In my experience, more than any other component found on a bicycle, pedals elicit a near-religious loyalty among users. It may be that because cleat design will remain static to a degree that even the number of cogs on a cassette will not, people have more years of use on a system and are more likely to develop less a preference than an accustom. We tend to like those things we’ve used for long periods of time. After all, if we didn’t like them, we would have switched, so the longer we use them, the more we tend to think what we’re using is the best thing going.
Generally speaking, there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, if you like what you use, and it poses no problems for you, why not continue to use it?
It is into this particular world of settled opinion and calcified satisfaction that I thrust the Ritchey Echelon WCS pedals. The challenge is that pedals accepting the Look cleat have been around since shoulder pads were the hot look in women’s fashions. Good thing they have a greater functional benefit.
In addition to Look, we’ve had Shimano, Wellgo, Campagnolo, Sampson and a score of other manufacturers make pedals designed to accept the Look cleat. Had it not been for Time, and Shimano’s ill-advised decision to take the SPD platform to the road, Look might have become the industry standard. But not only is that three-bolt fixing standard still in play, the cleat itself remains mostly unchanged.
It begs the question: What has changed in all that time? Okay, so the cleat went from black to red, meaning from fixed to floating. The Keo cleat also reduced the stack height between the center of the pedal spindle and the foot. Most manufacturers have increased both the number and the quality of the bearings used. Spring release tension is adjustable (has been for, oh … at least 20 years). The pedal body shape has been refined to increase lean-angle clearance. And let’s not forget weight. Some early examples (Mavic, anyone?) might as well have been constructed from depleted plutonium so heavy were they.
For six months I’ve been riding a range of pedals: the Ritchey Echelons as well as a couple of others, including the new Shimano Dura-Ace 9000s. While the Shimano cleat is slightly different than the Look Keo, I consider them of a piece; they’re not fundamentally different, the way Time and Speedplay are.
By any critical measure, these pedals are reasonably light, weighing in at 250 grams. Unfortunately, Ritchey claims they weigh only 233g, which makes this the first Ritchey product I’ve encountered that strayed from the advertised weight by more than five percent. Still, 250g for the pedals, combined with 77g for the cleats one of the lightest pedal systems on the market for less than $200. This is where the Echelons show best—value. At just $159 for the set with cleats and hardware, they are more than $100 less than the corresponding Shimanos (not to mention a few other competitors.
The Echelons use a two bearings: an outer, sealed-cartridge bearing, and a needle bearing in the middle. Inboard duties are handled by a lightweight bushing. Spring tension is adjustable, and while I didn’t check torque values, I can say anecdotally, it goes from light enough for a panicked escape to grab-a-stop-sign-cuz-I’m-falling-over tight.
Having ridden in so many different pedals of late, I came to only one firm conclusion on the subject of pedals using Look-style cleats. Because of where I live, which is to say a place where there are stop lights and stop signs for 30 miles in every direction except west, I stop like a sitcom has ads. It’s annoying, but it’s a fact of my life. What surprised me about the Echelon pedals was that I eventually noticed I was able to catch the tongue of the cleat more reliably with them than with any similar pedal. There are lights that are just too long to track stand through at the end of a long ride, so I want a pedal that allows me to roll away from a light with something approaching haste. If I have to stop pedaling and look down for a moment, that’s a fail.
One factor that contributes to the success or failure of a pedal in this regard isn’t so much the weight of the pedal but the weight delta from the front of the pedal to the rear of the pedal. The greater that delta, the more likely a pedal is to hang, rather than spin due to bearing drag. A tiny amount of bearing drag will cause the pedal to sit motionless until the pedal reaches the top of the pedal stroke, the point at which most riders will attempt to clip the second foot in. That pause will cause the rear end of the pedal to overcome the bearing drag and spin forward. Practically speaking, it means often putting your foot down on the bottom of the pedal, rather than engaging it. Not good for quick getaways. I’ll hasten to add that I had to ride each pedal for more than 500 miles to make sure that I wasn’t just encountering drag from the bearing seal.
