No matter what your interest in cycling is, the last year has been one disappointment after another. The fallout from the USADA investigation and the Reasoned Decision made a mockery of cycling’s favorite rags-to-riches story. The implosion of Divine Cycling Group shuttered three brands—Serotta, Mad Fiber and Blue (though Blue has recently returned)—and stiffed more contractors than an auto-industry bailout. And how can we forget the Café Roubaix debacle? Independent of what we know for sure, people have used this as an example of all they find most reprehensible in American business.
As spectators to all of this, none of these events have really affected us in any personal way. Even the masters doping fiascos involving riders like Rich Meeker and David LeDuc haven’t harmed anyone in any significant way. But what these events have in common is that they have each, at some level, violated what many of us believe to be the social contract of a community we hold dear. We want cycling to be free of cheating, free of bullying, free of the kinds of business deals that make us long for nothing so much a bike ride to get away from the bullshit of business. I write this as someone who’s just been through the wringer with someone I once thought was a friend.
Perhaps we’re naive to think that cycling could be as pure as the joy of a bike ride itself, but because most people don’t work in the bike industry, cycling is meant to be an escape, a way to get away from the rest of the garbage that can make a day a disappointment. That desire is perfectly human. We each need at least one safe harbor, one place where we can turn to be free of the rest of our frustrations, and for those of us who have fallen for the bike, a ride shouldn’t be a reminder that some MBA is driving small brands under so he can make a mint on real estate.
My recent frustration with a business deal in which I think no one really got what they wanted got me to thinking about what could have been done differently, what I could have done differently, what the other side could have done differently, how at the end, we could all have wanted to get a beer together rather than me wanting a shot of whiskey—alone.
Clearly, cycling is in a state of transition. Mom and pop shops are being replaced by bigger, and in some ways more professional, bike shops. Pro racing seems to be the cleanest it has ever been, but at what cost? The rate of innovation on the product side is staggering and while some of those changes have been embraced (who doesn’t love GPS?), others have left some us of wary and suspicious (hydraulic disc brakes on road bikes). The ten-speed boom this ain’t.
So here’s this week’s question: Suppose for an instant you were the president of the UCI or WADA or the new CEO for some big bike company or maybe a brilliant engineer being courted by a bunch of VC money. Better yet, suppose you were some all-powerful god-like being, but just for 15 minutes. Suppose you had the power to change some fundamental piece of cycling for the better, what would you choose? What would you devote your energy to, how would you improve our world?
Sometimes you just need a new thing. As much as I love riding bikes, I don’t stay uniformly inspired and motivated year round. I get my head down into a routine, and I work it over and over until one day I sit up and say, “Nah. I don’t feel like doing this today.” And that’s when I need a new thing.
That thing might be mountain biking. When I get tired of the swish and swirl of traffic or the bump and rattle of potholes, riding trails can be a good palate cleanser. I switch over to that for a few months, find new motivation and get excited about turning pedals again.
Maybe the new thing is a new group, either slightly faster or slightly slower. The new group rides different routes or stops at different coffee shops. You get new stories and learn new customs.
Here, at the end of the summer, I needed a new thing, and fortunately I have discovered two things in the last month that have me all excited and in love with cycling again. The first thing is that I there are a lot of very small, local trail systems that I haven’t ridden before. These range from simple paths through vacant lots to full, serpentine systems tacked onto the back of reservoirs or parkland. With a pair of 28s on my road bike, I can string these small systems together into a pretty kick ass ride, mostly traffic free. The need to focus most of my energy on bike handling distracts me from the effort I’m making and hours fly by in veritable cyclo-bliss.
A friend introduced me to this style of riding, and I spent some time trying to memorize all the quick lefts and rights that would guide me from one patch to the next. My memory and sense of direction being what it is, this process was proving not as quick or effective as I wanted it to be.
Enter a small GPS device.
