This is my favorite shot from the show. This is Mark DiNucci, a true god of frame building giving a pat to his heir-apparent, Chris Bishop. The thrill on Bishop’s face is more than apparent and the esteem which DiNucci offered was truly sincere. Bishop didn’t just get a nod from DiNucci, Peter Johnson, the greatest frame builder you’ve never heard of, said he plans to mentor the upstart.
When I think of the many consumer events that have been organized for cyclists, I mostly think of events that failed after, at most, three years. It’s not that they weren’t good events, that they didn’t bring together interesting people. It’s that they didn’t bring together the dedicated cyclists who will make or break an event. Don Walker, I’m here to tell you, is an unheralded genius. The seventh edition of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show hosted more than 8000 attendees, a record for NAHBS and, I suspect, any U.S.-based consumer bike show. Had you seen the line out the door of people waiting to buy tickets on Saturday you could be forgiven for thinking Don Walker was selling kisses with Taylor Swift.
Okay, that said, I’m going to keep this real. Very real. Don gets criticized for a great many things. He has a very specific view of what the show ought to be. Some folks think he needs to loosen up, take a chill pill. What people need to keep in mind is that NAHBS is what it is because it wasn’t designed by committee. It’s the brainchild of one very particular guy. That’s how entrepreneurs work. They dream stuff up and make them happen. Inventions are not the products of focus groups. So Don needs to be credited with making happen a bunch of people just talked about for years.
Let’s say that again: Don actually made this happen.
Yep, there are people who want the event to be different than it is. They want it to be friendlier, have more drinking, have more riding, have clearer criteria for the awards judging, have more volunteers so the builders don’t have to leave their booths to deliver a bike to judges, and have other, non-Don-organized events be a part of the official, sanctioned buffet of events that are part of the weekend. The dissonance is because well-meaning folks want Don’s brainchild to be even better, but their suggestions sound to Don like bashing. Constructive criticism is hard to deliver. And when the intended listener isn’t accustomed to hearing it from ham-fisted delivery boys, the experience isn’t much fun. Don is like a great many sensitive artistic types, and a bit thin-skinned—not that I’ve ever rented from that suite. I’m aware that people have trashed the event from time to time, including one popular blogger. How anyone can dislike the event is beyond my ken. If you step back and look at the bigger picture, it’s easy to see that the event brings together many of the best frame builders practicing the craft. To collect that many passionate craftsmen in a single location is no small achievement and the opportunity for cycling enthusiasts to speak with some of the best out there is an opportunity rarer than a blue moon.
Following two years at less-than-exciting venues (Indiana and Virginia), Don has hit two consecutive home runs with Austin and Sacremento. It may be that his awareness of the need to draw cyclists from nearby metro areas may be contributing to the show’s increased success. Next year’s venue—Denver—would seem to reinforce that view.
The only criticism I could possibly level at the show is that he has suffered some erosion of previous top-tier exhibitors. While I did see a Vanilla, Sacha White wasn’t there, nor were Peter Weigle or Hampsten. What’s significant in this is that Sacha was one of the “original six.” Don may need to hire a salesman trained in customer retention.
Everyone’s favorite question of the show was, “Are you having a good time?” It’s a bit like asking the president of the United States if he feels powerful. He better. I had a terrific time and didn’t hesitate to tell people there was no place I’d rather be. To put my enthusiasm in perspective, I used my experience at Interbike in the mid-1990s as an example. Back then, tubing suppliers Reynolds and Nova Cycle Supply bought significantly large booths; if memory servers, they were on the order of 10×30. And beyond displays of their tubing, they would have racks displaying the work of their frame builder customers.
I spent way too much time in their booths. I mean, I was sometimes late to appointments because I spent so much time hanging out there geeking out over the frames shown by acknowledged masters like Weigle and Carl Strong.
But here’s the thing: The quality of the worst work at this year’s NAHBS was better than most of the work I saw in those displays. The overall quality of work by frame builders displaying at NAHBS is extraordinary. Don’s enduring legacy in the bike industry will not be as a frame builder; it will be for his work in uniting the community of frame builders with an event that helped to elevate their craft and make these guys rock stars, even if only for a weekend. His work to help promote the work of these guys has resulted in countless orders that would otherwise have been sales to Trek, Specialized or Giant. Those guys will be fine, but an extra 10 sales per year for one of these news guys can make or break a year. A career.
The seat cluster from a fillet-brazed frame by Dave Kirk.
I was asked to be a judge for the awards this year. It was a request I accepted with some honor and an acute sense of responsibility. The experience was challenging while ultimately leaving me feeling rewarded. That said, there were frustrations when there were simply more bikes than could be recognized. The naked, fillet-brazed frame submitted by Dave Kirk was one of those bikes that deserved even greater recognition than it received. A “naked” bike, such as this really gives you the opportunity to see just how symmetrical the brazing is; there’s no hiding bad or even mediocre work. I felt badly that this bike escaped without a nod. Similarly, there was a gorgeous mountain bike submitted by Independent Fabrication that would have been an instant winner in most other circumstances but when pitted against the hand-pinstripped work on a Vendetta track bike, it went home empty-handed. Ouch.
