Despite all the hullabaloo surrounding the Contador verdict and the Armstrong retirement, I really, really, really needed to focus this week’s Group Ride on something cycling-related, rather legalistic, medicinal or scientific. This need derives not so much from a lack of interest in the former, but rather in a desire to push back the tide of outrage and despair as regards our sport at its pointiest end.
You see, I rode my bicycle this morning. After my plaintive cry of a post earlier in the week, I have been gifted some good weather. Flesh has seen sunlight. Vitamin D has been absorbed. It’s not yet Spring really, but we’ve been given a taste, and for that I am thankful.
So rather than roll around in the misery and controversy, I thought we should talk about riding bikes. After all, as I sped (oh, yes, I sped) across town on my faithful Torelli, neither Alberto nor Lance was riding shotgun. I encountered no blood bags or McQuaids. Cycling, it must be said, doesn’t depend on any of those persons or things.
And so, with all due apology to our readers in the Southern Hemisphere, this week’s Group Ride asks: What are you looking forward to this spring? Is it a long ride, a return to regular training? A big race perhaps? Have you allowed yourself to utter the names Het Volk or Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne yet? Has razor met leg? Is there a new bike in your near future?
Share your hopes and dreams with us. Wax optimistic. Start now.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Carbon fiber bikes have changed more in the last 10 years than steel bikes have in the last 50 years. I write that as a fan of steel and an owner of two steel bikes. While it’s hard to quantify just how much stiffer carbon bikes are now than they were when George W. Bush entered office, it’s easy to quantify the drop in weight. For most manufacturers, the weight loss on their top-of-the-line bikes is half a kilo, sometimes more, and on occasion, less.
Weight is but one method of judging a bike and were it our sole criteria, it would be a bad one. We’d end up with sub-kilo steel frames that are too small for chimps.
I’ve been interested in the calculus that goes on between large companies that do all their own engineering on their carbon fiber framesets and small outfits that work with some of the same manufacturing facilities and purchase frames that are produced in the manufacturer’s own molds. These frames are called “open mold” because literally anyone can buy these frames, provided they are willing to purchase enough of them.
The practice is really just a 21st-century version of how almost all American companies purchased steel frames from Italy and, later, steel and aluminum frames from Taiwan and China. If you’ve ever purchased Trader Joe’s-brand wine, then you’ve purchased a product sourced in exactly the same manner.
The Torelli Montefalco is sourced in much the same way Torelli has always sourced products: from smaller manufacturers selected for the quality of their work. While the Montefalco is not produced by the Mondonico family, but instead a smaller composites facility in Taiwan, the effect is the same. It’s a small operation focusing on quality work that isn’t producing for any of the big names out there.
Before throwing my leg over the Montefalco, I had a lot of questions: How would it fit? How stiff was it? How light was it? How did it handle?
Let’s dispense with the easiest of these answers: Following the conclusion of my riding, I dismantled the bike, removing everything save the derailleur hanger. Bear in mind most companies list their frame weight before paint. The painted Montefalco with derailleur hanger was 1010 grams in the large size (57cm top tube). I was impressed. I’m sure that derailleur hanger weighed more than 10g, so this qualifies as a sub-kilo frame by any standard. There aren’t a lot of sub-kilo frames out there; companies are increasingly resorting to eliminating that outer weave layer and paint. I’m willing to bet that the paint on this frame weighed at least 60g (about 2 ounces).
The elimination of the outer weave layer on some top-of-the-line frames is a true double-edged sword. On one hand, the look is fresh and stylish, and to produce a frame where the outer layer of unidirectional carbon looks good enough not to cover up with paint requires the utmost in care. There’s a problem, though. That weave layer, though it doesn’t contribute to the stiffness of the frame and adds weight, it serves an important function in protecting the carbon from any sorts of strikes. I’ve been asked repeatedly how much stiffer 3k weave is than 12k weave. There’s no difference. If a bike shop employee tells you that one weave is better than another, go talk to someone else. That layer is cosmetic and exists so that if you drop your bottle or a wrench on your top tube or a rock flies off your front tire and hits your down tube it doesn’t start a cancerous crack that will kill your frame.
