With another year coming to an end, this is our annual excuse to look back and recognize those moments from this year that are worthy of further acknowledgment and/or memorialization, even in those cases where the event is something we’d rather forget. But let’s not belabor the point; we’re going to jump in.
The Dr. Seuss ‘Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now?’ Engraved Invitation: Initially Seuss swore that his book, written and published as the Watergate scandal filled televisions and newspapers, wasn’t an allegory of wishful thinking for Richard M. Nixon (the names scan the same), but we know better. This award has to go to Lance Armstrong. Damn it, the only thing I loved more than watching this guy race was watching him in front of the press, especially when I was in the room. He was a world-class prick more carefully doped than East Germany’s entire 1972 Olympic team, but he provided drama in a way that an entire armada of George Hincapies would never be able to deliver. Prior to his retirement, he was never not interesting, which is different than being likable or trustworthy. The Oprah appearance was a disaster for him personally and professionally and his subsequent media appearances have served to underscore the unfortunate truth that he only understands stories that he makes up. I still believe he could play a useful role in a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but I doubt it will actually take place. What I most wish he would come to appreciate is that there’s something we hate even more than his ongoing legal defense(s)—the thought of watching him compete … at anything.
The Penn and Teller Disappearing Act Trophy: This goes to the rider who by virtue of his near complete reversal of athletic fortune has caused me to think maybe he really was clean. That man? Bradley Wiggins. I was suspicious of Wiggins’ winning ways in 2012 for the simple fact that he set a record of fitness even Eddy Merckx didn’t manage. Wiggins’ 2012 season (sorry for the refresher course) included the overall victories at Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie, the Criterium du Dauphiné, the Tour de France and even the gold medal in the ITT at the Olympics—six months of perfect form. Maintaining that much fitness for that long was so outside likelihood it begged suspicion. It was classic more-than-meets-the-eye stuff. And then Wiggins followed up such an amazing year with … the overall victory at the Tour of Britain. Remember how Fleetwood Mac followed up “Rumors” with “Tusk”? Yeah, it’s like that. If he keeps riding this way, he won’t need to threaten the world with going back to the track. I can’t help but think that if the secret to his success had been something as obvious as oxygen-vector doping it would have been easier to replicate. But I could be wrong.
The Not-Quite Gold Watch Retirement Gift: This is less my award than the award presented collectively by the ProTeam directors who refuse to sign this year’s Vuelta a Espana victor to a contract. For reasons that are hard to understand, European teams have had a hard time paying Chris Horner what he’s worth. Unlike rising Hollywood stars who make the mistake of asking for more money than Tom Cruise makes, Horner has always had the sense to ask for money equal to what others delivering what he delivered make. It’s a sensible approach. Unfortunately, his Vuelta victory has come so late in his career that team directors have been left to think that either his victory was as the result of techniques too risky to pursue or that his amazing wick has only minutes left to burn. Either way, a guy who has earned a seven-figure payday may not see it.
The Biggest News of the Year Effigy: I keep waiting for someone, anyone to mention the single most jaw-dropping allegation contained within Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell’s book, “Wheelmen.” I’ve avoided mentioning exactly what it is because I try only to deliver plot spoilers to my own stories. However, no one is talking about it, so I’m going to out this little detail now: the book alleges that for the 2000 and 2001 Tours, Jan Ullrich rode clean. Why no one is talking about this black hole of a detail I can’t fathom. The very bedrock assumption we work from regarding doping is that everyone was doing it at the top of the sport. That belief is why I criticized the effort to go after Lance Armstrong with a singularity of purpose; I’ve long written that to reform the sport authorities needed to attack the the peloton equally. The great surprise is that our chagrined belief that there was no way to properly apportion the Tour win during Armstrong’s reign becomes a good deal easier than Pi for two of Armstrong’s victories. Just do it old school—hand it to the guy who finished second—Jan Ullrich.
The Horse Head in the Bed Buried Treasure: If this hasn’t already happened to Johan Bruyneel, you have to figure it’s coming. Can there be anyone in professional cycling with less to lose by telling the whole of his story? Similarly, can there be anyone that guys like Armstrong, Thom Weisel, Bill Stapleton and the rest of the Tailwinds mafia is more terrified to go Floyd Landis and spell everything out?
The Barack Obama Overly Biographied Life Pin: He may be the finest sprinter in the sport currently, but at 28 years of age, I’m not convinced Mark Cavendish’s life is already deserving of one biography, let alone two. Nothing against the people who worked on the books or the companies that published them—I can’t blame them for wanting to turn a buck on a big personality, but it takes some hubris to green light a biography before you’ve turned 30. To do it a second time … sheesh.
The Man-Up Commemorative Fist Bump: Recalls are a fact of manufacturing. If you manufacture something and have never issued a recall either you haven’t been at it for very long or you’re not producing goods en masse. SRAM recently took the nearly unprecedented step of issuing not just a massive recall of their road hydro brakes but a “do not use” warning. The root of the call relates to seal failure at temperatures below freezing, something that can occur during some winter cyclocross races. My buddy Byron at BikeHugger had a failure under far less unfriendly conditions and has been vocal in his disappointment. It’s an unfortunately turn of events for a new technology and there will be—without doubt—some people who will use this recall as all the reason to turn their backs on the technology as a result. The recall saves them the need to give the new brakes any thought. It’s not uncommon for a manufacturer to downplay the severity of a problem after issuing a recall in an effort to suffer as little bruising as possible. SRAM’s “do not use” warning staked any face-saving PR effort to the ground before driving the bus over it themselves. Better yet, SRAM created a separate site with an easy-to-find link from the company’s home page outlines what they know, when they found out and what they are doing to address the problem. Wikipedia’s definition for “transparency” has been updated to mention both “SRAM” and “Stan Day.” The approach is a tremendous statement about the company’s integrity and their regard for the consumers who ride their products. They deserve praise for doing what was unquestionably the right thing to do.
