Friday, May 30, 2008

Justice, ASO Style

Each day Alberto Contador wears the pink jersey at the Giro d’Italia he proves his mettle as a Grand Tour rider. Contador is putting on an impressive display of talent and determination (Andreas Kloden’s disappointment at being unseated as the team’s leader notwithstanding) after arriving at the Giro in something other than peak form. It’s a rare rider who can ride into better shape as a grand tour progresses.

To say Contador will arrive in Milan to take his second Grant Tour would be putting the pack before the breakaway, but his chances do look good. Contador’s transfer to Astana to follow Johan Bruyneel raised eyebrows or didn’t, depending on your outlook on the refugee of Operacion Puerto. Bruyneel retained the services of Rasmus Damsgaard and since doing so there hasn’t been a single whisper about the team’s, uh, cleanliness. No accusations, no positive tests, no non-starters, just a string of wins in every stage race they have entered this season save the Tour de Georgia.

The message Astana has been sending is that by being not just competitive, but consistently the most competitive team in stage races during the 2008 season (as evidenced by their victories thus far), they deserve to race the Tour de France.

Someone might want to phone Johan Bruyneel.

The Amaury Sport Organization’s problem with Astana seems to be as much about Bruyneel as it does the previous management of Astana. While Mssrs. Prudhomme and company haven’t said as much, their concern about Lance Armstrong—and by extension his methods and his team—hasn’t abated. If anything, Contador’s win last year was all the confirmation they needed that Bruyneel’s team must be up to something other than fair play.

Their ongoing suspicion of Astana—whether warranted or not—makes a tragic statement about ASO’s regard for team-retained longitudinal testing programs. It’s unlikely they know something about the possible fallibility of these programs that the rest of the world doesn’t, so if they are, in fact, suspicious of the programs themselves then we are entering a new era marked more by cynicism than proactive science.

Trust is a human contract that the PRO peloton has killed more convincingly than Nietzsche’s announcement that God is dead. ASO wants its race to be won by a rider utterly beyond suspicion, though how that can be accomplished is a matter that could be debated until the start of the ’09 Tour. One thing is certain: They don’t trust anyone riding in azure and yellow.

It’s clear that Astana’s riders and management believe that by demonstrating the team’s competitive worthiness that they will have earned the right to race the Tour de France. Leipheimer has illustrated the team’s naivete by saying, “We deserve to be in the Tour de France.” For those who aren’t clear on the concept (Leipheimer included), the Tour de France is a private company and rather like a restaurant, they have elected to retain the right to choose whom they will serve. Think of it as a ‘no shoes, no shirt' clause for the doping set.

Should Alberto Contador arrive in Milan the color of a flamingo, many people will believe that Astana's performances justify an invitation for the Tour. To ASO, the exact opposite will be true: Without having more thoroughly cleared up suspicions and concerns before winning yet another grand tour, ASO will believe its actions to be completely just. Moreover, winning the Giro despite the team’s lack of preparation will be proof positive to the Tour de France that Astana must be doing something shady.

Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Good Life, Naturally

Suppose you owned and ran a massively successful and beloved sports-nutrition company. You live in Napa Valley where you can run and ride horses and bicycles through heaven itself in your free time. What else could you want?

That’s the funny thing about entrepreneurial sorts. For most of us, we know Clif Bar’s Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford as the people responsible for creating an energy bar that tastes like real food and for growing the company so that we can find their products as readily as Moon Pies when we’re in a 7-Eleven.

To be sure it took them both—Gary the visionary/mad scientist of the kitchen and Kit whose natural sales ability could disarm and cheer Dick Cheney. The potent combination they present is a recipe for success in any endeavor.

Those familiar with Clif’s long list of products are probably also aware of the number of organic and natural ingredients used in those products. Gary and Kit are clearly pleased to think that every time someone eats a Clif product it is a victory for sustainable farming practices and natural foods.