If you’ve never attended NAHBS and have any sort of affinity for hand made frames, you owe it to yourself to go, even if just once, and see the quality of this work. And, if you have a significant other who doesn’t get your love of bicycles, take them. Really. I caught a great many scraps of conversations between bike geeks and their wives and girlfriends who appreciated the artistry of the bikes on display. Witnessing non-bikies digging bikes gave me a huge smile.
NAHBS is ON. I tell ya, these days, I get more excited for NAHBS than I do Interbike. The trouble is, it’s gotten so big that it really is hard to make it around to everyone. Above is a fillet-brazed BB on a bike by Dave Kirk. This is going to be a short post because my allegedly fast Internet connection is not. And it’s making me crazy. Also, show organizer Don Walker tapped me to join his crew of judges for the awards panel. It’s taking more time than I expected but it has made reviewing the bikes a bit easier because we stand in one spot and the bikes under consideration come to us.
This seat lug is from a randonnee bike by Steve Rex. I’m really not into the randonnee thing, but the craftsmanship on this bike, as exemplified by this half-lug was outstanding.
This Cherubim was one of the more amazing bikes I’ve seen so far. But now I have to get to the judging.Trust me, once I’m back home with a better Interweb connection, there will be a much longer post.
In 2008, Radio Freddy arranged for the two of us to meet Brad Roe, then the editor of Hi-Torque’s Road Bike Action. While Radio Freddy was in town for the Tour of California, we met Brad and took a tour of the offices that had produced countless issues of magazines we did a better job of memorizing than the algebra texts found in our book bags during our school days.
From that one meeting a relationship with Brad and RBA grew. I’d admired the work those guys were doing and the chance to begin freelancing for them was a dream come true. I began freelancing for VeloNews once again, following a more than 10-year hiatus. And when Paved was launched, I was thrilled to hear from Joe Parkin requesting a contribution.
That I chose to launch Red Kite Prayer is an event I believe some BKW readers misunderstood. Comments in response to my post announcing RKP got snarky and suggested I was disloyal to Radio Freddy and I wasn’t showing proper appreciation for the “sponsorship” I received. Just what that sponsorship was, I’ll never know.
I really hadn’t wanted to turn my back on BKW and it wasn’t a slight to Radio Freddy. Facts were facts, though. His day job was busy and he didn’t have the time to put into a blog that I did. And it wasn’t really practical for me to assume the helm of a ship that wasn’t mine. He encouraged me to launch a new blog and even suggested he’d contribute to it, turning the tables in an unusual twist. For me, it came down to a matter of practicality: To make a living as a freelancer, I needed to make something off of all my work, whether it came from T-shirt sales, advertising or (preferably) both. RKP hasn’t made me rich, nor do I expect it to, but it’s added an important additional revenue stream (to use a technical term) to my business model. Ahem.
When Brad left RBA I was equal parts surprised and depressed. I loved working with him and feared that a terrific relationship was going to go down the drain. I knew we’d stay in touch, but I feared we’d never work together again. It’s not often you work with an editor who challenges you and then gives you enough leash to go do good work. Mere months later he decided he missed publishing and announced a new road bike magazine, peloton. When he called to ask me to be a part of the magazine and even offered me a column I didn’t need time to think before saying yes.
Unfortunately, once I began freelancing for peloton, my days at Road Bike Action were numbered, even though the writing I did for the two couldn’t have been more different. I’d never have written the analysis pieces or columns that have appeared in peloton for Road Bike Action. Conversely, the overview features that I typically did for RBA would never suffice for peloton. I really enjoyed the diversity. However, Hi-Torque hasn’t taken kindly to having an ex-employee (Brad) start a new magazine. Getting caught in the middle was zero fun, but then no one ever enjoys being collateral damage. For a period of time I put the Swiss Cross up as my profile pic on Facebook. That didn’t seem to phase anyone, so when RBA’s ad sales director pulled me aside at Interbike and told me, “You can’t freelance for four magazines,” I responded, “I’m not; I’m freelancing for three.” I added, “Look, I’m a freelancer, which means I’m a hooker. If you want me to spend the night, marry me.”
I admit, I was impressed when they offered me a full-time position. They offered to create a special status for me, so that while they didn’t want to see most of their editors more than four or five times in a month, they expressed a strong desire to have me in the office all five days a week. I’d have the opportunity to brainstorm ideas on the hour-and-a-half drive each way to and from work and I’d be liberated of the need to care for my year-old son on a daily basis. Though the allure of the position was strong—especially because their urgency was so great they never put an offer in writing—I realized that as a lowly blogger publishing a new piece five days a week probably hadn’t prepared me for the rigor of their publication schedule. I decided the best thing I could do was allow them to hire someone more qualified.
