When I was a kid, my parents had a subscription to New Yorker Magazine. They had a delightful habit of cutting out their favorite cartoons and taping them up inside the cabinet doors in our kitchen. One favorite of mine was by Edward Koren in which a large furry beast with a mouth the size of a bathtub stands behind a couple in their living room. The wife tells their company, “We deal with it by talking about it.”
That seems to be a fair way to start off a review of a pair of cycling shoes with laces.
I don’t want to dance around this. Until the Giro Empire was introduced we all thought that laces were strictly the domain of NOS Dettos and photos from the Horton Collection. I mean, laces? The blast-radius of WTF? reaches all the way to the Flemish Cap. Those neon yellow laces are Exhibit A in why Giro is the bravest company in the bike industry. I’ve not loved every product they have introduced. Indeed, they’ve introduced some stuff here and there that I’ve downright disliked. But here’s the thing: Even when I haven’t liked a product, the design elements underpinning an unusual feature that I’m not wild about have never been random, strictly for style. They are a company long on style, but never place it ahead of function.
Thinking back on the four worst aspects of my first pair of Sidis is probably a good way to assess the basic elements of the Empires. Those Sidis seemed like pretty good shoes until I switched to clipless pedals. Then all sorts of stuff started going wrong. First, the eyelets at the top of the shoe started to stretch. Second, because the eyelets were stretching, the laces effectively became longer and began to catch between the chain and big chainring. Third, the cotton laces began to break. And fourth, the reduced support for the shoe due to the lack of toe clips increased the stress on the sole just behind the cleat. Both soles snapped behind the cleat. Those are all good reasons to dismiss a pair of shoes, with prejudice.
There’s little point in introducing a pair of shoes that possess such obvious flaws, right? Still, those flaws were so monumental, I had trouble getting past an experience that occurred more than 20 years ago. Giro had more than addressed those concerns, though. The top two pairs of eyelets are reinforced. The laces are a good deal more stout than those old cotton ones and the Tejin microfiber is stout enough that while not impossible to stretch, a ride in the rain won’t result in your shoes growing by a half size. As to the silliness of having laces flopping around to get caught in a chainring, Giro included a small elastic loop to keep the laces out of the way. Those broken soles? Well there wasn’t much threat that the Easton EC90 carbon fiber soles would snap in two.
I had the sense that as I set the cleats up on the shoes and began adjusting the laces for my fit they were mocking my objections. I’m not one for personification, but if ever a pair of shoes could have managed a derisive laugh, these would have been the pair.
The one-piece Tejin upper is a marvel of construction in that finding a material that could be forced to assume such a shape wouldn’t also find a new, less-desirable shape the moment it becomes damp with road spray. Giro says the Tejin is remarkably breathable which is why there are no panels of mesh or more obviously breathable materials, just perforations to aid breathability. While I haven’t used these shoes in ultra-hot conditions, I’ve not noticed my feet becoming sweaty in familiar conditions, and they’ve been on the cool side when I’ve worn them without booties on mornings in the low 50s.
Most fitters I know turn red with apoplexy any time you try to discuss a shoe manufacturer’s insoles. I’ll agree that most are pretty awful. I’ll also agree that a custom-molded insole beats any production insole like a piece of schnitzel under a meat tenderizer. All that said, Giro’s insoles, with their replaceable arch support, are far and away my favorites on the market. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve got an extremely high arch (not to mention a foot wider than some boulevards) and the Giro insole is the only production insole that can provide support for the whole of my arch.
After riding with the included insoles for a week I went ahead and swapped them out with a pair of custom molded ones I have. This is a practice of mine that is virtually inevitable with all shoes I wear; I didn’t trim these insoles to match the shape of the insoles I removed, the upshot being that it pushes the toe box out a bit, gaining me a bit more width where I need it most, near the ball of my foot.
I’m told that if you’ve got a relationship with a good shoe repair shop a talented cobbler can stretch the Tejin a bit to customize the fit, but you need someone with both know-how and tools.
