Wednesday, August 29, 2007


The cycling cap is a staple in a PRO cyclist's wardrobe; fashion and function go hand-in-hand when discussing its merits. Like the sun, the position of the cap differs throughout the season, sitting high in peak summer and low in the spring. The cap is so versitile that it can provide shade from the sun and rain, catch sweat on hot days, and provide a thin layer for the top of your head when the Mutt is just too hot.

Back in the day there was a local rider named Phil who sat on the bike like a PRO, wore his glasses like a PRO, and could even sport the cap like the utter PROfessional. Phil could wear the cap with the best of them. But not everyone can pull it off. This simple accessory can very easily separate riders into the PRO or NO catagory. For example, Matt White: PRO category. Although often overlooked by the photogs, Matt has come to epitomize the spring cap style. Matt is ever-present in the Classics and quietly does his job, working his ass off for bigger name riders. Matt goes for the low, over-the-ears style to help keep his ears warm.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Mavic Cosmic Carbone Ultimate

Local sources have come through again, the Mavic Cosmic Carbone Ultimates have arrived and are primed for the Mid-Week Classic. Stay tuned for a complete post.

Friday, August 24, 2007


With the close of summer rapidly approaching, the BKW staff packed up and headed out for some much needed R&R and top secret "mid-pack results" training. With the running shoes packed and the Polar 720i set to record only HR data, I readied myself for vacation to begin. The plan was to travel lightly, bringing only the running shoes in an effort to keep the "stuff" to a minimum and get the legs in shape for cross season. I awoke early on the morning of our departure in a fog of apprehension and reconsideration as I began to second guess the running idea. As a cyclist (not a triathlete), running for me is reserved for only the coldest months.

With just a handful of hours before take-off and a pot of excellent coffee nearing completion, I pulled my S&S frame from its peg and in a frenzied, coffee-induced state I began to build it using all the road components from my go-to road bike. The S&S machine spends much of its time built as a cyclocross single speed and I had roughly an hour to transform this bike from a one-speed wonder to an assembled, 20-speed, hill worthy, meet up with some peeps, road machine. Once built, I needed to get it disassembled and into its travel case.

Back in 2000, I set out to build a bike that would go anywhere and do anything. It would be a bike that would travel easily and be capable of tackling any riding conditions that may await on the other side of an airport terminal. When I began the Muse project, I was not a regular traveler. I was an employee in the bike world and vacations were rare, except in the dead of winter. But I knew that if I built a durable and practical machine, it would be with me for a long time. In the meantime, it would be the perfect commuter, fixed gear, cross bike, and winter training machine. For these tasks, a 700c wheel and cantilevers would give me the greatest ability to adapt and allow for the widest range of tires from 23-38c, catering to pavement or trail riding with ample clearance for fenders. From this initial concept, my Seven Muse was born.

Ease of Travel
Ease of travel is not limited to a durable finish. Although, having a robust finish is key, the bike needs to travel by land, sea or air with ease, preferably without additional charges. A standard bike, no matter how small the frame size will not fit on an aircraft without a fee; the bike needs to fold or come apart. Back in 2000, the only options for this were folding options such as a Bike Friday or something built or retro-fitted to include the S&S Couplers. S&S Bicycle Torque Couplers or BTCs allow the frame to be disassembled literally in half and giving the bike a footprint small enough to fit inside a suitcase which by airline standards (62" total inches or less) is considered standard luggage.

The S&S couplers strike fear in some cyclist's hearts, the fact that a tube can be joined with essentially a stainless, coaxial cable-like connection would certainly insure that it was not strong enough to function like a standard frame tube and could even be a potential failure point. I spent a lot of time reading about the BTCs, how they work, are they strong, tough, light, heavy, flexible, stiff? Let me say this, BTCs are the greatest thing since embrocations. If you travel and like to ride your own bike when you travel, the BTC is the beacon in the darkness of bicycle rentals and well-intended, friends whose back up bikes are simply not your own. The BTCs work flawlessly, they look clean when built into a frame and reduce your bike to a manageable travel size, small enough to make your running shoes shiver at the thought.

The Perfect Material
With the decision to build a travel bike made, titanium seemed like the best choice for all around durability, comfort and light weight. Of all the choices out there, Seven Cycles appealed to me most. Seven has a strong reputation in the world of custom and the founders were all instrumental in the Merlin's formative years. Once the decision to go ti was made, the only remaining hurdle was butted or straight gauge ti. Straight gauge titanium seemed the best choice, it was durable, the surface was all but impervious to scratches and wear and the frame's overall cost would be less since I had bypassed the more expensive option of butted tubing. Titanium has a great ride, it is highly resilient to neglect and seemed like the perfect material for the continuous packing and unpacking of the bike.

