The years went by, I kept riding my bike, but I still have no hoverboard. Corporations: If the hoverboard is real, please don’t release it. I have kids now, I understand.
Over the years, I’ve followed a number of the technological advances that were supposed to be just around the corner for bikes that excited me almost as much. One of the biggies was electronic shifting. Electronic shifting, from Mavic, really never felt like it was going to take off. Finicky, prone to malfunctions, expensive—when it worked, it was great. When it didn’t, it was a mess. I figured electronic shifting would never hit the mainstream.
Then Shimano Di2 came out. Campagnolo EPS, 10 plus years in the making, was available. With the release of Ultegra Di2, its safe to say electronic shifting has left the realm of just around the corner, and hit mainstream. Sometimes, the advances we think will never come really do become reality.
The other big item I’ve been waiting for is disc brakes on road bikes. You’d think, being a well understood technology, we’d have them by now. With them now legal for cyclocross, it may just be a matter of time—mechanical discs are already making inroads, and while solutions for using hydraulics are a little hokey now, we’ll probably see something available sooner or later. If I keep saying any day now, sooner or later I’ll be right.
One thing I never saw coming was hydraulic rim brakes. I’m trying to decide if they are a technological advance, or just a Mektronic on the path to disc brake Di2. Or EPS—no allegiances here.
Magura’s announcement as a sponsor for Garmin-Barracuda started the rumors flying. Magura confirmed their re-entry in to the road hydraulic market with a hydraulic rim brake, the RT8, initially available as a time-trial only version (RT8TT) mated to the Cervélo P5 time trial frame. In a few months, we’re told, it’ll be available without the Cervélo for both road and TT use. How that’ll work in a world where most people use integrated brake/shift levers remains to be seen. Details are just around the corner, I’m sure.
Before we discuss the merits of Magura’s offering, it’s worth understanding a little about hydraulic brakes. For the dirt-phobic, this may be the closest you’ve come to them, and while it’s unlikely you’ll be seeing Magura’s offering on your group ride any time soon, you’ll probably hear discussion about it.
Hydraulics are pretty simple. A typical hydraulics system of any form is composed of a master cylinder, one or more slave cylinders, incompressible fluid like mineral oil or DOT, and hydraulic cable to connect them. Each cylinder contains a piston. Press the piston in the master cylinder in, the incompressible fluid moves out of the master and in to the slave, and the slave piston extends. Simple. Attach a brake lever to the master cylinder piston, and use the slave cylinder to actuate a brake pad, and you have the makings of a hydraulic brake.
There are two different kinds of hydraulic systems employed in bikes. Most hydraulic discs use the “open” system, where there’s a reservoir attached to the master cylinder to manage fluid fill levels in the system itself. Lots of braking can heat the fluid, causing it to expand and overfill the system. The same excess braking also contributes to pad wear, requiring more fluid in the system. The reservoir takes care of managing these levels.
In a closed system, there’s no reservoir. Just the master cylinder and slave cylinders, and a fixed volume of fluid.
Left by itself, pressing the master cylinder piston in moves the slave piston out, where it will happily stay. The “normal” solution involves using specially shaped gaskets, designed to “twist” along with the piston. When there’s nothing pushing on the master cylinder piston, both pistons will want to retract to their normal positions, giving the behavior you expect from brakes. Springs occasionally augment this sort of system.
The upsides to hydraulic brakes are numerous: low friction, one-finger braking. Great modulation and control. Consistent performance, devoid of changes due to cable stretch or wear. Most of all, they’re powerful—by tweaking the ratios of width and height between the cylinders, a mechanical advantage is achieved—1 pound of pressure at the master cylinder can exert many multiples with a proper design.
The new RT8 brakes are a somewhat unorthodox brake design, if we confine ourselves to the notion of how disc hydraulic brakes work.
Magura has had a rim brake product line for years, targeted at the tandem market. These offerings, and it appears the new RT8 as well, utilize a “closed” hydraulics system. The master cylinder has no reservoir. This isn’t necessarily a problem, assuming environmental conditions stay pretty constant; heat generated by braking shouldn’t feed back in to the slave cylinder the way it might in a disc system, which directly actuates the pad. Pad wear is still something of an unanswered question in the RT8—this could very well be handled at the brake lever by adjusting the travel of the lever blade, or limiting the retraction of the piston.
So is it better?
Magura’s brake should offer stronger, quicker actuation with less effort than a typical brake. Depending on the terrain you ride, this may be a major advantage, or make no difference at all. For the cyclist who finds them selves climbing—and therefore descending—major heights, hand fatigue may be a serious problem. We haven’t seen a road brake lever yet from Magura, however. At the moment, unless you find yourself regularly descending on your time trial bike, this likely isn’t a major problem.
