I’ve ridden a great many bike events over the years. From charity rides that were as elaborately produced as a wedding to road races marshaled by a van with half a million miles on it and industrial park crits that were as nondescript as the buildings we rode by. In that time I’ve run across one event that I really feel has gotten the formula right for producing a memorable cycling event. And it’s no secret that I think that event is Levi’s Gran Fondo.
I first went up to ride the gran fondo just because I wanted to go for an organized ride in Sonoma County. That it was to be a gran fondo—that is, a century with a mass start and controlled intersections to make it a bit more like an actual race—was more interesting to me than the ride being attached to a big pro. What interested me was doing a 100-mile ride with loads of climbing and great descents and only putting down my foot when I got to a rest stop. Not having to stop every few miles for a red light was easily worth the entry fee.
I got that experience, but I also got plenty more. I was amazed at the hordes of volunteers. There were volunteers who knew what they were doing everywhere I went. Out on the course there were police and fire officers helping to direct us and families at the end of driveways applauded us. I’d never done an event where someone cheered for me nearly every mile.
Then there was the fact that the ride had attracted licensed racers, dedicated century riders, double-century types for whom an event like this is just a good start as well as families. It was the broadest cross section of riders I’d ever encountered at a single event.
I became curious how the guys at Bike Monkey had managed to run an event through at least half a dozen different towns, on roads that are popular with tourists. I can think of a half dozen event promoters who would have looked at the proposed route, and a start and finish in the city of Santa Rosa and have pronounced it impossible.
The reason I was curious was simple: To my eye, a couple of guys in Santa Rosa had figured out how to make a single grass roots cycling event attractive to nearly anyone, everyone. When was the last time law enforcement, city governments, homeowners and cyclists all agreed on the value of a cycling event? To be sure, not everyone is in love with Levi’s Gran Fondo, but there are enough of us that the event has been happening without problems for four years.
The question that nagged at me was how. How did they do it? As it turns out, the answer is neither a secret nor impossible. Their strategy is a simple one: direct a portion of proceeds to charities. The AIDS Rides did that, but operationally, those rides were very different. They paid a cast of hundreds to work for them and they directed a tiny percentage to the actual charities meant to benefit. That strategy backfired when people learned that Pallotta Teamworks, the organizers behind the AIDS Rides, were really just a rather profitable event planner.
Bike Monkey doesn’t bill Levi’s Gran Fondo as a charity event. But the charity they do is no accident. What’s remarkable is how when 7,500 people each pay upwards of $100 to participate in a cycling event, you have some horsepower to get things done. Bike Monkey took that horsepower to a number of local charities. Among the beneficiaries of the gran fondo’s largesse are schools and fire departments along the route that the gran fondo follows. Those underfunded outposts receive checks that can make a real difference in the service they provide each year.
I shot these photos on a ride that Bike Monkey puts on the day before the fondo. It’s a chance for the top fundraisers attending the event to go on a short ride with Leipheimer and select VIPs. In addition to Levi and his wife Odessa Gunn, the very important types this year included the Garmin-Sharp’s Andrew Talanksy and Peter Stetina, Rebecca Rusch, Elden “Fat Cyclist” Nelson, Alison Tetrick of Team Exergy Twenty16, United Health Care’s Lucas Euser, Jeff Castelaz of the Pablove Foundation and Bissell rider Julian Kyer.
The ride went to Forget Me Not Farm on the outskirts of Santa Rosa. For those of you who haven’t seen “The Levi Effect,” Levi’s wife, Odessa, is a serious animal person and she volunteers there. Forget Me Not Farm rescues farm animals and uses them in therapy with kids who have been abused. Of course, their story is a good deal richer and more life-affirming than that, but that’s the elevator pitch. The farm is among the charities that the ride helps to support.
Attendees were served food grown at the farm and I can attest that the strawberries were as good as any I’ve had. Frankly, I didn’t think you could grow good strawberries that far north. It was a chance for people who don’t often have a chance to meet a pro cyclist to interact with a few of them, not to mention an opportunity to get an additional guided tour in while visiting Sonoma.