It’s this one, tiny little detail that caused me to love this pedal. If I lived 50 miles outside of Cedar Rapids, with corn fields surrounding my home, different story. Add in the fact that it costs less than a night in a nice hotel, and you’ve got one of my favorite pedals of the last few years.
The original mountain bike pedal, the one that started it all, the Shimano PD-M737, was a pedal of such clairvoyant utility that it not only defined the genre of the mountain pedal forever, it also transcended it. It set the two-hole drill pattern for all mountain shoes which, considering the myriad drillings available for road shoes, is a feat on the order of getting the UCI to accept responsibility of any kind. Not only was the 737 popular with mountain bikers who wanted all the advantages of clipless pedals without the liabilities of trying to flip a road pedal over, it caught on with the touring segment of the road market. These riders wanted the advantages of clipless pedals and the fact they didn’t have to flip them over to clip in was handy, but the real selling point was that off the bike, they didn’t suffer the gait of a Mallard.
It’s rare that anything pulls off such a double whammy, but to do both in the same year of release is unheard of. Consider that when Bruce Springsteen hit the scene he was the model for a new, rawer, more personal rock and roll. Today, he’s a national institution. But in 1974, he was just an unshaven slacker you wouldn’t let date your daughter.
The 737 was the slacker you threw your daughter and gave the keys to your prized Mustang.
That’s not to say the 737 had no flaws. The bearings wore out, making the pedal sloppy and noisy. Worse, a pair weighed more than the conscience of young George Washington, post cherry tree. But they had one feature that make them vastly superior to every other competitor that entered the market until Time hit with their Atac. To engage the pedal, all you had to do was put your foot on it. There was no requirement that you catch the pedal toe-first. You could catch either the front or the rear of cleat on the pedal to engage; there were gates at both ends of the pedal. A double-sided pedal with gates both front and rear results in four gates per pedal, which is why they their mass was enough to bend light. Heavy or not, it’s a feature that Time and Crank Brothers both thought enough of to design into their pedals, but somehow, later Shimano pedals lost that feature.
It’s like selling a car with no stereo. You just don’t do that. If you’re not going to include a sound system, then the engine had better be its own sound system. That’s how Ferrari can get away with such an omission, but I digress.
I began riding a set of Ritchey’s WCS Paradigm Mountain Pedals this summer, first putting them on my mountain bike and then switching them to my ‘cross bike when I began to plan for the ‘cross season. Why did I switch a 223g set of pedals to a 19-lb. cyclocross rig? Easy. I wanted to make it lighter.
Kidding … sorta.
Sure, the pair weighed less than even one of the 737s (I’m not exaggerating—a pair of 737s weighed more than 500g), but the real reason is that I noticed on my first ride on the Paradigms that they had restored the double engagement feature I so loved. That mattered to me for cyclocross because following a dismount, getting back into your pedals so you can go top-fuel dragster on the gas is as imperative as sunlight.
Unfortunately, following my crash, I learned that my face has veto power over entry fees. Wow; I didn’t see that coming.
Ritchey products, like few others on the market, have an identity that’s more easily read than their genes. WCS products may not be cheap, but they share a uniform emaciation, stripped of anything remotely ornamental. In as much as these products are beautiful (and I do find them attractive), it’s because they are all business, kinda like an old-school circular saw—no protective slides and auto-switches. It doesn’t hurt that with so little to the pedal it sheds mud like cooking oil on Teflon.
As a result, there’s less to the spindles than the brain activity of a coma patient. They are secured to the cranks with an 8mm Allen wrench, and while they go on easy enough, I’ve always hated removing pedals that don’t have flats, but that would add weight, wouldn’t it?
Part of the particular genius of the Paradigms is that they feature only two gates. The front gate for one side also serves as the rear gate for the other side. One stone, two birds.
They feature three bearings: a sealed cartridge bearing at the end of the spindle, a long-lasting and load-bearing needle bearing in the middle and then a lightweight bushing for the inner bearing. Also contributing to what should be a very long-lived pedal is the chrome-moly spindle.
