With another year coming to an end, this is our annual excuse to look back and recognize those moments from this year that are worthy of further acknowledgment and/or memorialization, even in those cases where the event is something we’d rather forget. But let’s not belabor the point; we’re going to jump in.
The Dr. Seuss ‘Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now?’ Engraved Invitation: Initially Seuss swore that his book, written and published as the Watergate scandal filled televisions and newspapers, wasn’t an allegory of wishful thinking for Richard M. Nixon (the names scan the same), but we know better. This award has to go to Lance Armstrong. Damn it, the only thing I loved more than watching this guy race was watching him in front of the press, especially when I was in the room. He was a world-class prick more carefully doped than East Germany’s entire 1972 Olympic team, but he provided drama in a way that an entire armada of George Hincapies would never be able to deliver. Prior to his retirement, he was never not interesting, which is different than being likable or trustworthy. The Oprah appearance was a disaster for him personally and professionally and his subsequent media appearances have served to underscore the unfortunate truth that he only understands stories that he makes up. I still believe he could play a useful role in a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but I doubt it will actually take place. What I most wish he would come to appreciate is that there’s something we hate even more than his ongoing legal defense(s)—the thought of watching him compete … at anything.
The Penn and Teller Disappearing Act Trophy: This goes to the rider who by virtue of his near complete reversal of athletic fortune has caused me to think maybe he really was clean. That man? Bradley Wiggins. I was suspicious of Wiggins’ winning ways in 2012 for the simple fact that he set a record of fitness even Eddy Merckx didn’t manage. Wiggins’ 2012 season (sorry for the refresher course) included the overall victories at Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie, the Criterium du Dauphiné, the Tour de France and even the gold medal in the ITT at the Olympics—six months of perfect form. Maintaining that much fitness for that long was so outside likelihood it begged suspicion. It was classic more-than-meets-the-eye stuff. And then Wiggins followed up such an amazing year with … the overall victory at the Tour of Britain. Remember how Fleetwood Mac followed up “Rumors” with “Tusk”? Yeah, it’s like that. If he keeps riding this way, he won’t need to threaten the world with going back to the track. I can’t help but think that if the secret to his success had been something as obvious as oxygen-vector doping it would have been easier to replicate. But I could be wrong.
The Not-Quite Gold Watch Retirement Gift: This is less my award than the award presented collectively by the ProTeam directors who refuse to sign this year’s Vuelta a Espana victor to a contract. For reasons that are hard to understand, European teams have had a hard time paying Chris Horner what he’s worth. Unlike rising Hollywood stars who make the mistake of asking for more money than Tom Cruise makes, Horner has always had the sense to ask for money equal to what others delivering what he delivered make. It’s a sensible approach. Unfortunately, his Vuelta victory has come so late in his career that team directors have been left to think that either his victory was as the result of techniques too risky to pursue or that his amazing wick has only minutes left to burn. Either way, a guy who has earned a seven-figure payday may not see it.
The Biggest News of the Year Effigy: I keep waiting for someone, anyone to mention the single most jaw-dropping allegation contained within Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell’s book, “Wheelmen.” I’ve avoided mentioning exactly what it is because I try only to deliver plot spoilers to my own stories. However, no one is talking about it, so I’m going to out this little detail now: the book alleges that for the 2000 and 2001 Tours, Jan Ullrich rode clean. Why no one is talking about this black hole of a detail I can’t fathom. The very bedrock assumption we work from regarding doping is that everyone was doing it at the top of the sport. That belief is why I criticized the effort to go after Lance Armstrong with a singularity of purpose; I’ve long written that to reform the sport authorities needed to attack the the peloton equally. The great surprise is that our chagrined belief that there was no way to properly apportion the Tour win during Armstrong’s reign becomes a good deal easier than Pi for two of Armstrong’s victories. Just do it old school—hand it to the guy who finished second—Jan Ullrich.
The Horse Head in the Bed Buried Treasure: If this hasn’t already happened to Johan Bruyneel, you have to figure it’s coming. Can there be anyone in professional cycling with less to lose by telling the whole of his story? Similarly, can there be anyone that guys like Armstrong, Thom Weisel, Bill Stapleton and the rest of the Tailwinds mafia is more terrified to go Floyd Landis and spell everything out?
The Barack Obama Overly Biographied Life Pin: He may be the finest sprinter in the sport currently, but at 28 years of age, I’m not convinced Mark Cavendish’s life is already deserving of one biography, let alone two. Nothing against the people who worked on the books or the companies that published them—I can’t blame them for wanting to turn a buck on a big personality, but it takes some hubris to green light a biography before you’ve turned 30. To do it a second time … sheesh.
The Man-Up Commemorative Fist Bump: Recalls are a fact of manufacturing. If you manufacture something and have never issued a recall either you haven’t been at it for very long or you’re not producing goods en masse. SRAM recently took the nearly unprecedented step of issuing not just a massive recall of their road hydro brakes but a “do not use” warning. The root of the call relates to seal failure at temperatures below freezing, something that can occur during some winter cyclocross races. My buddy Byron at BikeHugger had a failure under far less unfriendly conditions and has been vocal in his disappointment. It’s an unfortunately turn of events for a new technology and there will be—without doubt—some people who will use this recall as all the reason to turn their backs on the technology as a result. The recall saves them the need to give the new brakes any thought. It’s not uncommon for a manufacturer to downplay the severity of a problem after issuing a recall in an effort to suffer as little bruising as possible. SRAM’s “do not use” warning staked any face-saving PR effort to the ground before driving the bus over it themselves. Better yet, SRAM created a separate site with an easy-to-find link from the company’s home page outlines what they know, when they found out and what they are doing to address the problem. Wikipedia’s definition for “transparency” has been updated to mention both “SRAM” and “Stan Day.” The approach is a tremendous statement about the company’s integrity and their regard for the consumers who ride their products. They deserve praise for doing what was unquestionably the right thing to do.
The Obligatory “It goes to 11″ Spinal Tap Reference: (Sorry, SRAM, but you guys are the only entity to get two awards, and while my previous award was a compliment, this one will be less so.) After introducing a slightly revamped 11-speed Red group this year, the company persisted in offering only cassettes that begin with an 11-tooth cog. While I know plenty of people who are willing to pedal around in a 50×11 with a cadence in the 40s, I only ride with one guy—Rahsaan Bahati—who can wind out a 50×11 in a flat sprint. The point here isn’t that you can’t make use of that gear, it’s that consumers would be better served with another cog in the middle, especially with that jump from the 19 to the 22 on the 11-28. Shimano offers a 12-25 and a 12-28, why can’t they? SRAM’s unwillingness to offer a cassette that begins with a 12 is my biggest pet peeve in tech, and that’s saying something.
The Red Wing® Lead Foot Book End: You might think this would go to the company that does more to create products to truly make people go fast, say an outfit like Zipp or Enve. In this case the lead refers less to the weight of the foot than the unintended contents of the foot. With their recent cease-and-desist letter to Café Roubaix, Specialized shot themselves in a certain extremity. While a reasonable person may observe that Specialized had some valid concerns where product is concerned, I can’t recall an occasion when public opinion more effectively lynched a company’s reputation. The shame here is that I don’t know of another company doing as much advocacy work on behalf of cycling as Specialized, but getting those stories to go viral the way this one did … well, this just proves how much more delicious bad news is. This dust-up contains a few classic object lessons: 1) counsel needs to think before it writes, and maybe even talk to some people on the inside 2) there’s a reason people hate lawyers and 3) reputations are hard to restore; just ask Lindsay Lohan.
The Best Cycling on TV Believability Index Blue Ribbon: The RedBull Rampage is an event that can cause me to repeatedly exclaim, “I don’t believe it!” Of course, my protestations are unintentionally ironic, a kind of hyperbolic affirmation to antigravity artists who have the ability to turn my inner ear against me even as I thrall to feats that take less time to unfold than the last 5k of a road race. Were drug testing performed at the Redbull Rampage the results would be funnier than a Louis CK routine. There’d be no worries about EPO, transfusions, clenbuterol or insulin; no, I expect we’d see lots of THC and other hallucinogens. Maybe a bit of cocaine, for these pilots are no strangers to euphoria. Watching downhilling and freeriding has become a way for me to watch cycling competition on TV without having to ask any ugly questions when the winner is announced.
The Top Step of the Podium Vindication Media Tour: It’s a four-way tie between David Walsh, Betsy Andreu, Emma O’Reilly and Greg LeMond. ‘Nuff said.
The Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out Bouncer Toss: The shame here is that this can only be awarded to Pat McQuaid when I’d like for history to show that Hein Verbruggen was dispatched with the same prejudice. If we ever heard from Pat McQuaid for any reason other than court testimony it will be several lifetimes too soon. When we try to conclude just who did cycling a greater injustice, McQuaid or Verbruggen, it really is a dead heat.
