baylis: The first time was in 1973. I moved to Carlsbad to work for Masi. My first out-of-town experience was when I moved to Carlsbad to work for Masi in 1973. I was working for a Rolls Royce dealership in Orange County when the job with Masi came up. I met Faliero Masi, the manager and Mario [Confente, head builder] and everybody at a race in Escondido in ’73. I was racing an Italian Masi. Faliero autographed my number. They were all watching the race. I got there right at the beginning. They had only made a few frames.
I asked, ‘You need anybody to work there?’ I had a delivery for Rolls Royce down there and I stopped in and filled out an application. Very shortly after that I got two of my friends jobs there. One was Mike Howard, the other was David Vander Linde, someone no one knows. I think he’s a geologist in Boston now. He got me into cycling. He was the bassist in a band I was in. He said get a bike and we’ll go for a bike tour. We ended up renting a house together—me, Howard and Vander Linde.
Padraig: What’s the riding like there (where you live now)?
Brian Baylis: It’s actually outstanding. If you go east, you go out in the mountains, up into Alpine and all those big climbs. And then you’ve got your coastal ride, down to Coronado and all that. The riding is fantastic, into the boonies or along with coast with all the tri guys. And it’s not really badly trafficked either. A lot of riding out east. We have a velodrome here as well. We have it all, whatever you want.
Padraig: How long have you been building?
Brian Baylis: Since ’73. Yeah, the very first time I held a torch was Mario teaching me how to braze front dropouts in fork blades. I learned silver brazing on my own. I built my very first frame silver-brazed in 1974. It’s still alive and well, in a guy’s collection, totally rideable.
Brazing is the easiest part of frame building.
Brazing with brass—because you’re much nearer the end of the heat range for the tubing—is really tough. You’ve got to be really good. Silver is really easy. There’s no reason to learn to braze with brass unless you plan to do production stuff.
Second time I moved to San Diego was working for Masi in 1976. I built four custom frames. Start to finish including paint.
Padraig: What different roles did you hold while at Masi?
Brian Baylis: My first job was building wheels. Faliero showed me how to build wheels his way. Then glued tires on each one, his way, no glue on anything. Then, assembling parts, handlebars in stems with brake levers, also toe clips and straps to pedals. Filled up bin after bin full of these subassemblies. After that, then they started me with brazing and filing and stuff. With filing to clean up dropouts, seatstays and caps, fork crowns, shaping of lugs. There are all kinds of filing. That was the first time I worked there. And then at some point I became the painter’s assistant. I was the third American hired. Mike was being groomed for brazer. David and Chuck Hofer filed all the lugs for Masis for a few years.
Padraig: When did you start painting bikes?
Brian Baylis: The first painting I did was Wizards.
Every Wizard we made, we did a full-scale drawing. Got how to do that out of the Italian CONI manual. That’s where we started.
Padraig: What year did Wizard start?
Brian Baylis: Wizard Cycles started around the middle of ’74. What it came down to was Jim Adne. He worked at Yellow Jersey in Madison, Wisconsin. Master’s degree in physics. He wasn’t stupid. Mario had some faults; he was a little insecure. One day Jim says, I don’t have to take this.
Mario pissed Jim off enough that he said I’ve had enough of this and left. Mike ended up taking off, too. Mario treated him badly. One day Mike tossed his apron on the bench one day and walked out the door.
Mario didn’t like me, but Faliero liked me just fine. The only people who worked for Mario who went on to be professional builders, Mario didn’t like.
Frame building is an easy thing to do, at least in its basic form.
Frame building is mostly a design exercise.
I’m building for the next generation. Time will tell the real story. I’m building for when most of these craftspeople are gone. I’m building for quality, not quantity. My job is build bikes that stand the test of time. There are all kinds of different people and different frame builders. I’m a bit of a fanatic.
Padraig: How long did in Wizard run?
Brian Baylis: We went back to Masi when Mario and those guys got fired. Middle of ’76. We quit to begin Wizard, and I moved from Huntington Beach to Leucadia. Mike was the brazing foreman and head brazer. I was painting foreman and taught all the guys how to shape and file the lugs. By then we were using investment cast lugs.
Those lugs, Masi was the very first company to use investment cast lugs. Made by Microfusione in Italy. Same company made all the stuff for Cinelli. It was their work that was copied by the Chinese and Taiwanese.
