I spent my formative years struggling between wearing clothes that were unfashionable but fit me and those that were fashionable, but didn’t remotely fit me. Not only did I not understand it, my mother didn’t either. Most of the pants I wore in grade school were loose at the small of my back; to keep them at my waist I had to pull my belt pretty snug. Most of my shirts fit okay at the shoulders and then billowed out as they went down, like I was wearing a tailored tent.
Eventually I began to notice from time to time that some clothes simply fit better than others. As much as I loved Patagonia casual wear, their polo shirts were flappy on me, even in small. Their pants and shorts either fit in the seat and loose in the waist or fit at the waist and tight across my crotch. Levi’s 501s stopped fitting me after I took up cycling. I had to switch to the 569s—sit at the waist and roomy through the seat and thighs. Those skinny hipster jeans? I’d never get ‘em past my knees, unless I went for the 40-inch waist.
It wasn’t until an ex-girlfriend taught me about fit models and how all clothing begins with pieces of fabric cut to fit some individual that I began to appreciate why some things fit and others didn’t. Understanding that actually made shopping easier; it eliminated whole product lines because I knew they weren’t cut for me.
When I first got into cycling I was pretty unaware of just how cycling clothing needed to fit. I got it more or less right, but I occasionally bought shorts that were too big and all my jerseys were a size larger than necessary. Even through the turn of the century, most cycling clothing had enough stretch to accommodate differences in physique within a given size.
More recently, with the advent of Power Lycra, compression panels and skinsuit-tight jerseys, I’ve begun to notice some stuff doesn’t fit as well as it used to, or as well as some of the competition. In my reviews of clothing I’ve begun to talk about the nature of the fit. The point isn’t to say this fit is good or that fit is bad, but to note how it fits. We can talk about features like materials, reflective piping, dual-density foam in pads and Power Lycra panels until our faces are cyan, but if you—like me—have a bounteous and spherical caboose, some bibs aren’t going to fit you all that well. It won’t make them bad, but it’s worth knowing that there are others that might fit you better.
The importance of this was driven home for me this past winter when I had an experience I really didn’t want to have. I’ve long been an admirer of Vermarc clothing, but I’d never had the opportunity to wear any of their stuff. It’s a big world and I just didn’t get around to it until this winter. I tried one of their top pairs of bibs. On my first ride, I cut a three-hour ride short because my ass hurt. How could that be? I was wearing the pride of Belgium. What gives?
In objective terms, I’ve been riding 143mm-wide Specialized saddles, though it was recently suggested to me that I might do well to try the 155mm-wide version of the Romin. Not the Incredible Hulk, but not bantam, either.
Well, as it turned, out my sit bones are wider than the widest portion of the densest foam in the pad. I was writing out of the margins, so-to-speak. It doesn’t mean they are bad bibs at all. It just suggests I’m seven feet tall and the owner of a new Mini Cooper.
While this won’t be complete by any means, I wanted to note my experience with some of the different lines out there to help give you a better basis for comparison. For the record, I’m 5′ 11″ and currently weigh 163 lbs., which I hate to admit, is heavy for me.
- Assos—the Uno and Mille bibs are fairly consistent in their style of fit, though the Unos are a bit more snug on me. Like I said, I’ve got enough of a butt that I can’t do straight-leg jeans. The Mille in particular is a fantastic fit for me. And with both pads, my sit bones come down squarely in the middle of the densest foam. I wear a large.
- Castelli—these are cut for riders with a slighter frame. For me, by the time I’ve crowded my ass into them they are a bit tight across the front. I’ve experienced this more with some of their bibs than others, but I do get it to some degree with all of them, save the Claudio (thermal) bibs. In my mind, most are climbers’ bibs. I wear a large.
- Capo—This line is pretty remarkable for its middle-of-the-road fit. I’ve had no issues with their bibs, nor have any friends reported issues with their stuff. I wear a medium.
- Voler—I’ve had issues with being sort of between sizes. I was too big for the smalls but the mediums weren’t as snug in fit as it seemed they ought. I can’t recall ever being between sizes with another line. The quality has come a long way from what it once was, but the pad will only stay put if the bibs are tight enough that you don’t catch the bibs on the nose of the saddle. I wear a medium.
