Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Brooks Saddles and Levi's Denim

Some people would never consider riding in jeans. As someone who isn't hung up on the notion that I always have to wear cycling clothes when on a bike, I'll ride in jeans now and then as long as I'm not riding too far -- like pedaling around the neighborhood, riding with my kids, or running some errands. But the thickness of the seams, and their location, means I don't want to ride in jeans for more than a few miles. But now there is a way to ride in jeans in complete comfort.

Brooks Saddles' new Cambium saddles have been making fans since their introduction last year. The vulcanized rubber saddles have a canvas top bonded to them and reviewers have praised them for good comfort, durability, and classic good looks. I'm still waiting for Brooks to send me one to try out for review, but my requests must be getting lost. (I'm sure that's it -- I mean, we share a name for cryin' out loud). I've long been a fan of their natural leather saddles (see HERE), but the new rubber saddle seems worth a try. Now, the latest addition to the line is a collaboration between Brooks and Levi's -- a Cambium saddle topped with recycled Levi's denim.

For the time being, the limited edition saddles are exclusively available at Levi's Commuter Workspaces in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and London. In October they will be available from the Brooks online shop. One interesting twist on the recycled denim idea is that Brooks and Levi's are inviting people to bring clean used denim to one of the three Workspaces so it can be re-used to make "as many saddles as possible." People who do so would get 20% off from Levi's and from Brooks, along with a chance to win one of the saddles (the collection began earlier in July). I think it would be pretty cool to get the saddle made with your own vintage jeans, but I doubt there's any provision to make that likely. (Think about it, Brooks!)

To my eye, the saddles look pretty classy, and due to the way that every pair of jeans wears and fades a little differently from every other, each saddle would be slightly different. No two alike. Between the looks and the reported comfort, I think the saddles would be a complement to a lot of classic-styled bikes, new or old. The one thing I can't seem to find out anywhere is the price. The regular Cambium C-17 sells for around $140 (online prices vary a little -- shop around), so that's at least a frame of reference. By the way, the classic Brooks B-17 sells for roughly the same price nowadays, depending on the options -- titanium rails push the price near $200!

Learn more at Brooks Saddles website.

Just a short post today -- get out and ride!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Expensive And Ugly

I recently spotted these new cranks from FSA, the K-Force Light -- which have the distinction of being not only eye-wateringly expensive, but also, eye-wateringly ugly. In fact, they probably incorporate everything that a Retrogrouch could possibly loathe.

According to articles I've seen, the crank is listed at £599, or $750, which is obviously a lot of dough, particularly considering its Taiwanese origins. But also, it raises a question about component and bicycle pricing that I've wondered about before -- whenever I see prices listed in £British and $U.S., they never bear any relationship to exchange rates. Currently, £599 should be over $1000. I don't get how that works, but I suspect someone's getting screwed. But I'm digressing. . .

Like Shimano, and now Campagnolo, the new FSA crank goes to an asymmetrical 4-arm spider, but of course (because this is the bicycle industry we're talking about) the chainrings are not compatible with either Shimano or Campy. In fact, they aren't really a 4-bolt chainring, as there is a 5th bolt hidden behind the arm (which is nestled between the more closely-spaced spider arms, making the 5th bolt pretty superfluous). The 4-arm spider gets touted by Shimano and their converted disciples as a "major improvement" in crank design, and I've read blog and forum comments from the converts proclaiming improved stiffness and "unprecedented power transfer" -- which just proves to me that a lot of people are completely full of s#!%. It also means everyone has to copy it -- but not copy it so much as to make any part of it interchangeable.

The new K-Force Light is made from carbon fiber with hollow arms, so you know it will stand up to hard use. It also has the huge, bloated look of many of today's components, along with graphics that look like something out of Japanese animé cartoons.

As another bonus, the crank comes with the BB386EVO bottom bracket -- which is another of the multiple new bottom bracket standards to be released in the last few years, and requires spacers and adapters in order to fit into frames that aren't designed specifically for it (which, of course, is probably most of them). And like most of these new press-fit bottom bracket "standards," the only thing that's actually "standard" is the creaking that comes when the various spacers and adapters don't really fit right.

So, what do we have here? A stupid-light carbon fiber crank that's incredibly expensive, obnoxiously ugly, with yet another proprietary chainring pattern, that will probably creak when it's installed in any frame that can be adapted to accept it. It's enough to make any Retrogrouch need a Proofide inhaler.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Tour de France 2014

By now, anyone reading this already knows that Vincenzo Nibali won the Tour de France yesterday, the first Italian winner since Marco Pantani in '98. Nibali was just a kid when that happened.

Nibali was strong from start to finish.
Some people will say he only won because the favorites, like Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, were unable to finish. Given the performance I saw, I think Nibali just might have won anyhow. Besides, I'm not the first one to say that in order to finish first, one must first finish. The best way I can describe Nibali's riding in the Tour is "Smart." He stayed safe when he needed to, and made moves (good moves) when it was necessary. It's like he did everything right, and nothing wrong. Not only that, but he really surprised people with the depth of his riding -- like his strong performance on the cobblestones, for instance. His team, also, was up to the task of defending a Tour leader, and all nine Astana team members finished the race.

Nibali won four stages on his way to the overall victory. The hilly 2nd stage from York to Sheffield got him the Yellow Jersey, which he held until the 9th stage. He won the 10th stage in the mountains, getting the Yellow Jersey back again -- and held it to the end of the Tour. He also won stage 13, Saint Étienne - Chamrousse, and stage 18 with an impressive acceleration on the Hautacam. His performance in the mountains was so good that Nibali almost won the King-of-the-Mountains Polka Dot Jersey in addition to the Yellow.
Not known as a "classics" rider, Nibali was surprisingly
strong on the cobbles.

In the 2014 Tour's only time trial, on the penultimate stage, Nibali was faster through the 54 km course than everyone but World TT Champion Tony Martin, thereby adding more to his lead in the overall standings. In the end, he had a 7:52 margin of victory when he crossed the line in Paris -- the widest margin in 17 years. Only two other people wore the leader's Yellow Jersey during the whole 3,664 km Tour -- Marcel Kittel, winner of stage 1, and Tony Gallopin, who wore it one day after stage 9. It was impressive.

It's a shame that, in the "Post Armstrong" era, people will question (are questioning) if Nibali raced clean. Chris Froome was pressed with the same questions after his win in 2013, and Bradley Wiggins faced the same skepticism in 2012. I say it's a shame because on one hand, people deserve the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, I think it's an unfortunate fact of life for racers, at least for the time being, that they're going to end up paying for the crimes of others. We've all seen the fairy tales, and we've seen how too many of them turned out. I want to believe it was a clean victory, (and Froome's and Wiggins's, too) but part of me waits for the other shoe to drop. It doesn't help that Nibali's team, Astana, and their director, Alexander Vinokourov, have a "troubled" past in that regard. I'm not bringing that up to cast doubts. I truly hope it really is a new era.