The Obligatory “It goes to 11″ Spinal Tap Reference: (Sorry, SRAM, but you guys are the only entity to get two awards, and while my previous award was a compliment, this one will be less so.) After introducing a slightly revamped 11-speed Red group this year, the company persisted in offering only cassettes that begin with an 11-tooth cog. While I know plenty of people who are willing to pedal around in a 50×11 with a cadence in the 40s, I only ride with one guy—Rahsaan Bahati—who can wind out a 50×11 in a flat sprint. The point here isn’t that you can’t make use of that gear, it’s that consumers would be better served with another cog in the middle, especially with that jump from the 19 to the 22 on the 11-28. Shimano offers a 12-25 and a 12-28, why can’t they? SRAM’s unwillingness to offer a cassette that begins with a 12 is my biggest pet peeve in tech, and that’s saying something.
The Red Wing® Lead Foot Book End: You might think this would go to the company that does more to create products to truly make people go fast, say an outfit like Zipp or Enve. In this case the lead refers less to the weight of the foot than the unintended contents of the foot. With their recent cease-and-desist letter to Café Roubaix, Specialized shot themselves in a certain extremity. While a reasonable person may observe that Specialized had some valid concerns where product is concerned, I can’t recall an occasion when public opinion more effectively lynched a company’s reputation. The shame here is that I don’t know of another company doing as much advocacy work on behalf of cycling as Specialized, but getting those stories to go viral the way this one did … well, this just proves how much more delicious bad news is. This dust-up contains a few classic object lessons: 1) counsel needs to think before it writes, and maybe even talk to some people on the inside 2) there’s a reason people hate lawyers and 3) reputations are hard to restore; just ask Lindsay Lohan.
The Best Cycling on TV Believability Index Blue Ribbon: The RedBull Rampage is an event that can cause me to repeatedly exclaim, “I don’t believe it!” Of course, my protestations are unintentionally ironic, a kind of hyperbolic affirmation to antigravity artists who have the ability to turn my inner ear against me even as I thrall to feats that take less time to unfold than the last 5k of a road race. Were drug testing performed at the Redbull Rampage the results would be funnier than a Louis CK routine. There’d be no worries about EPO, transfusions, clenbuterol or insulin; no, I expect we’d see lots of THC and other hallucinogens. Maybe a bit of cocaine, for these pilots are no strangers to euphoria. Watching downhilling and freeriding has become a way for me to watch cycling competition on TV without having to ask any ugly questions when the winner is announced.
The Top Step of the Podium Vindication Media Tour: It’s a four-way tie between David Walsh, Betsy Andreu, Emma O’Reilly and Greg LeMond. ‘Nuff said.
The Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out Bouncer Toss: The shame here is that this can only be awarded to Pat McQuaid when I’d like for history to show that Hein Verbruggen was dispatched with the same prejudice. If we ever heard from Pat McQuaid for any reason other than court testimony it will be several lifetimes too soon. When we try to conclude just who did cycling a greater injustice, McQuaid or Verbruggen, it really is a dead heat.
The Kirk Cameron – Growing Pains Award: Peter Sagan. From groping podium girls to annoying the crap out of his fellow professionals with over the top victory celebrations, this was the season Sagan came to understand that being fast wasn’t the only thing he needed to be, that professionalism is a thing you’re not born with, and that not everyone will give you a free pass, just because you’re not TRYING to offend them.
The Second Coming Award: Brian Cookson. After winning election to the presidency of the UCI, Cookson’s job is just to save cycling’s soul. NBD. Maybe he’ll start by changing water to wine or walking on water, you know, as a warm up.
The Last, Lousy Dorito Award: Lance Armstrong. There’s always that one guy who just can’t accept that the party is over.
The Julius Caesar Award: Bradley Wiggins. You think you’re loved. You think you’ll be emperor for life, but then you’re there bleeding on the theater steps. Et tu, Froome? Et tu?
The Simple Minds Award: Andy Schleck. Once the next great stage racer of his generation, it has to be wondered if Schleck will be anything other than pack fodder in seasons to come. Famously fragile, both physically and mentally, he will probably never return to the sort of climbing form that will overcome his lack of juice in the time trial. “Don’t you forget about me,” may well be the refrain as Trek seemingly bets the wrong horse, again, in 2014.
The Clark Kent Award: Travis Tygart. You see a guy in a suit. He looks like a regular guy, holds down a job, has a thing about truthfulness. But he’s really Superman. He saves the day. No matter how powerful a foe he faces, he prevails. You kick yourself for not realizing the guy in the suit was special, but then he puts his glasses back on and you forget he exists.
