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.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my professional life to hold universally true, it’s that you don’t want to have a right-brained creative type manage a right-brained creative type, especially where meeting a deadline is at stake. However, because I’m where the buck stops at this little camp fire of cycling passion, everything here gets managed with a certain flair for the unexpected.
This would be why the Kickstarter book still isn’t delivered and why a T-shirt and print project that I began in June is only now with the T-shirt printer. I can hardly blame the creatives I work with; I’m the last guy in the world who should be managing anything other than the buttons on a keyboard.
Regarding the Kickstarter: I can say the book is finished. Norman and I struggled to figure out the instructions to deliver the file as needed to the printer, each separately. It’s less straightforward than Shutterfly. By a factor of blue whale. So yesterday we got together and went through the instructions line by line and got the files delivered. If you supported the Kickstarter, you should have an email alerting you to a new update that goes into greater, if perhaps unnecessary, depth.
In addition to the doing Hampsten shirt, I wanted to turn Bill’s art into high-quality prints. I’ve been wanting to do the same thing with the Eddy ’72 art ever since I saw it. Well, I received the art late last week and am talking to a printer about turning them into high-quality prints to adorn your walls.
I mention all of this as an explanation for why such great potential Christmas gifts won’t exactly be ready for Christmas. Some folks would have pushed more, ridden harder. It’s not my style and whether that’s for better or worse, I’ll leave to you, dear reader. As soon as I have a quote on costs and can figure postage, I’ll add them to the store, but that’s unlikely to happen later this week. There will be opportunities to purchase just the print as well as a signed and numbered version.
Finally, for the longest time (since its inception if you want to be technical) the RKP store has offered only two methods of payment: Paypal and Google Checkout. With the recent discontinuation of Google Checkout, this gave me the needed kick in the shorts to chase the process by which we might take credit cards directly on our site. If getting the files submitted for the book seemed hard, this has proved even more challenging. I can at least say we’re close and that additional feature to the site should be up and running later this week.
[Update: our store can now process credit card payments directly. You no longer need to use Paypal, though you can continue to use it if you choose.]
Thanks for your support.
I’m with my family in Hawaii, theoretically on vacation. I say theoretically because I’ve been at my keyboard and on the phone far more than I promised my wife I would be. And the reason why is Charles Pelkey’s Explainer piece on the tussle going on between Specialized and Café Roubaix.
Because of the number of emails, phone calls and other messages I’ve received, as publisher, I suppose I have to weigh in a bit.
First off, Charles didn’t go rogue. I asked him to address the story. I fully endorse what he wrote and am willing to stand by it even if Specialized decides to pull their advertising. Neither Wayne Thompson, my ad sales director, nor I have heard anything from their marketing department (and believe me, they have our numbers), so I’ll take this, so far, as their endorsement of the freedom of the press. Let me add that if they were to pull their advertising, this would be a colossal hit to me personally. I’d have to take Mini-Shred out of preschool and the Deuce out of daycare. It wouldn’t end there, either. My wife would have me sleeping in my car until I made up the shortfall. I shit you not. This would turn my life upside down.
Charles isn’t insensitive to these issues, either. After hitting “Publish” on his piece he had the inconvenient experience of noticing the Specialized ad for, of all things, the Roubaix. He called me and offered to pull the piece. I wouldn’t allow it. I stand by him and I stand by the work we publish. If I don’t stand up for the things I believe, I don’t know how I’ll be able to tell my sons that integrity matters.
Specialized is a big, complicated company. I don’t like all of their business practices, but they have a remarkable history of making great bikes. I’ve bought three (including two for Mini-Shred) in the last two years.
I flat-out think the Canadian Patent and Trademark office fucked up when they issued Specialized a trademark on the name Roubaix. Note that the U.S. office didn’t grant that trademark; that should tell us all something. However, I’m troubled by a couple of things contained (or not) in the Calgary Herald piece. Richter doesn’t mention that he’s selling wheels and tires branded Café Roubaix. The story suggests that the cease and desist letter concerns the bike shop name. While the folks at Specialized won’t talk right now, I have to imagine they were far more concerned with this guy selling parts bearing that mark.
Consider for a moment if this guy was selling wheels branded “Firecrest.” I can imagine SRAM would go after him with some verve. Whether he’s a vet or not isn’t an issue. You could be a one-armed, Nobel-Peace-Prize recipient but if you steal my car, I’m calling the cops.