It used to be that in working as staff for a magazine you exchanged the freedom to freelance for a steady paycheck. It was a Faustian trade, I tell you. Today, though, we have a much better arrangement, thanks to 1099s. The good news in this is writers like me who are unencumbered by the strictures of employment used to face a dizzying array of possible homes for our freelance work. It was utterly confusing to get up each morning and wonder who I should pitch for which story. That needless task has been solved for me, though. The more my name has become associated with peloton, the less other magazines have been willing to work with me. I’m pretty introverted, so having the phone ring less with offers of work has lifted a tremendous burden from me.
Of course, I still query other magazines from time to time, but I really do it just to keep appearances up. I really don’t want my name getting around too much; that might get confusing for readers.
Though my involvement with peloton has been strictly freelance, the assignments I’ve tackled have been some of the most challenging and rewarding of my entire career. The chance to have my analysis of greats like Eddy Merckx, Fausto Coppi and Claudio Chiappucci appear alongside never-before-seen photos from some of the finest photographers in the biz puts a smile on my face while helping to pay the rent. Life is good.
So what’s the point of this story? First, it’s to say thanks (again) to Radio Freddy for giving me a chance to reinvent myself as a writer. That I’ve carved out a niche for myself as an author in the bike industry is both incredibly rare and something that came about as a direct result of my involvement in BKW. What has also been truly gratifying are the people who have come forward to tell me how much they enjoyed BKW and even some instances where other writers have noted how it influenced their desire to write or what to write about. That there are other blogs out there that owe some of their inspiration to BKW is something I’d never have guessed would happen.
But I’m not the only person who re-entered the bike biz due to BKW. Radio Freddy is back among us. I guess this sport is a bit like some viruses—once in your system it’s there for good. His re-entry has created an opportunity for us to collaborate again, though our involvement will be found at another web address.
To find out his real identity and see what he’s up to, pick up Issue 10 of peloton.
Image: Brad Roe
On a couple of occasions in my life I’ve seen old-school soigneurs in action, up close. Their pre-race rituals are impressive less for what they are than what they betray about consistent deep-tissue massage. I’ve watched soigneurs perform pre-race massages in which they so loosened muscles that they could push their thumbs deep into a hamstring without a trace of resistance. Frankly, it looked kinda surreal.
The years have taken a toll on me. These days, I’m a bigger believer in the value of massage than even when I was racing both days of every weekend. Using an embrocation is a chance to give my legs a pre-ride massage and the benefit I experience is readily apparent. There’s a hill less than a mile from home, one I have to climb at the start of nearly every ride I do. While I haven’t performed any double-blind studies with control groups and other assorted scientific whatnot, I began noticing that on days when I was wearing embro, I felt better on that hill than if I was wearing knee or leg warmers. I didn’t have any agenda and didn’t start with a theory of any sort; I just started noticing that on some days I felt less stiff when I hit that hill. Actually, what I noticed was that some days I rode a little faster than other days.
Initially, I attributed it to how recovered I was. Then I noticed that sometimes I felt good even at the end of a higher-mileage week. Eventually it occurred to me that I ride a bit better when my legs smell good. Some of this, I must confess, doesn’t even involve my legs. After I massage the embro into my legs, I make sure to hit my left shoulder and lower back. Adding some heat there does a lot to loosen me up before the ride. The trick is to do it as early as possible after rising, and then avoiding contact with my son and the cats.
That’s just bound to end in tears.
Hibros is Italian maker of embrocations. And they have a selection of products like the Rolling Stones have albums. In looking through their selection at Interbike last year, the device above caught my eye. It is a pump dispenser for embrocation. Not only that, it features a dial indicator in the front that allows you to decide just how much heat you apply.
If there was one thing that fascinated me about watching Euro soigneurs in action it was seeing how they’d mix embros the way painters mix oils on a palette. They’d get a finger of this, a couple dabs of that and a drop of this other as they worked. And depending on whether they were working on hamstrings, quads or calves, that mix would change. To my eye it was a kind of sorcery.
The embro comes in replaceable cartridges and I was pleasantly surprised to find that you can’t screw up and install the no-heat cream in the heat slot and vice versa. Imagine the shock you’d get if you could put the heated version in the no-heat side. That brings me to my one knock against this stuff. Even when turned up all the way, the heat in this embro is pretty modest. Temperature-wise, it ranks below a Mad Alchemy “mellow” and Record Pregara Forte. I found I really only used it in late spring and cool summer mornings. Once conditions cooled off for fall, I switched to other stuff.
I like the feel of the cream and the smell, which leans heavily on menthol and camphor, is decidedly old-school.
As not everyone is a fan of parabens (which are generally used as preservatives in cosmetics), I need to mention that the Hibros embro does include several parabens in its list of ingredients. If you tend to be sensitive to them, there are other options out there. The dispenser with two cartridges lists for $44 and 75ml replacement cartridges list for $15. Online I’ve found both for 10 to 15 percent less. You can check out Hibros stuff here.
Plot spoiler: These are the finest wheels I’ve ever ridden in my life.
There. That’s out of the way. Now that I’ve eliminated any sense of drama from this review, I can get down to the matter at hand and discuss the experience of riding Zipp’s standard-bearer wheelset.