I should also point out that Nibali's strong TdF win shouldn't be a surprise. He never exhibited some kind of inexplicable meteoric rise in performance -- but has been building, developing, and improving over the last few years. He won the Vuelta a España in 2010; finished 2nd in the Giro d'Italia in 2011; finished 3rd in the 2012 TdF behind Wiggins and Froome; and he won the Giro and finished 2nd in the Vuelta in 2013. He is now in an elite group of racers to win all three "grand tours" and it will be great to see what he continues to achieve in the future.

The Tour de Selfie

If the 2014 Tour de France is remembered for anything besides the impressive win by Nibali, it might also be as the "Tour de Selfie." Fans have always been a factor in bicycle racing -- more than in most other sports. There really aren't many sports where the fans can get so close to the athletes as in bicycle racing. On mountain stages, particularly, fans often crowd on the ascents to cheer (or jeer) the riders -- often crowding in so close that it's remarkable that the riders can get through at all.

This year, the latest phenomenon is the "selfie" -- where ignorant, self-centered, self-obsessed people think nothing of stepping out into the road (usually with their back turned to the racers) to get that picture of themselves in the midst of the action. It got so bad this year that crashes and many near-misses were a regular occurrence -- the ripple effect of one such crash took Andy Schleck out of the Tour. And in some stages, the riders took to smacking smart phones out of the hands of the fans.

I've said before that people have an unfortunate tendency toward self-centeredness, and I believe so-called smart phones (I prefer smart people to smart phones) and social media like twitter, snapchat, and so many others, do a lot to enable, intensify -- even reward -- that self-centered behavior. The word "selfie" is a new one in our language, but it's awfully appropriate. Self-centered, self-obsessed, selfish . . . selfie.

Carbon Bikes in the NYT

Saw this article about carbon fiber bikes in the New York Times this weekend:

Notice that the bike on the left sheared off at the fork. Yeah,
it was a crash, but that'll never make it into the ads.
I often take issue with what I read about bicycles, bicycling, and bicyclists when regular media covers the subject, but I couldn't help but agree with most of the points brought up about carbon bikes in the NYT. Okay, the article is not exactly hard-hitting journalism (can't spare the hard-hitters for bicycle stories, I guess). There's not a lot of supported data, and if anyone involved in the industry in any way spoke to Times, they aren't named. But it confirms what I've been saying for a while now, so I'll take what I can get.

The article starts out by mentioning Greg LeMond's use of carbon fiber back in his Tour de France victories -- something I mentioned in a recent post -- then talks about how the material has completely supplanted steel and aluminum in the pro peloton since then, not only for frames, but also rims and most other components.

And they're right when they point out the advantages, which are the whole reason the CF dominates racing bike construction today. Carbon fiber can be moulded and manipulated in all kinds of ways while still being considerably lighter than metals like steel or aluminum. But rather than act as the cheerleader like most bicycling publications do, hyping the benefits at though there were no downsides, the article quickly looks at the tradeoffs.

"But there has been a catch," the NYT says. "Unlike steel or aluminum, carbon fiber does not bend in crashes. Rather the bikes and wheels frequently shatter, often hurling riders to the road and, many fear, increasing the severity of injuries." Nothing new there to Retrogrouches, but I think many others are in denial.

I liked this quote:

"Anyone in a team who's being honest with you will tell you how frequently their bikes are breaking; everybody knows," said Mark Greve, a physician and assistant professor of sports medicine at Brown University who studied injuries to 3,500 competitive cyclists. "Few people in the public appreciate how many bikes a pro team will go through in a season, because they break for one reason or another. The bikes, they completely explode."

Something the article touches on that I've long believed but couldn't find much corroboration for, is the sense that there's almost a "code of silence" when it comes to the fragility of carbon bikes. "The teams and riders exist, in part, to act as powerful marketing tools for bike makers. . . When they spoke on the condition they not be identified, their stories emerged."

The thing is, racers will continue to use CF -- and why wouldn't they? In racing, every second counts (sometimes even fractions of a second), and racers at the top levels of the sport want any and every advantage they can get. They get paid to ride, and they ride what the sponsors give them. They have few, if any, concerns about durability, since anything that breaks will be replaced for them. As long as the bikes will make it through the season (or at least 'till the end of the next race) they're fine with it. And even though there is a bigger risk of something breaking, I'm sure they feel the odds are at least in their favor as long as they don't crash -- and who ever plans on crashing?

There was a telling quote in there from Robert Millar, a former teammate of LeMond's, and another early racer on carbon fiber frames. "Would I be happy to use a carbon bike if I was still racing? Yes, but that would be a custom product designed to be as light, fast and strong enough to withstand the demands of racing. The cost would be irrelevant."

But what about the rest of us? People who don't race? Or people who race on their own dime without the budget of a big pro team? Of course, anyone reading this knows what a Retrogrouch would say. The benefits don't outweigh the durability issues. And for most of us, the cost isn't, as Millar said, irrelevant. Mark Greve, from Brown University, said, "The performance gains from super light frames reached the point of diminishing returns long ago," and he "questions the wisdom of consumers' buying what are, in effect, very costly throwaway items if they crash." Agreed.

I've written before about the UCI and their weight limit rules (limiting bikes in the pro peloton to 6.8 kilograms, or about 15 pounds) and how they are now looking into changing the rules that were put in place back in 2000. The NYT article also mentions that restriction, and how it hasn't really had the intended effect. And that is demonstrably true. The point of the rule was to keep a measure of safety in racing bike construction for competition, adhering to the belief that a bike under the weight limit might have too many compromises in safety. But the manufacturers have continued to cut weight on frames and critical components, well below UCI restrictions -- then the racing teams just stick some extra weight back onto the bikes to bring them up the the limit. Obviously, throwing a little extra weight onto a bike might conform to the letter of the rule, but not the spirit or intent. Not only that, but it's a great marketing tool when the manufacturers can tell weight weenies about how they can buy bikes even lighter than what the pros use.

And when it comes to the fragility of carbon fiber -- well, that's taken care of with a wink and a nod. The stories are out there. The photos and videos are out there. But carbon pushers will always make excuses, or say things like "steel breaks, too." Sure -- steel breaks too. But steel at least gives some warnings before it fails. Steel usually wears its damage out in the open, and if it's not safe to ride, one will usually be able to tell. Carbon can hide flaws or damage until it's too late.

Another pro-carbon argument I've heard/read is how the manufacturers would never stay in business if carbon bikes failed as often as the stories and pictures would indicate. Warranty claims would bankrupt them. That could be true, except that the warranties have enough restrictions in them to pretty much leave anything but the most egregious breakage uncovered. It's right there in the owners manuals, like this one from Specialized. Here's a quote from the disclaimers for road bikes:

"You must understand that (1) these types of bikes are intended to give an aggressive racer or competitive cyclist a performance advantage over a relatively short product life, (2) a less aggressive rider will enjoy longer frame life, (3) you are choosing light weight (shorter frame life) over more frame weight and a longer frame life, (4) you are choosing light weight over more dent resistant or rugged frames that weigh more. All frames that are very light need frequent inspection. These frames are likely to be damaged or broken in a crash."