The last time someone sent me a $150 shoe to review, my feeling was that it was so crappy I didn’t see the point in reviewing something that made uncomfortable to do the two things that model was meant to accomplish: pedal and walk. With a suggested retail of $274.95, these are twice as expensive as any pair of dress shoes I’ve ever purchased, but I never asked as much of a pair of dress shoes I’ve worn. I’m also aware that some production—not custom—cycling shoes are still a good bit more expensive; I can’t make out why.
I’ve observed a number of features to recommend these shoes, but I’ve only circled the central issue of these shoes—how having laces affects the fit. Let’s consider that most cycling shoes use three straps to close, whether velcro or ratchet. Honestly, three points of adjustment isn’t much. By comparison, the Empire has seven sets of eyelets. The fit that the laces has allowed me to achieve is order magnitudes better than what I get with three straps and even better than what I can get with a Boa closure. Let me add that I’ve encountered a number of velcro straps that were too short and stiff to comfortably accommodate my wide, high-volume foot; I could barely get the strap to connect without cutting off circulation to my forefoot and toes.
A buddy on Saturday’s ride asked how on Earth I’m able to adjust the fit during my ride. My response: I don’t. I’d say that twice each year I’ll get distracted as I’m putting my shoes on and realize that either they are too loose or too tight and need to adjust them. Part of this depends on the fact that I’m not someone who rides with his shoes tightened down like a corset; I don’t see the point. I simply pull the the laces to the point that the fit is snug, but not tight, and I can do five hours in them that way.
It would be easy to pitch the Empire as a classic case of making an old idea new, but the truth is simpler, more compelling, less derivative. Seven sets of eyelets simply give you more control over fit through a greater length of the shoe. It’s an idea we should never have stopped chasing.
I’m fundamentally a form-follows-function person. That’s not to say that I think that clothing, buildings and home furnishings all need to be austere to the point of Bauhausian sterility, but I think that style should never trump substance. Having said that, I accept the reality that such an outlook makes me a candidate for both the worst home decorator and least romantic male of the 21st century, even though it’s early in this 100-year span.
That preference is borne of a hopelessly strategic approach to most dimensions of my life. Practically, that has translated to an affinity for technical fibers (including wool). Show me two jackets; if one of them, thanks to the use of a special fabrics, happens to be both lighter and warmer, I’m inclined to go with it, even if it doesn’t look quite as workaday. On the contrary, many years ago, when I was living in New England, I realized that I enjoyed having people note my preference for specialized garments. I didn’t really care what they thought of my choice; back then I just like that they noticed I wasn’t wearing some cotton coat that would lose it’s ability to keep you warm or dry the moment it started raining or snowing, and during the cold months of the fall, winter and spring, that could happen a couple of times each week.
That said, there are plenty of people who try to use their outerwear to project something they are not. I’m thinking of lawyers with Carhartt barn coats and urban yuppies who’ve never seen a ski left, let alone a mountain, decorated in the finest down from The North Face. My urge is to make a statement more authentic, not less so. And while anyone is entitled to wear what they want, I appreciate pieces that confirm I’m active. That means my outerwear is cut for my cyclist’s physique and I prefer items that offer as much warmth as possible while simultaneously throwing overboard the homogenized style of Old Navy. In short, I like pieces that don’t necessarily scream “cyclist” while still conveying that my wardrobe didn’t come from Macy’s. RKP T-shirts are handy in this regard, but they aren’t all that warm.
There are two pieces in my wardrobe I’ve decided are worth mentioning; one, a piece from Giro’s New Road line, is a recent addition, while the other has been a part of my cool weather rotation for a couple of years. That piece is the Assos DB.4 kickTop. Again with the crazy names. Around the house, when I can’t find it, I just refer to it as my Assos pullover, to which my wife will respond, “Your black one?”
Compared to a couple of similar (though cotton-constructed) pullovers I have from Ralph Lauren, the DB.4 kickTop is lighter, warmer and includes two zippered pockets. Both zip to the neck in the event of a chill breeze. Unlike the pullovers from Ralph Lauren, the Assos device won’t wrinkle, packs into a backpack like a dime in a pocket and in the event of rain dries as quickly as a toddler’s tears.
The bad news is that Assos has decided not to carry this piece in the U.S. anymore. You can still find some around, but it’s not easy. Ah, the power of Google.
