Monday, March 31, 2008

Giro d'Italia 1953

The fluid Fausto Coppi at his best.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Regardless of Cannondale's new seat at the Pacific table, one aspect is undeniable: the years under the Pegasus umbrella have led to some impressive developments in material technologies. The result is big leaps in the Cannondale product range and a trickle down of technologies to the lower price points.

I have been nothing short of astonished by the functionality and performance of my CAAD8. The most salient is the CAAD8's return on investment. The bike rides so wonderfully that it's hard to believe I paid hundreds, not thousands, of dollars for it. Therein lies the reason I have so much trouble moving on from it. I have no reason to replace it other than it's beginning to look dated and I have a fear (from my years in retail) of riding an oversized Al bike into its golden years. Aluminum has a tendency to throw in the towel when it's had enough and, if you miss its early tell-tale signs, the final curtain can prove to be pretty scary.

Based on my three joyous seasons aboard the CAAD8, buying another Cannondale seems like the obvious choice.

For the 2008 season, I plan to launch my mid-pack domination aboard Cannondale's newest and most advanced machine: the SuperSix. Hailing from Bedford, PA, the SuperSix is Cannondale's first full-carbon offering made in the good 'ol U.S. of A. Like all Cannondales, the pricing is reasonable and, if you look hard enough, there are deals to be found. My SuperSix arrived dressed in summer whites which is 2008's equivalent to 2006's natural (dress) weave. I wasn't given a choice for color, but I'm more than willing to live with the blanc. A company really has to miss the mark for a white product not to equate to PRO.

Although I only have a thousand miles on the new bike, its strengths are beginning to show. A walk around the SuperSix reveals some cool features:

BB30 specification - Negated by the use of Cannondale's threaded insert and the SRAM Red crankset, this is BKW's first brush with the future of BBs. Maybe it was a mistake not to use the SI crankset from Cannondale, but hey, the Red cranks look so damn nice and means I don't have to pop for the SIs.

1.5" head tube tapering to 1.125" - This modification seems to be all the rage in the carbon bike world, and it's intended to stiffen up the front end, especially under hard corning. A cool feature for feature's sake, but I don't recall the 1.125" head tube of the CAAD8 being overly flexy.

Super skinny seat stays a la Cervelo R3 - When paired with carbon, this has already proven to be a comfy addition. Again, the CAAD8 was extremely comfortable for an oversized Al bike, but the addition of carbon has helped to soak up the high frequency road buzz and low frequency bigger hits giving the Six a distinctively carbon bike feel, not a wooden feel like some, but rather the "magic carpet" feel that only high-quality carbon bikes can deliver.

Wickedly oversized down tube - The thick down tube, which when compared to the CAAD8, illustrates the control bike designers have over the cycling public's aesthetic tastes. When comparing the SuperSix to the current crop of carbon bikes, the downtube size is par for the course and does not seem the least bit out of place. Set the bike next to an elegant steel machine and the difference presents itself like ZaZa Gabor during a traffic stop.

With all of the surface area on the down tube, Cannondale's lawyers felt it was an ideal place to throw down the disclaimers, striking with a fury equal to the legalese of a McDonald's coffee cup. Taking their cues from loopholes of the mattress industry, the decal rests deep under the clear coat, assuring it is never removed, even by owner.

Since we're going to mix it up a bit with a full carbon rig, why not throw in a few other tweaks, like the SRAM Red group. The Red group began its season aboard the CAAD8 and with 1,000 miles of CA roads, roller time, and full-on crappy weather abuse, it has proven to be an amazing follow up effort from the gang at SRAM. I am especially fond of the lever reach adjustment, a feature Shimano and Campagnolo have ignored. With the adjustment dial tweaked, the levers are positioned optimally for use with the Newton Shallow Drops. Returning to a Campy hood may prove to be a challenge.

Greg will rest easier knowing that BKW has approved the purchase of a saddle with a touch of white and, although not entirely white, it will compliment the mandatory rule of summer tape. Thanks Greg!

In the hoop department, my loyalties stay with Mavic and, for 2008, I couldn't say no to the Ksyrium SL Premiums. I've been waiting with baited breath for Mavic to make a return to the all-black of 2000. It took all of my will to leave Interbike last year without the display wheels under my jacket. For the warmer months, the Cosmic Carbone PROs make their third appearance, this time sans MP3 program. Cross your fingers that the carbon wheel Karma is strong this season.

The SuperSix appears to be a refined CAAD8, incorporating the good and improving on the few weak areas. The Red group was love at first assembly and I trust it will only get better from here. Stay tuned for some further thoughts as the season goes on and the mileage goes up.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Amateur v. PRO: Part 2—PRO

To recap: athlete gets support: supporting government gets international prestige. That would constitute quid pro quo, which makes what the athlete does a job. We might at this point dispense with the notion of an “amateur” athletics at the Olympic level.

Art vs. Commercialism?

There is a burgeoning practice in Hollywood of placing products in movies and television. It started simply enough: Recall the Klein (then Cannondale, then Klein again) hanging in Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment? Both companies sold oodles of bikes thanks to the cache that came with the Seinfeld association. Today, though, the practice has become an organized sales pitch where script writers are being courted to make particular products are part of the story arc. Done gracefully, a product placement can slip into a storyline as seamlessly as Steve McQueen’s Mustang in Bullitt. Done poorly, it has the ability to distract the storyline, making the final product a clumsy, long and heavy-handed advertisement. Seeing the cast members of American Idol sing the praises of Ford just doesn’t seem quite so cool. Actually, to most people, it seems utterly lame.