The A. Mitchell Palmer Ham-fisted Lawyer of the Year Award: Specialized’s unnamed Canadian “outside counsel” for sending a Cease-and-Desist letter to a small bike shop in Calgary, Alberta, asserting trademark rights over a name for which Specialized didn’t actually enjoy the rights. Yup, Specialized was actually using the name “Roubaix,” by permission of the folks at Fuji, but that didn’t stop at least one eager-beaver lawyer from sending out what the guys at my firm call “the asshole letter” (a written missive that combines a heap of bluff and bluster with a healthy dose of bullshit and carries with it no actual force of law) to the owner the “Café Roubaix Bicycle Studio” threatening to unleash the hounds of Hell for using “their” trademark without their permission.
Look, if you’re going to trademark the name of a French city, why not go for the big prize and register “Paris™”? No one would mind if you sent that Hilton woman a whole boat load of Cease-and-Desist letters. Now, that would be a public service.
The Can We Please Make This Stop Now? Pleeeeease? Award: Michael Sinyard, whose personal visit to Dan Richter, the owner of the aforementioned shop, put an end to the company’s trademark claim. Sinyard looked pained, embarrassed and uncomfortable in the video that came from that visit, but you gotta give the guy some credit for at least trying to clean up the mess.
Of course, it could have all been avoided if Sinyard and Co. could distinguish between the manufacture and sale of counterfeit product and a guy who just wanted a bike shop with a cool name. And no, Mike, it probably won’t stop … at least for a while. That whole Internet thing seems to have caught you by surprise. Being a bully – or by an act of omission, allowing your “outside counsel” to be bullies – carries a heavy price these days. News travels fast and these messes take a long time to clean up.
Here’s a mop.
The Most Deserved Victory Lap In Sport goes to David Walsh of the Sunday Times of London, whose dogged and unwavering pursuit of Lance Armstrong lasted 13 years and subjected him to all sorts of abuse. What is hopefully the last word in the Armstrong story was quickly released by Walsh soon after the Oprah interviews. The cool thing is that “7 Deadly Sins: My pursuit of Lance Armstrong” is, as they say, soon to be a major motion picture, starring the “IT Crowd’s” Chris O’Dowd as Walsh. Break out the popcorn, gang, we’re goin’ to the movies.
The He-sure-called-that-one Award goes to Greg LeMond, who, way back in 2001, said “If Lance is clean, it is the greatest comeback in the history of sports. If he isn’t, it would be the greatest fraud.”
The We-actually-do-it-right-here Award goes to the United States. While the IOC, its affiliate International Governing Bodies and WADA seem to have intended to keep sports governance and doping control separate, the Americans are actually doing it. Try, for a moment, to imagine how this whole Armstrong thing would have shaken out had it been the job of USA Cycling to aggressively pursue the case. Someone, somewhere along the lines, would have uttered those infamous words – “it’s bad for cycling” – and that would have been that. Actually, you don’t have to imagine … just look to the UCI and see how that organization handled what eventually became the biggest doping scandal in sport.
And finally we give our most prestigious and noteworthy prize:
The 2013 WTF?!?! Award to one David LeDuc, of Willow Springs, North Carolina, a (get this) 62-year-old masters racer who tripped the Dope-O-Meter™ for (get this) amphetamines, steroids and EPO at the Masters Road National Championships in Bend, Oregon, back in September.
Look, if you put morality aside, you can almost understand the reasoning behind a guy like Lance Armstrong deciding to step over the line and become a PharmaCheat. I mean, the dude “won” seven Tours de Freakin’ France (a sporting event watched by more than a billion viewers each year), gained worldwide fame (since turned into infamy) and amassed a fortune in excess of $100 million (of course much of that is disappearing fast). It’s like pulling off a huge casino heist for mega-millions. Sure, it’s not right, but you can at least imagine the reasoning and the motivation behind it.
But cheating to win the United States’ 60-65 Master’s title?!?!?!?
That’s like grabbing an AK-47 to rob the local MiniMart of $9.34 (in pennies), a couple of SlimJims and a pack of Marlboros. I mean really … who, aside from your wife, your kids and the other two guys who toed the line in that same race, actually gives a shit who wins the U.S. men’s 60-65 national title? It’s supposed to be fun, Dave.
Hence, the automatic reaction when you read about a guy, already 12 years into his AARP membership, doping himself to the gills to win a tinpot medal and a jersey can only be “WTF?!?!”
It is no secret that 2013 was a tough year here at RKP. From the post-percussions of Padraig’s crash to the somewhat dramatic Entrance of the Deuce, it was a year in which we never quite got on top of the gear.
Personally, I close the year off the bike, nursing a hand injury that doesn’t seem to want to heal under the stress of regular riding. They say time heals all wounds, but HOW MUCH time? How much?
Here on RKP, we both struggled to stay on top of things as family and outside projects vied for our attention. The Lance-amageddon took the wind out of the top level of our sport, and slumping bike sales led to a troubling conservatism among potential RKP advertisers. To work so hard and still face such uncertainty leaves you wondering about your life choices, except that there are no other choices to make.
We do our work as best we can, and we see where it takes us. Put another way, there will be chaos, keep pedaling.
All of this is not to say there weren’t bright spots. After the Deuce’s exit from hospital, he turned out to be a smiley, happy baby with a charming disposition. Padraig’s handsome mug healed, and, through the Beer Fund, you, our readers showed us what kind of community we belong to, both out on the road and here on the internet.
It wasn’t a bad year. It was just a tough one, a personal Roubaix if you will, hard in ways we never might have imagined, but ultimately glorious and rewarding for the effort.
