Take a moment to look at the object above. Really look at it. If you weren’t already a dedicated cyclist, what would you guess that was? I can say that I would guess that it was a souvenir replica of some sort of head gear from a first-person-shooter video game. It would be right at home on an alien in Halo. Falling back on my trained experience as a cyclist, I’d conclude from its sharp lines, balanced proportions and deliberate symmetry that it was an established helmet maker’s new top-of-the-line model.
Neither of those guesses would be right, of course.
It is neither from a manufacturer known for a history in helmets, nor is it their top model. Cannondale has a history in helmets like I’ve got a history in beer: I’ve consumed a lot of it, but no one is waiting for my opinion, or for me to make one. But make one—scratch that, six—they have.
Helmets have been a topic of discussion at every industry event I’ve been to recently, largely due to Giro’s new offering. People are struggling with it because the look is such a departure. Function aside, it looks like a skateboard helmet people say. It doesn’t look like a proper cycling helmet people say. There’s no denying that. But that’s because the average cycling helmet doesn’t look like anything else on earth.
The evolution of the bicycle helmet has been a long and surprising journey. The only time I wore my first helmet was when I entered a race. The first helmet I wore on regular training rides was my Giro LeMond Air Attack. That was the first helmet that had a look I was able to define as cool, rather than laughable. The evolution since then has been into progressively more vents and shapes that looked organic—ribs with connective tissue or framework with panels. The most successful design aesthetically don’t usually look like putty with holes poked in it. Consider the Catlike.
Significant in this is that most helmet manufacturer’s second- and third-tier designs seem like watered-down ideas, like all the truly rakish lines were softened, lest a less enthusiastic cyclist be frightened away. They usually smack of design by committee, which is about the lowest thing you can say about a piece of industrial design work. It’s like saying the Ferrari Daytona is a ripoff of a Datsun 240z. Oof.
If I hadn’t seen the Cannondale Cypher, the company’s $200 head protector, I’d have concluded that the Teramo was the primo model. Even though I knew it wasn’t the top model, my jaw dropped when I found out this baby retails for $119.99. Finally, a reasonably affordable helmet that doesn’t look like a design studio’s sloppy seconds.
Now, even if a helmet looks okay, the fit can still be a complete fail. I’ve tried helmets that fit like a five-gallon bucket, covering my eyes after every bump in the road, and others that were essentially styrofoam yarmulkes, devices that failed to shield my temples from all but top-side blows. I don’t know how else to put it: The Terramo fit like a bike helmet.
Feature-wise, this thing gives nothing up on the pricier Cypher. Most notable in my mind is that the Terramo uses dual-density EPS to better cushion your noggin in the event of an extreme deceleration event—you know, from 30 to zero in now. The softer density EPS takes that first portion of the hit, giving your head a softer start to the stop, while the denser EPS makes sure that your head gets stopped as well as possible under the circumstances. The thing about that softer density EPS is that it is by its very nature fragile and many companies have avoided it for durability reasons. Cannondale uses an internal framework (they call it a chassis) to provide improved structural integrity in the event of a crash. This is a technology that’s been around a while, but it is especially necessary in helmets that use two different foams so that the helmet doesn’t go watermelon-through-a-cooler if you fall.
Also helping to keep the helmet together is an alloy reinforced polycarbonate outer shell. Again, this is technology we’ve seen before, but Cannondale uses it effectively to create a durable helmet with big vents. I’ve not bothered to count the vents; there are plenty of them to do what you expect a bike helmet to do.
My one knock against this helmet is the Ergo-Fit occipital pad. While it’s plenty comfortable, the fact that it’s covered with rubber (okay, perforated rubber) means there’s a lot of surface contact at the back of your head. While I didn’t ever overheat while wearing the helmet, I noticed I was pretty sweaty back there when I took the helmet off, and the warmest ride I ever did with it didn’t reach 80 degrees. It’s a small issue in the grand scheme.
The Terramo comes in six color schemes, two of them sufficiently neutral to go with any cycling kit you might own, and all of them attractive enough to avoid geek-side embarrassment. The helmet also comes in two sizes. Regular readers of RKP will recall that Zippy (the pinhead) is my first cousin. I wore the small/medium. I bring up that point to establish the following: I was able to perch eyewear from SPY, Shimano, Smith, Oakley and Giro in the vents and not have them immediately drop out when I looked down. Pretty good record, though I will say getting the Radars in took a bit of flexing.
I’m not going to lie to you and say that I prefer this to the Giro Aeon or the Specialized Prevail. There’s no point. However, I can say that for friends of mine who think spending $200 on a helmet is out of their league, I’d wholeheartedly recommend the Terramo. It’s one of the best helmet values I’ve seen.
Press Camp is both the best and most difficult aspects of of a trade show rolled together. It’s the best of a what a trade show can be because you had the ability to receive the complete attention of whoever you’re meeting with. And it’s a chance to pick up anything you’re interested in and really look it over, also without the worry of being interrupted by anyone. But it’s also challenging in that every conversation you have could go on for at least an hour longer than you have time for. At Interbike I’ll schedule a 15 minute meeting with someone and not have enough time to find out what the new products are. Here at Press Camp, I have 45 minutes and we end up digging deep into the first half-dozen products and end up not having enough time to get through the others. No matter how much time you have, it seems never to be enough. Thankfully, I consider this to be a happy problem.
