I don’t know why I read books, paper and ink bound together rather than agglomerations of dots on glowing rectangles. My mother made me love them as objects, and set the example of reading hard books, so that I became one of those overly serious young men who plodded through Hesse and Dostoyevsky and thought it made me smarter.
Yeah. No such luck.
Still, I love books the way I love bikes. I love them as the things they are, as well as for what they give me. Like reading a difficult book, finishing a difficult ride can push at your understanding of the world. It can change you.
I finished a novel a few weeks ago, Return from the Stars by Stanislaw Lem. The book is about an astronaut who returns to Earth after a ten year mission to the far reaches of the galaxy. In those ten years of space travel more than a hundred have passed at home. All the main character’s family and friends have died, and the society that welcomes him back views him as a savage. The planet he returns to has overcome violence. Murder and war are things of the past, but so too is curiosity for its own sake, so too is love. The whole idea of exploration has become passé.
What then, he wonders, was the point of his trip?
And yes, what is the point? Why do we leave home, travel along a circular path, or worse yet a straight line, only to return to where we started? Lem’s astronaut struggles with this problem before finally realizing that going is the whole point of going. We go because we go. It’s what we do. You can conjure reasons, for exercise, for adventure, for the environment, but are those real reasons or just excuses?
There is a great line in the book, the astronaut, conceding that he won’t reconcile his drives with the comfort of his fellows, says, “I have probably experienced too little, and thought too much of it.”
And maybe I have that problem, too. I have ridden too little, and thought too much of it. But, this week’s Group Ride asks, what is the point of cycling? Why do we care? Why is it good for us, but not for everyone? Are we in some ways comical, working hard at riding in circles? In the end, Lem’s adventurer signs on for a new space mission, a secret project, contrived by some like-minded souls, not yet ready to give up on going, despite its apparent futility. I’m not ready either, but I don’t know why.
Image: Matt O’Keefe
I’m in Rancho Palos Verdes on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, about 45 minutes south of where I live in Redondo Beach, Calif. I’m attending the first-ever Winter Press Camp, held at the Terranea Resort which sits on a cliff overlooking one of the most gorgeous stretches of California coastline there is. It’s prettier than Heidi Klum washed with unicorn tears.
I’m here to meet with 11 different manufacturers, from the gargantuan SRAM to a Lilliputian saddle manufacturer whose Kickstarter funded at more than 700 percent of their goal. It’s an interesting collection of products, to be sure.
I’ve attended one other Press Camp event, during the summer of 2012. I’m a big believer in not just the event, but its unique format. Unlike a typical trade show where you just wander around at your own pace, meetings are set up in advance and you spend 45 minutes in session with each manufacturer. It eliminates interruptions and allows for a more in-depth presentation of a company’s wares and all the manufacturers here are showing a limited number of products so they can really focus the visit to a targeted objective.
There’s a break after lunch in which we go for a ride one of of the bikes here. Because the PV Peninsula is my ‘hood, I’m leading both the road rides and doing my utmost to make sure and show these kids some views that are the visual equivalent of a taser. I’ll be back tomorrow with the first of my reports on the products I saw.
Dorel, the parent company behind Cannondale, Schwinn, GT, Mongoose, Iron Horse and Sugoi purchased the Canadian brand Guru last year. In doing so, Dorel was able to bring into the fold a new fitting system based around what might be the most sophisticated fitting device on the market, the Guru Dynamic Fit Unit. We got a look at the Dynamic Fit Unit at Interbike and had a chance to see the basic process for taking someone through a fit.
During the Cannondale team introduction I had a chance to go through a fitting with Colby Marple from Guru. The Guru system offers two different levels of fit, one for production bikes and another should you want to have a custom bike (say a Guru) produced to your personal requirements.
The fitting began with me being scanned by a Kinect unit. Yes, Kinect as in Xbox. As it turns out, Guru’s lead software developer was one of the original developers working on the Kinect unit. The Guru software includes a database of production bikes and their geometry. Based on its scan of me, we were able to choose a couple of different bike models and it quickly showed how neatly I fall between the 56 and 58 sizes.
