It’s 9pm on a Thursday night, and I’m shopping for a set of disc wheels. There’s not a bike shop open in the metro-Boston area, but that doesn’t matter anymore because any wheel maker worth their salt has a website that will tell me everything I need to know about each of their products including the price. I can either buy direct from the builder, or I can buy from any one of dozens of online distributors. If I was desperate for human interaction, as an absolute last resort, like if the zombie apocalypse happened and I was riding around looking for human survivors (and disc wheels) I could even wait for a bike shop to open, walk in and buy wheels there, assuming money was still even a thing.
OK. OK. OK. Simmer down.
It’s not the zombie apocalypse, and I actually love bike shops. I have a ton of friends who own and operate them, and I can’t go by one without wanting to go in, if only to hide from a marauding zombie horde. Despite all that, it seems very fashionable to hate on the LBS. Bike shop employees are surly and rude. They never have the part you need, and anyway you can get whatever you want cheaper on line, and cheaper is better. Always.
Everybody knows that bike shop employees are surly and rude because they’re young, iconoclastic or underpaid, sometimes all three. And we want them to be that way, because that’s what gives cycling its edge…even if it makes buying a WiFli derailleur and a handful of Gu’s a little more painful.
Also, they don’t have the part you need because of the proliferation of parts and their haphazard distribution. The cost of a functional shop inventory has gone through the roof over the last decade, and the manufacturers have all shifted a large part of the risk burden for their own sales forecasting onto the shops with large minimum orders and the lure of increased margin.
And the reason you can get it cheaper online is because simultaneously the manufacturers don’t manage their distributors well enough, with parts finding their way to giant, international etailers only too happy to ship into domestic markets otherwise protected by dealer agreements. Oh, and etailers don’t have to pay retail rents.
Within the industry there is a palpable and growing tension between e-tailers and their bricks-and-mortar competitors. How many times have I heard the story about the customer who spent two hours in the shop going over a parts spec for a new bike, only to go home and buy it all online. How many times have I heard about riders eager to show up for shop-sponsored rides, but unwilling to so much as buy lubes and tubes from their hosts?
A lot. A lot of times.
This week’s Group Ride asks, do you shop at your LBS or online, or some combination thereof? And if you don’t do business locally, why not? Do you worry about the disappearance of the LBS? Or the big-boxing of cycling retail? Or do you consider yourself an expert, beyond the level of the snarky sales clerk, fully independent and only in need of product to sustain your cycling lifestyle?
GU Brand Ambassador Yuri Hauswald got me an update on how Brian Vaughn is doing at the Colorado Trail Race. He rolled in to Copper Mountain Sunday afternoon around 2:30. This was some 17 sleepless hours after leaving Leadville. Over those same 17 hours, Yuri says it rained the entire time. The upshot here is that Brian, at eight days in was two days past what he thought would be required to finish the event and with more than a full day of riding remaining, has called it a day, so to speak.
Somewhere between Leadville and Searle Pass outside of Copper Mountain, Brian encountered a very steep and rocky ascent that, when combined with rain, was simply to difficult to climb on the bike and turned into a marathon hike-a-bike in the darkness. He caught himself falling asleep on his handlebar even as he pushed his bike uphill. The plan had been to bivvy at some point during the night so that he could recharge some, and while the rain was a nuisance, the real problem he faced was that the terrain was so steep he couldn’t find a suitable (safe) spot on which to lie down. So he kept hiking. No imagine doing that, doing 17 hours, doing a hike in mountain bike shoes, doing it all in rain gear. The mind reels.
A good piece of this story is the coordination that went on behind the scenes just to make sure that Yuri was able to intercept Brian for photos and updates. Brian began calling it their “Spider Senses” after Spider Man. They weren’t far into the event when Yuri arrived in one town only 40 minutes ahead of Brian. At Marshall Pass he pulled up in a parking lot in town and a mere 10 minutes later Brian pulled up to the Honda Element. At Cottonwood Canyon, their arrivals were so close you’d think they had synchronized watches. Because of Yuri’s desire to intercept Brian as often as possible, there were only three nights Yuri was able to secure a motel room for sleep. So he was catching most of his Zs in the back of the rented Element. One morning he woke, saw Brian’s bike next to the Element but had to walk over to a bunch of sage to find him bedded down in his mummy bag. The Spider Senses were more important than city dwellers like me might recognize at first. Yuri reports that once he was more than a few miles outside of town he would lose cell reception, so coordination was the province of maps and right-brained math. At junctions, had he been late, there would have been no real way to tell.