The Kirk Cameron – Growing Pains Award: Peter Sagan. From groping podium girls to annoying the crap out of his fellow professionals with over the top victory celebrations, this was the season Sagan came to understand that being fast wasn’t the only thing he needed to be, that professionalism is a thing you’re not born with, and that not everyone will give you a free pass, just because you’re not TRYING to offend them.
The Second Coming Award: Brian Cookson. After winning election to the presidency of the UCI, Cookson’s job is just to save cycling’s soul. NBD. Maybe he’ll start by changing water to wine or walking on water, you know, as a warm up.
The Last, Lousy Dorito Award: Lance Armstrong. There’s always that one guy who just can’t accept that the party is over.
The Julius Caesar Award: Bradley Wiggins. You think you’re loved. You think you’ll be emperor for life, but then you’re there bleeding on the theater steps. Et tu, Froome? Et tu?
The Simple Minds Award: Andy Schleck. Once the next great stage racer of his generation, it has to be wondered if Schleck will be anything other than pack fodder in seasons to come. Famously fragile, both physically and mentally, he will probably never return to the sort of climbing form that will overcome his lack of juice in the time trial. “Don’t you forget about me,” may well be the refrain as Trek seemingly bets the wrong horse, again, in 2014.
The Clark Kent Award: Travis Tygart. You see a guy in a suit. He looks like a regular guy, holds down a job, has a thing about truthfulness. But he’s really Superman. He saves the day. No matter how powerful a foe he faces, he prevails. You kick yourself for not realizing the guy in the suit was special, but then he puts his glasses back on and you forget he exists.
The A. Mitchell Palmer Ham-fisted Lawyer of the Year Award: Specialized’s unnamed Canadian “outside counsel” for sending a Cease-and-Desist letter to a small bike shop in Calgary, Alberta, asserting trademark rights over a name for which Specialized didn’t actually enjoy the rights. Yup, Specialized was actually using the name “Roubaix,” by permission of the folks at Fuji, but that didn’t stop at least one eager-beaver lawyer from sending out what the guys at my firm call “the asshole letter” (a written missive that combines a heap of bluff and bluster with a healthy dose of bullshit and carries with it no actual force of law) to the owner the “Café Roubaix Bicycle Studio” threatening to unleash the hounds of Hell for using “their” trademark without their permission.
Look, if you’re going to trademark the name of a French city, why not go for the big prize and register “Paris™”? No one would mind if you sent that Hilton woman a whole boat load of Cease-and-Desist letters. Now, that would be a public service.
The Can We Please Make This Stop Now? Pleeeeease? Award: Michael Sinyard, whose personal visit to Dan Richter, the owner of the aforementioned shop, put an end to the company’s trademark claim. Sinyard looked pained, embarrassed and uncomfortable in the video that came from that visit, but you gotta give the guy some credit for at least trying to clean up the mess.
Of course, it could have all been avoided if Sinyard and Co. could distinguish between the manufacture and sale of counterfeit product and a guy who just wanted a bike shop with a cool name. And no, Mike, it probably won’t stop … at least for a while. That whole Internet thing seems to have caught you by surprise. Being a bully – or by an act of omission, allowing your “outside counsel” to be bullies – carries a heavy price these days. News travels fast and these messes take a long time to clean up.
Here’s a mop.
The Most Deserved Victory Lap In Sport goes to David Walsh of the Sunday Times of London, whose dogged and unwavering pursuit of Lance Armstrong lasted 13 years and subjected him to all sorts of abuse. What is hopefully the last word in the Armstrong story was quickly released by Walsh soon after the Oprah interviews. The cool thing is that “7 Deadly Sins: My pursuit of Lance Armstrong” is, as they say, soon to be a major motion picture, starring the “IT Crowd’s” Chris O’Dowd as Walsh. Break out the popcorn, gang, we’re goin’ to the movies.
The He-sure-called-that-one Award goes to Greg LeMond, who, way back in 2001, said “If Lance is clean, it is the greatest comeback in the history of sports. If he isn’t, it would be the greatest fraud.”
The We-actually-do-it-right-here Award goes to the United States. While the IOC, its affiliate International Governing Bodies and WADA seem to have intended to keep sports governance and doping control separate, the Americans are actually doing it. Try, for a moment, to imagine how this whole Armstrong thing would have shaken out had it been the job of USA Cycling to aggressively pursue the case. Someone, somewhere along the lines, would have uttered those infamous words – “it’s bad for cycling” – and that would have been that. Actually, you don’t have to imagine … just look to the UCI and see how that organization handled what eventually became the biggest doping scandal in sport.
And finally we give our most prestigious and noteworthy prize:
The 2013 WTF?!?! Award to one David LeDuc, of Willow Springs, North Carolina, a (get this) 62-year-old masters racer who tripped the Dope-O-Meter™ for (get this) amphetamines, steroids and EPO at the Masters Road National Championships in Bend, Oregon, back in September.
Look, if you put morality aside, you can almost understand the reasoning behind a guy like Lance Armstrong deciding to step over the line and become a PharmaCheat. I mean, the dude “won” seven Tours de Freakin’ France (a sporting event watched by more than a billion viewers each year), gained worldwide fame (since turned into infamy) and amassed a fortune in excess of $100 million (of course much of that is disappearing fast). It’s like pulling off a huge casino heist for mega-millions. Sure, it’s not right, but you can at least imagine the reasoning and the motivation behind it.
But cheating to win the United States’ 60-65 Master’s title?!?!?!?
That’s like grabbing an AK-47 to rob the local MiniMart of $9.34 (in pennies), a couple of SlimJims and a pack of Marlboros. I mean really … who, aside from your wife, your kids and the other two guys who toed the line in that same race, actually gives a shit who wins the U.S. men’s 60-65 national title? It’s supposed to be fun, Dave.
Hence, the automatic reaction when you read about a guy, already 12 years into his AARP membership, doping himself to the gills to win a tinpot medal and a jersey can only be “WTF?!?!”
Shoes have a new fastening system taking over. Dials, be they from Boa or imitators, are now gracing the pro-level shoe offerings from just about everybody. Specialized and Lake and Scott have been on this for years, but now they’ve been joined by Diadora, DMT, Gaerne, Louis Garneau, Northwave, Sidi, Vittoria and Pearl Izumi. Izumi was, amazingly, one of the first to bring the Boa dial system to market, dropped it, and is now back.
Shimano, owner of Pearl Izumi, is sticking to the two straps and buckle system. The ranks of holdouts include Fizik, Giro, and Mavic. Strikingly, all claim high technology to be their calling card. Giro, for one, is still standing firm with their retro-cool lace-up Empire shoes.
Orange is the New Black
Last year, fluo green was the hot color. This year, it’s orange. Mostly fluo orange, but not entirely. Poc totally rocked the orange; the color is tied to their brand identity. But there was plenty of orange to go around, particularly for shoes and helmets. Shoes, preferably in shiny, perforated microfiber, are going orange at Giro, Northwave, Lake, and others. In helmets, Giro is joining the orange crew that Lazer and Rudy Project already started.
Wide Rims are the New Black
At first, it was a trickle. Now it’s a flood. Starting with Hed’s C2 and moving to Zipp and far beyond. Wide rims are just about everywhere. Easton has the Fantom rim, on their EC90 Aero 55 clincher and tubular. The new EC90 is really wide, 28mm, and, a more blunt nose, and the clincher is tubeless compatible. Easton has also redesigned their EA90 SLX into a wider, tubeless-compatible aluminum rim. And the new Easton wheels sport new hubs, the Echo, which relies on standard straight-pull spokes. Ritchey is debuting a wide, shallow-section aluminum clincher, the Zeta II and is tubeless-compatible. The roll on Phantom hubs, which look flangeless but have internal flanges so that the wheels are built with J-bend spokes.
For the people who long for wide rims to build into their favorite hubs, American Classic is now selling a wide, shallow, tubeless compatible rim. The AC RD 2218. Being American Classic, the rim is light, 375g, and currently available in 24 and 28 drilling.
Classic Bars are the New Black
Classic-bend drop handlebars are coming back. The long loopy drops of old are being updated with short reach and shallow bends. Zipp and Ritchey have newly-designed classic bends, taking a similar route to Shimano’s classic bend bars. On the other hand, FSA’s, and 3T’s, and Deda’s longstanding classic drops are plying the older, longer and lower bends. Also of note is that cable grooves seem to be disappearing from aluminum bars. A Ritchey rep told us it was what the pro’s requested because it adds more to grip on the tops. A Zipp rep told us it allowed them to make the bars lighter and stiffer.
Massive Data Integration is the New Black
SRM came to the show with their new PowerControl 8 head unit, set to be released in 2014. A slick touch screen that has sensors rather than relying on warm fingertips is just the beginning. The unit is also working with GPS where you can tune the accuracy by selecting the number of satellites, or turn it off to increase battery life. And they’re adding the metrics popularized by Allen/Coggan—normalized power, IF and TSS. And more. It will work with all ANT+ power meters and connect to both Bluetooth and WiFi. It will be waterproof, and even have a small speaker.