- Panache—this is another line that offers ample room for my bumper. In addition to being roomy enough to accommodate both of my glutes, the pad is one of a handful that can rival Assos’ for comfort in terms of width and placement of the densest foam. I wear a large.
- Rapha—I’ve just begun wearing the new Pro Team bibs and have been impressed with the fit. They are cut with plenty of room for my glutes without being loose up front, which is what happens if the butt is too roomy (which I did experience once). I wear a medium.
- Hincapie—like Castelli, these tend to lack a bit of room in need in back. I wear a medium.
- Giordana—Giordana has so many different product lines, there’s no one essential truth to their fit. Most of their stuff fits me pretty well, though the FormaRed Carbon bibs use the same narrow pad in the Vermarc bibs I tried. I wear a medium.
- Vermarc—overall the fit was good; I just need a wider pad. I wear a medium.
- Etxe Ondo—these could use a bit more room in the butt, but overall the fit was pretty good given the Power Lycra panels. I wear a medium.
- Specialized—these had a very traditional fit. It may be that the Lycra they used was just particularly forgiving (I believe it was 6-oz. throughout) and that what made the fit. I wear a medium.
- Primal Wear—not quite enough room in back, so it ended up being a bit snug in front. I wear a medium.
- Nalini—another pair of bibs that needed more room in back to keep the front from being too tight. I wear a medium.
- Assos—all the Assos jerseys I’ve worn have been cut on a pretty noticeable taper. However, there are always materials with such great stretch utilized that the fit ends up being remarkably forgiving. distinctly short, lengthwise. I wear a medium.
- Castelli—the jerseys I’ve tried are cut a bit more straight than Assos jerseys, though it appears their top-shelf stuff is cut on more of a taper. Mid-line stuff is somewhat long, but the pro stuff appears to be shorter. It’s really easy to buy a size too big with Castelli. I wear a medium.
- Capo—cut on a slight taper and cut on the short side, though not as short as Assos. I wear a small.
- Voler—cut remarkably straight and nearly as short as Assos; it’s a unique fit, but one I like when I’m not in perfect shape. I wear a small.
- Panache—these jerseys feature a significant taper and run short. Out of season I need to wear a medium; when I’m fit and want a pro-style fit, I’m a small.
- Hincapie—these are cut straight and long. They’ve got to fit the man himself. I wear a small.
- Giordana—again, Giordana offers so much stuff their fit is all over the place. Inexpensive stuff is generous in fit, while primo stuff like the FormaRed Carbon is short, snug and tapered. I wear a small.
- Vermarc—they feature a tapered cut and run slightly short. I wear a small.
- Etxe Ondo—yet another tapered cut, but these run on the long side, though not so long as Hincapie. I wear a small.
- Specialized—this is a remarkably straight cut with a little more length than some stuff. A conservative, fit-almost-anyone cut. I wear a small.
- Primal Wear—cut pretty straight and with a fair amount of length. I wear a small.
- Nalini—tapered cut, almost as short as Assos. I wear a small.
Bottom line: I’m not trying to steer you into or out of any one clothing line. I have my personal likes, but the value in this is to give you a greater frame of reference for choosing clothing next time you go to buy something. Fit is at the root of comfort. Go be comfortable and ride well.
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.
In shooting industry folk for my last post, I shot so many images, I couldn’t fit them all into a single post, so I’ve decided to do another and do so knowing that I will have omitted some terrific people. They are what, for me, make the trip to Vegas something I look forward to each year.
Above is Ted Costantino, the founding editor of Bicycle Guide. It was his guidance of the magazine that inspired in me a desire to write about cycling; his editors were good enough to light aspiration in me. All of the magazines showed me that being a bike magazine editor was cool, but BG made me want to write about cycling with real literary flair. Today Ted is the publisher of Velo Press and I periodically send him book proposals. I’ve wanted to work for this guy since the 1980s; I’ll find a way to do it some day.
Carson Stanwood taught me the value of a good PR guy. Part comic, part encyclopedia, part hale goodfellow and part dedicated rider, Carson is one of those guys who just gets it. He’s never pitched me on something as unnecessary as a hernia; his accounts have always been an A-list of companies I can’t know too much about. In 1997 he gave me a T-shirt commemorating Interbike with the slogan, “Help, I’m talking and I can’t shut up!” It’s still in rotation.