The very first set didn’t allow for shrinkage. They shrink about 14% and so they were all miniatures.
Padraig: How long did you stay?
Brian Baylis: We all thought Bill Recht was going to buy Masi USA. Bill couldn’t complete the purchase and moved to LA and started Medici. That was in ’77 or ’78. Medici was in downtown LA. Medici’s were painted in Mario’s shop.
I stayed in Encinitas. Went to Alaska for a while. I was in a monastery. It was a half a year of really intense self-realization. Then Ted Kirkbride called me. That was 1980. He had started a coop in San Marcos. Ted Kirkbride purchased the right to make Masis. Jim Allen was the painter. He had this building, put in a spray booth and all these cubicles. Dave Moulton, Dave Tesch and Joe Stark were all making Masis. For a period of time the building was shipping Masi, Moulton, Baylis and Tesch.
We parted company when Masi moved into their new building in ’83. That’s when CyclArt rented that building. Moulton and Tesch moved into their own spaces as well.
I did a super-special gold-plated Masi in ’83. The last time I really worked for someone else was then.
Padraig: Who makes the tubing and lugs you like to use?
Brian Baylis: I stick with the vintage tubing. It has always worked and is always going to work. I use Reynolds 531 and Columbus SL, SP and PL and PS. I love Nervex Professionals. Most folks don’t want to put the kind of work into them to make them beautiful. They have tremendous potential. There are characteristics that allow me to do things with them.
I use Prugnat, too, but don’t like Bocama much.
The question is what do you do with them. I’ve been doing it 40 years and I’m not even close to running out of things to do with them.
Padraig: Tell us about the jig you use.
Brian Baylis: The fixture I have is one made by Jim Allen. This was when I was working down in San Marcos. It’s the same design as he made for Ted Kirkbride for making Masis. I have another that makes the rear ends and the forks.
I really don’t use it for all that long. It’s in there a half hour or an hour. You get it in there and tack it and the take it out.
I have two granite tables. All a fixture does is save time.
Pinning was developed because you couldn’t take a frame and tack it. They did that back in the Stone Age. If you’re a modern frame builder and you tack a frame properly, and tack it in three places on each tube. I don’t see any point in doing it except for fork crowns because when you begin brazing the crown will slide down the steering column.
I begin with a seat tube already brazed into the bottom bracket shell.
I call it cheap insurance.
Padraig: What sort of cutting and shaping of lugs do you like to perform? Does it vary from bike to bike or are there stylistic elements people can find running through all your bikes?
Brian Baylis: The way I go about designing a lug, the first thing I try to do is not to do the thing I did before. It’s not impossible but not easy. There are certain general elements that are successful. Points, some are long, some are short. I know where to stop and what elements to put in and how to join them. You gotta know how to combine elements. The trick is learning how to make the shoreline, to make something original but not too original. I was once asked to cut a lug that looked like the nose of a pig. I passed on that. If it works for me, most folks will like it. A friend of mine who is an artist and went to art school said, ‘Your lugs always have proper proportions.’
The thing about Baylis frames is, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen one. In 40 years I’ve not made two bikes the same. Each shape of a lug cutout is an individual creation. I cut what I feel like, what I feel is appropriate, but I’ve done Fleur di Lis, hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs.
I like to cut lugs out because windows are an aid to brazing. They help penetration.
The Gore Oxygen Jacket is a classic rain cape: waterproof as a sippy cup, tail longer than a cat’s, less insulated than the feelings of a poet and only slightly more breathable than Tupperware. You expect those things in a rain cape the way you expect any car you drive to go fast enough to achieve freeway speeds. Without that, what’s the point? And I’ll say that while I have claimed not to wear windbreakers, I will wear a rain cape, but only when the conditions would be described as duress.
What I didn’t expect was that the $249.99 Oxygen jacket would fit better than my Assos ClimaJet rain cape. Virtually nothing ever fits better than anything I have from Assos. The best fitting bibs, jersey and gloves I’ve ever worn were all conceived and manufactured in Switzerland. Same for my favorite long-sleeve jersey.
But the Oxygen rain cape? The difference in fit between this and the ClimaJet is a matter of just slightly more deliberate and careful cut in a few key dimensions. Remarkably, fit of the sleeves and torso is a touch snugger on the Oxygen. The sleeves are also longer on the Oxygen and cover a portion of my hand, instead of just ending at my wrist. Plus, there are zippers at the wrist so that you can pull the jacket on and then add your long-finger gloves afterward. By zipping the jacket down over the end of the glove, your hands are likely to stay a bit drier, at least as dry as the glove will permit. What you won’t have to suffer is rain running down the sleeve and then into the glove thanks to the gap between the cuff of the sleeve and the beginning of the glove.
