Ritte Racing’s Spencer Canon has been on my radar ever since he started his blog. I didn’t know who he was, but I knew he was one of mine. He had the knowledge of a lifer geek and a sense of humor that could rival BSNYC and Fat Cyclist. No easy task. I’d drop by the blog every now and then to get a laugh and then one day noticed, whoa, there are kits! There’s a club? He’s selling bikes?
Spencer almost certainly doesn’t describe the rise of Ritte this way, but in my view, he backed into a brand. When I look at Ritte, I see an aesthetic first, and products second. That’s probably a better way to build a brand than most do it, but I’ve never read a book that suggests this. People start with a product. Spencer started with a vibe.
We’ve been trying to hook up for a ride and general hang-out time for ages. Despite living less than 20 miles from me, I see him twice a year, but I see his team members and other assorted folks wearing his kits almost every damn day I’m on the bike. Neat trick.
We finally meshed schedules yesterday and had my shoulder been kinder, I could have spent the whole day riding around and chatting with Spencer. I meet a lot of people who burn with a holy light for cycling. Thank heaven. But I don’t meet that many who have the ability to bottle that passion and share it with others. Spencer is one of those guys. We could have done the stock thing of him sending me a bike to review, but that seemed to miss the point to both of us. Getting together was a chance to talk bikes and making a lasting and positive effect on a community you care for.
And ride a dirt road or two.
Ritte’s got six different models. I rode one of the newest, the Muur. Built by veteran framesmith Russ Denny to Spencer’s geometry, the Muur is a three carbon fiber tube frame paired with stainless steel lugs and a stainless steel rear triangle. Enve, from whom they source the carbon tubes and fork make enough different diameter tubes that he could have chosen any arrangement of carbon fiber and stainless steel. The stainless steel comes from KVA, Paragon and some raw stock Spencer has machined to his specs. So while he could have done a full carbon rear triangle, he chose to make that stainless and keep carbon in the front triangle. While most builders have moved away from that approach, his thinking was that the stainless rear triangle would give the bike some life while the carbon front triangle would retain the stiffness so many riders have come to expect from a carbon fiber bike.
We took in some Malibu roads that I know well, beginning with a climb that sorts pretenders from those who live right. I ain’t been livin’ right. Ugh. As I got out of the saddle on a few of the steep pitches I noticed a greater degree of stiffness than I’ve ever experienced on any of the old three-tube carbon bikes I’ve ridden in the past. What was surprising was that I could detect some flex just in the rear triangle. I think this bike would find a home among riders who like big miles and don’t want to give up the torsional stiffness we’ve come to enjoy on today’s bikes.
Spencer likes the down. I like that. The north side of Old Topanga is a descent that can be dropped with very little braking. Chasing him down its nearly memorized contours gave me a great chance to push the Muur a bit. What I notice when I go back to all steel bikes is that they don’t respond as crisply as newer carbon ones right at the point of entry to a sharp turn.
Allow me to digress a bit. In Malibu it’s really important, due to all the tight, off-camber and frequently decreasing radius turns, to wait until you can see the exit before trying to apex the turn. That means that I’m frequently letting the bike run straight, next to some painted line, until the last possible second, before diving into the turn.
With its stiff front triangle and Enve fork, the Muur tracked really well as I dove into turns. In that regard the bike felt more familiar to me than it ought.
Rather than head into the canyon roads, we dropped into the San Fernando Valley briefly to get onto the old Mulholland Highway, what locals refer to as Dirt Mulholland. We took that climb back up to a fire road descent that had everyone we passed doing double-takes. After all, if you can get an odd look riding those fire roads on a ‘cross bike (and I do) then a full-on road bike with 25mm clinchers is due for some slack-jawed WTFs.
Yeah, we would have been faster if we’d been on full-suspension 29ers, but I’m not convinced we would have had more fun.
And Spencer is a cat who clearly understands fun.
At some essential level, I’m a geek. For most of my life it was considered an essential personality flaw. These days, because I work in the bike industry, I can do things like walk into Interbike, see friends at the Ritchey booth and get excited about a tiny little stem. Now, this forged beauty shown above weighs a mere 105 grams. It features reversed out bolts and a 260-degree opening in its 31.8mm clamp diameter to maintain strength.
My buddy Spencer at Ritte is something of a style factory. I had a pretty technical conversation with him about all the ways he’s working to improve his bikes and grow his business, but it’s touches like the stuff above that attract people to his work. Gorgeous sells. For good reason.
I meet people from time to time who are unwilling to wear (what they think are) the garish designs of many clothing companies. They ask me about stuff that’s calm without looking dorky. Honestly, I rarely have an answer. And while Hincapie is doing lots of stuff that’s right up my alley, what most stood out this year was this jersey because it made me think, “At last, I have an answer.”
I’ve been learning a lot about BH bike lately. I’m not sure who they are working with to actually produce their bikes, but they are using some very cutting edge technology. BH, if you don’t already know, is a Spanish company, but Chris Cocalis, the visionary behind Titus Titanium and the carbon/ti technology called Exogrid, is the mastermind behind BH’s new products and the engineering for this new frame was done here in the U.S.
What I’ve learned from a variety of engineers has led me look for certain design cues when I see a new frame. Small chainstays (like so small you can’t get the can’t get the camera to focus on them), square shapes used sparingly and round shapes used plenty.
The Ultralight is the bike I’m most excited to ride of everything I saw this year. BH claims a weight of 747g for the bare frame.
If I’m going to run an errand on the bike, I wear a helmet, but I fully admit that I positively feel like a dork if I wear something like the Aeon or Prevail with cotton clothing. The new Giro Reverb does several cool things. First, it gives me a basic lid perfect for errands. Second, it’s safe enough to be worth wearing. Finally it gives a nice dollop of nostalgia for a helmet I was wearing back in the mid-90s. That may be the most impressive achievement of all; I don’t get nostalgic for the ’90s.
Bike Effect is a new bike studio in Los Angeles (Santa Monica, technically), one of only two in the city and the only one on the west side. Owners Steven and Alison are also the place to find Rapha clothing in Southern California. On Saturday, they hosted Slate Olson and the Rapha Team for the first-ever Rapha Gentlemen’s Ride in L.A.
It was the perfect opportunity to see the full Rapha line in person. Pieces I’d only dreamed about were on display in every color available. With plenty of coffee and pastries (they had the best croissants I’ve had in L.A.), roughly 50 riders fueled up for the coming ride through the Santa Monica Mountains.
The big climbs of the day were Topanga, Fernwood and Saddle Peak, followed by the descent of Stunt and the climb up Piuma and Schueren and back over Saddle Peak before the final drop down Tuna Canyon.
Naturally, there was a bit of curiosity concerning just whether or not a ride on a gorgeous day in SoCal could constitute a Rapha ride. Those concerns were alleviated when it began raining on the descent of Stunt. Based on appearances, there were plenty of people used to wet, but not used to wet and downhill at the same time.