I spent most of last week in Westlake Village and surrounding roads attending the team introduction for Cannondale. I see little point in tiptoeing around the fact that RKP’s editorial mandate is not to chase pro cycling in the trenches; that’s a terribly expensive endeavor. Similarly, I don’t want to do like some sites and pretend that we have feet on the ground in Europe by paraphrasing AFP and Cyclingnews race reports to falsely inflate our editorial reach. Bogus is the word we would have used in high school.
As a result, I/we don’t often get invitations to these events, so when this one came, I was intrigued. Intrigued because I wasn’t certain of the why, nor was I certain what the event would be like. Generally, the public view of a team introduction is that it’s a one-night affair, usually held in a theater so the riders can be paraded on stage for the assembled sponsors, VIPs and media to see, and usually, it’s the entire team assembled, right down to the last mechanic and soigneur.
This event wasn’t quite so over the top as that; Cannondale didn’t fly every last rider or staff member over from Europe for the event. Still, this was a far cry from a Division II team intro I attended that was held in the team director’s living room. Cannondale brought over 14 members of their team, including their two stars, Peter Sagan and Ivan Basso.
The collection of riders included:
Alessandro De Marchi
It used to be that the first gathering of a team in the new year was really just a training camp to give the new riders. The presentations began as a way to give sponsors a little winter exposure and get fans excited about the new riders and familiar with the new jersey so they’d know what to look for in the peloton. Based on some accounts, it also became the time when team management would lay out not just riders’ racing schedules, but their doping schedules and get them familiar with the medical staff.
Team camps may have dropped the medical program, but the sophistication continues to increase. More and more, they include media training, clinics with the sponsors so they understand what they are riding or what the sponsor makes if it’s not a bike product, and plenty of time for the media to interview riders. Whether you chalk it up to smarter operations, or an increased need to make sponsors feel like they are getting their nickels-worth due to a dearth of non-endemic sponsors (it’s a debatable point), teams like Cannondale are using their first camp of the year to serve ever larger purposes.
I attended product seminars on Vision wheels, FSA components, Kenda Tires and Sugoi clothing. These were short presentations in which a company representative would talk about the specific products the team would be using and if they assisted in the design and testing of the product, they detailed that. In the case of Kenda tires there was some additional discussion of which tires would be used when, not just the particular tires that would be used. In racing tubulars, the team will run the Volare. On the occasions they race a clincher, it will be the Kountach, while for training they’ll run the Kriterium. With Vision wheel choice will naturally be dictated by course conditions. The deepest wheels, the Metron 81 will only be used for the flatest courses. Riders will use the Metron 55 on more rolling courses, while the Metron 40, the shallowest and lightest of the bunch, will be reserved for mountainous races.
With the exceptions of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, where the team will ride the Synapse, the entire team will ride the SuperSix EVO for road races. Interestingly, Peter Sagan is a genuine knuckle-dragger. He’s the only rider on the team to receive a SuperSix EVO with custom geometry. His bike has a longer than standard top tube; it’s essentially a 54cm frame with a 58cm top tube, plus a 13cm stem. For time trials they’ll ride Cannondale’s Slice RS.
The presentation itself was held at the Canyon Club down the street from the Westlake Village Inn where the camp was taking place. Honestly, I couldn’t figure why they’d choose that until they mentioned that there’d be a concert after the presentation. Each of the riders present was introduced and in a brief interview rider strengths and goals were discussed.The audience was made up of attending media, area Cannondale dealers and sponsor VIPs. Naturally, the biggest cheers were for Peter Sagan, but as the sole American on the team Ted King took a huge roar from the crowd and mentioned something about unfinished business with a certain event in France to which those assembled cheered raucously. Sagan made it clear that Milan-San Remo was in his sites as was a certain three weeks in July. Given the ire for most confessed (or nearly confessed) ex-dopers, I was surprised, perhaps even relieved, that Basso received such a warm welcome from the crowd. He’s setting his sights on the Giro, and as a two-time winner he thinks he’s got a chance at taking the race a third time, given the course.