The Dynamic Fit Unit (DFU) is the real heart of the system. Quick release clamps allow for easy swapping of both saddles and handlebars and the cranks can be adjusted to provide riders the recommended crank length.
For those familiar with the latest version of the Serotta Size Cycle, one of its big selling points is the ability to use an electric driver to make handlebar and saddle position adjustments while the rider pedals. The ability to move smoothly through a range of possible reaches, bar heights and saddle heights is one of the two biggest advancements in fit methodology of the last 25 years, the other being the rider flexibility assessment. I had one of the original Serotta Size Cycles in my garage for about a year and I’d use it to experiment with my fit. The difference between getting off the bike, making an adjustment and getting back on vs. pedaling continuously while the bar or saddle moves is the difference between the Dewey Decimal System and the Internet. It’s just no comparison.
Where the Guru DFU differs with the Serotta Size Cycle is that servo motors in the DFU unit make precise adjustments based on keyboard inputs by the fit tech, resulting in changes of higher precision and performed at greater speed. But that’s not all. Supposing you like your bar position relative to your saddle height but you want your saddle to go up a centimeter. The DFU fitter can make the two changes simultaneously. Similarly, say you want to try a slightly steeper seat tube angle, the DFU can simultaneously raise your saddle and bring it forward while also dropping the bar and moving it forward in order to preserve the saddle-to-bar relationship.
Wait, that’s not all.
The full-on Ginsu pitch is that the fitter can rock the full position back to simulate climbing on almost any gradient in order to allow you to experience what that position will feel like on Mt. Shootmenow. And if you’re getting a mountain bike fit, you can be swung forward to simulate an ultra-steep descent to get a feel for just how much weight you’ll have on the bike’s front wheel.
My view is that a fit system is just a tool. From the gear to the methodology, a fit system is just a tool to do a job. In the hands of someone with minimal training, it might not be a very effective tool. However, in the hands of someone like Cyclologic’s Paraic McGlynn or Bike Effect’s Steve Carre, the DFU is the most powerful dynamic fitting tool I’ve encountered. This thing could make a great fitter as formidable as Peter Sagan is in a sprint.
My session resulted in a fit that I’d be willing to put my faith in. It differs from my current fit by less than a centimeter in saddle height, while the bar position was more than a centimeter higher with roughly the same reach. I should mention here that because I move between a number of bikes on an ongoing basis and between as many saddles, I’ve grown immune to small differences in ft. I had to learn to put up with changes in my fit from bike to bike, even when I’ve gone to great lengths to replicate my position exactly. Exactly just never happens. Because I’ve managed to ride well on a number of bikes with slightly differing fits, I’ve come to believe that when someone (be it fitter or rider) starts to get fussy about that last millimeter they are failing to understand the inherent adaptability of the body. And I write this with the knowing admission that I’ve suffered problems at the hands of bad fits by alleged fit experts.
I think part of the genius of the DFU is that all the rider has to go on is the feel of the fit. With no stem to look at nor the visual cue of seeing the drop from the saddle to the bar framed by the bike itself, all you can really go on is the feel of sitting in the saddle and reaching for the bar. When the original Serotta Size Cycle was introduced I was skeptical that a good fit could be achieved by a fitter simply listening to feedback from the rider. I was perhaps right to be suspicious of the original iteration, but today it’s an approach that makes terrific sense. It does require that the person being fitted talk a lot about what he or she is experiencing as the key to a good fit is communication, but even a relatively quiet person can get a great fit from a good fitter. The best can see unwanted muscle tension the way poker players can suss out tells.
Finally, I’ll grant that it might be a challenge to place your faith in this approach until you’ve experienced it. I learned to give a lot of feedback as either the bar or saddle is moving: no, no, no, not bad, okay, yes, yes, errmm, nah, no, no, no. It was interesting to me that Colby had the same reaction to my feedback that Steve Carre at Bike Effect did. They both noted that they saw an easing of tension in my shoulders just as I started to say “yes.”
