Sunday, September 30, 2007

Interbike 2007, Day Three

Negative G calipers

Zipp crank

Giro cold weather insert

Assos Six Day jersey

Ibis Travel MTB

M5 brake calipers

Ritchey single speed Break Away

Friday, September 28, 2007

Interbike 2007, Townies

Interbike 2007, Day Two

Boonen's Tarmac SL2

Simoni's Ritchey 4 Axis/WCS Carbon Bar

Don Mario

Time Ulteam World Star

Stan's Road Tubeless Conversion

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Interbike 2007, Day One

Colnago's Extreme Power, Saronni 25th World's Edition

SRAM Red Internals

Thor Hushovd's valve solution 2007

2008 Dura-Ace 7800C - Target Weight: 170mm w/bb 714 grams, 10% Stiffer

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Wait Is Over

Well, we've ridden it. And frankly, we'd like to ride it some more. A lot more. SRAM's Red group is a remarkable achievement and worthy of a spot at the table with Dura-Ace and Record. And all it took was an integrated control lever.

The history of integrated control levers may be more significant for who got out of the market than who entered it. Modolo took a stab at it in ’97 and released a product so woefully lacking in ergonomic elegance and precise function that when the product was subsequently pulled six months later, no one missed it.

Mavic has twice sold electronic shifters. Twice they have developed legions of devotees. Today, a Mavic group consists of wheels, brakes and a computer. If only the gods would smile on their engineers, or their factories, or whatever it would take to make the stuff work perfectly all the time.

So what’s the big deal about Red? The shifter. It’s always the shifter. The Red shifter is comfy, shifts precisely and has a throw shorter than any of its competition. That covers the basics, but here’s a bit more detail:

The hoods have gentle curves to them to allow you to grip them in the traditional manner, drape your hands across the forward bulb and rest your wrists on the back of the hood and the bar, or sit up a bit with your hands laying across the bar and rear of the hoods. The brake levers themselves flair out from the hoods more than either Dura-Ace or Record levers do. This is a boon for anyone with small hands—you don’t need to roll your wrists around the bar to reach the levers. As you grip the brake levers with your index fingers (yes, it’s real one-finger braking), you feel the shift levers just brushing the inside curve of your fingers.

The shift lever has no play to the travel (well, one of the two bikes I rode equipped with the group had maybe 3mm of travel before engaging the spring). Move the lever and you have begun the shift. The feel of each shift is firm and precise. Downshifts of a single cog feel very natural; I was worried that it would feel sluggish, but the response is so immediate you quick adjust to the throw necessary to downshift one cog, to do two or three is no big deal. Upshifting is firm and deliberate. You can’t brush the lever with your finger the way you might with Dura-Ace, though. Multiple upshifts aren’t quite as quick as Dura-Ace and definitely not as quick as Record, but there’s no risk of accidentally dumping the chain from the 14 to the 12, either.

For the sprinters out there, one of the more remarkable aspects of Red’s performance is the way you can wrap your right index finger around the shift lever and then swing it back so that your hand is wrapped simultaneously around the lever and the bar. Out of the saddle and sprinting, there is enough clearance between the lever and the bar (even with padded tape) to give the lever a little squeeze for an upshift.

If you have ever been on a long climb and pushed a lever to see if, by chance, there was one more cog in back, don’t make that mistake with Red (or any SRAM groups), though. The act of pushing the lever will initiate an upshift. Kind of a surprising development if you’re at the end of your rope.

It would be easy to blow the group’s promise if the great rear shifting was not matched with great front shifting. Key to this are stiff crank arms, bottom bracket spindle and chainrings. Key elements, all. As a result, the front shifting is very good. It may not be quite as crisp under load as Dura-Ace, but it will shift from the small ring to the big ring when you are out of the saddle, though. It seemed that shift length was longer than that of Dura-Ace. Dura-Ace takes about one-third of a pedal revolution to execute a shift, most of the time. While some shifts took between a third and a half of a revolution, most were closer to a full revolution. Perhaps with a bit more forceful shifting on the part of the rider, the shifts might be more consistently brief.