Power isn’t a major issue with modern road brakes. Enhanced modulation may allow a lighter touch ducking in to corners, and that could possibly lead to some speed advantages for the racers among us. Possibly. With situations where the brake selection itself is causing braking problems, then the RT8 might be a major advantage—with some time trial bikes utilizing low-travel lever blades connected to center pull and single pivot designs to smooth cable routing and reduce frontal profile, the uncompromising power of the RT8TT will be a welcome change.
Aerodynamics have been heavily touted for the RT8′s, with Cervélo playing a role in their design. It’s not an advantage afforded to it by being hydraulic, but may shave precious microseconds off times. We’ll have to wait for some testing to confirm this.
The Magura design may have one neat side effect. It hasn’t been discussed, but the closed hydraulic design of the RT8 may allow for multiple master cylinders. In an open system, where the master cylinders have reservoir, having a one master cylinder compress will cause the other’s reservoir to, over time, soak up the excess fluid in the system. In a closed system, so long as there’s no air in the system, there’s no place for the fluid to escape. Bleeding the system would bring new levels of pain to an at times trying process, but in theory, once its set up, it would work fine. I’m certainly curious to see if anyone is going to try mounting brakes on both their base and extension bars in a time trial. The ability to brake from the extensions and maintain an aero position could be an genuine advantage.
It’s less clear if the Magura brake will help with are the major issues big descenders have: rim sidewall damage, wearing out pads, and blowing out tires. Discs, by relocating the braking surface away from the tire, are the best hope we have for solving that issue once and for all. That and better technique.
Under certain conditions I can see some potential upsides to Magura’s RT8 brake. Quicker actuation, more power and better modulation with less fatigue sounds like a win, if these are problems that plague you. Improved aerodynamics don’t do much for the recreational cyclist, but may be a win for those at the point where fractions of seconds matter. The multiple lever concept sounds cool, but whether anyone cares remains to be seen. We’re still left using the rim for a braking surface, though the enhanced modulation the Magura should offer might compensate a little for those with marginal descending technique.
It’s an interesting product, and one I’m curious to hear more about as details emerge. It’s unlikely, however, to satiate my desire for discs—or hoverboards.
Photos courtesy of Magura
I’m at home. On the couch. The kids are in bed. The wife is watching TV. I’m combing through eBay’s endless stupidity for things I don’t need and probably won’t buy. I find something amazing, an old, Italian, pantographed stem. I turn the lap top, present it to the wife like a cat bringing a dead mouse to its owner. She snickers and shakes her head. “What is wrong with you?” she laughs.
This happens more than I’d like to admit.
The other day I was reading about the French classical pianist Hélène Grimaud. Among today’s classical musicians, Grimaud is known as one “who does not fetishize refinement.” The phrase stuck with me.
How often do we do this on Planet Bicycle? I spend half my life devoted to gazing longingly at pictures of finely honed machinery and/or debating the merits of a thing that varies by millimeters from another thing. If you’ve ever uttered the phrase, even quietly to yourself, “Oooh, annodized!” you’re guilty, too. If you’ve ever justified your component preferences with the phrase, “…but, it’s Italian!” you’re guilty, too.
Oh, face it. You read RKP. You’re guilty.
This level of fawning gawpery requires a cognitive leap I don’t all the way understand even though I do it every day. Rather than appreciating a thing for what it can and will do out on the road or trail, I somehow divorce the thing from its use, shine it up bright and then place it high on a pedestal.
When we imbue inanimate objects with mystical qualities, a Mavic derailleur, Campy Delta Brakes, an old steel Merckx, is it because those things are particularly good at their jobs, or because we need something to pour our excess passion into? Is it because we can’t always be pedaling? Do we just need a totem, something to carry the meaning of cycling for us?
This is fetishizing refinement.
Andy Goldsworthy makes sculptures out of things he finds out in the world. Leaves, branches, stone, water. The books that document his various projects are among my prized possessions. There are also documentaries that feature his work and include commentary by the man himself, describing his motivations and approach. They are awful. They ruin it for me. The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club.
Once a thing becomes too precious, in my mind, the soul runs right out of it, like a pretty piano piece executed with machine-like precision, a pile of stone, precariously balanced against a steady wind, or an intricately carved lug that won’t hold a tube. At some point, cycling stops being cycling. It becomes so self-reflective, so fetishized, it’s inert.
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The handmade bicycle is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. The last time high-end hand-built frames were this popular … they were all that was available.
Don Walker’s North American Handmade Bicycle Show is the grand daddy of the growing number of shows. It’s still the biggest and best of them, and this year will be the biggest yet. Just today Don announced that the 2011 show, which will be held from February 25-27 in Austin, Texas, boasts an incredible 160 exhibitors, and there’s still some space left. It probably helped that Don selected a city to hold the event that resonates with cyclists.
With the fall-off in A-list exhibitors at Interbike (a trend that frustrates me but that I sincerely hope the organizers turn around), NAHBS this year will be the show I most anticipate attending.