The tail of the jacket is both wider and longer. It actually envelopes my rather substantial trunk. Keeping the tail in place is gripper elastic, something lacking on the ClimaJet. This is significant because while no one without fenders will finish a ride with a dry butt, the difference between a good tail on a jacket and a bad one is whether your chamois is damp or a dripping sponge. Dripping sponge is bueno-free.
I need to acknowledge that in comparing the Oxygen to the ClimaJet, I’m almost playing a bit of dirty pool. Assos has replaced the ClimaJet with the ClimaSchutz, so I’m comparing a current jacket to a not current jacket. However, I’m doing this for two good reasons. First, I haven’t tried the ClimaSchutz, so there’s that. Second, the ClimaJet was absolutely the best rain cape I’d ever used until the Oxygen came down the pike.
On a rainy day that also happened to be cold, the ClimaJet would be better because it would allow me to layer more beneath it. Despite the lack of mesh panels for ventilation (like the ClimaJet), the Oxygen was every bit as breathable, presumably because of the Gore-Tex Active Shell fabric it is cut from. Gore claims it feels great against your skin, but I’d still prefer at least a light layer of wool or poly between me and this thing; certainly, that’s how I rode it. However, unlike other lightweight, stuff-in-your-pocket rain capes, this unit is a bit bulky for pocket duty. This is the sort of piece that you’re going to leave home wearing, with the likely expectation that you’ll have it on for the whole of the ride. It’s not impossible, mind you, but if you’re looking for something that wads up like a banned plastic grocery bag, this ain’t it. Ooh, I should also mention that the zipper is more watertight than some wine corks.
My only beef with this thing is that while it comes in eight colors (yay!), I was given the all-black version. What the hell? Going ninja couture on a rainy day makes as much sense as chumming for sharks from a canoe. Any of the other color ways seems a much better idea, even the white, which will probably be tan/gray permanently by the end of the first ride. It comes in five sizes: S, M, L, XL and XXL; I wear the medium.
It’s pieces like this that make me wonder why the hell Gore’s reputation for cycling apparel isn’t better. They’ve done the work. Now they deserve some credit.
The following piece was awarded silver from the Society of American Travel Writers for best special-purpose travel story. The SATW awards are the oldest and most prestigious awards for travel writing in the U.S. They are effectively the Oscars for Americans writing about far-flung places. This piece originally ran in Peloton Magazine, Issue 15. To my knowledge, it’s the first time a piece on cycling has garnered an award from the SATW—Padraig
A dozen friendly locals, three Russian motorcycles with sidecars and two liters of homemade wine add up to one bewildered writer
When I heard the motorcycle’s engine begin to wind out third gear, I realized that my driver, Ilya, meant to shift the thing into fourth. That realization made me nervous. No, not just nervous, but scared. And frankly, I had a half-dozen reasons to be scared. First was the fact that I was riding in the sidecar of a World War II-era Russian motorcycle. It had broken, expose wires protruding from components that suggested the last time this thing was in proper working order John F. Kennedy had yet to deliver his, “ich bin ein Berliner,” speech, which is just a fancy way of saying it was older than me, perhaps older than its driver. The sidecar featured a seat so worn it had been covered with shag carpet. And my companions in the sidecar? Two two-liter bottles, one of beer and another of wine.
Second was the fact that we were zooming away from my bicycle—which I’d left leaning against a tree. Third was the fact that that tree was outside a bar and though it was only 11 o’clock in the morning, that bar had plenty of patrons who might possess larcenous ideas; the bike was probably worth more than most of the town’s cars. Fourth. Whew. Fourth was that we were now going more than 40 mph over roads that were difficult to ride on my bike at 20 mph—Ilya was showing off. Fifth, I had no idea where we were headed and you can’t really get the magnitude of that until I tell you about my sixth reason to be scared. Number six was: I was in Moldova. Moldova. I was ten time zones from home going for the first motorcycle ride of my life (I swear it was the first time I’d ever ridden any sort of motorcycle) with a guy who spoke—actually I’m not even sure what language Ilya spoke. It occurred to me that if anything happened to me there would be no sympathy; those who knew me would exclaim, “He was in Moldova. What the hell was he thinking?” Yeah, I had a reason or two to be scared.