Again, the Guru system is just a tool, and that goes double for the DFU. However, in the hands of a great fitter I think the DFU has the ability to help a fitter arrive at a result that the client will believe in. Why? Well the dirty little secret of fitting is that the single biggest challenge a fitter faces is getting the client to not just adopt the recommendations, but to stick with them long term rather than switching the bike back after a ride or two. The DFU provides an experience that makes the recommendation one’s own, not some outside piece of advice. When I was first trained as a fitter, recommendations were made based on a set of tables the correlated to the rider’s personal dimensions. The process was effectly: here’s what you are, so here’s what your fit should be.
The DFU, more than any other fitting tool I’ve encountered, upends that convention by making the fitting a matter of self-selected comfort. That might seem obvious to the point of naive, but really a proper fit is fundamentally a function of comfort and who can better know your comfort than you?
In the last two years, I’ve ridden a bunch of mountain bike tires. They’ve ranged from race-worthy cross-country tires to brutes suited to trail and even enduro riding. I’ll admit that I’ve had, if not an agenda, a goal. I wanted to find a reliable tire for Southern California conditions. Those conditions are entirely unlike what I experienced in New England or the South. In those latter two, mud was an ever-present issue.
The conditions I encounter here in SoCal are found in only two time zones in the U.S. and very few places elsewhere in the world. Most places I ride are characterized by hard-pack with loose rock and sand. “Loose” is a term I’ve come to know well. Hero dirt is something we only occasionally see in the 72 hours following a brief rain, but even then, you have to find the right spot.
While I appreciate having the right tool for the job, I don’t get to spend as much time in the garage as I used to. That, combined with the fact that tubeless tires don’t really enjoy being mounted, removed and remounted means that when I put a set of tires on, I intend to leave them on until I find another set of tires I think I might like better. I mounted the 29×2.2 Continental Mountain King IIs in late August and the only reason I’m considering removing them is to put on the set of 29×2.4 X-Kings I have.
Generally, I’ve been running these tires somewhere between 23 and 25 psi in the front and between 25 and 28 in the rear. I give those ranges because my gauge is so small and my eyes have deteriorated so much, I can’t really be certain. What I’ve found is that everywhere I’ve found other tires wanting in the traction department, these have surpassed those performances. Truly, they have so thoroughly improved traction for my bike that I’ve entered a new paradigm of traction. I’m cornering at speeds well beyond what used to seem possible; now the limitation is my nerve.
To get a feel for what they tires my be like when the break free I pumped them up to 27 in the front and 30 in the rear and then took on some terrain I know. When they did break free in silty, sandy soil, they were pretty predictable, unlike some tires I’ve ridden that go from grip to grease in a single degree of lean angle.
What amazes me about this tire isn’t that I’ve finally found a tire that offers as much traction as a Justin Bieber video. No, what amazes me is that on the handful of times I’ve ridden through anything that approximates mud, it has still worked with the assured grip of Reinhold Messner. The engineers at Continental will tell you this is because the Mountain King II uses their Black Chili compound, which is a blend of natural and synthetic rubber with tiny bits of carbon soot mixed in. Maybe so. The upshot is that I’ve found a tire I’m willing to ride on hard pack, in sand and through mud. It’s so all-purpose I don’t really want to switch them any time soon.
The one other noteworthy detail about these tires is that every other tubeless tire I’ve ridden has had sidewalls as thin-skinned as an apple. The Mountain King II has proven to be as impervious to punctures as Donald Trump is to criticism. This, despite a high-quality 180tpi casing; most bulletproof tires have a casing in the range of 60tpi and they roll like a flattened Coke can. Of course, with such a high degree of impervituity (new word) you end up with a tire that weighs 640g, but I’m willing to put up with some extra weight in order to have a tire at least as worthy of my faith as the time from a Swiss watch.
On the off-chance that I haven’t pounded this point into schnitzel, for $60 I now have a tire that I no longer have to think about whether or not it will get me through a given terrain. I can go ride any place I choose and not wonder if I should change tires beforehand. The benefit that renders isn’t just peace of mind, it’s simplification and as a busy dad, I wish more products carried that selling point.
There’s something about visiting the workshop of a craftsman who began honing his skills before Greg LeMond headed to Europe. If you cut Joe Bell (and I don’t mean shiv him), his blood runs with lithium grease. His shop is less a time capsule than a place where time is suspended It’s not frozen in the past but rather a place where the past and present come together in a mashup of ages, Jimi Hendrix with a techno backup. In Joe’s shop 1978 is just as valid as today and the photos, posters and stickers are a testament to that.