There’s an arms race in cycling that’s been escalating over the last 10 years. I think back on the most I could spend on a set of wheels or even a whole bike 10 years ago versus the colossal $2700 that these wheels go for and I choke. There’s nothing else in my life that has escalated as badly over that time, save the housing market and we see what happened with that. Somehow, I don’t see Zipp, HED or Lightweight wheels suddenly dropping in both price and value—not now, not in the future.
The math on this is difficult to avoid. For that much money you could outfit an entire Girl Scout troop with iPhones. Or you could provide the entire U.S. Army with bubble gum. Or you could purchase a single set of wheels that would do more to improve your performance than an extra two hours of training per week can.
These wheels are so sophisticated I could probably write about them for the rest of the week and not divulge any of Zipp’s trade secrets. The 404s possess three distinct features that have caused me to come to the conclusion I did.
First and foremost is the Firecrest rim shape. While I am aware that one of Zipp’s competitors claims to have arrived at the rounded rim profile at the same time as Zipp, the fact is when Zipp came out with Firecrest at Interbike in 2010, their competitors talked crap about the silly shape. The trick to Firecrest is that it treats the half of the rim behind the axle as a leading edge and that blunt shape improves the rim’s aerodynamics dramatically. The most surprising aspect of this is what is called vortex shedding.
Those of you who have ridden deep-section carbon rims and been buffeted by the wind have experienced vortex shedding. Every time the airflow attaches to the rim surface and then breaks free from it the wheel is buffeted and you feel it at the bar. That’s not even the most dramatic feature of the Firecrest shape. This is:
It’s more stable in a crosswind.
The rim shape causes a change in the wheel’s center of pressure. It’s a crazy term for the point of leverage the wind has on a wheel; it’s a very east-to-feel phenomenon. Ride a deep-section wheel in a crosswind. If the wind is blowing from right to left, you’ll be steered to the left. That’s because the center of pressure of most wheels is forward of the steering axis. Firecrest, on the other hand, shifts it almost in-line with the steering axis. Ride a Firecrest wheel in a crosswind and you’ll feel almost no pressure on the wheels. It’s a bit more complicated than that, as the way a rim sheds a vortex changes slightly as the wheel spins; the center of pressure can actually shift behind the steering axis slightly, steering you into the wind instead of pushing you across the road. It’s a remarkable sensation and results in a real increase in confidence compared to riding other deep-section wheels.
How good an idea is Firecrest? Well, after bagging on it as crazy, both HED and Enve have moved all their wheels in that direction. And while competitors may be trying to emulate the vortex shedding properties of Firecrest, they can’t copy the golf-ball-like surface of the ABLC (Aerodynamic Boundary Layer Control) that keeps the air moving by the rims.
If you were to buy a set of 404s for only one reason, Firecrest would be it. No other deep-section wheel I’ve ridden is as stable as the 404 Firecrest.
The Carbon Clincher technology is my next most favorite feature of these wheels. The time I spend in Malibu riding with friends means I’ve either personally melted or seen melted wheels by every manufacturer except Zipp and Easton. Last summer a small group of us did the now notorious descent of Las Flores Canyon. I rode the 404s and didn’t have a bit of trouble, despite some firm braking at times. After reaching the bottom I waited more than five minutes for a friend to arrive. He was concerned his ultra-zoot wheels from a certain German manufacturer would melt, so he stopped three times to let them cool off. Granted, this guy weighs a good 30 or 40 pounds more than I do, but if you can’t take a mountain descent on a set of wheels, what good are they?
Other than the fact that they don’t melt—which is reason enough to take note—they do have one other detail that make these clinchers pretty killer: The rim width. Roughly 25mm wide, any clincher you mount on these wheels can be removed with no tire lever (sweet) and gives the tire a much wider footprint, increasing traction without—I’m told—increasing rolling resistance (amazing). There is a however, here, however. Setting up brakes for a rim this wide isn’t easy and you have to adjust the brake shoe angle because of the angled braking surface. Swapping out these wheels for another set is going to result in at least a half hour of work, if not more.
The wheels’ next best feature are the 88/188 hubs. They are an improvement on the previous iteration of the hubs with which I experienced near constant creaking. Really effing annoying. These are stiffer and don’t creak. What is more impressive is how these things roll. Zipp uses grade 10 ball bearings in the hubs. That is, they are accurate to .10 of an inch. That 2.5 times as round as the grade .25 balls used in Dura-Ace and Record hubs.
You may not think that’s particularly impressive, but I can say from experience that when I’m inside a group, the combination of superior aerodynamics and fast-rolling hubs causes me to hit my brakes to modulate my speed because I begin rolling up on riders in front of me when we’re coasting.
My set weighed in at 1562 grams, just a couple grams off the advertised weight. I’ll call it even. The combination of aerodynamics and weight mean that they are not only killer on the flats, but they are light enough to be reasonable climbers.
Engineers at two different bike companies told me off the record they have taken a number of wheels to the wind tunnel to test with their TT bikes. Both said that tire choice has a huge effect on aerodynamics. Even so, both also said that no other wheels they have tested are as versatile as the 404s.