This week’s Group Ride, the last of the year, the last of the second hundred, looks back on 2013. How was yours? What were the highs? What were the lows? How did the bike feature in your story? And what are you looking forward to in 2014?
Image: Matt O’Keefe
Travel writers usually begin their careers with a zany appetite for the unknown and laugh off discomforts as the basis for their next funny line, and early on in their careers both the great Redmond O’Hanlon and Tim Cahill had few tools in their writers’ toolboxes other than humor. Laughter is, of course, disarming, a way to mitigate horror and repulsion, two reactions that tend to get served up with regularity the further afield you travel. Sure, the budding travel writer gets to try the planet’s many wonders: French beaches, German castles, Italian duomos, Swedish ice hotels. But pretty soon they run out of A-list destinations. There comes a point when a writer has done all the islands of Hawaii and skied from France to Italy that he is faced with Brazilian slums, Bulgarian hotels and Parisian cab drivers. Or, in Cahill’s case, the burning oil fields of Kuwait.
The upshot is the epiphany that maybe the world isn’t one ginormous oyster. Plenty of travel writers moved on to other subject matter rather than brave lodgings inoculated to both the mop and 600-thread-count sheets. There are, of course, exceptions. Here, I’m thinking of Rob Schultheis and Sebastian Junger, who decided to go all-in on adventure by becoming war correspondents and, again, of O’Hanlon, for whom the adventure didn’t really start until all of his companions were pissed off enough to return home and leave him to the cannibals.
The challenge is that the discomforts begin to outweigh the revelations. Leaving home begins to seem like not such a great idea.
Writing about cycling clothing is not entirely unlike travel writing.
I’ve been writing about cycling clothing with some regularity for nearly 20 years. In that time I’ve gone from welcoming each new kit with belief that here was yet another fine outfit to make riding enjoyable to the grudging acknowledgement that even some storied companies make pieces that are damned uncomfortable. Those discomforts begin to add up. It would be easy just to wear the Panache-made RKP kit and review the odd piece from Assos. Anthony Bourdain’s show would be a lot less interesting if all he did was tour the best restaurants of Las Vegas.
This year I tried a number of different pieces that were completely new to me. Some were amazing; readers would submit that they were as amazing for their prices as they were for my appraisal. Fair enough. There were far more pieces that weren’t terrible, but reviewing them carried the challenge of trying to figure out just what to say about a Holiday Inn in Memphis. It’s clothing. The shorts had a pad. The jersey had a zipper in front and pockets in the back. And?
But even the veteran travel writer encounters those unexpected treasures, the evidentiary miracle of poulet avec Rosé on a searing July day in Provence.
I live for those experiences and easily the biggest surprise I got this year came when I tried the Primal Wear Helix kit. Primal’s reputation has largely been built on its jersey designs, which mostly either delight or repulse, given your taste. For many years, the cuts were pretty traditional and the large jersey was a common choice for the 150-lb. century rider. That people couldn’t figure out how to select the proper size wasn’t exactly the company’s fault, but they gained a reputation for being a go-to for less than fashionable riders.
The company has evolved since those early days, though. They built their own factory to produce the clothing to their specs, rather than outsource it to a subcontractor; granted, that meant moving production from the U.S. to China, but the change gave them more control over the final product.
The Helix kit is a reflection of those and other changes. The jersey takes an aggressive step into a pro fit. The body of the jersey is noticeably shorter than the products they are best-known for, and it’s cut on a marked taper. Club cut this is not. To make sure this jersey isn’t meant exclusively for those who maintain great year-round fitness (a group I lost membership rights to), Primal uses SLR Ion fabric which features a lightweight and breathable weave, perfect for days where both the temperature and humidity soars. It’s got enough stretch to accommodate riders who aren’t so pro-shaped as well as those of us whose shape may, uh, fluctuate over the course of the season. The sleeves are cut from Z92, a dimpled material that has been shown to cut drag and has become all the rage among clothing makers for their upper-end kit. To make sure the jersey is as breathable as possible, a lightweight mesh—AE Elite Mesh—is used in the side panels and just behind the sleeves.
The design work is understated and classic. It touts the company’s heritage (founded in Denver in 1992) and avoids anything anyone might call garish. Primal’s design team deserves credit for creating a look many other brands struggle to achieve.
Making a short-cut, stretchy jersey really isn’t that hard. There are, however, a couple of ways to really screw it up. The first, most obvious way to do it is by placing the pockets in the same spot as you would for a traditional jersey. Do that and riders will bonk because they can’t get that last gel out. The pockets have to be positioned no more than a millimeter—okay, maybe two—above the hem so that you can get your hand into the jersey and back out. And you thought gripper elastic was just meant to keep from exposing your bibs. Primal also cut the two side pockets on a slight slant to increase access without really cutting carrying capacity.
The other important detail I’ve seen screwed up happens when a manufacturer uses a zipper that’s too stiff. An overly stiff zipper has resulted in an unsightly chest bulge some refer to (forgive the relative political incorrectness of the term) as monotit. A supple zipper can allow the jersey to move across your chest in a more natural manner. Here, Primal uses a high-quality YKK full-zip with a metal pull that is easy to find on the roll.
The surprise of this jersey was compounded by the fact that the sleeves are set-in. Were I to create a category for the worst-fitting jerseys I’ve ever tried on, they would all have in common a cut that included set-in sleeves. That this jersey fits me, despite its sleeves, makes it a serious outlier. Not that I object.