Float for these pedals is four degrees. It’s not a huge amount for those whose joints creak and quake, but it has proven to be enough for me and eliminates the slop that can make other pedal systems less efficient. Spring retention is adjustable, natch.
Even though these pedals are part of Ritchey’s top-of-the-line WCS line, I was a bit surprised that they only retail for $159.95. They’ll last longer than your next TV and thanks to their simple silver-and-gold look, they have yet to appear out-of-place on any bike I’ve mounted them.
It’s a typical Ritchey product: Somebody else’s idea, perfected.
So let’s start this off with a correction. This is the image I meant to pull for Day 1′s mention of the BMC TMR01, their new aero road frame. I plead thumbnail size.
The fork design is fascinating for the way it hides the brake cable and as an illustration of the lengths that engineers have to go to avoid violating any of the UCI’s ridiculous rules regarding aerodynamics. In a way the brilliance here is less a demonstration of real creativity than an indictment of the terrible way in which the UCI wields power. Yeah, I bet you were thinking that we’d leave criticism of the UCI just for discussions of doping.
I dropped by Hincapie and saw a number of new designs. Fit seems to continue to improve with them (I’ve got a kit from ’12 that I’ve been meaning to review that is the best-fitting from them I’ve ever worn) and thanks to designs like this one, the look is better than ever.
This big news at Campagnolo is the new Athena 11 with triple. While my personal preference these days is to go compact, I have always supported triples and in the case of Campagnolo and their Ergopower levers, found them easy to set up and shift. Yes, they are heavier and result in a wider Q, but they aren’t the wildebeests that some would have you believe. The combination of a triple and an 11-speed 12-29 cassette will let anyone go almost anywhere paved without having to buy a $7000 (or more) bike.
Among a great many cool things I saw at Ritchey was this display of two mountain bikes, both featuring 650B wheels. The industry seems ready to endorse this wheel size en masse. More nimble than 29-inch-wheeled mountain bikes and better rolling than its 26-inch-wheeled counterarts, everyone’s touting 650B as a great compromise. Shown here are Ritchey’s new P-650b (the red, white and blue bike in back) and a mountain bike that Tom built back in the 1977 (think Debbie Boone and Fleetwood Mac). Yep, both feature 650B wheels. I didn’t even have time to get into where Ritchey found the rims and tires back then, but the bike implicitly begs the question.
And if you’ve never had reason to appreciate just how fine Ritchey’s fillet brazing is, here’s the seat cluster from that 560B mountain bike he built in ’77. This is on my list of the top-five prettiest things I saw at Interbike.
The Legend is the new shoe from Giro that you’ve already been seeing on Taylor Phinney’s rather sizable dogs. Whether you dig the lace-up design or not, one of the notable features—perhaps the most notable feature of the new shoe—is the Teijin upper. Teijin is a microfiber material with greater durability and less stretch than traditional leather (meaning you won’t kill your shoes by going for a ride in the rain), but Giro found a way to make the upper from a single, seamless piece of the material. Crazy.
Giro’s designers decided to do a bunch of one-off exercises on the Legend for its launch. This one, a nod to classic hiking boots from companies like Asolo, re-imagines the Legend with the one-piece Teijin upper made to look like tanned leather. I couldn’t not shoot this. It would totally be the shiz for ‘cross racing. Right?
The Reverb is one of Giro’s many helmets aimed at commuters. What makes the Reverb different (and remember that reverb is a first-cousin to echo) is the way its design calls upon the past in a very specific way. It looks like the old LeMond Air Attack helmet even more than my son looks like me. Last year they offered the Reverb in the same Tequila Sunrise finish they offered circa 1992. This year’s palette includes this nod to LeMond’s Team Z helmet that he wore to victory in 1990.
