So let’s start this off with a correction. This is the image I meant to pull for Day 1′s mention of the BMC TMR01, their new aero road frame. I plead thumbnail size.
The fork design is fascinating for the way it hides the brake cable and as an illustration of the lengths that engineers have to go to avoid violating any of the UCI’s ridiculous rules regarding aerodynamics. In a way the brilliance here is less a demonstration of real creativity than an indictment of the terrible way in which the UCI wields power. Yeah, I bet you were thinking that we’d leave criticism of the UCI just for discussions of doping.
I dropped by Hincapie and saw a number of new designs. Fit seems to continue to improve with them (I’ve got a kit from ’12 that I’ve been meaning to review that is the best-fitting from them I’ve ever worn) and thanks to designs like this one, the look is better than ever.
This big news at Campagnolo is the new Athena 11 with triple. While my personal preference these days is to go compact, I have always supported triples and in the case of Campagnolo and their Ergopower levers, found them easy to set up and shift. Yes, they are heavier and result in a wider Q, but they aren’t the wildebeests that some would have you believe. The combination of a triple and an 11-speed 12-29 cassette will let anyone go almost anywhere paved without having to buy a $7000 (or more) bike.
Among a great many cool things I saw at Ritchey was this display of two mountain bikes, both featuring 650B wheels. The industry seems ready to endorse this wheel size en masse. More nimble than 29-inch-wheeled mountain bikes and better rolling than its 26-inch-wheeled counterarts, everyone’s touting 650B as a great compromise. Shown here are Ritchey’s new P-650b (the red, white and blue bike in back) and a mountain bike that Tom built back in the 1977 (think Debbie Boone and Fleetwood Mac). Yep, both feature 650B wheels. I didn’t even have time to get into where Ritchey found the rims and tires back then, but the bike implicitly begs the question.
And if you’ve never had reason to appreciate just how fine Ritchey’s fillet brazing is, here’s the seat cluster from that 560B mountain bike he built in ’77. This is on my list of the top-five prettiest things I saw at Interbike.
The Legend is the new shoe from Giro that you’ve already been seeing on Taylor Phinney’s rather sizable dogs. Whether you dig the lace-up design or not, one of the notable features—perhaps the most notable feature of the new shoe—is the Teijin upper. Teijin is a microfiber material with greater durability and less stretch than traditional leather (meaning you won’t kill your shoes by going for a ride in the rain), but Giro found a way to make the upper from a single, seamless piece of the material. Crazy.
Giro’s designers decided to do a bunch of one-off exercises on the Legend for its launch. This one, a nod to classic hiking boots from companies like Asolo, re-imagines the Legend with the one-piece Teijin upper made to look like tanned leather. I couldn’t not shoot this. It would totally be the shiz for ‘cross racing. Right?
The Reverb is one of Giro’s many helmets aimed at commuters. What makes the Reverb different (and remember that reverb is a first-cousin to echo) is the way its design calls upon the past in a very specific way. It looks like the old LeMond Air Attack helmet even more than my son looks like me. Last year they offered the Reverb in the same Tequila Sunrise finish they offered circa 1992. This year’s palette includes this nod to LeMond’s Team Z helmet that he wore to victory in 1990.
There was a time when Pearl Izumi was my absolute barometer for great cycling clothing. In the 1990s custom team clothing was a step down from what Pearl offered. I raced in my team kit, but I trained in Pearl. Just how it was. And then something happened—okay, I’ll tell you what happened: custom team clothing, from companies like Voler, improved dramatically, and for a period of time Pearl lost their way, releasing boatloads of clothing that was good, but not amazing. There’s been a shakeup at Pearl and one of their brightest and most insightful designers has returned. The line has received a pretty serious overhaul and I saw piece after piece that I’d put up against the best stuff coming out of Capo or Giordana.
How I love Interbike. I could count the ways, and would count the ways, except that RKP is now something approaching popular with some of the bike industry and I’ve been busier than a salt shaker at a diner. Though Interbike is ostensibly about product and sales, what that makes this event so terrific are the many people I have the pleasure to work with and the fact that we’re all in Las Vegas to celebrate just how great a sport cycling is. We’re all preaching to the same choir, but no one is complaining.
Yes, that is the Giro d’Italia trophy above. I picked it up and got my picture taken with it. While nothing about its weight (which is somewhere between 1970s Cadillac and Blue Whale) suggests that it is in any way delicate, one cannot simply grab thing like an old suspension coil and hoist it above your head. As I handled it, I felt as if I was rolling out the Dead Sea Scrolls and there was no way I could be too careful.
The queen stage of the 2013 Giro d’Italia (Giro representatives preferred the term “king” stage) was announced in a press conference yesterday and while they talked for entirely too long to introduce a single 150km-stage, the stage is a doozy and will not only be the Giro’s first visit to the famed Col du Galibier, it will also result in a mountain-top finish on that murderous climb. That stage will break people (I can’t wait).
BMC introduced a new aero road frame, the TMR01. It features integrated brakes, internal cable routing and a number of truly aerodynamic features that make it at least appear to be exceedingly fast. Of course, the promotional video of Philippe Gilbert storming down a descent in the Riviera was amazing to watch, for a few reasons, one being he’s as stylish on the bike as George Clooney is at pretty much every moment of his life, another was the road Gilbert was blistering, and the final was the simple fact that I’ve been made a believer of aero road frames and I’m dying to ride this bike.
You’ve probably heard that Specialized is introducing a new road shoe. If you studied pics of Tom Boonen killing it at Flanders or Roubaix this spring, then you might have spied the new model. On display below samples of the new work was this collection of production shoes and prototypes from over the years. So much of Interbike is spit-polished it was nice to get a glimpse inside the work that goes into a sophisticated piece of footwear meant to fit as many riders as possible. No small feat, ahem.