It’s not hard to guess why we want our entertainment to be free of commercial interests. If anything, the reduction of our free-time interests to the classification “entertainment” is part of the problem. Entertainment implies a kind of throw-away or optional quality. However, it’s anything but.

Whether your spend your evenings reading books, watching movies or sports on television, or listening to music, each of these diversions has the power to brighten our lives. Done well, they can show us the power of the human spirit and encourage us to risk achieving more ourselves.

And there’s the rub: The most powerful stories usually come from the greatest practitioners of the discipline, not the upstarts. Sure, there are exceptions, but the performances that inspire our lives share a common commitment. Martin Scorcese, The Beatles, William Shakespeare, Claude Monet and Eddy Merckx committed their lives to their professions. Each epitomizes what it means to be PRO. There’s no way to reconcile the Olympic ideal with an amateur status. What cycling needs now is no different from what it has needed all along: We want great champions of integrity. We want riders who race clean so that when we see a win, it confirms our belief in the value of honesty and hard work.

Amateur v. PRO: Part 1—Amateur

The promise of amateur athletics is a utopian ideal where physical achievement and the triumph of the human spirit remain impervious to the contamination of capitalism. This idealism grown in a world where basic needs aren’t in doubt, a Star Trek society where you do what you’re good at and are adequately rewarded with a happy off-duty life.

If only it were so.

So why do we have this fantasy of sports uncorrupted by capitalism? Because it creates the impression, if not outright illusion of athletics pursued for the sake of excellence alone—the real Olympic ideal. There are those of us who mistrust the introduction of money into any endeavor. After all, money is the source of greed and greed is among the most cancerous of human frailties because it has the ability to hurt the community.

There is, however, nothing wrong with the desire to see athletics freed of cash’s ability to short-circuit our sense of ethics and fair play. But let’s ask the question: Independent of our desires for the Olympics to be wrested from the grip of professional sportsmen, what do we believe will be gained by having amateur athletes contest the Olympics? There are many possible answers, but one is most likely.

The simple truth is that we want to see sports pursued for the simple pleasure of honest, but profoundly skilled competition. We want to see sports played to the height of their given excellence. And we want that to happen in a setting in which the drive for achievement is nothing more than the love of the game.

Unfortunately, different people have different drives. Sure, there are examples of athletes, musicians and artists who were driven by their dedication to their craft and often their commercial achievement suffered because they were so inattentive to the realities of the marketplace. However, some people excel because they see athletics or art as a means to an end. Achieving in one arena provides the fuel to acquire the good life, much like a career in acting can lead to success in politics.

While we can expect that most athletes aspiring to the Olympics have the same goal, it is unreasonable to believe that we can persuade all athletes to be motivated by the same ideals. The corrupting element of riches can be eliminated from amateur sports before an athlete competes in the Olympics, but one cannot stop the rush of money that comes with winning Olympic gold. And because Olympic gold is a guarantee of short-term success and a good insurance plan on long-term success, no one should ever believe that an athlete who wins gold will willingly continue a lifestyle marked by deprivation.

We may doubt the achievements of professional athletes who have the resources necessary to employ a medical team that can not only guide a doping program, but has the requisite sophistication to avoid detection. And for some reason, this has fostered a belief that stripping a sport of financial reward will eliminate the threat of a sport degraded by doping. ‘If you get rid of the money, you’ll get rid of the drugs,’ seems to be the thinking. But will a return to the days of amateur status, i.e. financial deprivation, really bring about the change we seek?

In short, no. Athletes seeking that short cut to glory and riches will do what’s necessary to get results. It would likely eliminate the systematic drug programs of the ‘90s, but such a change will not ensure a clean sport.

We must also ask the question: What does it mean to be an amateur and how does that relate to the Olympic ideal? The Olympics are meant to be mankind’s greatest expression of athletic excellence, epitomizing what the human body can accomplish with proper training. Broadly defined, an amateur is anyone who engages in a sport on an unpaid basis. Put simply, no one makes it to the Olympics while holding down a full-time job that pays the bills.

If we look at the modern Olympic movement, the participation of “amateur” athletes is characterized in most countries by a national athletic federation supporting the athletes in dormitories or apartments and covering their basic financial needs. In absolute terms, these athletes live at a subsistence level, though former Iron Curtain athletes were said to live far better than the average citizen.

This seems to be a reasonable arrangement. No one would contest the understanding that the training necessary to win an Olympic gold medal can not be done while holding down a full-time job. Ask any cyclist who has ever raced if they could have been faster had they not worked.

These national federations receive substantial value by supporting aspiring Olympians; by providing them “room and board” they increase the likelihood that one of the athletes will bring their country the prestige that comes with a gold medal. Which is why governments fund these national federations. While not as distasteful as a political manifesto, touting a country’s Olympic accomplishments is still propaganda.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008

Andy Hampsten's Land Shark

One of the most interesting bikes at the Handmade Bicycle Show lacked the high-polished freshness of many of the bikes that had been assembled in the 72 hours prior to display. John Slawta of Land Shark presented the bike he built in 1988 for Andy Hampsten, the bike he would go on to win the Giro d'Italia aboard.

The bike featured crisp lug work and fastback seatstays.

In one corner of Slawta's booth he displayed the original promotional poster put out by Cinelli celebrating that great day on the Gavia. However, the most curious aspect of the display was in the lower right corner of the frame.

Slawta displayed a postcard signed by Andy and members of the 7-Eleven team.