Café Roubaix owner Dan Richter told the paper that Specialized, “made it clear on no uncertain terms, they are going to sue.” I have to wonder why you would tell a newspaper someone is going to sue you if they haven’t actually sued you. Specialized is on lockdown and won’t talk; that suggests that even if they are playing the heavy they are at least talking and not actually suing. Could it be that Richter wanted to head off a possible suit by igniting a fire storm of public opinion? Seems a genius strategy, but will it really be that helpful when they get back to the negotiating table?
A subsequent opinion piece in the Herald by staff writer David Marsden faults Richter for not doing a trademark search on the word Roubaix, but really, who saw that coming?
This is going to be a PR black eye for Specialized that will resonate for years. If they’d handled this more quietly (and maybe they were trying; after all, they didn’t contact the Calgary Herald) then this wouldn’t have played so poorly for them. However, their screw-up, in my opinion, wasn’t sending the C&D letter to Richter, it was filing for the trademark on the word Roubaix.
It doesn’t matter that Specialized only applied for the Roubaix mark in cycling. Cycling is the only forum in which it has value. Roubaix is one of those words that carries the weight of tradition; it telegraphs more than endurance, it is the bar by which we measure a fortitude that is more of the mind than body. It’s a word that carries mythic weight, imperial meaning. It’s part of an international trust. No one, in my opinion, should have an exclusive right to use that word in a cycling context, and that, really, is the root of the outrage being directed at Specialized.
I know a great many fine people at Specialized. I like and respect Mike Sinyard. When I think of the CEOs in the bike biz who most embody the life of a dedicated cyclist, I think of him. I use him as an example not just of someone who I believe is authentically a cyclist, but how I’d like to be living my life in another 15 years. Yes, he works a lot, but he also rides a lot, and in cool places, to boot.
But his legal team is another matter. Seeking to trademark a term whose value you haven’t personally built is a kind of greed at best, a kind of theft at worst. Had Specialized called that bike the turnbuckle or the outrigger—names that have no meaning in cycling—and then Café Whatever came out with Outrigger wheels or Turnbuckle tires, they could have sued straight away and everyone would have wondered what the hell Dan Richter was thinking. Public sentiment wouldn’t have been an issue.
I don’t believe shunning Specialized for this breach of community etiquette serves anyone, though consumers are entitled to vote with their dollars. And big companies are entitled to vote with theirs as well, which means the big red S may yet pull their ad from us. Whether they do or not, I’ll continue to do my job as I see fit, and that means if they are willing to continue to send me their product, I’ll continue to review it conscientiously. I think it’s better for the community if we remain engaged. After all, who cares what your enemy thinks of you? It’s when a friend says, “Please, don’t drive drunk; that’s dumb, I’ll call you a cab,” that you know you’ve got someone looking out for you—and everyone else.
Now, with that off my chest, I’m going back to my vacation, which is already in progress.
Coffee-table books about handmade steel frames have become a bona fide category within cycling books. The latest to join the market is “The Elite Bicycle” by Gerard Brown and Graeme Fife. The reason for the double-billing is that the publishers gave Brown, the photographer, equal status as the writer, Fife. This isn’t unheard-of in book publishing; it’s somewhat common with large-format photo books.
I note this because it is Brown’s eye that sets this book apart from others in the category. This isn’t frame porn—not that there’s anything wrong with that—and as a result, it’s a different sort of survey of high-end bike products. And it is truly that, a survey of bike products, not just frame builders. When I first opened the book, I’ll admit I was mystified. What the hell sort of collection was this? Based on the title, I was expecting lots of frame porn—loving shots of frame details interspersed with occasional shots of the master hard at work. But the book delivers something quite different.
The subjects Brown and Fife chose go well beyond the standard who’s who of frame builders. Sure, there’s Dario Pegoretti, Richard Sachs and Dinucci. But there’s also Seven and Cyfac. Where the collection gets interesting is when you note that Brooks, Selle Italia, Sapim, Spécialtés TA and even Mavic were included. While not a random collection, it was diverse enough that I felt a need to ask the publisher just what drove the assortment of profiles.
