I’m not sure when it finally happened, but sometime in the last 18 months, maybe less, I ate my last PowerBar. It wasn’t a conscious decision; I just stopped buying them and at some point ate the last of my stock. Gradually, over several trips to the store, I realized that I just couldn’t stomach the idea of eating another ounce of the textural equivalent to edible Play-Doh.
The only significant detail in this anecdote is that I seem to have lasted longer than most. A few weeks ago I asked around just to see who among my friends were still eating PowerBars and I couldn’t find a single devotee. Everyone I spoke to said it was a product that was part of their past, kinda like 8-speed drivetrains.
I have to admit, I spent the better part of 10 years with my head more or less down to new nutrition products. Most of what I ate and drank was confined to Clif Bars, the aforementioned PowerBars and Gatorade. The reasons were simple: All three products were/are readily available, are reasonably inexpensive as energy foods go and, not insignificantly, due to my familiarity with them, they were pretty easy to digest. This season that changed. Part of the change was a search for new options as my local Trader Joe’s carried fewer and fewer varieties of Clif Bar, and part of the change was the fact that any number of nutrition companies embraced RKP as never before, and sent me samples of products I’d never tried, some I’d never even thought to try.
The exception to this was the gradual trickle into my diet that gels made. Four or five years ago I noticed that during ultra-intense rides/events and at altitude I was having trouble digesting bars, particularly Clif Bars, so I began purchasing gels more frequently.
The upshot is that I’ve learned two things: 1) I’ve heard from a number of friends that as they have aged, their stomachs are a bit pickier about what they can eat during a really hard ride. 2) Whether you want to stick with rapidly digestible gels and chews or want something that has the taste and texture of actual food, the bike world is full of options now. The incredible diversity of options—and but a few are shown above—is a striking departure from where things were just over 20 years ago when your choices were either chocolate or malt-nut PowerBars.
The folks at Honey Stinger would love it for me to review their products. I’m not sure there’s much to actually review. I love their chews, especially the Lime flavor and while I like their waffles, they don’t travel well. For me the real point to the post is to note that we have so many more options available to us. Dude, I can remember walking into convenience stores and choosing between Pop Tarts and Little Debbie snack cakes. We’ve come a long way.
Further to my reluctance to engage in a review of products, there’s a lot of competing formulations out there. I’m not well-enough-versed in the science to make any determination about whose blend works best. I can say that when it comes to gels, the two that provide the best kick for me are Gu Roctane and Accelerade. My favorite chews are Clif’s Shot Bloks, but that has a bit to do with the packaging; they are simply easier to remove from the wrapper as I ride.
What’s most significant for me within the energy food market are lightning rods behind Clif and Gu, Gary Erickson and Brian Vaughn, respectively. To the degree that there’s a real story to chase in the future, it would be going for a ride with these guys. An interesting aside, both companies are based in the original earthy-crunchy Mecca—the Bay Area. Erickson of Clif has chased an ever more natural, more organic approach, while still offering cutting-edge calorie uptake options like the Clif Shots and Shot Bloks. Vaughn has chased a slightly different direction, pursuing what strikes me as an ultimate human performance approach. Nothing seems to make this guy happier than seeing someone like sponsored athlete Rebecca Rusch break a record at Leadville.
There’s something about True Believers, capital T, capital B, that I really dig. I don’t doubt that PowerBar employs folks who swear by their product, but Erickson and Vaughn seem to epitomize the very athletic lifestyle their products cater to. Objective correlative: Last year at the Sea Otter Classic gran fondo I rode much of the day with Erickson. I noticed three tubes of Shot Bloks protruding from his left pocket. The tops of the plastic on all three tubes had been cleanly snipped away with scissors—ready to go.
So this week’s question is a simple one: what are you eating on the bike these days? We’ll even take it a bit further: Have you sworn off any particular energy foods? And, is there anything that makes you think twice before experimenting?
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.
