Let’s keep this one simple: Builders in Northern California have been holding a series of rides called the “Meet Your Maker Tour.” It’s a chance to meet and ride with some of NorCal’s finest builders.
There’s another edition coming up, this Sunday, November 10.
This will be a cyclocross ride in and around Mount Tam, some 37 miles worth.
Let’s consider this for a moment: frame builders, road bikes on unpaved surfaces, Mount Tam. It’s a win-win-win.
I’m going to be there. I don’t mention that as a selling point; I’ve got an ex-wife who can attest it’s not. I only mention as a testament to just how cool I think the event is.
But back to the selling points: the frame builders and manufacturers include: Black Cat, Blue Collar, Bruce Gordon, Caletti, Calfee, Falconer, Frances, Hunter, Paragon Machine Works, Pass and Stow, Paul Components, Rebolledo, Retrotec, Rex Cycles, Rock Lobster, Souldcraft, Sycip and White Industries.
I shot these images at the Gran La Fonda before Levi’s Gran Fondo. Meant to do a post about it … and got busy with other stuff.
To partake, all you have to do is show up to Railroad Square in Mill Valley, Granolia, at 10 am, on Sunday. To learn more, go here.
Do you remember that Coyote and Road Runner cartoon where Wile E. Coyote purchases the Acme rocket sled only to shoot up into the stars upon ignition and explode, thus turning into a constellation of an archer? Well that’s what it feels like to climb out of the car in the dusty gravel parking lot at Bootleg Canyon. No matter how well you have planned, there is always a sense (for me at least) of, “Ohmigod, where do I start?”
This year after grabbing my credentials and saying a few hellos, I headed to Shimano’s air conditioned tent (bless their blue souls) for the introduction of their new line of mountain bike shoes. The new shoe brings Shimano’s Custom-Fit technology to the off-road world. While I haven’t molded them yet, I installed a set of cleats and decided to walk around in them a bit and ride in them to see how stable they felt when walking on gravel and if they felt good while on the bike. They were surprisingly comfortable both on the bike and off. Expect a review of these.
I’ve long liked Easton wheels for the quality of their builds. Every set of wheels from them I’ve ever ridden stayed remarkably true. However, a couple of them did have issues with bearings, and while the more recent wheels I’ve ridden have been trouble-free, I know that others have not been as fortunate. For 2014, Easton has completely redesigned their hubs to eliminate bearing preload problems and solve the problem with bearings wearing out prematurely.
The entire freehub body has been redesigned and among the new features is a headset bearing that allows the pawls to engage after only seven degrees of rotation. The old carbon wheels have been eliminated in favor of one new wheel which they are reporting is the fastest wheel on the market. You can see the wheels on the Calfee below. They say their wind tunnel testing shows they are faster than the Zipp Firecrest 404s, and the Enve 6.7s.
Easton is running a promotion, about which you can get details on our Facebook page, that will give you a chance to win a dream bike. Among the bikes are this Calfee Manta Pro, plus bikes from Rock Lobster, Black Cat and others.
The Calfee features rear suspension. I’m told it has 12mm of travel, which may not be the 120mm of some mountain bikes, was still enough to soften the bumps in the road. This seems to be a very new design and while it certain did what it purported, there was some twisting in the wishbone when I was out of the saddle that caused the rear brake to rub.
It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to look at a Calfee up close and they continue to be beautiful bikes that are exceedingly well crafted. The touch of the internally routed brake cable was something I’ve not seen before.
When I see Craig Calfee at the show later this week, I’ll be asking him just how this suspension works. It’s unusual looking, but it was effective.
In my many years on this planet I never enjoyed the opportunity to ride a Rock Lobster until today. I’ve got a host of friends who are big fans of Paul Sadoff’s work; some of them own multiple Rock Lobsters. This was one of the other dream bikes that’s a part of the Easton contest.
This road bike was built from Easton Scandium tubing. It’s been perhaps as many as 10 years since I last rode a Scandium frame and I’d forgotten just how good they feel. For a moment out on the road, I though the bike was steel. At least, I did until I looked again at the weld bead. This was a surprisingly light bike and felt smooth in a way I just don’t associate with aluminum.