What I was told was that it was driven to a great degree by the photography—that those builders and companies chosen were those where Brown got the most interesting images. It was an answer I didn’t expect, though I can’t say just what answer I did expect. Upon opening the book again, I began to see it with different eyes. Rather than feeling frustration that there weren’t more detail shots of clean lug work, I came to appreciate that the photographer was interested in capturing something very different. While there are plenty of shots of craftsmen at work, as evidenced by the shot above, there are a great many shots ofthe space itself, atmospheric portraits of life as a frame builder.
Ultimately, what you come away with is something different; it’s the sense that you’ve spent an afternoon at the builder or company’s work space, that you’ve seen the work being done and then been left to wander on your own. You could unleash a dozen cycling photographers on the same set of subjects and very few would come up with anything so evocative. Turning the pages, I have the sense they contain the scent of Dario Pegoretti’s cigarettes and paint, the industrial smell of Guru’s carbon fiber, the perfume of Seven’s machine oil.
If you’re looking for the book that contains the definitive collection of frame builders and loving detail shots of their work, this isn’t it. Thank heaven. What Brown and Fife have brought to the reader is a look behind the torch, a chance to wander around the shop, even if that shop is nine time zones away. Published by VeloPress, The Elite Bicycle has a trim size of 11″x11″, contains 224 pages, is cloth bound with dust jacket and goes for $39.95.
A bit more than six months ago I had an idea. This happens to me all the time and usually no one gets hurt. Normally, I have ideas that are best executed in prose and then I sit down and bang away at little pieces of plastic until my creative urge subsides. It works out well for nearly all involved nearly all the time. But every now and then I have an idea that requires enlisting the help of people with talents in my distinctive areas of deficit. The artist Bill Cass is one such victim. Bill, as you may recall, was responsible for our Eddy T-shirt based on my Peloton Magazine feature about his 1972 season. My history with Bill goes back to Asphalt Magazine and Bicycle Guide. I’ve not seen another artist who can capture the kinetic sense of cycling as accurately as Bill can.
I realized that we were closing in on the 25th anniversary of Andy Hampsten’s 1988 victory at the Giro d’Italia, a mark unequaled by another American rider, clean or otherwise. That’s worth celebrating, right?
So I approached Andy with my suggestion and asked him what we could do for him. A royalty on this sort of thing isn’t unusual. He suggested that instead, we make a donation to the Colorado league of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA). I was thrilled by the idea and welcomed the chance to do something to help NICA’s larger mission.
As Bill and I discussed when he might have the bandwidth to do the art and what it should depict, we kept returning to an underplayed reality of stage 14, the stage that took in the Gavia on the way into Bormio. Hampsten’s ability as a climber is what separated him from the pack, what allowed him to get his gap. However, what virtually no photos or video document from that day is how he kept that lead—by descending like a BASE jumper. Only Panasonic’s Erik Breukink was able to catch him before the finish, and even so did that only after the descent was effectively complete. We’ve long celebrated Hampsten’s ability to ascend like an eagle into the clouds, but it’s time to remind everyone that he was no one-trick pony, that this guy knows how to let a bike roll.
Bill’s eye for the details that can make a static illustration visceral is in full force here. When I first looked at the illustration and saw the lean angle, my heart skipped a beat as I thought about the road wet from snow. It’s just the effect he wanted; there is no drama without danger.
So while it’s well past June and Christmas is practically upon us, I’m pleased to announce that Bill has completed the art and it’s off to our screen printer. We’re doing all we can to have these back and shipping out so that you can have them in time for Christmas. We anticipate their delivery the week of 12/16. [Update: The shirts arrived 12/17 and are now shipping.]
To order the Gavia shirt for you and your loved ones, click here.
Finally, on a related note, we recently received a new order of the RKP jersey in medium and large, so if you’ve been wanting one, now’s your chance.
Padraig: Tell us about the jig you use.
David Wages: It’s pretty minimal. I have an Anvil Journeyman fixture for frames and an Anvil fork fixture. I have a few other pieces of machinery. I have drill press, a die grinder and a dynafile and that’s pretty much it. It’s amazing how little that holds me back. I came out of Serotta and Waterford where we had pretty much every tool we could ever want. I have never felt held back by that. Even if I had a mill to cut tubes, I have to ask, ‘How many tubes would I have to cut to pay for that mill?’
Padraig: What sort of cutting and shaping of lugs do you like to perform? Does it vary from bike to bike or are there stylistic elements people can find running through all your bikes?