Brake response is excellent. Anyone transitioning from Dura-Ace won’t notice a lick of difference, while Record users may notice a softer feel to the braking. Modulation is excellent; a sensitive rider will get great stopping power without locking up the rear wheel. Not the sort of thing that would excite the freeride crowd, I suppose.

There’s a lot to be said for a group that operates in whisper mode. Roll the clock back 15 years and you may recall that Shimano and Campy were noisy affairs. Red will not clutter your experience with unnecessary noise.

What’s the scuttlebutt, you’re asking? The price. At more than $2000 it is the most expensive group ever offered. However, if the dollar continues to drop like a paraglider with tangled lines, it won’t be long before Record and eventually Dura-Ace are more expensive. At least we can rest assured the pricing on Red will be more stable than Lindsay Lohan’s mental state.

Many wonder, is it overpriced? The answer to that depends on nothing so much as you. To some, every piece of bike gear is overpriced. And to some a great bike is a tiny investment compared to a health club or yoga classes (after all, if you ride a $10,000 bicycle five days per week for three years, that bike runs you about $12.82 per ride).

So the real question is, what’s a good time worth? Ride it and decide for yourself.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Seeing Red

Consolidation is the watchword for most industries in the world. Big guys are buying little guys, investors are tight with cash and upstarts are having a tougher time finding shoulder room than a sapling in old-growth forest. In short, the planet is being homogenized in great swaths. Species extinctions are happening at an alarming rate. Even languages are disappearing at a rate of one every two weeks.

Doesn’t look good for competition, does it?

I offer that as a backdrop to SRAM’s introduction of its new group called Red. On paper, the idea that an American company could enter the road market with a top-end component group and actually compete is, well, laughable. Who in their right mind would actually wish to compete with Shimano or Campagnolo? After all, no component maker has more emotional cachet with its owners than Campy. Assuming you think you can tackle that, okay. Who would then wish to go head-to-head with the 800-lb. gorilla from Manilla (okay, Tokyo)?

The brain trust at SRAM is neither stupid nor delusional. For those of you who haven’t ridden a bike with wheels smaller than 700C since you were in grade school, it bears mentioning that SRAM has been producing good mountain bike drivetrains (easily the crux move in any groupo) for more than 10 years.

Without resorting to licensing technology from either Campy or Shimano, SRAM found a creative middle road. For two years SRAM’s double-tap components have been quietly gaining acceptance in the road market. This is no small feat.
Consider that Full Speed Ahead (FSA) offers cranks, bottom brackets, front derailleurs, brakes and wheels. But they don’t do control levers or rear derailleurs. Given how good their current offerings are (let’s not forget their stems, handlebars and seatposts), it is fair to surmise that manufacturing control levers and a coordinated rear derailleur is more difficult than getting the ASO and UCI to play nice.

We have before us a few curious details to consider: Red is reputed to be the lightest road component group on the market. It will also be the most expensive. The dollar is worth less (relative to the Yen and Euro) than Britney Spears’ career. The UCI hates innovation almost as much as they hate American lawyers. Even so, the new competition will be good for consumers. Neither Shimano nor Campy can afford to react slowly, and Campy—God love ‘em—is rarely mistaken for a scalded monkey. The introduction of Red will spur innovation and price competition and soon enough, bicycles will be so light that the UCI will need to address their weight limit. Or not. Capitalism might have some predictability to it, but we probably shouldn’t expect anything predictable (or logical) from the UCI.

So maybe the pros won’t be able to ride a 13-lb. bicycle, but you will. Rapidly approaching is the day when you can ride a 12-lb. bike with bar tape. Or any frame you want (including lugged steel) without violating 15 lbs.

So despite all the economic pressures that make this introduction as unlikely as a smash hit from Kevin Federline, SRAM has put together the financing, engineering and tooling necessary to mount an assault on the road market. For many folks, this is the most eagerly awaited product intro in 10 years. But it would seem that this is just the serve; the move to watch is the return. For that we’ll have to wait until 2009.