Here’s the strange thing I’ve noticed about riding with the 404s. While I have many friends who will train on heavy wheels and save the good stuff for race day, in reviewing these wheels, I didn’t have that luxury. I needed to get miles on them right away. Oh, and I’m not really racing, so there’s that, too. With the addition of the 404s, the increase in aerodynamics gave me enough of an edge that I was able to get to the front of the group rides more easily. That, in turn, gave me the ability to stay at the front more. The upshot may seem counterintuitive; the wheels didn’t make the ride easier for me. They made it easier for me to get to the front and flog myself more, rather than sitting in the pack just trying to hold on to my spot. It seems I train harder with faster wheels.
Honestly, suffering more—not less—is the last thing in the world I expected to have happen.
Some things in this world are inevitable. Baby-kissing politicians, people going “aw” at pictures of baby animals and Assos introducing its own line of ultra-premium (and expensive) eyewear. How could they not? Whether you like the Swiss company’s style or not, theirs is a unique statement, a flair as impossible to reproduce as it is to anticipate.
I’ll be honest and say that at first blush, my initial viewing of them at Interbike, I briefly flashed on the idea, “My God, this time they’ve gone too far.” It’s the same thought I had when Oakley introduced the first M frames, the initial Zeros and, come to think of it, countless other models. Eventually I got used to seeing strange stuff from Oakley and I was no longer surprised. But the Zegho was something new, more alien than fresh, more Beverly Hills than Boston.
If you’ve ever been wowed by packaging, be prepared to be wowed by this presentation. The box folds open to reveal a number of shots that depict the construction of a set, from unmelted beads all the way to final assembly. Natrually, they come with a first-rate case
As cool as the packaging was, I couldn’t stop looking at the glasses.
The cascade of details that makes them distinct is hard to take in all at once. The first thing I tried to take in were the lenses. They are huge; not quite diving mask huge, but seemingly Oakley Factory Pilot huge. Where’s Davis Phinney when you need him?
When you pick them up you can’t help but notice how light they are. Were they helium-infused? Most bottle cages weigh more than the 27g these come in at. And as you’re trying to process just how light they are you notice how that they are as flexible as a yoga instructor. Then there’s the frameless design, making them ideal for head-down efforts at the front so that you can look straight up your brow to the road ahead.
When I put them on I expected to look in a mirror and see something ridiculous, like when my son wears my wife’s sunglasses upside down, or when my cat plays Jack Johnson songs on the bongos. That first look in the mirror? No gasp. It was different, but not heart-stopping. I’ll admit that I joked how I wanted to get a pricey golf shirt, my best wool slacks and Cole Haan loafers and just walk around Rodeo Drive. I figured it was my best shot at being mugged by people who make enough to buy and/or sell me.
Back to the actual details. The Zeghos are available in three models. There’s the Werksmannschaft (factory team) which features predominantly white temples with Assos-green details. The lenses are a charcoal gray gradient. Next up is the Amplify which features black temples, the same Assos-green details and a high-visibility yellow lens perfect for riding in lower-light conditions. Finally, there’s the Noire which features the same black temples as the Amplify paired with the charcoal gray (Assos calls it black) gradient lens of the Werksmannschaft. I’ve been riding with the Noire.
I live in a locale that is exact opposite of Boulder, Colorado, based on available light. By the time the sun comes out in the South Bay, my ride is over and I’m doing something else. So I was curious if on ordinarily overcast days there would be enough light for me to see. I don’t mind saying I was pleasantly surprised the first time I wore them on one of the early weekday rides and the gradient gave me more than enough visibility. I was surprised; I honestly thought that I wouldn’t be able to wear the Noires that early in the day except around the time of the summer solstice when the sun rises, well it rises too damn early at the end of June.
Part of the visibility puzzle is solved with a really key piece of information. The lens is made by Zeiss. If that doesn’t ring a bell tolling “ultra-high quality”, this one will: Nikon. Zeiss makes the elements in Nikon lenses. In general, lenses are much better than they were a dozen years ago, but these are exquisite; I’m accustomed to noticing a gradient and with these I can’t tell just when they start they are so gradual. Assos materials tell how this eyewear is less an Assos project than a collaboration with Carl Zeiss. What that means is that they made full use of Zeiss’ considerable knowledge, and it shows.
The Zeghos have an unusual degree of wrap to them. Assos touts how they offer a true 180-degree field of vision. I haven’t measured, but I can say they offer the most complete and unobstructed view of any eyewear I’ve ever worn. They call the fit ClickFace, which refers to their claim that once on the glasses don’t move even if you look straight down as your tongue lolls on your bike’s top tube. That’s certainly my experience (not the tongue thing but the glasses not moving bit). The optics have been certified as Class 1, top-of-the-line and distortion-free.
All the best eyewear that I use these days also feature lenses with hydrophobic coatings. I wore the Zeghos on Levi’s Gran Fondo (more about that in a sec) and when the day turned foggy and occasionally misty I was impressed at how well the lens remained clear. On the often dark descents out at the far end of King Ridge Road the gradient treatment really allowed me excellent vision. Part of the reason I chose to wear the Zeghos was also to see if other riders would look at me and ask, “Did you lose a bet?” “What’s that on your face?” “Dude, do you know you look like Elton John’s deranged nephew?”
