There is a long bike path at the bottom of the hill I live on. It serves as a sort of summer super-highway for the recreationally inclined. Joggers. Strollers. Roller bladers. Cyclists. They’re all there.
Yesterday, I took the day off and went for a ride with my wife. We dropped the kids off at school and then flew down the hill, jumped on the bike path and headed west.
Almost immediately, we encountered a pair of women on a tandem, rolling along, enjoying the beautiful weather.
I hate tandems. To me, tandems represent the opposite of what I love about cycling, the independence. Who would want to have someone else doing the steering? Ugh. I can’t even imagine it.
My wife, having listened to me express this opinion before, just smiled and said, “But aren’t you glad they’re out on a bike?” And of course the answer is yes. I fully support and encourage cycling, even when it doesn’t match up with my vision of cycling.
A guy on a recumbent rolled past going the other way. OMG. He could barely hold his line. I often wonder if they actually ask to see your engineering degree when they sell you one of those things. And they’re expensive. Don’t get me started on the slack chain lines and the dopey flags bobbing behind them.
I also dislike hybrids, mixte frames and high end Italian road frames that have been “converted” to fixed gear. I also don’t much care for cantilever brakes, time trials or criteriums (criteria?).
Again though, these are just my prejudices, my petty judgments. They don’t mean anything about cycling or the people who embody them. All good people. All good cyclists. They just expose me for the judgmental, closed-minded zealot I can be when I am taking myself too seriously, which is almost always.
This week’s Group Ride is about prejudices. What are yours? And why do you hold onto them? What, if any, value do they have, and what do they mean about you?
A year ago, I was as against race radios in the pro peloton as a French television executive. To me, the saddest moment in any race is that moment, within sight of the finish line, when the poor bastards who have been fighting into the wind all day long, their jerseys unzipped to the waist, salt caking at the corners of the their mouths, get swallowed up by the chasing horde, a pack of cackling hyenas who have spent the previous hours calculating with their director the exact amount of effort it might take to ruin the breakaway’s day.
It is not by any particular guile that this moment is effected. It is merely a matter of having your DS tell you what the time gap is and then ratcheting up the speed on your on-board cyclocomputer to the exact number which will cause the train from Clarksville to overtake the train from Cityville. It’s a math problem more than a race.
And yet, even without radios and computers, this is a fairly standard scene in bike racing. It is the cruelty of the catch, which makes the joy of the successful breakaway such honey-sweet nectar. How much effect the radio has on these outcomes is the subject of no small debate.
Regardless, this week UCI president Pat McQuaid made it entirely clear that the international governing body would press forward with a plan to phase out radios, the latest bout of brinksmanship in a conflict with the team’s union, the AIGCP, who wish the retain the use of the ear piece in all pro races. The AIGCP represents of the Pro and ProContinental Teams, not, just to be clear, the riders themselves.
And now I must confess that, having read a fairly compelling missive on the subject from AIGCP head Jonathan Vaughters, as well as a passionate defense of the technology by Jens Voigt, I find myself in a much more ambivalent place as regards radios.
I have not fully abandoned the notion that races would be better without them, but nor do I feel best qualified to tell the riders what will or won’t make them more safe. They don’t ride down to my office and throw things at me while I type, why should I, in my capacity as a fan, deign to tell them the best way to do their jobs? It is less about whether or not radios have a place in cycling than it is about how those decisions get made. Who makes them? Who has a voice and who doesn’t?
This week’s Group Ride asks the question: Given recent developments in the debate over race radios, are you for or against, and why?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Enough, enough, enough of all this doping-related blather. Just because the Tour of Qatar is as entertaining as watching someone do their taxes, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be spending this time chatting anxiously about the coming season, rather than sticking pins in our Pat McQuaid voodoo dolls or trying to understand how the body takes in and stores dime store stimulants.
There is actually a racing season coming.
And, as it does every year, the landscape has shifted. Whether it’s the renaming of Team SaxoBank to Team Leopard – Trek (What? They’re not the same team?), or the merger of Cervelo with Garmin, the talent has been thrown up in the air like a deck of cards and then quickly reshuffled. How will it all play out?
Will Taylor Phinney’s move to BMC put them on more podiums? Will Tejay VanGarderen improve on last season’s promise? What of Jack Bobridge, the new owner of the world individual pursuit record? Will Radio Shack, the de facto retirement home for aging racers, have more to offer than they did last year, in Lance’s swan (dive) song?