At their farm in Napa they raise horses, goats, turkeys and chickens in addition to a garden and grape vines they planted. To say Gary and Kit live close to the land is something of an understatement; they embody the Slow Food Movement in a way that most of us can only dream about.

To hear them tell the story, it sounds like a love for organic food and new business ventures are occupational hazards for the pair. Living in Napa has resulted in many friendships with people in the wine business. And because the wine business attracts successful entrepreneurs the way starlets attract paparazzi, the pair wondered what they might be able to bring to the table. For them, the real attraction was in the intersection point between good wine and sustainable farming. The challenge was on.

An introduction to winemaker Sarah Gott was the final ingredient needed for the new venture—Clif Bar Family Winery. Gott is known for her work with Joseph Phelps and the winery she started with her husband, Joel Gott Wines. For some years she has pursued making wines from grapes from organic or at least sustainably farmed vineyards.

Before meeting Gary and Kit for lunch, I’ll admit I struggled to get my head around the idea that the people responsible for go fast foods could also be the force behind a new winery. But they are charming, dedicated and passionate; even a short conversation reveals that. Listening to Kit talk about preparing dinner from ingredients in her garden made me feel I was missing out on one of life’s great pleasures.

She believes their drive to deal with farms that engage in sustainable techniques even if they aren’t certified organic can help those farms bridge that gap by encouraging them to complete the transition. Kit says that certified organic is less important than employing sustainable practices.

Gary spoke of how his love of wine grew as a result of cycling tours he did in Europe. After finishing a long day’s ride he would enjoy a leisurely dinner with a bottle of wine.

Clif Bar Family Winery has released four wines. As we tasted them over lunch Kit and Gary stressed that they weren’t interested in releasing another $100 bottle of Cab, but rather wines that represented a good value to be enjoyed by people who appreciate the experience of a good meal.

There are two wines titled The Climber, a red and a white. The white is a blend, mostly Sauvingnon Blanc with some Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Muscat that retails for $12.50. Its citrus and grapefruit flavors and crisp finish make it the perfect antidote to a hot afternoon. Think of it as lemonade for grownups. The Climber red is a wild blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Merlot. At $15 you’ll swear someone is getting gipped. It’s got the spice and bright fruit to stand up to any rich meal.

In lesser production are Gary’s Improv and kit’s killer cab. Gary’s Improv is mostly Zin with just a dash of Petite Sirah; it would be fun with hard cheeses, pizza or spicy sausage, but it’s best application may be at a dinner party when you want to make your guests say, “Wow!” And for those who want a great Cabernet to go with a NY Strip but don’t want the wine to cost 10 times what the meal cost, kit’s killer cab has the luxurious fruit and structure of a great Cab without having so much tannin that it will need to be laid down until electric cars are in common use. Gary’s Improv is $32 while kit’s killer cab goes for $35. It would be easy to pay twice as much for a lesser wine.

Kit and Gary have stories as rich and varied as Paul Newman’s and their drive to do good with their company while enriching the lives of their customers and living an enjoyable life is tragically rare. Given they run an impressive business, live a great life and seem to be having a positive impact on the planet, I wonder what sort of dreams you have when you can sleep that well.

Clif Bar Family Winery

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


The most predictable emotion a cyclist possesses is one rooted in the rider’s work ethic. Born of respect, both for self and for the dedication that the training requires, it is a full-body yes. At its root are qualities every cyclist wishes to exhibit: bravery and valiance, the desire to turn advantageous every circumstance, to find usefulness in oneself and ultimately, an ingredient we expect to find in all champions—a high self-opinion.