I’ve been meeting with people who aren’t necessarily core to what RKP is about, such as Hayes. Yes, they offer this amazing forged cable-actuated cyclocross disc brake shown above. And ‘cross bikes are firmly in the wheelhouse of RKP. But really, I stopped by to learn more about their suspension forks and many brakes. Anyone who does that much good work I want to check out; after all, their brands also include Answer and Manitou.
Years ago, I reviewed plenty of Canari clothing and used it in photo shoots. It was fairly inexpensive stuff and good price points. Since then, the quality has risen noticeably and the price hasn’t increased that much. It’s nice to see a company invest in Southern California manufacturing, while offering many of the high-end features you see elsewhere, such as digital printing, full zips and hidden seams. While there I saw what was one of the more intriguing pairs of sub-$150 pairs of bibs I’ve encountered in a good 10 years. Expect to hear more on those.
I first used a Camelbak in 1996. Back then, the product was good, but had plenty of issues, many of which I can no longer recall. As the company has improved and evolved, their packs have become more sophisticated and the bladders stronger, better fitting and less likely to impart any taste. Above are just a few of the different bladders they produce at their own facility. For where I live, the pack mule approach to spare gear is never necessary. There are no lightning-laced afternoon thundershowers and the temperature won’t drop 20 degrees as dusk approaches, but my mountain bike won’t carry more than one water bottle and I don’t go out for mountain bike rides on the weekend that aren’t at least three hours, so hydration is an issue. I encountered some new packs from Camelbak that I’ll be trying as soon as I’m back.
Assos is here and this was a chance for me to see some new products on the way for 2013. There have been some revisions to base layers that should make them noticeably more comfortable than most, if not all, their competition. And with four different weights, they produce something perfect for whatever conditions you’re riding in. Above is the jersey that will be worn by the Swiss team at the Olympics. I can already see Cancellara killing it in this jersey. Inside the jersey collar I noticed a little inscription.
My German is beyond rusty (think Yugo in a junk yard and you’ll get an accurate picture), but the inscription suggests that the jersey is to be used by the nation’s heroes in pursuit of the top step of the podium. Not bad.
I also had meetings with Clif, where I received a few new samples and we spent time discussing just how cool a life Gary and Kit lead (yes, I’m envious), and Cannondale. Honestly, I wanted to get more familiar with their mountain bike line, just because I find them interesting. (It has either helped or not helped depending on your personally outlook that I’ve been sharing a room with Richard Cunningham of Pink Bike and he’s had a Claymore here in the room that I continue to eye with fascination; at 180mm of travel, it’s a park bike and something I must admit, I have no idea how to ride.) Alas, they’ve got some cool stuff going on with road and that’s all we really had time to discuss. The big news on the road are a few new models of the SuperSix EVO. They are now offering a women’s model, and in five different sizes. And as is to be expected with any truly conscientious work, each size not only receives a full set of its own molds, but the layup schedule changes for each size, giving each bike a consistent flex pattern for the riders. There’s also a new SuperSix EVO made with intermediate modulus carbon to bring that model down to a more affordable price point, as well as a new layup of the SuperSix EVO Hi-Mod in which they’ve done a bit of judicious refinement in the layup schedule to shave another 40 grams or so from the frame and they say become the undisputed leader in the weight game.
We spent a lot more time discussing their ongoing work with aluminum and how much bike they continue to deliver even with an entry-level bike like one of the CAAD 10s. Watch for a pair of reviews of the CAAD 10 and SuperSix EVO in the near future.
It’s worth mentioning that one of the most-discussed products here yesterday was the just-announced Giro Air Attack helmet.
Even though the helmet won’t be available until spring of next year, it had most of us talking. And while the press materials make a compelling case for why it will keep you just as cool as any of today’s helmets, what had everyone’s curiosity, of course, was its shape. The helmet is said to offer a significant aerodynamic advantage, but many of us, and if I’m honest, that group includes me, struggled to get past the look. It’s worth noting that we’ve come to accept and even champion some head-ware that has no real analog in nature. Put another way: We’ve come to accept a pretty strange looking device—even like it. The strangeness of the look of the Air Attack says more about what we accept than what it truly is, which is a lot closer in shape and look to other sporting helmets.
I’ll do my wrap-up of today’s meetings this weekend as I leave here before lunch for a flight to an undisclosed location for the introduction of a new Specialized S-Works product. It should make for some great photos.
Some years back I was in an editorial meeting for a bike magazine when two of my colleagues suggested the publication for which we toiled needed to embrace bicycle commuters and the double-century crowd. It could have been a disastrous move for the struggling media property. Imagine Bobcat Goldthwait abandoning stand-up comedy to devote his time and energy to finger puppetry and you get the idea.