Can Tyler Farrar help Thor Hushovd pour glory on the rainbow stripes, and can Hushovd help Farrar best Mark Cavendish? Can they even coexist? Will Andrei Greipel rise up to compete at the very top of the sprint pile? Can Phillipe Gilbert win big in the Spring? What does Fabian Cancellara do for an encore after complete lighting up 2010? Will Tom Boonen come back to the form from his early career?
So many questions. This week’s Group Ride tries to keep it simple: What is the most interesting unanswered question for the 2011 season?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
I often have friends and co-workers approach me for advice on buying a new bicycle. This is a little bit like approaching Buzz Aldrin for advice on space travel. So much of what I say to them makes no sense, because our contexts are starkly different. I come from Planet Bicycle. They come from Planet Earth.
Once I’m done issuing forth with a quick discursive on componentry and frame materials, which sounds to them like, “bloop, blorg, bleep,” I end up saying what I really believe, which is, “You should buy the bike that you think looks the best.” The truth, in my opinion, is that for non-bicycle people, most bikes are just the same. This is certainly true at the lower price points they are usually considering. The materials and components on offer are so similar that choosing among them becomes awfully difficult unless you’re willing to abandon yourself to aesthetics.
It might seem as though I don’t take their requests very seriously, but quite to the contrary, what I really, really wish for is to convert this unsuspecting earthling into a bike person. I want them to fall in love with their bike and with cycling, and become one of us.
And like any love, it starts with attraction. The paint is as crucial as the cranks. Believe it.
And so this week’s Group Ride is about the bikes that we think look best. I’ve posted some of my favorites here. What are yours?
Woodsmoke is one of my favorite aromas. Its first charry scents on the breeze signal the advent of winter. It also takes me back to the camping trip on which I met my wife, but that’s a different topic.
Pine is another scent I quite like. It’s that Christmas tree smell. Some people get it from the paper air freshener dandling from their rear view mirrors, others get it by dragging a freshly cut tree through their front door in advance of the holiday.
Fresh coffee puts off a nice bouquet. And while it’s a fragrance I appreciate year round, is it ever really better than on a cold morning, when the brew’s stimulative properties are enhanced by the warmth it imparts to your hands?
Of course, my dog smells bad, as dogs are wont to do, but I bury my nose in his neck anyway. It’s a stink I love. I’ll not list the stinks he loves.
Down in the garage, citrus degreaser mingles with lubricant to create a perfume I think of as “bike.” It clings to my tools and tool box, to the floor around my work stand, to the work stand, to the drive trains of all my bicycles. It’s a heady aroma that fairly suffuses the air down in my private bike shop. It’s a smell, to me, like grandma’s cookies, one that says ‘home.’
This week’s Group Ride is about smells. What are your favorite cycling smells? Where do you find them? Why do you like them? What do they say to you?
Papa needs a brand new bag. I mean that literally. I need a new commuter bag. I have three or four jammed into the front hall closet, but none of them is answering my needs quite the way I would like.
I have a North Face day pack. It’s small, and it makes my back sweaty, and I have packed it full of climbing shoes and chalk bags and tape and harness and all that other stuff that makes it not usable for bicycle commuting, but pretty good for quick rock climbing trips.
I have a small messenger style bag made from used sail cloth and salvaged inner tubes made by Teamwork Bags. I stenciled an image of Fausto Coppi on its pristine white surface, and it’s very stylish, but also very small, and not entirely water proof, and it just won’t do for wintertime transit.
I have a medium-sized courier bag from Chrome, the Metropolis, which is capacious and durable, but not that comfortable. I am a fan, generally, of the courier bag, because it allows me to access storage while in the saddle, but the one-shouldered burden begins to wear me down and the cross strap constricts my breathing (when tight enough to secure the load), which makes climbing difficult. We have a love/hate relationship, like Oprah and cake.
There have been other bags of course, either handed down to nephews (my original courier bag), or given away to a friend (a Pearl Izumi, purpose built courier backpack), but none of them has been so overwhelmingly awesome that I’d buy a replacement.
This week’s Group Ride asks the questions: What bag do you ride with? Do you love it? What do you love about it? Why did you buy it? What could be better about it? What would you buy right now, if you were buying a bag?
I am hoping that your valuable input will guide my search and Santa’s sleigh. Most of my riding, since the arrival of those two irascible little demons I call my sons, is commuting and/or errands. I carry a bag on the bike so often that when I don’t, I feel a bit naked. So this is an important question.