Slawta's hand-scrawled notes regarding Andy's requested frame measurements. The bike was built around 56.5cm top and seat tubes a 74-degree seat-tube angle, 73.5-degree head tube angle and only 35mm of fork rake, resulting in a whopping 6.42cm of trail, which is roughly a full centimeter more than is used in most racing bikes made today. With so much trail, the bike steered deliberately and remained calm at high speed, just like our hero did on those crazy descents in the Dolomites.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Twenty Years On

It is simply amazing that twenty years have passed since that fateful May when American Andy Hampsten rode into the books with his historic win at the Giro D'Italia.

BKW's love for the "hardman" winning style makes it easy to admire Andy's win, which was secured by his efforts on the snow-covered Gavia pass. Although his ride brought him over the line to second place, his finishing time netted him the leader's jersey and eventually the overall win. Andy's work that day and his ability to suffer has inspired countless cyclists over the years and pushed many of us deeper into the pain cave than we originally thought possible.

When cyclists think about how brutal our sport can be, we think about riders suffering on climbs through inclement weather and against the tallest of odds. Andy Hampsten's career embodies all of this.

Posing as a legitimate cycling news agency, we managed to pin down Andy to discuss his historic feat and what it meant to be a PRO in the late 80s. We also spoke of the release of Rapha's newest, limited edition jersey that marks Andy's accomplishment and takes many of us back to the heyday and, for some, a return to the birth of our passion for cycling.

Speaking with Andy was an honor. I felt like he had as much fun telling the stories as I did hearing them. His recollection of his racing career is impressive and his love for cycling is evident.

BKW: So much of professional cycling comes down to a rider's ability to suffer more than the rest. Have you ever suffered more than you did in the famous shots of you, white with snow and frozen, crossing the Gavia?

AH: Not more than that day. We had 25 kms of descending in snow and sleet, but we were well-prepared, and that allowed me to stay calm. I am glad no one told me how crazy the descent was.

BKW: How was the win received by the team’s sponsors?

AH: 7-Eleven knew it was primarily an Italian race, and people in the U.S. had no idea about it, they were eager for a Tour win. Hoonved understood the magnitude, they had twenty years of sponsorship under their belt. I gave the trophy to the owner and he was beside himself; he carried it around like a baby. Shimano was very excited, it was their first major tour win. I gave them one of my bikes and it is now in Shimano's museum.

BKW: Rapha seems to pull together all of the design elements that surrounded your place in cycling back in 1988. Does the jersey bring back some fond memories of the time?

AH: I don't wear my pink jersey around too much, for one, it's too small. But Rapha has done a great job of capturing the details, right down to the panel on the front. The original jersey had a panel sewn onto the front of it. The soigneurs took a mussette and cut the side of it out and sewed it onto the jersey. For this reason, it made it tough to wash. I ended up wearing the same jersey for the entire tour. As I get older, companies like Rapha make me snobby. I don't want to wear plastic jerseys anymore.

BKW: What keepsakes do you have from your win at the Giro?

AH: I have the shoes, undershirt, and the Oakleys. I also have the bike. That is my most treasured item.

BKW: Did you have any kind of prep on your legs for the Gavia? Any warming qualities, like today's embrocations?

AH: We used a lanolin prep on everything. Mike Neel had the foresight to advise us to use it everywhere. I had it on my back, arms, legs, butt, everywhere except my hands. We had a meeting before the race and knew we would see rain, sleet, and snow. Some riders preferred to mix the lanolin with Cramer's for heat, some preferred the blazing hot, and others a medium. I applied the lanolin with a little bit of warming so thick to my legs that it was 3-D.

It was a pleasure to speak with Andy and it seems that he still gets a kick out of recounting the tales to cycling fans. Andy's take was interesting. He said that following the win, there was, of course, a celebration, but it was right back to work with the team's sights set on the Tour de France. Now, that's PRO.

Photo Courtesy: Rapha

Check out Andy's insider perspective on the 1986 Tour with the La Vie Claire here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Crash

In the moment of the unfolding the brain’s most primitive, most knowing, self registers a change which radiates out as instantly as light, and our stomachs confuse with the drop of an elevator: Something is wrong.

Whether the event is a yard sale of our cycling self strewn with the force of a wet dog shaking itself dry or the seemingly accelerated zoom view of the single fence post growing as we slide toward it, our first real thought is: I can get up, get back in the race. It’s not so bad.

What defines this event as either comedy or tragedy is the very nature of PRO. When a mortal crashes, the race is almost always over. Give up any more than a thimble-full of blood—the proverbial pound of flesh—and witnesses will do whatever is necessary to prevent us getting back on the bicycle. Quitting a race for any injury that can be addressed with Bactine is comic. However, the very nature of PRO, what it means to be PRO is to get back up and get on the bike. For a guy, there is nothing more PRO than dripping blood and being fast at the same time.

For a PRO, there are no choices. When a PRO doesn’t get up it’s because getting up simply isn’t possible. When they pedal away in pain so obvious we turn away from the sight, we know the meaning of tragic.

In the knowledge that we are crashing, the reptilian brain takes over. Glands fire and a hormone simple as sugar and effective as gasoline takes over. Time slows down and we have time to think: I just bought this jacket. I knew he couldn’t hold his line. I’m going to shred my skinsuit. I have a presentation on Monday. I promised to anchor the leadout.

The world stops moving, seconds pass and then reality takes over. I need some help. Oh wow, this means a trip to the hospital. If the crash isn’t too serious, you make the call to your significant other yourself. If someone else calls, well, that’s more stress than they deserve.

Through the process we have but one choice to consider: Do I fill the prescription for painkillers? Gritting it out with Ibehurtin is PRO, and we all want to be PRO. But the simple fact is we each have our price, the point at which we say, Drugs? Yeah, give me the drugs. Now!