The big news at Specialized (and here’s a good reason why the complete lack of any presence at all by Cannondale and Trek sucks unicorn blood—I can’t say a thing about them, which makes it seem like I wasn’t interested, which isn’t the least bit true) was the new Roubaix SL4. I’ll chase the full details at a later date, but I’m told that this iteration has evolved a bit to make it a somewhat racier bike. This most noticeable change is a shorter head tube to make the thing feel less like an English 3-speed to veteran roadies.
My piece on carbon clinchers this summer opened some interesting communication channels. Some product managers came down from Specialized and we went for a ride on the terrain in question and a couple of guys from Reynolds came up for a visit and ride as well. The note that the Reynolds team struck was both proud and conciliatory. Proud because with 10 years building carbon clinchers, they’ve been at it longer than anyone else. Conciliatory because they understand that the single biggest issue they face is that some riders are on product that really can’t be compared with their latest work. We went through the new Aero series of wheels, wheels I’m hearing compare favorably with Zipp’s Firecrest and Enve’s SES wheels for stability. I’ll be getting on a pair a little later this fall.
It’s Interbike, which means I’m in the showroom for Santa’s workshop. This Fondriest isn’t going to be a top seller, or on anyone’s best new product list. That’s just fine. I took this shot because those polished lugs are freakin’ gorgeous and if you don’t take time at Interbike to geek out, you kinda missed the point.
When I was a kid, the ultimate vacation I could take was to go to Disney World. I’d be excited for days, even weeks beforehand, dreaming of all the incredible rides I’d enjoy once through the park’s gates. Once actually through the gates, choosing what to go on first was no easy task.
Outdoor Demo has taken the place of Disney World for me. There are more bikes to ride and people to see than I possibly get through in two days, even after eliminating from the list everyone I’ll see inside the convention hall. But it never actually works out quite that way.
I began today with a spin on the Neil Pryde Alize, one of the bikes that I saw this summer at Press Camp, but for which I was too short on time to go for a ride. I rolled out with the early morning Lake Meade ride and while there are a great many people on that ride looking for a good hard ride as it could be their only chance to ride in the next four or five days, I decided to hide in the back of the group and take an early turn around so that I could get on to riding other bikes.
The Alize was a pretty nice bike. If anything, it reminded me of Felt’s Z bike before its newest incarnation. There was plenty of stiffness to be responsive but not so much stiffness you wanted to take air out of the tires. The handling was very predictable. Oddly, I found my heels hitting the chainstays, which, because I’ve got size 42 feet, is a very unusual—essentially unheard of—phenomenon. Aside from that one detail, a nice bike.
It’s been a while since I last rode one of Specialized’s more entry level road bikes. I rolled out on a Roubaix Comp mostly to see just how lively a ride Specialized’s more budget-oriented grand touring model would offer. For 2013 the Comp gives riders many of the features found in the previous Roubaix SL3 frame. Honestly, at this price point ($TK), I expected something on the doornail side of dead. Surprisingly, this bike was anything but.
There’s no doubt that the Zertz vibration dampers do mute some of the high-frequency vibration that would otherwise reach a rider’s hands and rear, but what surprised me is just how much feedback I was still able to experience. This bike is a good deal more sensitive than its predecessors.
The other aspect of the bike’s ride quality was the amazing stiffness this bike possessed. I wouldn’t expect too many bikes in this price range to offer the precise tracking or BB stiffness found in this bike. And while I have traditionally ridden a 56cm frame in the Roubaix (though I ride a 58cm in the Tarmac), I went out on the 58cm Roubaix this time and while the steering felt a bit light initially due to the high bar, I was able to shift my weight forward a bit in turns to make the bike handle a bit more predictably. I gotta say, though, riding uphill with a bar that high was more comfortable than a chaise lounge at the beach. Okay, maybe not quite, but I liked it in the same surprised-at-how-great-this-is experience.
My very next bike was of a piece, the Giant Defy 0. This is Giant’s next to the top-of-the-line for its grand touring line, or as they call it, their “Endurance” line. Position is very similar to the Roubaix on this bike thanks to a long head tube. I tell ya, it’s kinda nice to sit up like that. The frame offered really good stiffness in torsion without being overly stiff vertically. Road feedback was good; it offered a bit more sensitivity than the Roubaix, but it wasn’t the high-volume feedback that I’ve found in some frames.
The seat tube and seat stay shapes suggest a bike that should be pretty harsh at the saddle, but that wasn’t my experience at all.
Of al the bikes coming out of Europe, the #1 bike that my friends covet has been Look’s 695. I’ve been curious what the draw is, so I spent some time hanging out at Look until one was returned. In differentiating the 695 from some of the top-of-the-line American frames Look staffer Kevin Padgett used a wine analogy. He suggested that American bikes were like California wines—bolder, more fruit-driven, and less apt to age well—whereas the Look was more like a grand cru Burgundy—refined, structured, less flavor-of-the-month. Does the comparison really hold up? It’s hard to say. I do think it’s a fun way to get people to think about differences between bikes, though.
Here’s what I can tell you about the 695: There’s a good reason that people have been excited about this bike. It offers exquisite sensitivity and provided one of the stiffest platforms from which to sprint that I rode in the two days of Outdoor Demo. Honestly, I was surprised by how much road surface feedback the bike offered; every French bike I’ve ridden prior to this one was as wooden as a barn.
The other detail I liked about the bike was its geometry; it didn’t feel overly aggressive, so on the fastest parts of the demo course, it felt very stable, it was still really easy to flick into a corner. This was one of my favorite bikes of Outdoor Demo and one for which I’d really like to do a more in-depth review.
The 675 is Look’s response to the grand touring segment. While there’s loads of seatpost showing in the photo above, the bike in question is a 56 rather than a 58. While not as dead as many of the French maker’s older models, the 675 was intentionally laid up with the goal of damping a significant amount of vibration to leave riders feeling fresher at the end of a long ride. It’s harder for me to comment on the handling of this bike due to its small size; with the bar so low there was enough weight on the front wheel to make the handling a bit sluggish.