Giro has been adding new pieces to its apparel line and easily my favorite piece from the fall line is the new Soft Shell Jacket. It’s cut from medium-weight polyester (304 gm/m²), which makes it heavy enough to keep you comfortable down into the 40s yet light enough that I never overheated in around-town trips and could jam it in a small bag when traveling. Despite the fact that it is cut from polyester, the jacket doesn’t have that shiny finish that makes you look like a square. Part of its ability to help regulate temperature comes via two small chest zips that open vents right at your collarbones. Given how small they are I wondered just how much they could do; I was surprised to realize that they offered just enough ventilation to keep me from breaking a sweat when chasing Mini-Shred around the neighborhood.
Inside the jacket, it’s got two chest pockets big enough for a pair of sunglasses in their case, while there are two zippered pockets for hands or keys. There is a fifth pocket at the small of the back, zippered on both sized with the capacity to carry a loaf of bread or a couple of water bottles, it’s that big. I didn’t discover it until reading about the jacket’s features because it was so well cut that it is completely concealed when not in use. Kinda makes it the perfect jacket for riding to a party without worrying about how to bring a bottle of wine.
To keep the jacket form fitting both on and off the bike, it is cut with raglan sleeves. While the zipper starts at the center of the bottom hem, but then sweeps to the right at the neck to keep soft fabric at your chin. When zipped up, this feature is terrific, but when the jacket is unzipped, there are times when the collar will rub against my chin and it can be hard to keep it out of the way. The cuffs stretch to keep the wind from running up the sleeves while elasticized drawstrings at the hem allow you to gather the jacket around you a bit more when riding.
The Giro Soft Shell Jacket goes for $250 and comes in five sizes (S-XXL). It comes in but one color, dark heather gray, which has proven to be as versatile as gray flannel. Noteworthy is how Giro positions its return policy alongside the garment’s features. In a sense, their commitment to your satisfaction could be said to be one of the jacket’s features. I just can’t imagine anyone returning one of these things. Wearing this both on and off the bike is a chance to wear a garment that suits me and my lifestyle.
As a kid, I could never quite wrap my head around a visit to the toy store. On the one hand, everything I could ever want was there. On the other, I knew I couldn’t have it all, and so an ontological crisis ensued any time my parents asked me what ONE thing I’d like to take home with me.
Interbike is like that.
Even my jaded adult self has trouble quelling the rip tides of gear lust that drag me down every aisle of the show until I’m standing in front of some booth at the outer reaches of the convention center staring at glittery, fluttery grips for kids’ bikes. There, in that comical space, I can take a breath and do some not-wanting.
Last year, Padraig and I walked the floor together, shaking hands with friends old and new and trying not to let on how badly we wanted at least four of the things in their booths. I will confess now that the things that grabbed me last year were, in no particular order, Giro’s Empire shoes, Pegoretti‘s paint jobs, and the Chrome backpacks they were customizing on-site. This is the short list, the stuff I wanted to grab and make a break for the exit with.
My natural aversion to Las Vegas, or more specifically the Vegas strip, where America spills its banks so ostentatiously, does little to dampen my interest in the latest and greatest cycling finery. It is only fortunate that most of what’s on display is not for sale, and I am, by and large, able to drag my weary bones back out to the airport and doze quietly while some poor soul who didn’t get quite enough, deposits the last of his cash into a slot machine in the departure lounge.
This week’s Group Ride wonders what YOU are most interested in seeing from Interbike. What new products are on your horizon? What should we be looking for, bringing back pictures of, reviewing for the upcoming season? What toy would you pluck from the shelf, if you could only pick one?
When I first began riding—not to put too fine a point on it—I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I know a great many riders who had the good fortune to be initiated into the sport by family members or friends, but I bought a bike and was instantly on my own. I rode in cotton—T-shirt, skivvies, shorts, sneakers—because I knew nothing about what I was supposed to do. Back then, I rode as much for transportation as I did for fun, and because the city I lived in wasn’t densely populated, it wasn’t hard to ride anywhere I wanted to go. Arriving sweaty wasn’t a problem because spring, summer and the early fall in the South are as hot and sticky as duct tape on the sun. Riding a bike made me only marginally sweatier than everyone else.