There was a time back in the ’90s where I think we went more than a year at Bicycle Guide where Joe had sprayed every single bike we ran in Hot Tubes. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say he is arguably the most important bicycle frame painter the U.S. has seen. Every other painter I know has cited him as an influence. The funny thing is just how modest Joe is about his own abilities. He’s far quicker to praise the work of other guys than he is to recall any of his own work.
Talking to him in person is probably the wrong thing to do if you’re not already convinced he’s the right guy to paint your bike. He’s sooner huff thinner than give you a sales pitch. But the fact that guys like Richard Sachs and Dave Kirk use him exclusively to paint all their frames is, perhaps, all the resume the guy needs.
The reason I was in San Diego was arguably business, but I made sure to carve out a couple of hours to drop by his shop to see the frame above. That’s my Bishop. And surprisingly, I’ve struggled with what this bike will look like. The only thing of which I was certain was that it would be painted by JB.
This was my first opportunity to see the frame in person. To say I was blown away doesn’t begin to convey the way I marveled at Bishop’s work. Chris Bishop, if I may be so bold, is one of a rare set of builders. His skill is truly exceptional.
The unfortunate truth about Joe Bell is that he knows enough about building that he has the ability to clean up sloppy work by a mediocre builder. He could easily have make a career in an auto body shop fixing dings and crunches in classic cars. He’s made okay bikes look amazing, but will never betray a lesser builder. That discretion is one of his more charming features. But it also means that when something exceptional comes through his shop he has no problem given full points to the builder.
I won’t repeat what he first said to me as a measure of his praise for this frame because the terminology wasn’t what we’d call politically correct, but it made me smile. It’s what my buddies into classic cars would have said. I knew what he mean and it was praise of the highest order.
I’ve learned a lot from Joe, often just from talking to him on the phone, about the subtle cues to just how good a guy is with a torch. He’s taught me how to look for signs that a builder fed more silver or brass into a joint than was necessary and what they did to try to clean that up, or signs that a joint was heated for too long.
He also taught me a few extra tricks for finding sight lines to confirm the symmetry of a frame, particularly for fillet-brazed work. So when he kept up the effusive praise not just for the cleanliness of Bishop’s brazing but the symmetry to his fillets in the lug transitions and point thinning, it came as a nice confirmation that I’d ordered my frame from the right guy.
I could probably have done all I needed to with Joe by phone and email, but there’s nothing quite like being in the room with a person you dig. Similarly, I could probably have been in and out in a half hour, but I enjoyed the phone calls and other interruptions that gave me a chance to poke around a bit and get a look at a sticker collection I hadn’t seen in 10 years.
Someday, I’m going to have a garage workshop that looks every bit as cool and lived-in (or worked-in) as this one. Forget the backyard garden, I want a workshop where I can get lost. A place like this.
And this shot kids, the frame with the man who will make it unspeakably gorgeous, this is one I’ll take to the grave. It meant a lot to have a frame—my frame—get Joe excited about the work that lay ahead. Oh hell yes.
I was on the phone with some folks at a bike shop today, and they asked what I thought would happen with disc brakes for road bikes. This happens to be a sore subject for me, and not because I dislike disc brakes, although I do. So many people at the shop level are trying to figure out what’s going to happen, whether the trend is going to take hold and birth a new sub-category.
Here’s my problem. I don’t know anyone who has experienced brake fade on a long road descent. I don’t know anyone who has blown out a tire from an over-heated rim. I understand that these things have happened, but that I don’t know anyone who has experienced them suggests that any statistically significant shift in the number of disc brakes on the road is an over-reaction to the few incidences of these things happening.
Yes, I have disc brakes on my mountain bike. Yes, I think a winter commuter is a good candidate for disc brakes, because snow and ice are real problems for those kinds of bikes. Discs are good, but are they good everywhere?