And for the record, the Torelli site erroneously states that the Montefalco features 3k weave. It doesn’t; it features 12k weave—but the difference is 90 percent cosmetic, so the point is moot.
I’ve seen some crazy tube shapes lately, and on occasion, seemingly reasonable shapes used in odd ways. At the head tube of the Montefalco the top and down tubes have a rather triangular cross-section. To attain maximum stiffness in torsion, the best orientation of these shapes is for the triangles’ longest sides to be perpendicular to the head tube and as close to the ends of the head tube as possible, which is how they are oriented on the Montefalco.
The frame features a tapered head tube and fork steerer. What surprised me was when I pulled the fork out of the frame, the steerer was 1 1/8-inches in diameter until just a few centimeters before the crown, then it suddenly expanded to 1 1/2 inches. Though the increase in diameter was sudden, it was enough to do the trick.
Out on the road I’ve come to sense almost immediately the difference between a frameset with a tapered head tube and steerer and one without. I notice the difference most readily when I stand up to accelerate with my hands on the hoods. It’s a move I’ve made tens of thousands of times on different bikes and that bigger fork gives the rider the sense that the bike has an overall increase in stiffness. The days of me standing up and making the chain rub the front derailleur in the 53×19 are gone. Utterly gone and in the mid-‘90s I could make almost any steel or ti frame do that; I could even do it with most carbon bikes. Not any more.
The upshot is that judging stiffness increasingly means judging just how much you can sense twist between the handlebar and the bottom bracket. The only steel frame I ever rode that possessed this much stiffness was made from Columbus Max. There are builders out there still working with that tube set (notably Hampsten and Zanconato) and God love ‘em for doing it, but that tube set is a bit much for me. (I’m sure right now legions of Hampsten, Zanconato and Pegoretti fans are mailing me skirts.)
For my money, the Montefalco offers more than adequate stiffness while still yielding enough that I wasn’t uncomfortable on long rides. Notably, the smaller frames have some material eliminated to keep the flex pattern consistent. Think of it as today’s answer to making a 54cm frame from Columbus SL tubing while making the 58cm frame from Columbus’ heavier-gauge SP tubing.
The Montefalco comes in five sizes. The top tube lengths are 52.5, 54, 55.5, 57 and 59cm. That the sizes come in 1.5cm increments (except for the 2cm jump from the 57 to 59) means that it’s easy for most riders to find a frame that will fit. If you’re either Lilliputian or Gulliver, well, this might not be the bike for you.
Bottom bracket drop on the large is 6.75cm. My review bike was built around a 19cm head tube, parallel 73-degree head and seat tube angles and 40.8cm chainstays. Fork rake is 45mm, yielding 5.69cm of trail. The top tube, as is visible in the photo slopes slightly. Wheelbase is a fairly standard 100.8cm. It uses a 31.6mm seatpost. I’m not wild about this for two reasons: 1) it isn’t a terribly common size and 2) I like the flex that a 27.2mm seatpost gives when I hit bumps. It’s not much, but I notice the difference on these bigger seatposts.
Not much attention gets paid to handling geometry these days. Trail, bottom bracket drop (or height) and wheelbase determine a bike’s character and whether the bike reacts to you or you react to the bike.
As I’ve mentioned previously, my proving ground for a bike is a canyon road in Malibu called Decker. I made two different descents of Decker on the Montefalco. I ride this descent rather aggressively, but not to the point of risky. What I want from a bike is the ability to wait as late as possible when approaching a turn and then make a sharp turn-in. I also want it to remain calm and neutral feeling above 40 mph. I don’t get that from all bikes. The Montefalco was rock solid when I needed it to be but aggressive enough that I could dive into turns. It reminded me of the Specialized Tarmac in its handling. Butcher’s knife-sharp but with the manners of a debutante on leaving finishing school.
