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.
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.
Marking time by counting the trips around the sun may seem arbitrary, as if counting off every 100 days or every 500 days would make more sense, but anniversaries resonate because marking 365 days gives us a chance to think back on what we were doing under similar circumstances. The fact that it may be frozen yet snowless where you are can help recall previous years and the events that unfolded under similar weather. The short days and that orange light that blooms in the afternoons can summon recollections as disparate as falling in love and breaking up.
I am looking forward to the new year more than usual because this time, it really does feel like a chance to hit the reset button. The way I’ve been marking time, this year has been longer than most. I suspect that I’m not alone in noting October, 10, 2012, as a day when life changed. While I remember it as the day I almost killed myself, it’s also the day that USADA issued its Reasoned Decision. One thing died for sure that day. So while my crash didn’t actually occur in 2013, I spent much of this year recovering from and processing the literal and metaphoric impact on my life that one wayward second meant.
There are times when I want to inventory all the questions that event begged. Why was I going so damn fast? Could I have pulled it out if I’d been willing to recommit to my line? How bad would that crash have been if I had tried but failed? Why has this crash been such a monumental event in my life? Other crashes were just things that happened, but this was an event—why? What does this mean for my family? I don’t mean just in terms of my presence as a parent, but how does this affect my values and what I should teach, not to mention how I teach my sons? What does it mean for my life if I stop chasing adventure, pushing myself? Is there a point at which any reasonable, responsible person shuts down the adventure? How much adventure is enough to keep you alive? How much is the ego of not letting go of youth? Does chasing adventure as a parent necessarily mean you’re being selfish, or is it a way to show your children what living is all about? For how long are we obliged to lead by example?
It may be that having faced mortality less than six months prior to the birth of a baby that wasn’t really meant to survive gave that previous crisis fresh weight. I know that I began to see my family as a far more delicate and frail structure than I did previously. What had once been concrete and rebar was suddenly little more than icicles hanging from a rickety rain gutter.
It seems clichéd to call this a crisis of faith, but that’s how this played out. Basic assumptions about cycling, my relative youth, the grip of bicycle tires, my ability to see down the road, again both literally and metaphorically, even what I thought of as my routines—it all went flying, like so many shards of a dropped glass. It’s made the writing harder, slower. Some advertisers have been more supportive than others.
Robot’s recent musings about how my life events intersected and altered what RKP was this year did two things for me. First, it gave me a chuckle because of the things he left out, like my Memorial Day trip to the ER that resulted in a bigger break from the bike than even my October crash was. He and I shared a lot with each other, behind the scenes. Second, in acknowledging that it was a weird year for the blog/site/media entity, that we’re allowed to admit we didn’t deliver all the content we wanted to, all the content perhaps you expected, he made it possible for me to take a slightly different look back.
I suppose if what we delivered was a bit more formulaic, a bit more commoditized, a bit more processed, hell, a bit more Cheez Whiz, we might have been able to conceal the acne a bit better. So it goes. The deeper truth is that in attempting to go deep, you don’t always pull up what you expect, or want. It’s only been in the last few weeks that I’ve really begun to see this year as a blessing. As much as we love the Deuce, being present for his journey shell shocked us. It was every bit as traumatic as my crash, but it took billions of times longer to unfold.
My purpose isn’t to beg sympathy or prey upon vulnerable emotions, but simply to acknowledge the way I’ve been looking at the world for the last 15 or so months. It has made me tentative in ways where I was once more bold; I still can’t descend on the road the way I did even though my descending off road is every bit what it once was. That strikes me as an irony Thomas Hardy might appreciate. The guy who doesn’t trust the grip of his tires on the road is okay with sliding around off road. Insert 24-pt. WTF.
There’s a line, one that I admit is fuzzy, the way colors fade into one another. When does red become orange and when does orange become yellow? Somewhere in the middle is a life I can chase with purpose, a way I can show my boys how to chase bliss without simultaneously turning myself into a gravity jockey that will get my life insurance policy canceled. It’s a place that fulfills me, allows me to continue to grow as a person, or if not grow, at least not grow stale. That medium may be happy, but it’s not obvious, or easy.
Isn’t that the nature of cycling?
When I was a kid, my parents had a subscription to New Yorker Magazine. They had a delightful habit of cutting out their favorite cartoons and taping them up inside the cabinet doors in our kitchen. One favorite of mine was by Edward Koren in which a large furry beast with a mouth the size of a bathtub stands behind a couple in their living room. The wife tells their company, “We deal with it by talking about it.”