There was a time when Pearl Izumi was my absolute barometer for great cycling clothing. In the 1990s custom team clothing was a step down from what Pearl offered. I raced in my team kit, but I trained in Pearl. Just how it was. And then something happened—okay, I’ll tell you what happened: custom team clothing, from companies like Voler, improved dramatically, and for a period of time Pearl lost their way, releasing boatloads of clothing that was good, but not amazing. There’s been a shakeup at Pearl and one of their brightest and most insightful designers has returned. The line has received a pretty serious overhaul and I saw piece after piece that I’d put up against the best stuff coming out of Capo or Giordana.
I’ve got a friend—a bigwig with an eyewear company—who crashed recently. Somehow, despite 20+ years of competent use of quick releases, the skewer on the front wheel came loose. He was on a top-of-the-line carbon bike, so no biggie, right? Well, as it happens the fork had no lawyer tabs. But this was a road bike, so he’s not doing jumps and wheelies, so no great whoop, right? Well, he popped the front wheel just a bit for a storm drain.
This would be where the front wheel flew out like a cat from a closet.
His injuries read like an inventory of the human body. They aren’t nearly as bad as what his wife threatened to do should he crash again.
I’m not naming names because it’s not my story and I suspect there may yet be some litigation. The unfortunate thing here is that what was arguably a lousy quick release have given the lawyers ammo for crap like lawyer lips. Ugh. Because to many people those damn tabs would have solved this problem.
No, those tabs aren’t the solution. Better quick release skewers are.
Which brings me to an item I’ve been meaning to review since before we switched presidents. These Ritchey WCS titanium quick release skewers. It just took someone else’s pain to make me act. I don’t use them as often as I’d like because so often I’m sent wheels with skewers. And most of the time, I hate those skewers. The problems range from the movement not being smooth enough to having levers that feature a little outward curve that comes to a point right where I want to use my palm to push the lever closed.
Who dreams this stuff up?
I have previously not been a fan of ti skewers because they stretched just enough to prevent the wheel from being locked in place with the same security I found in steel skewers. That’s not a problem with these. They feature levers that are a whopping 8cm long, longer than any other levers I possess, though longer may be out there somewhere. The advantage of the longer lever, as we all know, is Archimedean. And because the levers feature a gentle curve, they fit nicely in your hand and look dashing as they curl around a fork blade or dropout and chainstay.
I weighed them at 82g, exactly what Ritchey claims. How’s that for refreshing?
They retail for $69.95. That may seem a lot until you ask yourself about the price of safety.
Some of my favorite bikes from this year’s NAHBS were items that clearly were not for sale. Don Walker has done a good job of courting companies that don’t seem the typical fit for the show, of which, most exhibitors have fewer than six people on staff. In encouraging both Serotta and Ritchey to attend Walker was able to embrace nostalgia in the show in the form of bikes that were built even before some of the builders present were born.
Ben Serotta got his start at Witcomb Cycles in England along with Richard Sachs and Peter Weigle. When Serotta first hung out his shingle he worked on his own, but he quickly followed a more traditional European model and began adding apprentices to work under him. Today, Serotta is lauded for straddling the worlds of production building with custom-fit frames.
The frame shown here is #164 and dates from the 1970s. Built before the terms “politically correct” and “female objectification” had entered the common lexicon of stuff not to do, the frame is a most unusual collaboration. Two sculptures, one adorning the head tube, the other wrapping around the bottom bracket were crafted by Serotta’s sister, Marcie. She also cut the lugs into their asymmetric feminine forms. Ben handled all the actual fabrication.
I’ve seen a great many bikes with lugs cut into unusual forms, but the combination of asymmetric designs paired with an unusual (and memorable) theme make this my single most favorite bike of the show. It shows a degree of creativity that would be fresh today, but was unheard-of for the 1970s.
I hope people can see beyond the two sculptures and into the greater celebration of the female form. I find a surprising harmony in it; I don’t really find the two sculptures titillating.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect to this bike was simply its appearance at the show. That it hasn’t been lost to the sands of time by being sold off to some collector is a great argument for why publicly funded art galleries should exist. I’d love to revisit this frame each year at NAHBS.