My current thinking is a largish, waterproof backpack, but I am swayable. I defer, mostly, to your wisdom. The only thing I will not consider is panniers. I just don’t like the way they feel (or look). BUT…if you’re a pannier-devotee, I want to hear about that too. Tell us why.
I really hope that Bryan Nygaard, Kim Andersen and the Schleck Brothers just never announce a sponsor for their new team, so that we can go on calling it The Luxembourg Project indefinitely. Projects are neat. Think of some of history’s great projects, the Hoover Dam, the Pyramids at Giza, the Alan Parsons.
Calling themselves The Luxembourg Project also leaves open all sorts of options for businesses other than a pro-racing team. They could open a chain of restaurants specializing in Luxembourgish food. They could start a hip-hop record label featuring only Luxembourgish MCs. The sky is the limit, no pun intended.
And so now, as they complete their takeover of Bjarne Riis’ Saxo roster, and add various and sundry others to their squad, the time has come to ask a slightly more serious question about the team with no name, namely (see what I did there?) what are their goals? What are they after that they needed to leave the icy flatlands of Denmark for the rainy, cold flatlands of Luxembourg?
They’ll have the Schlecks to sprinkle over the three Grand Tour podiums, and presumably they’ll have Fabian Cancellara to break Tom Boonen’s spirit wherever the indomitable Swiss chooses to ride against the…um, domitable Belgian. They’ve also got Jakob Fuglsang, Stuart O’Grady, Jens Voigt and Dominic Klemme (also Saxo), Linus Gerdemann and Fabian Wegman (Milram), the Italian sprinter Daniele Bennati (Liquigas-Doimo), Brice Feillu (Vacansoleil), Maxime Monfort (HTC-Columbia), Joost Posthuma (Rabobank) and Robert Wagner (Skil-Shimano).
They’re stacked. They are the Pamela Anderson of pro cycling.
So this week’s Group Ride is: What will constitute success for TLP? Do they have to win a grand tour? Do they need to win more than one classic? Will it be enough to simply accumulate a number of wins equal to those of all their riders’ wins from last season? Or do they just have to win more than Team Sky did in its inaugural season?
What will it take?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Fausto Coppi had a big schnoz. I like to think it helped him cut through the wind. His hair was notoriously neat, Brylcreemed left and right, with a razor sharp part. No wind would take purchase there. He had a strange barrel chest that housed steam engine lungs, a narrow, almost feminine waist, and a pair of bird legs you would hardly believe could generate the power that made Coppi ‘il campionissimo,’ nearly untouchable on the road between 1949 and 1952, and the unquestioned top cyclist on this big blue marble in many of the preceding and successive years as well.
If one were to take the palmares of the top five or six riders in history and set them side-by-side, it would be hard not to conclude that Eddy Merckx is number one. In this exercise, Coppi would drift down the standings somwhere between Hinault and Anquetil. But this is the stuff of paper and statistics and apples and oranges and oddly colored fish on impossible bicycles. It’s nonsense.
Coppi won the Giro d’ Italia in 1940 and set the Hour Record in ’42. He then went off to war in North Africa where he was taken prisoner and lived in a POW camp. He didn’t race again, properly, until ’46, three seasons later. That year he won Milan – San Remo, the Giro di Lombardia, the Grand Prix des Nations, the Giro della Romagna and three stages of the Giro d’Italia. He won the overall again in ’47. Thereafter, he won everything in front of him, Spring Classics, Grand Tours, a World Championship. He was a climber of legendary ability, his signature move being to attack on a hard climb, distance the field and finish minutes before the next rider, alone, as they say, in photo.
It is difficult to separate Coppi from the history of Italy at that time or, for that matter, from the history of professional bicycling. While he, along with great rival Gino Bartali, gave Italians something to cheer about in the bleak post-war years, he also revolutionized bike racing, developing new standards for nutrition, rest, recovery, and preparation. He was a great contributor to modern team tactics at a time when the Grand Tours were just beginning to embrace the notion of competing teams rather than individual cyclists.
I would argue that, given back those three seasons during WWII, and without the toll of disease and ill-nutrition that POW camps and wartime rationing imposed on him, he would have set a standard that Merckx would have strained to see, even from his lofty perch.
For these reasons and many others, Coppi is my favorite cyclist of all time. Though I never saw him race, perhaps even BECAUSE I never saw him race, Coppi represents the absolute apex of what it means to be a PRO cyclist. He is a man who really did transcend himself, both athletically and culturally. With Coppi there are myths and legends, because we don’t always have the concrete language to describe the things he achieved.