Someone smarter than I am told me he thought, in 5 years, half of all road bikes would be disc-equipped. Let’s not even get into the maybe-not-ready-for-primetime-ness of the current component options. Let’s just think about how much weight we’re adding to the machine at the end of a cycle of carbonification (my word) that drove grams out of the average bike like they were rats in a place called Hamelin. Now we’re going to pack them back on for a small percentage gain in braking power?
OK. I’m a Luddite. More often than not, I don’t see the point of the next technological leap. And there are consequences to each of the these “steps forward” for compatibility, upgradeability and long-term usefulness. I could go on and on, but I already did that on the phone this afternoon.
But it’s not for me to tell you what to ride, so this week’s Group Ride asks, do you want disc brakes on your road bike? Do you see the benefit for your riding? Do you plan to upgrade in the next year? Or are you just curious to see what they’re like? Am I crazy? You would tell me, right?
The single most recurring question I get from readers is what bike stuff I actually use on my own bike. When it comes down to my money, what do I choose? On some points, I’m nearly agnostic. I’ll happily ride Shimano, Campagnolo or SRAM components. I have quibbles with every one of them and know their strengths like the smiles of my boys. On saddles I get a bit pickier but my preferences there are as meaningless to you as my preferences in music; unless your ass is shaped like mine, what works for me isn’t likely to work for you. Bar preference runs along similar lines because it is influenced—if not outright determined—by your fit.
Pedals are different, though. A friend once said to me that pedals are like religion. Once you find something that works, you don’t want to switch, not for all the super models in New York. Granted, I know people who still feel that way about Campagnolo, but component groups don’t inspire the same fervent reaction across all three brands.
So what do I use? No big question there as this particular cat departed the bag the moment you saw the thumbnail image leading this post. I’m a Speedplay Zero user. I began using Speedplay X pedals back in 1997 out of a sense of journalistic duty. In the previous year I’d tried every other pedal system on the planet and figured I owed myself the perspective. The transition wasn’t easy, I’ll admit. The unimpeded float felt like ice skating on a bicycle for about three days. Somewhere between hour six and hour ten on these pedals, that sensation evaporated. I stayed on the X pedals until four or five years ago when Speedplay wizard-in-chief Richard Bryne urged me to switch to the Zeros. When I asked why I should switch, he said in his characteristically confident but understated way, that it was simply a better pedal. Because the cleat engages the pedal in a completely different way, both the pedal and the cleat will last longer.
My single favorite feature of the pedal is the double-sided engagement. Why no one else has made a serious run at double-sided road pedals is one of the bigger mysteries of component design to me. I mean, if it’s a good enough idea for every last mountain bike pedal in the known universe, it’s hard to make an argument that it wouldn’t always be handy feature for a road pedal. The issue isn’t that I struggle to enter Look-cleat or other pedals. I know how to engage a pedal. What I’ve noticed is that I’m always quicker off the line than people riding other pedals. Speedplay doesn’t require any thought or special moves to engage. If you can place your foot on a flat pedal, you can engage Speedplay. This feature might mean less if I lived in a small town in Europe (as I often dream) where stop lights and signs are as frequent as native English-speakers, but because I live in Southern California where the only thing that outnumbers the stop lights are the numbers of cars on the road, I stop a lot and on a long ride, there comes a point at which I’m just too flippin’ tired to do yet another track stand. It makes for a lot of clipping in and out.
Switching back and froth between shoes set up with Speedplay and other pairs set up with Look has taught me that my foot position changes from seated to standing riding. I pronate more when I’m seated and the unrestricted float on Speedplay is friendlier to that. When riding a Look or Shimano cleat I have to give a concerted little twist to my foot every time I sit down. Do not like.
I’m not a total weight snob, but the fact that a pair of Zeros with stainless steel spindles weighs only 209g is a genuine selling point to me. I don’t see a reason for a pedal to be more complicated than necessary, nor weigh more.
It used to be that one of the big selling points of any pedal was cornering clearance. Speedplay has led the pack among all the major manufacturers by allowing a 37 degree lean angle. To put this in perspective, since 1997 I’ve scraped a Speedplay pedal exactly once, at it was on an unusual, dipping corner on a motorcycle track I was racing on, a circumstance quite unlike the real world.