It can lead to mistakes inconsequential as the unprotected front wheel and as colossal as the past-threshold pull at the front. It can also result in silly displays such as the rider who feigns the easy ride on the hill because he’s too hammered to sustain the lead pace. Surely the most forgivable failing of pride is the work ethic that leads to the successful breakaway but not the win. Despite being beaten at the line by the lesser rider, there is victory in showing the peloton that they couldn’t catch the breakaway. So what if you’re beaten by one rider, there was success enough in out-riding the entire peloton. After all, what is the alternative, do less than your best? And should you not ride with all that you have, how can you call yourself a racer? At some level, tactics aside, as a racer you are meant to ride with all that you have. Sure, races are won with smarts as much as brawn, but no amount of tactical savvy can overcome the indictment that comes with knowing you didn’t ride with all your might.

With it comes confidence and with confidence comes drama. The rider who can be intimidated has none, but the rider who has done the training, knows his ability and is ready for the challenge will attack in places both expected and unexpected.

Think of the unlikely moves that have come from riders whose confidence was informed by their fitness and pride. When Sean Kelly attacked descending the Poggio at the 1992 Milan-San Remo to catch Moreno Argentin at the red kite, the move initially seemed as futile as shooting rubber bands at a bear. But he caught Argentin and in the catch you realized he knew something we didn’t. And that’s what racing is all about. That win was a statement to the world that he still had the ability to humble the best.

Races may be won or lost on might, but that isn’t what drives a rider to race. The need to race is born in emotion. It comes from a passion to tell the world of our drive, to prove that we worked without fail, that we trained with the insistence of a forced march, that we learned something of ourselves, something we want the world to know.

Photo courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Well

Motivation. It’s that most fleeting qualities. With it, you have the power to dig deep in training. Every day is another opportunity to work toward a better you. It is the savings account from which you draw the fortitude to bury the needle for another few seconds, to refuse the slice of cake, to head out for the ride in the dark.

It is as mysterious in its presence as it is in its absence. Its switches are nonsensical, ironic. One bad ride can light a fire that melts the asphalt beneath your wheels two days later. Or it can lead to a sense of futility causing you to skip rides, fall off the PROgram, pig out, even.

When the well is empty life is duller for it. There’s no spring to your step, 20 miles can seem long and cleaning the bike is just a chore that can be put off for another week. Forget about intervals. Why go hard? What’s the point?

And there’s the mystery: We know why. We know that the feeling that comes from riding well can kill office stress, melt daily disappointments and enable us to ride with the lead group at Flanders. Okay, maybe not that last, but you must admit, when the well is full you feel totally PRO. You ride with wattage to spare.

But the empty well can be depression itself. It is the cycle of disappointment that feeds on disappointment, the snake that eats its tail, but instead of winking out of existence, it grows. How we reverse that vicious cycle is anyone’s guess. A blue sky that moves one rider back to the saddle can fill another with shame for the days missed.

For those who’ve had the well run dry, you know the revulsion you feel for the big ring, a stomach-turning horror that makes overtraining seem like simple recovery between intervals. The dry well is the existential crisis that causes you to ask the unthinkable: “Why do I ride a bike?”

And yet, the reprieve is always around the corner. Whether it’s the ’89 Tour, a rerun of Breaking Away or a warm day too beautiful not to ride, we all have our triggers. Thank heaven. And for all the heartache of the empty well, we can suddenly find ourselves seeing once again the natural order of the world. The bicycle is a thing of beauty, a potent antidote to the world’s ills, an eternal E-ticket ride.

As if we were hawks riding thermals, one good ride begets another and another. We’re easier to live with, if utterly verbose about our exploits. We conduct our days more efficiently as we divide the day between riding and the activities that support it, and all the rest.

So powerful is the full well that we find cues to even more motivation in elements as simple as the open road. That shouldn’t strike us as a surprise, though. It was always thus: Half our love of cycling is a love of the open road itself and that ribbon of asphalt is life unfolding in an ever unexpected way.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Nap

For a PRO, the nap is de riguer, as much a fact of the life as training or crashing. It is part of the daily arc of a PRO’s life that makes them as alien to us as, well, the experience of pounding cobbles in the big ring. For the Average Joe, the nap is one of life’s stolen enjoyments, dessert for the legs. To take a post-ride nap is indeed a guilty pleasure for anyone who has pledged their life to others. Once there is a wife or children in the picture, any hour devoted to the comatose state of the spent is an hour stolen.