So, is that just a case of "cover your ass," or brutal honesty? And how many people who buy these things actually read the manufacturer's disclaimers?

Wrapping it up, even though the NYT article is a bit light on sources (named ones, anyhow) and more supportable data, it jives pretty well with what I've been saying for a while now. At the end of the article, they mention how steel is now "a niche element most commonly used by artisanal frame builders." Sadly, that's mostly true -- but for my money and my riding, it's an easy choice.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tour de France Bikes 1989

Many people look at the 1989 Tour de France as being significant not only for the high drama of the battle between Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon, but also for ushering in an era of new technologies for the bicycles used in the Tour. Nevertheless, I think people sometimes overstate the importance of the technology, and I don't completely accept that the technology used by LeMond in the '89 Tour was necessarily new, though one could say that it was improved. For instance, aero helmets and the use of aerodynamic designs for time trial bikes had been around for several years by '89.

Most, if not all, of the time trial bikes in the '89 Tour were designed with aerodynamics in mind -- with disc wheels, and smaller diameter front wheels, and handlebars that put the riders into a deep drop. It's just that the aerodynamic position gained by the Scott "triathlon" bars used by LeMond was better. Not only that, but the Scott bars, and similar versions, had been used in other races before the '89 Tour. For example, the 7-Eleven team had used them in that year's Tour de Trump. Likewise, LeMond was hardly the first to wear an aerodynamic helmet. Many racers, including Laurent Fignon, had used them for years. If he believed it could make a difference, why Fignon chose to forgo a helmet in the final time trial of the '89 Tour is a mystery.

Anyhow, having said that . . . let's look at some bikes.

Both LeMond and Fignon (and most competitors in the TdF for that matter) used multiple bikes throughout the race, depending on the terrain and type of racing. Here are some of the bikes they used:

Here's a pretty good drive-side picture of one of the most important bikes used in the '89 TdF, LeMond's Bottechia time trial machine. From the tubing diameters and profiles (and the Columbus tubing stickers), it is almost certainly built from Columbus aero-profile steel tubing, with some aero-profile gussets at the main triangle joints. Mavic Comete disc rear wheel, and a smaller-diameter 650C spoked front wheel (spoked front wheels are easier to handle than discs). The components are mainly Mavic SSC. The Mavic rear derailleur is a traditional parallelogram design, modeled extensively on the Campagnolo Nuovo Record, but with more industrial, erector-set aesthetics. The crank is the aero-design Mavic 631, which came to be known by some as the "starfish" crank for its large smooth spider and hidden chainring bolts. The brakes are Mavic SSC, made by Modolo. The shift levers look to be Simplex retrofriction, mounted on top of the down tube. One of the notable features is the addition of the Scott aero bar bolted onto the bullhorn handlebars. The real benefit of the Scott bar was that it placed the rider's forearms out in front of the body, with the elbows tucked in, which has been proven to be more aerodynamic than having the arms out wide at the ends of the bullhorns. For gearing, he had a high-gear combination of 55 x 12.
For many stages, especially in the mountains, LeMond rode this carbon fiber tubed bike built by TVT, re-branded as Bottechia for the sponsor. The TVT was similar in construction to the aluminum and carbon fiber bikes built at the time by Alan and Vitus in that it used "normal" diameter tubing (that is, comparable to traditional steel frames of the time) bonded into aluminum lugs. Like the time trial machine shown above, the road bike used Mavic SSC components. The crank, in this case, is the standard SSC, not the heavier, aero-design 631. Rims and hubs are also Mavic. The bars and stem are Mavic-branded as well. The brakes are dark-gray anodized Mavic units, made by Modolo. Shift levers are down-tube mounted Simplex retrofriction shifters (a Retrogrouch favorite). As a side note, TVT also built TdF bikes for Pedro Delgado.
LeMond also used this lugged steel Bottechia in some stages. Like the other bikes he rode in the Tour, it was equipped with Mavic SSC components throughout. This bike used the same 631 "starfish" crank and SSC brakes as were used on the time trial machine. Also, like his other bikes, it had down tube retrofriction shifters. All of LeMond's '89 Tour bikes were also equipped with clipless pedals from Time.
The red and white Bottechia road bike shown above is on display at the Three Oaks Bicycle Museum in Three Oaks, Michigan. See more pictures HERE.
Here is Laurent Fignon's time trial machine, built by Cyfac in France, but labeled Raleigh. The frame is Reynolds steel, with aerodynamic gussets at the joints. It has a smaller-diameter 650C front wheel, and disc wheels front and rear. The bike is fully equipped with Campagnolo's C-Record group, including the aerodynamic Delta brakes. Aerodynamically, the bike itself isn't that much different from LeMond's time trial machine, and the disc front wheel probably cut drag more than LeMond's spoked wheel, but might have been harder to handle in crosswinds. The biggest aero difference was the more "tucked-in" rider position that LeMond got with the Scott clip-on bars -- that, and the fact that any helmet, aero or otherwise, would probably have been an improvement over the ponytail-flapping-in-the-wind sported by Fignon.
See, he did know what an aero helmet was.
For road stages, Fignon used this lugged-steel Raleigh-labled bike, again built by Cyfac. The frame was built with Reynolds 753 (there is a tubing sticker on the down tube just above the shift levers, and I think I see a purplish "3" there), and like the time trial bike, it was fully equipped with Campagnolo C-Record throughout. Note the cyclometer mounted down low on the fork instead of on the handlebars -- I would think a bar mount would be easier to see and use. Looking through photos from the '89 Tour, it would appear that Fignon sometimes used another bike apart from this one in road stages. The bars on this bike are wrapped white and red (the pearly look of the wrap would suggest Benotto cello tape -- very popular in the 80s), while one can see another bike with bars wrapped only in white. Otherwise the bikes appear to be the same, though there may have been differences in geometry, tubing gauge, or something else not discernible from photos.
I'm pretty sure these are the frame tubing stickers I'm seeing on Fignon's bike above.
Though carbon fiber was starting to show up in pro racing, and aluminum would gain in popularity, lugged steel still had a few more years in the TdF before it would disappear completely from the professional ranks.

One last thought on the impact of aerodynamics and technology. People often talk about how much of LeMond's time gain in the final time trial was due to the handlebars and aero helmet, etc. Experts would point to wind tunnel data to pin down an exact number of seconds saved (even LeMond himself said it might have saved him 10 to 20 seconds). But I think it would be wrong to imply that LeMond's win was mainly due to aerodynamic or technological advancements, and thereby downplay his physical achievement. Think about this: LeMond rode one of the fastest time trials in history at 54.55 km/h. Most pro-level time trials since then have been run with equipment equal to or better than what LeMond used in the '89 Tour -- bike weight has dropped, and wind-tunnel testing has become a huge part of the sport, yet his record still stands. It's worth noting that Dave Zabriske's 54.676 km/h record set in 2005 was over a shorter distance, and in the first stage, not after more than 3,200 miles and three weeks of racing. No, I think when it comes to the impact of technology on race results, it's a little harder to quantify than some people would like to think. Just sayin'.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Retrogrouch TdF Coverage: 1989

It was 25 years ago . . .