I could go on and on, but you’ve read all this before by other people’s hands.
This week’s Group Ride seeks to leave behind the troubling times of our current top cyclists and would-be legends. What we want to know is: Who is your favorite cyclist of all time, and why?
Rhapsodize, my friends. Wax poetic.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
The hill leading to my house is not that long, but it features a couple of steep ramps, no matter which direction you come from. I know, because I have tried coming from virtually every direction in a vain attempt to avoid having to climb them.
The nice part is that you can put together almost any kind of climb you want if you know which way to go. One approach is well-paved and fairly gradual. Another is brutally steep, but short. There is one way to go that keeps you off the super steep until the very end, but some of the access to it is paved in a fashion similar to the Arenberg Forest. I go that way when I want to pretend I’m riding a Belgian Classic.
Each route I’ve chosen affords a different profile. There are some that are roll-y, up and down. There are some that give you good flats to rest in, in between lung-busting pushes skyward. And there are some that manage to be both long-ish and steep-ish in a way that makes me want to cry blood.
As I was churning away at my smallest gear last night (and I’ll not disclose that gear’s ratio in order to preserve the illusion that I am not a complete waste of saddle space), I was wondering which is better, a climb you know intimately or an ascent you’ve never seen before.
The familiar climb is nice, because you know how to pace yourself. You know when to rest and when to push. You know when you’re nearing the top and can access that little bit of pre-relief that’s just around the next bend. At the end, you can assess your form, because you can compare it to past ascents.
On the other hand, the familiar climb can be a killer, because you know exactly how much further you’ve got to go. You can judge your lack of form because you know it ought to hurt less than it already does. You know all the potholes and asphalt scars, all the odd, roadside trees, so there’s not much to distract from gravity’s brutal crush.
A climb you’ve never seen before can be terrifying. You feel good at the bottom, but how long will that go on? Will it get harder? Will you have pumped yourself out before the hard part? Can it get harder than it already is? For a brain already fighting with oxygen debt, legs already filling with acid, the unknowns can cause a lot of unhelpful anxiety. A strange hill is like a bogeyman, stuck behind a tree, waiting to knock you out of the pedals.
On the other hand, sometimes I climb best when I have no idea what’s coming. On the most brutal steeps I’ve ventured, it is almost always the case that my mind has been more settled, that I’ve been more in the moment, and thus more in the pedals, than I would be if I knew what misery awaited me. I have done things I’d have thought not possible through simple, blissful ignorance.
So this week’s Group Ride is about climbing. Which do you think is better, the old familiar or the surprise left hook? Would you rather know what’s coming or just deal with it when it comes?
As Padraig prepares to board a flight for Fantasy Island, where Mr.Roarke and Tattoo will set him up on a dream bike and point him at the sorts of Alpen cols that spend most of their time being mailed around as postcards, the Group Ride turns its attention to the world’s great rides and wonders where YOU would most like to Tour.
To me, the Cairo to Cape Town ride documented in this film is awfully appealing. In my mind ‘adventure’ is usually found very near the intersection of fun and misery.
One of my neighbors is working on a project with his kids where they ride every inch of every street in our town, documenting it on a map as they go. They’ve been riding for four years and have about ten percent of it done. On the flip side, this fellow rode his bicycle from Sweden to Nepal, and then climbed Mt Everest without oxygen or Sherpa support.
Everyone has their own idea of adventure, and hardcore fans, such as ourselves (because let’s be honest, if you’re not a hardcore cycling fan, you’re probably not reading RKP), often dream of taking in the same climbs as our heroes, the Tourmalet, Aubisque, Zoncolan, Mortirolo, Ventoux, Galibier, Izoard, Marie Blanque, Blockhaus, Peyresourde, Alpe de Huez, Portet de Aspet, Superbagnéres, Stelvio, Gavia, and on and on and on. There is a not small industry of tour operators who cater to the desires of freaks, such as ourselves, who wish to spend their holidays slowly draining every last bit of energy they’ve got across an inert and oblivious mountain range.
So do tell us. Where do you dream of riding? Or, what tours have you taken that shifted your paradigm, blew your mind and rearranged your auntie’s quilt collection? Speak to us of hill and dale. Spin us yarns of legendary ascents and the drops on the other side, the ones that left you bowel-clenched and shaking, but ultimately satisfied that you’d done something special.