As I sailed through the air the one thought I had time to conjure was, “Damn, I just bought this jacket and now it’s going to get shredded.” The impact came in a not-all-at-once loping, rolling, whiplashing smack that wouldn’t have been so bad had it not involved my head.
Concussions are frequently referred to as ‘getting your bell rung.’ I soon realized I’d taken up residence in the belfry of Notre Dame and judging by the clanging, mass was due to start any minute.
I laid on my back, eyes looking blankly up into the evening sky. The were four streetlights above me, swirling with the same animated dance the snow flakes made as they sank to earth. I counted and then counted again. I knew there weren’t four streetlights on this section of dead-end road. ‘Must be double-vision,’ I thought. So I waited. Soon enough, there were two streetlights.
I gingerly made my way to my feet and began the inspection. My elbow and shoulder were tender and judging from the dark spot on the inexplicably shred-free jacket, my elbow was bleeding. Never mind the bleeding, I hadn’t ruined the jacket. From the neck down, I was fine, as was my clothing.
My head was another matter. It felt like I’d been walloped with a golf club. My balance was off and it seemed the internal volume was Who-concert loud. I picked up my bike, looked around and realized there was but one streetlight.
I made my way home. After a shower and dose of ibuprofen and discovered I’d cracked my helmet. Little wonder. I’d hit a tree that had fallen in the road. I was going 25 mph downhill and squinting due to the falling snow and didn’t expect to find a tree lying in the road when I roared around a bend. It wasn’t there when I passed that spot two hours before. I can be forgiven for being surprised, can’t I?
I came upon the tree with the unexpected surprise of a roadside bomb. I didn’t even have time to touch the brakes.
In my mind, whether or not I had a concussion had been settled by the time I got on the bike. My then-wife’s concerns didn’t run in the direction of ER, but that I was delaying dinner with my wound care.
Any time any person starts to poo-poo helmet use, my mind returns to that December ride. Whether or not a helmet saved my life that day isn’t the question. There really isn’t any question; rather, I have a certainty: Had I not worn a helmet on that ride, my injuries would have been worse. As it was, I didn’t race ‘cross the next day and mostly sat on my ass during the main event, when I was supposed to be offering neutral support. My head hurt too much to bend over and do a wheel change.
Anything worse than what I suffered is more than I’m willing to entertain. That hurt plenty, thankyouverymuch.
Ten years ago, a friend of mine was hit from behind by a Range Rover. The driver was reaching for her cell phone and priorities being what they are for the affluent, my friend on her bicycle was, for this woman, just another recyclable. In the wake of that event a mutual friend swore off helmets. His reasoning was that if a helmet couldn’t save Debra (nothing short of a cinder block wall could have), then why bother?
Somehow, he came to the conclusion that helmets embolden us to take risks that we wouldn’t take were it not for the styrofoam cooler strapped to our noggins.
Dane Mikael-Colville Andersen has a similar dislike of helmets. Andersen is the style maven behind Cycle Chic, which espouses “style over speed.” In a recent presentation at TED, Andersen talked about what he calls a “culture of fear” of which he says bicycle helmet use is part.
He points to the fact that there is a study that has shown you have a 14 percent greater chance of having an accident while wearing a helmet. Maybe, but correlation isn’t causality. He also claims the car industry is behind the promotion of bike helmets. This will be a revelation to the folks at Easton-Bell Sports who have labored under the misperception that they have been paying for all the advertising for Bell and Giro helmets.
One wonders where all those ads placed by GM appeared.
Andersen also says bicycle use fell in Denmark after helmet promotions began. For those of you who slept through logic or didn’t take it (perfectly understandable), as I mentioned before, correlation is not interchangeable with causation. There may be a relationship between the promotion of helmet use and 10,000 fewer cyclists on the road in Denmark, but conjecture should not be trotted around like fact. Street lights come on when the sun goes down with perfect correlation every flippin’ day; it doesn’t mean that the street lights cause the sun to go down.
He says people stop cycling when helmet use is promoted. I suspect it is true for some people. Is it uniformly true? Not for a second.
In the United States, there was a fear when seat belt and shoulder strap laws were enacted that it would hurt car sales and impinge on our freedom. Education and enforcement overcame that issue. What’s that you say? People will give up a bike long before they give up a car? Too true.