When I was a shop rat in the 1980s, I worked for the one and only Serotta dealer in Memphis, Tennessee. It was kinda like being the singer in the best band in Iuka, Mississippi, I suppose. Regardless, the Serotta Colorado was a bike I coveted the way a guy in a midlife crisis covets a Corvette. I couldn’t live without it, but had to. The swaged down tube that fit in a lug at top and was fillet-brazed over the lug points at the BB shell, the S-bend chainstays and the stellar paint had me dreaming about racing this bike over every road I could find. To me, the Colorado was the perfect marriage of superior design, impeccable performance and gorgeous appearance. It was Pamela Anderson in steel.
I’ve never owned one, though I’ve ridden a few and spent nearly a year riding its protege, an Atlanta, one of my all-time favorite steel bikes. Everything about the Colorado was class, right down to the sloping fork crown, pantographed with the word “Colorado” and the Serotta “S.”
I recall showing dozens of friends how the down tube grew in diameter so much that it fit over the socket for the down tube at the BB shell. It was my undeniable, irrefutable sales pitch for the superiority of the Colorado. You want stiff? This is stiffer than anything you’ve ridden.
Later, Dave Kirk, now of Kirk Frameworks, invented a rear suspension system. The DKS suspension was the only rear suspension for a road bike to go into serious production. Where the seatstays met the chainstays they were bolted together with the aid of a bearing. The curvature of the seatstays was designed to allow for a bit of vertical compliance. Kirk told me that for most riders, vertical travel was only about 1mm, but that single thumbnail was enough for most riders to sense and to recognize improved tracking on rough roads. To provide damping, two silicon bumpers ran along the seatstays. The bumpers were available in three densities and while folks at Serotta thought most riders would opt for the stiffest of the three bumpers, most riders who tried the system (including Davis Phinney and Ron Kiefel) preferred the light grey bumpers shown here, the softest bumpers, which allowed the greatest travel.
Though it’s no longer in production, the DKS suspension was a remarkable step forward. I’ll be interested to see what comes next.
This bike had to be the other real rock star of the show. Tom Ritchey built this frame in the 1970s for his father. Yes, his father. Sitting behind three other frames Ritchey built just for the show (a Swiss Cross and two mountain bikes), this one was rather easy to overlook. Despite its position at the back of the booth, it was, in my estimation the most interesting bike in Ritchey’s booth because it showcased Ritchey’s abilities in creative thought, mechanical wizardry and artistry.
You’ve already seen this shot and the incredibly filed and shaped lug. Be sure to notice the cap-less fork blades. The weep holes are situated at the very bottom of the fork blades to make sure water will drain should the rider (Dad) get caught in the rain.
Thanks to Ritchey’s way-before-its-time seat mast design the brake cable is perfectly centered as it enters the top tube just ahead of the seat lug and then exits what would otherwise be the bottom of the seat lug. It makes for a very stealthy look.
This has to be the single smallest cable guide I’ve ever seen.
The integration of the seat post into the seat is very cool looking and was no doubt really light for its day, but perhaps what is most surprising is that Ritchey had to have the fit absolutely dialed for while the saddle could be raised and lowered, fore and aft adjustment was not possible, nor was tilt. You got one shot to get it right.
These are the elusive Cinelli clipless pedals. They required sliding the cleat into the pedal and then locking the cleat into place by sliding the lever at the front of the pedal. All the sets I’ve ever seen were in display cases of one form or another. Even if they had been ridden, the fact that they were so hard to use without near constant crashing meant that after what were often fairly expensive (for those days) efforts to secure the pedals, no one wanted to get rid of them. They remained cool even in the face of near suicidally poor operation.
I wish wrapping handlebars was easier or that I was less lazy. There. It’s out. Now I can begin recovery. I’m such a nerd for ergonomics and comfort that if adjusting handlebar and lever position was anywhere near as simple as say, adjusting saddle position, I could spend whole weekends playing with lever and bar position.
In truth, while I do a very pro job of wrapping a bar, once I have taped the cables in place, I really don’t want to make any further adjustments. Like I said, I’m lazy and it’s too much work.
