Let’s start with an audacious premise, that just by virtue of the fact that you are reading these words, you are fast. I know. I know. “Bullshit,” you think to yourself. But maybe it’s true, last week’s post not withstanding.
These things can be self-fulfilling, the placebo that cures what ails you.
Allow me to perform the trick of the medium, the palm-reader or the gazer into crystal balls. Dim the lights. Put your credit card on the table.
You ride a bike. Oh yes, the low-hanging fruit. The obvious. But don’t you see we’re already more than half-way there. Because not only do you a ride a bike, but you ride a bike often, some might even say regularly. Wait. Wait. It’s more than that. You actually define yourself, sketch the outlines of your deep and true and core identity, in relation to the bike.
You are a cyclist, but you are more. You are a committed cyclist. In the back of your mind, at some point, you have assigned yourself a sub-identity within the cycloverse. You are a climber (grimpeur) or a rouleur. Maybe a sprinter or a randonneur. It doesn’t matter, because you know which one you are, and you know which one you are because you’ve tried to be at least one of the others and found it didn’t suit you.
How am I doing? Uncanny, right? Look, every Robot with a neon sign out front isn’t a charlatan. Some of us have true mystical powers. We see things. We know.
And so you ride. You ride a lot. Maybe you ride through the winter, or maybe you take an off-season. It doesn’t matter. Even if you use the term “winter weight” un-ironically, you remain a cyclist, and you know, even as you shovel another forkful of cake into your gaping maw, that you will return to the bike. You have faith that it will set you free from these days of excess, the license you’ve given to your id, that rotten son-of-a-bitch who doesn’t care a whit how (not) fast you are in the spring.
It’s all alright, because you’re a cyclist.
And now we circle back to our premise that you are fast. “Pfffffttt!!” you think again, “Have you met me?” And yes, I have. I know you. You’re that guy who rides a bike, by virtue of which, you are fast.
No, you are not fast relative to Steve. Fucking Steve whose muscle-y ass you’ve had to follow over hill and goddamned dale all summer long. Steve, who once won things and knows how much his wheels weigh. Steve, who, despite being faster and fitter and better adjusted than you are, is actually an alright guy, and let’s be honest, if it wasn’t for Steve, we probably wouldn’t ride as much as we do. Let’s not murder Steve, just because he’s fast. There are better ways to bend the curve of velocity back toward our own very human capabilities.
Go to the grocery store. Never mind a cart. You don’t need a cart. And forget the basket. Put it down. Just walk the aisles. Up. Down. Frozen foods. The chip aisle. Even allow yourself to wander into produce. It doesn’t matter. Have a look around. Count the number of shoppers you couldn’t beat in a two-up, town-line sprint. KAPOW! You’re fast.
Oh, but it gets better.
Leave the store. Go home. Wait for your favorite band to come to town. I know. I know. It’s been a long time. How long? Since college? Yeah. It happens. We all get busy, lose track, get older, get lame, forget what it’s like to stand for two hours or more on a concrete floor drinking beer from a cup and shouting to maintain a conversation while the sound guy juices the room with some techno crap cooked up by a Scandinavian teen that he pulled off Youtube that morning.
But now you’re at the show. As is every other adult for whom this band was significant back in the ’90s, ’80s, ’70s, ’60s. Now we’re not looking at a random sampling of grocery purchasers, i.e. regular humans. Now we’re looking at your cohort, folks your age who are steeped in the same zeitgeist(s) that produced you in all your cyclorific majesty.
How about now? Anyone here you couldn’t beat to the top of a 9% incline of 1km or more? I am assuming your favorite band isn’t that bunch of dudes from the Michelob Ultra commercial.
Here we are. We have arrived at fast again. But just like Dorothy, back in Kansas after that technicolor acid trip of hers, it was inside you the whole time!