Chris King’s head of marketing, Chris Distefano (left) and co-worker Abby (whose last name I didn’t get, at right), caught here doing the hangover ride to Lake Mead and back. If there’s a magnetic north pole to cool somewhere in the universe, Chris is there with a bike sporting a product you’re dying to ride.
I began reading Richard Cunningham’s work at Mountain Bike Action before I ever scored a byline. I’ve long envied his creativity in frame design and prose; a combination you won’t find in too many places.
Brad Roe, right, is the editor for Road Bike Action and the man who invited me to contribute to their editorial efforts. Jonathan Edwards, left, is a doctor and one of the contributing editors to the magazine. Brad has overseen the magazine’s evolution from being written by a single editor to one that brings readers a number of voices. He’s receptive to new ideas and has a light touch as an editor; it’s a killer combination.
Ben Delaney, at left, and Sean Watkins, right, are both very fast Cat. 1 racers. As it happens, they are both employed by Competitor Group, where Ben is the editor of VeloNews and Sean helps to oversee advertising sales for the entire group of magazines (which also includes Inside Triathlon and Triathlete). I met Ben when he was a staff editor for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News and he later freelanced for me at Asphalt. He’s everything you’d want in a contributor: good, easy going and on-time. I imagine he’s even better as a boss. Before joining the staff of Triathlete, Sean was an ad sales guy for Winning, Bicycle Guide and Triathlete when they were owned by another publisher, and he’s been fast for, well, he was a member of the Skittles team and called Lance Armstrong teammate.
Steve Frothingham is another former Bicycle Retailer guy who now works for VeloNews as their online editor. I contribute from time to time and Steve’s an easy guy to work with. In between his Bicycle Retailer days and joining VeloNews, Steve got a masters’ in journalism and spent some serious time in the trenches working for the Associated Press.
I got to know “A Dog in a Hat” author Joe Parkin in the fall of ’95 when he was racing for Diamond Back and he and teammie Gunnar Shogren spent the season racing ‘cross in New England. I already knew who he was from his days as a roadie in Europe and racing domestically for Coors Light. When I joined the staff of Bicycle Guide, I stayed in touch with Joe and he always had a ready quote for me. My trip to Interbike is incomplete without saying hi, and it’s nice to see his book has met with such success. He’s promised to carve out some time to contribute to Red Kite Prayer.
Matt Pacocha impressed the folks at VeloNews well enough to make the leap from pro mountain bike racer and freelancer to staff technical writer. It’s a good thing, too. He’s still super-fast and writes some very clear prose.
Dominique Rollin, left, of the Cervelo Test Team made the jump from domestic racing to Europe and did quite well in his first year. Len Pettyjohn, right, is the former director of Coors Light and is with a new venture now, called Centurion Cycling. Len will be producing a series of Gran Fondo rides in ’10 that will be both epic and fun. I’ve been quoting him in articles for more than 10 years.
Dave Letteiri once interviewed me for a position as a mechanic for the Chevrolet/L.A. Sheriffs cycling team. Most of the interview focused on my ability to keep cool if I was being yelled at by an amped-up rider. Since then, Dave’s career has been devoted to Fastrack Bicycles in Santa Barbara where he is an integral part of the cycling scene. His shop looks a bit like a bomb went off, but has some priceless cycling memorabilia that makes it a must-visit for anyone passing through the town.
Derin and Kurt Stockton ought to be legendary for their exploits. Kurt is a former US Pro champion (1990) and Derin raced in Europe for Tulip, among other teams. When I joined the staff of Bicycle Guide, Derin was a contributing editor and did some extraordinary work. Since then he has raced pro downhill and these days is a strength and conditioning coach for pro motocrossers in Temecula, Calif. Kurt has stayed close to the road world and has managed several teams and has plans to announce something new in the near future.
Jim Stevenson is from my neck of the woods, but got out of the South before I did. The number of mutual friends we have in Tennessee and Missisippi are enough to make you think we are fraternity brothers, and in a way I guess we are. Since his departure he has worked for Centurion/Diamondback, GT, Felt and now Bianchi, where he is national sales manager. If there is one guy’s brain in the industry I’d love to download, he’d be at the top of the list.