Wahoo Fitness is also expanding its offerings. Their smartphone-based software company is going in a zillion directions—using your smartphone to record and push data to social media, to training programs, and integrating it with a trainer. At the Wahoo booth, they had a Wahoo-based trainer, the Kickr, hooked up to a software partner, Kinomap, where you can watch a geolocated video (quick, get a Virb) that has the elevation data interpreted to resistance and sent to a trainer so you can ride what you’re watching—and even try to keep up or exceed the pace that the person filming it did. You can also use the trainer to ride or race Strava segments.
Topeak is also working the Bluetooth/smartphone angle with their PanoBike App and system, which also includes handlebar- and stem-mounted cases, Bluetooth transmitters, and an app that not only serves as the computer, but a diary and can work with a bike computer.
Bluetooth-transmitting heart rate, speed, cadence sensors, is also a path PowerTap is starting to follow. They’ll have the same, including a PowerTap hub that transmits a Bluetooth signal. This way your smartphone and other Bluetooth-enabled devices, like laptops and tablets, can pick up the signals. CycleOps (part of the same company as PowerTap, but spun into its own division) is also debuting Virtual Training software. Theirs combines both indoors and outdoors, with a heavy social media component and even video. For the indoor, you need one of their PowerBeam or Indoor Cycle units or Wahoo’s Kickr hooked up to a smartphone, tablet, or computer, and logged into their Virtual Training site.
CycleOps’ system combines a training dairy with your trainer and social media. Ride routes you’ve done, ride routes others have done and shared, race people on created routes, compete with others on time, mileage, whatever metric you want. And if the one site isn’t enough, your data can easily be shared with social media sites and other training software.
Taking integration in another diretion is BikeSpike. It’s a GPS transmitter that currently is housed in a water bottle cage. The transmitter turns on and sends out signals telling its location. Mate it with your smartphone and it’s a bike computer, it sends the ride BikeSpike’s social media platform, an anti-theft device, and a crash-alert system. If you like keeping tabs on loved one’s riding, you can set a perimeter, and get alerts when the device goes beyond. The device can also tell how the bike is oriented to the ground, and that can work into their platform to a visual that shows how the bike is leaning.
Road Tubeless Tires are not the New Black
Despite the rapidly-increasing number of road tubeless rims on offer, the same cannot be written of road tubeless tires. The choices for tires are not expanding, nor did it seem that the companies selling road tubeless tires are dramatically expanding their offerings.
Road Rotor Disc Brakes are not the New Black
Here, too, there is lots of talk, but little action. Shimano was touting theirs, but it was hard to find a road racing bike equipped with them, other than a Colnago that Shimano was carting around. SRAM seemed a bit more measured, coming with a fleet of Specializeds, but focusing on their Hydro-R, hydraulic rim brakes, rather than their Hydro-D, hydraulic disc brakes. Most of the road bikes that were equipped with discs were of the “gravel grinder” variety, save the BMC GF01, which is kind of a racing version of a gravel grinder, carbon-fiber but with a beefy fork and massive chain stays.
I can say with some certainty that my favorite product introduced at this year’s Interbike show that I actually got to ride, as opposed to just staring at, was the new Shimano road hydraulic disc brakes. It’s become popular for people attending the show to say, “You know, I didn’t see anything that wowed me.” That’s been the cool kid thing to say ever since Americans decided that Eurobike was the cool show. I think it’s damned cynical.
This brake system wowed me. I don’t see any point in lying. Two years ago I was arguing against disc brakes on road bikes as causing more problems than they solve. The thing is, I’m not an engineer, especially not a motivated one, but I understand the thrill of problem solving, and that’s mostly what engineering is.
For those of you who have been pulling on jerseys since they were wool, you’ll recall that Colnago was once the place to look for all the most forward-thinking ideas, even if some of them were crazier than Hunter Thompson at Burning Man. It was nice to see the storied Italian brand embrace disc brake tabs and internal routing for the hydraulic brake lines, though I could hear people crying foul to see Shimano parts on the Italian legend. That didn’t bother me, but what did make me chuckle was seeing such forward-looking technology on a bike that was glued together.
The brake set is non-series, which is to say that they are neither Dura-Ace nor Ultegra. That gives product managers the opportunity to use this brake with either group without it looking wholly out of place.
The brakes can be used with either a 140mm or 160mm rotor. The Colnago I rode was equipped with 140mm rotors. There’s been a concern within the industry about using 140mm rotors and heat buildup. You’ll notice that the rotors above feature two different colors. The outer ring of material, the portion of the rotor the pads actually grab is, of course, steel, but that inner ring is aluminum which, by virtue of the fact that aluminum isn’t very dense, allows for speedy heat dissipation.
The brakes themselves also feature fins to help them function as heat sinks. Shimano went to a number of far-flung locations for product testing, including the Stelvio Pass (at this point it seems like you can’t claim to have tested a brake system until you’ve been to the Stelvio), so when they say that heat buildup won’t be a problem with a 140mm rotor, we’ve got some reason to take them at their word.
This detail of the rotor shows the pairing of steel and aluminum to increase heat dissipation.
The lever has a couple of advantages over SRAM’s lever. First, of course, are the improved ergonomics. Shimano went with the Di2 electronic shifting so they could gain valuable space in the lever for the hydraulic master cylinder, which is why the lever looks big but not tumescent. The lever also allows for reach adjustment as well as throw or free-stroke, which is how far the lever travels before the pads engage. These are two important adjustments that help keep the system feeling as much like a traditional rim brake system as possible. Because Shimano has made hydraulic systems for a variety of applications, from cross country to downhill, they were able to select components to increase modulation without compromising power.
My experience in limited riding on the system was impressive. With a 140mm rotor, power was on a par with rim brake systems. Modulation was terrific and felt more easily controlled than with some brakes I’ve used.
I’ve been vocal in my opposition to disc brakes. I haven’t seen the need. The maintenance is more complicated, the system is heavier, the aerodynamics compromised and the increased demand in frame strength changes the flex in the frame. I still think all those issues are, well, still issues. However, one criticism that can’t be leveled at the brakes is that they don’t work. They absolutely do and it may be that with some experience riders using them will find greater control thanks to them.
Over the course of the SRAM 22 launch, we went for three rides. Because the product intro was being held in Westlake Village, just north of the eastern-most portion of the Santa Monica Mountains, I’d either know the roads we were riding intimately, or at least be familiar with them. While I was pleased not to be terribly far from my family, I was trying to figure out if the marketing team were geniuses or gamblers for picking this location. That I had that reaction surprised me; I’ve written on several occasions that if you really want to prove that a road product works, you ought to spend some time testing it in the Santa Monicas. I have been serious about that. However, there’s a big difference between doing testing and having the worldwide launch for your product over those roads.
On our first ride, I rode a Specialized S-Words Roubaix SL4 equipped with Red 22 and mechanical brakes. What I’ve noticed about 11-speed groups is that you lose track of just how many cogs you have; you lose track of your place in the cassette. Why 11 cogs is harder to keep track of than 10, I can’t say, but I’ve noticed for myself that there’s rarely an occasion when I don’t have at least one more cog in either direction. There is nothing else to report about this group. Doing the ride was, for me, simply an opportunity to have an immediate reminder of what braking is like with the mechanical Red brakes. The reminder was mostly superfluous for me; I’d ridden the group (with 10 speeds, mind you) just the day before.
On our second ride I had the opportunity to ride the Cannondale SuperSix EVO with the Hydro R—hydraulic rim brakes. I expect you’ll see steel builders making bikes to accommodate this before the week is out. The brake has gobs of clearance (that’s a technical term meaning so much more than your typical dual-pivot caliper that it’s visually noticeable); think ‘cross tire clearance. It’s worth mentioning that the bike was equipped with Zipp 202 Firecrest Carbon Clinchers. Anyone who has ever held the sweeping belief that you can’t achieve enough braking force with carbon wheels will be amazed by what’s possible with these brakes and carbon wheels. Rolling around the parking lot to make sure my saddle height and reach were more or less correct, I hit the brakes a few times just to get a feel for how quickly the power ramped up and how the bike would react to a panic-y grab. With my hands only on the hoods, I felt more power than on any other road bike I’d ever ridden.
I actually said, “Wow.”
As company for our rides SRAM brought in Tim Johnson and Allison Tetrick as ride leaders. Tim was terrific at keeping the group orderly—unsurprising given his work in advocacy, while Allison proved to be even funnier in person than she was on the Road I.D. commercials with cycling’s favorite buffoon, Bob Roll. Having them along for our rides was a nice touch.