I’ll be posting daily at the event, but much of the work I’ll be doing while there will be on behalf of peloton magazine. There will a bigger announcement on that coming soon.
As of this post, the following companies and builders will be displaying at NAHBS.
- ALCHEMY BICYCLE CO.
- ALLIANCE BICYCLES, LLC
- ANDERSON CUSTOM BICYCLES
- ANT BICYCLES
- ANVIL BIKEWORKS
- APRES VELO
- ARUNDEL BICYCLE COMPANY
- BAILEY WORKS
- BICYCLE FABRICATIONS
- BICYCLE FOREST
- BICYCLE TIMES MAGAZINE
- BILENKY CYCLE WORKS
- BISHOP BIKES
- BLACK CAT BICYCLES
- BLACK SHEEP FABRICATION, INC
- BOO BICYCLES
- BROAKLAND BIKES
- BROMPTON BICYCLE
- BRONTO MTB CO
- BURRO BAGS
- CALETTI CYCLES
- CALFEE DESIGN
- CANTITOE ROAD
- CHERUBIM BY SHIN-ICHI KONNO
- CHRIS KING PRECISION COMPONENTS
- CO-MOTION CYCLES
- CRUMPTON CYCLES
- CURT GOODRICH BICYCLES
- CYCLE DESIGN
- CYCLE MONKEY
- CYFAC INTERNATIONAL
- DALTEX HANDMADE BICYCLES
- DARIO PEGORETTI
- DEAN TITANIUM BIKES
- DEFEET INTERNATIONAL
- DELLA SANTA CYCLES
- DESALVO CUSTOM CYCLES
- DINUCCI CYCLES
- DIRT RAG MAGAZINE
- DOMINGUEZ CYCLES
- DON WALKER CYCLES
- ELLIS CYCLES
- ENGIN CYCLES
- ENVE COMPOSITES
- FIXED GEAR GALLERY/HELL-YES CLOTHING
- FORM CYCLES
- FULL SPEED AHEAD
- FUNK CYCLES
- GALLUS CYCLES
- GAULZETTI CICLI
- GEEKHOUSE BIKES
- GJERTSEN TECHNOLOGIES
- GROOVY CYCLEWORKS
- GURU CYCLES
- HAMPSTEN CYCLES
- HED WHEELS
- HELM CYCLES
- HENRY JAMES BICYCLES & TRUE TEMPER SPORTS
- IGLEHEART CUSTOM FRAMES & FORKS
- INDEPENDENT FABRICATION
- IRA RYAN CYCLES
- KENT ERIKSEN CYCLES
- KIMORI CO, LTD
- KIRK FRAMEWORKS
- KIRKLEE BICYCLES
- KISH FABRICATION
- KVA STAINLESS
- LEGOR CICLI
- MAIETTA HANDBUILT BICYCLES
- MOMENTUM MAGAZINE
- MOSAIC CYCLES
- MOUNTAIN FLYER MAGAZINE
- NAKED BICYCLES
- NOVA CYCLES SUPPLY INC
- PAC DESIGNS
- PARAGON MACHINE WORKS
- PARLEE CYCLES
- PAUL COMPONENT ENGINEERING
- PEACOCK GROOVE
- PELOTON MAGAZINE
- PHILOSOPHY BAG CO.
- PRIORITY CYCLES
- QUIRING CYCLES, LLC
- RETROTEC & INGLIS CYCLES
- REYNOLDS TECHNOLOGY LTD
- RICHARD SACHS CYCLES
- RITCHEY DESIGN
- ROLF PRIMA
- ROULEUR MAGAZINE
- RPS NIPC
- SAMURAI CYCLE WORKS
- SCREEN SPECIALTY SHOP, INC
- SCRUB COMPONENTS
- SELLE ITALIA
- SEROTTA BICYCLES
- SHAMROCK CYCLES
- SHEILA MOON ATHLETIC APPAREL
- SIGNAL CYCLES
- SIX-ELEVEN BICYCLE CO.
- SOTHERLAND CUSTOM BICYCLES
- SPEEDHOUND BIKES
- SPUTNIK TOOL
- STRONG FRAMES
- SUNRACE STURMEY ARCHER
- SYCIP DESIGNS
- SYLVAN CYCLES
- TERRA NOVA CYCLES, LLC
- TI CYCLES FABRICATION
- TOMMASINI BICYCLES
- TRUE FABRICATION BICYCLES
- TWIN SIX
- UNITED BICYCLE INSTITUTE
- VANILLA WORKSHOP
- VENDETTA CYCLES
- VERTIGO CYCLES
- VICTORIA CYCLES
- VP COMPONENTS
- VULTURE CYCLES
- WATSON CYCLES
- WHEEL FANATYK
- WHITE BROTHERS SUSPENSION
- WHITE INDUSTRIES
- WINTER BICYCLES
- WOUND UP COMPOSITE CYCLES
- YIPSAN BICYCLES
- ZANCONATO CUSTOM CYCLES
- 2011 NEW BUILDER TABLE EXHIBITORS:
- APPLEMAN BICYCLES
- DEMON FRAMEWORKS
- DORNBOX PERFORMANCE BICYCLES
- FORESTA FRAMES
- LITTLEFORD BICYCLES
- MAGNOLIA CYCLES
- MILLS BROTHERS BICYCLE COMPANY
- RICH PHILLIPS CYCLES
- ROSENE HANDBUILT BICYCLES
- VANLOOZEN BROTHERS BICYCLES
- VIOLET CROWN CYCLES
The wheel market has exploded with the vengeance of the mosquito population at a stagnant pond in the Deep South during a drought-plagued summer. We’ve been overrun with wheels, much the way I just overran my good sense and your patience in that last sentence.
