It’s the Christmas season and with that comes a myriad of changes to our routines. There’s the change in traffic; with so many people out shopping, it makes it seem like there are twice as many people on the road both when I’m out for training rides and later in the day when I try to run any errand. There’s the fact that it’s mid-December; with the planet approaching the winter solstice almost everyone in the Northern Hemisphere is experiencing colder temperatures on rides—and you all fortunate enough to be in the Southern Hemisphere and headed into summer can do us all a favor and try not to rub it in. Let’s not forget all the gifts; with Christmas comes the opportunity to get stuff we want, not to mention the chance to express our love for others in the form of the gifts we give them.
We’ve talked here previously about who you would like to give the gift of cycling to. The rich array of answers was fascinating as much for the why of how you chose as for the who that you did choose.
I’ll admit, when I was a kid, I was much more focused on the getting than the giving. I didn’t put much into the giving and so the dividends—that sense of pleasure you get from seeing another person light up when they receive your gift—were pretty insignificant. It took a while to realize that the more I put into it, the more I got out of it.
This year, the gift I’d most like to give isn’t cycling, it’s learning. I’ve already given my son cycling this year; I’m glad I didn’t wait until his birthday or Christmas to give him the gift of cycling—we’ve had so much fun, I feel like I got Christmas back in April. So now I’m trying to figure out a way to afford an iPad mini for him. He’s becoming more interested in computers but if we give him free access to our iPad, we will never get access to it again. Still, I have this feeling that an iPad can’t top having given him a bike earlier this year.
I don’t think of RKP as a place where I give. I do what I’m naturally inclined to do—write—and then I have the good fortune to have a bunch of people stop by to read my work, not to mention the work of others, work that I publish because I think it’s pretty terrific.
But this FGR is going to be a little different. What do YOU want? I don’t mean what gear, what destination, what win—I’m wondering what it is you’d like from RKP? I’ve got designs for next year, things I’d like to do more of, ways I’d like to expand our content. But I’m curious, if we were to give you a gift of content (perhaps even something else?) what would you like to see us do more of; what new areas of content would you welcome?
But my cycling, almost all of it, has more to do with whos than whats or whys.
There were two incredibly cool older kids, teenagers, in the neighborhood I first rode a bike in, Scott and Jamie. Both of them could ride a wheelie the length of our street. They built a crappy wooden bridge to ford the stream that separated our block from the small patch of woods behind, and the trails they cut in between the pines. They were early heroes. Everything they did, I wanted to do. They made bikes cool.
As an adult, I was shown the ropes of road riding by my friend Nancy, who had nearly supported herself, in the ’80s, by winning all the local crits and surviving on free bikes, ramen and broccoli. She’s the one who taught me to ride in a paceline, how to shift when climbing, how to dress, eat and suffer on a bike.
After years of riding and commuting and really integrating the bike into every aspect of my life, along came Padraig, who not only gave me the opportunity to write about bikes for a much larger audience, but also showed me how deep you can really go with cycling. He helped me jump into the industry. He became a friend and a mentor. And another inspiration.
Just yesterday, my friends Joe and Dan dragged me out for a pre-work ride in the freezing-ass-cold. It was a relatively short one, but still more than I had done for a few weeks, and it lifted my mood in that way that riding a bike with friends does.
These are just a few of my whos, the ones who spring readily to mind. This week’s Group Ride asks who are the characters who brought you into cycling? What did they say/do/show that jumped you into the gang? How did they inspire you?
With full apologies to our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, winter has begun to arrive in my New England home. Like the first guests showing up to a party, winter is milling about in the living room, eating chips and making small talk. We’re not in full force yet. The cops haven’t knocked on the door to tell us to quiet down, but the music is playing and it’s on.
This morning, with the temp at 29F (-2C) and a fair wind blowing, I opted for a sleeveless, synthetic base layer, a long-sleeve wool base over that, a wool jersey and then a super-thin wind breaker. Wind front tights. A pair of RKP wool socks, with a thicker wool sock over top, and then toe warmers, in lieu of booties.
If the wind weren’t blowing, I’d have foregone the windbreaker and maybe chosen a vest. The beauty of multiple wool layers is that they create layers of warmth, but still breathe. They allow me to practice my own personal cold weather riding strategy, which requires spending the first five minutes of the ride legitimately cold, before settling into the perfect range for long-term pedaling.
I like a thin windbreaker or vest, because I can always pocket it once I’m warm, which I can’t do with the myriad thermal jackets out there. I don’t like to be cold, but I really don’t like to be overly warm either.
I find that one or two of the pieces need to cover my neck. If my neck is warm, I can ignore a lot of cold on my arms.
When things get serious, and they will, then I’ll switch over to Gore-Tex shoes and a heavier, waterproof wind jacket. All of this seems to work for me, given the conditions here, and the only piece I’m still trying to figure out is the gloves.