Out on the road, in braking for stop signs and lights, I noticed nothing unusual. The experience of the new brake wasn’t so startling that I needed to recalibrate my grip. Honestly, that was my biggest concern, that all braking on this bike would be like trying to slice an apple with a meat cleaver. That delicate ability to scrub speed to maintain a two- or three-foot distance from the rider in front of me remained intact.
There’s a descent into Westlake Village that is among the diciest in the Santa Monicas. It’s called Westlake Road and to my knowledge it has the single steepest pitch in all of the Santa Monicas. The road pitches downward at an incredible 20 percent. But because the road in that spot twists like some ridiculous gag in a Road Runner cartoon, riders don’t have a chance to build up lethal speed like you can on, say, Tuna Canyon. Our return for the second and third rides was down that road.
Here’s where I need to admit that my descending skills are still in reboot. I’m pretty much back to normal on the easy stuff, stuff in Palos Verdes I know well. But I still wear a skirt to all the descents in the Santa Monicas. I’d been down Westlake a couple of times in the past. Due to its location and the fact that I generally ride from the South Bay, descending that road puts the Santa Monicas between me and 50-some miles to home. All this is to say that I knew the road just well enough to know it required caution. Hell, the first time I ever descended it I managed to brake just hard enough to cause my rear wheel slide a bit. And so when I dropped into that descent, I did so with nearly all the trepidation of someone with a shellfish allergy about to chow down on a bucket of shrimp. That I was on a bike with even more powerful brakes than the one I was on during my first trip down that road was like adding interest to my tax bill.
Insert giant, sarcastic, “Hooray!”
Nothing against the folks at SRAM, mind you. I felt I had an obligation to show up with my faculties new-pencil sharp, and I was embarrassed not to be there yet. There was an upshot, though; my reticence to dive into each turn meant that I was braking with the deliberate “Whoa!” of a camper emerging from a tent who sees a bear. And that is kinda what this product was all about—the whoa.
There’s no denying that the Hydro rim brake had more power than any brake on a road bike I’d ever encountered. While I was diving into turns with thrill-inducing speed, I still tried to wait as late as possible to do my braking and then brake with a brief, firm arrest. Never once did I break a tire free.
For our final ride I moved to the new Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL4 with the Hyrdo disc brakes. This was the bike of which I was most skeptical, because it was the bike that had required more re-engineering than just a new routing of a rear brake line. The Roubaix featured an all-new fork and rear triangle in order to accommodate the disc clearance and the change in the distribution of braking forces. Rolling those discs was a pair of the new Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Clinchers and they were shod with some 25mm-wide Continentals. On the already wide rims of the 303s, the tires looked like they were 28mm wide.
My first concern when I climbed on was pad retraction. There was no rubbing of pads. My next concern as I rolled around the parking lot was whether I would be able to brake lightly enough to scrub speed the way I sometimes need to in the pack without applying too much power. With a feathery touch of the levers, I was able to take the sharp edge off any velocity. And the rest of those concerns?
“Oh, the hell with them,” I thought. “Let’s just go ride the damn thing.”
I did my best to forget about the bike and just ride it. Admittedly, that wasn’t exactly easy to do. The control lever has an oddly square shape to the bottom of the body; it’s not as comfortable to hold as the lever hoods on the mechanical Red and, worse in my mind, there’s no adjustment for lever throw, so I had to adjust to reaching a bit further to the brake levers. Not my fave. These are two features that need improving in the future, but are by no means deal-breakers.
Our first real descent was down Potrero Canyon. I braked a bit at the top to let the group go. That gave me a chance to read the road better and not feel like my uncertainty with the bike was going to mess with anyone else’s ride. The more I concentrated on the terrain and my line, the better able I was to forget about the brakes, but there were any number of turns (I’m guessing we’re talking at least a dozen) where the brake power was just too conspicuous to Ninja past. These are the most powerful brakes I’ve ever encountered on a road bike. No contest. Period. Full stop. End of discussion.
By the time I’d reached the bottom of the descent, the question on my mind wasn’t whether or not this stuff worked, it was how much re-learning was going to be required to make optimal use of the brakes. My concern for more braking power than is necessary was dismissed with the flip of a hand you reserve for a bad waiter. The guys at SRAM tried to sell me on the idea that my hands wouldn’t fatigue as much on descents. That didn’t sell me. The only times my hands have gotten tired from braking I was on a mountain bike. That said, I can recall occasions on certain descents in the Santa Monicas where I had had concerns for being able to sufficiently slow the bike from 40+ miles per hour to make it through the next turn. But that memory and how these brakes would affect that situation didn’t come to me until after I’d finished the ride on the Roubaix and made it down the intestinal Westlake where I would brake once with the determined grip required to squeeze a lime over an al pastor taco. Mmm. Where were we?
It was after I was down Westlake and back to the hotel that I began to appreciate just what’s possible with those brakes. I never once broke a tire loose and believe me, I was often braking harder than was necessary. The lesson here for me is that there is a wide delta between how much braking power our bikes have and what is truly required to break a tire loose—provided your bike is under proper control. There’s a fair learning curve between my brief experience with these brakes and really making optimal use of them. And anyone who purchases a bike with these brakes will need two skill sets, the first being how to make full use of their remarkable abilities and the second being understanding how to apply them as if they were using mechanical brakes so that when they are riding in a group they don’t wear another rider like a cape because they over-braked in a turn. A half-dozen of these in a group of 30 riders could spell mayhem.
I don’t see the need for these brakes for anyone who lives someplace flat and never takes in dirt roads. There’s just no need. But for anyone in the mountains, I have to admit these brakes will increase a rider’s control. I’m not yet sure how hard it will be to transition from a bike with mechanical brakes to hydraulic discs and back again, but I suspect it won’t be as simple as moving from SRAM shifting to Dura-Ace and back again, but that’s a skill set anyone with multiple bikes would need to work on.
I didn’t expect to say this, but I want more time on a Roubaix with Hydro D. A lot more time.
This past weekend I joined a number of my colleagues in Westlake Village, California, for the introduction of a number of new products from SRAM. There was a lot on offer, more than they could cover in a two-hour presentation at Sea Otter, hence the get-together. We got to ride much of the new stuff hitting the market and in an environment suited to the mission. I’ll get to the riding in a minute; first, a list.
So SRAM introduced the following:
- An upgrade of the popular Red group to 11-speed
- A revamped Force group with hoods shaped like those in Red and an 11-speed cassette
- Hydraulic rim brakes
- Zipp 303s with discs
- Hydraulic disc brakes for Red
While I did pick up the new Force parts to check them out, I didn’t have the chance to ride them, so all I really feel qualified to do—other than regurgitate the press release—is to tell you that group will hit the market soon and the suggested retail on the group will be $1358, about half of Red 22′s $2618 price tag. According to the company’s scales, the refined group will come in at 2150 grams, putting it in the neighborhood, weight-wise, with Chorus and Dura-Ace 7900, making the Force group a notable value, at least on paper.
For mechanical Red, the only significant change is the addition of an 11th cog. So why is SRAM making a big deal about calling this group 22-speed? It goes to their assertion that users will have a true 22 speeds even without the presence of a trimable front derailleur. Shimano went in the other direction with their new 9000-series Dura Ace. The wide spread on an 11-speed cassette is going to demand a very carefully adjusted front derailleur to avoid chain rub in the big and small cogs, no matter which chainring the chain is on.
As a more practical matter, because SRAM continues to start every flippin’ Red cassette with an 11t cog, the addition of another cog means that all the cassettes (save the 11-32 WiFLi) now sport a 16t cog. It’s nice having that 16, but if they’d offer a 12-26 and a 12-28, you’d then have the 16 and an 18. I’m willing to wager all the beer in Yankee Stadium that nine out of 10 cyclists would use an 18t cog far more than they use an 11. As to the 11-32 WiFLi cassette, an 11th cog there gives the the very noticeable addition of a 14t cog. In the past, when I rode the 10-speed Red with an Apex rear derailleur and the 11-32 cassette, I can tell you that the jump from the 15 to the 13 felt like I’d over-shifted with an Ergo lever. It was a big jump.
Mechanical Red remains the lightest complete group on the market, at a claimed weight of 1747g.
When I first arrived at our host location, I wasn’t sure just what I would see, other than 11 cogs. So I walked over to the NRS tents to see what the mechanics were up to. It was there that I noticed one of the mechanics bleeding a hydraulic brake system. From a road lever.
This would be the spot in the program where it’s a good idea for me to back up and remind everyone that I have written previously about just how skeptical I am of the need and utility of hydraulic brakes, particularly hydraulic discs, on road bikes. Honestly, I when I noticed what was afoot, I was a bit surprised that Michael Zellmann, the head of road PR for SRAM, had invited me. I mean, this was like pitching Dura-Ace to a guy who’d inherited his love of Campy from his dad. I do my best to be open-minded, but at every turn I had questions about just what sort of solution hydraulic discs offered.
Let’s recap those concerns, shall we?