Somehow (I’m still now sure quite how I managed), I was able to dodge the editorial suicide by arguing: Commuters weren’t clamoring for bike magazines filled with tips on how to get to work faster/in better style/with greater training benefit/at less expense. The double-century set, no matter how dedicated they were as cyclists, were a population fractional to the size of the century riding set. The primary expression of the roadie lifestyle were the thousands of people doing group rides week-in and week-out and those were the people our advertisers were trying to reach, whether they knew it or not.
For the entirety of my life I’ve been at the shallow end of some bell curve. Hell, just being a cyclist confirms that. The irony here is that as a roadie who lives for his local group rides, I am, for once, the middle of the bell curve. For reasons I can’t explain, I can look at a marketing plan or advertising campaign meant to reach roadies and I can tell you instantly if it will resonate or not. I can’t do that with anything else. I’m not in the middle of the curve for anything else.
A strange offshoot of that savant-like talent is that I can also look at geometry charts and tell you how a bike will handle. My recent post on the Roubaix-edition Felt F1 brought up some interesting questions both in comments and email. The most obvious and direct question is why Felt won’t be marketing that bike to the cycling public. Well, there are two reasons why not. The first is a simple one, at least, seemingly. The Roubaix F1 has a bottom bracket lower than 27cm and that violates a fundamental CPSC rule. In broad (very broad) strokes, that regulation says that a bike must be able to lean a certain amount with its inside pedal down without striking the pedal on the ground. The math ordinarily works out to a cheap rat trap pedal plus 170mm cranks equals 7cm of BB drop. A few sizes (56cm and smaller) of the Specialized Roubaix feature a BB drop of 7.2cm. I believe they manage this because of the 25mm tires spec’d with the Roubaix. Now Felt could get around the rule either by spec’ing a 25mm tire (like Specialized) or by marketing it just as a frameset; BB height rules don’t apply to framesets, which is why Serotta and Richard Sachs can build frames with a 8cm of BB drop.
I need to interject an interesting aside here: Trek’s new Domane has a surprisingly low bottom bracket. In most sizes the BB drop is 8cm. On larger frames, bikes with presumably longer cranks, the BB height decreases to 7.8cm. How they are getting this past the CPSC I don’t know, but I intend to ask. They also spec the bike with 25mm tires. Will it accept 28s? Likewise, I intend to find out.
But back to the larger point, the bell curve. When you’re a custom builder you don’t have to worry about the middle of the bell curve. If you’re going to NAHBS, you’re going to build a randonnee bike to show because it gives you a great chance to build tons of bike bling into the frameset. From trick routing of generator hub wires and Di2 cables to well-integrated racks, lights and fenders, they are a great way to show off a builder’s chops. But if you actually show up at a randonnee event here or overseas (especially overseas) the riders who want to make it into that top 20 percent of finishing times are on lightweight carbon machines.
Now, back to the real(er) world. Imagine that a product manager, say one from Cannondale, did some dirt-road ride like D2R2. And let’s say he decided to get behind a dirt-road spec for a new edition of the Synapse. And let’s, for the sake of fantasy or argument (your choice), say he managed to lay his hands on enough long-reach calipers to outfit all those bikes with brakes that didn’t conflict with the 28mm tires he spec’d for it. What happens if the market for dirt-road road bikes favors Specialized for reasons of spec, price or market affinity? Heck, it doesn’t even have to be another big company; it could be that the market simply favors custom steel builders. Let’s suppose that Cannondale runs 1000 of those bikes, just to be conservative. What happens if they don’t sell? Well, they get discounted later in the season. Depending on just how many are sitting in the warehouse, they might have to discount them a bunch, in which case they could be looking at taking a loss on the bikes. You can guess where this leads: Take too much of a loss on a bike that was a gamble to begin with and you risk more than your employer’s capital; you risk your job. And if you want to find out just how fickle the market it, just ask a rep from one of the bigger bike companies about color choice and inventory. It’s not uncommon to find that one color (such as blue) sells like Ecstasy at a rave, while the other color choice (lime green, for instance) is sitting in the warehouse, gathering dust.
Okay, let’s give Debbie Downer a chance to take a bow. The reality is a good bit brighter than that. The bike market is a good bit larger than it used to be. This is the legacy of the Lance Effect. Bunches of people who bought bikes because of Lance had the good fortune to join clubs, get a decent introduction to the sport and stayed with it. That bigger market has had a curious effect on what’s offered. (Okay, Debbie, we’re not quite finished; could you come back out a sec?) Factories making high-end product struggle to produce all of the frames, forks and components necessary to deliver bikes to bike shops each spring. You may think that consumer choice is the primary driver behind Cannondale offering the SuperSix EVO in Di2, 7900 and Red is to give consumers choices at different price points. That would be only partly true. Even Cannondale can’t get enough 7900 to equip all of those bikes with Shimano’s top mechanical group. Of course, these choices create another layer of risk for both the bike companies and retailers. What if consumers just don’t want to spend $8k on a carbon bike with Dura-Ace, but they’re fine with spending $9k on one with Red?
Let’s hope that shop has a crystal ball.