In telling members of my family that I was headed to Monterey for a week—without my wife or son—there were, inevitably, questions about just what my justification was. How important could a bike event that wasn’t the Tour de France be? My response helped make fresh an event I’ve been going to for something like 15 years.
I told family and non-cycling friends that the Sea Otter Classic has more different types of racing in one place than any other event I’ve ever attended—nay, any event I’ve ever heard of. Early on, it was a mountain bike event. Then it added a couple of road events. Today, it’s much, much more. It’s easier to define what it doesn’t have than all that it does; other than cyclocross (which would be kinda silly in spring), all that’s missing is BMX (no track) and track (they did try running some events in San Jose a few years back, but that seemed to be a bridge too far). What really helped round out the festival, making it more non-racer friendly was the addition of two gran fondos, one on-road, the other off-road.
The real glue holding the event together seems less the racing than the expo. The Sea Otter was made in the mold of the season opener of the 1990s, the Cactus Cup and the old NORBA Nationals in Big Bear and Mammouth Mountain. Those events drew spectators in a way other races failed to achieve thanks in no small part to the expo areas they hosted. Today, Sea Otter is something of a spring Outdoor Demo. Companies like SRAM use it as an opportunity to launch products so they can achieve attention for products that either weren’t ready or might have gotten lost in the shuffle of Eurobike or Interbike. Sea Otter’s expo is so large that what you could easily get through in an afternoon 14 years ago can now require a methodical approach spanning three days.
Did I mention, it’s fun as hell?
Perhaps nothing has done more to cement in my mind the idea that the Sea Otter is one of the best events in cycling, an event that can draw anyone with even the slightest interest in things two-wheeled than the photo that leads this post. Last year I wrote a feature for peloton magazine about the New England bike industry and one of the most significant figures within it was mountain bike pioneer Chris Chance. I spent two months trying to find Chance. No dice. Then, as I’m talking to John Neugent of Neuvation Cycling fame, Chance walks up and says hi. I had no idea that John had helped Chris get his job at Witcomb Cycles working with Richard Sachs and Peter Weigle.
File this under “you can’t make this up”: Chance lives in mountain bike heaven these days. He’s in Marin County. And I’ve got his business card.
This year my role was a good bit different than in years past. While I still played journalist to some degree, checking out new products, much of my job was in support of our two ad guys, Roger Wotton and recent addition Nick Ramey. Nick has joined us to help land advertising for Charles Pelkey’s Live Update Guy. Rather than paying Charles a flat contributor fee the way most freelancers are treated, we’re treating him like the star that he is: we’ll be paying him a percentage of the ad revenue. Why do I mention this? Well, the companies that have expressed interest in advertising on LUG are interested precisely because it’s Charles. We hope you’ll think kindly of those companies once we are able to sign a contract or two.
The closest thing to a failing the event has is that sometimes the racing seems like a sideshow, or worse, a distraction when compared to the expo. It can be jarring to walk by the many tents set up and see some racer straddling a bike, clearly still out of breath from a recently finished event. But the image above really speaks to my love of the event. It’s a chance to bump into cycling (not just industry) friends. And Rapha, by the way, took the opportunity to use Sea Otter to introduce a few new products. I wore the brand new bib shorts and will soon try their new base layers. They also have a new series of casual shirts (it’s kind of insulting to call them T-shirts) that speak to the company’s love of the history of the sport. You’ll hear more about those very soon.
Then there’s the stuff you never expected to see, like this creation from Paul Sadoff, or the stunning Ibis Maximus. Sadoff rescued some S&S couplers from a damaged bike and then used a bunch of other scraps and orphaned parts to build up this bike for little other than his labor.
Unfortunately, I missed some friends and a few companies that were showing stuff I was really interested in because I had to skedaddle (only time you’ll hear that verb on this blog, I promise) for home and a book signing (no pictures, thank heaven) on Saturday afternoon. I’ll be honest, the LA Times Festival of Books was the only thing that could get me to leave Sea Otter early.
And this year was the first year I rode off-road at Laguna Seca … ever. What the hell is the world coming to? Stay tuned, I’ll tell you more.
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.