But then I learned about wool, about polyester, about stiff-soled shoes, the concept of wicking. My comfort increased in ways I didn’t know how to measure, but couldn’t mistake. Increased comfort allowed me to ride longer and faster—no more adjusting the tighty-whities on the fly. But something else happened along the way that, in retrospect, was both good and bad.
I met other cyclists and began doing group rides. Riding for transportation waned. I’m not even sure of how or why, but after going a summer on a single tank of gas, I began using my car again and restricted my bike riding to training rides. Somehow, even then, I was unwilling to put on man-made textiles for basic transportation.
Fast-forward 25 years. I live in a place where I can ride virtually every day of the year. The terrain is flat enough for riding for errands. I held some jobs that allowed me to commute and keep a change of clothes at the office so I could change out of my wet cycling clothing. Still, that did northing for when I wanted to run to the store on my bike.
As it turns out, the revelatory nature of riding in proper cycling clothing was my personal apple from the Tree of Knowledge. Once I’d had a taste of that comfort, I was unwilling to go back.
Things are different now.
Giro, along with several other apparel makers are offering cycling clothing that doesn’t exactly look like cycling clothing. I’m not talking the baggy shorts and jerseys that have been the signature of mountain biking for 10 years, but stuff that bridges the distance between functional comfort and something you can walk through a grocery store while wearing without getting the patented sidelong-glance normally reserved for any garment in a neon color.
Last winter, when Giro introduced the New Road line, the mantra I was told multiple times at the presentation was, “No more heroes.” This was on the heels of the USADA Reasoned Decision, so we can forgive any company in the bike industry—even one-time Armstrong sponsor Giro—for wanting to put a bit of daylight between them and doped pros.
Giro’s pitch was that the New Road line would be stuff you could go out and knock out a 60-mile ride in. Yeah, you might be able to do that and be comfortable, but what I wear when I’m out for a ride, a ride where the purpose of riding is actual riding, not one in which the riding is just meant as transportation to get me to an errand, well I’m okay with that continuing to be from man-made fibers. I don’t need that to change. I’ll add that my initial sense was that while the new Air Attack helmet has struggled to find acceptance with anyone, my only issue with the New Road line is that I think the pitch is a bit off.
This stuff is exactly what I’ve been looking for errand-running and riding with my son. When I took the family to Los Angeles’ most recent CicLAvia event, I rode a city bike and wore the New Road pieces. Same deal when I showed up for a mountain bike ride recently. I knew the friend I would be riding with wouldn’t be Lycra-clad, so I figured I might show up in somewhat similar garb. I must have looked okay because he didn’t say I looked like I’d lost my heavy metal band.
I’ve been wearing five different pieces from this collection and I can say with some conviction that had this stuff been available when I first started riding, I probably would never have graduated to polyester and Lycra. Here’s the thing: I was a pretty serious nonconformist. I played drums in a rock band that was part of the local music circuit. I was used to getting weird looks. However, cycling clothing was weird looking even to me.
Given my wardrobe in 1986, that’s really saying something.
Had the Giro New Road line been available, I’d have purchased this stuff instead. I wasn’t yet indoctrinated into roadiedom. Like I said, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but functional clothing sells itself. It’s likely I would have eventually graduated to traditional cycling clothing, if only for the simple reason that I found my way to bike racing and group rides. Certainly the distance between Points A, B and C would have been shorter if someone at a shop had taken me under a helpful wing, but I was in the sport for nearly three years before I found a club that would have me. Xenophobic much?
As I mentioned, I can’t say I’m with Giro on the idea that this could replace my traditional kit for training rides. I don’t need that to change. But cycling clothing that doesn’t look like cycling clothing is something my life really did need. I want to have clothing that will allow me to walk through a grocery store without people wondering if I’m lost or deranged. I want cycling clothing that does what cycling clothing does (keep me comfortable), so I can ride to the store, or with my son, or to a lunch appointment and not arrived shiny with sweat and wearing clothing that won’t dry out until well after I take it off.