David Wages: It’s interesting. I’ve been thinking about that and talked to a customer about it just today. It’s starting to coalesce a bit. I have a very classic sort of lug pattern I do and then another that’s very modern-looking in appearance. I did a Di2 bike and wanted the lugs to be very modern, very minimal.
The more modern looking ones look good with SRAM or Di2, while the classic ones look good with Campy.
I have a Long Shen I like to use. It’s a stock lug they have for oversize tube sets. It works with 1 1/8 steerers. That’s the direction I’m headed—1 1/8” forks. I’ll build 1”, but if it’s in my hands, I’ll build an 1 1/8”.
Darrell McCulloch of Llewellyn has some nice lug sets I’m using. He’s got four different sets made by Long Shen and they are great castings. I modify them some so they like like my own, not cookie-cutter; they are really nice lugs.
Padraig: When fitting a customer for a bike, how do you usually work? How often is it in person?
David Wages: I don’t think I’ve ever done one in-person. The way I do this comes about in one of three different ways. There’s the guy who knows exactly what he wants. He can quote the tube lengths and angles he wants. I can take those numbers and build them that. Then there’s the person who has no idea what their fit should be and this is their first custom bike. For those, the easiest thing is to find a local place to do a fitting. I have two networks out there as a result of Waterford and Serotta. I can call a shop ahead and tell them that I’m sending a customer for a fitting. Afterward I just get those fit numbers and go to work.
In between there there’s the guy who may be having some trouble with his fit. One of the most helpful things is getting pictures of the bike. You may see the saddle all the way back or a crazy stem. So much of it comes down to seeing a picture of the bike, not just them on the bike, but also the bike itself.
I think the big thing is getting the person in the ball park so that they have adjustability. By ball park I mean a nice neutral position that provides a starting point for choices. The more information, the better.
I’ve been at this long enough I think I’m qualified to take all the information and distill it down into a good fit. I think it’s one of the things that new builders don’t account enough for. It has a big effect on ride.
Padraig: Who does your paint?
David Wages: It’s total serendipity that I ran into a friend of a friend. I didn’t have a plan when I left Waterford other than thinking I’d just send frames to Joe Bell. A friend said you should check out this guy in Milwaukee, Jason Sanchez. He painted for Jonny Cycles, but he [Jonny] stopped building, unfortunately. Jason’s work isn’t better than Joe Bell’s but it’s on par. He’s as obsessive about the paint as I am about the frame. Having a painter of Jason’s caliber is one thing, but to have him local so I don’t have to box my bikes up and ship them across country is really huge.
Padraig: Let’s talk about geometry: Would you say all your bikes have a consistent ride that is your signature, or do you vary your geometry based on the customer’s preferences and needs?
David Wages: I would say for your standard road bike, I have a fairly consistent ride and geometry I’m going for. Randonneur bikes are getting more and more popular and the geometry is very different. I talk to the customer to find out what the bike is going to be used for. Like with a loaded touring bike, I ask about where they are going to put their weight. Are they going to run a handlebar bag, panniers, fenders? There are a lot of variables to take into account. I’ve been doing a lot of research on randonneur bikes. It’s challenging and fun to keep learning about that.
Padraig: When designing a frame for a customer, once you know the ride characteristics the rider is looking for, do you conceive of the geometry as a whole or is there a particular dimension you look to as a starting point?
David Wages: I am a big fan of a lower bottom bracket and longer chainstays. If someone wants a tight race bike, that’s fine, but I think longer chainstays make so much sense. You can worry less about cross-chaining, can consider fenders, run wider tires, things like that. An 80mm BB drop really makes sense if you’re not racing crits. I’m trying make a bike that’s as easy to ride and as comfortable to ride as possible.
I spend most of my time looking at contact points: pedals, handlebar and saddle.
Padraig: Bottom line: What are your bikes supposed to ride like?
David Wages: I want the bike to ride like the bike you’ve always wanted. It should be an extension of you.
Padraig: How long is the wait for new customers?
David Wages: Right now I’m quoting about 6 months.
Padraig: What’s your pricing like?
David Wages: Almost nobody buys a stock bike; they are adding some options, a braze-on here or upgrade to paint. The average bike is around $3500 for frame and fork. The bare-bones frame and fork is $2900.
Padraig: What keeps the work fresh for you, gets you up in the morning (or out in the evening) and excited to build?