Oh, and that concert? The new-for-’14 Cannondale “house band” led by none of than Michael Ward, sporting a big-ass handlebar mustache (and a few more pounds than when last I saw him).
The crowd was also introduced to Scott Tedrow, the president and CEO of Sho-Air, the new presenting sponsor for the team. Tedrow took the mike and alluded to the criticism he’s received as a Johnny-come-lately to the cycling world. Whoever has leveled this accusation at him needs their head examined. When I was racing in the masters ranks more than 10 years ago Sho-Air was a significant sponsor to both mountain and road teams here in SoCal. His history notwithstanding, what truly boggles my mind is why anyone would bag on a guy bringing money into the sport when most other money is fleeing by 747? Further, to his credit, Tedrow is deep in the sport; this dude is no Flavio Becca. In addition to his sponsorship of racing at every level, he’s opening a bike shop in Orange County soon and he recently made what I hear was a rather significant donation to the National Interscholastic Cycling Association booster club. So far as I can see, Tedrow is good for the sport and the horsepower he brings thanks to his company—which does air freight for trade show materials—will make a difference in the lives of a great many racers.
I think that pro cycling still has a long way to go in earning back the public’s trust, but in the meantime, the lime green outfit of Cannondale is likely to provide genuine entertainment worth watching.
When I review a bike, I tend to hit the “road feel” aspect of a bike’s ride pretty hard. I’ve done it enough and gotten enough subsequent questions about just what I mean and what I value that it seems high time I spend devoted some pixels just to the subject of road feel.
It used to be that road feel or “ride quality” was an indispensable dimension of any bike review. Even Bicycling Magazine would address it in their famously brief reviews. Those publications that devoted more than a couple hundred words to a review tended to spend more time defining not only a given bike’s ride quality but also made an effort to assign some sort of value to the quality. I’m not seeing much conversation on the subject these days, save the reviews Ben Edwards pens for peloton magazine.
While it may seem that ride quality and road feel may be essentially two different phrases for the same phenomenon, I do see them differently and I believe historically that “ride quality” was often used to define not just the feel of the frame material, but the interplay of that material with the bike’s geometry. In a nutshell, I use road feel to address the sense of road I get based on the frame material alone. It has nothing to do with the frame’s overall stiffness.
So any discussion of road feel is limited to the sense of road the bicycle’s frame imparts to the rider. Many of the bike’s components can affect just what you experience. Ride a bike with 100 psi in the tires and then ride it again with 140 psi in the tires and you could be forgiven for believing you were on a different bike.
Bar, bar tape, seatpost, seat and tires will all affect road feel, but none of these will usually have the effect that a significant change in tire pressure will bring. Additionally, different shorts and different shoes will affect what you experience as well. When reviewing a bike, I never get the chance to normalize for more than wheels and tires. I’ve got a set of wheels I know intimately and have some trusted open tubulars on them. That will zero out the wheel/tire combo. Ride a bike long enough and you’ll even see through differences in shorts. All that aside, the most important feedback you get comes through your feet and butt.
Okay, so all those factors can skew what you feel, but that doesn’t answer the central question of why road feel matters.
I’m fascinated by road feel because it is one of a handful of the dimensions of a bike’s overall composition that can affect how I descend and corner. When a bike is pushed to its performance limit, road feel can have a profound influence on just how far I’m willing to go.
People will use descriptors such as “lively,” “dead,” “springy,” and even “razor-sharp” to discuss the way the bike feels as they ride it. That feel is road feedback. Think of your frame as a pair of glasses and the road as the sky. The frame you ride is essentially the lens color of your glasses. You can ride a frame that blots out most of the sunlight to tame a sunny day. Or it can be a high-contrast yellow lens for the low-light situations you find on early morning fall rides. And whether you choose a dark or light lens, the quality of that lens will determine the clarity with which you see.
While this may be obvious almost to redundant, the road surface has a huge influence on just what you experience. The smoother the road, the less input you get and the deader the bike will feel. Some amount of texture is helpful for descending and cornering.