In my mind, it’s not that hard to make a good jersey. It’s kinda like making a burger. If you can’t manage that we are going to need you to step away from the kitchen. Bibs, however, are as ripe with opportunities for disaster as a slow-moving freighter in Somali waters. Are the bibs too long? Too short? Is the pad too far forward? Too far back? Is the pad too thin? Too thick? Are the shorts cut too tight in back? Too roomy? Do they cost more than a small TV? Or too little to convince you they won’t kill your undercarriage?
See what I mean? That’s why there are times when I open a package and think to myself, “Do I really need to visit Borneo?”
The answer, of course, is that I’m not much of a reviewer if I don’t review. So I pack for Borneo.
What I’ve run into on multiple occasions is a pad that only works so long as I’m in the drops. The moment I sit up my sit bones roll off the back of the pad and I might as well be wearing a pair of boxers for all the benefit I realize. The pad is not only well-positioned but it is made from dense enough foam that I’ve been comfortable on rides as long as five hours.What I like even better is that while the pad uses multiple thicknesses of foam, the transitions are gentle enough that you don’t end up with cavernous valleys between the various sections which causes some shorts to move rather unnaturally.
The dimpled Z92 material found in the jersey sleeves makes a reappearance, here in the butt panel and the gipper bands. The majority of the shorts are cut from Vero, a four-way stretch fabric touted for compression. I like it because it’s a fairly stout material, not like the paper-thin stuff I find in so many shorts that struggle to last the whole of a season. The bibs are cut from a mesh that breathes well enough not to be a liability.
The Axios Helix bibs go for $200 and the jersey another $100. Buy them together on the Primal Wear website and you’ll get a discount. I take a fair amount of heat for reviewing stuff that people think is inordinately expensive. As I type this, I can hear the shuffle of feet as people queue up to chastise me for encouraging readers to rob their children of a college education because even this will be judged by some to be too expensive. Whatever. This kit is the best value in cycling clothing I’ve worn this year. I looked at some budget shorts at Interbike this year and the thought that stuck with me was that life is too short to put on shorts that won’t last a year and will make me regret each ride I do in them. This kit achieved something very few kits do: It made it into my ongoing rotation of clothing, alongside my Panache and Assos stuff.
The first car I ever coveted or even cared about was the 1968 Mustang coupe. One of my camp counselors (in 1969) had one in what, in my memory, was a stunning gold. I’ve loved those late ’60s and early ’70s Mustangs with a romantic abandon ever since. Every now and then, I allow my self a fantasy about having a fun car, something indulgent and impractical. And every now and then I rejigger that fantasy to take in something a bit more affordable than a Porsche Cayman, and back to my beloved Mustang I go. The problem I encounter is that the practical streak that causes me to rejigger that fantasy in favor of affordability, extends to my considerations of the driving experience.
You see, I know that I don’t really want a Mustang. Stick with me a sec and I’ll explain how a guy who wants a Mustang simultaneously doesn’t want the car that he just said he wants. I swear.
Those old Mustangs were called muscle cars for a reason. They corner with all the grace of a bowling pin balanced on a roller skate. Their suspension has all the sophistication of a 16-year-old boy’s libido. Their emissions as offensive (and hilarious) as the great bean scene in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. Those seats? My couch is more comfortable. Lap belt? Are you serious? The sound system … don’t get me started about the aural offense that AM radio represents. But I’m started, so I just need to remind you how reception disappears as you pass beneath bridges, between buildings and in desirable driving terrain. AM radio is mono, not stereo, which is fine if you’re Vincent Van Gogh. And don’t talk to me about upgrades. That’s divorcing your wife for a trophy model; it’s admitting you didn’t really love her.
I carry a similar romance for those old English three speeds. When I was in grad school, I worked for Parker Ramspott at Laughing Dog Bicycles (back then, Bicycle World Too), in Amherst, Massachusetts, and at the end of each school year Parker would buy up all the used 3-speeds from departing students he could find. He’d sell them to incoming students the following fall. I worked on a hell of a lot of those bikes and they endured like the works Dickens.
The thing is, those old three speeds were just that: three speeds. They carry all the same flavor of liability that the Mustangs do. What I really want is a car that looks like a Mustang, but actually works. I found it in Electra‘s Ticino 20D. Nevermind the fact that this isn’t a car, let alone inspired by American Muscle. The Ticino revisits the style and appeal of those older utility bikes while adding some touches that make it practical in a way watching coeds push 50 lbs. of English steel uphill through campus isn’t.
Electra begins with an aluminum frame. The 6061 tubing is butted to give the bike a noticeably livelier demeanor while mitigating the harsh nature for which aluminum is so criticized. The fork is chromoly and uses a chromed, investment-cast crown, but I’ll come back to that in a minute.
These days, most utility bikes I come across are spec’d with parts that work well enough for weekend use but aren’t really sufficient to daily use. The Ticino is a clear exception to that. While the company is better known for cruisers long on style and maybe bashful on actual function, the Ticino demonstrates that the people at Electra know bikes today as well as back through their history. Allow me to explain.