The fact that the Zeros feature adjustable float, that is, the rider can adjust how much heel swing both in and out from the centerline of the pedal wasn’t really a selling point for me. That said, I’ve limited a the amount of pronation the cleat will allow to prevent the heels of my shoes from rubbing some crank arms. I’ve talked to riders who moved to Speedplay from other pedals systems who adjusted their cleats so that they needed up with only a couple of degrees of float. The upshot is they ended up with a pedal system that answers the number one criticism I hear regarding Speedplay: too much float.
The other criticism I’ve seen leveled at Speedplay is that because the pedal itself is fairly small, it can cause hotspots for riders. In my experience, this is nonsense. Hotspots caused by flex between the shoe and the pedal were a notorious problem for SPD road pedals. That cleat was, to use a technical term, itty-bitty. However, when you look at how big the cleat is that attaches to the shoe, it’s larger than Look, Shimano or Time cleats, and because carbon fiber soles are so much stiffer today than they were 10 years ago, hotspots are more likely to be caused by problems with the shoe fit than in the shoe/cleat/pedal interface.
Back when I worked as a mechanic, I prided myself on being able to overhaul any cup-and-cone bearing I encountered. While I could get the job done, my results with pedals were frequently less-than satisfactory. Getting the adjustment right on pedals proved to be difficult because while you never want to over-tighten a bearing, what usually felt tight enough without the pedal body on was never quite tight enough with the pedal body on. That Speedplays use cartridge bearings that can be serviced with a grease port and an injection of a few squirts of grease makes them the mostly easily serviceable pedals I’ve encountered.
The Zeros with stainless steel spindles go for $199. If you’re part Mallard and pronate even more than I do, you can go for the longer chrome-moly spindle model which goes for a very reasonable $129.
My belief in the pedals notwithstanding, they do have a few other qualities to recommend them. First is the fact that every rider I know who has run into knee issues related to aging has been able to solve them by moving to Speedplay, a few of them reluctantly so. Second is how Speedplay began its Division I pro team sponsorship with CSC more than 10 years ago and expanded to nearly a half-dozen different teams at one point simply because as riders left Bjarne Riis’ formation they didn’t want to give up the pedals. Only recently has that number begun to drop, in part due to Shimano demanding that if they are going to sponsor a team they must take their pedals as well.
While I can ride other pedals when I need to riding anything other than Speedplay is a bit like travel; I’m always happy to return home.
Padraig and I have been in the same zip code exactly once in the last four-and-a-half years, the length of our collaboration here on RKP. Nonetheless, I count him as one of my closest friends. We maintain what I like to think of as an old school correspondence, long emails spanning the distance between small editorial questions and life’s great challenges. I don’t write to anyone the things and volume of things that I share with Padraig.
And as we’ve been working together, the tone and tenor of the site have evolved. Where once we wrote largely about the pros (and some bemoan the lack of pro commentary here now), RKP seems to have evolved into a site more inclined to sift through life’s sundry.
It was almost comical when, two weeks ago, we asked where the readership is in their lives and discovered that the lion’s share (at least of those willing to comment) are exactly where we are, somewhere in their 40s, trying to manage family and career. And our ages don’t really matter, and our careers don’t really matter, and how manage it all doesn’t really matter either. The thing is, we’re all working on the same challenges. Birds of a feather, we flock.
And the contributors who find us, who submit work for consideration, are doing what we’re doing. They’ve arrived at that point in their lives where the urge to find better, and not necessarily more fun, ways to live has become important. The bike provides a perfect analogy, a perfect vehicle for this pursuit, because not every moment in the saddle is pleasant. We have fetishized suffering because it can be a useful component in getting better, both at cycling and at living.
In this sense, riding bikes is spiritual, right? It’s how we connect to each other. It’s how we get to know ourselves properly. It strips away that layer of obliviousness and draws the attention to a fine point.
The bike remains the thing that draws us together, but the site is less and less about the bike and more and more about using the bike as a lens through which to see ourselves more clearly. There is no RKP without the bike. We will always be thinking about cycling, but the urge to hold it at arm’s length, to treat it as something separate from ourselves, a curiosity to be examined, has mostly gone.