There are a number of little details about this bike I really like. The gear cables pass through the head tube, both guiding the housing and preventing the housing from wearing away paint, or worse, carbon (gasp). The rear brake cable is internally routed as well and its entry and exit points are really clean and attractive. The red/white/clear paint scheme looks really gorgeous in sunlight and benefits from just a few decals on the frame.
Suggested retail for the Montefalco is $1800. There are some less expensive framesets being made from carbon, but I’ve yet to ride anything with this much performance retailing for less.
Torelli is also offering a limited-edition version of this frame with a seat mast called the Perla.
It’s getting to that time of year. The wind blows cold. The sun sets early. Rain falls. The garage door rises, and I wheel out my bike. My breath bursts in a cloud in front of my face.
These are make or break moments.
After a summer of constant pedaling and an early autumn of blissfully lowered temperatures, we’re getting to the hard part now, when throwing your leg over the bike requires that little extra bit of motivation.
I’ve just christened a new bicycle, a sweet, blue, steel Torelli (full disclosure: Torelli is an RKP advertiser) with a brand new SRAM Rival kit. White saddle. White bar tape. White pedals. Hammered tin head badge. Very handsome.
What is more motivating than a brand new ride? Nothing. Nothing is more motivating.
I have spent the last weeks acclimating myself to DoubleTap® technology, learning the ways of Sampson pedals, retuning myself to a new gear array, fine tuning saddle position. These are excellent distractions to have when the weather turns.
Of course, it’s less than ideal to take a shiny new thing and subject it immediately to rain and grime and sand and grit. I hesitated at first, but the hesitation was fleeting. I just couldn’t see the sense in lying to my new bike. It’s dirty work being my bicycle. Robots don’t feel cold and wet. They require bikes that are similarly oblivious.
And so, we’ve been running the river in all of fall’s best and worst conditions. We’ve climbed our hill in the cold darkness, and we’ve climbed it with torrents of rain flowing down the asphalt. We’ve pounded through the flats and spun through traffic.
When I ordered my new bicycle from the kind folks at Torelli, they offered me the option to customize paint and decals. I chose a less logo-y look, one they themselves recommended, thus the hammered tin head badge, and a small decal down low on the seat tube just above the bottom bracket that reads “Made in Italy.”
When I am head down into the wind and wondering if I will be able to make the cut this year, if I will be able to face up to another winter in the saddle, I look down at that small sticker and know that I will.
The wheel market has exploded with the vengeance of the mosquito population at a stagnant pond in the Deep South during a drought-plagued summer. We’ve been overrun with wheels, much the way I just overran my good sense and your patience in that last sentence.
Doubt that? Nearly every company that used to offer wheel components—DT, Campagnolo, Mavic, Shimano, American Classic, Chris King and Ambrosio for starters—now offers complete wheels. There are some notable exceptions, such as Wheelsmith and Sapim, who have elected to stick with spokes and nipples, and Phil Wood (hubs), but the vast majority of companies that produced components that I used to build wheels from now offer complete wheelsets.
By a certain sort of math, you could make an argument that expansion brought about a tripling of the wheel market. The result has changed what it means to purchase a high-end wheelset. Given the incredible number of poorly built handmade wheels I saw over the years (How many racers did I see not finish a race because their wheels didn’t hold up?), this isn’t a bad thing … on one level. On another, it can be terrible at times.
Gone is the conversation between the budding racer and the sage mechanic. I’ve been on both sides of that conversation and the chance to learn about or to teach lacing patterns or the value of equal spoke tension is a chance for someone to become a more knowledgeable, more engaged cyclist. Those conversations and choices were substantive. Clydesdales need to be steered away from alloy nipples just as bantam weight climbers ought to be steered to butted spokes. On group rides these days, so often I hear guys discussing wheel choices based on color.
Recently overheard: “I went with the American Classics because the white matched my frame.”
I’ve tried a number of aftermarket wheelsets with Campy freehubs. In both 10- and 11-speed configurations a great many of them have a problem that I consider colossal, but I rarely hear anyone complain.
That problem? Rear derailleur spoke clearance.