At 3285 km, the '89 Tour was one of the shorter races in history
-- but the competition made it one of the most dramatic.
From the very beginning the 1989 Tour de France promised to be a serious competition. Four previous Tour winners lined up for the opening prologue: Laurent Fignon, winner in '83 and '84; Greg LeMond, winner in '86; Stephen Roche, winner in '87; and Pedro Delgado, winner in '88.

The '89 TdF marked the tremendous return-to-form for Fignon who had faltered due to tendonitis for the previous several seasons. Winning the Giro d'Italia the previous month, he was eager to join the very exclusive club of riders to win both the Giro and the Tour in the same year. Future Tour winner, Bjarne Riis, was a strong supporting member of Fignon's Super U team that year.

Defending champion Pedro Delgado had placed 2nd in the TdF in '87 before winning it in '88. With his Tour victory overshadowed by a drug testing scandal (he was cleared on a technicality), he was certainly eager to prove himself a deserving champion. Early in the 1989 season, he had shown he was still in good form by winning the Vuelta a España. Also on Delgado's Reynolds/Banesto team was future 5-time Tour champion Miguel Indurain who would prove to be an important ally.

Stephen Roche had won the "Triple Crown" of cycling in '87, the Giro, Tour, and World Championships, though he did not appear to be performing at the same level in '89. Still, it would have been foolish to count him out.

Greg LeMond had lost most of the previous two racing seasons due largely to the shotgun wounds that nearly killed him in the Spring of '87. His relatively weak ADR team, and a mostly lackluster performance in the '89 Giro, meant long odds for a second LeMond TdF victory. People were wrong to underestimate him.

Delgado missed his time and left the start house 2:40 late.
When the opening prologue time trial began in Luxembourg, the Tour was already off to an unusual start. Defending champion Delgado, who had reportedly ridden off to warm up before his scheduled time as the last man to leave the start house, apparently got lost - or lost track of time - but arrived at the start house 2:40 late. He would end the day in last place. It was the first indication that the Tour could be entirely unpredictable.

On the other hand, Fignon finished the prologue in second place, just 6 seconds slower than winner Erik Breukink. Surprisingly, LeMond was fourth following Sean Kelly, and just a fraction of a fraction of a second slower than Fignon (they were all three credited with the same time). If not for the terrible mistake with the starting time, Delgado might have started the first stage only about 10 seconds behind Fignon and LeMond.

The first two stages, a normal road stage and a team time trial, were held on the same day. Fignon's Super U team won the time trial, though the ADR team with LeMond would manage a respectable 5th overall, 51 seconds slower. Delgado lost more time to the leaders as he was dropped by his Reynolds/Banesto team and finished last, well over 4 minutes behind. It was a stunning thing to see the defending champion wallowing in last place -- perhaps the worst case of being choked by nerves in the history of sports.

Fignon would later call LeMond's "tri-bars" illegal,
and regretted not raising a formal challenge.
The next big showcase in the '89 Tour would be the stage 5 individual time trial. Using the then-new aerodynamic "triathlon" bars, LeMond scorched to a stage win, catching five riders on the road who had started ahead of him. Delgado took 2nd in the stage, 24 seconds after LeMond, with Fignon coming in 3rd, 56 seconds down. With that win, LeMond captured the Yellow Jersey for the first time since 1986, leading Fignon by just 5 seconds. From that point forward, the battle for Yellow would be primarily challenged by LeMond and Fignon, with Delgado turning himself inside-out to make amends for his inauspicious start.

When the Tour got to the Pyrenees, Delgado used the mountains to try to make up for his previous miserable performances. In stage 9, Miguel Indurain won his first-ever TdF stage while leading teammate Delgado to a 3rd place finish. With that, Delgado took 29 seconds back from Fignon and LeMond. Stephen Roche, who had been hampered by knee problems, withdrew after the stage.

LeMond's ADR team wasn't much help in the mountains.
Fignon would express frustration with LeMond, calling him
a wheelsucker.
With four major climbs, stage 10, from Cauterets to Superbagnères, saw Delgado catch a breakaway with Robert Millar and Charly Mottet. Though Millar won the stage, Delgado won back another 3:26 from Fignon. LeMond finished another 12 seconds back, meaning that the Yellow Jersey would go to the Frenchman, now leading the Tour by just 7 seconds. Delgado leaped up to 4th overall.

The stage 15 mountain time trial at Gap in the Alps was won by Dutch rider Stephen Rooks, of the powerful PDM team. Delgado finished strong in 4th place, 12 seconds ahead of 5th place LeMond. Fignon finished in 10th, another 47 seconds back. Result: the Yellow would go back to LeMond, with a lead of 40 seconds. LeMond would gain another 13 seconds in stage 16, from Gap to Briançon. The 53-second gap between the those two challengers was the widest it would be for the entire Tour.

The climb to Alpe d'Huez in stage 17 would prove to be another turning point in the closely-matched Tour. Mountains leader Gert-Jan Theunisse of the PDM team went with an early break and eventually won the stage alone, locking in his hold on the Polka Dot Jersey. The pace of the climb was wearing out both LeMond and Fignon, and LeMond's teammates were nowhere to be found as the final climb heated up. Exhausted, but sensing weakness, Fignon attacked his rivals with 4 km to go, and only Delgado could stay with him, moving into 3rd place overall. LeMond finished more than a minute after Fignon, giving back the Yellow Jersey and a 26-sec. lead. Fignon extended the lead to 50 seconds the next day with a solo stage victory at Villard de Lans. Many people believed that the Tour had been decided at Alpe d'Huez.

LeMond's spirits were bolstered with a stage 19 win at Aix-les-Bains, but Fignon was right behind and credited with the same finishing time. The 50 second gap still held, and LeMond's best and only hope was the final time trial -- the final stage -- from Versailles to Paris.

LeMond had beaten, or at least matched, Fignon in each of the Tour's individual time trials that year. Still, with only 24.5 km, it was going to take an unprecedented performance to get back more than 50 seconds in that kind of distance. Fignon was confident it couldn't be done. LeMond held on to the belief that it was possible.

LeMond was second-to-last to leave the start house, equipped with his aero helmet and triathlon bars. He was so intent on his mental performance that he refused to hear any split times along the course. He rode flat-out as hard as he could, making his own odds, and turning in one of the fastest time trial results in history.

