At a certain level, If I’m being truly honest, I’d have to say that 2015 was a zero-sum game. There were as many disappointments as there were triumphs. For every great innovation or performance, there was some moment of ham-fisted idiocy that caused people to type “SMH” on social media. The good news, is despite the frustration caused by select dolts (we’ll get to that), the moments you really tend to remember are worth it.
The Well They Must Be the Smartest Guys in the Room Because They Were the First To Do What We’d All Been Dreaming Platinum Crown—SRAM
The dream of shifting without cables has been around a good deal longer than Di2. Hell, one of the hallmark frustrations of Mavic’s Mektronic were the wires that were a source of some of the group’s problems. But you don’t have to be a disillusioned Francophile to think there ought to be a way to make a bike shift gears without the need for derailleur cables. So we give the award to SRAM for their Red eTap group. They’ve tested this group more than a high school senior and it performs flawlessly, even if you’re doing laps around a nuclear plant. It rethinks shifting in a truly helpful way and must be beloved by anyone currently wearing lobster gloves on rides. Absolutely the best thing I saw at Interbike.
The Charles Darwin Evolutionary Progress Diamond Tiara—Trek
The world changes. I’m sure the dinosaurs understood that even less than they cared for it, but the fact remains. Napster eviscerated the careers of a great many friends of mine, just as the Internet has upended my own career. People like to couch these changes as “disruptive,” as if that wasn’t a negative on a grade-school report card. Amazon.com may be one of the most disruptive entities of them all. You can have almost anything other than hookers or blow delivered to you in a day or two, sometimes less. So while scores of bike shops are wondering how to twist consumers’ arms into walking through the door, Trek decided to meet the challenge. Their decision to begin selling bikes online for pickup at retail stores has been the single biggest story in the industry this year. What hasn’t been widely reported is the fact that the bikes they are shipping are so thoroughly assembled that all you need to do is turn the handlebar, add pedals, set the saddle height and air the tires; their bikes are ready to go. This suggests that we’re not far from Trek doing an Amazon and eliminating the brick and mortars from the equation and just shipping to your door. There’s little sense in fighting this; it’s what consumers want. Cheers to Trek for responding to consumers rather than trying to prop up a failing business model.
Bike of the Year Gold Seal—Specialized
The kids in Morgan Hill hit it out of the park not once, but twice, in fact, with the Mark DiNucci reboot of the steel Allez and the introduction of the Diverge gravel racer. DiNucci’s Allez is the biggest update to the steel frame since the 1990s. He put an enormous amount of work into the tubes and lugs and it’s amazing that Specialized placed no restrictions on his work. The Diverge is a genius take on what a bike meant for racing unpaved roads should be. Hydraulic discs and Di2 shifting were a great start, and the low bottom bracket gave it elegant manners on descents. I was skeptical of the dropper post, at least until I actually used it and then realized the freedom it gave me on descents. It instantly became the standard by which I measure all other gravel bikes.
The Oh-That’ll-Leave-a-Mark Forehead Slap—Specialized
Specialized also gets the nod for the committing the mistake of the year with the same two bikes. That they would invest so much to revitalized the steel frame and then mothball the program after producing only 74 frames (to commemorate Specialized’s founding in 1974) gave the company’s many detractors a sizable perch from which to criticize them. It’s hard to argue the bike wasn’t a vanity project, knowing there are only 74 of them. I really wish they’d bring them over from Toyo (the Japanese builder responsible for building DiNucci’s tubes and lugs into finished framesets) by the flippin’ container. Think what that would do for restoring the credibility of steel as a material for high-end frames (to those who think carbon is king); alas, that won’t happen. Similarly, Specialized brought over so few Diverges they were gone by the time I’d had the chance to write about my experience aboard one in early February.
The More Bikes? You Want More Bikes? Lightning Bolt of Inspiration—Electric-Assist Bikes
If you follow the industry, particularly if you follow the trade publication Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, the resounding message in American bicycle retailing is the need for more people to walk into bike shops and buy bikes. Nevermind the fact that the typical bike retailer is on communications blackout where the changing landscape of retail is concerned, the rise of the Ebike has the potential to grow the number of cyclists in the U.S. not by percentage points but by factors. Forgetting for the moment the rancor over electric-assist mountain bikes on trails (which doesn’t exist in Europe, cough cough), Ebikes have the potential to bring millions of adults back to cycling. We call that a win-win.
The Chicken Little Cry of Imminent Destruction—Road Disc Brake Detractors
The arguments why disc brakes won’t work on road bikes, will cause the peloton to lose fingers by the kilometer, will ruin the performance of once great machines are currently being compiled the International Society of Luddites for their hall of fame. It records all the great arguments against progress. It memorializes trains, talking movies, the radio, cars, CDs and the Internet. There’s a whole wall devoted to Apple and Steve Jobs. The last time bikes hit their radar was integrated brake/shift levers, but for the pushback against disc brakes on road bikes has been large enough and ignorant enough of history to warrant another nod. So when are folks going to alert us to the danger of 53-tooth chainrings?
The Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now Certificate of Inauthenticity—Hein Verbruggen
Two years ago I gave the Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now Engraved Invitation to Lance Armstrong. I’m not willing to spend for the printing this time around, so I ink-jetted a little 8.5″ x 11″ proclamation that suggests Lance’s cohort Hein Verbruggen take up lion and crocodile dentistry. That we should still be hearing from this guy amazes me. Even if the UCI agreed to take up some level of defense on his behalf in the wake of the CIRC, even Johnny Cochrane would have had a tough time rehabilitating his image. How he labors under the delusion that he has any sort of reputation that matters in cycling boggles both my mind and body. That he won’t shut up is a tragedy for cycling.
The I Need a Lift Illegitimate Turbo Unit of Stupidity—Vincenzo Nibali
There’s cheating and then there’s Cheating. The latter is U.S. Postal, while the former is as old as bike racing itself. Grabbing on to a team vehicle for a quick (literally) tow to the lead group by Nibali at the Vuelta is a variety of dumb even government bureaucracies can root out. And while I know the peloton produces a fair amount of noise, helicopters are really loud, especially when they are only 200 meters away.
Comeback of the Year Scepter of Awesomeness—Taylor Phinney
This is not an award I want to present with any regularity, but given how close Phinney came to the end of his career just as we could begin to see what his trajectory might be made me sad for him, his family, and anyone who loves cycling. That he should find a substantive outlet as a painter during his convalescence was stunning and will bring a richness to his career as a pro none of us could have guessed. He’s one of the very brightest lights in cycling, not because he’s fast and a Yank (details I do dig, I’ll admit), but because he seems to have a moral compass about what it means to be an athlete and the public trust placed in an athlete. I hope he’s racing in his 40s. Honorable mention to Pete Stetina who had a similarly horrific broken leg early in 2015; glad to see him returning to his old form.
The New Media That’s How You Do It Valedictory Sash—Fat Cyclist
There have been a few different cycling podcasts. Some good, some okay and a few awful. Fatty just launched a podcast recently and it is simply amazing. It’s Greek to anyone who isn’t a dedicated cyclist and for that reason, and many others, it’s a delight to listen to. His interview with Bicycling Executive Editor Bill Strickland was a fantastic discussion of craft and publishing, one that I was truly envious I hadn’t conducted myself. There’s a coming announcement that may make this seem self-serving, but I really love this podcast and it has become a worthy alternative to “This American Life,” “On Being” and “Fresh Air” for when I’m working on bikes.