The unusual integrated stem and top-tube design looks like it isn’t very adjustable, but spacers are available to raise the stem so you’re not locked into a single fit.
The Litespeed C1 was easily the biggest surprise of all the bikes I rode at Outdoor Demo. More than any other bike, I really want to have time to do miles on the C1 in order to do an in-depth review. The c1, for those who aren’t familiar with the bike, is Litespeed’s contribution to the aero road bike category. The C1′s design engineer responsible for this bike, Brad Devaney, told me that their wind tunnel data showed this frame and fork provides a rider with more aerodynamic gain than a set of Zipp 404s. The claim seemed to hold water because on the downhill run on the demo loop the bike was significantly faster than my previous two trips down. While I didn’t have a speedometer of any sort, what I noticed is that I had to brake for a turn that I’d previously sailed through due to higher perceived speed on my part.
Seeming fast and being fast may be two different things; I’m sure I’ll be able to settle that for myself if I have a chance to review the bike. The problem aero road bikes have typically faced is that due to their narrow tube profiles, they lack torsional stiffness, so they get loaded up with more carbon to make them stiff, but the extra carbon deadens the frame feel. Well, the C1 was nearly as lively in feel as some of my favorite non-aero road bikes. To get great aerodynamics, solid road feedback and world-class stiffness in one bike has been rare. I need more time on this bike.
The L1 is Litespeed’s newest bike, an 830g road frame (they are already working on a new layup that could shave even more weight) that can take on bikes like the Specialized Tarmac, Felt F1 and BH Ultralight (I dropped by BH to try to take an Ultralight out, but I couldn’t get anyone to acknowledge me, so I left after 10 minutes). Compared to the Felt F1, this was a less aggressive, more comfortable bike, yet it seemed to give up nothing in torsional stiffness or precise handling.
This massive BB looks like it’s going to be stiffer than a plate glass table but a surprising degree of comfort comes through to the saddle. For as responsive as the bike was, I was surprised by how pleasant it was to stay in the saddle on rough pavement.
While the size of the seatstays suggests stiffness, the fact that the seatstays merge with the seat and top tube enables Litespeed to use longer carbon fibers in its layup and that helps the ride quality.
On a separate note, a number of readers out there who work in the industry saw me in my RKP kit and came up to say hi. If I didn’t thank you then, thanks for taking a moment to say hi and thanks for reading.
Here’s something I’ve been meaning to get to for more than a month. Travel has conspired to cause me to use these base layers from Rapha ever increasingly without singing their praises. Base layers are an item that don’t require a sales pitch in fall, winter or early spring. But it can be hard to convince some riders that they can be handy even in late spring and through the summer. I’ll admit that until recently, I’d go baseless during the dog days of August.
Well, I did that until these arrived. I’ve done more riding in crazy-hot temperatures this year than any other year in my cycling life. Now, I’m aware that compared to some friends who live in Texas, I didn’t suffer day after day of 100-plus temps, but in July and August I had more than 10 days of riding where temps climbed north of 104, and considering that I live and ride in an area that rarely sees 90 degrees, I nearly wilted like a flower in a broiler.
I can say that what did help were these base layers from Rapha. The Pro Team Base Layers are cut from the lightest polyester and Lycra I’ve encountered in a cycling garment. The poly is used for the mesh front and back and because that weave doesn’t have a lot of stretch to it, Lycra is used for the shoulders and side panels to make sure that it fits.
The sleeveless version goes for $70 while its short-sleeve brother goes for $75 which is not quite double what I’ve paid for some other base layers. This would be about the point at which some readers will huff with outrage. Yeah, I get it, Rapha is expensive. And yes, there have been times when I’ve found it difficult to justify what they charge for some items, but this really isn’t one of those occasions.
It’s worth noting that thanks to the inscriptions “Merci Roubaix” which Franco Ballerini scrawled on his base layer as his farewell in the 2001 edition of the Hell of the North, and “Vous etes des assassins” which Octave Lapize spat at Henri Desgrange as he walked his bike up the Col d’Aubisque in 1910, these base layers possess an entertaining quality, a cool, that no other base layer I own can claim. So there’s that.
But what really makes these base layers worthwhile is their gossamer weight. Even on the hottest of days they help wick moisture away and have done much to help keep me cooler than I would have been sans base layer. I did try one day going without a base layer on a ride in Serbia where the temperature hit 42 degrees Celsius. The next day, yet another kiln of a day, I returned to the Rapha base layer and found myself more comfortable. Not truly comfortable, but more comfortable. I took to washing them in the sink after every blessed ride.
I should mention that these are meant to be “race fit.” That’s code for skin tight. And they sent me the medium. I don’t wear medium tops except when it comes to T-shirts. It’s a good thing they chose the size, because had I specified small, I wouldn’t have been able to pull these things on. I must also mention one detail that is less favorable, though, is that they have all the stretch of a pair of Levis. There have been a couple of times where I was so fatigued I actually struggled to get them off.
I doubt I’ll be wearing these base layers this coming November, but while the hot weather persists, they will continue to be my go-to base layers.
We’ve often heard that necessity is the mother of invention. That may be true. However, the engineering required to bring any new bike product to the market can be monumentally difficult. One could be forgiven for imagining that a pedal would be a relatively easy device to re-invent. Nearly 10 years ago I had a ringside seat for some months to the design process for a pedal that sort of made it to market around 2004. Its inventor, Steve Lubanski, had all the creativity of a mad scientist on ecstasy, with nearly as much discipline. It was a great idea that simply needed more shepherding.
It is through that lens that I gave a careful examination to a pair of pedals that arrived recently, the Ultralites from a Carbondale, Colo., company called Ultralite Sports. On paper (and in the box) these pedals are fascinating … and promising.
They look less like pedals than just spindles. The retention system is based on a spring-loaded sleeve that slides toward the crank arm when the cleat is engaged. To release, the rider applies slight inward pressure while twisting the inboard edge of the cleat up. If you have trouble visualizing that, I can’t blame you; it’s the clearest description I can muster and demonstrates just how different the release motion is from any other pedal system on the planet.