So that’s the minefield. But consider that we have bikes like the Specialized Roubaix, the Volagi Liscio, the Synapse (Cannondale) and now the Trek Domane (which is a replacement for the failed Pilot, oops). Our choices are increasing and the quality of what we ride has leapt. That’s a lot to celebrate. And it’s easier than ever before to find a custom builder thanks to the Interwebs. Here’s the thing about the bell curve: If the population grows, it grows. As events like D2R2 gain in popularity, more products that make those events more enjoyable will hit the market.
Allow me to brag for a moment. When I visit other sites and blogs around the interwebs, I look at the comments left by readers. Some of my favorite sites are read by people who, sheesh, there’s no diplomatic way to say this: Some of their readers suffer from stolen brains.
No, that’s not the bragging part. This is: RKP enjoys the distinct windfall of benefitting from an especially bright readership. I’m not entirely sure how that happened, but thank you.
So peloton magazine has joined forces with Cannondale to send some lucky reader to this year’s Tour de France. For a week. Now, the lucky (this time I’m using the term in a faux ironic way, kinda like a fixie kid with a handlebar mustache) winner will allegedly work as a mechanic for a week. Let me tell you: That’s no picnic, so I’m really hoping that’s not how this plays out.
The chance to enter has come and gone, so unless you’ve already sent a video, you’re SOL. So here’s what I’m thinking: Your judgement could sway this thing and prevent some sort of American Idol outcome.
That anyone would produce a video to enter a contest impresses me. Maybe that’s just because I’m fairly remedial when it comes to moving pictures; regardless, I like the ambition. And having looked at the finalists, I do think there’s a real standout among them.
I gain exactly zero net benefit from plugging this contest. As I mentioned, I like that people went to the trouble to produce videos for their entry (rather than writing down their name on a slip of paper 437 times) and in the cases of the finalists, told some personal and interesting stories. If nothing else, each of the entries deserves an audience.
Check them out here.
Brand identity is a funny thing. When I was a kid, Ford represented the car my dad drove. Later, it came to stand for an American car I wouldn’t own even if you gave it to me. More recently it has come to symbolize the very best in how a company can reinvent itself and survive under its own steam. At least, that’s how I see them.
Cannondale has had a similarly curious arc. There was a time when the brand made accessories, not bikes; they were a competitor to Rhode Gear, not Trek. And while large-diameter tubing aluminum bikes weren’t solely their domain, the company named for a train station achieved greater market penetration than Klein ever did. In the 1990s, I recall the company as being a repository for talent, fresh ideas and ambitious marketing. Actually, the company wasn’t just ambitious in its marketing, it was as ambitious as any bike company had ever been.
Then came motorcycles and the bankruptcy. For a while, the brand felt like damaged goods and though I was a fan, I wasn’t sure they’d survive with their full reputation intact.
Though Cannondale has stayed at the forefront of aluminum development and construction, the Connecticut company was by any standard late to the carbon fiber game. The Six13 may have used an innovative method to join carbon fiber to aluminum, but nothing could change that a bike featuring three carbon fiber main tubes joined to an aluminum head tube and rear triangle was an idea that dated to the first Bush presidency.
With the SuperSix, Cannondale got into the carbon fiber game in a serious way. It had the hallmarks found in its competitors’ bikes: It was light, stiff and reasonably lively feeling. However, it wasn’t a particularly special bike. The problem wasn’t so much Cannondale as it was the market. By 2008, there was a near glut of really good carbon fiber bikes on the market. There was a much shorter list of truly extraordinary bikes.
It wasn’t too long ago that in purchasing a carbon fiber bike you had to choose between stiff and light. The industry has essentially solved that problem. So what separates the good bikes from the great ones? Road feel. The knock against most magazines’ reviews of bikes is that the reviewer always credits the bike with being “torsionally stiff and vertically compliant.”
Even for riders who haven’t ridden a dozen different bikes, there is widespread acceptance that as bikes gain stiffness in torsion they lose flex—compliance—in every other dimension. However, the quest for torsional stiffness combined with vertical compliance isn’t quite as mythical as the unicorn.
For those of you who have followed the development of the Specialized Tarmac, it is the perfect example of how a bike that is stiff in torsion can be tuned to take some of the sting out of the rear triangle. The original Tarmac SL was a very good bike. Two years later Specialized introduced the Tarmac SL2. It was stiffer in every direction, but it was also livelier feeling. That rear end, though, was a bit brutal on long rides. Two years after its introduction the company followed up with the Tarmac SL3. The front triangle remained unchanged, but the rear triangle was redesigned with both new tube profiles and a new lay-up. Ride the two bikes over the same roads and you’ll quickly feel how the rear end doesn’t chatter as much. It feels as if you let 5 psi out of the rear tire.
Back to Cannondale.
I’ve just spent two days riding the brand-spankin’-new SuperSix EVO. This bike is to the previous SuperSix what the Bugatti Veyron is to the Chevy Camaro.
The bike boasts some impressive numbers, such as a normalized weight of 695 grams. It has scores the highest stiffness-to-weight ratio ever recorded: 142 Nm/deg/kg. That’s more than 15 percent higher than the Specialized Tarmac SL3 and more than 40 percent higher than the Trek Madone 6 SSL.