You are fast because you ride. And it doesn’t matter if you never do an interval or a hill repeat, or like me, you sprint from the hoods. You will never win Milan-San Remo, but at the school drop off in the morning you are among the elite.
It is quite possible that you can be faster, that by riding intervals and hill repeats, that by consuming a carefully considered diet, that by resting, by patience, and by dint of hard work, you can raise your performances, such as they are, to some vanishing point, an asymptote of accelerating brilliance.
But let me tell you I have clutched the philosopher’s stone in my greedy fists, and I have reworked the formulas. Take your life, add a bike, sprinkle liberally with a ruthless realism and a modest sense of humor. It’s that easy. You are fast.
Image: © Matt O’Keefe
A great many people I talk to about NAHBS speak almost exclusively of steel bikes built with lugs. To the degree that lugged steel bikes dominate what is displayed at the show, it’s not a particularly unfair impression. However, show organizer Don Walker should get credit for having welcomed builders working in any medium to the event. Ineed, one-third of the original bunch to show at NAHBS work in carbon.
Those two, Nick Crumpton and Craig Calfee, have been joined by a great many other builders working in carbon, such as Parlee and Alchemy. The perception that NAHBS is a show all about steel sells the event short for surely one of its best aspects is the sheer diversity of designs presented to attendees.
The simple fact that carbon bikes are being shone isn’t enough to get excited. What gets me excited is how far they have come in the last five, six years. Roll the clock back to 2005 and most all carbon fiber bikes were being built either as two or three-piece monocoque designs or as tube, lug and glue constructions. Things have come a long way.
The shot above is of a Parlee custom head tube. The cutaway view shows how the tubes are mitered and then wrapped with carbon fiber before going into a mold to cure. The knock against traditional tube-and-lug designs was the redundancy of material and the risk of stress risers at the transition points. The amount of extra material here is minimal and the transitions, all things considered, are terrifically smooth.
Next up is an example of a Parlee Z5 made overseas. You’ll notice the incredible compaction and the lack of unnecessary material. The quality of the molding is as good as I’ve seen. All this lacks is the ability to provide the custom sizing you find in their domestically produced frames.
Nick Crumpton’s work has always impressed me, but I have to say that this bike achieved a level of quality I really didn’t think possible from a one-man operation. Crumpton miters tubes and then wraps them with additional fiber and molds the frame into its final form. The smooth transitions, internal cable routing and features like seat masts redefine what I thought was possible from a small builder.
Nick positioned the battery pack for this Di2 bike under the down tube, but that’s not what’s most impressive about this bike. Even though you can see where he begins wrapping the down tube above the bottom bracket, there is no sudden material bulge. That conservation of material results in a lighter frame that will last longer.
Alchemy’s name isn’t as well known as Calfee’s, Parlee’s or even Crumpton’s, but they showed some very impressive bikes. This TT bike features tubes drawn to Alchemy’s spec; the down tube is shaped according to NACA profiles for real-world aerodynamic properties. They also offer a road version of this bike, a la the Cervelo Soloist or Felt AR. Only this one is available in custom sizing.
Final thought: It wasn’t long ago that I thought that a custom-sized, strong, 900-gram frame with great ride quality just wasn’t possible. Not without spending $15 grand. Times are changing and What is possible in custom work can truly rival the best work out there by manufacturers like Cervelo and Felt.
By now you’ve seen plenty of images from this past weekend’s North American Handmade Bicycle Show. There were some very deserving award winners. In the interest of not contributing to overkill we wanted to include a few shots from bikes that really caught our eye and maybe didn’t get much airtime.
This lugged carbon and steel (correction: titanium) creation from Alchemy featured rounded points on the lugs to prevent stress risers from occurring at the ends of the points that could damage the carbon tubes.
Richie Moore is an alum of Litespeed and he shares the Tennessee company’s penchant for tubing with interesting shapes. His new venture is called Cysco, after his home town of Cisco, Georgia.
Special thanks to special correspondent Touriste-Routier for the images.