- If you boil your brake fluid on a descent, your brakes can fail.
- Generally, you want the bike to offer some vertical flex at the dropouts; disc brakes would demand beefing up the fork and stays.
- Many mountain bike disc brake system offer poor modulation. Road bike brakes need to offer great modulation.
- Pad retraction is an issue on many mountain bike brake systems. Roadies won’t put up with rubbing brakes.
- Disc brakes won’t improve a bike’s aerodynamics.
- The hydraulic lines will require working hand-in-glove with manufacturers to offer suitable frames.
- There isn’t enough room in control levers to add a master cylinder.
- It’ll make the bike heavier. Roadies are allergic to heavier.
Last summer, I went for a ride with Brent Graves, the head of road product for Specialized. We discussed disc brakes quite a bit. It was hard not to detect his enthusiasm. So I posed each of my concerns to him. Damn that guy, he came back with the same answer each time.
“It’s an engineering issue,” he’d say with the confidence of a pilot who’s flown to Tokyo once a week for 10 years. “It’s just engineering.”
At that point I realized I should probably just shut up and wait to see what happens. What I didn’t know (because he didn’t tell me) was that he was already riding a disc-brake-equipped prototype of the Specialized Roubaix. What he did tell me was that I could expect to see hydraulic discs on road bikes at a variety of price points perhaps as early as 2015, but certainly by 2016.
Then it was me again with the skepticism. And then, damn his intelligence, he noted that every time there had been a significant shift in the market, it had begun with the curiosity of innovators and early adopters—the bleeding edge—and then as the idea caught on, refinement of the technology to make it both affordable and palatable to the masses.
Did someone just say iPhone?
Because not all bike companies will begin developing a frame to accept the disc brakes immediately and also because even by their own admission hydraulic discs won’t be right for all applications, SRAM is offering a hydraulic rim brake. Terminology-wise, they are referring to the class of products as “Hydro R” to denote hydraulic road. The disc brake is HRD, while the rim brake is HRR. As you can tell from the photos, the master cylinder is located in the inflamed thyroid of the lever bump. Let it be said that no one will ever be able to complain about the bump on SRAM road levers being too small any more.
Specialized is actively spec’ing a Roubaix with the discs and Cannondale has a version of the SuperSix EVO with the hydraulic calipers. This is no longer bleeding edge, this is leading edge.
So that’s the what. In my next post I’ll cover my experience of actually riding each of the options with Red 22: mechanical, HRR and then HRD.
In my efforts to (unsuccessfully) get back to my mandated editorial duties, which is to say posts in which cycling is the primary concern, I’ve flashed on a few different products I have reviewed previously and for one reason or another have felt a need to update readers with insights gained from my ongoing experience with them. I don’t normally feel a need to do this. I try to make sure that by the time I publish a review of something I’ve digested that product well enough that I am unlikely to have any further insight into its use or function in the coming months.
Every now and then I find out otherwise.
A great example of this is my review of Rapha’s shaving cream a few months back. I lamented how the high cost of the product ($20) was likely to keep some consumers away. At the time, I reasoned that the 150ml tin wouldn’t go far. In my head, I expected it would last me two months, tops. That made its per-use cost quite high—$10 per month for shaving cream is a bit luxurious for my household. Since my review, I’ve realized that I need far less of the cream to execute the perfect shave. I estimate that I used the first third of the tin in about three weeks. I’ve gotten through about another third of the tin (not quite, actually) in the two months since my review.
What I learned is that I just need to wet my face a bit more before applying it. Perhaps if I had one of those old horse-hair application brushes I’d have gotten hip to this sooner.
I bring this up for two reasons. First, I really think I owe it to anyone whose product I review to give it the fairest shake I can. I’m sensitive to the ongoing criticism that Rapha receives in the U.S. because their products carry such a premium. I have observed that some of this isn’t their fault: They can’t adjust the exchange rate between the pound and the dollar. That said, they deserve to have word circulate when a reviewer realizes a product is a better value than originally perceived.
The second reason is this stuff is just ridiculously good. Since my crash last fall, I haven’t been—ahem—enamored of my face. While no one else notices the change in my smile and no one else can feel the scar tissue in my lips, looking in the mirror is something I’m still adjusting to. That shaving my face (despite the ongoing numb spot) can bring me any pleasure is as odd and ironic an outcome as I could have this week. The way my skin feels and the way my face smells after shaving with this stuff is something that makes me genuinely happy. I figure if it’s my business to tell the world what I think of something then they deserve to have me be honest about this.
Next up, I need to go on record and say that as much as I love the revised SRAM Red group, I’m finding the new generation of Red brakes to be rather finicky. Keeping them perfectly centered while balancing left/right side spring tension isn’t as easy as with any of the competing dual-pivot calipers. Much of this has to do with the stamped-steel spring. While on one hand the spring gives the brake very light action, something that SRAM can get away with due to the used-car-salesman-slick Gore Ride-On cables. The issue isn’t that I can’t adjust tension or center the brake; the issue is that it just doesn’t seem to keep the adjustment for more than a couple of weeks. Still, if you accept the idea that any time you make a brake set lighter you’re going to give up something, I’d prefer finicky adjustment while keeping overall brake power, rather than what happened when Dura-Ace went from 8-speed to 9-speed: The brake set gave up power.
Some years back, when the bulk of my work was appearing at Belgium Knee Warmers, I reviewed the Assos Summer Gloves. The review appeared in 2009 after having used the gloves for more than a full season. By the time I wrote about them, as I noted in my review, I was completely in love with them and I reviewed them only because my strong feelings for their quality, fit and finish were so unexpected.
Well, I finally killed those gloves recently. That’s the pair I’ve been riding all this time, pictured above. The pink peeking out of the one palm pad is the padding creeping through a rip in the stitching. Yes, I mean that I killed that particular pair of gloves. The actual date they were pressed into service is no longer known to me, but I can say it was probably some time during the summer of 2007. That’s more than five years of use. It’s fair to ask though, just how many uses that was. We can factor out four months for late fall, winter and early spring, during which time I wear long-finger gloves. And we have to siphon off a fair chunk of the spring, summer and fall due to other gloves I’m sent to try. Conservatively, I think that leaves me with at least 100 days of use per year. These have absolutely been my go-to gloves for all rides where the temp is at least 60 degrees at the start. Factored another way, I can say that I’ve usually worn these gloves at least three days a week, and I’d guess for a good 30 to 35 weeks each year. That’s probably in the neighborhood of 600 uses. That works out to, what, a dime per use?
While I’ve worn some gloves made from Pittards leather that were as comfortable in the palm as … hell, I don’t know what to say here that won’t sound unintendedly sexual. The thing is, Pittards leather gloves are supple the way we wish our own skin still was. In that regard the first few wears are experiences that carbonate our senses with the infatuation of a first date. They possess magical properties to beguile our hands if not our senses.
If only they lasted as long as even the average romance. I’ve yet to get 100 wears out of a pair of Pittards gloves. There’s a distinct possibility that I’m part, if not most, of the problem. I’ve yet to figure out—even after following instructions—just how to properly clean Pittards gloves without them getting dried out and stiff like 20-year-old boot leather. Maybe it’s easier than I think. The thing is, I don’t want the graduate seminar in leather glove care. This is precisely why I love the Assos Summer Gloves. They have required no greater care than a jersey. I toss them in the wash and never worry about how they’ll come out. Because they are closure-less they have a clean appearance and lack all that bulk of material on the back of the wrist, making them more comfortable and giving them less material to soak up sweat.
You’ll pardon me if I think the care and feeding of a pair of gloves should be simple, a process as thought-free as drinking a glass of water.
As worn as they are, I’m going to continue to use these gloves for mountain bike rides and dirt road rides on my ‘cross bike. I figure they’ve got at least another season like this before there’s damage bad enough to toss them in the trash.
Okay, glad to have that off my chest. Seriously, these little details have been eating at me.
No matter how many times I do Interbike, every year something unusual, something fresh, something exciting occurs to keep my interest fixed on a location that were circumstances any different, I can assure you I would never consider as the focal point of a long awaited vacation. I am here strictly for work. And while Las Vegas gets weirder with each passing year, that ever-increasing weirdness is a functional corollary to the bike industry itself, not that it’s getting weirder, but that change is ever afoot that each of us arrives with the hope that we’ll see new products destined to make our cycling experiences not so much better, but as thrilling as that first taste of independence how ever many decades ago it occurred.
This year my show started on an unusual note. Rather than host an afternoon ride to experience their products, SRAM invited some members of the media to meet them at the Ventian hotel, next to the Sands Convention Center, and ride out to the Outdoor Demo at Boulder Canyon. What I didn’t recall about the invitation was that we were going to ride the 2012 SRAM Red crank with Quarq power meter and—oh joy—we would ride a predefined section of the bike path to record a roughly five minute effort and then analyze the data recorded. What I found out was something I already knew: I was tired, and the Quarq power meter seems to provide the same level of data as the SRM in a simpler package. The bikes we rode were Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4s with 2012 Red, Zipp 202s and the aforementioned Quarq power meter.