If I hear the rear derailleur cage tick, tick, ticking against the spokes when I’m climbing, I’m concerned. It is the bicycle equivalent of driving to Dubuque with the idiot light on. And the people who do complain about this? They are the ones who had exactly this problem—undiagnosed by their shop mechanic—stood up and flexed the wheel enough to catch the cage, sheer the carbon fiber scissors through wrapping paper and destroy the rear derailleur, the wheel and the derailleur hanger, if not the frame along the way.
I’ve encountered this problem on more wheels than I ought. A healthy supply of 1mm spacers hasn’t corrected the problem for most of the wheels, either. One can ask the question of whether the problem is with the wheels or the derailleur, but because Campagnolo and Fulcrum wheels never have this problem—proving that it is possible to make wheels that don’t suffer this incompatibility—I lay the blame with the wheel makers.
A good review of a set of wheels really ought to be based on qualities of superior distinction, such as multiplying your power output or a freehub that dispenses cash when you hit 500 watts. Congratulating a set of wheels for competency is a bit like giving a kid AP credit for reading Harry Potter.
Regardless, the starting point for this review is the fact that the spokes of the Torelli Bormio Ceramic Ultra-Lites don’t rub on a Campy rear derailleur cage. This one feature makes them worth considering if you’re looking for a set of Campy-compatible wheels. Is that enough to warrant purchasing them? Not by a long shot.
In fact, my biggest single wheel pet peeve is trueness—actually lack thereof. I monitor wheels as I review them to see how they are holding up. Within the first 200 miles of riding these wheels I had to perform a slight truing of the rear wheel, tightening two spokes that had de-tensioned slightly. I’ve done nothing since.
Last fall I rode Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo. For those of you who recall my ride report of the event, you may recall some grumbling about a record number of flats I experienced that day. These were the wheels I was using. The reason for the trouble was a rim strip issue.
When I returned from the ride I e-mailed Todd, the owner at Torelli, and told him about the trouble. He was on the phone to me within the minute I hit the ‘send’ button. When I saw the “Torelli” on the caller ID, I thought it was just a weird coincidence.
He asked me what color the rim strips were. When I told him they were yellow, he told me to throw them in the trash, that those were early production and had caused problems and had been since replaced with different rim strips that wouldn’t move. I’d have some new ones the next day. And I did.
Every dealer that received wheels with the yellow rim strips have been shipped the red rim strips I received.
Since receiving the new rim strips, I haven’t had a single flat and that’s even while running the paper-thin Specialized open tubulars (whose ride continues to grow on me). I remain deeply suspicious of mylar, plastic and all manner of rim strips that are anything other than Velox for one simple reason: Velox rim strips have adhesive on the bottom. Granted, it doesn’t have the sticky factor of Chinese rice, but it really doesn’t need much to just not move.
Okay, so lets move on to the bullet points featured in the marketing literature. The rims have a claimed weight of 380 grams. The front wheel has 20 spokes, the rear 24 spokes. The front is radially laced, the rear features radial lacing on the non-drive side and two-cross on the drive side. The stainless steel J-bend Sandvik spokes are bladed (0.9mm x 2.2mm) for increased aerodynamic efficiency and easy replacement.
Torelli claims they weigh 1380g for the pair—that’s with rim strips and a Shimano freehub. I have yet to review a set of wheels that weighs within 10g of the advertised weight, but these were pretty close; they came in at 1412g. I attribute the difference to the Campy freehub, but that’s just a wild assertion of the same general vicinity as most stories in the National Enquirer. I haven’t weighed the two freehub bodies. I really don’t know. At all.
The rear wheel contains six ceramic bearings and inside the freehub is a needle bearing to reduce freehub drag while descending, of which, it does an admirable job. Spin the rear wheel up with the bike in the stand and once you let go of the pedal it moves no further. It’s also remarkably quiet when freewheeling, which is a quality I associate with low drag and stealthy approaches, both of which I find handy.