Over the years, I’ve noticed a number of species of naps. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Versus Nap: This nap can be found most frequently during the coverage of short stage races. Long road stages where breaks go up the road and are absorbed in between commercial breaks can lull the watcher into a supremely relaxed state reassured that the PROs are hitting it hard. No matter how interesting we find the unfolding of events, we can find ourselves waking to the shock that Alexandre Moos is no longer in the lead group. What happened? If you have ever used Tivo to rewind the action, you’ve taken this nap.

The Enforced Nap: This one can be identified by the salt crystals left behind on the blanket. Like the Versus Nap, it is generally taken near the TV, but the difference is this nap comes as a crushing blow to the consciousness. We see them coming and have time enough to select a position, no more. They frequently begin before we’ve had a shower, sometimes even before finishing a post-ride meal. We wake a little disoriented, sometimes an hour or two after the lights went out. Mouth open, cats and dogs have been known to climb on and off unnoticed during the course of this incredible recovery aid. On waking, our guilt usually gets us to the shower and productive even before we have gained an awareness of how much better we feel.

The Optioned Nap: The rarest nap of them all. Faced with options including items from the honey-do list, the bike work our baby deserves, unfinished work from the previous week’s work, it is that odd weekend afternoon when we are on our own and have just few enough tasks on the plate that we feel confident we can catch an hour or two of shut-eye before rejoining the human race. We fluff the pillows, climb in bed, sometimes even set an alarm and settle in for a special weekend-afternoon edition of the best recovery aid of them all.

We can do all the miles we want, but everyone knows that getting fast requires recovery. Here’s to the speed that sleep brings.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Neuvation R28 Aero4 Wheels

The great pitfall of equipment reviews comes from reviewing those items that are most desirable. Generally, manufacturers want to be portrayed in the best possible light, and understandably, they tend to send their very best products for review. Consequently, many products pricier than the Average Joe’s cycling budget support most of the ink.

Of course, the manufacturers aren’t exclusively to blame. Reviewers should be credited with the lion’s share of the blame. If you’re going to try something out for two months, no one should be surprised that you’d like to wear silk rather than polyester. Getting reviewers excited about budget-oriented gear can be difficult as well. Often, the most affordable parts are just inferior versions of the good stuff. Ho hum.

That’s what makes Neuvation wheels so different. Relatively light in weight, hand built and rolling on high quality precision bearings, they cost a fraction of what the competition runs. Our test set weighed 1640g, about 20 off of the claimed weight, which is a very respectable margin of error. I checked the wheels to see if they were true and found them very straight and spoke tension very even. The rims have a machined braking surface that is a few millimeters wider than many competing rims, making brake shoe adjustment simple, or at least less critical.

Neuvation included quick release skewers with the wheels and while they were certainly of high quality, the cam action graduated very quickly which I wasn't wild about. Open to close was a turn of less than 45 degrees, though the wheels did seem secure enough. I'm accustomed to the 90-degree turn closure of Mavic and Shimano quick releases; they are still my gold standard.

Our test wheels have a suggested retail of $499 because Neuvation sells consumer direct. Given these wheels reliability, weight and bearing quality, they are a steal at this price. They are stiffer laterally than my daily wheels and I have enjoyed that extra firmness when I stand on the pedals. Now here’s the kicker: Neuvation sometimes runs specials. Special pricing can turn these great deals into seemingly accepting-hot-property affordable.

The economics behind Neuvation’s business model are simple enough: Product is sourced overseas and then sold directly to consumers. Neuvation’s brain trust has a single Social Security number: John Neugent’s. Neugent was the head of Sachs here in the U.S. and his skill set is unusually broad; the guy has done everything from CAD drawings to sales and marketing, but relationships being what they are, Neugent’s most important asset is his 25 years of experience sourcing product in Taiwan. And if you’ve ever heard anyone haggle with a Taiwanese businessman then you know that garage sales are for the faint of heart.