The lifestyle of the crash victim is unlike that of the cyclist. We discuss the merits of Tegaderm, how we sit when we drive, which parts we need to replace. The bottom line on the cost.

The first ride back is a contradiction of experience. Riding is both familiar and somehow alien. The legs rarely enjoy the first full revolution of the pedals. And yet being in the saddle, feeling the air pass is a sign that the world is improving and that familiarity is comforting despite being the cause of so much pain. The physical exertion reminds us of that pain and we often cut that first ride short. How often we overestimate our post-crash capability.

We measure our progress in increasing flexibility, pink skin, disappearing scabs. Gradually, rear wheels lose their power to inflict claustrophobia, turns seem less like hidden skating rinks.

There comes a moment in a ride, sometimes weeks or even months after the crash. It may pass unnoticed at the time and is only recognized hours later. In that moment we push; it is a push, a dig, an effort that we do not temper in the knowledge that going hard hurts, hurts at the site of the injury. No, there comes a day when we forget the pain, forget the injury and instead what our body remembers is the former self, the cyclist we have worked so hard to achieve, the person we’re meant to be.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Credit Agricole - Tubular Technique

While wandering the pits in a post-stage 6 haze and as hurried fans rushed to catch a glimpse of their favorite riders, BKW set up camp at the Credit Agricole (CA) service course to catch a complete gem-of-an-experience: watching the mechanics prepare for the final stage of the ATOC.

The last of the day's riders hadn't even rolled in before team mechanic Jerome Picart began work on the team's countless wheels. Below view highlights of the well-rehearsed, finely-honed art of gluing tubulars.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Change of Season

When routine bites hard,
And ambitions are low,
And resentment rides high,
But emotions won't grow,
And we're changing our ways,
Taking different roads.

- Joy Division, Love Will Tear Us Apart

Winter is cruel. At the end of a long season it's a breath of fresh air, giving riders the excuse for days off and justification for a steady diet of robust, red wines, crisp Belgian brews, and thick, homemade stews. But once the novelty of "rich foods and the expanding waistline" weans, the relentless cold, short days begin to take hold and we begin seeking relief from our sedentary routines. Some years the winter delivers a cold, but snowless experience and others bring snow...more snow...and only more snow.

Like so many others, I struggle with the indoor cycling lifestyle: I loathe the basement and the hours necessary to maintain, let alone, build fitness. During the challenging winters, I go running, where the snowy streets and biting temps are no match for the short jaunt. Admittedly, I enjoy the free time resulting from the shortened workout times (hour run vs. a three hour ride) and the magic that running works on my BMI. (Like a smart investor, I am seeking maximum return on a minimal investment.) By the middle of winter my miles and subsequent fitness makes running almost enjoyable. Almost. As I'm jogging, I find myself thinking about riding: what these roads look like without snow, without frigid temps, the sensations a bicycle delivers, the feeling of coasting, and how fluid the drops feel mid-season. I often ask myself Why do I live in such a cold and unforgiving climate? Then I think about the years I did live in a warm climate and how despite comfortable year-round temps there was a season, a time the bike shop business would slow from October to May. Like a bellows to coals, the winter fires me up, I reflect on the fun I had the previous season, I crunch the training numbers and perform the much needed, complete overhaul on my machine. These peripheral activities bring me back in touch with my passion and rekindle my love.

As the seasons begin to turn over and winter turns to spring, I find myself eager to ride my bike, the burnout I felt in September washed away like the salt from the roads and my relationship with the bike patched like the potholes and frost heaves scattered about the roadways. Whether your "off-season" is defined by snow and freezing temps, or gray skies and rain, the "off-season" is the "off-bike" season, a period of healing, recharging the batteries, and reinvigorating the soul.

As my pal JO says, December is the holidays, January comes before February, February is the start of the race season, March is the start of the Classics, and April, well, you know what happens in April. Suddenly, and seemingly without effort, spring arrives and yet another cycling season gets underway.

Friday, March 14, 2008

An Interview With Darrell McCulloch, Part III

In our last installment of our interview with Dazza, we discuss inspiration, his riding and the nature of the custom bike experience.

BKW: From where do your draw inspiration?

DLM: From everywhere, from everyone, from everything around one that passes by, and perhaps something from inside me. I like to think I am a student of the world.

"Model Engineer" magazine is brilliant.

BKW: What about your own work continues to excite you?

DLM: Trying today to better what I did last week. Not just the metal work, but also all the other things that an independent framebuilder likes to do and must do.
I call my work or way I express myself in my work/lifestyle my Ph.D. that will never be completed.

BKW: Where do you think you are going with your frame building and also where do you think frame building will go?

DLM: Better, more refined and a greater recognition as an alternative to the ones that are sick of 900 gram awful riding and looking breaking carbon mass-produced stuff.

BKW: Do you ride and how often?

DLM: Five to six times a week. I don't pull the knicks on unless it is at least two hours pedaling and it must be first thing in the morning or it just does not happen.
No coffee shop stuff. I reckon coffee shop riding is a lame excuse to get on your bike.

I ride, look around and think and sometimes huff and puff when I am motivated to lean on the pedals. I like the hills.

For while I stopped riding for a few years (insert extra workshop toil here) lost the need to ride, that passed and now I have to ride! Sundays is with mates over some climbs for four hours.

BKW: Do you race, tour, MTB or ... other?

DLM: I did a lot of road and track racing for many years, also a few seasons in France; I loved racing on France, lots of seconds and thirds as my gallop was barely detectable by modern scientific instruments. I could scamper up a decent climb as I weighed about 60kgs. Touring, not yet, but I want to cycle tour properly, but I have to build myself a touring bicycle first. Project for next summer. No MTB here, life has been too short.