Compared to many wheels in this weight range the Bormio Ceramic Ultra-Lites are surprisingly stiff laterally. Certainly there are stiffer wheels out there, but stiff isn’t really the selling point on these wheels. Their weight, incredibly low rolling resistance due to the ceramic bearings and machined aluminum braking surfaces, all for a suggested retail of $650 is why you buy these wheels.
Who doesn’t want raceable weight and low-drag bearings in an everyday wheelset?
Torelli does suggest a 180-lb. weight limit for users, but I suspect that at that weight (or more) you would be inclined to seek out a stiffer wheel regardless.
A great set of wheels really isn’t about the graphics (which on these aren’t exactly going to win any design awards—but can’t anyone get graphics right on a set of wheels anymore without sacrificing function?); it ought to be about bringing the various elements together to make a wheel set perfectly suited to its intended purpose.
In the last year I’ve tried six different aftermarket (non-Campy/Fulcrum) wheel sets meant to work with Campy. Considering functionality, weight and price, these are the best of the bunch.
The Hampsten name is associated with a lot in the world of bicycles. Sure, there was Andy’s career as a racer; there’s the tour company Cinghiale Cycling Tours; an olive oil company, Extra Virgin Olive Oil; and perhaps best known these days is the bike company, Hampsten. If it’s Andy’s reputation that brings people in, it’s dealing with Steve that seals the deal. He’s a warm and thoughtful guy whose desire to combine proven technology and affordability has made him a voice of reason to many who can’t rationalize a $10,000 bicycle.
I shot these photos during a Cinghiale Cycling Tours training camp in Los Alamos, Calif. The days were spent riding through Santa Barbara County and the evenings spent eating gourmet meals prepared in part by Steve and accompanied by local Pinots and Chardonnays.
PB—Let’s start with the most basic question about you and Hampsten Cycles. Where does Andy stop and you start? Specifically, how do you two dovetail your roles in the company?
SH—Andy sells bikes—mostly to his Cinghiale Cycling Tours customers—and he works with his customers in choosing the right size, model, and equipment. He helps with the fine-tuning of new models and provides feedback as we move along; he also has the unerring ability to shoot down my crappy ideas: “No, we don’t need a Hampsten mountain bike.” I’d say his customers account for a third of our bike sales.
Two of Andy’s big contributions to the company have been the Strada Bianca and what we now call our Travelissimo—our S & S-coupled travel bike. They are two of our biggest sellers and it’s a bonus that they’re bikes Andy rides himself and feels passionate about.
He’s involved with clothing design and special projects and he helped drive the recent Rich Roat/House Industries-produced Gavia poster. He has good ideas and strong instincts and he has the sense to leave the day-to-day stuff to me – I think we make a good team.
PB—How’d you get into what you’re doing and what’s your background?
SH—Well, Patrick, I started working in bike shops in 1976 and continued off-and-on for about ten years, was even part owner of famed J. Stone and Sons Cycles (I was a “Son”) in Grand Forks, ND, for a while. About 1982 I started cooking in restaurants in Madison and Seattle, focusing on French, Italian, and American food. In 1997 I started welding and working with steel and most of 1998 was spent building frames and forks at Match Bicycle Company. When Match closed down I continued welding, blacksmithing, and fabricating part-time until about 2005, but 1999 was when Andy and I had the idea that putting our name on the downtube might be a fun thing to do.
So I had been involved in batch-building lugged frames and forks and I spent some time at Ti Cycles with Dave Levy and I have a good idea of how carbon and titanium frames are built. I can braze steel and I can weld steel and aluminum but I don’t do any of it well enough or efficiently enough for it to make sense for me to be the principal builder. I could learn, I suppose, but I really enjoy what I’m doing now. Maybe someday, start brazing some lugs….
PB—Hampsten Cycles is different from some operations in that you don’t build too many frames in house. Who are your current suppliers?
SH—This year we’ll build about fifty frames, most of which become whole bicycles. Of those, about 25%, or 12.5 frames, will be built in-house by Max and Martin. Of the rest, I’m getting aluminum frames from Co-Motion, welded steel and stainless frames from Independent Fabrication, and titanium frames come from both Kent Eriksen and Moots Cycles. We’ve done some one-off titanium and stainless frames in our Seattle shop but my preference is that we stick with steel here.