Says it all.
I got pretty excited about the BMC TMR01 at last year’s show when it was unveiled. I finally had the chance to ride one today. It was a very fast ride. No one confuses Mavic carbon Cosmics with the fastest wheels around, but they are definitely faster than a box rim. I’d put it in the same class of aero bikes with the Cervelo S5 and Litespeed C1R and ahead of the Specialized Venge.
With the front brake shrouded and the rear brake tucked up under the bottom bracket, this bike has a distinct advantage over some bikes aerodynamically.
My initial impression was that this bike isn’t so stiff to rattle your brain and offers better sensitivity to the road surface than most aero road bikes. I’ve requested one of these for an in-depth review. Honestly, I think it’s the most interesting bike BMC makes, and they make many interesting bikes.
As a latecomer to both the industry and riding at 28, I dove in during the spring of 2010 with the unbridled enthusiasm of a five year old at Disney Land. I wanted to learn everything about everything, immediately. My first lesson?
Lighter is better, carbon is lighter, therefore, carbon is better.
Cycling also turned me into a fierce competitor; someone who was obsessed with going faster and getting stronger—than other people. That was key. Going faster and getting stronger than other people. And to do that, I needed the best bike. I needed carbon.
And I did get faster, and I did get stronger, and eventually, I started to become the rider I wanted to be.
Very soon, I scored a job at an amazing bike shop in North Carolina, owned by a man renowned in the biz as The Vintage Expert. When he talked about the old racers and the old bikes, his eyes became brighter, his gestures grander. We sold carbon, but his first love was steel, and so the shop burst with his personal collection. An all original Masi Gran Criterium hung next to a 1950s Hetchins track bike that hung next to a Schwinn Paramount. I spent slow winter Tuesday afternoons studying them, honing my eye and discerning what made each one unique. I came to appreciate an even weld and a well-executed lug.
I even dabbled in vintage steel myself, scoring a beautiful red Gios with SLX tubing. I painstakingly pieced together an entire Dura Ace Black drillium grouppo for it, hubs and all. I found a Nitto Pearl stem and Sakae bars. I felt a true connection to that bike, but I still never rode it. I didn’t see the practical point, since it wouldn’t make me faster, stronger, or the rider I wanted to be. Eventually, I sold it to get money for a new carbon rig, sad at the loss but knowing it was for a greater good.
After moving to California in 2011, I found the state played the game at a whole new level. In my opinion, I had become a pretty good rider, but as soon as I saddled up on the West coast, not a single group ride went by that I wasn’t shot off the back. And so I had to up my game. I rode more and rode harder. I bought a newer, lighter carbon bike so I could benefit from every advantage and stay on track to become the rider I wanted to be.
But steel never went away. I bought a purple vintage Rossin off ebay. I loved the way it rode and preferred it to the feel of my race rig, but still treated it just a nice lark to play around with on rest days, an eccentricity. It wasn’t carbon, so how could it possibly help me be faster and stronger?
Because I was sure the carbon bike had a large part to play in my progression as the cyclist I wanted to be, and as such, I continuously looked for ways make it lighter and faster. Last year’s bike became disposable and next year’s bike became coveted in an endless cycle of discarding and wanting. It felt empty, but also necessary.
Then, my crusher friends Steve and Jason invited me on what would be my first cyclocross/road ride in the Santa Cruz mountains. I accepted, excited to be included on a ride with such strong company. Still, I felt that I needed every advantage possible, and so borrowed the lightest carbon cross rig I could for the occasion.
We started riding.
Two hours later, completely cooked, I looked up at my friends riding 10 meters in front of me, side by side, their hands resting lightly on the tops of their bars and a conversation clearly on their lips. We were one mile into the three mile Empire Grade Road, a name synonymous in that area with steep, unrelenting stair step climbs.