When I first started reviewing bikes, my sense was that the changes I experienced in road feel related almost entirely to frame material, that all bikes created from a frame material were sort of static in feel. However, the market was being flooded with new steels and I quickly learned that some of the new oversize steel tube sets (such as Columbus EL-OS Nivacrom) felt different from older stuff (such as Columbus SL). Even though the material density was the same, the bikes felt different.
So why was that? The best information I have from engineers is that it was related to wall thickness. If density remains consistent, a thinner wall will transmit more vibration. Increase wall thickness or decrease density and the feel changes. Titanium is half as dense as steel; aluminum is a third as dense as steel.
But the vibration transmission is affected by other factors. Butting makes a huge impact on road feel. No matter what material is used, if the tubes are straight gauge, the bike will have a harsher feel; more vibration will radiate through the frame.
So what constitutes good road feel and how much vibration should a frame transmit? Well, there are a variety of opinions on this. The French manufacturer Time does all it can to eliminate as much road vibration as possible; they include materials like Kevlar to make the frames mute to vibration. There are other manufacturers, such as Specialized, Cannondale, Felt, Look, BH, Parlee and even Bottecchia that offer bikes with a nude finish; that is, decals and no paint. No paint means an absence of 80 to 100 grams of material that contributes nothing structural to the bike. When you’re talking about a potentially 800g frame, that means 10-12 percent of the bike’s weight does nothing to contribute to strength or stiffness. You might as well just wrap the frame with electrical tape.
While 80g of paint is a liability in the weight department, the presence of paint does an interesting thing to a bike’s road feel. It deadens the frame. Not terribly, but it does fundamentally change just how the bike feels.
I’ve had the opportunity to ride bikes from a couple of manufacturers with paint and then with a decal-only finish. The difference in feel has to do with high-frequency road vibration. It’s that high-frequency stuff that gives you the greatest sensitivity to the road conditions. And though Trek doesn’t offer (so far as I’ve seen) a single nude-finished frame, it’s absence suggests less that they aren’t concerned with road feel and more that they aren’t confident in the cosmetics of their unpainted frames.
While I could try to illustrate the point of sensitivity with the analogy of a condom, let’s go with a stereo instead. On a traditional stereo with volume, bass and treble controls, if you turn up the bass and then turn down the treble, you wind up with gangsta rap—a pumping sound that has little definition. Carbon fiber frames with nude finishes feature a little less volume overall (because the frames feature an incredible amount of internal butting at junctions) but offer clarity that can only come from keeping the treble cranked up. Think of top-40 radio and the way those melodies can carry even when played on a lousy department store PA.
The Trouble With Color
Painted carbon can look amazing. It can also give a manufacturer the opportunity to cover blemishes in substandard work. It even offers a very minor degree of impact resistance. But it does nothing for road feel.
Bikes like the Specialized Tarmac, Cannondale SuperSix EVO, Felt F-series and BH Ultralight feature next-generation carbon fiber construction that has eliminated the use of foam in junctions where compaction has traditionally been a problem. Internal forms help make sure the bike achieves optimal material compaction. I suppose there are others using these techniques, but these are the bikes I’m aware of so far. Tap a fingernail on the down tube of one of these bikes and you’ll hear a distinctly metallic sound. The greater the material density, the higher frequency the sound. Both frame strength and road feel benefit.
It’s easy to conclude that greater high-frequency sensitivity is strictly an aesthetic preference and that one can make a strong case for a frame that stamps out vibration like ants in a kitchen. Unfortunately, there are objective reasons to seek out a frame with less vibration damping.
If your goal is a frame that maximizes strength while still achieving a competitive ~800g weight, you have to go with a nude finish. I’ve yet to come across a bike that offers the strength and weight equal to the world’s top frames that also feels dead. I’m so glad. But, God, how I wish Cervelos were available in a paint-free scheme.
A final note: One needn’t ride on the roller coaster roads of Malibu to make use of the benefits of superior road feel. I try not to push bikes to the point of breaking the tires loose (at least, on the road), but when the roads are wet, a bike that gives me great feedback will help me get down a descent faster. And as a rider, the greatest challenge I ever face on two wheels is riding in the rain. Descending in the rain? Nearly guaranteed flow state, and it’s times like that I want all the data I can get, even if it’s 100 percent right-brained.