I’d like to see the overall numbers creep up and I’d like to see us do more frames in-house. I love the Colorado-built ti frames because they don’t have to be painted: order the frame and—boom—six weeks later it’s ready. Ditto with the frames from IF and Co-Mo; they have excellent welders and great paint departments and they make the whole process so painless.
But there is also a beauty in designing a frame for a customer and working out the details with Max or Martin and seeing this lovely creature birthed in my own shop, then sending it off to paint and having it come back perfect. The in-house stuff we do may not be quantifiably “better” than what we get from our suppliers but the welding, brazing, and painting is every bit as good. And given the little touches we can do to each frame in terms of tube selection, dropout and casting choices, and in the details – all this makes it more of a one-off.
PB—What draws you to a particular builder—what makes you want to work with someone?
SH—I think there is a look I go for when evaluating a builder as a possible supplier: simple lines, round tubes, perfect welds/brazing/bonding, and I’ve got to feel comfortable talking with them. Some of the people who supply us are friends of ours going in but with others it’s simply a case of dumb luck. As an example: I approached Independent Fabrication at a time when we were having trouble getting steel frames. I had always been a big fan of theirs but I didn’t really know anyone there—I had ordered a fork or two but that was it. Despite seeing plenty of examples of their work it never occurred to me that I might ask them to build for us—but once I did it just seemed like the most natural thing in the world.
PB—Is each of your suppliers building both stock sizing and custom frames?
SH—Nope, everything we do right now is custom, made for a particular customer. However, I am working on a line of non-custom, less expensive frames, name as-yet undecided, and our plan is to build all of them in-house—we should see these early 2010.
PB—What differentiates a Hampsten from an Ericksen or Co-Motion?
SH—I spend a good amount of time talking to and/or emailing my customers, after which I create a drawing in BikeCAD for that customer’s frame. I spec all dimensions, angles, tube diameters, etc, then I send the drawing to Kent [Ericksen] or Co-Mo or whomever for fabrication. Occasionally, I’ll have some discussion with Kent, Dwan [Shepard of Co-Motion], et al, on tube selection or other detailed aspect of the frame—and I gain a lot from talking with these guys—but I never get the sense that our bikes really look like theirs. I have the numbers I like to work with, they have their own—it’s not like any of us are doing anything radical in terms of fit or handling but I do feel that there are certain signatures one can look for from most builders or designers.
PB—Bill McGann of Torelli once told me he relished the opportunity to hire framebuilders to build particular bikes to his spec, rather than braze the frames himself because not building allowed him time to focus on big picture issues. He could spend more time balancing the quality of tubing, build and price for a model or thinking through the geometry of a particular model relative to its use. What requires the biggest investment of energy for you on a daily basis if it’s not the act of building?
SH—My day probably looks like that of many people who run a small business: I spend a good portion of time talking with and emailing customers, both potential and those with bikes or frames on order, tidying up details and answering questions. I’m responsible for all the ordering, paying taxes/bills/contractors, making sure my insurance and licenses are in order, keeping the shop and office clean—and I do most of the new bike assembly and repairs. In my “spare” time I try to work on new models and ideas for the months ahead, things that I want to present on the website and/or blog. I write all the text for the website, answer a surprisingly large amount of emails, and have occasional writing projects like this interview right here. I’m currently working on a new website and on the new “brand.” It’s almost a relief that I’m not the guy with the welding or brazing torch or half that stuff wouldn’t happen.
As much as I love going to Interbike to see new bikes and parts each year, I need to be honest and say I’m far more excited to see friends both old and new. One of the things that has kept me in the bike industry for more than 20 years is friendship. I’ve had the good fortune to make friends with a great many people in the bike industry and each year my trip to the show is often my one guaranteed annual chance to see these great people.