I looked up at their bikes, now 12 meters in front of me. Jason rode an emerald Gunnar, a bike he had for ten years and rebuilt several times, the parts a mash up of forethought and whatever he happened to have in the garage. Steve rode his all-time favorite bike, a red Rock Lobster built for him by his good friend Paul. He painstakingly chose each component, making sure the overall picture was simultaneously beautiful and utilitarian. You could tell that each bike had a relationship with its rider, and you could tell that both bikes were loved.
Then I looked down at my bike. High modulus carbon, lightest of light, stiffest of stiff. But it wasn’t a bike I chose because I loved it. It was a bike I chose because I thought it would make me faster and better. Except it wasn’t. Jason and Steve rode away from me, while talking, because no bike could hide the truth: they were simply stronger riders than I.
But as their relaxed, upright backs disappeared around a switchback 15 meters ahead of me, that fact was suddenly OK. They were just enjoying their ride, and it was OK to not be as strong or as fast they were. It was OK to simply be the rider I was at that given moment, and to enjoy the ride with them.
With that realization came a sense of freedom. I could finally choose whichever bike I wanted to ride, simply because I wanted to ride it. I didn’t have to rely on a bike to try and turn me into something more, or better, of faster. I didn’t have to constantly strive to be the rider I wanted to be; being a rider was enough.
And my God, did I want to ride steel.
Today, I have two metal whips. A Caletti Cycles custom adventure road bike that will double as a cyclocross bike this fall, and the vintage Rossin. The Caletti is a light blue with black decals, and built with great attention to every detail. When I ride it, I feel like it’s a friend who will be with me for the rest of my life. The Rossin is a no nonsense, what you see is what you get sort of partner. It was a solid bike when made in 1989, and it’s still a solid bike today. I built it up with a mix of modern Frankenbike components. When I ride it, I feel like it says to me, “All right, ready to play?” I always answer yes.
Some days I’m strong. Some days I’m tired. But I’m always a rider. And these are my bikes.
In telling members of my family that I was headed to Monterey for a week—without my wife or son—there were, inevitably, questions about just what my justification was. How important could a bike event that wasn’t the Tour de France be? My response helped make fresh an event I’ve been going to for something like 15 years.
I told family and non-cycling friends that the Sea Otter Classic has more different types of racing in one place than any other event I’ve ever attended—nay, any event I’ve ever heard of. Early on, it was a mountain bike event. Then it added a couple of road events. Today, it’s much, much more. It’s easier to define what it doesn’t have than all that it does; other than cyclocross (which would be kinda silly in spring), all that’s missing is BMX (no track) and track (they did try running some events in San Jose a few years back, but that seemed to be a bridge too far). What really helped round out the festival, making it more non-racer friendly was the addition of two gran fondos, one on-road, the other off-road.
The real glue holding the event together seems less the racing than the expo. The Sea Otter was made in the mold of the season opener of the 1990s, the Cactus Cup and the old NORBA Nationals in Big Bear and Mammouth Mountain. Those events drew spectators in a way other races failed to achieve thanks in no small part to the expo areas they hosted. Today, Sea Otter is something of a spring Outdoor Demo. Companies like SRAM use it as an opportunity to launch products so they can achieve attention for products that either weren’t ready or might have gotten lost in the shuffle of Eurobike or Interbike. Sea Otter’s expo is so large that what you could easily get through in an afternoon 14 years ago can now require a methodical approach spanning three days.
Did I mention, it’s fun as hell?
Perhaps nothing has done more to cement in my mind the idea that the Sea Otter is one of the best events in cycling, an event that can draw anyone with even the slightest interest in things two-wheeled than the photo that leads this post. Last year I wrote a feature for peloton magazine about the New England bike industry and one of the most significant figures within it was mountain bike pioneer Chris Chance. I spent two months trying to find Chance. No dice. Then, as I’m talking to John Neugent of Neuvation Cycling fame, Chance walks up and says hi. I had no idea that John had helped Chris get his job at Witcomb Cycles working with Richard Sachs and Peter Weigle.