I love bush walking and camping, walk in and walk out stuff.

BKW: In a few words, can you sum up bespoke hand made frame construction?

DLM: Toil, more toil, lots of toil. More complicated than it was 10 or 20 years ago. Maybe that is why some lifetime builders struggle with the niche market that it is today.

However, it is fun, and rewarding to my soul. I would not have done it any other way.
Bicycles and racing have allowed me to visit and work in 23 countries, work two Olympics as national team mechanic, travel, enjoy good times with many friends around the world. All way more than I could have expected to see and do when I kicked off in Sandgate 1979.

So the toil has a nice payoff. What do I have to complain about? I am happy.

BKW: What do you want your clients to take away when you make them a bicycle?

DLM: A bicycle that gives them many years of enjoyable riding. So with each passing year, their Llewellyn bicycle gives them greater value. Thus they Cherish their Llewellyn. That pleases me.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

An Interview With Darrell McCulloch, Part II

In Part II of our interview with Dazza, we discuss his love of polishing, his wait and how he plans to live a long time.

BKW: Do you work with stainless steel very often?

DLM: Yes.

Every frame I make has some stainless: the dropouts, cable guides and stoppers, chain hanger, front derailleur mount, and the heart detail between the stays. I use stainless here because it has merit. I like frame parts that function well, keeping paint tidy, no corrosion from road salts, or from people who perspire battery acid. Aesthetic is important but durability and function should never be sacrificed, intentionally or through ignorance. I see/hear people chatter on about so and so's dropouts or some other design feature they see on a frame, but 30 years of experience tells one that there will be grief and tears with some designs currently in fashion. There is reason why the long time professional builders have not done the design of a part or a frame that way.

Having said that, then there is my reputation for the bling bikes; but you know, I only do three to four of those elaborate stainless lugged frames each year. They get a lot of attention. Some of those have 250 hours of metal work in them. They hurt in many ways to make. This year I will make only three of those and two slots are already taken and the other one is being finalized. So if a client wants one, they need to sign up/deposit for a 2009 slot now.

BKW: Where are most of your customers located?

DLM: Mostly in Australia.
Most of my export frames go to the USA and these typically feature hand-cut, polished stainless lugs.

BKW: How many bikes do you deliver in the average year?

DLM: I have given up counting. Truly, I have not counted production for five years, but I can say, not as many as I would like to get out the door. Running the show takes more time than it used to when compared to the good old days.

Also, those elaborate stainless lugged frames take up a lot of energy, time. Each one is big black hole for 5 to 6 weeks.

BKW: How long is your waiting list?

DLM: It fluctuates from 6 to 12 months.

BKW: Tell us a bit about the red bike that was at the Handmade Bicycle Show. You said you had 250 hours in it.

DLM: Yes, 250 hours, that is not counting customer discussion time and sending pictures of the build process each night.

I cut a set of Pacenti lugs, crown and BB, in a variation of a theme I have done before, and I was very pleased with the results. I machine the seatstay plugs and hand miter them to the seat lug to fit and look the way I desire. Cut stainless details for aesthetics and many other extras. But I would like to stress, that bike frame is made to be ridden and be used, it is not fragile or for the mantle piece. No compromise is made on the ride and longevity of the bike because it has shiny bits.
Typical frame, fork and stem like that one is $9,500 AUD ($8,500 USD) or more depending on what the customer desires.

Compared to my normal build style road frame, fork, stem which still has stainless fittings, polished dropouts and other details for $3,800 AUD ($3,350 USD)

BKW: Do you paint your frames?

DLM: No, never, never want to, I am too young to die!

My old training partner from the early 80's, Joe Cosgrove, paints my work, he does a splendid job. He was very chuffed recently to receive high praise from Joe Bell and other paint legends while at NAHBS 2008.

I also think painting is so specialized, it is a full time Ph.D. that will never be finished. I think that builders compromise their painting if they apply themselves to the metal work and design of their bikes properly, or painters compromise their painting Ph.D. if they put time into metal work. Some do reasonable work in both skills, but they are limited or perhaps have to keep to a narrower pathway, and some are not always progressive or attuned to the changes and progress of today's market for hand made frames.

BKW: You seem pretty proud of your lug designs and other casting projects, are there delights on the drawing board?

DLM: If the handmade bespoke/custom bicycle scene is to stay healthy and vibrant, we builders cannot go on producing frames that are just repros of circa 1985 with the additions of some extra windows in the lugs with leather handle bar tape and pastel coloured paint jobs. These have their place and is super cool, but the demographics of these clients is dwindling each year.

The new generation of clients/enthusiasts are the new buyers. All they have seen is carbon this and carbon that but they can be shown the merits of both the traditional build methods and styles, fused with contemporary designs and styles. A better bicycle is the result. The best of the past with the best of today. We build better bicycles today than 30 years ago.

This desire prompted me to invest a lot of time and resources in designing and producing lugs and dropouts to strengthen what I do. I have to admit, it is a lot of toil, thrown on top of workshop production, added with the hiccups along the way. I have as much pride in these casting projects as the attention my stainless lugged frames receive.

As for new projects on the drawing board, the answer is yes and no for the time being. No, but yes, when time allows.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

An Interview With Darrell McCulloch, Part I

BKW's recent trip Portland, Oregon, for the North American Handmade Bicycle Show was our first opportunity to see the work of a builder we had heard of for some time. We'd been hearing about Llewellyn Custom Biycles for years from folks who know great work and when confronted with his work, well, we were blown away. BKW's editors do not suffer this much lust easily.