Nic Sims is Specialized’s media relations guy for the bike industry. You’ve probably seen him on Versus talking up the latest in Specialized technologies. He’s witty, passionate and has the energy of a five year old on Red Bull. He was one of the first guys I talked to in the industry to really understand the power of blogs as a new form of media.
Josh Rebol is one of the instructors for Specialized’s SBCU. Prior to joining Specialized, he was was at Hazard’s in Santa Barbara where all he did fits all day, every day. When I have a question about fit, he’s one of the first guys I go to.
That’s Robin Thurston, one of the biggest-picture thinkers I’ve encountered in the bike industry. He’s the visionary behind Map My Ride. His business acumen is formidable and he paid serious dues racing in Europe before thinking about how GPS could change our interaction with our world. This guy is one to watch.
Assos’ Larry Kohn and Kim Schramer. They are bringing Assos the level of recognition the line deserves and are among a short list of lines that have really seen the value in the bicycle studio concept. Larry was a big fan of Belgium Knee Warmers and stepped up right away to support Red Kite Prayer.
Of all the cycling clothing companies to see the value of offering both custom clothing to teams and a collection for those who want something fresh looking without the crush of manufacturers’ logos that some team jerseys are, I don’t think anyone has done a better job of it than Gary Vasconi and the crew at Capo Forma. Gary eats, drinks and sleeps the roadie life and gets it like only a true roadie can.
Brian Worthy is the U.S. representative for one of the world’s best custom clothing lines: Vermarc. The Belgian line sponsors one team: Quick Step. However, if you look around a bit, you’ll see a lot of PROs wearing their stuff—their teams just buy it. Why? It’s that good.
Michael Foley and Ken DeCesari are two of the men behind the incredible growth of Sock Guy. Foley was the man behind the launch of Bike magazine and was with Bicycle Guide before that. He’s well-connected and seems always to know what’s happening even before it has happened. I’ve learned loads from that guy.
J.P. Partland is an old friend who has contributed to every magazine I’ve worked for in the industry. These days, one of his primary gigs is writing the incredible detailed copy for the Competitive Cyclist site, along with honch Brendan Quirk. He lives in New York City and can be found at the races most weekends in the PRO/1/2 field.
Chad Nordwall is the man behind Above Category bicycle studio in Mill Valley, Calif., which is probably the only community in America to sport two incredible bicycle studios (the other being Studio Velo). Above Category is likely to become an object lesson in how to present cycling in a more professional manner and the competition between the two shops will make each even better.
My apologies to the dozens of other friends I didn’t see or just plain forgot to shoot when I saw you on the floor.
Multiply one guy by three days by more than 100 exhibitors who rank somewhere between curious and fascinating and the result is a negative number. The show really can’t be fully digested that way. When I left the floor of Interbike Friday afternoon, I had more questions than when I entered. The list of products I am dying to ride is too long to prioritize.
The number of companies that didn’t display on any level was much greater than I previously understood. I had assumed that Ochsner Imports, an importer with a number of interesting lines, would be present, but they had no booth. More than a few companies had smaller booths than in previous years.
The question of the relevance of the show was further called into question by the number of exhibitors taking orders at the show. I spoke with but one exhibitor who had taken orders in meetings with retailers.
One of the biggest trends illustrated at Interbike was the number of European companies that now own their American distributorship as a subsidiary. Sidi has formed a new U.S. distributorship, as has the German bike manufacturer Focus, whose Izalco was one of the freshest takes on bike design I saw all week. Despite occupying a distant corner of the show floor, the Focus booth enjoyed an ongoing stream of visitors.
In the last six months I’ve ridden four different saddles and am about to start riding a fifth. It’s four more saddles than I’d generally recommend for all but those looking for a new place to rest the glutes. The problem of finding a workable saddle is unlike any other fit issue. A two- to three-hour fitting can determine exactly the way your bike should be set up, down to the millimeter. Five minutes with a new bar will tell you if it’s going to work or not.
But saddles are a tougher challenge. Often you won’t know that a new saddle isn’t working until you’re more than 40 miles into a ride and the realization carries a penalty of discomfort that plays out over the rest of the day.
Trek and Specialized have created nifty little devices that can reveal how wide your sit bones are so you’ll know how broad a saddle you need. And yet, the shape of the saddle remains unfathomable until you’re actually on it.