It really comes down to a single, simple idea for me: Just keep me as comfortable as I’d be when riding my bike otherwise, and then I can ride my bike more.
Looking normal and feeling comfortable requires no selling.
In Part II, I’ll discuss my experience riding in these pieces.
Images courtesy Giro
The Giro was snowed out today, which suits Danilo Di Luca quite well, I’m sure. It has been a dramatic race, mostly due to the weather, but also because Vincenzo Nibali has shown himself to be head and shoulders above his peers around nearly every bend of Italian pavement.
In fact, Nibali was so good in the uphill time trial to Polsa that only Sammy Sanchez got within a minute of him. That means he was more than 2% faster than everyone else. I saw the gap, and I immediately thought, “there is no way,” which may just be where we are with pro cycling. I don’t have any reason to suspect Nibali specifically, but that’s a big gap in such an important race.
Subsequently, Vini Fantini-Selle Italia’s Di Luca got popped for EPO (EPO for christ’s sake!!!!!), and I thought, “hey, all the time I’ve spent not paying attention to the racing was time well not spent.” I am sadder about that than I sound here, mainly because I always shroud my sadness in sarcasm. It’s a family thing.
Padraig summed it all up well just the other day, but perhaps recent events suggest the moment he described is passing like so many moments before it in pro cycling. Is it about the racers? Is it about the teams? Vini Fantini DS Luca Scinto sure did sound sad and pathetic announcing Di Luca’s test result. Fool me twice, eh Luca?
This week’s Group Ride asks the simple question: How believable is pro cycling today? Use a scale from 1-10, with 10 being unimpeachable and 1 being pro wrestling. Where are we? Do wins like Tejay van Garderen’s last week do anything to shift the balance against the news of Di Luca’s positive test?
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
So last week the Wall Street Journal published a piece on the death of Lycra cycling clothing. As if the use of man-made fibers, clipless pedals and shaved legs was one elaborate fad. Or fraud. The Journal doesn’t mind wooing controversy, and this was one of those occasions. The piece, “Cycling’s Spandez Coup d’Etat,” is a piece of work I honestly would have thought was beneath the publication. Why? Well, it confuses correlation with causation in that there has been an increase of riders not wearing Lycra and Lance Armstrong has fallen from grace. However, Armstrong’s fall did not cause people to huck their Lycra in the trash can anymore than he caused the rise of the hipsters. Then there’s the fact that while the writer cites Rapha as one of the brands selling clothing that subscribes to this new ethos. Nevermind the fact that most of what Rapha sells is, uh, Lycra. Pesky details. Similarly, Giro’s New Road line is an intriguing take on what cycling clothing can be. But it hasn’t exactly achieved the sort of penetration that merits the suggestion that Lycra is on its way out. Ditto for Levi’s.
While Giro’s new line has taken some flack, it’s truly an innovative take on what cycling clothing can be. Will it replace my RKP kit? Um, no. Do I think I could find a place for it in my wardrobe? Absolutely. It’s the sort of stuff I could see me wearing for a coffee ride or for running a bunch of errands by bike, or when heading out for a ride with my son.
The reader relatively unfamiliar with cycling will probably miss the fact that the only magazine editor quoted—Mia Kohut of Momentum—works for a lovely but tiny publication well out of the mainstream of cycling. Why not talk to Bill Strickland or Peter Flax of Bicycling? Similarly, my friend Josh Horowitz of Broken Bones Bicycle Co. was quoted, rather than anyone from Trek, Specialized or Giant. Josh is a good guy and has a fun take on the bike biz, but if you want to talk to someone who is actually influencing the industry, you’d be well-served to talk to John Burke.
Let me be ultra-clear about this: Using the shallow end of the bell curve as a bellwether for a new norm is just shoddy journalism.
Did Armstrong’s fall make it less fashionable to wear Lycra cycling clothing? Well that begs the question of whether or not it was ever fashionable, to which I have to answer only maybe. There’s no doubt, though, that the water has receded from whatever high-water mark wearing cycling clothing reached in relative hipitude. But what reporter Kevin Helliker misses is the simple fact that for 90 percent of us, Armstrong was never the reason we wore Lycra. We wear it because it works. What would have served both cycling and the reader better is if he’d chased the real story, not the sensationalist BS of projecting the demise of Lycra (which he prefers to refer to as Spandex).