Darrell Llewellyn McCulloch, "Dazza" to his friends, is one of a rare breed of framebuilder whose work inspires such an instant sense of awe that your first thought is, "Gosh, I'd love to have this frame." We talked with him at the show and made plans for an e-mail interview to follow.

BKW: Where are you located? Are you a native?

DLM: I was born in the city of Brisbane Australia, 1963. I live and work in my home located on the outskirts of Brisbane, where I can still ride away from the traffic and can still go for walks in the state forests across the road.

BKW: How long have you been building?

DLM: I have been associated with handmade frames and bike racing since 1979. I started building the "Llewellyn" marque in 1989 (Llewellyn is my middle name).

BKW: How did you learn your craft—were you self-taught or did you apprentice under someone?

DLM: I was a bit lost at school, looking for something to do with my hands. Was it going to be art, wood work, aviation, or...? Then, after reading a magazine article on frame building in a 1978 copy of Bicycling magazine, I fell in love with the notion of making bicycle frames. That article is responsible for sending me down the path of this tragic lifestyle. (Giggle.)

BKW: If you apprenticed under someone, can you tell us a bit about the builder?

DLM: I started work at Hoffy Cycles in Sandgate in 1979. The owner was Eric Hendren; he worked his whole life in that shop from age 13 till he retired 53 years later. I learned to fix coaster hubs, Sturmey-Archer 3-speeds, wheel building, frame repairs and some new frame work. Eric built frames with a vice, power drill, three files, and a surface plate. He was a good boss to me, but after 6 years I got restless and bored and wanted to move on.

An opportunity came to work for Brett Richardson (Berretto frames). This allowed me to get my hands into full time frame building (circa 1986), but the shop went through some partnership troubles so I ended up leaving and working in a bigger retail bike shop. A couple of years there and I was prompted to start Llewellyn Custom Bicycles as a part-time affair. The time was right.

Llewellyn was a part time affair while I raced in France and worked the summers in the shop. Then I worked full time with the Australian Institute of Sport—head road mechanic for two years—then I went part time with the teams and only did the Euro season from May to October. Based in Germany and then Italy, I did not see a Brisbane winter for 8 years.

The rest of my education is self discovery from inside my cave, absorbing as much as I can cope with.

BKW: Do you work in materials other than steel?

DLM: Oh yes, but only with splendidly fine materials; like a couple of glasses of good red wine with my fiancée.

BKW: In addition to working with lugs, do you fillet braze or TIG weld?

DLM: I used to do lugless fillet brazing with oversize shaped tubes, but it drove me nuts. The in built stresses from shaped (squashed) tubes annoyed me. So I created my own compact angled lugs for round oversize tubes and banished shaped main tubes from my life for ever. (Until recently, these were known as the Slant 6, and Mini 6 lug sets, now known as OS Compact and XL Compact.) The lugs are much better for the purity of the build processes, so this pleases me. I don't do funk or what this year's brochure has to have.

I want a good fit, accuracy of the build and no stresses in the frame. And it has to look pleasing while lasting a couple of decades.
No TIG here.

BKW: If you do work other than lugs, are lugs your preferred form of expression?

DLM: My chant is, "It's steel, it's lugs, let the others get on with the madness"

BKW: What is your preferred tubing these days?

DLM: I use lot of Columbus "Spirit for Lugs" tube sets. Good to work with, well made with sensible butt lengths. If I need special tubes for some frame designs or for bikes that have different tube requirements I will use a mix of suitable tubes from Dedacciai or True Temper.

BKW: What lugs do you like to work with?

DLM: My Llewellyn designed and produced lugs, like the standard oversize compact lugs (was Mini 6, now OS Compact ), and the extra large compact angled lug set (was Slant 6, now XL Compact), my socket stainless dropouts and lugged handlebar stems.
I created the stem and compact (sloping top tube lugs) lug sets to meet my needs, as there was nothing out there in the market and they blend traditional lugged frame construction with the merits of contemporary designs. I cannot understand builders who make a attractive lugged bike and plonk a CNC machined alloy handle bar stem on it. Makes me puke. I provide the lugs for other builders to use, and it was pleasing to meet these builders at Don (Walker)'s show (NAHBS) and see their good work with them.

For horizontal top tube frames I use Kirk Pacenti's artisan lugs for elaborate designs and I use Richard Sachs's lugs. Both are good mates and are life time tragics with bikes.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Beijing or Bust

The tug of war for control over professional cycling being played out has finally taken a turn may leave a lasting, if not permanent, scar on the sport. Cyclists preparing to race Paris-Nice are being forced to choose a side in a battle that shouldn’t be taking place. Their choices: Their employers or themselves.

It’s no choice, to be sure. The battle has been cast as two Goliaths battling for destiny of David, but it’s anything but that. The latest escalation of hostilities between ASO and the UCI purports to make the riders choose between racing spring’s most important stage race and Olympic and World Championship aspirations. If they choose to race Paris-Nice, then they’ll be able to race the Tour de France, while risking fines, hopes for an Olympic berth and even their license to race professionally. If they avoid the event to curry favor with the UCI, then they’ll endure the wrath of the Tour de France organizer, which means, “No soup for you; come back one year.”

Based on ASO’s treatment of Astana this year, we can be certain Christian Prudhomme isn’t bluffing. But what about the UCI? Frankly, Pat McQuaid’s latest threat to sanction the French Cycling Federation (FFC) should Paris-Nice take place as a French event smacks of desperation—“Walk out of that door and I’ll never speak to you again!” Threatening to suspend all French cyclists is as rational as buying a home that has tripled in value in two years. Hmm.