We can talk numbers all day long, but based on my experience, there seems to be a tipping point in ride quality when you near the 900g mark for a frame. I can’t claim this is true for every bike out there, but my A-list of bikes I’ve ridden, which includes the Tarmac SL3, the Felt F1, F2 and Z1 and Cervelo R3 SL, were all at or below 900g.
My sense isn’t that the weight is the issue. Weight is just the canary in the coal mine. What gives these bikes their lively ride quality is the incredible compaction achieved in their construction. Tap a tube with your fingernail and you’ll get a near-metallic-sounding “tink.”
The SuperSix EVO possesses these same qualities. And like the Felt F1, it employs hollow carbon fiber dropouts, which both reduce weight and increase the lively feel of the rear triangle without increasing stiffness. What helps to separate the SuperSix EVO from other similar bikes is the fact that the chainstays have been flattened along the horizontal plane once they clear the chainrings.
Cannondale says it didn’t set out to make the lightest bike, the stiffest bike, the most aero bike or even the smoothest-feeling bike. What they came up with is an incredible blend of those qualities. They say they wanted the most efficient bike out there. It’s hard to say they’ve created the most efficient bike on the market, but it’s easy to say it’s among the most efficient. I haven’t previously ridden a bike that offered as much torsional stiffness while feeling as smooth over rough pavement.
With the introduction of the SuperSix EVO Cannondale has effectively reinvented itself as a bike company. This is an extraordinarily sophisticated bike, the result of three years of work … and it shows.
I’m looking forward to getting one of these to review next month. In the meantime, for even more details you can check out my piece for peloton magazine.
Interbike, the annual peek inside Santa’s workshop, has arrived. Even though the bike industry has moved to a year-round product development and introduction cycle, thanks, in part, to events like the Sea Otter Classic and the Amgen Tour of California, Interbike is the place to wow cycling’s devoted with the latest and greatest.
The question of whether Interbike or Eurobike is bigger is a distraction. Go to Eurobike and a fair chunk of what you’ll see—say trekking bikes, for instance—will never enter an American port. If you want the pulse of the American market, Las Vegas is the place, at least one last time.
Going into this year’s show, I’ve been more focused on the names of the companies I won’t be seeing there rather than thinking about the new stuff I’m convinced I can’t live without. The number of companies displaying only at the Outdoor Demo is growing as is the list of companies that won’t even be there this year. I’m hoping that Airborne’s new head honch Rick Vosper’s prognostication is correct, that part of the move to Anaheim included negotiating a large-scale return to the show floor for everyone from Trek to Giant, Cannondale, Cervelo and Felt.
Their absences, and the absences of plenty of others, made the show floor a little less interesting last year, if easier to get through. Still, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
The question we put to you this week: What have you heard about in the run-up to the show that you are most excited about? New wheels from Easton? New bars, stems and more from Zipp? Puncture-proof Hutchinson tubulars? Whose new bike would you most like to ride?
Back in the 1990s Mario Cipollini was getting fined by the UCI with the frequency Cristiano Ronaldo seems to be fouled. The Lion King couldn’t just show up to a stage of a grand tour and ride it. No, he had to put on a show and when Cannondale became the sponsor of Cipollini’s Team Saeco, in them he found a willing partner to make an entry spashy enough for Milan or Paris.
Leading the Tour of Italy? Let’s do a pink kit and bike to match. Leading the Tour de France? How about a yellow kit and a matching yellow bike? Celebrating the Fourth of July? Why not wear some stars and stripes shorts?
Cipo may be gone, but Cannondale’s sense of style is intact. We received these photos from Cannondale of a special bike they whipped up for the Tour of California.
Sprinter Francesco Chicchi of Team Liquigas took two stages at last year’s Tour of Missourri, the stages into St. Louis and St. Joseph. Following his win in St. Louis—the gateway to the West—Chicchi declared his love of American western movies and the folks at Cannondale decided to have a bit of fun.
Cannondale presented Chicchi with this bike upon his return to the U.S. for the Tour of California and with the bike comes a nickname: Frank the Sheriff.
Cannondale worked with an Italian design company called Artech to give the bike its wild-west-themed look. Artech is no stranger to the bike industry. This isn’t the first time they have worked with Cannondale, and they were also responsible for the custom paint jobs you may have seen on some of Cinelli’s Ram integrated bar and stem combination.
Liquigas saddle sponsor Fi:zi’k even got into the act with a custom Arione saddle with the central leather strip replaced with one of cowhide. They also provided him with leather bar tape.
“I hope the day comes this week when I can fire off another shot and win here in California. Then they can say that the new sheriff is in town, named Frank!” Chicchi said when he was presented with the bike.
There once was a time when if you weren’t racing at Sea Otter, you were busy watching other people race. Those days aren’t entirely gone, but I was busy enough in the expo area that I was, at best, only marginally aware that bike racing was going on. Weirder still was the weekend’s climate, and I’m not talking psychology.
Warm temps? Check.
Little wind? Check.