Dressed for Success
When I began to consider the riding I would do when on vacation, I envisioned myself meeting with friends for a road ride, or hitting some trails with some single track but I also pictured myself with a lock in hand pedaling around a seaside town or through the quiet rolling hills of a Midwestern farm town. I pictured the bike with drop bars, flat bars or a pair of Albatross bars from Rivendell. With the cantilever brakes, the cables could easily be swapped by releasing the straddle cable from the main brake cable thus allowing a simple and speedy swap of the handle bars. All of these riding scenarios could be accomplished with a single gear and a single gear would ease the packing of the bike by eliminating the derailleurs and additional cables. However, if this bike were to remain eternally useful, I needed to have the option to add gears. This meant a derailleur hanger and a way to connect the cable guides on the down tube. The derailleur hanger was simple, I requested this direct from Seven, but the cable guide was another matter and required the work of my dear friend and master welder to solve. A simple and removable band with two cable shift bosses welded to it did the trick and helps to keep the down tube clean when running just one gear. Although I rarely use the gear option, for this trip it was a must, the weather is warm and I was hoping to catch up with some old friends for some fast group rides.

Having the ability to add derailleurs was more a protective measure. I have only exercised this option a handful of times; it counters my desire to have the simplest, easiest to pack machine; however, this trip proves that the option to add gears really makes this machine a do anything, go anywhere bike.

The Ride
To riders who have never seen an S&S coupler, the first question is "how does it ride?" the answer is "wonderfully". If you were to build two bikes side by side, one with couplers and one without, I feel you would have a difficult time distinguishing the difference between the two. I have ridden steep climbs and descended with complete confidence, not even a hint of undue flex or instability. The couplers, like all great products, disappear until they are needed.

I am a fan of the travel bike and I feel that for those who travel frequently, it is a must have. If I had only one bike, and it could be anything, I would opt for a ti road bike with the couplers. Because there is really nothing like riding your own bike in new and far-away places.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Discovery Channel PRO Team

FYI: The mute may be in order.

Monday, August 20, 2007

MP3 is Dyn-o-mite

Q: What's better than a tough, "ride everyday" wheel? A: A tough, "ride everyday" wheel with a no-questions-asked replacement policy. That's what. Last year, I bought a set of Cosmic Carbone PROs from my local bike shop. Per their advice, I spent the additional dough for the Mavic Protection Program (MP3). Essentially, the MP3 offers you a complete replacement of your wheelset regardless of cause or fault (even if the damage occurred during racing!) Last year, the Cosmic Carbones were touted as their deep section, tubular-only carbon wheelset designed to be so durable they are ideal as everyday wheels.

With the tires glued and pumped I am out the door for my 40-minute cruise to the start of the weekend ride. As I wind up the wheels for some warm-up efforts, the wheels feel fast, light, and fairly stiff...certainly as stiff as the Reynolds Stratus DVs from last season and noticeably stiffer than the Zipp 303s from the season before. The ride comes together with no less than 60 riders on this warm, dry July day. As we roll out of town and through the neighborhoods where the pavement is notoriously rough, I slide in mid-pack in front of the owner of the shop where I purchased my Carbones the day before. As he asks for my initial thoughts on the wheels, I slam a pot hole with the rear wheel and the loud cracking sound I heard was enough to make my wallet shiver. I applied my rear brake lightly to gauge the extent of the damage and there is a noticeable ticking of the brakes on the newly-formed deformation of the braking surface. I had just broken my new wheels before I had even taken my first sip from my water bottle. The ding was noticeable but minor enough to continue with the ride. By the end of the day's ride, the wheels seemed to have repaired themselves, losing the intitial damage from the pot hole. Now, when I applied the brakes, the ticking that was evident two water bottles ago is absent.

When I got home, I was able to get my first glance at the rim and, after a fair amount of looking, I located the spot on the rim and the ding. The pothole had deformed the braking surface on both sides of the rim and created a bubble of displaced carbon fiber. I applied pressure to the deformed section of the rim with my thumbs and with a light crackling sound the rim flattened out. I took the wheel back to the shop where the mechanic and I voted to continue riding the wheels with the intention of sending them back to Mavic at the end of the season. For the remainder of the season, I rode the Carbone PROs without incident, quickly falling in love with the wheel's speed, stiffness, and appearance. In September, I pulled the Vittoria CXs off and glued on some cross tires for the Jonathon Page look during the cross season. Even the rigors of a cross season were no match for the Carbone PROs and, again, they proved their suitability as a daily wheel.