Watching the clock, LeMond
realizes he's won.
Like many great, historic events -- whether uplifting, or tragic -- people who witnessed the event never forget where they were or what they were doing when it happened. I was with my then-girlfriend/now-wife, clinging to the edge of my seat, eyes glued to the television, ears tuned to the note of excitement in the voice of Phil Liggett, ready to burst, and forgetting to breathe. I believe anyone watching knew they were seeing something special that day -- something they'd never forget. When LeMond crossed the finish line, there was nothing left to do but wait and watch the clocks. The ride was spectacular, but would it be enough? When Fignon finally crossed the line 58 seconds slower it was pandemonium. LeMond had won by just 8 seconds -- the narrowest result in the history of the Tour.
"You never stop grieving," Fignon would
later write.

I remember watching Fignon collapse at the finish, both from exhaustion and disbelief. Likewise, I'll never forget the disconsolate look on his face as he stood on the podium beside LeMond -- his one-time teammate, and now rival -- spoiler of fortunes. LeMond, Fignon, Delgado. Three TdF champions, stood on the podium First, Second, and Third.

Though overshadowed by the Yellow Jersey competition, it should also be noted that Irish rider, Sean Kelly, won his fourth Green Jersey for Points Leader in the '89 Tour, and also won the Red Jersey for Intermediate Sprints -- a category and jersey that are no longer awarded ('89 was the last year). Kelly's four Green Jerseys were a record that would only be broken by Eric Zabel, who would earn six between 1996 - 2001. It's also worth pointing out that Kelly's PDM team (which had very briefly been LeMond's team) took four stages and won the Team Competition with one of the most dominant team performances ever. Gert-Jan Theunisse took the previously mentioned Polka Dot Jersey, and Steven Rooks took the multi-color "Combination" jersey -- the last year that category was awarded. One could say they won everything except everything.

Many people still talk about the 1989 Tour for its importance in changing bike racing technology. Old vs. new. Consider the use of aerodynamics -- LeMond with his triathlon bars, goggles, and aero helmet versus Fignon with his thinning hair pulled into a ponytail, his wire-rimmed spectacles perched on his nose. Though basically the same age, it was almost as though they represented different generations. Fignon would later write in his autobiography, We Were Young and Carefree, that he regretted not raising a formal challenge to LeMond's tri-bars, which he believed violated the rules. "The idle commissaries shut their eyes. The rules were being bent, and the consequences would be way beyond anything I could have imagined." Of course, the bars were not struck down, and one never sees a time-trial bike in the Tour today without some kind of modern descendent of them. As a Retrogrouch, I can understand and sympathize with Fignon, who died of cancer in 2010. Then again, I don't race for a living. If my job was racing bikes, and my main job requirement was to win races, and my competition was getting an advantage over me by using a wind tunnel, then I'd probably think it was important enough for my job security to consider it. In any case, it was reported in Winning magazine (Oct. '89) that Fignon was seen at the Tour trying out a similar set of aero bars, but for whatever reason, chose not to use them. Not only that, but aero helmets were in use before '89 -- and any helmet, aero or not, would have to have been better than a head of hair and a trailing ponytail flipping around. So, who knows why Fignon made the choices he did?

A disconsolate Fignon. A podium of Champions.
If you ask bicycle racing fans and journalists to rank the best, most exciting Tours de France over the race's 100+ year history, the 1989 edition often comes in at the top of the list. With the epic battle between former Tour champions, closely matched and trading the Yellow Jersey back and forth throughout the race, and culminating in the spectacular time trial on the Champs Elysées, the race was unpredictable and suspenseful to the last seconds. Eight seconds, to be exact.

And it all concluded 25 years ago. . . Today.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Eddy Merckx's '69 TdF Bike

After putting an incomparable stamp of authority on his first Tour de France in 1969, Eddy Merckx would become a legend. During that Tour debut, a French rider named Christian Raymond, dubbed Merckx "The Cannibal" and the name stuck. Eddy's bicycles, too, would become the model on which most racers and racer want-to-be's would aspire. Soon after the Tour was finished, renowned bicycle illustrator Daniel Rebour would complete a detailed study of the bike Merckx rode to victory.

My French is terrible, but what I do know from the description on this picture, as well as from other sources, is that Merckx's bike for the '69 Tour was built from Reynolds tubing by Kessels in Belgium. The components are primarily Campagnolo and Cinelli. I also recognize T.A. for the clamp-on bottle cage (and the bottle, presumably) and Sedis for the chain. The bike was painted in Faema team colors of white with red contrasts. Note the "Eddy Merckx" name on the down tube, with the photo of Eddy in a diamond surrounded by World Champion colors on the head tube and seat tube.
For a lot of riders, this was the inspiration for the drillium craze. Note that Merckx used the "full Campy" along with Cinelli bars and stem (I'm certain the saddle was Cinelli, too). The derailleurs are standard Nuovo Record pieces, and the bars are Cinelli Campione del Mondo. Note that the chainrings on the crank have been modified -- the reinforcing rings/webs have been removed, and the large ring drilled out. The brakes have been lightened with partial holes, and the wheel guides have been removed from the brake pad holders. The brake levers also have been drilled -- 5 holes each. Lastly, the Campagnolo seat post (lower left) has been fluted. The fluted areas were painted red to coordinate with the Faema colors, and I've also read that the seat tube was plugged to keep water from getting inside through the flutes in the post. Some of the Campy lore (hype?) of the time said that the pedal cages were made from a special lightweight "black alloy," which in reality was simply normal black-anodized aluminum.
The Cannibal and his bike, in full-color glory.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tour de France Coverage: Retrogrouch Style

45 years ago . . .

A young Belgian rider named Eddy Merckx rode his first Tour de France. Arriving at the prologue on June 28, 1969, his bike bore his own name emblazoned on the down tube and his own picture on the head tube -- something that probably seemed brash for a rider of only 24, but Merckx had already demonstrated that he had the legs and lungs to back it up. He had already won his first Milan-San Remo, the '67 World Championships, the '67 Giro d'Italia, and the '68 Paris-Roubaix. Though he was ready to race the '68 TdF, he was denied the chance by his Faema team because the tour that year was still using the "national team" format.

Merckx nearly missed the '69 TdF because of a positive doping test which ejected him from that year's Giro. Merckx denied the charges (and still does) and filed appeals. With the finding that there was significant evidence of irregularities in the testing, if not outright conspiracy against Merckx, the suspension was overturned in time for the Tour.

As the '69 Tour began in Roubaix, Merckx finished a strong 2nd in the opening prologue time trial, 7 seconds down from winner Rudi Altig. The next day, the tour's first stage was held in two parts -- the second part being a team time trial -- and it was there that Merckx led his Faema squad to victory as he put on his first race leader's Yellow Jersey.

Eddy briefly relinquished the Yellow in the 3rd stage, when a break got away and he chose not to chase it. His Faema teammate, Julien Stevens, was in that breakaway group and assumed the race-leader's jersey. Only one other rider in the '69 Tour, Désiré Letort, would wear yellow that year, briefly, after stage 5.