But hey, these things weigh a negligible 72g for the pair of pedals, another 40g for the cleats. Nothing is lighter. Period. Also, the stack height is especially low, just less than 13mm from shoe sole to the center of the spindle. A low stack height reduces rotational weight, which cuts down on fatigue over the course of a ride.
Okay, so they are a fresh approach to clipless pedals, but are they really ready for the big time? My sample pedals are pre-production I’m told; Ultralite plans a few more changes before these hit the market this fall (a November 1 release is planned). Allowing press for a product that doesn’t make the full measure of the manufacturer’s intent seems a risky proposition to me.
I went out for a short ride on the pedals yesterday. The purpose was to see how quickly I could adjust to the entry and exit and whether I thought I could get it to be second-nature enough that I’d be willing to use it on the group ride the next day.
Let’s cut to the chase: I took the pedals back off following the ride. I don’t think these are bad pedals, but there are some issues that give me pause. If I had more time, I’d prepare a PowerPoint presentation with schematics and sound effects, but my multimedia guy is ice fishing in Patagonia, so I’m just going to have to give them to you in simple, bullet-point form.
- Placing the cleat’s opening perfectly on top of the pedal is a bit like trying to place pipe insulation on a flagpole while blindfolded. Whatever easy is, this ain’t it. Once it is there though, the engagement motion is surprisingly simple.
- The cleat has the highest profile of any cleat I’ve encountered since the Sampson pedal of the late ’80s. It’s not easy to walk in and because it is narrow, I have some concern about the chance of a twisted ankle should you roll your foot as the result of an awkward step
- The cleat allows fore-aft positioning but it allows about two degrees of rotational adjustment. We’re not talking float here; we’re talking yaw. The last time I encountered a cleat that couldn’t be adjusted for pronation and supination I had big hair. This is absolutely the biggest single problem I have with these pedals. If you can’t achieve proper fit, what’s the point?
- The release motion is profoundly unnatural feeling. I’m sure it’ll get better through practice, but on more than one occasion I banged my foot against the bottle cage mounted on the seat tube of my bike. I’d be bummed if I broke a bottle cage because I whacked it with my shoe, but if for some reason I actually damaged the seat tube, I’d be in the next county beyond bummed. The other thing I noticed about the release was that after releasing one foot, I couldn’t seem to ride a straight line and get my other foot out; I had to come to a complete stop and then release the cleat.
- Small rubber caps protect the end screw on the end of the pedal that locks the spring and sliding barrel in place. While two replacements are included, the simple fact that I managed to eject one of them in less than 10 miles of riding suggests I’d be through the replacements before the month is out.
- Did I mention no float? A float cleat is said to be coming, but the cleat I used had zero float, which combined with the lack of adjustability caused me to cut the ride short. I was simply unwilling to risk my knees.
I really don’t want to be too rough on these guys. The incredible amount of work they’ve put into these pedals is evident. Unfortunately, the shortfalls have the effectiveness of a 1k flyer that gets swallowed up 50m from the line. It’s just not quite enough. It may be that all of my concerns will be addressed with the final production version, but the way I see it, the cleat needs a bunch of changes to make it more adjustable, more ergonomically friendly and more walking friendly, not to mention easier to catch the pedal for speedy stoplight getaways and crit starts.
Between now and the start of Interbike you’re going to see a few different reviews of different pieces of gear/clothing because I’m playing catchup on reviews that should have been complete a while back. In my zeal to be thorough (and not review something before I’ve actually ridden it, ahem), I sometimes get more miles in on stuff than is truly necessary. It is perhaps not the greatest service, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to rubber stamp “approved” on a piece of gear I’ve only handled in a press conference.
I got interested in the Panaracer Race Type D tires this spring in part because I wanted to explore some of the options for wider tires that are out there. The Type D is a true 25mm-wide (it also comes in a 23mm width) tire. The tire gets its “D” monicker for durability because this is the more flat resistant cousin to Panaracer’s Race Type A, a more high-performance tire.
This isn’t a particularly light tire; one of mine weighed in at 258 grams. And it doesn’t have the softest, highest thread-count casing; it’s only 66 tpi. But an ultralight, supple casing, sticky race tire wasn’t why I was interested in this rubber. I wanted to see if it would fill my need for a bomber tire that would allow my road bike a bit more flexibility on terrain.
The casing includes Panaracer’s PT puncture protection which is a bead-to-bead puncture-resistant belt and it’s covered with Panaracer’s dual-compound ZSG rubber, which like many tires on the market, features a softer durometer rubber on the sides of the tread while sticking with a harder rubber in the center in order to keep rolling resistance low. The harder center tread is a fair bit narrower than many similar tires, meaning the moment you lean the bike you’re rolling onto stickier rubber.
For four months I’ve been riding this tire. It’s been over potholed roads in the South, godawful excuses for pavement in Eastern Europe including the single sorriest excuse for a road I’ve ever seen (thank you Bulgaria), up and down the Transfagarasan Highway as well as another bottom/top/bottom jaunt, just last week at Haleakala.
Panaracer recommends running these between 90 and 140 psi. I’ve been pumping them up to 100 psi and riding through stuff more than around it. In more than 2000 miles, I’ve yet to have a flat. And their grip has been something the Incredible Hulk would admire. Only once have I managed to push these tires to their absolute limit. I was getting low on the descent of Haleakala and on damp road when I felt the rear tire slide ever so slightly during a tight switchback. It gave a little and I stood the bike up a bit and it hooked up, then I leaned a bit again and it gave a bit more and hooked up the moment I stood the bike up a bit again. It was easily the most controlled slide I’ve ever experienced on a road bike on pavement.
I mostly ride tires that cost at least 50 percent more than this tire’s suggested retail of $44.95. Many are even double this. Why? Because I find so many tires in this price range to offer such woefully lacking performance an extra $25 or $40 per tire can make the difference between a lively ride and one that feels mired a peat bog, even while rolling down asphalt. I really didn’t think I could find a tire in this price range with phenomenal flat resistance that would still offer a rewarding ride. Color me surprised.