In twelve years of attending the Sea Otter, it was the best weather I’ve ever experienced in Monterey. I didn’t think Monterey could be this nice in April. It was as surprising as a 70-degree day in January in Boston. As if.
There were plenty of bike industry VIPs around, from the ubiquitous Gary Fisher to Specialized CEO Mike Sinyard, above.
The expo is colossal fun. Clif and other energy food producers can keep you snack happy, at least until you go get a burrito or some barbecue. I paid $6 for the finest, handmade, limeade of my entire life. I’ve spent less on a glass of wine and been less satisfied, too.
The kids flocked to the Sea Otter with such magnetism that parents and non-parents alike howled with laughter. From races to slides and a bouncer, the kids had plenty to do (read: wear them out). I don’t think I’ve been to a more family-friendly bike event. I wished the wife and little guy were with me.
I love checking out the mechanics’ setups and have discussed with some of them just how they set up their cases to promote quick and effective work. We also discussed case weight. The ten and 12-inch cases can be heavy. Super-heavy, in fact.
The autographs are a cool touch. I should have thought of that years ago.
Brad Harper of Harper Sports has made the transition from making inline skate boots to also offering cycling shoes. Why care? They are custom unlike anything else I’ve seen. He takes a mold of the rider’s foot. Yes, $1200 is a lot for a pair of shoes, but no other shoe is made with such precision.
Assos’ Northwest sales manager, Larry Kohn, gets his feet immortalized. He said the experience of having his feet molded reminded him of a pair of Asolo boots that were customized for his wide feet years ago. Lead time on the shoes is supposed to be less than six weeks. To learn more about Harper Sports you’ll need to call: (714) 376-3630.
Cyclists with charitable foundations are as common as Orange County residents with reality shows. The number of different do-gooder foundations is dizzying and connecting with them in a meaningful way can be difficult. The Bahati Foundation is a little different, and as a result, pretty easy to understand to me. Rahsaan Bahati wasn’t an angel when he was growing up in South Central LA. He, as they say, got into some trouble. Fortunately for him, his teammates, and a few sponsors over the years, he got introduced to cycling. The two-time US Pro Champion is now giving back to other kids with his background, hoping that his fondation can steer them away from gangs and other trouble and into cycling.
Cannondale is auctioning off this bike to benefit the Bahati Foundation. The graffiti-inspired artwork makes the bike both eye-catching and culturally relevant, which is a fancy way of saying on-target. With enough support, the foundation will reach out to kids beyond just Los Angeles. For now, Bahati seems to have his hands full. After all, the way his team picked up riders set adrift by Rock “Here to Stay” Racing and other programs, he could be said to rescue not one population, but two.
It’s been an interesting year in the world of cycling. There have been some duels for the ages between larger-than-life figures. I decided to ask each of RKP’s contributors to pick their three favorite stories of the year. Some of their answers may surprise you.—Padraig
Lance Armstrong. No other figure in cycling has ever made headlines worldwide the way Lance Armstrong does. Whether it’s his battle to rid the world of cancer, the birth of a new son, doping charges or his battle of wits with Alberto Contador, Armstrong is a headline wherever he goes, whatever he does. He is also significant because no other figure has half the ability to polarize a group of cyclists as Armstrong. To some, he is a virtually convicted doper, to others he is a champion and figure of hope. No matter what you think of him, he has the ability to keep cycling in the mainstream worldwide, which, ultimately, is good for cycling.
The conviction of Dr. Thompson. That Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson was even tried for one felony—let alone six—was a big success for cyclists everywhere. There were more opportunities for this case to go off the rails than can be counted, but some significant points were in the initial investigation, once the case was turned over to the district attorney and, of course, in Thompson’s cross examination. This case will be cited as a turning point in the recognition by the average person that cyclists are both vulnerable to the actions of malicious drivers and have a right to the road.
Doping. From Christian “cycling has changed” Prudhomme, to Danilo “the killer” DiLuca to the blood transfusion kits found among Astana’s medical supplies, one should draw the conclusion that some riders might be cleaner than in the past, but cycling, as a sport, has yet to shed the taint of doping. Prudhomme, the Tour de France director, made the ludicrous statement, “I recently confirmed that ‘there were no suspected cases’ (during the 2009 Tour de France). This means that the fight against doping progresses.” Astarloza’s positive proved his statement was both premature and dead wrong. If anyone should have been fired from the ASO, it shouldn’t have been Patrice Clerc, but rather Prudhomme for making such a reckless statement on behalf of such a storied institution.
The fire sale of Iron Horse bicycles to Dorel. Iron Horse wasn’t a prestigious brand, but it was long known as being a good value for new cyclists. Its descent into bankruptcy was an ugly, backbiting mess full of recrimination and charges of shady deals involving owner Cliff Weidberg and his son, who owned Randall Scott Cycles, a significant debtor to Iron Horse. Dorel (the parent for Cannondale, GT, Schwinn, Mongoose, Pacific, etc.) purchased Iron Horse for $5.2 million at auction, less than what Iron Horse’s three biggest secured creditors were owed, for a classic pennies-on-the-dollar deal. The sale left hanging dozens of unsecured creditors who were owed a combined $17 million as well as CIT Group for another $4 million, and made cycling’s biggest corporate colossus just a little bit bigger.