Stage 6 was the first real mountain stage, from Mulhouse to Ballon d'Alsace. Merckx won convincingly, 55 seconds ahead of the next finisher. It was his first Tour de France stage victory, and with it he recaptured the Yellow Jersey, and gained two to four minutes on his main general classification rivals, like Roger Pingeon, Raymond Poulidor, and Felice Gimondi. That would not be enough for the man who would assume the famous nickname "the Cannibal" during his stellar '69 Tour performance.

In stage 8, another individual time trial, Merckx would win again, adding a few seconds to his lead. Rudi Altig, just 2 seconds off Merckx's pace in the time trial, was still in contention overall, but it wouldn't last.

The 9th stage, in the Alps, Roger Pingeon attacked on the Col de la Forclaz and managed to ride away from everyone except Merckx. Though Pingeon took the stage win that day, he took no time back from Merckx. Altig faltered in the climbs that day and fell out of contention for the GC, while Pingeon climbed to 2nd place overall, though still more than 5 minutes behind behind the leader. Merckx would add to his lead by winning stage 11, and staying with the lead groups through the remaining Alpine mountain stages.

Eddy Merckx rode solo for almost 140 k and added
nearly 8 minutes to his already insurmountable GC lead.
With an 8 minute advantage going into the Pyrenees, one would think that the leader of the Tour would be content to ride conservatively for the remainder of the race. That would not suit Eddy Merckx. In stage 17, one of the most difficult stages in the Pyrennees, Merckx and his Faema teammates controlled the pace over the first climbs of the day, the Col du Peyresourde, and the Col d'Aspin. On the Col du Tourmalet, the peloton disintegrated to only a handful of riders. After powering over the top of the Tourmalet, Merckx, thinking he was leading a small breakaway group, looked around to find himself alone. Rather than slow down, he continued to push his attack. He increased his lead on the road to the Col d'Aubisque. As he pushed himself over the top of the Aubisque, he had built more than a 7 minute lead over the next riders on the road. Even that was not enough. Exhausted, but driven, Merckx continued to push the pace over the last kilometers into Mourenx, by which time he had ridden solo for nearly 140 kilometers, and finished almost 8 minutes ahead of anyone else. His command of the Tour for the remaining stages was unassailable.

On July 20th, the final stage was another individual time trial, which Merckx handily won, and with it, his first Tour de France. Roger Pingeon, in second place, was just shy of 18 minutes behind. Poulidor, more than 22. Merckx had won the Yellow Jersey, the Green Jersey for Points Leader, the Mountains Classification (which would eventually become the Polka Dot Jersey, but that didn't exist yet), and the White Jersey which in those days represented the "Combined Classification," not the "Best Young Rider" category as it does today. Had "Best Young Rider" existed in 1969, he'd have won that, too. In addition, he was also given the Combativity Award, and his Faema team won the Teams Classification. Never before, and never since, has anyone so clearly dominated every aspect of the Tour de France.

"The Cannibal" was born, and it was 45 years ago . . . Today.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Who's in Whose Way?

While I was out of town riding around Maui, disconnected from the internet and the news back home, I missed this enlightening story from my hometown paper, the Akron Beacon Journal:

Apart from offering no real insights into the problems of sharing the road, Malcolm X Abram (who would probably do better if he stuck to writing music reviews) tries to walk that "presenting both sides" line, yet unwittingly reveals the irrational hostility directed at cyclists by many drivers -- though I doubt anyone who is not a cyclist would even notice.

Dubbing motorists as the "Fearsome Fours" and cyclists as the "Terrible Twos," Abram claims that "both clans seem to want the other to get out of their respective way." I'm guessing he probably hasn't ridden a bike since he got his drivers license, because while I know without a doubt that many motorists feel that way, I don't know any cyclists who do. Cyclists know they are the minority on the roads -- and a very vulnerable minority at that. To even suggest otherwise reveals a car-centric point of view.

The article then goes on to talk about how many miles of bike lanes have been added by the city as if it's a lot somehow. Now, I realize that Akron is not a very big city, but "nearly 10 miles of conventional bike lanes" and "nearly 13 miles of shared lanes" is really nothing -- and those lanes do nothing to promote "sharing the road" or safety for cyclists. Population-wise, Akron is pretty close to Madison, Wisconsin -- where they have well over 200 miles of bike lanes and paths. I realize that Madison is hardly typical, but still, if you ask me, 23 miles is barely worth mentioning.

To get the bicyclists view, Abram quotes Doug, a friend of mine who works at a local bike shop, Century Cycles. Great! Doug points out that the more cyclists on the roads, the more aggravation is seen from drivers. I can agree with that -- to the motorists' point of view, it just means more "obstacles" in their way (wake up, drivers -- those "obstacles" are people!). But then the article gives us the drivers' perspective:

"For some drivers, it's when two-wheeler operators want to have their commuting cake and eat it too that spark flurries of four-letter words."

"I have no problem with cyclists if they follow the rules," Robert Godward said while enjoying a beer with a few of his buddies. "They can act like a pedestrian or they can act like a vehicle. You don't get to switch back and forth as you see fit. That's when I have a problem," he said, adding he's indulged a few fantasies about moving cyclists out of his way with his car.

Ok, first of all -- F#%$ You, Robert Godward.  (Sorry everyone else -- just had to get that out of the way.)

Actually, I think people like Godward actually DO have a problem, whether cyclists follow the rules or not. And while some would like to say that this is just one guy who doesn't actually speak for all motorists, I believe he speaks for a lot of them. Perhaps it's just as significant (maybe more so) that while the majority of motorists may not fantasize about killing cyclists, they're also not likely to call out a jackass like him for his ignorance. Threaten somebody with a gun, you're a menace. Threaten them with a 3,000 - 4,000 pound vehicle, and you're just another driver, and a "credible" source for a half-assed news story. The only people who would take offense at a "harmless joke" about maiming or possibly killing cyclists with a car are the cyclists themselves who know too well the reality of car-vs-bike collisions. And if we get offended, we'll be told that we're just being overly sensitive cry babies.

Then one of the guys at the bar says bicyclists should follow the rules of the road -- and wear a helmet! Umm, that's not a rule of the road. And while I usually wear a helmet, I have no illusions whatsoever that it will do me any good when his buddy acts out on his fantasy to get me "out of his way" with his car (or should I say, deadly weapon of mass destruction?).

How about the line "they can act like a pedestrian or they can act like a vehicle. You don't get to switch back and forth as you see fit"? Actually, we can. It's one of the advantages of a bicycle. Complaining about that is kind of like complaining about bikes because they don't use gas and don't pollute the air. Cars have advantages, too -- like being able to carry the whole family and all the groceries and other cargo very quickly over long distances. We don't hold that against them. Now, should cyclists switch back and forth willy-nilly, hopping from the road to the sidewalk to zip past traffic, then dart back out onto the road? Hell no. That bugs me as much as it bugs any driver. But the ability to get off a bike and become a pedestrian for a bit is one of the things that makes a bike really convenient at times.