I am aware that some people are still hot enough about Levi Leipheimer’s doping to boil water. At some point I’m hoping we can move beyond the rage and begin to see the riders as pawns (most, if not all) in a system that was of the UCI’s making. Levi has served his suspension and no longer races; I think that should be enough to quell the anger. I’ve heard a few people say that the charity work that the gran fondo does is a chance for Levi to give something back to the community now that he’s no longer a pro. The funny thing is, that was always his intent. Those who know him have told me he shies from the limelight, that he really doesn’t want the attention. What was evident from “The Levi Effect” was how he got behind the idea of the gran fondo as a way to give back to a community that had accepted him as one of their own.
It was that vision, that desire to bring attention to the community, rather than the rider, that I think makes Levi’s Gran Fondo so very different from other events I’ve ridden. Perhaps it’s not the only one; certainly, I’ve not ridden all the rides there are, but it’s notably superior to every other ride I’ve done in its ability to deliver a stellar experience without hitch. That experience wouldn’t be possible without the volunteers who are tied to the many charities to which the gran fondo donates. Think what you will of Levi for doping; whether you let go of your anger over that or not is beyond our control, but I hope you’ll bear this in mind: rather than using the event as a chance to bask in his fame, he turned the spot on the area, on something he loves and in that he gave Sonoma a boost it deserves, it needs.
Before I left for Interbike my wife said something to me she says before I depart for any industry function.
“Have fun,” she called to me as I walked out the door.
I’m kinda past the point of trying to explain to her that at events like Interbike my days are long and rather intense. That I enjoy myself there is without doubt, but I define fun as something that is carefree in a way that these events just aren’t.
So I haven’t told her much about the ride I did with some folks from Blackburn as well as a few other journalists. The agenda was simple. We climbed on a bunch of bikes suitable to dirt roads and headed out from the Outdoor Demo on bike paths, both paved and unpaved. Our destination was Hoover Dam.
I’ve been going to Las Vegas for Interbike for 15 years. To the degree that I’ve ever enjoyed myself, it was because I’ve spent time with people I know and admire. And while I’ve done some enjoyable rides, none of them ever had as pleasant a feel. It felt—it felt like I wasn’t working.
The point of the ride was to introduce us to Blackburn’s revamped line. What they’ll tell you is that Blackburn has gone back to its roots. They are focusing on racks, bags and lights, stuff you’d use in touring. And while that’s an easy elevator pitch, the reality is that the product line is far superior to the touring products I was using in the early 1990s, which is the last time I bought a bag or rack from Blackburn.
So we rode a bunch of gravel on an old railroad bed that took us to the Hoover Dam. The lights of Las Vegas disappeared. The rush of traffic on the highway disappeared. The noise, rush and force of the city disappeared. Views of Lake Mead spread to our left and the novelty of the old railroad tunnels promised new views at each exit.
Honestly, it was the first time I’d encountered this part of Nevada in a way that gave me a chance to appreciate its natural beauty. It’s the first time I’d had an experience I’d actually recommend to others.
And then we arrived at Hoover Dam.
This was my first visit ever to one of the great engineering marvels of the 20th Century. Built under that socialist debacle known as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) that puts many thousands of Americans to work building the country’s infrastructure when no other jobs were available, the Hoover Dam isn’t just a fine piece of engineering—the actual value of dams and the environmental impact can be debated in another forum—it’s a testament to the vision of the Roosevelt administration.
Beyond the dizzying presentation of the dam itself, the other structures are a reminder that our infrastructure projects once rose as more than just feats of engineering but as testaments to the power of our democracy. The experience recalled the impression that visiting the National Mall in Washington, D.C. made on me when I was in high school.
Robin Sansom, above, is the product manager for Blackburn and the person responsible for the responsible for seeing through the overhaul of Blackburn’s line. While Robin was riding a Volagi Liscio, several riders and I rode the Volagi Viaje, the company’s steel bike. I have to admit that at first I wondered how well the bike would handle because the bar was nearly as high as the saddle. I was concerned that I didn’t have enough weight on the front wheel. As it turns out, it helped prevent the front wheel from shoveling in the looser gravel. It was easily the most comfortable steel bike I’d ridden on conditions this rough.