That seems to be a fair way to start off a review of a pair of cycling shoes with laces.
I don’t want to dance around this. Until the Giro Empire was introduced we all thought that laces were strictly the domain of NOS Dettos and photos from the Horton Collection. I mean, laces? The blast-radius of WTF? reaches all the way to the Flemish Cap. Those neon yellow laces are Exhibit A in why Giro is the bravest company in the bike industry. I’ve not loved every product they have introduced. Indeed, they’ve introduced some stuff here and there that I’ve downright disliked. But here’s the thing: Even when I haven’t liked a product, the design elements underpinning an unusual feature that I’m not wild about have never been random, strictly for style. They are a company long on style, but never place it ahead of function.
Thinking back on the four worst aspects of my first pair of Sidis is probably a good way to assess the basic elements of the Empires. Those Sidis seemed like pretty good shoes until I switched to clipless pedals. Then all sorts of stuff started going wrong. First, the eyelets at the top of the shoe started to stretch. Second, because the eyelets were stretching, the laces effectively became longer and began to catch between the chain and big chainring. Third, the cotton laces began to break. And fourth, the reduced support for the shoe due to the lack of toe clips increased the stress on the sole just behind the cleat. Both soles snapped behind the cleat. Those are all good reasons to dismiss a pair of shoes, with prejudice.
There’s little point in introducing a pair of shoes that possess such obvious flaws, right? Still, those flaws were so monumental, I had trouble getting past an experience that occurred more than 20 years ago. Giro had more than addressed those concerns, though. The top two pairs of eyelets are reinforced. The laces are a good deal more stout than those old cotton ones and the Tejin microfiber is stout enough that while not impossible to stretch, a ride in the rain won’t result in your shoes growing by a half size. As to the silliness of having laces flopping around to get caught in a chainring, Giro included a small elastic loop to keep the laces out of the way. Those broken soles? Well there wasn’t much threat that the Easton EC90 carbon fiber soles would snap in two.
I had the sense that as I set the cleats up on the shoes and began adjusting the laces for my fit they were mocking my objections. I’m not one for personification, but if ever a pair of shoes could have managed a derisive laugh, these would have been the pair.
The one-piece Tejin upper is a marvel of construction in that finding a material that could be forced to assume such a shape wouldn’t also find a new, less-desirable shape the moment it becomes damp with road spray. Giro says the Tejin is remarkably breathable which is why there are no panels of mesh or more obviously breathable materials, just perforations to aid breathability. While I haven’t used these shoes in ultra-hot conditions, I’ve not noticed my feet becoming sweaty in familiar conditions, and they’ve been on the cool side when I’ve worn them without booties on mornings in the low 50s.
Most fitters I know turn red with apoplexy any time you try to discuss a shoe manufacturer’s insoles. I’ll agree that most are pretty awful. I’ll also agree that a custom-molded insole beats any production insole like a piece of schnitzel under a meat tenderizer. All that said, Giro’s insoles, with their replaceable arch support, are far and away my favorites on the market. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve got an extremely high arch (not to mention a foot wider than some boulevards) and the Giro insole is the only production insole that can provide support for the whole of my arch.
After riding with the included insoles for a week I went ahead and swapped them out with a pair of custom molded ones I have. This is a practice of mine that is virtually inevitable with all shoes I wear; I didn’t trim these insoles to match the shape of the insoles I removed, the upshot being that it pushes the toe box out a bit, gaining me a bit more width where I need it most, near the ball of my foot.
I’m told that if you’ve got a relationship with a good shoe repair shop a talented cobbler can stretch the Tejin a bit to customize the fit, but you need someone with both know-how and tools.
The last time someone sent me a $150 shoe to review, my feeling was that it was so crappy I didn’t see the point in reviewing something that made uncomfortable to do the two things that model was meant to accomplish: pedal and walk. With a suggested retail of $274.95, these are twice as expensive as any pair of dress shoes I’ve ever purchased, but I never asked as much of a pair of dress shoes I’ve worn. I’m also aware that some production—not custom—cycling shoes are still a good bit more expensive; I can’t make out why.
I’ve observed a number of features to recommend these shoes, but I’ve only circled the central issue of these shoes—how having laces affects the fit. Let’s consider that most cycling shoes use three straps to close, whether velcro or ratchet. Honestly, three points of adjustment isn’t much. By comparison, the Empire has seven sets of eyelets. The fit that the laces has allowed me to achieve is order magnitudes better than what I get with three straps and even better than what I can get with a Boa closure. Let me add that I’ve encountered a number of velcro straps that were too short and stiff to comfortably accommodate my wide, high-volume foot; I could barely get the strap to connect without cutting off circulation to my forefoot and toes.