The issue I have with Andersen and others who criticize helmet use is that they demonize a perfectly valid device. Helmets aren’t the problem. To the degree that people don’t ride as a result of a “culture of fear,” I can tell you what they fear: CARS. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think, ‘That was entirely closer than necessary.’ Anyone who fears a helmet more than they fear a car will probably make a tin foil hat for you, too.
You want to change how people feel about riding a bicycle on city streets? Change the consideration drivers show to cyclists. Granted, that’s even less likely than McDonald’s going vegan, but this is a cultural change for which any incremental improvement would be notable and deserves the effort.
Let’s ask the question a different way. Which do you think would get more people out on bikes: a reassurance from the government that helmets don’t make you safe and you need never wear one, or streets utterly devoid of cars and trucks? I’d have whole new training routes open to me if there were no cars.
Andersen criticizes the bubble-wrapping of babies, going so far as to show product photos for a helmet designed to be worn by children—indoors. I can’t argue how ridiculous the idea (much less the product itself) is.
Spied from any angle, my son has visible bruises. He leads a full-contact life. Standing up beneath tables has introduced him to both pain and spatial skills; it’s likely one did have a causal relationship with the other. In my view, both are helpful. Does he need a helmet when strapped in to his trailer? I’m not so sure. But I can assure you, he’ll be wearing a helmet as he learns to ride a bike.
However, I’m not sure that in a tabletop-flat land such as Denmark commuters riding 12 or even 14 miles per hour need a helmet.
As for my friend who thinks that helmets are the root cause of risky riding, my response is that if helmets didn’t exist, I’d ride just as I do now. I don’t ride in a way I believe to be inherently risky, but I do like to descend mountains like a falcon dropping on prey. Knowing that a safety device is out there that can increase the likelihood of me conjugating verbs in the wake of a crash, why would I ride without it? Based on my previous airborne experience, it’s not worth the risk.
Are we really to believe that if helmets were eradicated more people would ride bikes? Have you heard a more feeble-minded idea this week? Andersen closes his presentation by saying, “Let rationality become the new black.” This from the man who espouses the emotional “style over speed.” Sorry Mikael, you can’t have it both ways.
Honestly, I thought TED was home to better ideas than these.
The Giro LX LF is a pair of gloves I’ve written about previously. I loved them the first time around, even at $70 per pair. And while that price isn’t what I’d call cheap, these gloves feel nothing short of extravagant. I can understand how someone might not choose to indulge in a pair of these, but maybe hint to their sweet one that a pair of gloves, such as these, would be downright memorable.
Giro recently updated the styling on these gloves. They now have two different styles, one being the all-black ninja and the other replaced the black palm of my previously-reviewed pair with a white palm.
These are PRO, not in the classic sense of something you’d expect to see gracing Eddy Merckx’ palms, but PRO in the ‘I’m going to wear the most comfortable and stylish cool-weather glove I’ve ever encountered’ sense. As much as I liked the originals, the white palm totally does it for me.
Of course, white has its, uh, challenges. I’ve worn my pair nearly daily for about a month (not quite). Long rides, short rides, hard and sweaty rides. Below is EXACTLY what they looked like this afternoon.
I’ve made no attempt to clean them up. They aren’t new-undies white anymore, but outside, in sunlight, they are close enough for the peloton. What’s their temperature range, you ask? I’ve worn them into the mid-40s and been grateful for them, though the combination of a hard ride, temps in the 60s and these gloves is a bit much. On easy rides, I can wear them into the upper 60s.
These may not be the coolest long finger cycling gloves crafted from leather ever made. I’m okay with that. But if you know of something better, don’t tell me. I’m satisfied with these.
Giro, for those who haven’t been paying attention to one of the world’s top helmet manufacturers, has entered the glove market cannonball-style. That’s in addition to the eyewear and other accessories that the manufacturer has moved into.
It was a risky move. Giro’s place as one of the top three helmet makers is virtually decreed by government. All it would take to crack the foundation would be a crappy lens or two and gloves that didn’t fit or didn’t last.
Last fall I reviewed the Lusso glove, which has since been renamed the LX. I liked the Pittards leather glove a lot, but in the comments, I did get a bit of pushback. One owner of a set complained about how the gloves dried out after washing them.