In January, I prepared to return the wheels to Mavic and noticed that, in addition to the original crack in the rear wheel, I had a small hole in the carbon fairing of the front wheel, caused by an errant scrap of metal on a group ride back in August. I remember the ride and the impact, but had no idea that the metal had actually punctured the carbon. The hole never creaked or made itself known.

I pulled off my cross tires, removed the QR skewers and cassette and dropped the wheels off at my local shop. One week later, I received a brand new set of Cosmic Carbone PROs for the low, low price of $30 to cover shipping to and from Mavic. Now that's insane! What other company in the bike industry allows you to beat the crap out of your equipment and then replace it for no charge?

In April, I glued a new set of Vittoria CXs to my new Cosmic Carbones and began the second and final season of my MP3 program. Just like Year 1, I started the season with an abrupt pothole encounter, creating yet another crack on the braking surface. This time, however, I nailed both the front and rear wheels. When the season comes to a close, I will send my Carbones back to Mavic for replacement and I plan to sell the replacements to help fund the purchase of some Carbone Ultimates and, of course, the MP3 program.

For the last eleven years, I have been dreaming about a set of Lightweights, ever since I first saw Riis cheating his way to a Tour win in '96. But how can I risk the $3,500 for a pair of Lightweights when I am sure to experience the same damage I saw with my Carbones? The risk is simply too great and I could not afford to repair the LWs if anything goes wrong, let alone buy a front or rear because I had smacked another pothole. The MP3 program is the perfect safety net if you are thinking about buying an expensive set of wheels.

The purchase price of the MP3 program is well worth the insurance and Mavic's response time and attitude toward the MP3 program is just as advertised. Well done Mavic.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Friday, August 10, 2007

Influences in Style

Each PRO has a style that is unique unto himself: Bartoli's careless drape of his hands on the tops, Der Jan's preference for the 53x12 on any course, Johnny Tomaction's fluidity, and LA's cadence when in the mountains. When I am out on my machine, whether my mountain or cross bike, in my mind's eye I envision these PROs and I can not help but be influenced by their style. Back in the 80s when skateboarding was experiencing its second big boom, Natas Kaupas came on the scene and brought with him the future of the skate industry and a style that was distinctly his own. Back then, I was an impressionable young lad and someone like Natas provided a style that I admired and could mimic. When I stumbled into road cycling, there were PROs whose style both as fashionistas and as cyclists I really admired (Merckx, of course, and De Vlaeminck, Vanderaerden, and Lemond were a few). I rode as much as I could and, in addition to trying to go fast, I tried to do it with style. I tried to do it like the PROs. I rode slowly by storefronts to size up my position, my style, the flatness of my back and height of my saddle.

Over the past 20 years, the style I tried to emulate helped me to form my own, and it came not from practice, but from discipline and mileage. High-mileage single-handedly has the greatest effect on a cyclist's style and, as we have seen from many old PROs, once you achieve it the form never goes away. It is as much earned as is the ability to ride a two-wheeler and once you master it, it's yours forever. I have seen plenty of OGs show up to a group ride and through experience, brains, and the pride that they use to propel them, hang in and not get dropped (despite being 25 pounds over weight and having only hundreds of miles in their legs).

I still watch the PROs in awe, the new guys and the old. The fluidity of their style that's almost effortless is intoxicating, and it is always a pleasure to watch those who are truly exceptional.

High Mileage = High Stylage

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


The bike shop has aways represented a club house of sorts. A refuge for those whose souls are fired by the bicycle. The view of the bicycle shop from an employee standpoint represents a hard life, one where the hours are long, and the dollars short, but one where the personal rewards are endless. I remember an employee from the 80s-90s named Duncan. Duncan was the perfect example of the bike shop employee and loved the bicycle for its simplicity and humility. The bicycle was a machine free of complexity and bureaucracy. A machine which operated on pennies a day and paid physical dividends to its rider. Duncan always wore jeans and they were stained with grease and dirt from years of commuting and service. Duncan was a photographer whose favorite subject was the bicycle. Not races, not PROs, just the bike and its mechanical workings. Duncan sported a thinker's mustache, not a creepy porn star stache, but an honest thinking man's stache. Something he could go to when in deep thought. Duncan's style was as functional and modest as he was, right down to wearing his belt buckle on the side of his hip as opposed to dead center. The idea was to keep the large brass buckle from digging into his abdomen while in a seated riding position. Duncan's simplicity was echoed in his dedication to the generator light, long past its useful home in the commuter's tool box.