A buddy on Saturday’s ride asked how on Earth I’m able to adjust the fit during my ride. My response: I don’t. I’d say that twice each year I’ll get distracted as I’m putting my shoes on and realize that either they are too loose or too tight and need to adjust them. Part of this depends on the fact that I’m not someone who rides with his shoes tightened down like a corset; I don’t see the point. I simply pull the the laces to the point that the fit is snug, but not tight, and I can do five hours in them that way.
It would be easy to pitch the Empire as a classic case of making an old idea new, but the truth is simpler, more compelling, less derivative. Seven sets of eyelets simply give you more control over fit through a greater length of the shoe. It’s an idea we should never have stopped chasing.
The thing is, in the 1990s I spent my winters chasing fitness with skate skiing and crazy-long trainer sessions. Even though I was a PSIA-certified ski instructor, a good week saw me on the snow maybe four days, so I’d spend the other days doing rides on my trainer. My last winter in Northampton saw record-breaking snowfall. It was still snowing in April. I got a lot of trainer time that winter. Three-hour sessions several times a week resulted in burned-out bearings for the resistance fan and on one occasion my workout was so vigorous that I managed to scoot the trainer across the floor until my bike’s rear tire was rubbing one of the cushions on my couch. I managed to burn a hole in the cushion. Made for a delightful meal of crow when my (ex) wife got home.
Ever since that winter spending time on trainers has been as attractive a thought as seeing an ex at a holiday party. Magnetic resistance and fluid resistance trainers may have made trainers quieter, but it has made them less pleasant to ride. Most of the units I’ve tried in the last 15 years lack the smooth resistance offered by fan-based resistance. I’ve still got one fluid-resistance trainer in my garage and even on its lowest setting riding that thing is like pedaling up a 20-percent grade. Any pause in pedaling results in the feeling that you are starting from a dead stop.
You might say I’ve been celibate for some years.
When I encountered the LeMond Revolution at Interbike in 2012, I was pretty impressed. Because it uses a fan for its resistance, it’s noisy, though it’s not so noisy as the wind trainer I owned in the ’90s. The LeMond Revolution adds an interesting twist to the wind resistance unit—it includes a flywheel. The upshot is that you get the resistance of a traditional fan plus the inertial feel of rollers. You can skip a few pedal strokes and actually coast without having the trainer immediately come to a stop. Tiny fidgets in the saddle in which you might ease up on the pedals for a moment don’t result in the feeling that you just shifted up a gear.
The Revolution is based on a design that a physicist LeMond knew came up with in the 1980s. The only American winner of the Tour de France used that prototype from ’82 until his retirement in ’94. LeMond says that when in your biggest gear while pedaling at 110 rpm, you’ll generate more than 800 watts. That makes for a great rebuttal should anyone worry that anything so easy to pedal could actually provide a reasonable workout.
The irony of stationary trainers is that they are sold on how hard you can go on them. The greater reality about them is that this time of year most riders need them most for logging base miles. It’s in doing easy miles that the more unnatural the feel of a trainer, the more unpleasant the experience is.
Even if you are opposed to the idea of a wind trainer, there are plenty of other reasons why the LeMond Revolution is better-designed than other trainers. By eliminating the rear wheel and mountain the rear triangle of the bike to the trainer, wheel and tire wear are eliminated. Tire slip against the roller during hard jumps is eliminated. Funny lean angles caused by bent or misaligned trainer legs is eliminated thanks to adjustable pads the trainer sits on; you can level it just like you would your stove. By eliminating the rear wheel, the Revolution tackles another common problem with trainers—how to level the front wheel. By positioning the axle at the same distance from the ground as that of a rear wheel, the front wheel need not be propped up to make the bike level. Pretty genius.
The trainer, with cassette goes for $659. That’s not cheap, but in my mind I liken it to the expensive health club that you use more because it’s not a dive. I can’t stress this enough; I’ve avoided trainers—avoided them—for many years because I just couldn’t stand the experience anymore. The LeMond Revolution has been enough of a revelation in experience that I’ve begun to see it as a way to sneak in extra miles, like after the boys are in bed.
I live in a place where the trainer isn’t necessary and yet the Revolution seems useful, a way to help my fitness. Imagine how useful it could be to everyone in the real world, that place where winter can screw up everything from trees to plumbing to fitness.
This isn’t quite what love feels like, but I’m willing to date this one.
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?!?!”
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’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.