There are retailers out there who will allow you to try a saddle and return it if it doesn’t work, but those retailers aren’t as common as feathers on a duck, which is why I’m so gaga over the new demo program that Competitive Cyclist just announced.
Competitive Cyclist will send you their 11 most popular saddles for a week. You’ll have some work ahead of you and will need a weekend with few honey-do items on it, but 11 saddles that are known to work for others is an opportunity with a solution waiting to be found. It is cycling’s answer to the differential equation: The answer is there; you just have to knuckle down and do the work to find it.
Which brings me to a larger point: the preeminence of Competitive Cyclist. When it comes to Internet retailing of bicycles and parts, no one else comes close.
But Competitive Cyclist is the anti-christ, isn’t it? It’s an Internet retailer, embodying all that is unholy and antithetical to the traditional cycling experience. Internet bike shops aren’t shops at all; they discount parts to within pennies of their worth, making their dollars on volume and caring as much about your cycling experience as the person in the drive-through window cares about your food.
Say what you want about other sites, Competitive Cyclist will make you rethink the intersection point between Internet retailing and quality. They aren’t the low-price leader. The operation is PRO, the way Columbia-HTC’s train is PRO. I’ve seen a bike they’ve packed come out of the box and I think most manufacturers could pick up pointers on how to reduce damage in shipping if they looked to their packing.
Then there’s the site itself. There are manufacturers with sites lacking the professional polish of Competitive Cyclist. The design is cleaner than ammonia and prettier than veined marble. It’s the online response to today’s top-end bike studios. The photos are original and so well executed, you don’t really need to hold the product to get excited about it. Frankly, their site is better lit than most shops I walk in.
If it seems that I’m bagging on brick-and-mortar retailers, I’m not. I love great shops. I can wander around a well-appointed shop for hours, but when I think back on the shops I first visited, there was a level of knowledge that I don’t often see today. By contrast, the staff at Competitive Cyclist seem to know their product line so well, you wonder if maybe they have more miles on the stuff than the manufacturer does.
Clear-eyed, witty and sporting a breadth of experience that our club elders always had, their copy should be studied by most of the cycling journalists out there. Brendan Quirk is an excellent writer and those who work for him are held to exceptional standards.
But a detailed product write-up does not necessarily make for information you can trust. What makes me trust their copy is that the opinions and insights echo my own experience. I adore the Capo Forma and Assos clothing lines. So do they. What happens when you’ve got a buddy who, like you, loves the same film directors you do? You listen to his recommendations and if he tells you, “There is a new guy you’ve got to check out,” you add it to your Netflix queue.
Competitive Cyclist’s product line hasn’t been easy to amass. Internet retailing doesn’t have a great reputation in the bike industry and most manufacturers are working harder to prevent their products from being sold on the net than they are to open new accounts. The discount mentality has made many manufacturers run screaming from Internet retailing out of a fear they’ll lose the brick and mortar shops. Adding lines to Competitive Cyclist’s offerings is a real challenge, but you don’t hear Quirk complaining; he has built solid relationships with lines he believes in, lines that seem to be standing by him, lines you still see in the brick and mortar shops.
Quirk’s “What’s New” section is one of the best blogs in the industry. It’s a window into the operation, Quirk’s personal interests and riding, his take on industry trends and crises and a bit of humor and criticism as well. To be needled by Quirk is to have your closest friend give you a breath mint and say, “Dude, you have got to take care of that.” If you’re in his sights, it’s because he’s interested and if you get a critique, it means he’s watching, closely.
For me, Competitive Cyclist is a virtual bike studio. All it lacks, aside from the bricks and mortar, is the ability to fit you and given the incredible execution of the rest of the site, if they thought they could fit me via web cam, I’d give it a shot. As it is, their online fit guide is a good start, good enough to get you the right size bike and headed to someone to do an in-person fitting. And if you doubt that they know what they are talking about when it comes to fitting, just read their differentiation of sizing and fit between Cervelo’s RS and R3 models. It’s better than anything I’ve seen in any of the bike magazines.
Frankly, the danger that Competitive Cyclist represents is in vacuuming dollars from geeked-out cyclists’ wallets until households can’t afford basics like toilet paper and wine. If these guys get offed, the first person of interest I’d look for would be the spouse of their best customer.