Once at the Outdoor Demo, the very first bike I went to ride was the new Pinarello Dogma, or if not new, then the latest iteration of the Dogma. It’s been a while since I last rode a carbon fiber Pinarello and there’s been a good reason for that. The last carbon Pinarello I rode was not an impressive bike, no matter what Pinarello fans would have you believe. It used excessive amounts of intermediate modulus carbon fiber and as a result, though it was fairly stiff, it was dead as roadkill.
The new Dogma is nothing like that. I’d heard a few good reports on the bike, but remained suspicious; I wanted to find out for myself, doubting Thomas that I am. The very first thing I noticed was that in picking up the 9000 Dura-Ace-equipped bike it was a noticeably light bicycle, in the 14 to 14.5-lb. range. Upon rolling out I discovered a bike that offered excellent road feedback and precise handling. Telling you the bike was stiff doesn’t say much; what I’ll tell you is that this bike has gained a tremendous amount of stiffness. It’s stiffer than any of the open-mold bikes I’ve ridden as well as most everything else I’ve ridden coming out of Europe.
Regarding the new Shimano Dura-Ace 9000, I can say that I’m really blown away. While I definitely need more time with the brakes, I can say that the issues I had with both front and rear shifting have been solved. That said, Shimano has gone back to a trimmed front derailleur, with both big and little ring trim. Shift force for both front and rear is ridiculously light. The brakes seem to offer better modulation than the previous version, which was my big complaint—great power, but not enough modulation.
A couple of weeks ago I rode with Specialized’s road product manager, a guy named Brent Graves, who is a real industry veteran. Graves summed up the new group by saying, “It’ll give mechanical groups another five years of live.” I have to agree, though nothing will make me like the look of that crank. Even so, I can’t wait until I have the opportunity to get on a group longer-term.
Next on my list was the new Kestrel. The first name in monocoque carbon fiber bikes has struggled as a brand for some years. Good product has never really been the issue, getting the message out has. When I heard that the new Legend had a frame weight of 780 grams and was using some sophisticated construction techniques, including inner molds to improve compaction.
I went out for a ride with Steve Fairchild who led the design of this bike, RKP contributor J.P. Partland and mountain bike legend Joe Breeze. ASI, the parent company for Fuji and Kestrel is also the parent for Breeze’s Breezer bikes, hence the connection there. Fairchild revealed that he wasn’t concerned with making the stiffest bike on the planet. He’s long had a reputation from his work with Fuji, Jamis and now Kestrel for designing bikes that felt good to ride (read: not overly stiff) and handled with enough certainty to inspire confidence in the rider.
The Legend is the first sub-800g frame I’ve ridden that wasn’t designed with crazy amounts of stiffness. It’s a gentler bike and if Kestrel can get dealers to carry them and generate enough press and a big enough marketing effort, this bike could be fantastically popular. My take is that it’s a great alternative to “comfort” road bikes like the Specialized Roubaix. As opposed to making a crazy stiff bike and trying to quash vibration, the Legend lets the vibration move through the bike to inform your sense of the road surface, but in offering some flex, increases a rider’s comfort for the big hits like bumps, manhole covers, driveway ramps and such.
My final bike of the day was yet another Pinarello Dogma, but this time equipped with Campagnolo Super Record EPS. Having just come off the Legend which was equipped with Di2, this was my first chance to ride Record EPS on the road and to experience it back to back with Di2. The first, biggest difference between the two systems is that with EPS you definitely have a stronger sense of having just pushed a button. Di2 really lacks a strong tactile component that reassures you you’ve just hit a button. Also, the ability to just hold a button down and either dump gear or downshift straight to the bail gear is perhaps not a matter of jaw-dropping engineering, but it’s a surprising thing to experience. I’d like some more time to ride both groups, but based on this experience, I have to say that I think Di2 may downshift a bit quicker than EPS, but upshifts seem to be just as quick. More significant for me is the tentative approach that I’ve adopted with my own Super Record group has been assuaged by the foolproof front shifting of EPS. Shifts are faster and infinitely more precise.
Tomorrow begins with the Lake Meade ride followed by a frantic attempt to get on a great many bikes I didn’t ride today.
I’ve been riding SRAM’s new Red group since mid-May. During that time I’ve had the ability to switch between it and Dura-Ace 7900 and Campagnolo Super Record on a regular basis. I’ve even taken a ride on my ‘cross bike to be reminded of how the previous iteration of Red worked.
In broad strokes, 2012 Red features some noticeable improvements over its predecessor, and I write that as a fan of the original Red group. And when compared to the other mechanical groups, it fares very well. I’m not going to engage in a comparison of Red to either EPS or Di2 because relating mechanical groups to electronic ones makes as much sense as comparing a kiss from Angelina Jolie to one from Jennifer Anniston. I’m sure either will be fine.
A word on weight: I’m not going to dwell on this topic as there is really no need. The new Red group is lighter than the old Red group when taken as a whole; it is also lighter than every other group on the market. Boom. They win. If you buy parts strictly on weight, you needn’t waste your time with reading more of this review. The interesting thing about this Red group is that its weight isn’t the best argument for why to purchase it.
I’ll go component by component and then wrap the review up with my views of it as a whole.
A big key to a snappy front shift is a stiff big chainring. I don’t think I’d understand just how important that is had I not had the occasion to put a chainring made from especially soft aluminum on a crank. The shifting was a disaster. Not only did the teeth bend, but even the ring itself bent. I can say from some experience that the rings on this new, ultra-light crank are distinctly stiffer than its predecessor. Hollow is a serious byword with this crank; both the crank arms are hollow all the way to the spindle and the rings themselves are hollow; that the crank and rings are stiffer than before is counterintuitive. Hiding one of the chainring bolts in the crank arm, a trick Campy has long employed, didn’t hurt any.
The bearings that the spindle rolls on are smoother than a granite countertop; indeed, they are the most freely spinning BB bearings I’ve encountered. Smooth spin aside, I pronate a fair amount and have on occasion rubbed the heels of my shoes on the bolts (or their covers) of a crank; this is a very slim design that leaves plenty of room for shoes to pass.
I had the opportunity to play around with a friend’s bike with 8-speed Dura-Ace recently. Of all the integrated brake/shift levers, I believe it was not only the heaviest, but it placed more mass out ahead of the bar than any other control lever. To switch to the old Dura-Ace and be reminded of just how much the mass of the control levers could affect handling was startling. Red levers, at 280 grams, do more to minimize the amount of mass ahead of the bar than any other control lever. The point here is not that they weigh less, it’s that they affect handling less. With less mass forward of the bar, the bike reacts a bit quicker to steering input and you’re less apt to oversteer.
The four biggest changes to the control lever, at least, in terms of my experience (I accept that SRAM’s engineers may think other changes were bigger/more important) were the size and shape of the lever bump, the circumference of the lever body, the size and position of the shifter paddle and the texturing of the lever hoods.
Making the bump bigger is really only an issue of consequence should you hit a bump or other rough road. With the old levers it was easier to get your hand bounced forward and risk losing any grip on the lever whatsoever; for most of my miles, its size and shape were of no import. However, the decreased circumference of the lever body addressed an issue that many riders with small hands registered some dissatisfaction. The old Red lever body was big, bigger than any of its competitors, though the 7900 Dura-Ace lever body is a good deal larger than its predecessors. I don’t think the previous lever body’s size affected my grip, but the decreased size of the new Red lever body leaves me with the feeling that I’ve got a more secure grip on the lever. Ergonomically, it’s just more comfortable. Adding to my sense of a secure purchase are the new lever hoods with with their newly textured surface are especially helpful on hot days when a sweaty hand needs all the help it can get, and for those who ride with no gloves, this can be a pretty big deal.
Retained from the previous design is the three-position shifter lever adjustment as well as the brake lever throw adjustment. It’s important to adjust the shift lever before you adjust the brake lever, but I really love this feature; it’s nice when I’m in the drops to be able to keep a finger on the brake levers without having to reach. When I think back on how difficult the reach was to my ’80s-era Super Record brake levers, I wonder now how I ever avoided some crashes. There’s no question in my mind that SRAM Red are the best levers for people with small(ish) hands.
The changes to the shift lever are notable because the bigger lever is easier to find at crunch time. No matter how many years I spend on Campy, there are times when I’ve buried the needle and reach for a shift and more than one finger reaches out. On Campy, that’s flat-out not helpful. But the beauty of Red is that the shift action is light enough that you never really need more than one finger. The same rule generally applies to whisky. And it’s worth noting that I haven’t missed a shift (upshifting when I meant to downshift) with this new group. And even though the shifter paddle is larger, the fact that it is positioned further from the shifter body than with the first Red group gives your hands more room when operating the brakes from the hoods; I noticed that with the first Red group I couldn’t keep my pinky and ring finger wrapped around the lever body while braking without the shifter paddle making contact with my fingers; not so bueno. Thankfully, that’s been fixed.