Before this summer, Road Holland was a brand completely unknown to me. I’m still trying to recall the circumstances where I first heard of the line. What little I do remember is that I was away from home and that I liked the jersey enough that I remarked on it to the rider who was wearing it. There are good reasons for all these details; they aren’t just random bits that obscure an otherwise easy-to-follow narrative. First is that Road Holland is a really new brand. And second is that their designs have a simple, elegant look that is worth remembering.
Then there’s third. There’s always third. Third is that in a market where everything peddled to us has inflated in retail price, often by hundreds of percent over the last 10 years, Road Holland has gone and done the unthinkable. They’ve released a premium product in terms of look, feel and construction, but minus the premium price. The jersey shown above (I’m using their photography because mine can’t seem to do it justice) is their Utrecht and while I’ll get into all the details that have me loving this garment, here’s the bit that puts this jersey beyond all reproach: It retails for $120.
The look and feel of this jersey is highly reminiscent of Rapha. There’s just no way to dance around the fact that Road Holland is going squarely after the English company’s customer with their jerseys—and yes, so far, all Road Holland offers are jerseys. The Utrecht is a spring-weight jersey, so while it’s a short-sleeve cut, it’s meant for slightly cooler temps; think 70 rather than 85. Much of that owes to the composition of the fabric, which is a polyester (61 percent)/Merino (39 percent) blend. It’s enough Merino that at the end of a really hard ride I smell like a wet dog, but am, I can assure you, far more comfortable. The eight-inch zipper may seem short, out-of-keeping even with a jersey like this, but given the material’s weight, it makes perfect sense; this isn’t a jersey meant for a day where you need a full-zip design you can throw open on a climb.
Road Holland sent me a small to wear. The cut was less aggressive than some jerseys I’ve worn lately. I’d describe it as form-following; unlike some less race-oriented pieces I’ve run across, this didn’t go bell-bottom at the hem of the jersey. It is still meant for a relatively fit cycling. My only issues with the fit of the jersey were the length and the collar. I really prefer a slightly shorter length—that hem was mighty close to my chamois and that always gives me concern about catching the jersey on the nose of the saddle as I sit down. This could easily be cut a centimeter or two shorter without losing the ability to reach the pockets. And the collar seemed to be a bit high given the weight of the material; perhaps I was just more aware of it because I’m so accustomed to collars that are less than half as thick, but a slight taper to the front of the collar might be nice.
It would be easy to write off the jersey as just a knock-off of another brand were it not for the touches that make the garment memorable, even beyond the material and the attention-grabbing orange. The embroidered logo is a classy touch, but one that adds zero function. However, the way they deal with the pockets is even more notable. The two outside pockets are cut on slants to ease access and the are both larger than normal to give you extra carrying capacity for food, arm warmers and that sort of thing. So where did the extra capacity come from? The center pocket. It’s cut fairly narrow, just wide enough to slip in a cell phone. My iPhone in its protective case and snack-size Ziplock baggie (is anyone buying these things for actual snacks?) was a snug fit; there was no chance the phone would slip out if I dropped into a full tuck.
Knowing that a great many riders also wear ear buds to listen to music while riding, the middle pocket features a button hole to run your ear bud wire inside the jersey. And for riders who really can’t risk losing anything from a pocket, there’s a fourth, zippered, security pocket which is big enough to hold a key or credit card; a small flap keeps the pull from catching on anything and white ticking gives it a bit of visual pop. The pockets are graced with a small reflective trim to keep you visible.
A silicone gripper keeps the hem in place and it reflects the orange and white color palette of the rest of the jersey. And just above the gripper on the left pocket the full Road Holland logo is embroidered. Other color choices for the Utrecht include a dark blue with orange and white accents and black with orange and white accents.
This would be where the cynical reader jumps to the conclusion that to get all this quality the jersey must be sourced in Asia in some sweatshop where children labor while shackled to boat anchors and are paid in Ramen noodles. Surprise, surprise, the jerseys are made in Miami.
I’ve gone over and over this thing, looking for an example where they cut some corner, took the easy way out or in any way presented substandard work. I’ve yet to find it. If this thing isn’t worth $120, I don’t know what is.
When I read Rik Vanwalleghen’s biography of Eddy Merckx following its translation into English in 1996, my reaction split between simultaneous disappointment and relief. I felt relief to have finally enjoyed a book-length examination of the greatest cyclist the world will ever know. It was a study containing considerable insight into a man who was enigmatic even at his best. But the book was no chronologic biography, it undertook no traditional survey of the man’s career, life. It may be that the book’s particular genius was to leave much unsaid, unplumbed. Vanwalleghem undertook an impressionistic form of reportage, painting portrait after portrait of Merckx, none of them more powerful than his account of the Cannibal’s assault on the hour record in 1972. What stayed with me from that account was less the ride than what Vanwalleghem shared of the events subsequent to it.
Merckx, he wrote, suffered terrible saddle sores from the hour ride, sores that were so bad he laid in bed for days following the record. Merckx is said never to have complained.
Vanwalleghem’s “Eddy Merckx” left me wanting. Wanting more, wanting different, wanting. In that, he did me a service.
It is into this hunger that “Merckx 525″ arrived. Published, like Vanwalleghem’s Eddy Merckx” by VeloPress, this 224-page Belgian tome was written by Frederik Backelandt and translated by the ever-skilled Ted Costantino (the original editor of Bicycle Guide). For those who sneeze at relatively high prices, the $60 price tag for a coffee-table volume will elicit outraged cries—why it’s 50 percent higher than my Graham Watson book! But as a memento to a career we won’t see again, it’s worth every stinkin’ penny. For those of you among our readers who are American (it’s a sizable majority, but by no means everyone), we deserve to be reminded that we frequently miss out on the best images shot in cycling because they are only printed in European magazines. For this book, the editors drew upon images from Het Laatste Nieuws,Olycom, Photonews, Omega, Presse Sports (from which the bulk are drawn) and the private collections of several other photographers. Merckx 525 undertakes to share with us the best of those photos, and it should, for this work is nothing so much as a picture book.