Rather than being a website that reviews bikes (we will keep doing this), comments on races (this, too), bemoans the excesses of those who make their living at the pedals (ayup), we have become more of a meeting room, a place for cyclists who are working hard at being better people to gather and discuss what works, and what doesn’t, even if sometimes that means evaluating a new to market jacket or wading into the moral shallows of racing for money.
Padraig and I maybe started out writing at you, riding along in the guise of quasi-journalists, but it’s hard to stay on the front for long like that. Sometimes we have the form for it. Sometimes we don’t.
Hopefully, as the site has become more personal, we have settled more comfortably into the pack, this laughing group which is neither too fast nor too troubled about getting to the finish line. We are no longer working hard at being the experts. Now, like you, we’re just working hard at being ourselves.
Image: Matt O’Keefe
I spent most of last week in Westlake Village and surrounding roads attending the team introduction for Cannondale. I see little point in tiptoeing around the fact that RKP’s editorial mandate is not to chase pro cycling in the trenches; that’s a terribly expensive endeavor. Similarly, I don’t want to do like some sites and pretend that we have feet on the ground in Europe by paraphrasing AFP and Cyclingnews race reports to falsely inflate our editorial reach. Bogus is the word we would have used in high school.
As a result, I/we don’t often get invitations to these events, so when this one came, I was intrigued. Intrigued because I wasn’t certain of the why, nor was I certain what the event would be like. Generally, the public view of a team introduction is that it’s a one-night affair, usually held in a theater so the riders can be paraded on stage for the assembled sponsors, VIPs and media to see, and usually, it’s the entire team assembled, right down to the last mechanic and soigneur.
This event wasn’t quite so over the top as that; Cannondale didn’t fly every last rider or staff member over from Europe for the event. Still, this was a far cry from a Division II team intro I attended that was held in the team director’s living room. Cannondale brought over 14 members of their team, including their two stars, Peter Sagan and Ivan Basso.
The collection of riders included:
Alessandro De Marchi
It used to be that the first gathering of a team in the new year was really just a training camp to give the new riders. The presentations began as a way to give sponsors a little winter exposure and get fans excited about the new riders and familiar with the new jersey so they’d know what to look for in the peloton. Based on some accounts, it also became the time when team management would lay out not just riders’ racing schedules, but their doping schedules and get them familiar with the medical staff.
Team camps may have dropped the medical program, but the sophistication continues to increase. More and more, they include media training, clinics with the sponsors so they understand what they are riding or what the sponsor makes if it’s not a bike product, and plenty of time for the media to interview riders. Whether you chalk it up to smarter operations, or an increased need to make sponsors feel like they are getting their nickels-worth due to a dearth of non-endemic sponsors (it’s a debatable point), teams like Cannondale are using their first camp of the year to serve ever larger purposes.
I attended product seminars on Vision wheels, FSA components, Kenda Tires and Sugoi clothing. These were short presentations in which a company representative would talk about the specific products the team would be using and if they assisted in the design and testing of the product, they detailed that. In the case of Kenda tires there was some additional discussion of which tires would be used when, not just the particular tires that would be used. In racing tubulars, the team will run the Volare. On the occasions they race a clincher, it will be the Kountach, while for training they’ll run the Kriterium. With Vision wheel choice will naturally be dictated by course conditions. The deepest wheels, the Metron 81 will only be used for the flatest courses. Riders will use the Metron 55 on more rolling courses, while the Metron 40, the shallowest and lightest of the bunch, will be reserved for mountainous races.
With the exceptions of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, where the team will ride the Synapse, the entire team will ride the SuperSix EVO for road races. Interestingly, Peter Sagan is a genuine knuckle-dragger. He’s the only rider on the team to receive a SuperSix EVO with custom geometry. His bike has a longer than standard top tube; it’s essentially a 54cm frame with a 58cm top tube, plus a 13cm stem. For time trials they’ll ride Cannondale’s Slice RS.