Some readers will know that I mostly eschew technology (said the guy called Robot, not at all ironically). I have ridden electronic shifting and found it remarkable, but have no interest in actually using it on one of my bikes. I find most cyclo-computers distracting and discouraging to the point of annoyance. And I probably never would have gotten a GPS unit…
Until I learned that I could chart a course through each of these little trail systems using one. In fact, many of the big mapping sites have even the really obscure trails marked, no doubt the work of my enterprising and technology-loving fellow cyclists. So now, I can wend and wind through all my regular stomping grounds, but on terrain I haven’t ridden before.
It’s like my whole cycling world made new, and I AM PSYCHED.
So this week’s Group Ride asks, what’s YOUR new thing? Or, if you don’t have one, what was the last new thing that had you really excited about throwing your leg over your bike and heading out the door? Maybe you’re just eying a new thing. What is it? And why do you think it might just be the key to unlocking a new suitcase full of courage?
Image: Matt O’Keefe
Group riding is one of the cornerstones of our sport, two people, two-hundred people, single-file or in a long lumpen mass strung out down the road. I know of many local rides that have been together and going off like clockwork for decades, groups with their own custom jerseys, and others who organize and sponsor organized events for themselves and outsiders alike.
Equally, there are a million ephemeral little groups, folks pooling in parking lots, shaking hands perfunctorily before rolling out, temporary alliances that pass Saturdays and centuries together.
All of these rides operate under their own guidelines, some rigid, some quite loose, and I find it eternally interesting which rules folks think are universal, often things they’ve brought from another group or were taught when they first started out.
I will confess that I don’t like to ride in groups larger than five. That seems to be the tipping point for human organization, though I am sure your results vary. None of the groups I ride with are so regular or so long-established that order has had time to impose itself on a larger scale.
Some of the things that will push me away from a group ride include: guys “soloing” off the front to prove they’re stronger when the tacit purpose of the ride is to log some miles, talk some shit and generally escape responsibilities; big messy groups that block traffic, put people in danger and exhibit a general lack of concern about same; groups who drop weaker riders on non-training efforts.
I’m a pretty easy going guy, willing to go along and get along with almost any bunch of riders at least once. I have this idea that, once you show up to a group, you stay with that group unless there is an agreement to split up that makes sense for the safety and goals of all involved. There is a social contract involved. Isn’t there?
I have a tendency, as do most, to ride with the same people over and over again, but I also feel inclined to engage new routes and new experiences, so I end up saying yes to ride invites as much as I can. It’s a good way to keep it fresh and meet like-minded souls, even if you only ever roll with them the one time.
This week’s Group Ride asks about your group rides. Are they big? Are they small? Are there a lot of rules or only a few? What should the universal rules be? What do you like about the groups you ride with and what sets your teeth on edge?
Image: Matt O’Keefe
The bike industry has this funny habit of trying to sell me things I’m not sure I need. It is all change, all the time, and the trick of it is that some of the change is good and some of it is just expensive. I think of myself as a discerning consumer, but my parts bin will testify to some imprudent consumption throughout the years. It happens.
This year there are a couple trends that have me puzzling.
The first one is 650b mountain bikes, and let me come right out and say, I own one. In fact, it’s the only mountain bike I own. And it’s a single-speed, which makes it a lot like a unicorn in the mountain bike universe where everyone seems to be on a dual-suspension 29r anymore.
The conventional wisdom on 650b (or 27.5 for those of you who want the world to make sense) is that it combines the best of 26″ wheels, the weight and handling, with the best of 29rs, obstacle clearance and rolling speed. The new (actually old) wheel size is even being raced at World Cup level, so if there is some kool-aid drinking going on, it is not limited to a bunch of engineers in the parking lot of a bike company. This thing is happening.
At Interbike, Ritchey even displayed a 650b bike Tom built for himself, and raced, in the ’70s, perhaps just to confirm things we already knew such as, everything old is new again, AND Tom Ritchey is cooler than you or me.
Well, let me tell you, I have ridden 650b, and I like it. I’m not such a trail shredder that I will attempt to communicate in technical terms why it does what people say it does, but I do like it, and coming from a 26″ bike, I think it makes sense for my limited riding style and general propensity for impracticality.