I can’t tell you how many people saw them on me that day, but it was easily in the hundreds and no one said a thing against them. I did get a few inquiries from folks who wondered, “What are those cool glasses?” Not a lot, to be fair, but there were some.
Because of their unusual shape one concern I had was whether they would rise high enough above my eyebrows to bang into my helmet. It’s a problem I’ve had with Bell Helmets and all eyewear I own. I hate that that happens with Bell helmets; I love their designs. I’ve worn the Zeghos with three different helmets from Giro (including the Aeon) plus two from Specialized (including the Prevail) and didn’t have that problem with any of them. I was also able to find a good way to tuck them into both the Aeon and the Prevail.
You may recall that I mentioned just how flexible these are. That little feature became a serious selling point any time I wanted to pull them from my helmet and then get them on my face without getting the temples caught in my helmet straps. They are so flexible I can simply hook a temple over one ear and pull them across. Don’t try that with your Jawbones.
I can feel some of you queueing up to report your disdain for the styling. I respect not everyone will like them. Better yet, Assos knows some people won’t like their stuff and they are more than okay with that. They don’t want to be the ubiquitous clothing line out there. That may tell you a bit about why their stuff features what seems to be the most expensive materials they can find and why their products can carry prices that would make Vera Wang blush. Which brings us to the damage, chief. The entry point for the Zeghos is the Amplify at $399. The Werksmannschaft goes for $429. The Noire I recently found out are limited production and go for an unflinching $469.
Giro and Specialized both pulled out of the eyewear market because Oakley is less an 800-lb. gorilla than an 8000-lb. one. To have two fabled companies pull out of the market tells you something about the uphill battle it is to go head-to-head with Oakley, but to enter the cycling eyewear market is to do exactly that. You really don’t have any choice. Assos is taking an approach that isn’t unusual for them, but really hasn’t been tried by anyone else. Rather than try to compete at the same or a lesser price point, they are going above. I’ve got a few buddies who will buy some because that math makes perfect sense to them.
Are they perfect? No, but they sure do aspire to it. What could be better? Other than the price, I’m not sure. Are they worth it? Given what we pay for some of their competitors, without a doubt.
It’s not every day that a bike company makes a bike that is ridden to a Grand Tour victory. And even for those that do, having the winner drop by your office is less common. It was a big day in Morgan Hill for the Specialized staff to have Alberto Contador come by for a tour of the facility. It was an occasion that gave founder Mike Sinyard a chance to address the staff in a way he seemed born to do. In his introductory remarks you could see each of those sides of the man that have made Specialized a revered and feared (detested?) competitor: He was at once a passionate bike enthusiast, a visionary business leader, a staff cheerleader and the strictest of taskmasters.
After Mike and Alberto addressed the staff, Tom Larter and crew gave Alberto and the cadre of pressies a tour of the Specialized HQ. As Alberto was being shown the first Specialized road bike, the Sequoia, Alberto spontaneously began telling the story—in broken English and sound effects—of how he removed the brake cable braze-ons from the top tube of his first road bike with a grinder and then made holes in the top tube for internal cable routing. When he lacked a verb he went with “Vvvvv-vvvv!”
I was struck by how comfortable he was telling stories of his past, that he understood his place as a champion and how those stories of a humble beginning inform a portrait of someone. While he moved with humility, he was the epitome of someone comfortable in his own skin.
Scott Holz is the head of Specialized Bicycle Component University (SBCU) and arguably one of the world’s foremost authorities on fit. His résumé includes stints at places like New York’s Signature Cycles before deciding to teach others how to fit riders. His enthusiasm for the reach Specialized has is infectious.
This is the bike cage that holds the bikes ridden by SBCU students. Each attendee gets to ride both road and mountain bikes.
I don’t even recall what Mike was talking about during this part of the tour, but what I found remarkable was how comfortable the two were with each other. So often I see deferential interplay between athletes and sponsors, sometimes the sponsor bowing to the star athlete, sometimes the athlete genuflecting before the meal ticket.
These are but two of the many show bikes (as in for Interbike) that Robert Egger and his crew have created over the years. These “Go-Go” bikes incorporated a martini mixing station which Larter is showing off, a pannier purse compartment and handlebar-mounted compact make-up case for the go-go girl on the, uh, go.
Within the Morgan Hill facility lies a fully-functional Specialized Concept Store to give the big red “S” a chance to showcase what it believes best practices to be. It’s accurate down to the last detail, even including other brands where Specialized thinks the best fit is. Alberto stopped to check out a photo of him with Sinyard and the Giro trophy following his win earlier that year.
Following the tour we went out for the lunch ride, of which you’ve already seen photos. Afterward we grabbed lunch and then did a final press conference interview before heading for airports. Rather than rehash the entire interview here, I’ve selected some highlights.