The folks at Easton-Bell Sports read RKP after they are all caught up on the real news over at Cyclingnews. The brand manager for the gloves saw the comment, contacted the reader and addressed his concerns personally. It makes for great PR when you do something like that publicly, but I only know about it because someone at Giro contacted me.
I can say that no other bike company has shown the same level of concern for addressing consumer issues as Giro. The opportunity is certainly there.
Late this winter I received the long-finger version of the LX glove, called the LXLF. Like the LX, the LXLF comes in either a black and white or all black color scheme. Unlike the LX, it blends some more stretchable fabric at the knuckles to make the gloves more dextrous without forcing the leather to stretch. The perforated Cabretta leather on the back of the glove helps keep it breathable. And the alternating black and white makes them look like a classy costume accessory for the Oaxacan Festival of the Dead.
Compared to the short-finger version of the glove, the LXLF, rather surprisingly, features much less of the 3M technogel padding. While the pads are nice and do a great job of preventing vibration from reaching your hands, it is a little on the bulky side. The LXLF features but two pads at the heel of the palm. As a result, the palms move with your hands much more naturally. Yet, as thin as the glove feels, it still provides more than adequate protection in terms of padding and temperature control.
I wouldn’t advocate using this glove much below 50 degrees and certainly not above 70 degrees, but that temperature range describes my typical ride for at least eight months of the year.
Ever concerned that I’ll do something to stretch the LXs out, I’m super-careful when I remove them. With the LXLF, not so much. With a gentle tug on the fingertips, it’s easy to pull them off my hands. And after more than a month of near-daily use they still look new.
The gloves feature a section of microfiber fabric over the thumb to give you a place to wipe your sweaty, drippy bits, but honestly, the fabric behind the knuckles does just as good a job at absorbing bodily fluids.
Speaking of bodily fluids, in reviewing another company’s short-finger Pittards-palm glove, I had a less-than-fun incident involving the black dye used in the leather and my bar tape. I sweated so much on a hot day that the black dye not only stained my hands the color of coal, but stained my bar tape so that it looked brick red. I have yet to pick up any hint of dye on my hands from either the LX or the LXLF gloves. Some details you just don’t notice until someone else messes one up.
Easily my favorite feature of the gloves is the incredible sensitivity and dexterity they offer. My son’s butt is only slightly softer than these things, but LXLF has the advantage of being wearable for hours at a time.
In my climate, I can make use of a spring-weight glove, as I mentioned, for at least eight months of the year. I’ve tried a lot of lightweight, long-finger gloves. You’d be shocked if I told you how few of them are memorable. The LXLF is not only memorable, it is easily the best long-finger spring-weight glove I’ve ever worn. Periodendofstatement.
Because they retail for $70, it’s not a glove I’d be inclined to wear, say, during a cyclocross race or a six-hour, rainy training ride. I know they can be cleaned, but the cleaning process requires a bit of care and they aren’t indestructible. For those reasons, I don’t wear them on rides I anticipate will be messy.
If this whole global warming thing turns out to be a hoax and supposing my morning rides maintain their 55-degree start temp, I won’t mind. These gloves are so enjoyable, I’d gladly wear arm warmers year-round just to help justify wearing the gloves.
In the grand scheme, what makes these gloves so great isn’t how Giro got all the details right. What makes them so great is the fit of the glove combined with the feel of the leather on your hands; the combination of softness and dexterity is simply unparalleled. Pardon me, but I think I’m going to put them on and retype this review just so I can have another hour to wear them. Seriously—these gloves are so nice, you’ll rethink why you wear gloves … and the standard you hold them to.
When Jim Blackburn started his eponymous company in 1975, his mission was to create lighweight pannier racks welded from aluminum. They were, for their day, very hi-tech. By 1987, when I bought my set, they were still top-of-the-line and had squashed almost all their competitors, at least in the U.S.
Blackburn eventually sold the company to what is now Easton Bell Sports, and the Rhode Gear line of accessories was folded into Blackburn to simplify the number of brand names the owners had to promote. Today, racks are a tiny part of the product line.