Stay tuned for Tuesday's late report on just how Red rides.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Fix Is In

Had Floyd Landis’ arbitration been handled by the American judicial system, the 2006 winner of the Tour de France would have red hair. Put another way, were logic the overriding principle used for deciding the arbitration outcome, the matter would be settled once and for all. Unfortunately, the arbitrators managed to set aside their own concerns and find in favor of USADA.

In the American court system, material found in an illegal search is disallowed in court proceedings. So if the basis of a search is found to be logically flawed, the search is thrown out. The arbitrators struck down the initial adverse T/E result, saying it DID NOT meet the requirement for a positive test.

That bears repeating. In the initial test that started this process, the arbitrators found that Floyd Landis did not test positive. Logically, if the initial test was not positive, there should not be grounds for the flawed IRMS test that USADA claims shows Landis used exogenous testosterone.

Equally disturbing is the arbitrators’ threat that if similar procedural errors such as those that were demonstrated during the Landis hearing were to continue, they might dismiss such a case. “The Panel finds that the practises of the Lab in training its employees appears to lack the vigor the Panel would expect in the circumstances given the enormous consequences to athletes.” That is the most serious indictment of the testing process ever offered by a sympathetic party. And yet, the majority wrote, “If such practices continue, it may well be that in the future, an error like this could result in the dismissal” of the case against the athlete.

Hello? How could errors dismissed in this case be considered substantive enough to derail a case in the future? The fix is in. The arbitrators have effectively said, “Okay, we’ll let you slide this time, but don’t embarrass us or yourselves again.” It is further demonstration that this process has been a kangaroo court meant to satisfy a political agenda rather than a judicial process meant to uncover the truth. No reasonable person can come to the conclusion that justice has been served if substandard lab work can result in two different findings on two different days. That’s not justice, that’s mercy; only mercy isn’t generally granted to the prosecution.

If LNDD’s (Laboratoire National de Dépistage du Dopage / National Anti-doping Laboratory) work ethic will be deemed unacceptable in the future, then it is unacceptable today. And if it is unacceptable today, then a miscarriage of justice has been served.

One cannot be surprised that the arbitrator chosen by Landis’ team, Christopher Campbell, found in favor of Landis. He was supposed to be sympathetic. However, strenuous dissent deserves the light of day. Campbell wrote: "The documents supplied by LNDD are so filled with errors that they do not support an Adverse Analytical Finding. Mr. Landis should be found innocent." He went on to point out a larger problem of competence: "If the LNDD couldn't get the T-E ratio test right, how can a person have any confidence that LNDD got the much more complicated IRMS test correct?"

Here’s the scary part. This process shows that labs are allowed to execute the shoddiest of work in order to get some sort of positive test. Once they achieve that result, they can then begin a fishing expedition employing all means necessary (including character assassination) in order to prove their case.

One last question: Would you want to be a pro cyclist right now?

Photo courtesy: msnbc

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Cobbles Baby!

Director: Scott Coady

Feature Running Time: 37:20 min.

The entire concept behind BKW is to focus on the small things that make our sport so interesting. I always look for articles or films that cover the "behind the scenes" and that go beyond the simple race coverage to explore what life is like inside the world of PRO cycling.

I had heard good things about Scott's first film Tour Baby!, but I never got around to viewing it. When I heard he was putting the finishing touches on his second film Cobbles Baby! I knew it was time to acquaint myself with Scott's work.

Let me start by writing this: I had no idea what to expect. I didn't bother researching the film in advance, but anything that focuses solely on the Queen of the Classics is worth purchasing.

I stumbled into Scott's filmography while reading some related blogs and saw the film had just been released. I purchased the video on Saturday and received it 4 days later.

This film is "pissah". Scott has a tendancy to focus on "all the little things," just like the team here at BKW. Cobbles Baby! covers the action surrounding the 2004 Paris Roubaix. Scott does an excellent job of getting right into the thick of the action, from the inside tour of the Postal bus to the run-down on what machine modifications are required to prepare for PR. This film is a combination of many of the previous BKW posts.