On the responsibility of team leadership: ”I am the leader of my team. I need to movtivate all my teammates for victory.”
Regarding BMC and its many acquisitions: ”If you’re going to look at the entire season, they might get a lot of great results, with a good program. If you look at the Tour de France, I don’t think all those new riders are going to make a great team.”
On the difficulty of the Giro: “There should be a little more control. This year there was a stage that was 7.5 hours. That day went a bit over. We climbed the Giau and Marmolada; it was just too much. I think with shorter stages the race is more beautiful because the riders are fresher at the finish.
On PR: “I believe it is very important to come here to meet with the sponsor and to interact with the fans. Social networking, like Facebook, is very important.
On Team Sky: “For sure, it is a very strong team and they will have a great roll in the Tour de France. But considering the overall win, there are teams that are better than Sky. BMC, RadioShack, Saxo Bank (laughs).”
On being beatable: “There is nobody in the world who is unbeatable. Everyone prepares for the win, but there are many factors, many variables that a rider can’t control, so no one is unbeatable.”
On his relationship with Specialized: “I definitely feel very lucky to have good companies to support me. For sure I feel that Specialized is the one that is more in touch with me and more follow my demands and inputs.
On Lance: ”With Lance, we both had the same objective. I respect that he was a great champion and that he had this ambition of winning. I would have thought that our relationship would have been closer. I believe that if we were to meet now, our relationship would be very different.”
On Bruyneel: “I perfectly understand it [his relationship with Lance]. Like many people say, Lance and Bruyneel are one person. They made history together. The relationship they had—we couldn’t build up in one year. He was staying more with Lance; even though I understood it, it was difficult at times.
Let’s see what’s on my list. The winter is coming, and I’m going to need pieces and parts to deal with it. I need a new hardware kit for my Planet Bike fenders. All the screw tops are stripped out, because I put them on and take them off too much. I’m going to get a pair of TRP V-Brakes for my cross bike. When it gets colder and icier cantilevers become little more than an ugly, brake-lever-actuated noise.
I need new winter gloves, too. I’m going to try Craft’s Siberian this go round. I like a super warm glove that allows me to have control of all my fingers. I have a kajillion hats, but I’m going to add an Ibex Coppi wool hat, cause managing sweat and odor in the winter is really a matter of having enough wool to ride a new hat every day.
More wool. More wind front tights. Probably another pair of gloves, too. Just because.
With Interbike in the rear view mirror, America’s velo populace has visions of electronic derailleurs dancing in its collective head. We’ve seen what’s coming (assuming it ever gets to market) and we want it.
This week’s Group Ride isn’t a premature launch into winter, necessarily. That’s just what I’m looking at as I gear up. Those in warmer climes have other things on their mind.
The question is: What’s on your list? Is it a new bike? Which one? Some new components? Are they electronic? Some new clothes? What’s caught your eye? Give us your list and tell us why each thing is on it.
The last few weeks have been crazy enough that I’ve got a few different bike posts I’d planned to have up before Interbike that, well, I’m just now getting around to.
To some degree these are going to go up in reverse order of how the events have actually taken place. First up is the Cervelo S5; it will be followed (shortly) with reviews of the Focus Izalco Pro and Cervelo R3.
The S5 reviewette (new word, you heard it here first) came about as a result of Mark Reidy of True Communications. Mark is handling some endemic media duties for Cervelo and had the bright idea to get a bunch of S5s in different sizes and then host a bunch of writers to an afternoon ride in the canyons of Malibu.
Why more PR/marketing types don’t do this is an absolute wonder. If they did more of this, we’d be less inclined to call them hacks.
We met at the Starbucks that practically sits in the shadow of Pepperdine University (also known as the site of Landis’ Last Stand). Sit here for an hour and you’ll see someone paparazzi-worth. I’ve seen Pamela Anderson, Tony Danza, a Brolin, and scores of minor celebs whose faces I recognized but whose roles were as lost to me as the name of my kindergarten teacher.
In the interest of full disclosure, Mark reminded us to bring our pedals no less than three times. Remember them I did. The shoes? Uh, a cat attempting to escape short-circuited me and I left the shoes behind. That’s not really the disclosure bit; this is: I did the whole ride in Vans and pushing giant downhill-style platform pedals.
The loop we chose had plenty of climbing. They were roads I know well and even though the shoes were wrong, I could tell plenty about the bike from the bar and saddle. The short answer is that I was surprised by my experience.
I’ve spoken with Phil White on a couple of occasions about his company’s designs. When last we spoke the S5 wasn’t yet out, but the S3 was. I’d told him about my review of the SLC-SL, which was the single most unpleasant-riding carbon fiber bike I’ve encountered. I could have more fun in front of a firing squad. White was adamant that the S3 would be a different experience. In riding the S5, I rather skipped a generation of development.
Latigo Canyon Road is a 12k climb and a fair bit of the asphalt is less than perfect. I know how my own bikes feel there. The only detail the S5 shares with the SLC-SL is that both are rather aerodynamic. Where the SLC-SL makes rough road feel like pavé, the S5 leaves it at rough. I’ve ridden other non-aero carbon fiber bikes that were less forgiving.