Cynics could easily point to the brand as an example of corporate sell-out, a line that lost its roots. You can tell the cynics to file that under Polaroid. A much fairer comparison could be drawn with Canon or Nikon, companies that made the transition from film to digital media, broadened their product lines, and continue to be leaders in their industry.
It hasn’t always been easy for Blackburn. Their pumps have ranged from Corvette to Corvair. For many years their trainers were category leaders more for their ubiquity in bike shops than the outright supremacy of the product. But in the last three years, every product I thought was weak has been eliminated from its catalog. I haven’t tried every product they make, but every product I had tried and couldn’t recommend is gone.
But you have to replace 86’d products with new offerings to stay in business. I offer the Flea combo of lights as an example of what I’m talking about. Head and taillights need to be seen—that’s it. They should only be as large and heavy as necessary to ensure your visibility, right? At 20 grams for the front unit and 21g for the rear on my scale, they are shockingly, disappearingly light. Something this light shouldn’t be able to produce this much light (read it again), the way a bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly.
The Flea Front and Flea Rear both accomplish the impossible: they can nearly blind you with only four LED lights—white Nichia in the front and red in the rear. For those morning and afternoon rides this time of year (and in spring), these lights offer more than adequate visibility. If drivers can’t see you with these on their bike it’s because they were dead at the time.
In full darkness (that is, once any lingering twilight has last gleamed) the front Flea actually makes a passable headlight, so long as you don’t ride too quickly. It isn’t powerful enough, however, to provide significant lighting at dawn or dusk, but then it wasn’t made for that; Blackburn offers more serious lighting for those needs.
Each light has three modes. For the front there is a lower-power beam, a high beam (which is when the light makes a passable headlight—certainly better than anything available through most of the 1990s) and a blinking mode. The rear has two blinking modes and a steady-state beam.
Run times for the lights are very good. On the flashing setting they run 12 hours, while on steady they’ll run for 6 hours.
What helps make the light’s namesake-light is the fact that they use rechargeable batteries a fraction of the size of the typical 1.5V AA battery. The charger, pictured above, uses said AA battery to recharge the lights (one at a time) and I take an almost perverse delight in this innovation.
None of this would matter if the lights were difficult to mount on the bar or seatpost. To that end, the folks at Blackburn made things as simple as possible: Velcro. Whether your handlebar is round or wing-shaped the simple attachment should make mounting and point the light quick. Remove the Velcro strap from the rear light and a built-in clip will allow you to hook it to your jersey pocket.
My love for how lightweight and bright these lights are is matched by my affection for the simple mounting system. I can swap them from bike to bike in less than a minute without the use of a single tool. Thomas Edison would marvel at their elegance.
What would you pay for all this? Wait, don’t answer!
As it turns out, there are other versions of the light that comes with a charger that works off a USB cable or another that either charges via USB or a tiny solar panel. The standard combo with front and rear Fleas and the 1.5V charger goes for $54.99. Either the front or rear Flea can be purchased alone for $34.95The version that includes the USB charger goes for $5, while the combination of the solar charger with USB charger is $15.
Learn more here.
Theories of Dynamic Tension, Critical Mass, And Black Holes.
In the wake of the, ah, mixed reviews that ensued from Interbike Demo East last week, now might be a good time to reconsider the whole Interbike question from an insider’s perspective…and why it makes almost no sense whatever that the biggest trade show of the year is held in the middle of September, without many of its biggest players, in the bike-unfriendliest district of what is already one of the least bike-friendly cities in North America.
Better minds than my own (which, I realize, could be just about anyone’s) have struggled with this problem, only to give up under the Sisyphean challenge of making sense of the whole messy thing. If I have succeeded where others have failed, it’s only because I realized early on the possibility—indeed the very probability— that trying to make sense of any and all questions concerning Interbike’s location in time and space are ultimately doomed, because in fact they make no sense whatever.
Like so many things in the bike business, understanding Interbike is like peeling an onion: by the time you reach the center, you discover there’s nothing there. That and the stink on your hands, of course. So here’s a series of three multilayered questions and answers designed to peel away the layers a diverse as misplaced corporate greed, the rise (and fall) of the mountain bike, and the ever-changing dates for Chinese New Year (really!). All presented one at a time so you can discover for yourself the Great Nothingness which resides therein.