Lemond v. Trek. Just wait, the plus-size gal isn’t even on stage.
Contador and Schleck denying Armstrong an 8th TdF. When the Lance returned, so much of the American cycloratti was hoping he’d return to his throne, but personally, I was ready to move on. As the hype ramped up and up and up, through LA’s collar bone break, through the Giro and into the initial stages of the Tour, I was really wishing for the sport to move on. Not to be ungrateful for contributions made, but I was ready for some new legends to emerge. And they did.
Philippe Gilbert’s end of season wins. What I love about Gilbert is his incredible tactical sense and timing. This is a guy who beats riders head and shoulders stronger than he is, by keeping his wits about him and playing them against one another. Not a weak rider, Gilbert shows what racing might be like in the absence of race radios, when smart riders win as much as strong ones.
The emergence of Edvald Boasson-Hagen. While everyone was talking about Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador (myself included) another young rider was winning races (10) and taking the overall in smaller stage races like the Eneco Tour and the Tour of Britain. Boasson-Hagen is 22. He is exactly the sort of rider that today’s top guns should be wary of, because he’s going to get better.
USA Bike industry ignores its mounting inventory crisis for an entire year (repercussions will impact retail pricing and corporate profits until 2012). If you ever had any doubts as to whether bike companies know what they’re doing, well, here’s your answer.
Lemond v Trek: no matter which way it ends up (short of an out-of-court-plus-gag-order settlement), this story still has the potential to become the biggest scandal in US cycling history. It’s also the #1 story the cycling press wishes would just go away: no matter how—or even if—they report it, it’s a lose-lose for them.
American public starts to figure out that bikes are actually a lot of fun (and practical transportation, too). This is THE biggest sea-change in public attitudes about cycling since That Skinny Blonde Kid won some race over in France 33 years ago … although sometimes I liked it better when we were just a bunch of geeks and outcasts instead of too-cool-for-school fashion mavens in skinny jeans and ironic t-shirts.
Bonus: Mavic’s parent company (Amer Sports) puts it up for sale, can’t find buyer, de-lists it, fires its own President. You know the economy’s bad when no one wants a highly regarded company with the lion’s share of a long-term lucrative market.
Contador’s Tour win as part of the Bizarro World of Team Astana. I know of no other time in cycling history when, after the designated team leader takes the Yellow Jersey, the team manager wanted to put on sackcloth and ashes. The psychological war Bruyneel and Armstrong waged against Contador remains about the oddest thing I ever saw in cycling.
The death duel between Di Luca and Menchov in the Giro. While I watched it, I tried to forget Di Luca’s past doping offenses (he made sure I was reminded later…) and watched 2 superb athletes fight until neither had a watt left. Menchov’s crash in the final time trial made even the race’s last moments exciting. His poor performance in the Tour showed he had gone truly deep in the Giro.
Grand Tour VAMs. Both the Giro and the Tour had some spectacularly high VAMs (average rate of vertical ascent in a climb). There was one day in the Tour that saw the Tour climbing speed record Bjarne Riis set on the Hautacam in 1996 eclipsed.
Bonus: And the UCI says they are getting a good handle on doping. I’ve got some good ocean-front land here in Arkansas for anyone who believes that. I believe we lost ground during 2009 in the hunt for a clean sport.
Contador wins second Tour de France. The lead up to the race was more drama than MTV’s “The Hill” leading up to prom night. Every day there were hints that all the indicators being tossed out by Astana that “all is well” and “we are all behind our leader” and “Contador is our GC leader.” It was something everyone who listened and watched knew was slick talk and that there was 2 GC riders on the team, neither submitting to the other in reality. To see the dynamics play out was something that kept us all tuned daily for the month of July. I personally cannot wait ‘til 2010′s TdF!!
Fabian Cancellara SMOKES TT world championship. Fabian is a statesman for cycling and in my opinion one of the peloton’s classiest riders. He can be many things, but his TT skills are phenomenal and his lead up to the World TT championship brought us to anticipate a performance, which he delivered in jaw-dropping fashion.
Devolder repeats at Tour of Flanders. I love all the Classics, but I love the Spring Classics especially. Seeing Cav win Milan San Remo was incredible, to see Boonen win Paris-Roubaix was great, to see Schleck win Leige was sweet as well, but to see the Belgian Devolder repeat his win at Tour of Flanders held a meaning that goes to the very core of this race, to his pedigree, which makes him a national hero yet again, and brings this one to the top for me.
Notables: Team Columbia HTC should have an honorable mention notably as they really pulled off greatness in light of adversity, despite the other teams riding senslessly against them at times (Hincapie’s maillot jaune loss in TdF), they stuck it out and perhaps had the team of the year.
After doing some group rides in which I knew the roads well, I ventured out to do some of the longer rides that take in some climbing and descending. I started with gentler roads with sweeping turns. The bike had a complete and utter lack of the nervousness I feared would characterize this bike’s handling above 30 mph. It was stable at 40 mph and turned in easily.