However, the book is not only a collection of images. There are brief portraits in text as well, here the 1966 Milan-San Remo, the event that set the world on notice, there the 1970 Paris-Roubaix, and near the end, the 1976 Milan-San Remo. Each of the portraits are written present-tense, still harboring the wonder bound up in the world’s curiosity of whether He could do it yet again. Arranged chronologically, one can imagine the book as the ultimate family photo album of the star-shined favorite son.
For my part, the real joy of this book was a chance to feast on images from the early part of Merckx’ career. There are roughly a dozen images of Merckx that I’ve seen over and over and over. This was a chance to break the die and see the Belgian not as the Cannibal, but the man who would become the Cannibal, a young rider whose greatest ambitions were not only unrealized, but as yet unknown, even to him.
This isn’t the be-all-end-all book that will slake a thirst for Merckx’ life on the bike. In that regard, we are still waiting for the definitive study of his career. This is the palate-cleansing sorbet that is its own delight.
I’ve been riding SRAM’s new Red group since mid-May. During that time I’ve had the ability to switch between it and Dura-Ace 7900 and Campagnolo Super Record on a regular basis. I’ve even taken a ride on my ‘cross bike to be reminded of how the previous iteration of Red worked.
In broad strokes, 2012 Red features some noticeable improvements over its predecessor, and I write that as a fan of the original Red group. And when compared to the other mechanical groups, it fares very well. I’m not going to engage in a comparison of Red to either EPS or Di2 because relating mechanical groups to electronic ones makes as much sense as comparing a kiss from Angelina Jolie to one from Jennifer Anniston. I’m sure either will be fine.
A word on weight: I’m not going to dwell on this topic as there is really no need. The new Red group is lighter than the old Red group when taken as a whole; it is also lighter than every other group on the market. Boom. They win. If you buy parts strictly on weight, you needn’t waste your time with reading more of this review. The interesting thing about this Red group is that its weight isn’t the best argument for why to purchase it.
I’ll go component by component and then wrap the review up with my views of it as a whole.
A big key to a snappy front shift is a stiff big chainring. I don’t think I’d understand just how important that is had I not had the occasion to put a chainring made from especially soft aluminum on a crank. The shifting was a disaster. Not only did the teeth bend, but even the ring itself bent. I can say from some experience that the rings on this new, ultra-light crank are distinctly stiffer than its predecessor. Hollow is a serious byword with this crank; both the crank arms are hollow all the way to the spindle and the rings themselves are hollow; that the crank and rings are stiffer than before is counterintuitive. Hiding one of the chainring bolts in the crank arm, a trick Campy has long employed, didn’t hurt any.
The bearings that the spindle rolls on are smoother than a granite countertop; indeed, they are the most freely spinning BB bearings I’ve encountered. Smooth spin aside, I pronate a fair amount and have on occasion rubbed the heels of my shoes on the bolts (or their covers) of a crank; this is a very slim design that leaves plenty of room for shoes to pass.
I had the opportunity to play around with a friend’s bike with 8-speed Dura-Ace recently. Of all the integrated brake/shift levers, I believe it was not only the heaviest, but it placed more mass out ahead of the bar than any other control lever. To switch to the old Dura-Ace and be reminded of just how much the mass of the control levers could affect handling was startling. Red levers, at 280 grams, do more to minimize the amount of mass ahead of the bar than any other control lever. The point here is not that they weigh less, it’s that they affect handling less. With less mass forward of the bar, the bike reacts a bit quicker to steering input and you’re less apt to oversteer.
The four biggest changes to the control lever, at least, in terms of my experience (I accept that SRAM’s engineers may think other changes were bigger/more important) were the size and shape of the lever bump, the circumference of the lever body, the size and position of the shifter paddle and the texturing of the lever hoods.
Making the bump bigger is really only an issue of consequence should you hit a bump or other rough road. With the old levers it was easier to get your hand bounced forward and risk losing any grip on the lever whatsoever; for most of my miles, its size and shape were of no import. However, the decreased circumference of the lever body addressed an issue that many riders with small hands registered some dissatisfaction. The old Red lever body was big, bigger than any of its competitors, though the 7900 Dura-Ace lever body is a good deal larger than its predecessors. I don’t think the previous lever body’s size affected my grip, but the decreased size of the new Red lever body leaves me with the feeling that I’ve got a more secure grip on the lever. Ergonomically, it’s just more comfortable. Adding to my sense of a secure purchase are the new lever hoods with with their newly textured surface are especially helpful on hot days when a sweaty hand needs all the help it can get, and for those who ride with no gloves, this can be a pretty big deal.
Retained from the previous design is the three-position shifter lever adjustment as well as the brake lever throw adjustment. It’s important to adjust the shift lever before you adjust the brake lever, but I really love this feature; it’s nice when I’m in the drops to be able to keep a finger on the brake levers without having to reach. When I think back on how difficult the reach was to my ’80s-era Super Record brake levers, I wonder now how I ever avoided some crashes. There’s no question in my mind that SRAM Red are the best levers for people with small(ish) hands.
The changes to the shift lever are notable because the bigger lever is easier to find at crunch time. No matter how many years I spend on Campy, there are times when I’ve buried the needle and reach for a shift and more than one finger reaches out. On Campy, that’s flat-out not helpful. But the beauty of Red is that the shift action is light enough that you never really need more than one finger. The same rule generally applies to whisky. And it’s worth noting that I haven’t missed a shift (upshifting when I meant to downshift) with this new group. And even though the shifter paddle is larger, the fact that it is positioned further from the shifter body than with the first Red group gives your hands more room when operating the brakes from the hoods; I noticed that with the first Red group I couldn’t keep my pinky and ring finger wrapped around the lever body while braking without the shifter paddle making contact with my fingers; not so bueno. Thankfully, that’s been fixed.