Doubt that? Nearly every company that used to offer wheel components—DT, Campagnolo, Mavic, Shimano, American Classic, Chris King and Ambrosio for starters—now offers complete wheels. There are some notable exceptions, such as Wheelsmith and Sapim, who have elected to stick with spokes and nipples, and Phil Wood (hubs), but the vast majority of companies that produced components that I used to build wheels from now offer complete wheelsets.
By a certain sort of math, you could make an argument that expansion brought about a tripling of the wheel market. The result has changed what it means to purchase a high-end wheelset. Given the incredible number of poorly built handmade wheels I saw over the years (How many racers did I see not finish a race because their wheels didn’t hold up?), this isn’t a bad thing … on one level. On another, it can be terrible at times.
Gone is the conversation between the budding racer and the sage mechanic. I’ve been on both sides of that conversation and the chance to learn about or to teach lacing patterns or the value of equal spoke tension is a chance for someone to become a more knowledgeable, more engaged cyclist. Those conversations and choices were substantive. Clydesdales need to be steered away from alloy nipples just as bantam weight climbers ought to be steered to butted spokes. On group rides these days, so often I hear guys discussing wheel choices based on color.
Recently overheard: “I went with the American Classics because the white matched my frame.”
I’ve tried a number of aftermarket wheelsets with Campy freehubs. In both 10- and 11-speed configurations a great many of them have a problem that I consider colossal, but I rarely hear anyone complain.
That problem? Rear derailleur spoke clearance.
If I hear the rear derailleur cage tick, tick, ticking against the spokes when I’m climbing, I’m concerned. It is the bicycle equivalent of driving to Dubuque with the idiot light on. And the people who do complain about this? They are the ones who had exactly this problem—undiagnosed by their shop mechanic—stood up and flexed the wheel enough to catch the cage, sheer the carbon fiber scissors through wrapping paper and destroy the rear derailleur, the wheel and the derailleur hanger, if not the frame along the way.
I’ve encountered this problem on more wheels than I ought. A healthy supply of 1mm spacers hasn’t corrected the problem for most of the wheels, either. One can ask the question of whether the problem is with the wheels or the derailleur, but because Campagnolo and Fulcrum wheels never have this problem—proving that it is possible to make wheels that don’t suffer this incompatibility—I lay the blame with the wheel makers.
A good review of a set of wheels really ought to be based on qualities of superior distinction, such as multiplying your power output or a freehub that dispenses cash when you hit 500 watts. Congratulating a set of wheels for competency is a bit like giving a kid AP credit for reading Harry Potter.
Regardless, the starting point for this review is the fact that the spokes of the Torelli Bormio Ceramic Ultra-Lites don’t rub on a Campy rear derailleur cage. This one feature makes them worth considering if you’re looking for a set of Campy-compatible wheels. Is that enough to warrant purchasing them? Not by a long shot.
In fact, my biggest single wheel pet peeve is trueness—actually lack thereof. I monitor wheels as I review them to see how they are holding up. Within the first 200 miles of riding these wheels I had to perform a slight truing of the rear wheel, tightening two spokes that had de-tensioned slightly. I’ve done nothing since.
Last fall I rode Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo. For those of you who recall my ride report of the event, you may recall some grumbling about a record number of flats I experienced that day. These were the wheels I was using. The reason for the trouble was a rim strip issue.
When I returned from the ride I e-mailed Todd, the owner at Torelli, and told him about the trouble. He was on the phone to me within the minute I hit the ‘send’ button. When I saw the “Torelli” on the caller ID, I thought it was just a weird coincidence.
He asked me what color the rim strips were. When I told him they were yellow, he told me to throw them in the trash, that those were early production and had caused problems and had been since replaced with different rim strips that wouldn’t move. I’d have some new ones the next day. And I did.
Every dealer that received wheels with the yellow rim strips have been shipped the red rim strips I received.
Since receiving the new rim strips, I haven’t had a single flat and that’s even while running the paper-thin Specialized open tubulars (whose ride continues to grow on me). I remain deeply suspicious of mylar, plastic and all manner of rim strips that are anything other than Velox for one simple reason: Velox rim strips have adhesive on the bottom. Granted, it doesn’t have the sticky factor of Chinese rice, but it really doesn’t need much to just not move.