The bike was also equipped with SRAM’s new hydraulic road disc brakes, and this was the first occasion when I began to gain an appreciation that disc brakes may offer a notable improvement in braking modulation.
Of course, it could be that we were having fun just because most of us had Tecates in our bikes’ bottle cages.
Blackburn sponsored a group of riders, called the Blackburn Rangers, to take their products on some long-distance tours. While I don’t think you need proof that the stuff works, the videos they produced make for compelling watching. I can’t help but want to pack up and hit the road when I see them.
We’re at an uneasy place with our heroes. Even without the benefit of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the landscape of our understanding of professional bike racing in the last 20 years has fundamentally changed. For most followers of bike racing, doping went from this little problem in uncommon instances to a pervasive culture common to all but the rarest riders. While we beg for the truth about what occurred, as sporting fans, we’ve yet to embrace a single rider who confesses. As a group, we’ve yet to confer forgiveness to a single prodigal son.
Some people would like to see Leipheimer and every other confessed doper shot by firing squad, or at least expunged from the collective memory of cycling. Truly, some of the vitriol is hard to fathom. But he hasn’t gone away, nor has his eponymous event. To evidence this drop in stock value, entries for Levi’s Gran Fondo sold at a slower rate this year than they did in previous years. But they did sell out.
I’ve heard speculation that Santa Rosa wasn’t bringing the Tour of California back for a stage visit because the town was angry at Leipheimer for the shame he brought on the city and that the gran fondo wouldn’t last much longer. Really? The fact is, the city simply didn’t want to bear that expense in 2014, and if anything, due to the charitable work that Bike Monkey does, the gran fondo is more beloved than ever. While the long route sold out more slowly than it did in years past, the ride did sell out all three routes.
The staging area is almost the exact opposite of Interbike. At the trade show, I see a great many friends from the industry, such as Road Bike Action’s Zap (left) or TRUE Communications’ Mark Riedy (right), but unless I have an appointment, we’re all usually walking so quickly we don’t have a chance to say anything more than hi. In the staging area at Levi’s Gran Fondo, you’re standing around, waiting for the start, so it’s a good deal easier to actually chat with friends.
Shane Bresnyan (left) and Glenn Fant (right) are two of the faster guys in town and Glenn is the owner of NorCal Bikesport and the Bike Peddler and a significant sponsor of the gran fondo.
It was nice to see the Fat Cyclist himself, Elden Nelson and his wife, aka the Hammer.
Austin McInerny is the executive director for the National Interscholastic Cycling Association and was there with a full gaggle of high school riders from the NorCal league.
Levi’s Gran Fondo always manages to pull in a number of bona fide cycling stars and at this year’s event, and this year Andrew Talansky, who finished 10th at this year’s Tour de France and lives nearby in Napa, came out to ride.
Luca Euser of United Healthcare chose to ride pretty far back in the group and could be seen pulling people from one rest stop to another. He’s got an event of his own coming up in Napa. I may need to attend that.
Saturday was one of those bluebird days that would have seemed like Indian Summer anywhere else, but because this was Sonoma County, you can get days like this late in the fall. And while the morning began down in the 40s and required riders to don arm warmers, vests or jackets and consider at least knee warmers or embrocation, most of the day carried conditions to make you wish for another week of days like this one.
The descent to the coast comes in two big drops. The first, Myers Grade, plummets with such abandon that I saw a few people walking it. I have to admit I went slower on it in past years, partly because of the people at the side of the road and partly because my confidence on fast steep terrain just hasn’t returned, even though it’s been a full year since my crash.
Just to do something a little different this year, I decided to do the climb up Willow Creek rather than the full run down the coast to Coleman Valley Road. Willow Creek starts with pavement that gives way to gravel and becomes a double-track ascent through the forest. On the climb the trees shaded the sun enough to drop the temperature more than five degrees.