It’s true that his web design isn’t too exciting and the graphics on the wheels aren’t exactly sexy, but that’s really the point: You purchase Neuvation wheels not because they have the allure of a Victoria’s Secret model, but because anyone gainfully employed has the coin for a set.

That the wheels are as good as they are is no mystery. The pricing is no mystery, either, but it’s a bit like a magician showing you his trick. Even after you know what’s in his left hand, you’re still scratching your head. A wheel this good is just supposed to cost more.

Friday, May 16, 2008

2008 Man of the Spring

The end of each Spring Classics season is always a bit of a downer. The season of epic conditions and hardmen passes to the natural next step of the season, the Grand Tours. Looking back at the spring. One rider stands out in particular for his wins and the incredible length of his peak form: Fabian Cancellara.

In 2007 Cancellara had a season anyone would kill for: six wins including the Time Trial World Championship plus one stage and the prologue of the Tour de France. Already this year he has had five wins led by Milan-San Remo and Monte Paschi Eroica. What’s most impressive about Cancellara’s season is that he held peak form for two full months. Boonen might have taken Cancellara in the sprint at Roubaix, but Cancellara was winning for the eight weeks before that.

Even when Cancellara didn’t get the win, such as at Flanders, he usually figured as one of the day’s protagonists. We don’t often see that anymore. More often, the pattern is one of a patron we’ve been waiting to give us a show, and waiting. Finally, we get the fireworks as we did with Boonen at Roubaix, but we’re a hungry bunch and we like to see a great rider give their best a little more often. To be fair, Stijn Devolder’s performance at Flanders threw water on Boonen’s ride over the mur; he certainly seemed strong enough to win.

Like I said, we’re a hungry bunch. We want wins from our heros. Winning in February and April is PRO. One big day in three months isn’t how we live our riding lives. Whether you consider it selfish or delusional, when Saturday dawns, we want to ride at full strength and full fitness—that’s the best kind of Saturday there is. Cancellara’s two months of crushing fitness is just the sort of inspiration we need, just the message we want to hear.

Photo courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


When Coca-Cola elected to roll out New Coke and then backpedaled like a messenger in traffic only to introduce Coke Classic, one of the great crimes of pop culture was committed. How could anyone mess with so simple, so perfect an item as Coca-Cola? If you doubt the severity of the crime, drop by a kosher deli and get an imported Coke with actual sugar in it. The pleasure centers of your brain will be bathed in the soothing kiss of pure sugar. You will smile. You might even hum a jingle.

Coke Classic proves that some things shouldn’t be messed with, either by the producer looking to make a faster buck or by competitors looking for hunk of market share. There’s more to be said for consumer service than gets said, unfortunately.

The inexorable march of progress catches ideas both great and awful in its maw. As it happens the bike industry has been particularly susceptible to the awful idea. From indexed steering systems intended to help you carve the perfect arc to automatic shifting systems guaranteed to keep you at a cadence of 85 rpm, lots of bad products get made for bicycles each year.

It’s hard to imagine that so innocuous an item as a rim strip would give anyone cause to think twice about how to insulate a tube from a rim, but once you’ve experienced more than one faulty rim strip in the same ride, you’ll find yourself out for blood with the vengeance of a clean cyclist accused of doping.

I’ve had rim strips melt in a hot car and cause double flats. I’ve had the new polyester ones slide and expose spoke holes, giving me a succession of flats. I’ve had the butyl ones break and expose nipples, causing shockingly sudden flats.

Each of these incidents could have been avoided had one precaution been taken: Spend the extra money on Velox rim stips. Able to withstand pressures that a would render a blow dryer lethal, the seemingly ineffectual adhesive on the back of the rim strip secures the stip in place sufficiently. I’ve never experienced a rim tape-related flat when using Velox rim strips. And at this point I’m frustrated enough with the others that I’ve thrown them all out.