I like to maintain manual dexterity, so I eschew lobster gloves, but I find that no one really makes a bomb proof, warm winter glove. If you’re a glove maker, and you’re reading this, and you think you have a glove that will do the job, send it to me, and I will run the rule over it.
My friend Neil maintains that makers of cycling apparel just don’t understand gloves, and he only wears ski gloves in winter. I have ski gloves that mostly do the trick, but they’re big and bulky and not all that attractive (I am unfortunately vain). Is there an ideal glove out there?
This week’s Group Ride asks the question: What is your basic, cold weather strategy? What items do you incorporate that we might not suspect? What gloves do you like? I know some of you are using chemical hand (and foot) warmers. Tell us your best kept secrets. Tell us what you’ve tried that doesn’t work. Winter is here, now how do we beat it?
Image: © Neil Doshi
Today is what is known in the US as Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the official beginning of the consumer frenzy that precedes Christmas. Bike shops across the country will spend this period selling off last year’s unsold inventory and trying to get their books into the black before the New Year comes and puts a general chill on cycling-related commerce.
Eurobike and Interbike allowed bike companies to trot out their wares only very recently. Padraig made a Herculean effort to highlight those wares here, here, here and here, and I was fortunate, this season, to be able to walk the show floor with him and talk about the relative merits of each company’s offering. I, for one, benefit from his insight, as he has this uncanny ability to tell you how something that looks shiny and fast on a pedestal in a conference hall will actually perform out on the road.
My own interests, this year, run almost entirely to more traditional products, made domestically. I can’t get enough wool jerseys. I can’t stop looking at the steel and Ti bikes being turned out by custom builders all over the country. I want almost everything Ibex makes. I want the latest Merckx biographies, and I want more hats. What is it about hats?
Oh, and I need some gloves that will keep my hands operational when the mercury dips below 30F. Suggestions?
This week’s Group Ride ignores completely the shameless consumerism of the season and instead indulges it. What the hell? What do you really, really want for Christmas? Is it a set of wheels? Is it a trainer and a stack of race videos? Are you likely to get whatever it is? Or do you live with a cycling Grinch, someone who doesn’t understand the mania you have for the finest Swiss toe warmers.
Is it me, or is this quickly becoming the longest off-season in the history of professional cycling? Maybe it’s that I was so busy at the end of the summer that I missed the Giro d’Lombardia, but it feels to me like a long time since I watched a road race that mattered, and even the Tour Down Under seems an eon away.
Exacerbating the issue is the Arm(strong)ageddon that has subsumed all the positive things happening in the sport like a wild fire in dry scrub. It’s gotten so I don’t even mind the usual off-season dreck about rider X is looking forward to a strong classics campaign, or rider Y is ready to put last season’s disappointment behind him. I am reading those things now with a keen eye on the future. This is how whalers felt about land sightings, I bet.
The first question I have is: Is it just me? Am I the only one feeling this way? Sure, I am watching cross races and distracting myself with my own off-season adventures, but more than any fall/winter I can remember, I am missing pro road racing.
The second question is: When do you think we’ll have this feeling behind us? I am imagining Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Het Volk will be big races for me. Will they allay this horrible sense of longing, or will it last all the way to the Giro?
This week’s Group Ride is about moving on. What’s it going to take for you to put this whole mess behind you and get back to talking about the races? Or are you over it already, happy to have the brain space for something other than skinny people on plastic bikes? What are you looking forward to for the 2013 season?
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?
As teams at the fringes of the ProTour struggle to find and keep sponsors, a few super teams have risen to the top of the sport. BMC, Team Sky and RadioShack-Nissan have thrown their large budgets at cadres of the best riders, and conventional wisdom suggests these are the teams who will be vying for the lion’s share of the podium spots in the year’s biggest races.
But things seldom go to script in top level racing. Despite the financial clout wielded by the super teams, talented racers from other squads will certainly muscle their way into the spotlight.
For example, BMC have Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd for the Spring Classics. Fabian Cancellara rides for RadioShack-Nissan. Those three riders will go on every favorite’s list for each of the big spring flings. But OmegaPharma-Quickstep believe their one-two punch of Tom Boonen and Sylvain Chavanel can pull off big results, surrounded as they are by northern European strong men.
No conclusion is forgone, unless of course the Schlecks are involved in a two-up sprint against my grandmother, in which case grammy is going to need some help shaking up that magnum of champagne.
All kidding aside, there are dark horses that aren’t so dark. Who are they?
It would be ridiculous to call Alberto Contador a dark horse, but, assuming he’s not suspended, he’s the prohibitive favorite to win the Tour de France this summer. BMC’s Cadel Evans, RS-N’s Schleck brothers and Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins will have their work more than cut out for them, and that is pro cycling’s top prize.
If Boonen were to take either Paris-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders, or as last year, Garmin-Baracuda were to pull of the tactical coup they executed at Roubaix last season, that would take another shiny bauble off the table.
