I saw this photo on Cyclingnews.com and I immediately noticed this was a three-horse race. All the players are present: Shimano, Campagnolo, and SRAM. There are many ways to look at this image and the representation of the different component groups. In the photo, Shimano leads, just like their production numbers or the number of bikes sold in the world equipped with Shimano. Just behind sits Campy, trailing Shimano in sale's numbers and company size. And the truly impressive aspect of this image is that in its first year of PRO sponsorship, SRAM is hot on the heels of the two giants. I remember a time not long ago when everyone in the industry doubted whether it was possible for a small company to challenge the Shimano. I guess there were a few dedicated individuals who felt differently.
There have been pivitol moments in my life as a cycling fan, many of which have moved me to another level.
One such moment came in 1998 at the World Road Championships in Valkenburg, Netherlands. The October weather was more akin to early Spring, the day brought cold temps and a light but steady rain. The Belgians seemed to have the power to secure a win. Van Petegem, Ludo Dierickxsens, and the hardest of hardmen, Ukrainian-born, Belgium-nationalized rider, Andrei Tchmil, each lined up in an effort to secure a win for Belgium. But it was not to be.
The magic of this day runs deep. The weather was crap, 1993 World Champion and recently cancer-free Lance Armstong was attempting a return to the PRO peleton, and an unknown Swiss rider Oscar Camenzind came from the shadows to win the sport's highest honor...the rainbow stripes. But the true thrill of this day was not recognized until the December 1998 issue of Cycle Sport arrived at my door. (You have to keep in mind, in the U.S., cycling was not the sport it was in 2000-2005 and race info or results were normally delayed for months.) I didn't have a computer at the time so jumping over to cyclingnews.com was about as simple as performing my own dental work. I always waited for the new issue of CS with total anticipation, it took me roughly 30 days to completely wear out the pages from reading and re-reading each page. I still study the images like a jeweler inspects a rare gem (minus the squinty-eye and monocular).
The photos were insane! The coverage of the race was amazing and the riders all seemed 3-D, dirty, tired, and clearly in pain. The 1998 edition gave us the famous, dirty-faced Lance giving the 50 yard stare from beneath his Lone Star Giro, it yielded what I consider to be the best image of BKWs ever taken. Andrei Tchmil, fully glazed, sporting a hairnet, nervously awaiting the start of the race from the dry, warm comforts of the team tent. The images are burned into my memory banks, when I sport BKW. I see this image, when I ride in the rain I see LA's fierce stare and when I think of cycling's greatest prize, the rainbow stripes, I picture this race.
World Championship Podium 1. Oskar Camenzind 2. Peter Van Petegem 3. Michele Bartoli
"Lights Out" describes the sensation when a rider shut downs in the last kms of a race. But what about a mechanic? Mechanics can go lights out and the resulting work is expensive and dangerous. I don't want to focus on the dangerous because that's no fun. Instead, let's focus on the funny side of things. In the early nineties, while I was working in a shop in So Cal, we received a Judy SL prototype that had a sexy press-fit crown with an aluminum steerer tube. The fork lowers were a bright yellow, excuse me, Judy Yellow. This beauty weighed all of 2.8 pounds. Measure twice, cut once. In this case, the mechanic measured the head tube twice but did it sans stem, sans spacers, and whalah...proto fork with a steerer tube that was all of 3 inches long. Ooops. I am sure there are others out there with equally funny stories of trashing expensive gear all because of a little oversight, a little, "lights out" action. So, maybe you cross threaded a BB in that sweet, soft, aluminum BB shell and trashed the frame, or you clamped a seat tube in a work stand only to give it the Park pinch, or totaled a $300 handlebar with a little too much elbow grease on the allen key. Please, share your tales and although it was tragic then, we can all laugh now.
Spring is here. The Belgium Classics have begun and the weather this time of year is always a mixed bag. I purchased some new embrocation made in Belgium by a company called Qoleum. In March and April, the weather between sign-in and the final kilometers can go from -1 to 14 ºC wet or dry. These conditions are serious BKW conditions. All last season, I rocked the Freddy's Wet and Cold (amazing stuff, by the way), but since I had read good reviews of the Oleum, I had to give it a try. To follow are some thoughts on the Qoleum HOT:
Today's conditions: Overcast, mild, 4 ºC, no wind
The Qoleum is made from a 100% vegan base and goes on like wall paper paste: thick and gooey. Once it's rubbed into the skin, it disappears nicely, leaving a dull BKW sheen (good for the cyclist who wants all the protection of BKW without the added "too Euro for you" look). The Qoleum went on and stayed on for the entire ride. Like all exceptional equipment, it went unnoticed during the ride and it wasn't until I arrived in the warmth of my house that the burn set in. It took me a few seconds to realize what was going on and, in addition to the smoke coming from my knees and lower legs, I actually started to feel a bit of heat building in my core. Once I got into the shower I really felt the heat; in fact, I was wincing in pain as I tried to wash this stuff off. I had to turn down the heat of the shower and even break out the liquid dishwashing detergent. Man, that shit is hot and stubborn. I would recommend it if you are looking for the perfect linniment for an insanely cold cross race where you have a 45-60 minute exposure to the cold. But if you are looking for something for the spring or fall, Qoleum Hot is simply too hot..it's the chinese pepper you accidently left in your scoop of friend rice! If you're out on a group ride or putting in the solo training miles and it is cold enough for the Qoleum Hot you might consider some leg warmers or tights.
Overall Heat Rating - Insane Euro Style Rating - Low, due to the dull sheen Smell - Minty, PRO as hell Durability - Extremely high, even dangerously high, this stuff sticks like glue
The weather will only get warmer, so stay tuned for some reviews of other BKW products including Sportsbalm, Freddy's Choice, and Greyhound Juice.