1. Why September? The Dynamic Tension Theory
The Dynamic Tension theory, for those of us old enough to remember Charles Atlas ads in the back of comic books and/or to’ve had sand kicked in our faces by bullies at the beach, involves equally strong opposing forces counterbalancing each other. Which, we might point out, accomplishing exactly nothing. In the case of bike business trade shows, those opposing forces are suppliers and retailers. But the results are the same.
The short answer is, suppliers want dealers’ orders as early as possible in order to book their own orders for factory time and materials, and then have the retailers take delivery on their product as soon as possible. This accomplishes three important things: it streamlines the manufacturing process (meaning better prices and improved reliability of delivery), locks down as many of the retailers’ open-to-buy dollars as possible, and most importantly, puts the inventory in the retailers’ warehouses instead of their own.
Retailers, understandably, want to see suppliers inventory their own darn product and deliver it to their places of business as needed. That’s—according to retailers, anyway—what suppliers are supposed to do. (Suppliers, needless to say, have their own version of this theory, mentioned above, and which they propagate by means of non-cancellable advance orders and 180-day lines of credit. Both theories have their merits and disadvantages.)
“As needed,” for a big chunk of the country anyway, means March or April. In California it can run as late as May, which is when that quirky state’s joke of a “rainy season” ends. (In Seattle, on the other hand, it rains all the damn time anyway, so people tend not to care what month it is.) And for virtually all retailers, September is still a critical part of the selling season and one of their best months for making money. And as a result, one of the worst for having trade shows. This is one reason Interbike is always held in the middle of the week—so retailers and their staff can get back to work as soon as they blow town in a haze of jet exhaust and beer fumes.
For years, bike industry trade shows were held in January (BDS) or February (the old Toy & Bike Show in midtown Manhattan), or even (in the case of the now-defunct CABDA show), as late as March. Retailers would slog through the snow and ice (or go to sunny Long Beach where the BDS show was held, literally, in a basketball rink that always smelled funny), order up what they wanted for the coming season, and expect to have it delivered a couple months later.
They didn’t get it, of course, but that’s what they expected.
Now here’s the longer answer. The balance of power in the industry was changing. Prior to, say, 1980, you had Schwinn Bicycle Company of Chicago on the one hand—Schwinn being the equivalent of modern-day empires like Trek, Specialized, and Easton-Bell Sports, all rolled into one and ruled like a kingdom by whichever male member of the Schwinn Family Trust happened to be dictator-for-life at the moment. And on the other hand, you had, well, everyone else.
Schwinn was so powerful, in fact, that they could book their preseason orders pretty much whenever they wanted, and with the actual product largely sight unseen, and leave the scraps for the peons.
But in the 1980’s two things happened: the rise of the mountain bike, and the collapse of Schwinn family. Some historians correlate these events to a higher degree than others, but the net effect was the same either way. Schwinn had a massive, vertically integrated, almost industrial revolution approach to supply chain management. The new breed (like Specialized and GT and, later on, Trek and Cannondale) had much less interest in being in the manufacturing end of the business. They saw—correctly as it happened—that Asian-sourced manufacturing was not just cheaper, but ultimately better than Made-In-USA product (with the possible exception of the old Schwinn Paramount factory, which survives to this day as the artisan brand Waterford). But Asian manufacturing meant longer lead times—that ocean’s not going to cross itself, you know. And lacking the power of suppliers to compel retailer orders the way the old Schwinn had, that meant earlier trade shows.
The Bottom Line. Strategically, Interbike is all about getting retailers to the show. Everything else is window-dressing: deliver enough retailers ready to buy stuff, and suppliers will flock to Tierra del Fuego on Mother’s Day. And the current fourth-week-in-September dates represent that point of dynamic tension between the latest date suppliers can wait for retailers’ orders, and the earliest date when the retailers are willing to show up and deliver them.
Tweaking these dates get you into hot water no matter which way you jump. Move them up a week and you’re in the middle of the High Holidays for those of the Jewish persuasion. Push them back a week into October and even more suppliers will defect and decide it’s more cost-effective to put on their own shows, as any number of big (and even not-so-big) suppliers are doing.
Some folks might even say naive things like, why don’t we time our trade shows/model-year introductions to generate excitement among consumers and maximize increase sales industry wide? But as shown above, that would just be silly.
Next week: Part II