Another feature I like about this lever that was carried over from its predecessor is the small hollow in the lever body beneath the hood where your thumb usually sits when your hands are on the hoods. It provides a little give that increases your comfort whether you’re in or out of the saddle. It doesn’t seem like it should be that big a deal, but the sensation is oddly reassuring.
It is my sincere hope that what I’m about to write I will never find occasion to type a second time: This front derailleur is the single best thing about this group. Getting excited about a front derailleur is okay for a 10-year-old, but as an adult, and one who ought to be at least a bit jaded, this front derailleur isn’t just an improvement over its predecessor, it’s a marked improvement over everything else on the market.
Sheesh. Where to begin? Hold on while I turn up the Lounge Lizards.
Okay, there are three details that make this front derailleur truly superb. First is the fact that it is the first front derailleur I’ve used since the old Dura-Ace 7800 that allows flawless shifts into the big ring during out-of-the-saddle efforts without me steering weird due to the amount of force necessary to execute said shift. On the flip side, I don’t have to ease up on my pedal stroke out of a sense of concern that I might damage the front derailleur or overshift beyond the big chainring. Dura-Ace 7800 was truly the first group that allowed this level of performance and I remember the first time I tried it during the press intro in Switzerland; I immediately realized this was a game changer. But in my experience, Campy front derailleurs from Record and Super Record, with their carbon cages simply haven’t ever achieved this level of consistent performance. I keep hoping, though. And it’s worth taking another look at the crank above. I shot that image this week; you won’t find a single scratch from shifting the chain beyond the big chainring.
Riding on my own, I’d never feel the need to stand up near the top of a hill and drill it, then shift into the big ring while still standing. But it’s just the sort of move I need at least once on every fast group ride I do, this morning being no exception. And while this move works with Dura-Ace 7900, the force required to execute the shift means the shift is never as fast as necessary to make it really smooth, so I always just sit down. Bah.
Let me begin my comments about the Yaw feature of the front derailleur by saying that I’ve never gotten the 7900 front derailleur to allow me to shift into all 10 cogs without some chain drag either in the biggest or smallest cog. I’ve been wrenching on bikes a long damn time and flat-out can’t make it work. I was a bit skeptical that I could do it with the Red derailleur, but the Yaw feature—that is, the fact that the front derailleur twists slightly when it shifts from the little ring to the big ring, optimizing chain line—is what allows this front derailleur to have a relatively slim cage and yet have drag-free operation in all 10 cogs. I won’t lie; it took a lot of fiddling even beyond the instructions, but it does work.
The third feature of this derailleur that I love (aside from the fact that the set screws accept 2.5mm Allen wrenches—why is no one else doing this?) is the integrated chain keeper. The fact that you install it after you have set the derailleur up is terrific and it can be set up in less than a minute is terrific. I checked the other day and it may be essentially unnecessary on the standard crank, though. There isn’t a single scratch from scraping the chain along its polished aluminum surface.
At first look the most noticeable feature of the rear derailleur is how freely the jockey wheels spin thanks to the ceramic bearings in them. It’s hardly the derailleur’s best feature, though it is good. The cable routing is ultra-clean and has been designed in a way that even a ham- or pastrami-fisted mechanic can’t get it wrong. And as you’ll notice from this image (click on it if you want to see it even larger), you can trim the cable so that there’s no excess sticking out. Like the front derailleur, the set screws accept 2.5mm Allen keys and the set screws are on the face of the derailleur so they are easy to access.
I’ve appreciated just how little cable tension is necessary for SRAM drivetrains to achieve proper adjustment. They seem far less finicky than some of the other drivetrains I’ve worked on over the years. That said, this rear derailleur works better with the Red cassette than it does with a Dura-Ace one; for reasons I never could figure out, I had to increase the cable tension by more than a full turn to get a Dura-Ace cassette to work with this group. In the end, it just never performed as well as the Red cassette.
Between the control lever, this derailleur and the (soon to be discontinued) Gore cables that come standard with this drivetrain, shift force is lighter than the facts found in most political speeches. And I write that having used this drivetrain with a Specialized Tarmac SL4, a bike that features internal cable routing, routing that has proven not to be as smooth in operation as that of its predecessor, the Tarmac SL3.
I’ve heard a few derisive cracks about the rubber bands in the Red cassette. Yeah, whatever. I can say that this is the quietest mechanical group I’ve ever used, thanks in no small part to the elastomers that ring the cassette body. That’s notable considering that previously the Red group was the noisiest group on the planet due to the cassette, which rang like a church bell with each shift. What I’ve found particularly intriguing about the elastomers and the new teeth shapes was SRAM’s claim that the chain now has a smoother movement between cogs, the upshot being that less lube gets slung off the chain with each shift. I wondered about this claim until I had a chance to check it out. It’s pretty sandy where I live and ride, even if you’re not on the beach bike path. If my bike’s chain dries out during a ride and I forget to lube it before my next ride what usually happens is this: I’ll begin the ride with only a bit of chain noise, but by the end of the ride, the chain will be squeaking like door hinges. For three days running I’ve been too tapped on time to lube the chain on the Tarmac and the chain has kept up a steady but meek squeak. It has yet to get louder; maybe there’s another reason why—I’ve yet to do a double-blind study—but my forgetfulness should have resulted in a much more unpleasant screech by now. I think they may be onto something with this new cassette design.
Currently, the new cassette is available in four ranges: 11-23, 11-25, 11-26 and 11-28.
The new Red brakes remind me of Shimano’s first dual-pivot calipers from the 8-speed Dura-Ace group (7600), back in the early ’90s. Until I actually saw them move, I really couldn’t imagine how they operated. That little black arm with the cable anchor bolt looks like it’s part of the front caliper arm, but it’s not. It’s a separate arm that moves on its own pivot in order to articulate the movement of the right arm. As the calipers close, it swings toward the arm holding the barrel adjuster on a tighter radius than it would were it just part of the front caliper arm. And while I’ve done my best to try to describe its operation, I respect even that might not help someone visualize just how this brake works.
Even if you can’t quite picture it, here’s what’s important: Brake response with these calipers is very progressive. Touch the brakes to scrub a little speed when you’re in the group and that’s all that happens; it’s not a particularly grabby brake at first. But get into a descent and you can go whoa to dime without feeling like you’re going to break the levers off.
Let me add that the pad holders you see on these brakes are not the standard Red brake block holders. These are holding a set of Zipp pads and I use holders because they are pretty easy to both install and remove pads. They ain’t pretty, but they work well.
I really love this group. And while I grant that the head-turning speed of an electronic group has an undeniable attraction, a kind of ethereal beauty like a rainbow seen during a shower, there’s a simplicity to making a mechanical group work that never gets old for me. From the ergonomics of the levers to the industrial design that sees little cues show up in the art for each of the components, to the incredible polish put on parts like the derailleurs and even the plating on those metal parts that aren’t polished (and haven’t rusted in the salt air where I live), this group was incredibly well-thought-out. Heck, it took a lot of thought and creativity to remove so much weight from this group and yield a collection of parts that not only weigh less but work better.
Do I have any criticisms? Yes, but there are only two: I’d love an 11th cog, but I respect that making a mechanical group shift well with 130mm spacing and 11 cogs is nearly as difficult as climbing l’Alpe d’Huez in 40 minutes. My other criticism also regards the cassette: Why can’t SRAM offer a cassette that begins with a 12t cog? Selling a group with a 50×11 high gear sends a funny message to a great many riders who have neither big mountains nearby nor the ability to crank out a sprint at 40 mph. What gives? A 12-28 cassette is a fantastically handy device. And what if your drivetrain included 53 and 39 chainrings? How many of us who aren’t carrying a Cat. 1 or 2 license can make use of a 53×11 gear? The only time I use it is on a handful of descents; even then, only briefly. With the riding I most like to do, a 12-28 cassette would be a very welcome addition; as a result, I choose a different bike for my hilliest rides.
It’s funny, in many ways the 2012 Red group is my favorite group on the market, but that lack of more cassette selection plays a real role in how I choose what bike to ride on a day-to-day basis. I wish it weren’t so. A great many riders won’t experience the issues I face, but many, many others are going to purchase a bike with a top gear that—while they’ll be more than happy to shift into any time they’re going relatively fast—they really won’t be able wind that gear out to make the best use of it.
Maybe one day they’ll add a few more cassettes. Once they do, this will be without reservation the best group on the market.