File this under “you can’t make this up”: Chance lives in mountain bike heaven these days. He’s in Marin County. And I’ve got his business card.
This year my role was a good bit different than in years past. While I still played journalist to some degree, checking out new products, much of my job was in support of our two ad guys, Roger Wotton and recent addition Nick Ramey. Nick has joined us to help land advertising for Charles Pelkey’s Live Update Guy. Rather than paying Charles a flat contributor fee the way most freelancers are treated, we’re treating him like the star that he is: we’ll be paying him a percentage of the ad revenue. Why do I mention this? Well, the companies that have expressed interest in advertising on LUG are interested precisely because it’s Charles. We hope you’ll think kindly of those companies once we are able to sign a contract or two.
The closest thing to a failing the event has is that sometimes the racing seems like a sideshow, or worse, a distraction when compared to the expo. It can be jarring to walk by the many tents set up and see some racer straddling a bike, clearly still out of breath from a recently finished event. But the image above really speaks to my love of the event. It’s a chance to bump into cycling (not just industry) friends. And Rapha, by the way, took the opportunity to use Sea Otter to introduce a few new products. I wore the brand new bib shorts and will soon try their new base layers. They also have a new series of casual shirts (it’s kind of insulting to call them T-shirts) that speak to the company’s love of the history of the sport. You’ll hear more about those very soon.
Then there’s the stuff you never expected to see, like this creation from Paul Sadoff, or the stunning Ibis Maximus. Sadoff rescued some S&S couplers from a damaged bike and then used a bunch of other scraps and orphaned parts to build up this bike for little other than his labor.
Unfortunately, I missed some friends and a few companies that were showing stuff I was really interested in because I had to skedaddle (only time you’ll hear that verb on this blog, I promise) for home and a book signing (no pictures, thank heaven) on Saturday afternoon. I’ll be honest, the LA Times Festival of Books was the only thing that could get me to leave Sea Otter early.
And this year was the first year I rode off-road at Laguna Seca … ever. What the hell is the world coming to? Stay tuned, I’ll tell you more.
The second annual San Diego Custom Bicycle show took place this past weekend at the Town and Country Resort north of downtown San Diego. The show was a bit bigger this year, with more exhibitors overall and the organizers (builders Dave Ybarrola, Chuck Schlesinger and Brian Baylis) sold out the available booth spaces. All good things, but for the devoted, there was a detail that made the show much, much cooler this year. More builders.
The number of builders in attendance jumped noticeably and there were more builders who you couldn’t call local by any means. Brent Steelman, Sean Walling of Soulcraft, Mike DeSalvo and many others made the trek down from NorCal and Oregon. Mark Nobilette made it out from Colorado. Dave Bohm of Bohemian came in from Arizona and Serotta and Bilenky helped represent for the East Coast.
Dave Ybarrola says next year’s event will have to be held in a larger facility to accept its growth. No matter. This year’s show was terrific. It reminded me of the second year of NAHBS, when it was held in Palo Alto and the attendees were by and large custom bike fans.
In this and another post I’ll present some of the show’s highlights.
This shot and the one above are from a frame built by the super-talented and little-known builder Peter Johnson. He’s known for ultra-thin points and fillets that bring a gentle sweep to his lugs.
Paul Sadoff of Rock Lobster showed this single-speed ‘cross bike with beautifully cut lugs and a killer head tube badge.
The rear triangle on this Rock Lobster features these very trick adjusters to make proper chain tension easy no matter what gear you run.
Sadoff is not without a sense of humor.
Funniest bike of the show award goes to Keith Anders for his satirical take on a classic Eddy Merckx.
Not the Cannibal, but the neighbor.
Anderson made this amazing boy’s bike with disc brakes, wood fenders and chain guard.
Yes, Virginia, that’s mother-of-pearl inlay.
Most furniture stores I go to don’t feature woodwork this nice.
Not everything was handmade bikes, though. This cabinet was stuffed with NOS parts, and plenty of it was Campy.
Custom, lugged stems are becoming more common and this chromed unit from Greg Townsend was one of the prettiest examples at the show.