It was apparent in talking to him that White really favored Cervelo’s aero designs over its popular R-series. Honestly, I think they’d discontinue the R bikes if it wouldn’t hurt their sales. It’s an impression Mark backed up. He told me they don’t understand why someone would choose an R over an S.
Part of this has to do with what they understand about aerodynamics versus what most of us don’t understand about it. I’ve been told by several engineers and product managers that all the significant gains in bike design in the future will be in aerodynamics. The only way to make a bike significantly faster will be to make it more aerodynamic.
My response to the assertion that I should go with an aero road bike has been my regard for my undercarriage. I like it. I want to keep it. I want to avoid unnecessary scar tissue in my nether regions.
Is the S5 as comfortable as an R3? That seems to be the $64,000 question. The short answer is no. It’s not as comfortable. But it’s not the Muy Thai beating that I’ve come to expect either.
That minor loss of comfort was the most apparent difference to the R3 I’ve been riding. It’s difficult to try to quantify the aerodynamic gains; I’d have an easier time getting a feel for that on group rides. Time spent at the front of a group ride is where I get my best feedback on aerodynamics.
The crisp handling I’ve come to revere in the R3 was present in the S5. I was afraid it might not handle well on descents, but given that I did 45 mph coming down Decker Canyon in Vans, I’m going to suggest is indication that I was comfortable with the bike’s handling. I’ve gone faster, but never in sneakers.
You know what I’d really love to try? Either the R3 or the S5 in nude finishes—just decals, no paint. The liveliest carbon fiber frames I’ve ridden feature no paint. That’s for another post, though.
The aero road bike was a screwy idea five years ago. It was still bleeding edge two years ago. Today, I think the idea has come of age. There’s still a weight/torsional stiffness penalty with these bikes, but they are so much better than they used to be bikes like the S5 really don’t deserve to be compared to creations like the SLC-SL.
I’ve got to give White and his partner Gerard Vroomen credit. They have really taken a stand on aerodynamics. The aero road bike is something of a mission for them. They really don’t care what you think; they believe you’ll be faster on an aero bike, and from all appearances, they care more about your speed than your opinion.
I saw a great number of items I was very excited to get on and ride. The new Zipp 303 topped my list. But before I get into that I need to make a disclosure:
I wrote this year’s Zipp catalog.
That makes me ripe for the criticism that I’ve been paid for, but I’d like to assert that’s not the case. Here’s why: I’ve been a fan of their products for a good 15 years. I was a fan of their stuff even after former CEO Andy Ording tore me a new one for not making a favorable review favorable enough. I was scared of him, but not of their products. I agreed to write the catalog because I revere their work and champed at the chance to look under the hood.
I separate my editorial work from my mar/com client work. They are different hats and the way I work, I can’t really take someone on as a client if I don’t believe in their work.
I know things about this wheel I really can’t reveal. What I can tell is that the combination of this rim depth with the Firecrest shape makes this wheel exceedingly light and fast. To find a wheel this light (1498 for carbon clincher set and 1198 for tubular set) and yet offer as much claimed aerodynamic advantage without imposing a handling penalty on the rider is difficult.
I can’t yet attest to the aerodynamics of this wheel, but I know firsthand how well the Firecrest shape works in the 404 and 808 and it is mind boggling. I can also attest to how fast the hubs are and how nice it is to corner on rims as wide as these because of the broader tire profile. I want to ride these things in the worst way.
I’ve often wondered why you couldn’t choose saddles based on how firm they are or why you couldn’t adjust how firm they are. I’m not talking Sleep Number Bed complicated, but what if you could adjust the saddle’s tension with a 5mm wrench under the saddle? Nevermind, Fi’zi:k finally took care of this.
The nose piece shown above comes in three slightly different lengths that adjust the tension of the saddle. Genius move. I’ve got an Antares that I’ll be riding very shortly.
Whether you ride the Arione, Aliante or Antares, you’ll be able to get this new version of the saddle and adjust it to your comfort level. I’ll be starting off with the soft … and wonder if I’ll have any desire to go firmer.
Too rare is it that bikes and kits are matched. This Indy Fab with Mill Valley’s Studio Velo kit by Capo had PRO written all over it.
Best pint glass of the show: The frosted Capo glasses.
My favorite steel road frame this year was this decidedly old-school Fondriest. I reviewed one of these back in ’98 and even though it was fairly flexy, it was a terrific frame from a handling standpoint.
The thing that clinched my love for this frame was the combination of stylish Italian paint and real chrome.
Yah, yah, I know chrome is about a green as Rick Perry, but I can’t not look. I wiped my drool off before leaving.
When it comes to ‘cross and cool, Ritchey’s Swiss Cross has always been a straight flush. Few bikes ever achieve this fine a marriage of style, utility and function. I harbor the suspicion that if while aboard this rig you yell “track,” the poor SOB ahead of you will look back and on seeing this bike, just get out of your way.
Maybe I can review one … from say October through Christmas.