There is a real story here in how cycling’s numbers are growing, thanks almost entirely to the hipster fixie movement. And it is a movement; we can no longer call it a fad. I’ll admit that you’ll never find me riding a fixed-gear bike in traffic. Why? I want to survive a while yet. You’ll never find me wearing skinny jeans. Why? I’m not skinny. You’ll also never find me growing facial hair for ironic reasons. Why? I’m not funny enough.
That said, I dig anything that gets more of us—and by “us” I don’t mean the us of cyclists, but the us of homo sapiens—out there. And that’s really the bottom line: More cyclists is better for anyone who rides a bike. An increased presence means more facilities, greater awareness on the part of drivers (at least, the ones who aren’t drunk), and more cyclists mean more livable communities. So while Giro has taken some heat for their New Road line, I honestly welcome it. People will ride more and longer if they are comfortable. For new cyclists, the idea that the price of admission means looking like a shrink-wrapped pro bass fisherman is too high for most people who self-select as normal. What Giro is doing has the ability to gradually integrate less-casual cyclists into die-hards of the sport.
And while we’re on the subject of Giro taking heat, last week also saw the arrival of a new ad campaign by the folks who brought back the lace-up shoe. In response to criticisms that the new Air Attack helmet looks like a skateboard helmet, they went to a skatepark with a road bike, a photographer and, well, let’s call him an acrobat. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t think it does anything to further the stated mission of the helmet—improved aerodynamic performance while still protecting your head—but it shows that they have a sense of humor and can laugh at themselves. Far too many people and companies in the bike industry lack this ability, and while there’s no requirement that you need to laugh at yourself, Giro’s perspective is refreshing. This ability to sit back and look at something critically, objectively is at the heart of the New Road line of clothing. Little wonder that they are responsible for both.
I’ve yet to wear the new helmet, but I’ve been wearing a few of the New Road pieces, a Merino top and the bib shorts and baggy-ish outer short. The fit is good and it’s comfortable. How much more than that is necessary is up for discussion. I’ve had a fair number of friends who understood adventure and a good time, but they’d never ride a bike because in their minds putting on Lycra meant surrendering their manhood at the garage door. I wish stuff like this had been available 20 years ago. It would have made my job at bike shops more interesting, more successful. Had there been a middle ground clothing-wise, I think we could have turned more bike buyers into committed cyclists.
Ultimately, my willingness to welcome Giro’s New Road line, or Club Ride or any of the other forays into this territory comes back to a point I made earlier. Even if they never wear Lycra, more cyclists on the road is good for those of us who choose to wear it. We’re less “other” once we’re both cyclists. More cyclists means better awareness that we’re out there and more acceptance that we have a right to be out there.
Oh, man. When I brought up helmets last week, I had this sneaking suspicion it was a better conversation starter than the Giro d’Italia, though in years past I know we would have turned the Giro over and over like a favorite record. 50 comments later, I think we covered helmets pretty well.
In midweek, Padraig reviewed a new pair of gloves, and that got me thinking that gloves have that same sort of personal character that helmets do.
Truth be told, I prefer to ride without gloves, but years of doing so, while spending my days with my paws on a keyboard, have left the nerves that run from my arms into my mitts with less than optimal connectivity. Some days it doesn’t take very long for a familiar buzzing to creep from my palms up into my fingers.
So, I tend to keep a couple or three pairs of gel-palmed gloves in my steady rotation. The right glove can cradle my frayed nerves and dissipate enough vibration to keep me sensate all day long, over road and gravel, up singletrack and down powerline cut. The Giro Monaco long-fingered glove is a particular favorite, with just the right amount of pad.
Padding, breathability, seam-angle and height, materials, they all go into making a great glove, and of course durability is an issue, because we use our hands for everything.
This week’s Group Ride is about gloves. What do you wear and why? As it’s mostly warm most everywhere right now, let’s keep this to warmer weather gloves. The winter variety can be an entirely different beast with a whole other set of challenges.