On one occasion, Yuri took a wrong turn off Hwy 114 in the Grand Mesa-Umcompahgre-Gunnison National Forest and got lost, and when your entire presence is predicated on a photo or two, a high-five and a hug, missing even that would feel disastrous.
I need to pause to recognize the winner of this thing, Jefe Branham. Whatever you may think you know about tough, I suspect this guy could redefine it for you. Branham, who lives in Gunnison, Colo., won the thing in a bit more than four days. He covered a whopping 562 miles in 4:04:35, giving him an average of 134 miles covered per day. How’d he do it? By stopping a bit more than two hours per day. That suggests really brief refueling stops, iodine tablets and just an hour of sleep per day. In case you’re wondering, Branham won the event last year and was third in 2011. Adding to the drama of Branham’s performance was Jesse Jakomait’s second-place finish, which came roughly 45 minutes after Branham. The two swapped the lead a few times, making for what would have been a thrilling visual event, if only there’d been video crews strewn all over the Colorado High Country.
Brian said he was surprised by how changeable the trail could be, even within a single mile. It could go from sandy to rocky to every singletrack rider’s dream, that particular form of dirt like pressed brown sugar that is at once reasonably fast but offers traction like bubblegum on a shoe. The overwhelming refrain is that the trail was far more difficult in the riding than expected. Apparently, there were few sections that were what you’d call easy, or at least nontechnical, and it’s fair to imagine that a steady diet of difficult will carry consequences.
I’m hoping I’ll be able to talk with Brian a bit in the next day or two and can bring you some direct quotes. For now, it sounds like he’s focusing on sleep. I don’t know if he permits himself beer, but I’d venture that he’s earned at least one.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, “So Cool, So Psycho,” Brian Vaughn, the Chief Endurance Officer of GU is undertaking the Colorado Trail Race. This event sounds so positively unhinged that when Brian told me about it I, a guy in no position to require anything of anyone at GU, demanded updates whenever feasible. Yuri Hauswald just sent me the shot above, which he snapped at a post office where Brian was retrieving a pre-arranged mail-drop.
Something I left out of yesterday’s post is the live tracker that will allow you to follow all the crazy action. It can be found here.
Strictly speaking, this endeavor isn’t the typical sort of editorial we serve up on RKP. Maybe it’s because I find Brian fascinating, or maybe it’s because I’ve been thinking a lot about bike touring lately (and missing it a bit more than I might ordinarily due to kids at home), but I’ve wanted to follow this trip through Yuri and try to see it through the eyes of someone there. Lord knows I wouldn’t actually want to do this particular assault on one’s own body.
I got a few text messages and images from Yuri a short while ago. Apparently, things aren’t exactly stellar for Brian. As reader Jason noted in the comments on yesterday’s post, Brian went off-course, and ended up descending into Silverton on the road. He says the trail has been much tougher than expected and Brian is making progress at something like half the rate he expected. These first two days may have been difficult, but the next two days, which will have sustained episodes above 13,000 feet are to be a good deal harder.
After my brief experience at 9700 feet, I really can’t imagine trying to pedal a heavier-than-usual bike up singletrack climbs at elevations north of 12,000 feet. At least, not if I hadn’t been living in Boulder or something similar. But Brian, like me, lives at sea level. The obvious answer, EPO, has something of a bad rap around these parts, doesn’t it? I don’t think it fits within his moral compass to employ. Similarly, I’m betting that he decided to forego vasodilators.
Hopefully we can get some pictures of the sweet singletrack, even if it’s not with Brian in action on it.
Every now and then you encounter the perfect intersection between athlete and event. Consider Eddy Merckx and his seven victories at Milan-San Remo. The guy could climb like a squirrel up a tree; he could descend like a hawk diving at prey and he could sprint like there was a lion behind him. You might say he was made for that race.
Last year when I met Brian Vaughn, the CEO (Chief Endurance Officer) at GU, he stuck me as a fresh expression of the human potential movement. Instead of being some grandfatherly psychologist hunched over a lectern announcing pithy sayings to convince you that you are the only thing standing between you and your greatness, Brian, I could tell, saw things a little differently. He might say it differently, might pitch it differently, but to my eye, he sees athletes and goals and what stands between most athletes and their goals is optimal event nutrition.
He speaks of athletes unlocking their true potential, of setting records, of plumbing new depths within themselves.
And in a world where we value those who “walk the walk,” Brian is all-in. He’s lean like I wish I was, gentle like my stepfather was, and there’s a glint in his eye that tells me he’s got a sense of fun as adaptable as a child’s. I don’t just dig him, I’d like to spend more time with him.