I will not bore you with a step-by-step recount of the action. However, I will have to say that Scott manages to capture the reaction of the Postal team to Floyd's new moustache as he arrives for Saturday's pre-ride. Scott showers in the famous concrete showers in Roubaix and has a roadside discussion regarding Belgium knee warmers alongside a section of Pave. This is the stuff we are made of, I say!

I give this film the thumbs up for Scott succinctly captures the small things that you and I look for. Scott is a cyclist and his eye for the details proves it. The film has a raw production quality, similar at times to a family vacation video, but this is what makes the film so gripping. No high budget production team, no fancy cameras or entourage of lighting and sound PROs. Think Warren Miller meets WCP meets Blair Witch Project.

Scott's enthusiasm is evident and there may be no better host to show you around the Hell of the North. Go online and get yourself a copy. This is a great film for riding the rollers and, in the weeks leading up to PR, it will be the perfect thing to get you prepared for the action. The DVD includes some extra footage which is equally cool, Scott pays tribute to the heros who gave their lives at Omaha Beach in WWII and drops by Belgium's Cycling Center which serves as a development center for US cyclists.

For more info, visit

Photo courtesy Scott Coady

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Interbike 2007

I have attended bicycle trades shows since I was a wee-lad. Some families have memories of road trips to the Grand Canyon or the annual trek to visit the Smithsonians. For me, it was bicycle trade shows. Year after year, I would file up and down the aisles, trudging through the endless maze of indoor/outdoor carpets, all while breathing in the noxious fumes of the countless rubber tires. As a kid, I loathed "the show," as a teen I embraced it, and as an adult I worked them.

Five years into my hiatus from the industry, I continue to feel its pull. So, with bindles packed, the staff at BKW is taking this show on the road and heading out into the arid vastness of Nevada to take on yet another year of Interbike. September is the time of year when the North American bicycle industry squeezes itself under one roof for three days to sell, buy, catch up, and burn out. BKW has managed to bamboozle some unassuming industry folk into providing us with legitimate credentials for the three-day, bike extravaganza. We plan to go deep into the thick of it to scout out the coolest gear for the coming season; hopefully, there will be more than just carbon fiber stuff. Along the way, we'll get the chance to hang with some PROs and leading figures of the industry.

Stay tuned... 'cause "when the soup is good, all is good."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bob Cat Crit

In January 1994, I moved to Southern California in pursuit of the endless summer. I was searching specifically for the trails and roads I had seen featured in the countless cycling magazines I read. Little did I know, I was four years and 3,000 miles off. In 1998, I moved to Boston and blindly stumbled into a cycling hotbed.

I had been working in Boston for a little over a year when on a hot and humid summer day I came face-to-face with one of the few pinnacle events of my years in the bike industry. There have been a number of experiences that stood out from crazy customers, cool products, and epic schwag to monumental rides. But today was different, it was natural, not forced, I had just met head-on my first impromptu race.

In each micro-cycling community, there are different names for similar events. In the messenger community, it is called an alley cat, in the cyclocross world, it is known as bandit cross. But all are based on the same principal: Friends and co-riders show up at a designated point, line up behind a drawn line and wait for someone to yell "Go!". The magic of this event is that there is a genuine love for the sport. There are no points awarded, no prizes, no team obligations. Just a desire to ride with your friends and kick each others' asses.

This race was called the Bob Cat Crit, (BCC) named after a local cyclist. The word went out in the afternoon on this particular Saturday, and it spread like wildfire. The BCC was on...

The Bob Cat was a mountain bike course, but people arrived on everything from road bikes to cruisers. The race has a true "Run what you brung" attitude. After all, it was as much about the social aspect and drinking beer as it was about winning. The entire concept is similar to when professional skateboarders get together to session a ramp or park. The experience is more about encouraging your mates, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere, and being around a close group of fellow cyclists.