If you had asked me, one year ago, which topic would garner more interest from RKP’s readers, the Giro d’Italia or the new Rapha Sky Kit, I’d have laid my lira on the Giro. Rapha’s general nattiness notwithstanding, it would have been hard for me to foresee the conversation-inspiring value of a single kit, especially as compared to a Grand Tour, a GRAND TOUR people!
But this is a different time. As Padraig noted the other day, pro cycling might be stuck in a sort of purgatory after the hell of the EPO-era. Many fans, myself included, feel far less passionately about the races than we once did. These are days when dedicated cyclists are retreating a bit into the deep pleasure of their own riding, including a renewed interest in the ephemera of the cycling life, the bikes, the stuff.
So, folks who want to talk about the Giro can step back to last week’s Group Ride. Please do. This week we’re going to talk about helmets.
I am in the market for a new noggin hugger myself, and I seem to be surrounded by riders in the same market. Helmets are a funny old thing to buy really. Very few people would say their helmet is fun. And of course, the helmet is one of the few cycling products you hope never to learn how well it works. That leaves fit, form and style as the chief criteria by which to evaluate.
Then we get into shape and ventilation, the form of the helmet, whether or not your sunglasses slot neatly into the holes in the front or tuck neatly into the back. This too is subjective and random. You have awful taste in sunglasses probably.
Finally there is style. There is no accounting for style. Have we discussed your sunglasses?
Here’s what I will tell you about my recent history with helmets. I wear a Giro Prolight. It’s light, like its name implies. It fits me well. I like it. There is a high likelihood, because I tend to be brand loyal, that I will get another Giro, probably the Aeon, but I am also somewhat suggestible.
This week’s Group Ride asks: What are you wearing? Do you like it? Why? What would you consider switching to? There are so many choices now, from the conventional to the esoteric. Has any of them saved your life? Let’s not get into the larger helmet debate. Let’s assume, for the sake of the discussion, that we need to wear helmets, and we just need to pick one. Thanks.
For four years running now, the annual spring convocation of cycling, the Sea Otter Classic, has enjoyed stellar weather as it draws crowds to the Monterey Peninsula. I’ve visited the event most years since 1997, and I can’t recall such an ongoing stretch of great weather as these last few years. For each of the four days of the event temperatures reached the mid to upper 70s and the skies stretched cloudless, showing the blue of a booby’s feet.
For the first five years I went to the event, I was there strictly to race. Most years, though, I’d find a window in which to wander the expo area. Back then, my wandering would take 30 minutes. If I gave myself an hour, I could see everything—twice. By comparison, even without doing one of the gran fondos on Saturday, I still don’t feel like I saw everyone or everything I had hoped to.
This year, I decided that during those windows in which I didn’t have a dedicated mission, I’d try wander the expo with fresh eyes and see what caught my attention. I’ve been hearing about Scott Montgomery’s (yes he of Cannondale and Scott fame) latest endeavor, called Club Ride. I’ve been noticing an increasing number of riders on the road in what has traditionally been considered mountain bike apparel. My takeaway is that as many people enter cycling many of them struggle to accept the idea of wearing Lycra, but have in some cases at least come around to the idea of technical wear for increased comfort.
Giro’s “New Road” line and Club Ride’s assortment are fresh takes on what technical wear can be. I don’t see myself doing a group ride in this stuff, but I would happily wear it for running errands on my bike and when going for a ride to the park with my son. If the next CicLAvia doesn’t conflict with my schedule (Which genius thought it would be a good idea to plan it for during the LA Times Festival of Books? But I digress.) I’d wear this sort of stuff for the outing.
Challenge has long made great tires, often for other manufacturers. Recently, they began a more concerted push to market their products here in the U.S. With the burgeoning acceptance of riding dirt roads on road bikes, even when ‘cross isn’t in season (Or is ‘cross always in season now?), the 32mm-wide Grifo XS made me lust for roads unpaved. Its stablemate, the 27mm-wide Paris Roubaix, looked like it would be at home on hard pack or the local group ride.