Okay, so lets move on to the bullet points featured in the marketing literature. The rims have a claimed weight of 380 grams. The front wheel has 20 spokes, the rear 24 spokes. The front is radially laced, the rear features radial lacing on the non-drive side and two-cross on the drive side. The stainless steel J-bend Sandvik spokes are bladed (0.9mm x 2.2mm) for increased aerodynamic efficiency and easy replacement.
Torelli claims they weigh 1380g for the pair—that’s with rim strips and a Shimano freehub. I have yet to review a set of wheels that weighs within 10g of the advertised weight, but these were pretty close; they came in at 1412g. I attribute the difference to the Campy freehub, but that’s just a wild assertion of the same general vicinity as most stories in the National Enquirer. I haven’t weighed the two freehub bodies. I really don’t know. At all.
The rear wheel contains six ceramic bearings and inside the freehub is a needle bearing to reduce freehub drag while descending, of which, it does an admirable job. Spin the rear wheel up with the bike in the stand and once you let go of the pedal it moves no further. It’s also remarkably quiet when freewheeling, which is a quality I associate with low drag and stealthy approaches, both of which I find handy.
Compared to many wheels in this weight range the Bormio Ceramic Ultra-Lites are surprisingly stiff laterally. Certainly there are stiffer wheels out there, but stiff isn’t really the selling point on these wheels. Their weight, incredibly low rolling resistance due to the ceramic bearings and machined aluminum braking surfaces, all for a suggested retail of $650 is why you buy these wheels.
Who doesn’t want raceable weight and low-drag bearings in an everyday wheelset?
Torelli does suggest a 180-lb. weight limit for users, but I suspect that at that weight (or more) you would be inclined to seek out a stiffer wheel regardless.
A great set of wheels really isn’t about the graphics (which on these aren’t exactly going to win any design awards—but can’t anyone get graphics right on a set of wheels anymore without sacrificing function?); it ought to be about bringing the various elements together to make a wheel set perfectly suited to its intended purpose.
In the last year I’ve tried six different aftermarket (non-Campy/Fulcrum) wheel sets meant to work with Campy. Considering functionality, weight and price, these are the best of the bunch.
It’s been an interesting year in the world of cycling. There have been some duels for the ages between larger-than-life figures. I decided to ask each of RKP’s contributors to pick their three favorite stories of the year. Some of their answers may surprise you.—Padraig
Lance Armstrong. No other figure in cycling has ever made headlines worldwide the way Lance Armstrong does. Whether it’s his battle to rid the world of cancer, the birth of a new son, doping charges or his battle of wits with Alberto Contador, Armstrong is a headline wherever he goes, whatever he does. He is also significant because no other figure has half the ability to polarize a group of cyclists as Armstrong. To some, he is a virtually convicted doper, to others he is a champion and figure of hope. No matter what you think of him, he has the ability to keep cycling in the mainstream worldwide, which, ultimately, is good for cycling.
The conviction of Dr. Thompson. That Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson was even tried for one felony—let alone six—was a big success for cyclists everywhere. There were more opportunities for this case to go off the rails than can be counted, but some significant points were in the initial investigation, once the case was turned over to the district attorney and, of course, in Thompson’s cross examination. This case will be cited as a turning point in the recognition by the average person that cyclists are both vulnerable to the actions of malicious drivers and have a right to the road.
Doping. From Christian “cycling has changed” Prudhomme, to Danilo “the killer” DiLuca to the blood transfusion kits found among Astana’s medical supplies, one should draw the conclusion that some riders might be cleaner than in the past, but cycling, as a sport, has yet to shed the taint of doping. Prudhomme, the Tour de France director, made the ludicrous statement, “I recently confirmed that ‘there were no suspected cases’ (during the 2009 Tour de France). This means that the fight against doping progresses.” Astarloza’s positive proved his statement was both premature and dead wrong. If anyone should have been fired from the ASO, it shouldn’t have been Patrice Clerc, but rather Prudhomme for making such a reckless statement on behalf of such a storied institution.
The fire sale of Iron Horse bicycles to Dorel. Iron Horse wasn’t a prestigious brand, but it was long known as being a good value for new cyclists. Its descent into bankruptcy was an ugly, backbiting mess full of recrimination and charges of shady deals involving owner Cliff Weidberg and his son, who owned Randall Scott Cycles, a significant debtor to Iron Horse. Dorel (the parent for Cannondale, GT, Schwinn, Mongoose, Pacific, etc.) purchased Iron Horse for $5.2 million at auction, less than what Iron Horse’s three biggest secured creditors were owed, for a classic pennies-on-the-dollar deal. The sale left hanging dozens of unsecured creditors who were owed a combined $17 million as well as CIT Group for another $4 million, and made cycling’s biggest corporate colossus just a little bit bigger.