But back to that choice. Who really decides who races Paris-Nice? Is it the riders? Only marginally. Is it the team directors? Almost. Could it be the sponsors? Bingo. Ultimately, anything a cycling team does is up to the title sponsor. No matter who the team director or license owner is, sponsors get a line-item veto. If the sponsor wants the TV time that comes with racing Paris-Nice, guess what?

To be fair, media reports note that many team directors have held a dialog with their riders regarding their wishes and a few riders scheduled to race P-N, such as High Road’s Bradley Wiggins, have been permitted to change their personal schedules in order to avoid the conflict. Marc Madiot, team director for la Francaise des Jeux doesn’t want to risk having his strongest rider, Phillippe Gilbert, suspended, so he is sending him elsewhere for the week.

So what if a rider should tell a less-than-sympathetic team director that they’d like to stay out of the fray? Not showing up for P-N would likely be professional suicide. The rider keeps his license but has no job. That’s the real choice—What is more important to the rider, his right arm or left?

Let’s not forget that ASO has a dog in this fight. The organization has been taking steps—some of which are opposed by the UCI—to prevent itself from further embarrassment brought on by doping scandals. It has a lot to be concerned about. How bad is the crisis in its view? A quick review of the list of Paris-Nice victors is a who’s who of the scandal itself: Alberto Contador, Floyd Landis, Bobby Julich, Jorg Jaksche, Alexandre Vinokourov (twice), Dario Frigo, Andreas Kloden, Michael Boogerd, Frank Vandenbroucke, Laurent Jalabert (thrice), Tony Rominger (twice), Alex Zulle, Jean-Francois Bernard and Miguel Indurain (twice). That takes us back to 1989 and the start of the EPO era. Convictions aside, if you simply look at all the allegations of drug use in the peloton, only one of those names has been conspicuously clear of the rumor mill: Bobby Julich. That Paris-Nice’s winners are a virtual inventory of drug users (as are all races from that period) is why ASO is so upset and wants such complete control over who competes in its events.

The true nature of the conflict between ASO and the UCI is best left for another piece. However, the severity of the conflict, surprisingly, has the ability to overshadow the humiliation the sport has suffered due to clockwork emergence of fresh drug scandals. Should 16 teams start Paris-Nice, the UCI’s threats could derail the licenses of not just 160 of the world’s finest cyclists, but every French cyclist, including Julien Absalon, and every rider of every team as McQuaid threatened team’s licenses as well, meaning that Slipstream’s Taylor Phinney, a near-shoe-in for the Olympics, could conceivably be sidelined as well. Added up, the UCI is threatening to suspend more than 1000 cyclists if 20 teams show up to Paris-Nice.

Such an action may seem inconceivable (in any rational world, it would be), but crazy knows no bounds; it is the mind unfettered by the by the guidance of the creative urge that keeps so many artists and writers part of productive society. It may seem unreasonable to us that the UCI would threaten so many over what seems so minor—racers racing an event that’s been going on since 1933—but if the UCI backs down, its authority will have been effectively broken.

A quick shake of the Magic 8-Ball says: “Things will get worse.” The UCI isn’t going to back down. Slipstream and many other teams will race the Tour. And while we will see many races come down to the line, none will have an outcome as monumental as whether or not the UCI prevents athletes from racing in the Olympics. Should such a turn take place, the UCI will have succeeded in making cycling more ridiculous than drugs ever could.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Ninety-nine percent of racing is just not being sick.
—Andy Hampsten

Often your first clue is a swallow. You take a sip of a drink and as the muscle contractions cascade down your throat, you feel a change, that something’s not quite right. Asked to put your finger on it and explain the sense, it can be hard to describe; something’s just wrong. An hour goes by and your soft palette grows sore. Then it’s your body’s turn; muscles that may have been flooded with lactic acid in the morning are, just hours later, aching and unwilling to move. You have the flu.

Cyclists are particularly sensitive to the charms of the virus. When we’re in shape, our lack of body fat makes us an easy target. Fat is our body’s savings account and viruses can overdraw our system faster than identity theft. And that is exactly what it feels like. What is happening to me? Why do I feel this way? What happened to my form? Why can’t I ride hard? Who is this sick person? Not me.

And because we cyclists are usually so in touch with our bodies, so aware of each sensation and each change, an illness is a large-scale change. As we cycle between the sweats and the chills we are reminded what it is to be fragile, rather than the specimen of hard-fought athletic efficiency we know ourselves as.

The trappings of the illness—tissues, blankets, soup, cough medicine, Ibuprofen, an endless parade of DVDs and ancient sweatshirts—are Laurel and Hardy comical, but the simple truth of having the flu is that we feel so wretched that we would eat spackle on moldy bread if it came packaged with the promise of instant recovery. Anything that can ease our suffering is welcomed, and that is the surest sign that something is amiss: When does a cyclist go out of his way to avoid suffering?

Whether you’re a good patient or not, many of us feel utterly alien in our own bodies as the illness moves through it’s progression. There’s the bad attitude, sometimes accompanied by some whining, the TV programs you wouldn’t be caught dead watching with your mate, and the eternal twilight caused by sleeping in two-hour shifts.

One morning you wake and even before you put foot to floor, you know. The flu has passed. You have returned to yourself. The real moment of glory comes in that first post-flu ride. The smells can be alternately fresh and mechanical. The sounds are varied as the horns and buzzes of a Spike Jones routine. You can see for miles and all the colors are Kodachrome. Whether you feel fit or not, there is no surer sign that all is right with the world than when you are back on your bike.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Review: Record Pregara Forte

Spring—or something that will soon seem more like it—is coming to New Belgium and parts south. I decided I wanted to try a new embrocation with some more heat than anything I had in the cupboard. I wanted something with the rolling glow of a fresh sunburn, so I sought out another Record product, this time the Pregara Forte.