It was only upon hitting the climb that I began to feel good. I’d spent the entire day, some 70 miles to this point with my legs effectively offline. My best guess is that while I had good fitness, the cold of the morning caused my lower back and left IT Band to tighten up like a suspension bridge. As a result, I found myself pedaling mile after mile at 17 mph. I felt fine otherwise, but I couldn’t generate any power and as a result, all the people I’d planned to ride with early on spun up the road as I watched group after group pass. The why of my pace wasn’t terribly important, other than it gave me something to consider for a while, but the pace itself did force me to confront a larger issue. How was I going to handle it? I’d been riding well and wanted to rip one that day.
I thought back on Tyler Hamilton’s crash at the 2004 Tour de France in which he injured his back and afterward said he left the race because while he could pedal the flats, his back wouldn’t allow him to generate any power for climbing. I didn’t understand what he meant, at least, not at the time. I fully get it now.
But the question was what I would do with my attitude. I could spend 100 miles pissed that I showed up but my legs didn’t. I could whine for 100 miles that I got a shitty hand of cards. Or I could simply go slow, check out the sights and maybe see some new things because I was going too fast in years past. All things considered, given that I was riding through some of the prettier country in Sonoma County, were I to do anything other than enjoy myself on such a superb day would mean I was as inelastic as a pane of glass, and not much brighter.
So I enjoyed myself. Which wasn’t hard to do. Having my legs finally come on line meant that my riding could be playful on the climb of Willow Creek. While most of it isn’t all that steep so that you can drill it through the gravel through long stretches, there are a couple of ultra steep sections—one was 30 percent while another hit 27 percent—that turned the riding into something more reminiscent of mountain biking.
Following the descent into Occidental the ride into Santa Rosa takes you past a few final vineyards, some farm fields and then suddenly you’re turning onto the bike path. It’s a surprisingly welcome turn and conveys the relief of being nearly finished even if you’re not across the line quite yet. Sorta like a red kite, I suppose. Rolling into the finish was a mix of relief to be finished and sadness that the day was coming to a close.
Before closing, I’d like to say thank you to Christina, Sami, Arjuno, Russell (hell, even Andrew Talansky reads RKP!) and the many other people who stopped me to say thanks for RKP. It’s difficult to put into words what it means to have people tell me personally how much they appreciate RKP. I’ve been unable to summon anything more articulate than, “No, thank you.”
If there’s a better way to spend a day, I can’t summon it. A long bike ride without a bunch of stop lights, terrain so beautiful you want to pull over just to stare, seeing old friends, making a few new ones and all on a day you wish would never end.
There’s a certain amount of activity at Interbike, a portion of the wares displayed at Interbike that are necessary to the general feel of the show but aren’t really critical to the actual commerce of the show, stuff that helps to make Interbike a cool place to visit even if you don’t particularly need the item at hand. After all, cycling trades on nothing so much as passion, that promise of a good time.
I swear to something or other that these orange sparkle Stingray-esque grips by Electra were absolutely one of my favorite things I saw at the show. When I was a kid, one of the first ways I inspected a bike was to check out the grips, and few grips were as cool as the ones on Schwinn Stingrays. I kinda want a bike expressly for the purpose of installing these grips. Say what you want about the cart and horse—a man has to have priorities.
This A. Homer Hilsen frame was used as a prop for SKS products, such as their fenders. It would be easy to be bummed that such a magnificent piece of artisanal frame building was slumming it with plastic fenders, but I’m really glad for it. Had the guys at SKS not had the good sense to do this, one of the prettiest bikes at the show would simply not have been at the show. I could have spent an hour staring at this bike, rather than the two minutes that I devoted to it.
I’m so glad that the head tube badge has not just made a comeback, it is in what can be rightfully termed as its golden age.
Dario Pegoretti always shows off a bunch of really gorgeous bikes, but this one takes the art of what he does and elevates it into a truly unique plane. This bike is a tribute to John Coltrane. That’s right, a bike pimping ‘Trane!
It’s one helluva a way to honor the man who has sometimes been called the defining voice of jazz.
So what do you put on the down tube of a bike celebrating Colrane? How about some fake book changes?
He finished off the treatment with a quote on the down tube that speaks to the real nature of craft. I’d forgotten this one.
I love the bike industry and the people therein. It’s always fascinating for me to take note of who is talking to whom. On the left Greg Bagni, a guy who has done more to define and occasionally turn around brands than any six agencies working in the bike biz. On the right, Joe Parkin, the man leading the vision at Paved magazine. Two guys who really get it. I felt a pang of envy not to be a part of that conversation.