It’s amazing that within 24 hours of announcing the new 9000-series Dura-Ace just how many opinions have been lodged. I mean, nobody who isn’t on the Shimano payroll is riding this stuff. All we have so far are pictures and a few paragraphs noting changes to the group. So how is it the jury has sufficiently deliberated to render a verdict? Well, as it happens, you don’t have to ride a group to tell if it’s expensive. So let’s start with price. The new 9000 mechanical group will carry a suggested retail of $2699 while the 9070 Di2 group will go for a whopping $4139. You can get a pretty good bike for less than the mechanical group costs.
Does it strike you that judging a group on price alone is maybe unfair? There can be little doubt that it is. But I think Shimano didn’t really do itself any favors by releasing pricing before we got to know the group a little better.
But that’s not the only criticism Shimano has come in for already. Many people took one look at the new crank and uttered a collective “ew.” You can see noses wrinkling all over the world. I really loved the 7800 crank. The 7900, notsomuch. The 9000 crank, with its four-armed spider might not offend sensibilities so much if the design were symmetric, but that’s the hitch: it’s not, and symmetry has been a big part of crank design since … the discovery of aluminum.
There are two metrics riders always start with—price and weight. So how does 9000 stack up?
Shimano Dura-Ace 7900: 2070 grams, $2328
Campagnolo Super Record: 1950g, $2905
SRAM Red: 1850g, $2555
Dura-Ace 9000: 1978g, $2699
Dura-Ace 9000 represents a loss of almost 100g while adding a cog. That’s no small feat. However, it is still heavier than Red or Super Record. And at $2699, 9000 sits between Red and Super Record on price. The only clear winner in this sort of comparison is Red.
And what of the electronic options? Here’s how they stack up:
Shimano Dura-Ace 7970: 2350g, $3940
Campagnolo Record EPS: 2230g, $4600
Dura-Ace 9070: 2047g, $4139
The new 9070 is the clear weight leader in electronic shifting and given that Record is nearly $600 less than Super Record, it is also the least expensive option. I expect that Di2 bikes will be far more coveted than bikes built with mechanical; were availability equal, I would be willing to bet that Di2 would outsell mechanical four or five to one.
Let’s look at the features Shimano is using to sell the new group:
Better shifting: Shift action is said to be lighter and the shifter throw is said to be shorter. Shimano claims shift effort is cut by half.
Improved hood ergonomics: 7900 lever hoods were often criticized for being blocky and difficult to grip with sweaty hands because of their smooth finish. The lever bodies are smaller now and lever reach can be adjusted by a full centimeter without creating the ugly, slack-jawed look found with the 7900 levers.
Better braking: Shimano’s braking is a bit like Madonna’s style. You never know what it’s going to be from one group to the next. They say modulation will be improved while also offering more power. The new design is supposed to accommodate wider rims, but no word on what the widest tire is it can accommodate.
“Rider Tuned gearing”: Shimano loves a good turn of phrase. There’s not much news here; they will offer five different cassettes. More important, you’ll be able to build any chainring combination you’re looking for without having to worry about if the chainrings use the same bolt-circle diameter as your crank.
New cables: Part of how Shimano has cut shift effort is by using new cables that are coated with a polymer that cuts sliding resistance.
New chain: The new chain received PTFE plating that is supposed to increase chain life by 20 percent.
The real winner in these new groups appears to be the Di2 9070 group. It shaves 300g from the existing Di2 group while adding a cog, giving riders larger buttons that are said to be less prone to phantom shifts and even more options for the wiring harness, not to mention an internal, seatpost-mounted battery.
In my preview piece on 9000 we received a number of comments from readers who noted that they were still riding 7800 and were happy with it. (An aside—this is why joining the conversation is so meaningful.) Looking back at the differences between 7700, 7800 and 7900 might offer a clue to why 9000 isn’t being heralded as the arrival of the greatest group ever in the history of bikedom.
With 7800 cyclists were treated to a group that was unquestionably superior to 7700 in every manner possible. It was lighter. It was stiffer. The levers were more comfortable. It had an extra gear. Braking power and modulation was markedly improved. It also featured one of the first precursors to the new generation of bottom brackets with a large diameter, integrated spindle and external bearings. So stiff were the BB and crank that it changed how I evaluated frame stiffness. I remember getting on a bike at the press launch for the group and thinking, “Whoa, this is a whole new world. I wonder how Campy will respond.”
Shimano had been on a path of introducing a new Dura-Ace group about every six years; 7800 came out in 2003, and 2009 saw the introduction of 7900. Yet here we are, a mere three years later and Shimano is introducing 9000. I can’t help but wonder if this is what they were working toward all along and 7900 was just a place holder because 9000 just wasn’t ready. What’s my point? The difference between going from 7800 directly to 9000 and going from the somewhat lackluster 7900 to 9000 may be the reason why so many riders haven’t been that excited. Had Shimano introduced 9000 as the follow-up to 7800 people might be more excited.
For my part, I am excited. If 9000 really delivers on its promises, people will find plenty to like.
Some thoughts from Sunday’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege:
1. Maxim Iglinskiy capped a terrific week for Astana, winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege after overtaking a fading Vincenzo Nibali with a little more than one kilometer left to race. While certainly an outsider, Iglinskiy’s win wasn’t a total shock. In fact, in looking over the Kazakh’s resume, he appears to be a poor man’s Philippe Gilbert. Consistent spring contenders, (Iglinskiy is better than you might think) both riders have won the Strade Bianche and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. They also both won stages at the Dauphiné earlier in their careers. Of course, Gilbert’s resume is much longer and contains many more major victories, but considering Iglinsky came millions of Euros cheaper than his Belgian counterpart, Astana is doubtlessly happy with the return on its investment.
2. Iglinskiy’s win underscored a terrific team effort from Astana. Well-represented all day (their jerseys are hard to miss), the team placed two riders in the first group chasing Nibali. Enrico Gasparotto’s third-place finish put an exclamation mark on a successful day for the squad while confirming that his win in last weekend’s Amstel Gold Race was no fluke. The squad has now won two of the last three editions of Liege. (I wonder if Alexandre Vinokourov had some pre-race advice for his teammates.)
3. As for Nibali, his ride yesterday bookended his performance at Milan-San Remo, the season’s first Monument. In both races, the Liquigas rider initiated the final selection, but succumbed to a rider that few had predicted to play a dominant role in the event’s outcome. It’s been a while since we’ve had a grand tour champion prove himself to be a legitimate contender in the spring classics—let’s hope Nibali returns next year ready to contend again. Now the Italian must decide whether or not to compete in his home grand tour. While the Giro is a tempting option, he’s better suited for this year’s Tour de France.
4. Speaking of this year’s Tour de France, RadioShack’s Schleck brothers played little role in Sunday’s race. Perhaps they were tired from their efforts to have Kim Anderson reinstated in the squad’s management team for July’s Tour de France. A win Sunday would have spoken a lot louder if you ask me.
5. Back to the race: Twitter was buzzing Sunday with people complaining of boredom during the race’s final hour. At first, I felt compelled to defend the riders. The weather was horrible and the course was difficult—one must remember that these men are indeed human. But in hindsight, it seems to me that several teams with top contenders could and should have done more to make the race difficult, thereby eliminating “outsiders” like Iglinsky before they had a chance to play a role in the finale.
For example, Gilbert’s BMC squad was clearly focused on controlling the race in preparation for what it hoped would be a decisive attack by Gilbert (or someone else). Unfortunately, this kept too many riders and teams in contention after La Redoute. Without a major selection at this point in the race, there were too many men left to settle things over the remaining 30 kilometers.
7. The same can be said of Katusha. With Joaquim Rodriguez and Daniel Moreno they had a reason and the manpower to make the race more selective sooner—but they chose to sit-on. Some might say that Oscar Freire’s surprising resiliency gave the team an extra card to play should the race have stayed together all the way to Liege. (But that was an unlikely result—Freire’s performance was more a product of controlled racing than anything else.)
BMC can at least say they were racing to protect the chances of the defending chapion—they technically didn’t have to make the race (although that’s a slippery slope). Katusha made a mistake by basing this year’s tactics on last year’s favorite (Gilbert). Sometimes bringing the race to your competition is more effective than waiting for it to come to you.
8. Speaking of Gilbert, this spring was a minor catastrophe for the Belgian Champion. Last week I said that a win yesterday would have appeased his fans and softened his critics. Now it appears only a world championship will do the trick. Gilbert’s performance illustrates the importance of good health and good luck, while also reminding us that winning brings even loftier expectations the next time around. Hopefully Gilbert—who’s only 29, by the way—learned some valuable lessons from his experiences over the past two months. Look for him to be at his best once again next spring.
9. And if Gilbert didn’t already miss Jelle Vanendert, he certainly does now. I still can’t believe he didn’t make more of an effort to bring him along to BMC. That said, Tejay Van Garderen rode one heck of a race yesterday on behalf of Gilbert. The American now heads to Romandie before taking another crack at winning the Tour of California.
10. What a spring for Specialized and SRAM, huh?
That’s it for me—what’s on your mind?
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Image: Photoreporter Sirotti