Duncan was a whole wheat bread kind of guy long before whole wheat came into vogue. Simple, hardworking, creative, and passionate about the bicycle. Duncan represented the cyclist of the 80s. Whether you were were shopping for a new bike, dropping off a repair or trying to source obscure French replacement parts, you were lucky to stumble into Duncan.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Mavic R-SYS Wheelset

Over the past few months Mavic has quietly introduced their newest wheel technology to the cycling world. Among the latest and greatest from the French company comes the R-SYS wheel set. A carbon/al-u-min-e-um dream team intended to relieve the aging Ksyrium from its duties atop the pre-built, hub/rim kingdom. Le Tour provided the most prominent display of the R-SYS wheels carrying Soler to a win in Stage 9. Soler opted for a Cosmic Carbone Ultimate on the rear and the R-SYS on the front. The R-SYS wheels have received rave reviews from PROs and journalists alike: accolades for their stiffness, comfort, and claimed 1355 gram weight. But is this wheel set the next generation wheel? Is this wheel technology vastly improved and in a world of desirable cycling goodies are they worthy of the top spot?

I have ridden every generation of the Ksyrium wheels, ranging from the all-black, first generation wheels in 2000 to the most recent, ode to the Helium, ES model. The Ksyrium is a staple in the pre-built wheel market and performs flawlessly for roadies and cross racers alike. The Ksyrium was the first wheel tough enough to provide large riders with a light, fast, durable wheel option. Mavic claims the Ksyrium range will shuffle in 2008, losing the top spot to the R-SYS. In 2000, when the Ksyrium was introduced, it was immediately evident that the wheel market as we knew it was about to change.

I thought it would be interesting to compare the R-SYS wheels to the Ksyrium SLs based on my ride experience alone. No weight comparisons, no technological marketing mumbo-jumbo, just wheel against wheel. After 200 miles on each, here are my thoughts:

The first thing I noticed about the R-SYS wheels were the aesthetics. I hated the look. Art commented that the R-SYS wheels look like wagon wheels and, honestly, I think that is the best description I’ve heard. The hubs are chiseled down to the absolute minimum (they barely cover the bearings and axle) and the hubs define the look of "2008," the “chiseled” look that both Mavic and Shimano have embraced. In 2005-06, this minima style was reserved for less expensive products from Mavic and I can’t help but initially view the hubs on the R-SYS as something reserved for the entry-level components. In time, I am sure that I’ll adjust to the new style and my aesthetic tastes will be re-programmed. But hey, I had a difficult time when the Oakley Factory Pilots disappeared. With the tiny hubs, the spokes look very long and their round profile is reminiscent of Udon noodles.

The nipples are similar to those used in the Ksyriums, although they are now in a lime (citron) color. The graphics are tough to read. After a long hard look, I was able to spot the R-SYS logos, which are created from a series of lines that look more like a DNA sequence than a rim graphic. (Honestly, if I stared at them for much longer, I was certain I would have seen a schooner.) The rim profile is low, like the newer style ES wheels, which I personally feel make the ESs slightly more compliant than the SLs. I am sure some testing equipment in France would say I am wrong, but my reviews are based on my perception in the real world and not statistical data or static load tests.

The rear wheel has a similarly minimal appearance and the rim profile matches the front. However, the non-drive side spokes are Zircal (aluminum) like the previous generation Ksyriums. The aluminum spokes allow for greater clearance on the drive side allowing the dish of the wheel to favor a stiffer build. The spokes are all black and this makes it hard to detect the difference in materials and spoke thickness.

As I installed the wheels into my bike, the initial ugliness dissolved and what revealed itself was a new and unique appearance to my bike. My standard SL3s are all silver and I preferred them when they were all black. Somehow the mix of black spokes with the silver rim added a dimension that all black simply can’t. When on the bike, the wheels look awesome!