Were you to build a 21st-century answer to the three speed, what would you include? Thanks, I’ll take it from here: I’d want more gears. I don’t need to fly downhill, but I’d like to get up them without needing to dismount. Similarly, in a land with hills, I’d like some real brakes. How about a rack to make errands practical? Why, thank you. Maybe some fenders for the rain? Absolutely. Oh, and that aforementioned aluminum frame? When combined with a lightweight drivetrain, aluminum rack and fenders, they work together to keep the bike from weighing as much as a moped.
It would seem a lot to ask for it all to carry some style, but a guy can dream, right? Well, therein lies the particular genius of the Ticino. From the chromed fork crown and faux Reynolds tubing decals, this bike all but fools me into thinking it was created in Nottingham. The crank evokes the old cotter-pin variety that was as much fun to work on as doing your taxes. Ack. The brushed aluminum found in the canti’s turns up in the pedals, and the high-flange hubs and they are high enough in luster to effectively match the many other components possessing a first-rate polish. The shine of the fork crown and cranks turns up in the brake levers, bar, stem, seatpost, rims, fenders and even the rack.
The upshot is that this bike functions as well as it looks. Even the saddle is meant to evoke a bygone era, rather than the latest comfort tech.
I added a couple of blinkys in a shot at increased visibility and a Knog lock to make sure I could return to the bike post-errand. And then I set out for the post office, the bank, Trader Joe’s and the odd taqueria. I admit here, most of my actual miles were logged behind Mini-Shred in trips to the neighborhood parks because a day without a trip to the park is a day wasted, in his estimation.
The forward-pointing brake levers, while cool and period-appropriate in look, are one of my only quibbles with this bike. Because of the way the cable exits the grip, it limits both the positioning of the brake lever and the shifters. Those levers also made it a bit more difficult to figure out the ideal manner in which to lean the bike against walls.
My one other criticism of this bike was the decision to pair a 50/39 crankset with a 12-30 cassette. Speed was never a concern while I was riding this bike. The cassette could easily have been paired with something smaller—a 46/34, perhaps—to ease the hills just a bit more and to make it easier to follow my son at low speeds.
Both of these criticisms are small points in an otherwise nearly impossible-to-criticize bike.
Thanks to its upright rider position, the Ticino’s handling is light and easy. With so little weight on the front wheel, I wouldn’t want to descend any mountain passes, but I feel safe enough in my neighborhood if gravity pulls me toward 20 mph. In turns, partly courtesy the 35mm tires, the bike imparts confidence if not dare-devilry.
The Ticino comes in two sizes for men and one for women, and thanks to the sloping top tube they’ll cover a great many people. It also comes in three different trim levels: a seven speed, an eight speed and then the fully tricked-out 20-speed I’ve been riding. The entry-level bike goes for $650 while my loaded version goes for $1600.
People can buy their throwbacks and achieve authenticity, but I like the idea of splitting the difference, not having a bike that weighs 50 lbs., stops on command, gets me up hills with a minimum of fuss and still carries the appeal of the bicycle itself. That’s the real triumph of this bike. The Ticino is a bike for people who know bikes.
I’d like to get my mother a bike this year. The snow on the ground and the smallness of my parents’ condominium make it an impractical Christmas gift, but maybe in the spring. She is 70 now and can see that the exercise and mobility it might giver her could well see her to 80. I’m thinking a step-through.
I bought my oldest son a bike before he was ready to ride. I was so excited to reenact the wheels-in-front-of-tree joy of my own childhood, that I set myself up for the disappointment of watching him tear wrapping paper to shreds in the corner, oblivious to the gift, oblivious to the moment. It is, apparently, the thought that counts, so best have some (thoughts) before giving gifts.
But then, of all the people I could give a bike to, or more accurately, give cycling to, my wife is at the very top of the list. I’ve given her bikes, a commuter I built her when we were in college, a mountain bike in the ’90s, a road bike a few years back. If I’m honest, those were gifts to myself, or maybe viewed in a kinder light, wishes that I could share this thing that I love so dearly with someone I love so dearly. She never really rode any of them. She is not a cyclist.
It’s easy to give someone a bike. It’s harder to give them cycling, to help them to connect to that feeling of freedom, joy, exploration, speed, solitude, connection, utility that keeps us all in the saddle. Nonetheless, I will keep trying.
This week’s Group Ride asks, in honor of Christmas, if you could give someone cycling, not a bicycle, but the love of the bicycle and the passion for riding that you have, who would you give it to?
I’ll admit that when I was in my teens and even into my twenties, I didn’t give a lot of thought to appropriate dress. If the occasion wasn’t formal enough to demand dress wear, then I tended to think there were no rules. My parents found that to be one of my less endearing qualities. I’ve learned a thing or two since then. The upshot is that when I show up for a ride, I do what I can to look the part. Lycra for group rides on the road, something normal looking for store runs and on mountain bike rides, something that falls somewhere in between.
So if I’m with other riders, that means I’ve got baggy shorts on. Getting my head around baggy shorts has taken deliberate, concerted, effort. I had plenty of reasons not to wear them. I didn’t see the need to catch the crotch of the shorts on the saddle. I’d rejected regular shorts decades ago in favor of bibs. And why would I want to put anything useful in a pocket that hung near my knee? Still, I didn’t want to show up for a casual mountain bike ride looking like I was ready to pin a number on. Who wants to hang out with a guy who can’t relax?
Then I got some shorts that I could pair with bibs. That made my undercarriage more comfortable, but brought up a new issue. With so much fabric on, it made a ride on a hot summer day even hotter. With a few I tried I noticed that if they were loose enough in fit so they didn’t restrict my breathing, I could nearly slide out of them thanks to the Lycra.