The race itself proved to be as exciting as any I have ever been to. There were battles for positions, crashes, and a podium that included the "dark horse" as well as the "sure thing". But the magic of the BCC was not the race or the winners, it was about the passion and love that everyone felt for the sport. We stood in a dusty, overgrown lot adjacent to the train tracks, sweating, swatting mosquitoes, drinking beer, and talking about all things bikes. There was a mix of women and men, road and mountain. There were no categories, no points, and no pressure. It was truly an epic experience.

Friday, September 7, 2007

From Loved to Loathed

In a June interview on NPR timed with the release of his new book “From Lance to Landis,” author David Walsh asserted that there are two kinds of cyclists with respect to doping, those that are dragged into doping and those that drag. It’s not a remarkable assessment. To allege coercion into a forbidden practice could hardly raise eyebrows.
However, Walsh pointed to Lance Armstrong as an example of a dragger. Walsh would have us believe that the reputation of the sport of cycling has been damaged by the draggers of the world, as exemplified by Mr. Armstrong.

In his book, Walsh does what he can to convince the reader that his motivations are honest, that all he wants is to clean up the sport and restore cycling’s tarnished reputation. There’s a problem with his mission, though. In “From Lance to Landis” (FLL) he takes square aim at Armstrong; without him, there really would have been no motivation to write. It is true he catches other cyclists (most notably Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton) in his crosshairs, but they are more collateral damage, corollaries to his argument. Curious that he should reserve his effort for American riders.

Investigative journalism got its start in America and the American consciousness is perhaps better prepared to read first-time allegations in a newspaper than citizens of some other countries. However, real investigative journalism demands more of its practitioners than simply exposing one man’s secrets. Large segments of interviews are condensed in FLL into single paragraphs sporting a single quote at the end, which is to say that at times, the book is short on substance. More direct quotes would have served both author and audience.

Were the book to be compared to other works of investigative journalism, such as what happened at Enron as exemplified by “The Smartest Guys in the Room,” Walsh, in effect, devoted little time to Ken Lay while putting all his resources into chasing Jeff Skilling, even though any complete account should focus on Enron as a whole. Ultimately, Walsh’s pursuit of Armstrong begins to seem personal, and the investigation lacks the fair-handed detachment of the best investigative journalism.

Armstrong has been quoted saying “extraordinary allegations require extraordinary proof.” Fair enough. Because there is no smoking gun, readers will see what they wish to see. Those who want to believe Armstrong is innocent of doping will see mountains of slanderous but circumstantial allegations. Those who think he should be burned at the stake for alleged doping will see what they think is more than enough.

Walsh makes much of the 1994 Fleche-Wallonne where three members of the Gewiss team rode away from the field, leaving every other team to chase. He attempts to use this as a window into Armstrong’s soul, a reason to explain his anger, his motivation to begin using EPO. He even tries to play the compassion card pointing out how understandable it would have been for a rider to wish to be competing on a level playing field. If Armstrong did, in fact, take EPO and if he decided to do so in the wake of the trouncing he got at the ’94 Fleche-Wallonne, then he was no less coerced, no less dragged, than any other cyclist.

Walsh gets a fundamental assumption wrong. His belief that there are draggers and dragged is misguided. He believes that the draggers—those cyclists who go into doping with their eyes wide open and embracing all the doctor has to offer—are the sport’s great scourge and the source of our incredulity and disappointment. There is a division in cycling between cyclists, but the difference lies between those we aren’t surprised to hear doped and those who we are utterly shocked to learn doped.

The surprise we experienced when Bjarne Riis admitted he took EPO was not that Mr. Sixty had doped—there were plenty of rumors—no, our surprise was that he broke the Omerta and came clean. The shock we feel when a rider we believed or at least hoped was clean (say, Iban Mayo) is the real shock. That’s the tarnish on the sport. Most of us can accept that some athletes will try to cheat, but what sours so many on cycling is the revelation that doping became standard practice, ubiquitous, a fog crawling over the whole landscape of cycling itself. The whiteout makes many dizzy, unable to tell up from down, day from night, and for some, right from wrong.

This entry was written out of love and a desire to see some clean, healthy competition in the PRO peloton. A big thank you to Padraig for his great contribution.

Photo Courtesy: USA Today

Tuesday, September 4, 2007