Another feature I like about this lever that was carried over from its predecessor is the small hollow in the lever body beneath the hood where your thumb usually sits when your hands are on the hoods. It provides a little give that increases your comfort whether you’re in or out of the saddle. It doesn’t seem like it should be that big a deal, but the sensation is oddly reassuring.
It is my sincere hope that what I’m about to write I will never find occasion to type a second time: This front derailleur is the single best thing about this group. Getting excited about a front derailleur is okay for a 10-year-old, but as an adult, and one who ought to be at least a bit jaded, this front derailleur isn’t just an improvement over its predecessor, it’s a marked improvement over everything else on the market.
Sheesh. Where to begin? Hold on while I turn up the Lounge Lizards.
Okay, there are three details that make this front derailleur truly superb. First is the fact that it is the first front derailleur I’ve used since the old Dura-Ace 7800 that allows flawless shifts into the big ring during out-of-the-saddle efforts without me steering weird due to the amount of force necessary to execute said shift. On the flip side, I don’t have to ease up on my pedal stroke out of a sense of concern that I might damage the front derailleur or overshift beyond the big chainring. Dura-Ace 7800 was truly the first group that allowed this level of performance and I remember the first time I tried it during the press intro in Switzerland; I immediately realized this was a game changer. But in my experience, Campy front derailleurs from Record and Super Record, with their carbon cages simply haven’t ever achieved this level of consistent performance. I keep hoping, though. And it’s worth taking another look at the crank above. I shot that image this week; you won’t find a single scratch from shifting the chain beyond the big chainring.
Riding on my own, I’d never feel the need to stand up near the top of a hill and drill it, then shift into the big ring while still standing. But it’s just the sort of move I need at least once on every fast group ride I do, this morning being no exception. And while this move works with Dura-Ace 7900, the force required to execute the shift means the shift is never as fast as necessary to make it really smooth, so I always just sit down. Bah.
Let me begin my comments about the Yaw feature of the front derailleur by saying that I’ve never gotten the 7900 front derailleur to allow me to shift into all 10 cogs without some chain drag either in the biggest or smallest cog. I’ve been wrenching on bikes a long damn time and flat-out can’t make it work. I was a bit skeptical that I could do it with the Red derailleur, but the Yaw feature—that is, the fact that the front derailleur twists slightly when it shifts from the little ring to the big ring, optimizing chain line—is what allows this front derailleur to have a relatively slim cage and yet have drag-free operation in all 10 cogs. I won’t lie; it took a lot of fiddling even beyond the instructions, but it does work.
The third feature of this derailleur that I love (aside from the fact that the set screws accept 2.5mm Allen wrenches—why is no one else doing this?) is the integrated chain keeper. The fact that you install it after you have set the derailleur up is terrific and it can be set up in less than a minute is terrific. I checked the other day and it may be essentially unnecessary on the standard crank, though. There isn’t a single scratch from scraping the chain along its polished aluminum surface.
At first look the most noticeable feature of the rear derailleur is how freely the jockey wheels spin thanks to the ceramic bearings in them. It’s hardly the derailleur’s best feature, though it is good. The cable routing is ultra-clean and has been designed in a way that even a ham- or pastrami-fisted mechanic can’t get it wrong. And as you’ll notice from this image (click on it if you want to see it even larger), you can trim the cable so that there’s no excess sticking out. Like the front derailleur, the set screws accept 2.5mm Allen keys and the set screws are on the face of the derailleur so they are easy to access.
I’ve appreciated just how little cable tension is necessary for SRAM drivetrains to achieve proper adjustment. They seem far less finicky than some of the other drivetrains I’ve worked on over the years. That said, this rear derailleur works better with the Red cassette than it does with a Dura-Ace one; for reasons I never could figure out, I had to increase the cable tension by more than a full turn to get a Dura-Ace cassette to work with this group. In the end, it just never performed as well as the Red cassette.
Between the control lever, this derailleur and the (soon to be discontinued) Gore cables that come standard with this drivetrain, shift force is lighter than the facts found in most political speeches. And I write that having used this drivetrain with a Specialized Tarmac SL4, a bike that features internal cable routing, routing that has proven not to be as smooth in operation as that of its predecessor, the Tarmac SL3.
I’ve heard a few derisive cracks about the rubber bands in the Red cassette. Yeah, whatever. I can say that this is the quietest mechanical group I’ve ever used, thanks in no small part to the elastomers that ring the cassette body. That’s notable considering that previously the Red group was the noisiest group on the planet due to the cassette, which rang like a church bell with each shift. What I’ve found particularly intriguing about the elastomers and the new teeth shapes was SRAM’s claim that the chain now has a smoother movement between cogs, the upshot being that less lube gets slung off the chain with each shift. I wondered about this claim until I had a chance to check it out. It’s pretty sandy where I live and ride, even if you’re not on the beach bike path. If my bike’s chain dries out during a ride and I forget to lube it before my next ride what usually happens is this: I’ll begin the ride with only a bit of chain noise, but by the end of the ride, the chain will be squeaking like door hinges. For three days running I’ve been too tapped on time to lube the chain on the Tarmac and the chain has kept up a steady but meek squeak. It has yet to get louder; maybe there’s another reason why—I’ve yet to do a double-blind study—but my forgetfulness should have resulted in a much more unpleasant screech by now. I think they may be onto something with this new cassette design.
Currently, the new cassette is available in four ranges: 11-23, 11-25, 11-26 and 11-28.
The new Red brakes remind me of Shimano’s first dual-pivot calipers from the 8-speed Dura-Ace group (7600), back in the early ’90s. Until I actually saw them move, I really couldn’t imagine how they operated. That little black arm with the cable anchor bolt looks like it’s part of the front caliper arm, but it’s not. It’s a separate arm that moves on its own pivot in order to articulate the movement of the right arm. As the calipers close, it swings toward the arm holding the barrel adjuster on a tighter radius than it would were it just part of the front caliper arm. And while I’ve done my best to try to describe its operation, I respect even that might not help someone visualize just how this brake works.