But that won’t happen this week. As I write this, Brian is six hours into the Colorado Trail Race. It’s a mountain bike race. Straightforward, right? It’s a race from Durango to Denver? Straightforward, right? It’s a mountain bike race from Durango to Denver. Crazy, right? The course is—you guessed it—the Colorado Trail.
The event is like RAAM in that when the starter’s pistol went off this morning at 4:00 am in Durango, it was on. But it’s not like RAAM because there’s no crew. There’s also no entry fee, no registration and no support whatsoever. It’s you and your wits. It’s what you bring, what you stop to source and what you leave the trail to buy. All you have to do is ride 485 miles with about 70,000 feet of climbing over roughly 300 miles of it is singletrack. Insane.
Brian’s goal is six days, I’m told. Clearly, he’s not going to do the whole thing on GU—gels or chomps—but what strikes me is that the question is less the what than the how. He can leave the trail and roll into a town for a meal at a restaurant and a hotel room. Or he can eat bark and sleep in a bivy shelter. His call. I don’t know much of his plans, but GU’s brand ambassador, Yuri Hauswald, is going to be shadowing him in an attempt to document some of this crazy adventure. I’m hoping we can get an update or two on how this goes to make for some more reading for you all. Yuri can tell a compelling story; I just don’t know how he will find Brian, or if he will even find him.
And if you’re thinking he’s got this wired, let me share with you a little tidbit from NICA Executive Director Austin McInerny: “I suggested to him maybe he should bring a whole first aid kit.”
Let me be clear. Such an event would be a nightmare for me personally. It doesn’t sound like fun for me. But I’m fascinated by the possibilities for someone who looks at this event and thinks, “Ooh! Fun.!”
Check out the site for the Colorado Trail Race here. Brian might be hard to find; Yuri’s updates (f we get any) less so.
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.
I’m not sure when it finally happened, but sometime in the last 18 months, maybe less, I ate my last PowerBar. It wasn’t a conscious decision; I just stopped buying them and at some point ate the last of my stock. Gradually, over several trips to the store, I realized that I just couldn’t stomach the idea of eating another ounce of the textural equivalent to edible Play-Doh.
The only significant detail in this anecdote is that I seem to have lasted longer than most. A few weeks ago I asked around just to see who among my friends were still eating PowerBars and I couldn’t find a single devotee. Everyone I spoke to said it was a product that was part of their past, kinda like 8-speed drivetrains.
I have to admit, I spent the better part of 10 years with my head more or less down to new nutrition products. Most of what I ate and drank was confined to Clif Bars, the aforementioned PowerBars and Gatorade. The reasons were simple: All three products were/are readily available, are reasonably inexpensive as energy foods go and, not insignificantly, due to my familiarity with them, they were pretty easy to digest. This season that changed. Part of the change was a search for new options as my local Trader Joe’s carried fewer and fewer varieties of Clif Bar, and part of the change was the fact that any number of nutrition companies embraced RKP as never before, and sent me samples of products I’d never tried, some I’d never even thought to try.
The exception to this was the gradual trickle into my diet that gels made. Four or five years ago I noticed that during ultra-intense rides/events and at altitude I was having trouble digesting bars, particularly Clif Bars, so I began purchasing gels more frequently.
The upshot is that I’ve learned two things: 1) I’ve heard from a number of friends that as they have aged, their stomachs are a bit pickier about what they can eat during a really hard ride. 2) Whether you want to stick with rapidly digestible gels and chews or want something that has the taste and texture of actual food, the bike world is full of options now. The incredible diversity of options—and but a few are shown above—is a striking departure from where things were just over 20 years ago when your choices were either chocolate or malt-nut PowerBars.
The folks at Honey Stinger would love it for me to review their products. I’m not sure there’s much to actually review. I love their chews, especially the Lime flavor and while I like their waffles, they don’t travel well. For me the real point to the post is to note that we have so many more options available to us. Dude, I can remember walking into convenience stores and choosing between Pop Tarts and Little Debbie snack cakes. We’ve come a long way.
Further to my reluctance to engage in a review of products, there’s a lot of competing formulations out there. I’m not well-enough-versed in the science to make any determination about whose blend works best. I can say that when it comes to gels, the two that provide the best kick for me are Gu Roctane and Accelerade. My favorite chews are Clif’s Shot Bloks, but that has a bit to do with the packaging; they are simply easier to remove from the wrapper as I ride.