Bike people are not without a sense of humor. I caught this in the Surly booth.
I wouldn’t have caught the “Rapha Free” sticker in the Surly booth had it not been for the stuffed raccoon with the cap, corn-cob pipe and mini of Wild Turkey, also in the Surly booth.
I’m not sure what led the folks at Canari to turn their booth into a family affair complete with kids in Bumbos, but it served as a nice reminder of the world outside and made me slow down for a moment to say hi to the little people. And on a day that was pretty delightful, I had a bit more of a smile as I walked away from their booth. I love the gear, but it’s the people who keep me coming back.
By a vote of 24 to 18, Brian Cookson has succeeded Pat McQuaid as the president of the UCI. This would be where you breathe a sigh of massive relief.
Details of the proceedings in Florence approached farce, with the UCI’s legal team stating that McQuaid could stand for election because the Swiss nomination was withdrawn after the deadline for nominations. This, despite the fact that it was never a valid nomination. Cookson, to his credit, was the person who asked that the procedural wrangling end and that the decision simply be put to a vote.
There is much work to be done to give cycling the reputation it deserves as the cleanest professional sport out there, but this is an important first step toward something the UCI didn’t previously possess the will or moral compass to accomplish.
Pardon us while we go do a little happy dance.
When I last crossed paths with Ben Farver of Argonaut Cycles, we were at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show and I was looking at a beautiful steel bike handcrafted by him. Fast forward 18 months and what he showed me at Shelter Half this evening was a full carbon fiber creation. Not only is it his design top to be bottom, but the bike is fully customizable both in terms of layup and sizing.
Now, I’ve been told “fully custom carbon fiber” any number of times. That statement is usually followed by, “I purchase the tubes from Enve.” So in an effort to contain my disappointment, or get it over as quickly as possible, I asked if the tubes came from Enve.
The answer was no.
I didn’t do such a hot job of containing my surprise. Nothing against the builders who build with wrapped tubes—you can make a very nice frame that way—but what Farver and his partners have taken on is exceptionally difficult and requires an investment in tooling that small operations can rarely afford. The more I talked with him and learned about his outlook and his ambitions, the more wowed I was.
It was refreshing to hear a builder speak of the work being done by Specialized, Trek and Giant, rather than bagging on them as soulless boogeymen. Ben made it clear that he wanted to take the best of the work being done by the big companies while retaining the best of the work being done by frame builders, namely custom sizing and geometry. The particular genius of his approach is that is that he can offer his clients something that neither steel frame builders nor the big bike companies can offer: custom ride tuneability.
I haven’t heard many guys tell me that they had done all they could in steel, that they needed a richer, more flexible palette. To say that, you either need to be an arrogant fool, or really know your shit. Ben is neither arrogant, nor a fool. In fact, in listening to him talk, you can hear the excitement for this new phase of his career to kick into high gear. He’s excited to show people what’s possible.
Ben made it clear that light and stiff isn’t the driver for him, that ride quality, the way the bike reacts beneath the rider in terms of handling and feel.
This visit to Shelter Half was part of a series of stops Ben has been making on a sort of mini-tour to introduce his work to a new audience. By appearance alone, I’d have to say many attendees seemed more of the fixie persuasion than the variety of roadie inclined toward custom carbon fiber. I’d have been wary that they’d be receptive to a $6k frameset, but the audience was enthusiastic and asked plenty of questions, ones heavily driven by a curiosity about the process by which Ben works with clients.
How to achieve a level of communication that gives Ben realistic data beyond fit about just what sort of bike works for a rider is a subject he has obsessed over and he talked candidly about challenges he’s faced in the past and what he did to solve them. He’s gone as far as building a client a second bike.
I could have talked with Ben all night. He’s more than just a craftsman. He’s a bit of a visionary, someone who has seen the possibility available in melding the best carbon fiber work out there with custom fit, geometry and layup to achieve a very particular experience on the bike. Near the end of his talk he was asked why he named his brand Argonaut. He was a history major he said and had always loved the story of Jason and the Argonauts. Jason and his men, he reminded the audience, were in search of the golden fleece—riches—and he sees his pursuit of building the ideal bike as a way to allow his clients to go in search of a kind of riches, the riches of experience.