Then one of the more creative engineers I know tackled the problem. Tim Lane, the proprietor of Dirt Baggies, was an engineer at Felt. Among his designs is the original DA, which was a stunningly fast bike, thanks to the patented Bayonet fork.
If you ask Tim about Dirt Baggies, he can go on and on about the little details he bothered to pay attention to make the Dirt Baggies a fresh take on what mountain bike shorts could be. The first time I wore a pair of Dirt Baggies on a ride, I vowed I wouldn’t wear anything else so long as these were clean from the last ride, they were that good.
For me, the difference between Dirt Baggies and everything else comes down to a few key points. First, the Feature inner short—the liner—is a proper bib short. Second, the short has a fly in it to make kidney tapping the opposite of elaborate. Third—and I love this one—he went with Cytech’s top of the line pad, the same pad that Panache uses. He did this in part, he told me, because he’d listened to me rave about it so much. Fourth, the Vent outer short is reasonably lightweight and breathable. Wearing these on a hot August afternoon doesn’t seem vaguely suicidal. If those don’t seem like revolutionary ideas, this one will: Fifth, he invented an adjustable tether system to keep the liner and the outer together.
Tim so thoroughly believes in the need for superior fit and the comfort that can come with it that he went to the trouble to offer both the liner and the outer shorts in nine sizes: every two inches from 28 to 44. I am wearing the 32 bib with the 34 outer short. That combo gives me a great fit without restricting my breathing and keeps the liner concealed beneath the outer.
The Vent outer short goes for $89.99 while the Feature liner goes for $179.99. They are arguably the most expensive baggies on the market, but they so thoroughly outstrip everything else I’ve tried, I believe the only reasonable way to frame their superiority is to say that these are the Assos of mountain bike shorts. They’re that good.
I could go on about the amazing pocket designs. Ones in the bib straps can hold your phone or an iPod while the thigh pockets on the outer shorts are big enough to hold a 24-oz. water bottle without preventing you from pedaling. Impressive. But really, while details like those are great, they aren’t why I recommend these, why I’m devoted to them.
Given the time of year, it’s worth mentioning that Tim has a Kickstarter campaign going right now for thermal bibs and thermal knickers. You’ve got about two weeks from this publication date to get in on a set. Because the project has already reached its funding goal, if you pledge, you’re assured to get a set. You can find the Kickstarter here.
When I was a kid getting a new board game for Christmas didn’t rank quite as cool as a new toy or model, but it was way better than receiving clothing. I recall how my parents were always excited to see my sister or me receive a game. I get it now. And while I don’t have the opposition to video games that some parents do, the reality is that the majority of games I’ve encountered for the Xbox are for single players. Taking turns only entertains for so long. Board games are another matter.
Trading on our nostalgia for the Schwinn brand (can you blame them?), the company has introduced a relatively simple board game that can keep a family entertained. They say it’s possible for kids as young as four to play, but I’ll admit that my four-year-old needed more than a little help to play. The game is really well done. The player’s pieces are based on popular Schwinn bikes—I was all about the Gray Ghost Stingray.
Play is simple and straightforward: roll the dice and move your piece around the board. Two decks of cards offer players questions. Some are kid-simple, such as a photo of a bike part that the player is expected to name. Some, such as trivia about cycling on the order of, “Who is Greg LeMond?” are a bit tougher.
Honestly, I’m more executed to play this than I’ve ever been to play a board game with my family. There may come a point when playing Candyland with Philip becomes exciting, but the Schwinn Biking Game is yet another chance for me to share something I love with at least one of my boys.
Oddly, I can’t find the game on the Schwinn site. For more info, or to go ahead and buy it, you might try Amazon.
In the world of cycling apparel, each company tries to have a unique point of view, technical story, and brand direction, while simultaneously reaching a wide swath of riders. Since apparel is one of the easiest games to get into, it’s also the most crowded. You have the big, heavy hitters like Pearl Izumi crammed into every IBD and big box (and Amazon site) in existence. You have the bicycle companies such as Specialized and Cannondale trying to leverage their brand recognition. You have Rapha and Road Holland, who encapsulate a lifestyle and image, and you have them all at the same time.
But every so often, a company comes along who is able to negotiate this complicated arena and stake out their own space by pairing a unique design aesthetic with a technically superior product. SOUTH Apparel is just such a company.
Based in Australia, SOUTH has only a few kit designs, but they are all well thought out and highly desirable. Kit choices usually sit somewhere around billboard and boring. SOUTH hits the sweet spot with patterns that stand out in the crowd. Their range varies from a wild leopard print called Feline (with a pink option…for men) to a subtle, striped design called Preppy. Technical features range from a 240gsm enhanced moisture management fabric (most brands use 200gsm, which doesn’t have the same compression values), which is also SPF 25, to double stitched pockets and hems throughout for durability.
Needless to say, I was pretty psyched to get the product and try it out.
When it arrived, it was all class from the start, with the kit emerging from the box in a very nice SOUTH Musette bag (which I have to admit, I am still using as my daily carry-all, see above). The feel of the fabric was lovely to the touch, but the thing that most excited me? The very large 9cm compression leg band. As a woman, “sausage thigh” is my largest pet peeve.