The presentation itself was held at the Canyon Club down the street from the Westlake Village Inn where the camp was taking place. Honestly, I couldn’t figure why they’d choose that until they mentioned that there’d be a concert after the presentation. Each of the riders present was introduced and in a brief interview rider strengths and goals were discussed.The audience was made up of attending media, area Cannondale dealers and sponsor VIPs. Naturally, the biggest cheers were for Peter Sagan, but as the sole American on the team Ted King took a huge roar from the crowd and mentioned something about unfinished business with a certain event in France to which those assembled cheered raucously. Sagan made it clear that Milan-San Remo was in his sites as was a certain three weeks in July. Given the ire for most confessed (or nearly confessed) ex-dopers, I was surprised, perhaps even relieved, that Basso received such a warm welcome from the crowd. He’s setting his sights on the Giro, and as a two-time winner he thinks he’s got a chance at taking the race a third time, given the course.
Oh, and that concert? The new-for-’14 Cannondale “house band” led by none of than Michael Ward, sporting a big-ass handlebar mustache (and a few more pounds than when last I saw him).
The crowd was also introduced to Scott Tedrow, the president and CEO of Sho-Air, the new presenting sponsor for the team. Tedrow took the mike and alluded to the criticism he’s received as a Johnny-come-lately to the cycling world. Whoever has leveled this accusation at him needs their head examined. When I was racing in the masters ranks more than 10 years ago Sho-Air was a significant sponsor to both mountain and road teams here in SoCal. His history notwithstanding, what truly boggles my mind is why anyone would bag on a guy bringing money into the sport when most other money is fleeing by 747? Further, to his credit, Tedrow is deep in the sport; this dude is no Flavio Becca. In addition to his sponsorship of racing at every level, he’s opening a bike shop in Orange County soon and he recently made what I hear was a rather significant donation to the National Interscholastic Cycling Association booster club. So far as I can see, Tedrow is good for the sport and the horsepower he brings thanks to his company—which does air freight for trade show materials—will make a difference in the lives of a great many racers.
I think that pro cycling still has a long way to go in earning back the public’s trust, but in the meantime, the lime green outfit of Cannondale is likely to provide genuine entertainment worth watching.
When you tell a story over and over, fine details tend to fall out of the telling. It becomes shortened, efficient, boiled to its main points.
Here is an example of just such a story: I learned to ride a bike when I was a kid. The learning was one of the transcendent moments of my childhood and begat a lifelong love affair with the bike. The end.
Here is the (only slightly) more detailed version of that story: I learned to ride a bike when I was seven-years-old. Immediately I loved it and became one of the BMX terrors of the neighborhood. Approaching adolescence, I let the bike go a bit, too cool for a dirt bike, not yet even really aware of the exotic pursuit of road cycling.
As time wore on and hormones churned through my system like a chili dog on an empty stomach, I discovered my older brother’s abandoned road bike and used it to visit girls when their parents were away. The success of this strategy propagated a nearly Pavlovian response in my mind at the sight of a bicycle.
Then, when I was in college, the vogue for mountain biking reached fever pitch, and again cycling presented the perfect solution to a persistent problem, that of transporting myself around the city on a schedule not ruled by the capricious whim of bus drivers. Given previous history, I was already very open to the idea that the bike could be an integral part of my life, and the resulting adventures cemented a love for cycling that very nearly kept me rolling through my twenties.
See, the neat and tidy version of this tale has me wedded to a bike for the rest of my bike, til death (but preferably not) do us part. But this is the detailed edition, and after college I again gave in to external pressure to abandon cycling. In other words, I got a job, and not just a job, but a succession of increasingly good jobs, jobs that required ties, jobs that put me in meetings with important clients, jobs that were decidedly unsympathetic to the cycling lifestyle, or so I thought. For a brief time I confined my pedaling to occasional weekends. It was a sad and dark time. No more detail necessary.
But you know how this thing goes, this love of cycling. If it’s in you, it comes bubbling up again and again. It pushes other things, like the conventions of office life, aside. In the end, I reverted to form. I even left the world of ties and conference rooms for a bike job.
This week’s Group Ride asks: How did you become an adult cyclist? Did you tread an uninterrupted path from first childhood ride to this morning’s commute, or has the bike come and gone from your life? If the latter, what was the catalyst for your grown up self taking to the wheel again?
Image: Matt O’Keefe