Lemond v. Trek. Just wait, the plus-size gal isn’t even on stage.
Contador and Schleck denying Armstrong an 8th TdF. When the Lance returned, so much of the American cycloratti was hoping he’d return to his throne, but personally, I was ready to move on. As the hype ramped up and up and up, through LA’s collar bone break, through the Giro and into the initial stages of the Tour, I was really wishing for the sport to move on. Not to be ungrateful for contributions made, but I was ready for some new legends to emerge. And they did.
Philippe Gilbert’s end of season wins. What I love about Gilbert is his incredible tactical sense and timing. This is a guy who beats riders head and shoulders stronger than he is, by keeping his wits about him and playing them against one another. Not a weak rider, Gilbert shows what racing might be like in the absence of race radios, when smart riders win as much as strong ones.
The emergence of Edvald Boasson-Hagen. While everyone was talking about Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador (myself included) another young rider was winning races (10) and taking the overall in smaller stage races like the Eneco Tour and the Tour of Britain. Boasson-Hagen is 22. He is exactly the sort of rider that today’s top guns should be wary of, because he’s going to get better.
USA Bike industry ignores its mounting inventory crisis for an entire year (repercussions will impact retail pricing and corporate profits until 2012). If you ever had any doubts as to whether bike companies know what they’re doing, well, here’s your answer.
Lemond v Trek: no matter which way it ends up (short of an out-of-court-plus-gag-order settlement), this story still has the potential to become the biggest scandal in US cycling history. It’s also the #1 story the cycling press wishes would just go away: no matter how—or even if—they report it, it’s a lose-lose for them.
American public starts to figure out that bikes are actually a lot of fun (and practical transportation, too). This is THE biggest sea-change in public attitudes about cycling since That Skinny Blonde Kid won some race over in France 33 years ago … although sometimes I liked it better when we were just a bunch of geeks and outcasts instead of too-cool-for-school fashion mavens in skinny jeans and ironic t-shirts.
Bonus: Mavic’s parent company (Amer Sports) puts it up for sale, can’t find buyer, de-lists it, fires its own President. You know the economy’s bad when no one wants a highly regarded company with the lion’s share of a long-term lucrative market.
Contador’s Tour win as part of the Bizarro World of Team Astana. I know of no other time in cycling history when, after the designated team leader takes the Yellow Jersey, the team manager wanted to put on sackcloth and ashes. The psychological war Bruyneel and Armstrong waged against Contador remains about the oddest thing I ever saw in cycling.
The death duel between Di Luca and Menchov in the Giro. While I watched it, I tried to forget Di Luca’s past doping offenses (he made sure I was reminded later…) and watched 2 superb athletes fight until neither had a watt left. Menchov’s crash in the final time trial made even the race’s last moments exciting. His poor performance in the Tour showed he had gone truly deep in the Giro.
Grand Tour VAMs. Both the Giro and the Tour had some spectacularly high VAMs (average rate of vertical ascent in a climb). There was one day in the Tour that saw the Tour climbing speed record Bjarne Riis set on the Hautacam in 1996 eclipsed.
Bonus: And the UCI says they are getting a good handle on doping. I’ve got some good ocean-front land here in Arkansas for anyone who believes that. I believe we lost ground during 2009 in the hunt for a clean sport.
Contador wins second Tour de France. The lead up to the race was more drama than MTV’s “The Hill” leading up to prom night. Every day there were hints that all the indicators being tossed out by Astana that “all is well” and “we are all behind our leader” and “Contador is our GC leader.” It was something everyone who listened and watched knew was slick talk and that there was 2 GC riders on the team, neither submitting to the other in reality. To see the dynamics play out was something that kept us all tuned daily for the month of July. I personally cannot wait ‘til 2010′s TdF!!
Fabian Cancellara SMOKES TT world championship. Fabian is a statesman for cycling and in my opinion one of the peloton’s classiest riders. He can be many things, but his TT skills are phenomenal and his lead up to the World TT championship brought us to anticipate a performance, which he delivered in jaw-dropping fashion.
Devolder repeats at Tour of Flanders. I love all the Classics, but I love the Spring Classics especially. Seeing Cav win Milan San Remo was incredible, to see Boonen win Paris-Roubaix was great, to see Schleck win Leige was sweet as well, but to see the Belgian Devolder repeat his win at Tour of Flanders held a meaning that goes to the very core of this race, to his pedigree, which makes him a national hero yet again, and brings this one to the top for me.
Notables: Team Columbia HTC should have an honorable mention notably as they really pulled off greatness in light of adversity, despite the other teams riding senslessly against them at times (Hincapie’s maillot jaune loss in TdF), they stuck it out and perhaps had the team of the year.