What’s most significant for me within the energy food market are lightning rods behind Clif and Gu, Gary Erickson and Brian Vaughn, respectively. To the degree that there’s a real story to chase in the future, it would be going for a ride with these guys. An interesting aside, both companies are based in the original earthy-crunchy Mecca—the Bay Area. Erickson of Clif has chased an ever more natural, more organic approach, while still offering cutting-edge calorie uptake options like the Clif Shots and Shot Bloks. Vaughn has chased a slightly different direction, pursuing what strikes me as an ultimate human performance approach. Nothing seems to make this guy happier than seeing someone like sponsored athlete Rebecca Rusch break a record at Leadville.
There’s something about True Believers, capital T, capital B, that I really dig. I don’t doubt that PowerBar employs folks who swear by their product, but Erickson and Vaughn seem to epitomize the very athletic lifestyle their products cater to. Objective correlative: Last year at the Sea Otter Classic gran fondo I rode much of the day with Erickson. I noticed three tubes of Shot Bloks protruding from his left pocket. The tops of the plastic on all three tubes had been cleanly snipped away with scissors—ready to go.
So this week’s question is a simple one: what are you eating on the bike these days? We’ll even take it a bit further: Have you sworn off any particular energy foods? And, is there anything that makes you think twice before experimenting?
Some months back I was at the top of a significant climb, sucking cool air during bites of a PowerBar. Not some variety of energy-type bar, but an actual PowerBar. A friend looked at me with the raised eyebrows generally accompanied by a statement of incredulity—Really? You didn’t? You’re kidding? No effing way.
“You still eat PowerBars?”
There was little I could say other than, “Yeah.” After all, said PowerBar was in my mouth and I was chewing and there were no guns at my head. I eat them. By choice.
He followed his question—which was, of course, entirely rhetorical—with, “I can’t do those things anymore. I have trouble even eating Clif Bars. I’ve eaten so many of them over the years, I need real food.”
I still eat them both. I still like them both. And while it seems to be in vogue to dis products that seems more like Play-Doh than your average frozen entree, I can attest to the fact that in one cupboard of my kitchen there’s an entire shelf devoted to Clif Bars, PowerBars, Clif Shots, Clif Bloks, Gus and PowerBar Gels. At this point in my life I’ve been eating PowerBars for almost 22 years. I actually miss the taste of the old Malt Nut flavor. Don’t get me started about how many discontinued flavors of Clif Bar I’d buy by the case if I could get them.
You’d think after nearly two dozen years of eating factory food I’d be as done with that stuff as my friend. On the contrary. I have dialed their use down to the same sort of science with which they are made. I know what I can eat within an hour of starting a ride. I know what I can eat on the bike. I know what I respond to quickest and what can cause stomach upset.
A ham sandwich mid-way through a gran fondo? Are you kidding? That gut-bomb will keep me from hitting anything approximating threshold for the next hour, maybe more.
But there’s more to this stuff than just what works on the bike. When I travel, I always take some Clif Bars along with me. Given the varieties of junk food I’m apt to encounter at gas stations and in airports, a Clif Bar gives me four really helpful items:
- It keeps the calories and fat manageable
- It gives me some protein that would never be found in junk food
- It gives me something tasty to shut my stomach up
- It is indestructible; put another way, it travels way better than fruit
Is a Clif Bar or its like an adequate substitute for a real meal? Of course not. It’s not meant to be. I use them as a great way to avoid a really bad choice, like the chocolate chip cookies or whatever catches my eye in a gas station. Save me from the Pop Tarts! Please!
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked in the door following a ride and been too shattered to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; instead, I’ve wolfed down some bar, grabbed a quick shower and then staggered back to the kitchen for a real meal.
I’ll admit that there are some bars out there even I can’t stomach. Some of the high-protein bars can stop my intestinal traffic like Manhattan gridlock. I don’t need protein that much.
I love that there are people out there thinking about good nutrition solutions to less than ideal situations. That said, I wish Trader Joe’s carried more of the many flavors of Clif Bar than they do. From time to time I’ll find myself walking into a grocery store and noticing a flavor I haven’t seen a while. If they are 99 cents or less, I might stock up like I’m preparing for the Big One.
Still, I don’t think the innovators behind these many products thought of them as a way to short-circuit a short-circuit. But for me, that may be their greatest value. Reaching for an energy bar as I’m driving through California’s San Joaquin Valley frees me of the guilt I’d feel from munching a Moon Pie.
So if you’re sitting behind me in the movie theater and you wonder what the sound of that wrapper is, if I’ve been a good boy, it’s a Clif Bar instead of peanut M&Ms.