So, how did they ride? Well, first let me say that I rode them back-to-back on the same bike with the same tubes/tires as my SL3s to try to minimize the differences between wheels sets. I tried to be as scientific as possible in a completely unscientific study. Here’s the scoop. They were marginally better than my SL3s. I was simply not floored by these wheels in the same way I was when I first switched from the Heliums to the Kysriums or from the SLs to the ESs. The R-SYSs feel laterally stiffer than the SLs and where I felt I could detect a discernable difference was in the lack of rear wheel wind-up that is so common in other wheels during a hard acceleration (a downside to the previous generation Ksyriums). When I threw the R-SYSs hard into a corner, the wheels tracked nicely, providing a stable feeling while cutting in at the last moment. Then again, I never felt the SL3s were short in this category. Additionally, I can't say the comfort was any less or more than with the SL3s. The Colnago is a great bike and comfort is one of its strong suits. I have yet to ride a wheel that the Colnago couldn't tame. In a group setting, where acceleration is key to closing gaps, both the SLs and the R-SYSs feel great and the difference is hardly detectable. In fact, it’s tough to justify the difference in price between these two wheel sets.

So, what would prompt me to buy the R-SYS wheels?

1. If weight were a major concern to me, they would be a great place to start. 1300 grams and change is light, especially for a wheel that rides like a wheel that is 200 grams heavier. The dollar to gram ratio favors the upgrade in wheels as opposed to spending it on boutique German components.

2. If I were searching for a light, tight set of clinchers to pimp, this would be it. They look cool and I am severely loyal to Mavic.

In my opinion, the R-SYS wheels are a tiny bit stiffer than previous Ksyriums. I think this wheel set differs most from the Ksyriums in appearance and less in ride characteristics. If you have a set of Ksyriums and you are thinking of upgrading, I would recommend investing in a bike fitting or a top level tune-up, one that replaces all your cables and housing and installs some PRO white tape. These areas will increase your speed, make your bike fun to ride, and pay dividends in other areas. If you are searching for some lightweight, bad-ass wheels the R-SYS and Ksyriums will both do the job very well.

Plus, you get one of the cleanest magnet arrangements out there.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Sleight of Hand

Things are pretty bad in the cycling world right now. Or are they? I am still not sure. What I am sure about is that all of my favorite riders from the 90s have either been implicated, convicted, or have confessed to using performance enhancing drugs. Should any of this come as a suprise? Not really. Cycling is either facing its inevitable demise or its finest hour.

The idea that a PRO can subject themselves to a three-week Grand Tour and expect to finish let alone win with only mineral water and a fig bar is the kind of story you tell your kids at bed time. The physical punishment these warriors endure is incomprehensible and there is no way a natural body can recover following the day-after-day abuse of a Grand Tour. Despite the overwhelming evidence of rampant drug abuse, I don't want to view cycling through a tainted lens of doping. That is to say, I know there is drug (ab)use and I've known there was ever since my interest in cycling began. I simply want to say, "not my kid". I guess I am in denial and this is the first step in recovery.

I stood in front of my cycling magazine collection today and 90% of the PRO cover faces are gone from the PRO world. BUSTED. See you in two years fellas - if at all.

In many ways, the PRO world is a suspension of disbelief. When I hear about the wattage a PRO produces or see them grit their teeth in the mountains, I wonder: how much of this performance is natural talent and how much of it is the 50,000 training KMs. And of course, how much of it is chemically-enhanced? The suspension of disbelief is much like a magic show.

Do I want to know how they saw the woman in half or how a magician can pour a pitcher of water into her hand and it disappears? No, I don't. And I don't think I would enjoy the magic act (or cycling for that matter) if they were simply doing things that I am perfectly capable of. Watch how Houdini packs his suitcase while blindfolded, see how I magically dip my frites in this mayo. That doesn't sound very entertaining. Baseball enjoyed a good run in early 2k when homeruns were commonplace at every game. Was that a result of steroid use? I must admit, it was cool to see highlights where balls rarely landed in the infield. Is the sport of cycling capable of retaining an audience and big dollar sponsors without the punishment of the grand tours and subsequent drug use?

What makes cycling so enthralling? The venues, the superhuman performances, or the suffering the riders endure? I see very little TV time dedicated to a Belgian Kermesse. Without a superhuman difference between athlete and spectator the allure begins to fade. And since the dawn of cycling, a superhuman difference required some type of enhancement.

So, what is to come? Where are we going and how much damage has cycling sustained? Is it repairable? And before we ask if it is repairable, maybe we should ask "can the sport return as its former self without performance enhancing drugs?"