The other thing revealed here is the perception that cyclists don't follow the rules of the road, or the notion that that somehow justifies the treatment of them. There are some really ignorant cyclists on the road. You can often identify them because they're the ones riding the wrong way on the road, or riding on the sidewalk (which, ironically, is where a lot of motorists want them). If you're a cyclist, eventually it gets thrown in your face that "you bikers always blow through traffic lights." Several problems with that. First -- I believe that most serious bike commuters (which the ABJ article seems to be focusing on) do actually obey lights and signs. As for those riders who do ride through the lights, I'm quite sure that most of them do it only after making sure the coast is clear. But those riders are mainly a danger to themselves, not others.

On the other hand (and I've pointed this out time and again, so I apologize for being repetitious) we all see cars blast through lights all the time. Every day. Whether I'm in my car, or on my bike, I don't think a day goes by that I don't see at least a couple cars do it. There are some intersections (any town, any city) where it's practically standard operating procedure that at least one or two (or three) cars fly through just as the light is turning red. Often, there will be another that blasts through with the pedal to the floor when traffic going the other direction has already gotten the green light. Drivers have the uncanny ability to ignore that. Some will even deny vehemently that it happens. "Those bicycles are worse!" they'll argue. But I've argued time and again that the average motorist sees far more driver infractions every day than they see bicycles on the road (law abiding or otherwise) in a week. Which is the bigger threat to others?

Ultimately, Abram's article offers no real insights -- just leaves us with the thought that the "terrible twos" and the "fearsome fours" should just learn to get along, but probably won't. Brilliant. And as much as I'd like to chalk up this lousy article as another sign of the decline of the ABJ, unfortunately it's typical of news media stories that deal with bicyclists.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Riding in Hawaii

Regular readers have probably noticed I didn't have a new post for about a week or so -- I was away on a family vacation, and even though I expected to still get to the blog at least a couple of times during the week, it turned out that I essentially had no internet for most of the trip. That had me pretty well cut off from everything. Sorry about that. But here's a report on where I was.

We stayed on the coast of West Maui, in the town of
We spent a week in Hawaii -- on the island of Maui, to be exact. That's not a trip one normally takes on a teacher's salary, but my father-in-law is a world traveller, and once a year he takes the family on trip somewhere. Last year was Alaska. This year, Hawaii.

This vacation was my first real opportunity to try out my Bike Friday traveling bike. It was great to be able to take a bike along without any extra fees. I just rolled the travel case up to the baggage check and checked it like a regular suitcase (which, essentially, it is!). When we got to our destination, it only took a few minutes to get the bike unpacked and put together. I should also point out that it was nice not having to find a rental bike -- the Bike Friday is my own bike and although it looks unusual, it fits me perfectly.

Bike Friday, and a scenic overlook by Ma'alaea Bay.
About riding in Maui, there aren't really a lot of roads, but the roads there are nice for riding. Most of the main roads are wide and the pavement is smooth. Much of the island is protected park land, with the western portion being dominated by the West Maui Mountains and a forest preserve, and the eastern portion being dominated by Mount Haleakala, which is a volcano -- and a national park. There are highways that encircle the entire island coastline, but only a few highways that pass into the interior of the island.

Early on our first morning, I got up and went for a ride down the western coastline, on the Honoapaiilani Highway from Ka'anapali, where we stayed, down to Ma'alaea Bay. The ride down the western coastline is relatively flat and passes through the town of Lahaina (which used to be the royal capitol of the Kingdom of Hawaii) and a number of resorts -- which means lots of traffic and lots of tourists. Still, as one gets further from the resorts and closer to the bay, the scenery gets better and better.

The sun rising over the West Maui mountains.
There was a wind farm on a ridge along the southern part of
the mountains, leading down to Ma'alaea Bay. The wind
here was strong and constant.

Riding over the northern part of West Maui was a challenge.
Lots of hills -- but also, beautiful, unspoiled scenery.
Another ride I took was over the northern part of West Maui. This route follows the coastline and has great views. This part of Maui is not as developed, so there is a lot more unspoiled scenery. Also, there is less traffic, though the roads are narrower. But this was a seriously challenging ride. Lots of twists and turns, lots of climbs and descents. Besides all the ups and downs, the wind blowing in from the ocean was unrelenting. The ride was totally worthwhile though. Being able to explore roads like this on a bike is exactly why I wanted a bike I could bring with me when traveling.

There were some great views from the road.
This red clay soil was all over the island. Here, it was like
a huge red wall.
Arriving at the bottom of a long descent, I found a little hidden beach,
and parked nearby was this awesome taco truck, catching some of the
surfer business. After 40 miles of climbing, descending, and fighting
headwinds, it was like an oasis. Chicken tacos and ice cold Coke. Heaven.
A ride I attempted, but was unable to finish was the ride up the volcano Haleakala. Starting at sea level, the road to the summit climbs over 10,000 ft. in about 36 miles. People call it the "ride to the sun." There are a lot of tour companies that drive people up the volcano and let them coast down it on fat-tire cruiser bikes or mountain bikes, but I had no interest in doing that. I wanted to ride up.

I made it up to the part in the blue circle, just to the edge
of the national park boundary. It was another 12 miles
and 3500 feet of elevation to the summit, but I was toast.
It was recommended that I start at the town of Paia on the northern coast, which is the traditional starting point for the "ride to the sun." From there, it's just continuous climbing. The grade isn't all that steep for most of the route, but it's constant and never really lets up. About 14 miles into the ride, one gets to the town of Kula, which is the last town before getting to the real heart of the volcano and where the climbing becomes more earnest (that's where the switchbacks start). Kula is also the last place to refuel or refill water bottles before getting into the national park, though one can fill bottles at the park's visitor center about 25 miles into the ride.

My family planned to drive to the summit and they gave me a few hours head start, so hopefully we would all meet me at the top. I was advised that descending the volcano after riding to the top (where the temperature could easily be 30 degrees colder) is a good way to get hypothermic, so it seemed like a good plan.

I did get to the summit, but by car, not bike. Pretty amazing
view at the summit. This is the massive crater of Haleakala and
its many cinder cones.
It didn't quite go as planned. I made it about 23 - 24 miles and over 6500 feet in elevation, but it was slow going. I found that after every couple miles of switchbacks, I'd need to stop and catch my breath -- but every time I stopped, my legs would start cramping up horrendously. With another 12 - 13 miles of road, and another 3500 feet of climbing to go, my family caught up with me in the car, and I was glad to see them. My legs were aching, and as they were passing I just said "let me in, I'm toast." I think if I had the chance to do it over again, I'd start at Kula, which is just before the first set of switchbacks. Instead of burning up all that energy over the first 14 miles getting to the heart of the volcano, I'd have liked to have had that energy for the last 12 miles to the summit. I'm trying not to feel too bad, though. After talking to local riders that I encountered during the week, I found most had never attempted the ride to the sun, and those that did spent a lot of time training for it. They were shocked I tried it at all having only been on Maui for three days.