So you know what I did? I grabbed on to the sidecar for dear life and laughed like a toddler being tickled.
I can tell you that I’ve had a lot of very unusual, very unexpected and very interesting experiences on bike tours, experiences that wouldn’t have happened had I stuck to the normal touristy stuff, experiences that required being on a bicycle out, away from the usual commerce of the city. Unscripted is the word my friends who work in TV would use. But my experience with Ilya was so beyond anything I anticipated I think they would say I was off-set.
It all started when I pulled over to take a picture. I just wanted a shot of the cool, old motorcycle with the sidecar. After all, you don’t see a motorcycle with a sidecar every day. Something about it looked really familiar, though. I couldn’t recall all the details, but my memory said the design dated from WWII; once I looked it up I realized I was right. Ilya was driving a Ural M72, a design the Russians either stole from or were given by the Germans on the eve of WWII, depending on which version of the history you buy into. This one had the front-wheel drum brake original to the design.
I am, fundamentally, an introvert. Left to my own devices, I’ll head out for the day’s ride, stick to the route as planned, stop at little stores and cafés to refuel when the van isn’t around and finish off the ride with as few surprises as possible. You might say I take the path of least resistance. Bridging the gap between my silence and the engaging world around me is an inexact science. As much as I like finding those unusual experiences, I tell people I’m really not very good at it.
On this occasion the simple act of pulling the camera out and smiling at the bar’s patrons was enough to initiate an epic détente. The moment I snapped the first image Ilya rose from his chair and strode over to his ride. He pantomimed a throttle-twist with his wrist and went, “Vroom vroom”, which is the universal charade for a motorcycle ride.
I’m still not sure which gesture I made in return, but as it turns out I was able to capably communicate the equally universal, “Dude, I so want to go for a ride with you on your cool moto.” Not that I meant to, mind you.
As it turns out, Ilya’s town was lousy with Russian M72s. I know this because I saw two more as he took me for a tour of his town’s war memorials. I shouldn’t have been surprised; by 1950 the factory in Moscow had produced 30,000 of them. We visited two different monuments to his town’s war dead as well as a graveyard. I’m assuming these were soldiers who gave their lives in World War II, if only because up to this point all monuments I’d seen were either to commemorate lives lost in WWII or to promote the superiority of the great Soviet Union.
The steps of the monuments were carpeted with broken glass. Either the townspeople did a lot of drinking here, or a very few people had been drinking here for a very long time and no one owned a broom. There was no way to tell which theory was more accurate.
At each of our stops Ilya took the big bottle of what I was to learn was Cabernet and at the foot of the monument he would pour out wine in the figure of a cross. Even though he had mugged for some touristy photos with me, I took this as a sign of great respect, reverence even. Honestly, I thought pouring beer on a grave was strictly something gangstas did for homeez. Noted.
On our way back to the bar (where my bike was sitting, untouched), we passed a couple from our trip and while they got a good laugh seeing me sitting in the sidecar, that was nothing compared to the shock and wonder Ilya’s friends felt as they saw their friend with a guy covered in Lycra, wearing a spaceman helmet and glasses like the petals of some hybrid flower covering his eyes.
The moment we pulled up back at the bar his cell phone began ringing. I thought nothing of it at first, but what had been five friends was suddenly 11. The phone would ring and someone else would arrive. But I didn’t piece that together until later. No, the first order of business—I thought I was just going to get on my bike, say thanks and be on my way—was for me to sit down and drink with them. Someone handed me a plastic cup, roughly 6 oz. (whatever that works out to in liters) and then poured something deep ruby to the brim. I had no idea what it was. Only after I was into my second cup did a teenage boy I am guessing was 16 at best, but was hanging out smoking and drinking with the others guys, manage to convey that I was drinking Cabernet.
I looked at the bottle. I took some Russian in college. So while I can remember fewer than a dozen words, I can still read the Cyrillic alphabet. A great many words are just transliterated from other languages—their word, funky alphabet. It helps me know when I’m standing in front of a restaurant. But the bottle in question was a beer bottle.
I was drinking someone’s homemade rotgut. Yeah bitches! These guys know how to party! I began trying to find out who made it. No dice. But one guy pestered the kid for something.