David Wages: I think riding. Going out and riding and the feedback from the customers along with my own riding is really it. Getting the first order for a randonneur bike was really huge. I got to do a lot of research. I’m probably more inspired in the summer when I’m riding a lot. Seeing other people on my bikes.
I’m not a type-A personality, a guy who likes to work the room, but when I go to a show like NAHBS [the North American Handmade Bicycle Show] I don’t mind standing up nine hours a day and talking about something I’m so passionate about. I’m stoked. I get to the end of the day and I’m jazzed. At home, I’m working all day and I love that, whereas here, I talked to 150 people. I’m excited about bikes. They have a value and people recognize that. I love hanging out with those people. I feel like I have the résumé as a builder, but getting people to know who I am is the challenge.
Padraig: What’s your life away from building like? What sort of outside interests do you have?
David Wages: My brother lives in Ventura. He and I are into rock climbing so when I visit him I get to do that, which I can’t do in Wisconsin. My wife and I met through kayaking. The year I was away from Serotta I worked at a bike/kayak store. When I got out here, I went looking for a club to hook up with; she was too and that’s how we met.
I gotta give my wife huge props just for putting up with starting this in a rotten economy. She has been very supportive. She puts up with a lot of talk about bikes and frames and she’s not a bike person to the degree I am, so she’s really patient with me. I couldn’t do it without her.
Images: Steve Wages
A friend I don’t get to ride with very often came into town and joined us for our Wednesday ride today. At some point, after we’d done the chit-chat about our riding lives, he asked, “So how’s the rest of your life, the part I can’t read about on RKP?”
It was then that I resorted to what has become my standard line regarding 2013; “I won’t lie. It’s been a hard year.” Not counting checkups for the kids, I’ve spent close to 60 days of the last 13 months inside hospitals. I’m aware there are times when I behave with a shell-shocked detachment. In that yin/yang cycle of riding between discharge and recharge, I’ve been in months of recharge. I haven’t been doing many group rides and the ones I’ve been doing haven’t been the fastest ones; I choose groups that are small. I’ve ridden less than half the miles this year that I rode last year.
Most days, the Deuce’s stay in the NICU is less a memory than a memory of a dream. It doesn’t seem real, but all I need to prove just how real it was—and remains—is to look at one of his scars. I still struggle with the words, “We nearly lost him.” Of course, “lost” is but a euphemism, a soft-soap way to waltz with the concept of death and maybe shield our eyes from the full view of what that experience was.
And we’re still dodging bullets. While I was at Interbike I received a text message from my wife informing me that Matthew would need physical therapy because his neck had a limited range of motion. The nurses who tended to him were always at his right, so while in the incubator he looked up and to his right to see them. He is paying a price for it now; he has trouble turning his head left. His head is also slightly misshapen due to all that time in the incubator and the doctors were concerned that he might need a helmet to put things right. Fortunately, they say he’s not so bad that it’s required. Sure, he’d improve more quickly, but we’re told that by the time he enters kindergarten he’ll be as normal as you or me.
There’s a greater truth to what these challenges mean, what they add up to. When I look at the Deuce, I see a miracle. Not in the crazy violation-of-physics way, or even the modern-medicine way, but in a much smaller way, simply staggered by the sheer unlikeliness of the outcome, of his continued presence and ongoing growth. Now nine months old, he’s 30 inches and 21 pounds, all of it against the odds.
So, yes, I’ve got much to be thankful for, plenty to be thankful for and my gratitude is something I have the good sense to note, to breathe in every day.
But that’s not all I want to express my thanks for today. I need to thank you readers. I’ve got at least a half dozen different reasons to be grateful for this readership, but the one that’s on my mind right now is your indulgence. When I launched RKP I really didn’t intend for it to veer into such personal material to the degree it has at times. In the case of the Enter the Deuce series I didn’t have much choice. I did what I needed to in order to get through. I wrote my way through the experience and I suppose part of the reason the events seem so dreamlike is that I spent dozens of ours typing as I sat in the hospital. I may have taken in events primarily through my eyes, but they were processed through my fingers.
The degree to which you indulged me is yet another miracle to me; this time miraculous not because it couldn’t happen, but because life just doesn’t work this way. Allow me to explain; two or three days before we were able to bring the Deuce home I decided to finally check Google Analytics see what the damage was—that is, just how much our readership had fallen while I’d abdicated my seat.