Some deeply insightful person once said that life is what happens while you’re busy making plans. I suppose being an entrepreneur falls along those lines. While I had my eye on trying to deliver killer content to RKP’s readership, a funny thing kept happening. People kept asking me for help locating talent. And for reasons I can’t explain, I was able to help with some introductions that proved fruitful. All I can say for sure is that I have the good fortune to know a number of talented people in the bike industry. Actually, there’s something else I can say for sure: I’m not a recruiter, nor do I wish to be. Fate, if you believe in that sort of thing, provided me a lucky turn: My wife is a recruiter.
Market opportunity is a term best bandied about by someone who likes to tell people he went to business school; if you went to business school, it seems only fair that you tell people you went. Business school isn’t easy, or fun. But a market opportunity is something we seem to have stumbled upon. I’ve been in contact with a number of bike companies this year that needed help, though most were looking for something on a temporary, contract basis. It occurred to me that there was a need for a previously vetted talent pool and a matchmaker to pair talent with a needy client.
The only answer we could come up with was doing it ourselves.
With Red Kite Project we have assembled an ensemble of people who can provide everything from copywriting to engineering. Red Kite Project is for short-term, project-based work. Rather than serving as a substitute for a full-service ad agency, this is a finger in the dike, a way to fill in a gap in a talent pool on a temporary basis.
Even though we’ve already recruited some talented and established pros to play with our band, we’re on the lookout for even more talent. If you have extra bandwidth and have a skill set the bike industry could use, we’d love to hear from you.
Finally, I want to make clear that Red Kite Project will be run independently from Red Kite Prayer. Clients of Red Kite Project will receive no preferential treatment in Red Kite Prayer editorial.
Isn’t it high time the bike industry had a temporary staffing agency to serve its needs?
At the top of this page you’ll find a link for Red Kite Project. You can also click here.
For those attending Interbike, if you think you might like to work with us, drop by Malakye’s Schmoozapalooza on Friday; we will be there. For more information on the Schmoozapalooza, click here.
When I first began riding—not to put too fine a point on it—I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I know a great many riders who had the good fortune to be initiated into the sport by family members or friends, but I bought a bike and was instantly on my own. I rode in cotton—T-shirt, skivvies, shorts, sneakers—because I knew nothing about what I was supposed to do. Back then, I rode as much for transportation as I did for fun, and because the city I lived in wasn’t densely populated, it wasn’t hard to ride anywhere I wanted to go. Arriving sweaty wasn’t a problem because spring, summer and the early fall in the South are as hot and sticky as duct tape on the sun. Riding a bike made me only marginally sweatier than everyone else.
But then I learned about wool, about polyester, about stiff-soled shoes, the concept of wicking. My comfort increased in ways I didn’t know how to measure, but couldn’t mistake. Increased comfort allowed me to ride longer and faster—no more adjusting the tighty-whities on the fly. But something else happened along the way that, in retrospect, was both good and bad.
I met other cyclists and began doing group rides. Riding for transportation waned. I’m not even sure of how or why, but after going a summer on a single tank of gas, I began using my car again and restricted my bike riding to training rides. Somehow, even then, I was unwilling to put on man-made textiles for basic transportation.
Fast-forward 25 years. I live in a place where I can ride virtually every day of the year. The terrain is flat enough for riding for errands. I held some jobs that allowed me to commute and keep a change of clothes at the office so I could change out of my wet cycling clothing. Still, that did northing for when I wanted to run to the store on my bike.
As it turns out, the revelatory nature of riding in proper cycling clothing was my personal apple from the Tree of Knowledge. Once I’d had a taste of that comfort, I was unwilling to go back.
Things are different now.
Giro, along with several other apparel makers are offering cycling clothing that doesn’t exactly look like cycling clothing. I’m not talking the baggy shorts and jerseys that have been the signature of mountain biking for 10 years, but stuff that bridges the distance between functional comfort and something you can walk through a grocery store while wearing without getting the patented sidelong-glance normally reserved for any garment in a neon color.