I’ll mount a bar, position the levers where I think they need to be and then go ride around my neighborhood for a minute with the cable housing flapping in the wind. When I roll back to the garage I might adjust the roll of the bar or the height of the levers, but once I tape down the cable housing, those levers aren’t moving another millimeter.
I love to look at how the pros set up their bars; I’ve seen some pretty surprising stuff. It used to be that the bottom edge of a lever was in plane with the bottom of a bar. Always. And the bottom of the bar was parallel to the ground. When I first learned to ride and work on bikes, I saw countless bikes set up just like Richard Virenque’s is above. It would be more than 20 years before I considered that other positions might increase my comfort. Eventually, you started seeing guys like Lance Armstrong roll the traditional bend bar up just a bit.
In the mid-1990s I saw Sean Yates’ bar rolled down. It seemed physically impossible for him to put his hands on the levers the way they were positioned. Later, in 2002, Johan Musseuw’s bar was positioned crazy low and the levers were rolled up so high they seemed just as impossible to put your hands on the hoods. Then I noticed how when he did place his hands on the hoods, there was no bend at the wrist. The combination of how bar and relatively short reach made the lever position workable.
The new Ritchey Logic WCS Carbon Curve bar gave me a chance to experiment with just what works best for me with a compact bar. The short/shallow bar is to the 2010s what the anatomic bar was to the 1990s. I haven’t been super-sold on the new shape for a few reasons.
My first reservation is the mindset that led to the bar’s design. It came about from riders getting rid of all the spacers between the headset and the stem and then realizing that riding in the drops wasn’t too comfortable. The solution? Give the bar less drop.
Many years ago some very experienced riders taught me that if you run a deep-drop bar fairly high you can maintain a flat back when in the drops and still enjoy a rather upright position for maximum climbing power when on the bar top. It’s one of the reasons I like the FSA K-Wing bar so much. But enough of that.
Little known fact: The compact bars on the market almost all feature a 128mm drop. Traditional bend bars, which to me are as comfortable as trying to wear a child’s shoes, are still surprisingly prevalent in the pro peloton and feature a 130mm drop—just 2mm difference. Reach on traditional bend bars is usually in the 87-88mm range, about 3mm more than most compact bars. So, on paper they don’t seem to different, but in practice, the difference in curve makes the difference in fit and comfort dramatic.
The Ritchey Logic WCS Carbon Curve bar I reviewed had a 31.8mm clamping diameter and a 42cm (c-c) width. Advertised weight is 206g and my bar weighed in at 208g. Pretty stinkin’ close.
To try to squeeze a little extra reach out of compact bars and to position my hand in the flattest portion of the drop, I roll them out until the reach is parallel to the ground. This seems to be a fairly common way to position based on what I’ve seen in the pro peloton.
Little known fact #2: Fabian Cancellara rode a compact bar on his bike in both Flanders and Roubaix. Go figure. Had I not seen it, I’d have assumed he would ride a deep drop bar, in part just because he’s so flexible.
For those of you who are still riding aluminum bars I can’t stress just how much a carbon fiber bar increases comfort for the hands by damping vibration that would otherwise travel through an aluminum bar. I really don’t ever want to have to ride an aluminum bar ever again. Which means I need to do something about the bar on my ‘cross bike.
In reviewing this Ritchey bar I realized that I’ve ridden at least four different compact bars and while I thought that the shape of the drop was virtually identical from manufacturer to manufacturer (at least, it was really close on the first three), the decreasing radius bend (the bend gets tighter the closer you get to the levers) of the bar is more comfortable to my hand than any of the others I’ve tried. The lesson: Not all compact bars are created equal.
The stunning spread of carbon fiber to nearly every component on the bike and its accordant inflation of the cost of every single bike component in which it is used is nothing to cheer about. It’s how we went from $5000 bikes to $10,000 bikes in 10 years. So while I’m not wild about spending $284.95 for a bar, the Carbon Curve is lighter, stiffer, stronger and more comfortable than an aluminum bar. It is an F1 car competing against a Jeep Cherokee.
Virenque image: John Pierce, Photosport International