Our numbers held steady. It was unlikely the way a nine point earthquake is unlikely. While it can happen, it just doesn’t. A couple of weeks later at the Sea Otter Classic our ad sales director, Wayne, tried to explain what I’d been up to and I finally cut him off and simply said, “For more than a month, I wasn’t really doing my job, but our readers stuck by us.”
You did me a kindness I’ll never forget.
Padraig: Is that where you grew up?
David Wages: No, actually I grew up in upstate New York. It was a big move for me to come out here. I got started at Serotta before coming out here. I worked in a bunch of shops before starting there.
Padraig: What’s the riding like in Waterford?
David Wages: You know, it’s actually really good. I was a little skeptical when I moved out here. There are lots and lots of little back roads. They call them rustic roads. They cut a lot of roads to connect all these dairy farms. You can do tons and tons of road riding without coming across a lot of traffic
There are not a lot of big hills—no mountains at all. I’m terrible at a short sprinters’ hills; I’m much better when I can get on a long hill and get a rhythm going.
Padraig: How did you get your start at Serotta?
David Wages: It’s funny because I had been obsessed with bikes as a kid. When I got the job at Serotta it was just a job. I was initially working packing and shipping bikes. I didn’t think I’d be a builder. Kelly Bedford was the one who showed me the basics.
I left Serotta for a year and worked for a bike shop. When Ben bought the company back he knew I was interested in brazing and he called me and asked me to come back.
I was there about two-and-a-half years before I left for Waterford. I got in and learned the whole process. There were a couple of people who came back after Ben bought the company back. After a few years I started asking myself what I was going to be doing long-term. I realized that if I stayed at Serotta I’d be doing the same thing for a number of years. I was looking for a way to break out. I called Waterford and asked if they had any needs. They were and when told them my credentials and asked if they’d be interested in talking they decided to fly me out.
Even though the interview was January I still moved out here. I spent almost exactly eight years there. When I moved to Waterford I didn’t think I’d be here in Waterford this long or even be at Waterford Cycles for that long. I kind of thought I’d keep moving west. I didn’t have a dream of Ellis yet, really wasn’t thinking of starting my own business.
The realization that I wanted my own business came when I realized that even if I do the very best work I can do, it doesn’t guarantee success. Everyone in the company has to be just as successful as me for the whole company to be successful. As an individual builder, now I have control over whether I do well or not.
It’s a one-man shop, totally. It does require more discipline, though. Especially working at home, it’s a lot harder than people think. It’s different than going to work at Waterford, where I would go in and do my eight hours and then head home. It has a lot of upsides, too. If I’m looking at a design and think, ‘Gee, it seems like this frame ought to have a pump peg,’ now I just pick up the phone and call the customer and talk to them about it.
Padraig: Where does the name Ellis come from?
David Wages: Ellis is my middle name. It’s also my great-grandmother’s maiden name. Sort of a family name that’s been passed down. I like that it’s an homage to my family.
Padraig: Do you ever work in a material other than steel?
David Wages: I did a little bit of welding at Serotta, but it was such a right brain/left brain thing for me, it just didn’t come naturally to me. I decided I’m just gonna stick with brazing. When you braze you move the heat around—you move the torch around a lot. When you weld you hold the welder still but move the rod. It’s the exact opposite for me in terms of technique.
Padraig: Who makes the tubing and lugs you like to use?
David Wages: You know, I probably, the biggest percentage of tubing I use is True Temper. I got really used to using it at Waterford. I like being able to purchase a la carte, tube by tube. I also buy a fair amount of Reynolds. I’m looking for specific tubes for a specific use. It really depends on the bike. I’m trying to find specific tubes of specific diameter and wall thickness.
Some bikes that are called custom are not as custom as people think. The builder may use a single tube set. It’s not terrible, but it’s not being tailored to an individual rider. There’s so much subtlety, such as what the rider is going to use the bike for. Choosing each tube one-by-one for the frame gives me more control in achieving the customer’s goals. That’s what separates stock from custom.
I get asked about what I think of carbon a lot. People expect that I don’t like the material. I’m not against carbon. I tell people, ‘This is what I offer and I think there’s a value to it.’
I’m fundamentally a form-follows-function person. That’s not to say that I think that clothing, buildings and home furnishings all need to be austere to the point of Bauhausian sterility, but I think that style should never trump substance. Having said that, I accept the reality that such an outlook makes me a candidate for both the worst home decorator and least romantic male of the 21st century, even though it’s early in this 100-year span.