One of my all-time favorite science fiction novels is Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. It takes a very provocative look at aspects of Western Civilization that are critical to how we function, such as our notion of citizenship and what entitles us to suffrage. Mind you, I don’t read a lot of science fiction because it has so much in common with the banana—when a banana is good, it’s really good, and when it’s bad, it’s terrible and I toss it in the trash with all possible haste.
Forgetting for a moment Paul Verhoeven’s awful film depiction of Heinlein’s meisterwerk, I still marvel at how Heinlein took ordinary characters, some of them certainly not as bright as the author and placed them in extraordinary circumstances to create a futuristic society. It’s the same basic device that creates farce, which is normal people in odd circumstances—think “Gilligan’s Island”—as opposed to comedy, which is funny people in normal circumstances—think “Seinfeld.” Yet, in Heinlein’s hands, we get a fresh take on Western Civilization, complete with its own slang.
Of these, my clear favorite is “on the bounce,” the phrase used by the starship troopers to allude to both how the soldiers move in their powered armor space suits and when they do things, a kind of “on the move” for the 22nd century.
Recently, I’ve taken to paraphrasing the saying into a cycling-specific version: on the drop. It entered my angst-ridden head recently while I was on a climb and because I wasn’t climbing particularly well (the legs had gone into shutdown mode with 2k left to climb) and I was concerned that the boys wouldn’t be waiting for me at the top. I thought to myself, “I’ll get them on the drop.”
Without time to sit around at the top and finish a bottle, eat a bite or two, pull my armwarmers up and take my glasses off my helmet and put them back on my face, I knew I’d have to do them all on the drop. But that was the beauty of the road turning down; with gravity on my side, I had the opportunity to eat and make up ground at the same time.
Sure, you can drink on a climb. You can pull down armwarmers on a climb. Some riders can even sit up, no hands, and take off a vest or jacket. And sure, there are climbs that are so long you’ve got to keep fueling as you move just to keep the bonk at bay, but the question I often ask myself is when the best time is to GSD*.
Racing has taught me there is a simple answer: the best time to do anything that isn’t in and of racing, is on the drop. Even if the opportunity is only slightly downhill, I know I can relax my pedaling a bit and gravity’s finite pull will do the rest and allow me to ditch a vest, pull food from my pockets, empty a bottle or stuff armwarmers into my jersey pockets.
There was a long period when I thought that descending was descending and downhill was too serious a concern to gum it up with something so frivolous as eating. Then I remembered something I saw while in a Mavic neutral vehicle on a mountain stage of the 1996 Tour DuPont.
Near the top of the biggest climb of the day, a Category 1 mafia-style enforcer, Frankie Andreu lost contact with the second group. Over the final kilometer up to the pass, he lost more than 20 seconds; the group was out of sight. Group three wasn’t far behind and that was as much a concern for us in a Taurus wagon as it was for him.
On the drop, Frankie got into a head-over-stem, butt-in-air full tuck, not one of those crazy Marco Pantani rodeo-style tucks. He grabbed his bottle and tipped it into his mouth with his fingertips while resting the heel of his hand against the handlebar. And he dropped down an intestinal stretch of asphalt through turns I thought surely would require brakes.
We were doing 50 mph just to keep up with him. Those turns I thought would require brakes we were drifting through with all four tires grabbing the pavement with the stunned desperation of a child’s hand for the string of a balloon.
At one point, hearing the car engine race and the roar of rubber on asphalt, Frankie sat up and turned around to look at us. (I asked him about it the next morning and he said he was afraid we were going over the cliff.) Then he put his head back down and before the bottom of the descent, he rejoined group two. Might as well have been the stage win I was so impressed.
Joe Parkin told me a story he has since blogged about a bit. After returning to the United States and joining Coors Light, Joe was at a race and his team leader told him he wanted a Coke. He got the Coke from the team car. Easy enough, right?
The rider wanted it in a water bottle.
Joe sat up, opened the Coke, opened the bottle and while descending he poured the Coke into the bottle. Even Joe was impressed with the move.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of doing things on the drop is what it says of your knowledge of the bike and the degree to which you can control it with just your hips if necessary. So much of cycling comes down to trust—trusting our bodies, our fellow riders, traffic and, yes, the bike—and few of us really trust our bike to do what it is most inclined. Once above 15 mph, it wants to stay upright and the imperative of physics only increases with speed.
Yet, for all its beautiful utility, and any tool properly used is beautiful, what I most love isn’t the GSD*, it’s knowing that anything you might need to accomplish during your ride or race you really needn’t stop, that riding can be as seamless as breathing.
*Get shit done
Readers of BKW may recall a set of reviews I did of Neuvation Cycling‘s R28 aluminum clincher and C50 carbon fiber tubular wheels. I was impressed by the wheels for their quality, performance and cost. I’d known Neuvation’s owner, John Neugent, since the 1990s and was surprised by his decision to launch a consumer-direct company. In the bike biz, consumer-direct was once viewed with the same jaundiced eye vanity press editions were seen by the publishing world—generally speaking, they were manuscripts too bad or offbeat to be picked up by any commercial publisher, and the determined author would elect to pay for his own print run. For me, the Neuvation wheels put to rest the idea that consumer-direct was the bastion of those who didn’t understand the market and couldn’t achieve sales by traditional routes.