Even if you can’t quite picture it, here’s what’s important: Brake response with these calipers is very progressive. Touch the brakes to scrub a little speed when you’re in the group and that’s all that happens; it’s not a particularly grabby brake at first. But get into a descent and you can go whoa to dime without feeling like you’re going to break the levers off.
Let me add that the pad holders you see on these brakes are not the standard Red brake block holders. These are holding a set of Zipp pads and I use holders because they are pretty easy to both install and remove pads. They ain’t pretty, but they work well.
I really love this group. And while I grant that the head-turning speed of an electronic group has an undeniable attraction, a kind of ethereal beauty like a rainbow seen during a shower, there’s a simplicity to making a mechanical group work that never gets old for me. From the ergonomics of the levers to the industrial design that sees little cues show up in the art for each of the components, to the incredible polish put on parts like the derailleurs and even the plating on those metal parts that aren’t polished (and haven’t rusted in the salt air where I live), this group was incredibly well-thought-out. Heck, it took a lot of thought and creativity to remove so much weight from this group and yield a collection of parts that not only weigh less but work better.
Do I have any criticisms? Yes, but there are only two: I’d love an 11th cog, but I respect that making a mechanical group shift well with 130mm spacing and 11 cogs is nearly as difficult as climbing l’Alpe d’Huez in 40 minutes. My other criticism also regards the cassette: Why can’t SRAM offer a cassette that begins with a 12t cog? Selling a group with a 50×11 high gear sends a funny message to a great many riders who have neither big mountains nearby nor the ability to crank out a sprint at 40 mph. What gives? A 12-28 cassette is a fantastically handy device. And what if your drivetrain included 53 and 39 chainrings? How many of us who aren’t carrying a Cat. 1 or 2 license can make use of a 53×11 gear? The only time I use it is on a handful of descents; even then, only briefly. With the riding I most like to do, a 12-28 cassette would be a very welcome addition; as a result, I choose a different bike for my hilliest rides.
It’s funny, in many ways the 2012 Red group is my favorite group on the market, but that lack of more cassette selection plays a real role in how I choose what bike to ride on a day-to-day basis. I wish it weren’t so. A great many riders won’t experience the issues I face, but many, many others are going to purchase a bike with a top gear that—while they’ll be more than happy to shift into any time they’re going relatively fast—they really won’t be able wind that gear out to make the best use of it.
Maybe one day they’ll add a few more cassettes. Once they do, this will be without reservation the best group on the market.
Embedded. It’s a funny term. We used to use it to refer to things inserted, usually accidentally, into something else.
I’ve got a stick embedded in my calf.
But with our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it came to stand for journalists tethered to military units with all the freedom of a dog on a leash. We even came to distrust that variety of journalism because the reporters and photographers were so controlled in their movements the news came to be what the military wanted us to see and no more.
Yet embedded is a strangely appropriate word to describe Mark Johnson’s book “Argyle Armada: Behind the scenes of the pro cycling life.” I use that term with no pejorative connotation, no irony, no malice. It describes very well his relationship to the Garmin team as he worked on this book. Now, I should mention that the book’s subtitle is not meant to convey that this is in any way a broad look at pro cycling with examinations of many teams. No, it digests the moves and dramas of a single team, but in going deep within that one team it serves up Jonathan Vaughters’ creation as a synechdoche for the whole of the peloton—one operation that represents all of pro cycling.
Johnson’s achievement in this book is two-fold. First, he’s a fine photographer and yet is also a good enough writer that he can provide the whole of a book that stands equally on its photos and the story it tells. Second, as a single guy, rather than a writer/photographer team, he was able to gain the trust of seemingly everyone within the Slipstream organization and shares with the reader looks inside the machinations of a pro team that previously have been either largely imagined or left opaque.
The book is a look at a single year, an arc that covers the 2011 season, beginning with training camp and ends with the team gearing up for another season. There’s not an aspect of running a team that’s left unexamined. There are the races, the failures, the ingredients of the win, the win itself, the preparation, the backstage politics. Believe me, if it’s a piece of news that got mentioned on Cyclingnews at some point during the year, it wasn’t left out of this book, and usually the picture here is filled in with richer detail.
It’s unlikely that Johnson had absolutely free reign to go and see anything he wanted, so in that regard, embedded remains an accurate term. However, because looks this deep within the inner-workings of pro teams are essentially unknown, to the degree that Johnson was tethered and guided as he collected his stories, the reader suffers no disservice.
This book could easily have been just collection of episodes, race journalism in a hard cover. If that were the case, there would be little reason for anyone but die-hardened Argylites to purchase this book. But Johnson has been around the cycling world for long enough that he understands the larger concerns, the great themes that will define the sport for years to come. From the irritating treatment that riders can receive at the hands of doping testers to the financial backflips necessary to keep the program operating at the level of other better-funded teams, Johnson gives the reader a perspective on just how hard it is to be a pro cyclist and what a true believer you have to be to want to run a pro team.
Given the talk (here and elsewhere) of just how difficult the sponsorship situation will be in the near-term, this is an especially apropos read right now because it gives readers a clearer picture of the financial challenges a big team faces than any other book I’ve encountered.
Johnson’s writing style is present-tense, bringing the reader into the events and imparting a breathless anticipation that can build even when a conclusion—Johan Summeren’s Paris-Roubaix win, for instance—is known from memory. I really can’t stress how rare a package a guy like Johnson is. Jered Gruber may be the only other guy working in cycling right now who has the same writing chops, the same eye for action photography and the same sense for intimate portraits and sweeping landscapes—it’s that unusual.
A book like this won’t be in print forever. Do yourself a favor and pick this thing up. Alternatively, send this URL to your sweetie with the subject line: Christmas.
For more info: VeloPress
Top image: Mark Johnson