Above is Brad Devaney, an engineer with Litespeed. Brad and I met in 1989 while working for the Peddler Bike Shop in Memphis, Tennessee. The Peddler crew was a tight-knit, collegial bunch and we frequently rode together. Of the mechanics I worked with, Brad was clearly the most resourceful and mechanically adept. A few years ago I bumped into Brad and asked him about one of our old coworkers, a triathlete named Corey; Brad and Corey were tight. It was there on the show floor that Brad told me Corey had been hit by a car while on a ride and killed. The show floor was a rotten place to hear the news, but there was no one I’d rather have delivered it.
I ment Alan Coté when I joined the UMASS cycling team in the fall of 1989. Alan was very fast and one of the only guys on the team who knew how to wrench on a bike. We spent a portion of one summer working at Bicycle World Too in Amherst before he moved to Boulder to be with his girlfriend (now wife) Megan. Today, Alan is a contributing editor to Bicycling and has been writing about cycling for longer than I have. He got his start freelancing for VeloNews and worked his way up to Bicycle Guide. It was as a result of Alan’s help that I got my foot in the door at Bicycle Guide. He questioned my sanity when I expressed my willingness to leave Northampton for Los Angeles—”Pat, isn’t Los Angeles the on-ramp to the apocalypse?”—to which I responded, “Dude, I’ve been to Mississippi.”
Jeff Winnick is an independent sales rep in New England. His lines have changed over the years, but he’s the same warm, straightforward and honest guy I met while working at Northampton Bicycle in 1990. I took Jeff to lunch one day to ask his advice on how to move from retailing into the industry side of the biz. He was generous with his time and knowledge, still is.
If you’ve ever raced a bike in New England, chances are Merlyn Townley wrenched on your bike in a neutral pit at some point. Merlyn and I met at the Olympic Training Center in 1992 when we were there to get our mechanics’ licenses. He was a delight to share a room with then and we worked together at many events over the next few years. Merlyn always impressed me with his utterly tireless enthusiasm for working on bikes. He is one of the only mechanics I can say reminds me of the great Bill Woodul. Today Merlyn has an upstart OEM wheel building business based in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Devin Walton called me up in May of 1994 to work neutral support for Shimano at the 1994 World Cup mountain bike event at Mt. Snow, Vermont. Over the weekend I worked on more bikes than I typically saw during a week at a shop. Devin’s professionalism filled me with a new respect for Shimano and the talent they assembled. Today, Devin is still with Shimano and has one of the company’s most coveted posts: media relations guy. He handles all media relations as well as some pretty heavy lifting on the PR side.
One of the other mechanics on hand for that June 1994 weekend was this guy, Mike Conlan. Mike was the first bike mechanic I ever saw don latex gloves for grimy work. A real pro and a very nice guy. Today, Mike is the manager of Outdoor Sports Center in Wilton, Conn. His instincts are as sharp as ever and he is a guy whose opinion I always ask when it comes to retailing trends.
I met Larry Theobald in Greenfield, Massachusetts in 1991. He was working for Breaking Away Tours in the summer and riding with us in the spring and fall. His wife, Heather, was finishing her doctorate at UMASS and I rode with her from time to time. In the winters, I’d frequently see him at one of the cross-country ski areas up in the Berkshires. These days Larry and Heather have a tour company called Cycle Italia that is known for excellent rides, great accommodations and even better food.
Butch Balzano may be the only mechanic in New England who is even better known than Merlyn Townley. I worked a few races with Butch in the early ’90s and thought him so competent as to make me superfluous. He has been providing race support through Campagnolo, Shimano and now SRAM for more than 20 years. He’s as easy going a guy as there is, and one of the few guys I can say for whom a 12-second wheel change is routine.
Richard Fries became known to me as a Cat. 1 who started a magazine called The Ride. I began freelancing for The Ride with its second issue and gradually became more involved in the magazine, eventually writing a column called Shop Talk. It was funny to write for a magazine whose publisher would frequently feature in headlines (I recall many along the lines of “Fries Wins Again in Marlborough”). Richard and his wife, Deb, published The Ride for more than 10 years; it was easily the best regional I ever saw published. Along the way a funny thing happened: Richard’s son, Grant was born and became old enough to ride his own bicycle, and Richard got concerned about where Grant could ride. Today, Richard is one of the nation’s most ardent and effective voices for bicycle advocacy, working with a variety of organizations, including Bikes Belong. Oh, and if you ever need to know anything about the Civil War, he’s faster with the facts than Wikipedia.