Mark Cavendish will be the favorite for Milan-San Remo glory, but does anyone think Matt Goss and Greenedge won’t be there to contest? This week’s Group Ride asks: Who are the riders who will ruin the party for the super teams? Who are the dark horses? And where will they win?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
January is a funny time of year for cyclists. Where July is all the same in the Northern Hemisphere—that is, warm and filled with rides in short sleeves and bibs, January can mean almost anything. Here in the South Bay we’ve got brilliant sun, temperatures in the 70s and sunsets the Internet dating sites wish they could sell.
I swear, June isn’t this nice.
But January is supposed to be a time of cold, snow and ice. At minimum it should be the exact opposite of what makes you yearn to ride. It is to the romance of a bike ride what grocery shopping with your sweetie is to falling in love. Some places are suffering real winters complete with frozen slushy stuff, while other places are at least reasonable if not downright mild.
And for those who are riding, this ought to be a time of base miles, at least, in theory. Again, the left coast gets this wrong as well. I’ve got friends who are drilling three-hour rides. Base? If they ever did it, those miles were finished before Christmas. After all, the racing has already begun here.
So what’s it like where you are? Double if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere. Are you getting to ride? If so, what sort of miles are you doing? Is it fun or is it a chore? You don’t have to explain why. We know the why. Life without cycling wouldn’t be life.
Image courtesy Ray Assante
If you had asked me where the Willunga Hill was five years ago, I’d have probably guessed New Jersey. Now I know the aforementioned topography can be found in Australia, and serves as the major climbing obstacle in the Tour Down Under, the January kick off to the pro-cycling season.
The TDU hits the Willunga Hill tomorrow and wraps up on Sunday with a circuit around Adelaide.
Shortly, the world’s top pros, the lion’s share of them Europeans, will battle head winds and dash for finish lines in Qatar. They’ll move on to Oman after that.
There is a reason to this globe-trotting rhyme having to do with climate, sponsorship and expansion of the cycling brand. While some small races (Etoile Besseges, Challenge Mallorca, et. al.) do stud the late winter calendar in Europe, the UCI has sought to jump start its season by traveling to the weather. In this context, Australia, Qatar and Oman make a lot of sense as venues.
Further, deep pocketed sponsors in those countries want pro racing. Qatar, in particular, is forcing itself into the international sporting scene, not only hosting an annual, but also securing the football World Cup for 2022. The UCI, in pursuing a more global strategy to growing the sport, are understandably happy to sanction big bike races for big money in small, wealthy nations.
But while the Tour Down Under stokes the fire of sporting passion in Australia and the burgeoning presence of Aussie riders in the pro peloton, one has to question the strategy behind events in the Middle East. With exactly zero representation on the ProTeams, Qatar and Oman are not exactly hot beds of cycling passion. Race video shows long straight stretches of dusty roadway occasionally dotted by small bands of curious onlookers.
Other than cash and carry commerce, what is the real point?
The Tour of Beijing this fall highlighted the profit-centered strategy of the UCI in stark detail. Many top teams were reluctant to participate but were then seemingly strong-armed into showing up by UCI head Pat McQuaid, who wrote a memo threatening the sponsorships of teams who failed to toe the line. The Tour of Beijing is put on by Global Cycling Productions, a for profit organization that lives within the UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland and staffed by senior UCI officials.
Over the last two years the UCI has been assailed from most quarters, criticized for their stewardship of the sport in the areas of doping control, equipment standards and rider safety.
This week’s Group Ride examines the nature of globalization, its positives and negatives. Few would argue against the good of expanding cycling to a global audience, but is simply following the money the best way to do that? Without connecting top level races to roots level organizations, is the UCI actually succeeding in making cycling more popular? Or do you see the shift of the race calendar out of Europe as simply a dilution of the cycling brand, designed to enrich the governing body? What are the positives and negatives to this new paradigm?
Image: CJ Farquharson, Photosport International
We’re getting into that season of gift giving. Every now and then our minds turn toward the things we’d like to add to our arsenal. And with the weather getting colder, we’re probably spending as much time thinking about bikes as actually being on them. ‘Tis a pity.
Ah, but to a cyclist, thinking about a bike may not be as good as riding a bike, but it’s clearly better than not thinking about a bike.
We obsess over our training, often our diets as well. We obsess over great riders, people we’ve never even met. So why shouldn’t we obsess about a bicycle, or any of its parts?
Equipment has been on my mind more than usual. I’ve got a bunch of equipment and bike reviews that got backed up for a host of reasons, stuff I meant to post as far back as August in some cases. But with holidays here, maybe running some of these can inspire a wife or husband to act and add something special to your quiver.
So the question is simple enough this week: If someone gave you one piece of cycling gear—a bike, a set of wheels, a pair of bibs, you name it—what would it be? To what have you been devoting your lusty thoughts?