Last winter, when Giro introduced the New Road line, the mantra I was told multiple times at the presentation was, “No more heroes.” This was on the heels of the USADA Reasoned Decision, so we can forgive any company in the bike industry—even one-time Armstrong sponsor Giro—for wanting to put a bit of daylight between them and doped pros.
Giro’s pitch was that the New Road line would be stuff you could go out and knock out a 60-mile ride in. Yeah, you might be able to do that and be comfortable, but what I wear when I’m out for a ride, a ride where the purpose of riding is actual riding, not one in which the riding is just meant as transportation to get me to an errand, well I’m okay with that continuing to be from man-made fibers. I don’t need that to change. I’ll add that my initial sense was that while the new Air Attack helmet has struggled to find acceptance with anyone, my only issue with the New Road line is that I think the pitch is a bit off.
This stuff is exactly what I’ve been looking for errand-running and riding with my son. When I took the family to Los Angeles’ most recent CicLAvia event, I rode a city bike and wore the New Road pieces. Same deal when I showed up for a mountain bike ride recently. I knew the friend I would be riding with wouldn’t be Lycra-clad, so I figured I might show up in somewhat similar garb. I must have looked okay because he didn’t say I looked like I’d lost my heavy metal band.
I’ve been wearing five different pieces from this collection and I can say with some conviction that had this stuff been available when I first started riding, I probably would never have graduated to polyester and Lycra. Here’s the thing: I was a pretty serious nonconformist. I played drums in a rock band that was part of the local music circuit. I was used to getting weird looks. However, cycling clothing was weird looking even to me.
Given my wardrobe in 1986, that’s really saying something.
Had the Giro New Road line been available, I’d have purchased this stuff instead. I wasn’t yet indoctrinated into roadiedom. Like I said, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but functional clothing sells itself. It’s likely I would have eventually graduated to traditional cycling clothing, if only for the simple reason that I found my way to bike racing and group rides. Certainly the distance between Points A, B and C would have been shorter if someone at a shop had taken me under a helpful wing, but I was in the sport for nearly three years before I found a club that would have me. Xenophobic much?
As I mentioned, I can’t say I’m with Giro on the idea that this could replace my traditional kit for training rides. I don’t need that to change. But cycling clothing that doesn’t look like cycling clothing is something my life really did need. I want to have clothing that will allow me to walk through a grocery store without people wondering if I’m lost or deranged. I want cycling clothing that does what cycling clothing does (keep me comfortable), so I can ride to the store, or with my son, or to a lunch appointment and not arrived shiny with sweat and wearing clothing that won’t dry out until well after I take it off.
It really comes down to a single, simple idea for me: Just keep me as comfortable as I’d be when riding my bike otherwise, and then I can ride my bike more.
Looking normal and feeling comfortable requires no selling.
In Part II, I’ll discuss my experience riding in these pieces.
Images courtesy Giro
“I saw my dream bike today.”
How many of us have said that? How many of us say it a couple times a year? For some of us it is a mantra.
It was my 7-year old daughter who uttered those words, without reservation, to my wife following her first trip to the bike shop to buy new handgrips for her 20-inch wheeled bike.
“You sound just like your father,” said my wife. Of course. I am a cyclist.
The object of my daughter’s desire was a 24-inch bike. It had a single chainring up front and a derailleur in the back – technological progress from her singlespeed. The color was a blue-grey fade, which gave it a look of joyful utility rather than a bike matched to the one-legged Barbie doll that haunts our mud room. Her dream bike had a simple steel fork, like her current bike. The tires were semi-slick and promised to reward effort with speed. Most importantly, it is bigger. That is the foundation of what a child asks of cycling: A smile.
For adults, it is more complicated. More so that it is dream-bike season. Eurobike’s siren song calls to us after we resurface into regular life after giving a month to the Tour de France. This is a moment when we ought to be bound to our bicycles with Velox rim tape so that we are not allowed to lose precious hours sitting in front of a screen staring at the bikes we should be out riding.