The kid asked me, “You like this?”
“Yeah, I like it,” I told him. Then I added, “Eto horosho,” which is Russian for “It is good.”
So then the guy who had pestered the kid leaned forward and asked, “You like?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I like.”
Mind you, it wasn’t a good wine, per se. But there was plenty of bright fruit and a lingering sweetness that demonstrated they knew a thing or two about growing wine grapes to maturity, though maybe they could benefit from some non-native yeasts. It wasn’t terribly different from a non-fizzy wine cooler. I could drink this stuff all day.
Somewhere between the end of the first cup and the beginning of the second, someone handed me a slice of bread with a homemade sausage aboard it. If there was anything ground up in the sausage I didn’t want to know about, I was never going to find out; it was spicy as a sailor’s tongue.
Around that time some of the guys began checking out my bike, which by this time amused me, rather than concerned me. And I don’t think that was just the wine working its magic. One of the guys tapped my Garmin unit and then drew an imaginary line up to the sky and then back down to the Garmin.
With the raised eyebrows of someone about to ask a question he inquired, “Spootnik?”
As in Sputnik, the very first satellite to be launched into Earth’s orbit.
“Da! Da! Spootnik, GPS,” I said, as I nodded emphatically. Hey, this communication thing is going okay, I thought.
As each new comrade arrived at our table, we’d shake hands, we’d toast and then they’d kill their glasses, while I took a few obligatory sips. The toasting thing was difficult to catch on to. I tried “na zdorovje”, which is supposed to be “to your health” but they looked at me a bit quizzically. I also tried “skål”, which was no more successful. Someone said “budmo” which, upon some research, I’ve found means “shall we live forever” and suggests I was hanging out with a bunch guys of Ukrainian blood, which makes sense, given I was less than 10k from the Ukrainian border.
We all said “budmo” a bunch.
As each guy shook my hand I couldn’t help but notice that every one of them, to a man, had the hands of someone who did manual labor. Ilya had mechanic’s version of the French manicure—black under the nails. His and his friends’ grips were firm and steady and their hands were tough as untreated leather. I can hardly imagine what they thought of mine. Remember when Quint rails at Hooper in “Jaws” and says, “You’ve been handling money your whole life”? I’m not rich, but I know my hands are that kind of soft.
What I couldn’t figure out, and this was something that had been nagging at me for the whole of my trip, was how these folks had the constitutions of people who had worked very hard labor over long days for years and yet here they were hanging out drinking at a bar even before it was lunch time. It was a setting I’d seen several times daily for more than a week. I could find no formula to parse its least-common denominator. It just didn’t make sense.
The master plan
After finishing my sausage sandwich and polishing off another cup of wine, I made mention of my need to be on my way. Ilya had a better idea. All his friends thought it was a terrific plan. Instead of leaving, I would stick around, drinking with them until some as-yet-undetermined time; maybe dinnertime, maybe midnight—I couldn’t tell. Then, once we had finished off every fermented beverage this side of the Ukraine (this part is a guess, but their progress suggests I’m not far off), Ilya would put me back in the sidecar. Either I would hold my bike or they would tie it to the side of the sidecar (I couldn’t tell) and then we would use Spootnik to guide us to our end-of-day rally point for the tour.
It was a genius plan. All except for the fact that something in me said that I had gotten off lucky the first time but the combination of a lot more wine, me, that motorcycle and a precarious perch for my bicycle was less a recipe for disaster than a paint-by-numbers map straight to its heart.
Saying goodbye took 15 minutes, maybe more. There were the photos with my new comrades and attempts to sway my will, some with smiling entreaties, some with offers to pour more wine. My final goodbye was with Ilya. We shook hands and then he struck his breast. That move needed no translation. I echoed his gesture by striking mine and nodded in ascent. This had been something special; we had shared something neither of us had expected, something neither of us will ever forget.
As I walked—with something approaching a sway—over to my bicycle, I thought of the event that started it all. I’d been on my way up a hill to leave this little town I hadn’t even bothered to stop to check out, when I spied the motorcycle with the sidecar sitting beneath a tree and behind it some guys hanging out before the day’s heat arrived.
I can’t say there is any rhyme or reason to the events that precipitate these experiences; I put myself out there and they just seem to happen from time to time. Isn’t that the way it usually works? But I figured I should capture an image of that motorcycle. What I took was so much more.