I did get to do more riding during the week, getting out almost every day. All told, being able to see so much of Maui on my own bike was a great experience -- the Bike Friday worked out well.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Contador's Broken Bike: A Surprise? Really?

For the past week, I've been pretty much without internet access -- making it difficult to keep up the blog (or to keep up with much of anything, for that matter). But look at what happened in the great big old bicycle race in France while I was away.

Alberto Contador's Specialized McLaren Tarmac -- a surprise?
So, Contador is out of the race with a broken tibia, and various rumors are circulating the web about his bike, which was apparently broken in half. At least four different stories were put forth by Specialized, first denying that the bike was broken at all, then saying it was broken because it fell off the roof of a car. Then the story was that it was not Contador's bike, but teammate Nicolas Roche's, and that it was run over by a car. Then the story changed again -- it was Contador's bike (the clearly visible number plate made that much clear) that got run over by the car. Never mind that the bike is broken cleanly, not smashed. Then, the last version (which VeloNews calls the "most plausible") was that the bike was on the roof of the team car and got clipped by a bike on the roof of another team car when trying to pass on a very narrow road.
Really cruel irony with the PowerBar ad on the VeloNews article.
There was no actual video footage of Contador's crash, but on the NBCSports TV coverage, one could see a Tinkoff-Saxo bike being picked up after the crash, and it at least appeared to be intact, so it's hard to say exactly what happened. According to the VeloNews story, the initial report on the Tour's race radio, as well as NBC Sports' Steve Porino, who arrived just after the crash, reported that Contador's bike was "in pieces." Porino's report said Contador's "frame snapped in half. They threw it in a heap in the back of the car."

While we may never know exactly what happened -- if the bike broke and caused the crash, or if the crash broke the bike, or if the bike was actually broken in some unrelated incident -- I don't have much trouble believing that a carbon fiber bike, built to get every advantage by cutting weight at the expense of durability, might actually break during use. Anybody who's surprised by such a dramatically broken bike is kidding themselves. It doesn't exactly make good ad copy, but it happens all the time.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Bicycle Innovations For People Who Don't Ride Bikes

I'm always skeptical when "home fashion" and "lifestyle" magazines write about bicycles and bicycle gear -- they almost always highlight the most inane and pointless "innovations" designed to appeal to people who very likely don't ride bikes.

The latest I've seen was this from Dwell -- a magazine and store for the fashionable home. American Cycle: Modern Gear for Biking. It's a "roundup of tech-savvy biking gear and stylish new cycles" that will "give you more reasons to ride." Anybody who needs this gear to give them a reason to ride is obviously happier being seen in a fashionable café with a bike near them than actually on their bike.

 Here are the highlights:
Double-O Lights: this 80-lumen headlight's main selling point is that it clings to its holder with magnets and won't fall off. That, and you can fit it around your U-lock so nobody steals your fashionable lights. I had no idea that headlights were just falling off bikes all over the place. No word on pricing, but I have no doubt that brighter lights are probably available for less. Worried about theft? Unclip the light and take it with you. There's an idea.
The Shelfie: "A (literally) elevated storage solution, the Shelfie unit boasts sculpted curves as fine as the ones on your Italian cruiser." Ummm. . . it's a box. It has a hook on one side that supports the bike by its saddle. I cannot actually imagine something quite so pointless heralded as a tech-savvy innovation. Funded through Kickstarter, but the price has yet to be announced.
You just knew they'd have the Vanhawks Valour electronically "connected" bike on the list. The carbon-fiber bike sports the kind of build quality we expect from department store bicycle-shaped-objects. The maker also touts "safety" while the bike itself actually has no brakes. (see more HERE)
The "Growler" bike from Inner City Bikes. This "durable, industrial" bike's most notable feature, apart from it's really unconventional (and uncomfortable-looking) geometry, is the fact that it has this built-in holder for a growler. That's a half-gallon bottle of beer -- really popular with "beer artisans" lately. Enough with the beer and bikes thing already, people. Fun fact about carbonation -- beer does not hold up to a bike ride. If you can't wait until you get home before you have a beer, it might be time for a meeting.  
Cycle Pack from Nanamica: "This new edition of the Japanese-made backpack is a step up in the ever-stylish Hershcel category of carryalls." If it sounds expensive, that's because it is, at $480. But ultimately, it's just a backpack. OOHH -- but the article says the part that rests against your back is padded. I have a $10 backpack from Target, and it's padded, too. 
Po Campo Ultimate Bike Share Bag -- specially made to fit in the baskets on those bike-share bikes in cities like New York, Chicago, and London. I suppose if somebody uses bike share bikes a lot, it might be handy, and at $85 it seems like a bargain compared to the Nanamica backpack, but what do I know?
Cleverhood rain poncho. I actually have no problem with rain capes or ponchos -- I don't particularly favor them myself, but some people like them, and that's fine. And I suppose if somebody wants a rain cape, the one from Cleverhood is probably very nice, but then at $239, it had better be. But I think if this guy is going to ride in the rain, he's rendered his rain cape completely pointless by riding a fenderless bike.
Now THAT'S what I like to see. The Cambium is the new non-leather saddle from Brooks -- made with rubber and a specially bonded fabric top -- it looks great, and reports so far are very good. No complaints from me about a Brooks saddle being in this "roundup" -- but I had to groan over this bit from the description: "Anyone's (sic) who had the pleasure of owning a Brooks racing saddle has also felt the pain of breaking one in." Time to bust the myth. The only people who say things like that are people who've never ridden a Brooks leather saddle.
The Reductivist Ring Tool -- a minimalist multi-tool that also can serve as a key ring. It has several hex heads, plus screwdrivers, a Torx head, and a couple of spoke wrenches, and . . . wait for it . . . a bottle opener! Does every bike tool now have to incorporate a bottle opener? 
Musguard -- This rolled up piece of plastic can be unrolled and strapped to the seat tube, turning it into, well, not a fender or mudguard, exactly -- more like a filth deflector. When not in use, it can be rolled up around the top tube (as shown). Whatever. Just get some fenders.
And a Fortune bonus -- yes, the folks at Fortune are weighing in, too, with their pick for the bike of the future.
The Samsung Smart Bike -- which connects to a Samsung smart phone -- gives you GPS, a rear-view camera, laser-beam generated "bike lane" lights, and more. The curved frame is "meant to reduce the roughness of riding on urban terrain." Sure it is. At least it has brakes. Doesn't look like much room for a fender in the back, though -- so that rear-view camera is bound to get covered with road spooge in no time at all. Shock of all shocks, though -- is that a Brooks sprung saddle on there? Unbelievable.

Unrelated News: Blog updates will be a little spotty for the next week or so. I'll post what I can when I can. News will come later. Thanks for your patience.

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