I've always been a fan of Vittoria's tubular tires. They remain the classic tub, with countless victories in the PRO peloton. When it comes to tubulars, I don't ride anything else. But when it came to Vittoria's clincher options, I was less devoted. There are so many great clinchers out there. Michelin and Continental first come to mind with Michelin being the only clincher tire to ever win Paris Roubaix.
At the end of the 90s, tubulars had given way to clinchers as the tire of choice among serious cyclists as materials and construction methods meant a clincher could ride almost as well as a tubular but without the headaches associated with gluing and regluing. Tire companies were mastering the use of Kevlar or Aramid and the results were to the benefit of cyclists everywhere. Finally, we could all have a durable tire that didn't ride like a cheap garden hose. It was during this period that Vittoria introduced the "Open Tubular" concept. In short, Vittoria took their highly coveted tubular tire and rather than sewing an inner tube into the tire, they finished the ends of the casings with a Kevlar bead essentially creating an "open tubular". Hence the name. This technology quickly made Vittoria's Open Tubulars the best riding clincher. With one exception: the tires would literally fall apart after roughly 1,600 kms. I remember Vittoria would boast about their dual compound tires, identified by their dual color treads. A harder compound for the center gave it a faster rolling surface and intended to prolong the tread life. The shoulders had a softer compound that gave the tire added grip in the corners. It was this marriage of tire material that also proved to be the weak link as tires would literally separate at the joint. To add insult to injury, the compounds used were susceptible to cuts, so customers would return tires to the shop, essentially in pieces and with deep cuts everywhere.
In 2001, I bought a set of Open Corsa CX tires. The ride was simply wonderful and they were more durable than the Vittorias of previous generations. Relative to other tires they wore out quickly, but the wear took place over roughly 1,500 miles. Vittoria tires are no longer made in Italy, they are now produced in Thailand, gone are the quality issues of old; engineered out through material development and manufacturing methods. The resulting tire exhibits the ride of an expensive tubular but with all the ease of a clincher.
In 2005, I switched to Vittoria almost exclusively for summer and winter riding discovering the Pave EVO CG tires. One glance at any Spring Classic and it is tough to miss the distinctive green and black of the Pave. The PROs opt for the tubular configuration, taking full advantage of reduced pinch flats and the ability to continue riding on a flat tire. For me, I opted for the clincher version of the tire. (Even with all of the snow plow damage from the winter, my riding conditions aren't even close to the rough cobbles of Northern France).
Vittoria's 290 threads per inch (TPI) give the tire an extremely flexible casing, delivering a supple ride while giving the tire an ability to conform and roll over objects. This is especially desirable when the road surface is rough or when the tire is at an angle during cornering. After all, a comfortable tire provides the rider with a cushion and, on a three-hour ride; this makes a big difference in performance. Even in 2005 the Vittorias wore quickly. The treads remain more susceptible to cutting than, say, a Conti 4000, and the softer compound tends to wear out in half the time of a Michelin PRO Race. However, I am willing to deal with these issues because the ride quality is simply unparalleled. The essence of a great tire is comfort and grip and the Open Pave EVO CG has both. In spades. The tread pattern on the Pave is diamond-shaped; similar to the old CG tubular (hence the use CG in the name), but slightly more aggressive and the rubber is softer than the standard Open PRO CG tire. The use of a softer material allows the tread to remain flexible in colder temps and gives the tire bite in the wet.
The Pave comes in one size, 24mm, and it runs true to size. The wonderful thing about this tire is that even though the rubber used is softer than a standard road tire and the profile is 1mm wider than a traditional "road" tire, the Pave rides like a race day tire. Back in 2007, Vittoria offered up an all-black version of the Pave EVO CG, giving it a subtler, stealthier look. I am a fan of the all-black tire; it hides asphalt scuffs and road marks.
So, how do they perform? The Pave is fast, light, and grippy as hell in the rough or wet conditions. The best part about the tire comes during the first October ride when the summer tires are removed and replaced by the Pave. The 24mm profile and the softer compound give the tire a smooth, comfortable ride. For two tires I paid $115. Not a bad deal given that the tires ride so well and are going on their third winter season. If you have never ridden Vittoria tires, I would highly recommend trying them and the Pave in particular. The ride is fantastic in the 115 psi range and really come alive on rough surfaces in the 100 psi range. The Paves look PRO as hell and will deliver some sweet miles.
For many professional cyclists the Spring campaign is the toughest of the season; it means training from October until March in the worst, character-building weather conditions Europe can dish out. This weather and the suffering that is bicycle racing breed characters known as "hardmen".
Select cyclists tackle these conditions in shorts, long sleeve jerseys or short sleeve jerseys with arm warmers, wind vests, and shoe covers. A true hardman opts to forego the knee or leg warmers and instead chooses an embrocation to cover the knees. The liniment provides warmth for the legs and keeps the blood circulating and muscles supple. Embrocation and the sheen created is affectionately known as "Belgium knee warmers". The hardest of cyclists will sport bare legs in the most ruthless of conditions.
Belgium Knee Warmers are indicitive of the many subtleties that make professional cycling so enthralling.
I spent 20 years of my life working in the bicycle industry, turning wrenches and selling bikes for some of the industry's best shops. I have extensive experience designing and constructing frames in both steel and titanium and have performed thousands of bike fits. I am passionate about bicycles in all forms. The bicycle provides me with physical and mental health and taps me into a social pipeline that allows me to share my passion with others. I ride as often as possible and love the flow of a hard group ride. Check back for musings about all things road cycling and, especially, the Spring Classics. The devil is in the details and I am an expert in the useless minutia that makes up our discipline.