Debate raged in the comments. Some readers thought the Neuvation wheels were anything but PRO; after all, they didn’t cost thousands of dollars and weren’t in use by a ProTour team. Radio Freddy and I thought they were PRO because of their particular combination of performance and value. A dollar well-spent is just that. And while some readers reported some spoke breakage, all were adamant about John’s good customer service. Since that review, several consumer-direct operation have entered the bike market; I decided to have a chat with Neuvation Cycling’s owner.
RKP: For RKP readers who aren’t familiar with your long resume, fill us in a bit on your background please.
Neugent: I started as a partner in a bike shop in 1973 and have since been a rep, product manager, and VPs of sales, marketing, and purchasing for various bicycle industry companies. I was president of Sachs USA for 10 years and worked with Lee Iacocca on his E-bike project. I’ve been in the industry my entire adult life.
RKP: Given your experience, someone with your experience must be in high demand at bike companies. Why did you choose to launch a consumer-direct operation?
Neugent: I wanted to live in San Luis Obispo. I also felt that job security in a big company is, at best, an illusion. After I was fired from my last job for telling the owners they would go out of business following their business plan (which did happen within two years after I left), I decided it was time to really follow my long term dream of starting my own company.
RKP: What was the attraction for you in deciding to launch a consumer-direct company?
Neugent: I can sum up consumer direct sales in a very short paragraph. For the first time ever, it’s possible to buy well engineered and designed product off the shelf from the same suppliers who supply the premier brands. That is not smoke and mirrors marketing. It’s a fact. Add to that the efficiency of the Internet, and consumers can save 40-60% or more on products of equal quality and design made from the manufacturers who make the “Gucci” brands.
Brands have always used and will be forced into more use of smoke and mirrors marketing – which I define as vastly overstating the benefits of their differences. Now more than ever, they have no choice.
The real challenge for us, as a consumer direct company, is to out perform other consumer direct companies. Customer service is one of the keys. Customer service is not lip service (“Have a nice day.” does not cut it). I define customer service as how efficiently we resolve problems. That is not to say everyone gets everything for free all the time but we go out of our way to treat our customers, and ourselves, fairly.
RKP: Is the emergence of consumer-direct sales in high-quality wheels and composite components and frames really just a matter of product availability overseas? Can it really just be chalked up to Taiwanese and Chinese companies doing more in-house engineering, or were there other market forces that permitted operations like yours to emerge?
Neugent: The emergence of Taiwan and China as good sources of not only engineered product but also well designed product made it easier but the Internet and affordable, easy to use, computer programs were also a major factor. One small case in point. I normally handle about 100 customer correspondences a day (sales or customer service). In a bike shop, it would take 4-5 people to make the same contacts. On all levels, the Internet is driving down costs, making better consumer deals possible. Given that much of Internet technology is less than 10 years old (what was life like before Google?) it’s only natural that most industries, including the bike industry, are lagging behind.
RKP: Are your primary competitors other consumer-direct companies such as Williams, rather than big wheel makers such as Mavic and Zipp?
Neugent: Anyone who sells wheels is my competitor but the two giants are Mavic and Zipp. Zipp now more so because of the increased sales of carbon wheels.
RKP: What is the driver for growth in your product line? Is it just opportunity—availability of product—or is it by design—are there items you have wanted to add to your line?
Neugent: Cash. There is tons of opportunity but you need to be able to pay for it and effectively market it. I have had multiple offers from people wanting to buy the company but it’s not for sale. I plan on doing this a long time. It’s my dream job. But because I want 100% ownership, the growth is limited by my ability to fund it. In terms of new products, I will have a vastly expended saddle line, a tri bike, cross bike, MTB wheels, single speed wheels, and a higher end carbon frame all in the works. Also some additional stems and bars and seat posts (some in white – one of the hottest colors out there). Most are due in 2-6 months.
RKP: What do you see on the horizon for the consumer-direct channel in terms of new products and new challenges?
Neugent: New products – you name it. It’s honestly hard to imagine something you can’t do this way. The fundamental problem companies have is that they focus on the wrong thing. They focus on having new “technology” they claim is better. They they market the heck out of it even though it’s really just different and not better. Don’t tell them this (they won’t listen anyway) but what they need to focus on is how to bring true quality products to consumers for a lower price. That’s what I do. It’s a totally different focus.
The challenges are honestly quite simple and can be summed up by asking “What do my customers want and how do they want to be treated?” It’s simplistic to say that it’s easy to answer those questions while making a fair profit but that’s all there is to it.
As a recent Dilbert blog said “By far, the most interesting thing to anyone, is themself.” Therein lies all real marketing.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity of the interview.