Next, I took it north to Malibu’s challenging canyon roads. If ever there was a place where a bike will demonstrate a weakness in how it handles in turns, Malibu is it. Turns come in rapid succession and very few of the roads can be descended safely without touching your brakes. Toss in a little off-camber action here and there plus the odd decreasing-radius turn and you have a veritable buffet of cornering challenges.
It was in Malibu that the Tarmac surprised me. What I expected isn’t what I’ve encountered with so many crit bikes: You get them above 40 mph and the front end starts to get loose. I’ve never understood the phenomenon, especially considering on paper it shouldn’t be happening. However, just what that phenomenon is will be addressed in a different post devoted just to trail.
Here’s the important part: At speeds above 40 mph the Tarmac was rock solid. What’s more, it remained easy to turn in. I have experienced the opposite of some crit bikes, bikes that were so rock solid in a straight line they resisted turning in—at all. The experience was a little like trying to drive a Greyhound bus through a parking garage at 50 mph. Showing Kim Jong Il the value of civil liberties would be both easier—and safer.
By the time I reached the bottom of Tuna Canyon Road the first time I descended it on the Tarmac, all of my assumptions about the Tarmac’s handling had been tossed aside like an unfinished energy bar. I concluded that the Tarmac was the heir to the handling I’ve always believed to be part of Specialized’s brand identity. I have yet to ride a touring bike that handled half as well as my Expedition and if you want to know how elegantly a lightweight cross country bike can handle, just climb on a Stumpjumper. The Tarmac redefined what I think a sport bike can be expected to deliver.
One aspect of the Tarmac’s handling that really can’t be overly emphasized is its stiffness. There are stiffer bikes out there, but I think the Tarmac offers spectacular stiffness for those of us who don’t generate 1000 watts (let alone more) in a sprint. Steering is particularly crisp with this bike, in part due to the tapered steerer which uses a 1.5-inch bearing at the bottom race and a standard 1.125-inch bearing at the top. This also increases stiffness in torsion by allowing the engineers to design a larger diameter down tube to mate to the rather enormous head tube.
My one and only quibble with this bike is its road sensitivity. The Tarmac SL is meant to be different from the Roubaix in two ways: comfort and handling. While the handling is sufficiently differentiated, I do have an issue (a small one) with one component of the Tarmac SL’s comfort. It doesn’t seem to me that the Tarmac SL should damp as much vibration it does. My basis for comparison in this regard are some other bikes in this price range that offer more road feel; they are few, but they are there. Getting this particular balance right is a colossal challenge, though; I think the SL2 delivers great road feel but is too stiff. The SL gets the stiffness right, but would benefit from a touch more sensitivity. My limited time on the SL3 says they got the whole package right.
With the introduction of the new Amira model—the women’s version of the Tarmac, which is built with women’s proportions in mind—Specialized can lay claim to producing the Tarmac in more sizes than any other bike company offers for a production road bike—11. The Tarmac is produced in six sizes, while the Amira is offered in five. And despite the crazy assertion by Giant CFO Bonnie Tu that no other company is designing bikes for women, Specialized’s commitment to women is arguably deeper than any other bike company going, with four road models and five off-road models.
Like the Roubaix Pro, the Tarmac Pro is equipped with a Dura-Ace drivtrain save for the S-Works carbon fiber crank. Unlike the Roubaix, the Tarmac’s S-Works crank is equipped with 53t and 39t chainrings. Ultegra brakes do the stopping.
The Tarmac Pro rolls on Fulcrum Racing 1 wheels. The wheels are fairly light, boasting a claimed weight of 1485g for the pair, but what most surprised me is that in more than 2000 miles of riding at this writing, they are as true as the words from a Boy Scouts lips. It is reasonable, in my opinion to conclude that Fulcrum’s 2:1 ratio of drive spokes to non-drive spokes does substantially aid the wheel by equalizing spoke tension. This is even more impressive when you consider that the front wheel has but 16 spokes and the rear has 21. I’ve had whisky that wasn’t this stiff.
The tires deserve some mention as well. The 700×23 S-Works Mondos feature a Kevlar bead and Flak Jacket protection combined with a 127 tpi casing. This tire ought to be unremarkable, and surprisingly, it corners like an architect’s T-square and I have yet to get a single flat. That’s as unlikely as a zero-calorie beer that tastes like a fine IPA.
Changes from 2009 to 2010 for the Tarmac SL include swapping the S-Works crank for a Dura-Ace one, subbing the Dura-Ace front derailleur for an Ultegra model and swapping the Fulcrums for Ksyrium Elites. My test bike weighed in at 15.5 lbs. before pedals and cages.
I’ll admit that I was infatuated enough by the Roubaix and wary enough of the Tarmac’s geometry that I really didn’t think I’d enjoy it much or put that many miles on it. Of all the bikes I’ve reviewed over the years, this may be the biggest surprise I’ve ever experienced. I love this bike.
Specialized Tarmac Pro: 94 points
Still to come: The Roubaix and Tarmac, head-to-head