The other trend, and this one is bigger and I’ll wager more interesting to RKP readers, is disc brakes on road bikes. Everybody’s talking. The big builders are rumbling as though this is going to be their next thing, but there are only a few market entrants at the moment. Volagi makes the Liscio (and soon the Viaje) and Colnago makes the C59 disc. Lynskey just announced one. Canyon showed one at Eurobike. And there are others, but chances are you haven’t seen them on the road yet. All current models are running mechanical discs while we wait for a really good drop bar shifter that will support hydraulics.
This week’s FGR is technical and wonky. Are these two trends worth our time? Do you see the value to 650b trail bikes? Will you go disc on the road? Why? Why not? Have you ridden either one? Share your experience. If the future is now, are you going along for the ride?
Today, at work, we talked about whether it was really still possible to go away on the Poggio, to wreck the day for the sprinters at Milan-San Remo. Oh, sure, any group sprint after 290km isn’t the cut and often dried affair it is during the first week of July in France.
But that’s neither here nor there. There is no answer. It’s the perfect discussion for a Friday afternoon at work.
This time of year is special. Milan-San Remo. Flanders. Roubaix. The Ardennes races. All year long we wish for these days to come, and then they’re upon us. They rush up like a German Shepherd off its lead, and then we’re away and down the road.
The Giro makes a pretty good consolation for the end of Classics season. And then you’re sliding into the Tour de France. What a total fucking carnival that is, eh? I mean, I’m not going to wax poetic about the Tour. Better men have done that job.
But oh, when the Tour ends, though there are still so many good races left, you start to feel a little desperate. The season is slipping away. Imagine how the riders feel? No. Imagine how the riders who haven’t won anything yet feel. You don’t want to show up at Lombardy worried about your contract.
This season has only just begun, but I can already feel some of that sadness that sets in the when the leaves fall and the wind first smells of wood smoke. It’s bullshit, but it’s there. Can you feel pre-sad?
This week’s Group Ride asks the stupid question: Which race, when it’s over, do you miss the most? I suppose it’s a bit like asking which race is your favorite, except it’s not. I love Flanders and Roubaix, but I feel sadder when Liege-Bastogne-Liege is done. Things change then.
Hell, sometimes when I’m sure I’ve outrun the German Shepherd I wish he’d come back. Cycling is funny that way.
Image: Photoreporter Sirotti
Some years ago I was sitting in an editorial meeting for a magazine when the topic turned to lifestyle and how to portray the roadie lifestyle in a magazine. It quickly devolved into a debate about just what the roadie lifestyle was. What was the bullseye at the center of the roadie lifestyle. Was it the double century crowd? Was it racing? Was it bike commuting?
In the 1990s, there weren’t that many people who were passionate about bike commuting or the prospect of a social revolution based on the concept of the bicycle as primary transportation. Fortunately, that has changed. But back then, the idea of making commuting the centerpiece of a magazine’s editorial mission seemed like suicide to me. Similarly, the fact that some double centuries may only get two or three dozen entrants makes them outliers even-wise and not a donkey you want to pin your tail on. Even centuries don’t typify the riding life of most riders; after all, they may only do two or three in a year. Racing? Most of the people I ride with don’t have a racing license anymore.
My opinion is the same now as it was then: The center of the bullseye of the roadie lifestyle is the group ride. If you hope to reach cyclists with a lifestyle publication in print or on the web and you don’t get what a peloton is, you’ve already lost the battle.
As the day-in-day-out social nexus of the riding community anywhere I’ve ever lived, group rides do more for cyclists than provide a great way to train. They offer the community a valuable way for riders to get to know each other and form bonds beyond the sweat that drips off them. I could never live some place that had no group rides.
So this week’s FGR is a bit different, a bit more literal, as it were. Tell us about the group rides where you live. Are they year round? How many riders show up in-season vs. out-of-season. Does it slow down in the off-season? Does it have a killer name? Is it the same course each week, or do you switch it up? How long? How fast? And finally, are there so many riders and rides where you are that you have a menu to choose from come Saturday morning?
You never know what might turn into a feature for someone.