So if you’ve ever wanted to drink beer, go for a ride, burn calories and NOT get pulled over for a DUI, the brain trust at Sierra Nevada has the perfect solution. You pedal and drink while someone else does the steering. Somehow I think you could drink beer faster than you could burn it off, even with the aid of this contraption, but being wrong has rarely been as likely to be as fun.
I’ve been following the work of the folks at Alchemy Bicycles since before I first met any of the guys at NAHBS. I’ve seen their work improve and evolve to the point that I think it’s fair to say they are doing something fresh and new in carbon fiber. The bikes I saw at Sea Otter featured unidirectional carbon fiber cut in artful shapes to give the bikes an unusually artful look. I can say I’ve never seen any work like this anywhere else.
Even when they paint the bikes the paint lines are crisp and reflect a honed aesthetic.
The work on the top tube on this bike deserves to be shot in a photo studio to capture all the beauty and detail, but even outside, I was blown away with what I saw. It’s a refreshing departure to spraying the bike one solid color or wrapping the whole thing in 3k or 12k weave. While I still need to learn a lot more about their current work, I’m coming to the conclusion that they are doing some of the most advanced work in carbon fiber, at least on the appearance side, but maybe on the construction side as well.
I’m not your typical guy in that I don’t spend Saturdays and Sundays each fall watching football while consuming 6000 calories as I sit on a couch. However, I am still some variety of guy and that means I do have a thing for tools and tool boxes. The Topeak Mobile PrepStation is a mobile work station. It includes 40 professional-grade tools that fit into water jet-cut foam forms in three trays. The bottom bucket is good for larger spare parts and any additional tools you might need, while the top tray is great for sorting any small parts you may need to keep on hand, such as quick release springs. And while this $895 rig is really meant for mechanics working event support, in it I see the genius of being able to put away all your tools and then have the whole shebang roll into a corner. I’ve witnessed many a household where the more the bike stuff got put away the happier the real head of the household was.
This Ag2r Team-Edition Focus Izalco comes in SL and Pro versions. The SL is equipped with Campy Record EPS, an FSA cockpit and Fulcrum Racing Speed 50 carbon tubulars; at $9800, it ain’t cheap, but that’s a lot of bike for the money. The Pro is equipped with Campy Chorus, an FSA/Concept cockpit and Fulcrum WH-CEX 6.5 wheels. It retails for only $3800. Honestly, there’s not another bike company that delivers as much bike for the price, though Felt comes close. I can’t figure out why I’m not seeing more of these on the road.
Cervelo has just introduced a new P3. While I haven’t seen wind tunnel specs or anything like that, I’m told this bike is both UCI-legal and faster. The UCI-bit I could give a moth’s wings about, but faster, well that always makes my mouth water. Apparently, some Cervelo purists complained about the new seat tube shape, but from an industrial design standpoint, I think this bike is really gorgeous. That said, I can observe that the hydraulic brakes spec’d on that bike aren’t easy to work on. The version shown here with Dura-Ace mechanical and Mavic Cosmic Elites goes for $5400 and is already shipping.
I have this belief that when I have to pay to do an event, that’s my time. And if I’m on my time, I’m not obligated to do anything other than ride. It has happened that on a few occasions I have chosen to write about the experience afterward, but because I paid to be there, I wasn’t obligated. It doesn’t change what I might write, but it does affect the urgency I feel about getting a piece up, post haste. This year, the Sea Otter organizers declined to grant me an entry for either gran fondo, so I took the opportunity to do a reconnaissance ride of the cross country course with Brian Vaughn and Yuri Hauswald of GU. We pulled over at a couple of points for them to give riders tips less on how often to fuel than where they could fuel, given the challenge of the course. I’ve heard a lot of bright people talk about how to fuel for races and hard rides and these two guys offered fantastic strategic thinking on how to stay on the gas even while staying fueled. Given the way I’ve been riding, this was a good deal more fun than trying to drill it for hours. And I definitely learned a trick or two.
Of course, strategic thinking about how to be a good athlete got short-circuited every time this thing came by in the expo. If there was more fun being had by adults than this, it Ninja’d by me in sunlight bright enough to burn my scalp through hair. I did encounter some great skin-care products, but I didn’t see a conditioner with an SPF factor. Someone needs to get on that before next year.
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?