Because I didn’t know just how capable it was, on my first use I tried it on a ride that left a little later in the day and wasn’t quite so cold at the start. I needn’t have feared. The cold win passed my legs unnoticed and my legs had the zip of warmed-up muscles, which is, after all, what you want from a proper Belgian Knee Warmer.

Here’s what I wasn’t expecting: I assumed the heat would last through the four hours of the ride, and that it would be hard to wash off when the ride was over. In my case, these two details make it one of my favorite embrocations ever.

I live in a climate where cold morning temperatures don’t usually hold. It’s rare that I don’t finish a three or four hour ride with the temperature having risen at least 10 degrees. So while this stuff can’t compete with Qoleum Hot’s never ending nuclear reactor heat, Record Pregara Forte is far more usable in the conditions where I live. The heat in the Pregara Forte actually gives out after an hour or two, depending on how much you use. For me, that’s enough to get through the coldest part of the ride, and the glaze provided by the cream helps to insulate for the rest of the ride. You could almost say it’s a smart embrocation.

The second great revelation of Pregara Forte was how easy it is to wash off. Rather than feeling like I had shellacked myself, when I got in the shower it washed off immediately with ordinary soap. The unlikeliness of the experience led me to wash my legs a second time—an effort that proved to be as unnecessary as remembering to breathe. For anyone needing waterproof insulation, a layer of Record Impermeabile can be added to make your legs as waterproof as a Timex watch.

Pregara Forte, like other Record products is available in either 100ml tubes or 250ml tubs. This stuff will remain in my bag of tricks ad infinitum. It is distributed by Torelli Imports and you can find a dealer near you here.

Overall Heat Rating—medium
Euro Style Rating—Fairly high, a nice sheen
Smell—Pure old-school style: menthol, camphor, and a hint of rosemary and lavender
Durability—Perfect: though the heat trails off, it continues to insulate for the duration of your ride

Check out BKW's other embrocation reviews here.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Raw Deal

I read Paul Kimmage’s Rough Ride in the spring of 1991. Why? I’m not sure to this day. I didn’t believe there was a drug problem in professional cycling and am not by nature a suspicious sort. Yet, for some reason, I decided to pick it up.

The picture Kimmage painted was so alien to what I thought I knew of professional cycling as to be practically science fiction. His was a dystopian world where the dreams of hard working innocents are dashed in a daily regimen. Worse than the tribulations mortals suffered at the hands of the gods in Greek Mythology, to race a Grand Tour among the PROs was clearly preferable to having your liver pecked out by an eagle on a nightly basis. Especially if you raced clean.

I hadn’t thought much of the book for some seventeen years. Then one day in a blaze of discretionary spending, I went nuts on Amazon and picked up a half dozen volumes without which my life seemed incomplete.

As I read the revised introduction I began to see all that I had missed in my first reading. In 1991, I knew the players, but not in the way I do now. The intervening years have given me time to read more about each of the protagonists and to become familiar with others whose names were little more than a footnote to me then. A line from the James Tate poem “The Lost Pilot” came to me as I read: He was more wronged than Job.

The stunner in this isn’t how Kimmage suffered as a pro trying to race clean. No, he was really just incidental damage in a system gone awry. There was nothing particularly malicious in his treatment as he got chewed up racing on bread and water. No, the outrage is how he was treated for, as the French call it, craché dans la soupe—spitting in the soup.

Rider after rider disputed the truth he told, and his hero and team leader Stephen Roche betrayed him and insulted him in a way that might make Roger Clemens smile. And while what was done to Kimmage was unfair and tragic, his personal tragedy was nothing compared to what the sport itself suffered as a result of hanging him out to dry.

Shakespeare himself would appreciate the cruel turn of events that occurred in 1990. As Kimmage was working on Rough Ride, the peloton was familiarizing itself with EPO. And by familiarizing itself, I mean the first Dutch cyclists were having heart attacks in their sleep.

Kimmage showed how the lack of testing allowed the cancer of doping to grow unchecked from the beginning of cycling through to the 1980s. The late 1980s ushered in a new age thanks to few tests, lax testing protocols, a culture that actively encouraged doping as a coping mechanism and three Italian doctors who saw EPO as something of a real-time eugenics program—a way to help the athlete to reach his full potential. It’s fair to wonder if Greg LeMond’s 1990 win at the Tour de France was the last clean win at the Tour.

In reading about Kimmage’s relationship with Irish journalist David Walsh—yes, that David Walsh—a different portrait of Walsh appears. Rather than the single-minded writer known for pursuing any rumor about Lance Armstrong, one sees a knowledgeable sports journalist mentoring a cyclist disillusioned with his sport because of his inability to get on board with doping. One can see how Walsh might have adopted Kimmage’s disillusionment as his own and how he may have grown outraged at those who victimized Kimmage for speaking the truth.

The cautionary tale here isn’t that in pro cycling you will face drug use. No, the cautionary tale is that by ignoring the doping problem when it was relatively simple and unsophisticated, the UCI missed the opportunity to get on top of the problem before it entered the realm of systematic practice. No longer was it the game of the farm boys.

Once doping became the province of doctors who introduced the athletes to the new drugs and team managers who instructed the doctors who peaked when, pro cyclists lost their dream. Kimmage’s story is not uncommon; on the contrary, his is the story of most cyclists of the modern era. It is the destruction of one cyclist's dignity after another.