Donning the jersey, the fit was spot on, form fitting but not so tight that it couldn’t accommodate my usual solo ride gear, pump, tube, tire lever, Clif bar, banana, and cellphone. The compression leg band was just as dreamy as I had hoped.
Next test: Riding.
In the saddle, the performance of the kit impressed me right off the bat. That first day, I put in 65 miles with two significant climbs. The women’s specific chamois kept all the right places comfortable regardless of where I sat on the saddle, which is always a huge concern for me as I ride a 168cm wide Specialized Oura. I was also doubly impressed with the extra wide leg band, as the added compression helped keep my thighs in top condition regardless of the pitch of the climb.
My only small complaint that first day was that the fabric seemed a little slick on the saddle. Though I could put myself into the right place, staying there at times seemed more challenging than I would have liked, and unfortunately, this challenge never went away, though it also hasn’t presented enough of a problem to dampen my enthusiasm for the kit.
Since then, I’ve logged countless miles in my SOUTH kit, putting it through the wash many times. It has held up to every trip through the Maytag in fine form, with no pilling or loose seams. The chamois has also held up well, ride after ride, not breaking down or losing shape, not becoming less comfy over the miles.
Today, I’m still happy to report that when the weather is nice, it’s one of my go-to options. Since the temperatures have started to dip, the weight doesn’t lend itself well to the elements, even when paired with base layers and jackets. That is not to say I wouldn’t go out in a base layer and arm warmers on a chilly morning, but I make sure the temperatures will eventually rise before choosing this particular kit from my closet. I would say it’s a late Spring to early Fall choice, which is the optimal ride time for most anyway.
Bottom line? If you’re looking for a great all-around kit that will make you stand out in the crowd in a good way, SOUTH is definitely the way to go. Retailing for $295.oo AUD ($264.48 USD) as a complete kit, SOUTH is currently running a Holiday Sale with a very tempting price of $147.50 AUD ($134.24 USD). To order, head to their website. Don’t waste time Googling around; you won’t find them.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my professional life to hold universally true, it’s that you don’t want to have a right-brained creative type manage a right-brained creative type, especially where meeting a deadline is at stake. However, because I’m where the buck stops at this little camp fire of cycling passion, everything here gets managed with a certain flair for the unexpected.
This would be why the Kickstarter book still isn’t delivered and why a T-shirt and print project that I began in June is only now with the T-shirt printer. I can hardly blame the creatives I work with; I’m the last guy in the world who should be managing anything other than the buttons on a keyboard.
Regarding the Kickstarter: I can say the book is finished. Norman and I struggled to figure out the instructions to deliver the file as needed to the printer, each separately. It’s less straightforward than Shutterfly. By a factor of blue whale. So yesterday we got together and went through the instructions line by line and got the files delivered. If you supported the Kickstarter, you should have an email alerting you to a new update that goes into greater, if perhaps unnecessary, depth.
In addition to the doing Hampsten shirt, I wanted to turn Bill’s art into high-quality prints. I’ve been wanting to do the same thing with the Eddy ’72 art ever since I saw it. Well, I received the art late last week and am talking to a printer about turning them into high-quality prints to adorn your walls.
I mention all of this as an explanation for why such great potential Christmas gifts won’t exactly be ready for Christmas. Some folks would have pushed more, ridden harder. It’s not my style and whether that’s for better or worse, I’ll leave to you, dear reader. As soon as I have a quote on costs and can figure postage, I’ll add them to the store, but that’s unlikely to happen later this week. There will be opportunities to purchase just the print as well as a signed and numbered version.
Finally, for the longest time (since its inception if you want to be technical) the RKP store has offered only two methods of payment: Paypal and Google Checkout. With the recent discontinuation of Google Checkout, this gave me the needed kick in the shorts to chase the process by which we might take credit cards directly on our site. If getting the files submitted for the book seemed hard, this has proved even more challenging. I can at least say we’re close and that additional feature to the site should be up and running later this week.
[Update: our store can now process credit card payments directly. You no longer need to use Paypal, though you can continue to use it if you choose.]
Thanks for your support.
The term he used was “expectation differential.” I was speaking with a custom bike builder about how people react to his bikes, TIG-welded, steel creations, beautifully painted, and he said that the biggest shock for most people was how well a steel bike could ride. He said there was a huge “expectation differential” between what they think steel is like, and what it is actually like here in the 21st century.
To be clear, expectation differential is the difference between how you expect something to be and how it actually is.
Most folks last rode steel in the ’80s. They’ve been riding aluminum and carbon (sometimes Ti), and now they expect today’s steel to be heavy and clunky. Then they get on a modern steel bike and they can’t believe how well it rides. It’s not that they can’t have their socks knocked off by a new carbon fiber bike. It’s that they expect to have their socks knocked off. The differential is smaller.
Another example from my own experience is the modern suspension fork. I am a very occasional, if enthusiastic, mountain biker, so I went something like a decade (it was more actually) without updating my trail bike. When finally I did it, it was really to get to a different wheel size, rather than feeling I was going to get great benefit from a new bike.
I was wrong. Suspension forks have come a long way. First time out on my new bike, my mind was veritably blown as I floated over rock and root. I was faster, more confident, and finished the ride feeling less beaten. Huge expectation differential.
This week’s Group Ride asks, what cycling product or experience has provided you the greatest expectation differential? Where were you coming from, and where did you get to? Was it a bike? A shoe? A tire lever?