That preference is borne of a hopelessly strategic approach to most dimensions of my life. Practically, that has translated to an affinity for technical fibers (including wool). Show me two jackets; if one of them, thanks to the use of a special fabrics, happens to be both lighter and warmer, I’m inclined to go with it, even if it doesn’t look quite as workaday. On the contrary, many years ago, when I was living in New England, I realized that I enjoyed having people note my preference for specialized garments. I didn’t really care what they thought of my choice; back then I just like that they noticed I wasn’t wearing some cotton coat that would lose it’s ability to keep you warm or dry the moment it started raining or snowing, and during the cold months of the fall, winter and spring, that could happen a couple of times each week.
That said, there are plenty of people who try to use their outerwear to project something they are not. I’m thinking of lawyers with Carhartt barn coats and urban yuppies who’ve never seen a ski left, let alone a mountain, decorated in the finest down from The North Face. My urge is to make a statement more authentic, not less so. And while anyone is entitled to wear what they want, I appreciate pieces that confirm I’m active. That means my outerwear is cut for my cyclist’s physique and I prefer items that offer as much warmth as possible while simultaneously throwing overboard the homogenized style of Old Navy. In short, I like pieces that don’t necessarily scream “cyclist” while still conveying that my wardrobe didn’t come from Macy’s. RKP T-shirts are handy in this regard, but they aren’t all that warm.
There are two pieces in my wardrobe I’ve decided are worth mentioning; one, a piece from Giro’s New Road line, is a recent addition, while the other has been a part of my cool weather rotation for a couple of years. That piece is the Assos DB.4 kickTop. Again with the crazy names. Around the house, when I can’t find it, I just refer to it as my Assos pullover, to which my wife will respond, “Your black one?”
Compared to a couple of similar (though cotton-constructed) pullovers I have from Ralph Lauren, the DB.4 kickTop is lighter, warmer and includes two zippered pockets. Both zip to the neck in the event of a chill breeze. Unlike the pullovers from Ralph Lauren, the Assos device won’t wrinkle, packs into a backpack like a dime in a pocket and in the event of rain dries as quickly as a toddler’s tears.
The bad news is that Assos has decided not to carry this piece in the U.S. anymore. You can still find some around, but it’s not easy. Ah, the power of Google.
Giro has been adding new pieces to its apparel line and easily my favorite piece from the fall line is the new Soft Shell Jacket. It’s cut from medium-weight polyester (304 gm/m²), which makes it heavy enough to keep you comfortable down into the 40s yet light enough that I never overheated in around-town trips and could jam it in a small bag when traveling. Despite the fact that it is cut from polyester, the jacket doesn’t have that shiny finish that makes you look like a square. Part of its ability to help regulate temperature comes via two small chest zips that open vents right at your collarbones. Given how small they are I wondered just how much they could do; I was surprised to realize that they offered just enough ventilation to keep me from breaking a sweat when chasing Mini-Shred around the neighborhood.
Inside the jacket, it’s got two chest pockets big enough for a pair of sunglasses in their case, while there are two zippered pockets for hands or keys. There is a fifth pocket at the small of the back, zippered on both sized with the capacity to carry a loaf of bread or a couple of water bottles, it’s that big. I didn’t discover it until reading about the jacket’s features because it was so well cut that it is completely concealed when not in use. Kinda makes it the perfect jacket for riding to a party without worrying about how to bring a bottle of wine.
To keep the jacket form fitting both on and off the bike, it is cut with raglan sleeves. While the zipper starts at the center of the bottom hem, but then sweeps to the right at the neck to keep soft fabric at your chin. When zipped up, this feature is terrific, but when the jacket is unzipped, there are times when the collar will rub against my chin and it can be hard to keep it out of the way. The cuffs stretch to keep the wind from running up the sleeves while elasticized drawstrings at the hem allow you to gather the jacket around you a bit more when riding.
The Giro Soft Shell Jacket goes for $250 and comes in five sizes (S-XXL). It comes in but one color, dark heather gray, which has proven to be as versatile as gray flannel. Noteworthy is how Giro positions its return policy alongside the garment’s features. In a sense, their commitment to your satisfaction could be said to be one of the jacket’s features. I just can’t imagine anyone returning one of these things. Wearing this both on and off the bike is a chance to wear a garment that suits me and my lifestyle.