Now that my life affords less and less time for as much riding as I desire, I dream of really nice bikes more and more often. The carbon Santa Cruz Highball. A steel Seven Mudhoney. The Cervelo R5. Think of the 50-mile races in Vermont! The beer hand-ups! Riding L’Etape du Tour! The happy binds of daily life make these visions, often coming as I am trying to fall asleep, that much more of an escape.
My dream bikes change with my mood or my outlook on the day. It’s been this way for a long time. Before I could drive, I dreamt of owning rally cars like Audi’s ’84 Coupe Quattro. When I got around to buying my first car, it lacked all-wheel drive, race heritage or a turbocharger’s feral hiss. Instead it had roll-up windows and manual locks and barely enough horsepower to make it through Colorado’s Eisenhower Tunnel. Reliability, not rally nous, won the day. Twelve years later it is still driven daily.
Though the bicycle industry is working towards a one-bike quiver, a machine capable of keeping up with a 25 m.p.h. paceline one day and bombing a rutted gravel descent with the surefootedness that only comes from hydraulic disc brakes and fat rubber. This means it’s a great moment for looking inward at not just what you want to buy, but why. I don’t want a bike like my Honda Accord. I want one like the Coupe Quattro that I never owned – or even drove.
If you could only have one bike would it be a multifaceted machine capable of, literally, any wheeled adventure you dream up? That is what Eurobike appears to be offering up as a preview of next year’s bikes. Or would it be a purpose-built machine with a soul that comes from a singularity of design and intent?
I can speak to the merits of both. I had a jack-of all trades Bridgestone X0-2 that once spent a night in the hands of Corsican thieves. After years of hard duty in West Philadelphia, it retired to a sedate life out back of a friend’s condo backyard in Palo Alto, nestled next to a hot tub. My Redline Conquest Pro, a cyclocross race machine that today looks like it might give me a tetanus infection if I botch a dismount, time and time again continues to free me from writer’s block. It was bought in the weeks following 9/11.
My daughter has yet to think about these questions. We want bikes as complicated as our lives. She wants one as simple as hers. She never asks who designed her bike, or if the tubing is butted, or if she should be on disc brakes next season. She rides her bike because it makes her smile. That is its most important feature.
I also know if she sticks with cycling like I hope she will, someday she too will be thinking of her dream bike. With the way our society is advancing, and bike technology with it, that dream bike may well be her very first one.
The kids started school this week. Backpacks. Lines. Small desks. New teachers and friends. New subjects to daunt and dazzle. They are both, of course, complete geniuses, my boys, masters of all they survey, and I am constantly amazed, both by what they know and also by what they don’t know, which is the inspiration for this week’s Group Ride.
As a card-carrying, check-drawing member of the bike industry, I am, to the average person on the street, an expert in this field. Neighbors come to me to fix small problems or for advice about how to tackle a big ride. I am regularly asked to help with the acquisition of a new bike. Conversations with acquaintances often begin with, “Hey, you’re the bike guy, right?” And I listen and give the best information I can.
And yet, as the years tick by I find that I know both more and less about bicycles and their use. As much as I am adding to my knowledge-base, I am also constantly discarding misinformation, received wisdom, and preconceived notions. I unlearn as much as I learn.
The bike seems to be bottomless. You can’t know it all. Even if you were able to convince yourself that you knew everything there was to know about frame geometry for example, the ride resulting from a given geometry would still be massively affected by materials and construction method. Fork rake, tire width (and volume) and brake style would all intrude on the party. Is there a graduate degree in Cycology? There should be.
As a rider too, I am no great shakes. I am neither very fast, nor very slow. My handling skills are good, but not remarkable. And I have been riding thousands of miles every year for the last twenty or so. I see so much room to be a better bike rider that I almost want to jump out of this chair, shove aside the keyboard and run for the door now.
I read books and magazines. I talk all the time with bike designers, bike builders, and riders of exceptional ability. But I have so much to learn. I’m still a beginner in so many ways.
This week’s Group Ride asks, what is it you can learn about cycling? What can you be better at? What fascinates you about the bike or riding it? At the same time, what did you once believe that you no longer hold true? What have you unlearned?
Image: Matt O’Keefe