The man in the Reynolds booth is another former Northamptonite, Jonathan Geran. Jonathan’s easy way has seen him in sales for Merlin, Parlee, McLean Quality Composites and now Reynolds. The one thing we try not to do when we see each other is to discuss the mountain biking we used to enjoy in western Mass.
Chris Carmichael called on me to help the Junior National Team with several races in 1993. He was easy to work for and had the ability to tell each rider exactly what they needed to hear right before a race. I remember thinking it was no wonder he was head coach for the U.S. National Team. In the years since, Chris has been generous in giving me quotes for many articles and a book.
Derreck Bernard was one of the first people I met when I joined the staff of Bicycle Guide. He was part of the ad sales staff and was as nice and easy going a guy as you’d want to work with. He helped change my perception of the high-pressure ad sales guy. Since Petersen’s sale and re-sale, Derreck joined the staff of Hi-Torque Publications, where he sells ads for Mountain Bike Action, Road Bike Action and BMX Plus! Thanks to my freelance work for Road Bike Action, even though we don’t work together directly, its fun to think of him as a coworker again.
Carol and Bill McGann are the former owners of Torelli Imports. Bill and Carol are an incredible team and really collaborate on everything; their affection and respect for each other is something to envy. Bill still works for the company some, so I still get to see them in the Torelli booth each year. He is one of the rare guys on the manufacturing side of the business who really taught me a lot about the industry, rather than just his line. He’s got an incredibly expansive view (he’s an armchair historian which may help explain his ability to see the bigger picture) of the bike industry and has helped me see trends as they develop. He’s also one helluva travel companion and the week I spent with him in Italy will go down as one of the finest weeks of my whole life.
I’ve begun to suspect that floor pumps have something in common with saddles and political affiliation: Some folks just don’t like some stuff. I recently had a friend notice that I was still using a Silca floor pump. I won’t repeat what he said here, but he would react similarly were I to write in Teddy Roosevelt’s name in an election for any office.
He complained that his 50-year-old eyes couldn’t see the gauge, that he had to bend over too far to fully depress the plunger, the base was too small, the hose too short, the rubber seal wore out too quickly due to the threaded valve stems on his preferred tubes, the chuck didn’t accept the Schrader valves on his mountain bike and the handle was too small for his increasingly bony hands.
I may be outspoken in my views, but I do endeavor to be fair, even handed. I reasoned there must be others who don’t share my love of the Silca and I ought to see if there are pumps out there better suited to their needs. I did some checking around and found a pump that answered each of his criticisms; when I ran it by him, he liked it better than what he was using.
Enter the Torelli Amalfi floor pump. It has a small-diameter barrel to make it easy to achieve 8 bar, a 38-inch long hose, a self-converting pump head, a bleed-off button in case you overshoot your chosen pressure, a large base easy to get a foot on, a gauge placed at the top of the pump rather than the bottom for easy reading, a large and soft handle. Oh, and the barrel is a full two inches longer than that of the Silca, meaning that not only do you not have to lean over as much, it takes fewer strokes to reach your chosen pressure.
The suggested retail price for the Amalfi pump is $79.95. Serfas, to be fair, offers a very similar pump with a different base, handle and no bleed-off valve. Finding this pump, or one like it, shouldn’t be too hard, but I have a high level of trust that Torelli dealers will have replacement parts in stock.
Much as I love my Silca, I’ve used some wheels lately that had rims just a bit deeper than normal, leaving average-length valve stems protruding from the rim less than normal. The Torelli pump was handy for securing the head to the shortish valves; and while it may seem like the thing to do is buy tubes with the proper length valve, I do that for my own wheels; on review bikes and wheels, I only replace flatted tubes. The Amalfi made my life a little easier.