I’m all for making things better as innovation remakes our world. However, products that don’t offer any noticeable improvement shouldn’t see the store shelf. Any reasonable person might surmise that a superior rim strip could be produced; cut the weight and improve the adhesive’s stickiness and you’d have a home run, right? But in an era of constant innovation, surprisingly, no one has managed it. Stunning when you consider Velox has been around longer than the folding clincher. A lot longer.

If someone actually invents a rim strip that improves on the Velox, I’m all ears, but until then, I’ll pay retail—no team or club discount, no industry bro deal, just straight retail; it matters that much.

Call it my insurance policy.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Balance

Through cycling, I have come to know more of the world than I encountered through any other endeavor of my life. Cycling has given me an appreciation of both foreign cultures and languages. I’ve gained a greater appreciation of world history, of manufacturing processes, heck, even economics. It’s not an overstatement to say that cycling has given me the world.

One of the more unexpected pleasures cycling presented me is an appreciation of wine. I don’t claim that cycling made me appreciate wine; that would make for a rather idiotic suggestion. Rather, it was in my travels as a cyclist that I had my personal wine epiphany.

I’d had a Margaux and Napa Cabs but it wasn’t until I’d had the tiniest taste of the Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape during a trip to Provence that my brain said, “Hold the phones: We want more of that!”

Through wine I’ve gained a greater appreciation of land, climate and a fresh perspective on the change of seasons. It’s also a new take on real estate, to say nothing of the patience required to wait for the product to mature. Only a Richard Sachs customer has this kind of patience.

What I’ve noticed is that most of the places I like to ride, with the exception of the most mountainous terrain, also happen to be great for growing wine. Riding by the ordered rows of vineyards is peaceful and relaxing.

The intersection point between wine and cycling is, naturally, problematic. The monastic life of the competitive cyclist doesn’t mesh well with alcohol and wine drinking doesn’t tend to lead to spontaneous episodes of exercise. Balancing the two means I must watch how much I drink so that I can continue to ride well while wine reminds me I need to live a little.

It occurred to me one evening after a particularly difficult ride as I was enjoying a glass of a big fruit bomb that my taste in riding terrain and in wine bears something in common. I like roads and wines that are unpredictable, straightforward in their appeal, off the beaten path, on the flashy side and rather thrilling as they go down. In cycling, that means mountain roads with dramatic vistas and thrilling descents, and in wine I define it as big, fruit-driven wines, particularly Zinfandels.

I’m slower for drinking wine, there’s no doubt. I’m also poorer for it. Nonetheless, my life has been enriched by it as much as it has been enriched by cycling. It has taught me to take my time with meals, the value of slow food, and in a world being inexorably homogenized by big box retailers, bringing home a bottle of wine from my travels can be a way to bring home a real reminder of a place, an actual taste of the place itself. Long after my memory of the roads begin to fade, I can open that bottle to bring out the sun of a perfect day.

The Bike Room

Every cyclist needs a place where they can both retreat and hang their equipment, a place where old tubulars go to die and plastic bins divide up small parts and little things that one day will prove their usefulness again. A place where chain lubes and embrocations stand side-by-side, ready to serve both rider and machine. This space maintains a degree of organization that differs as greatly as cyclists do, yet it allows every rider the ability to be prepared to roll out the door in a matter of minutes. It's as much physical space as it is mental space. Whether it's a closet, a corner of the garage, or a full-blown room, the area that houses your gear is called the bike room.

Over the years, my bike room has ranged from a messenger bag to the trunk of my car to a full-on basement complete with a roller cabinet filled with tools and a floor covered in anti-fatigue mats. My brain sees things in retail terms, a result of my years in the bike industry. Hooks for wheels and machines, a cabinet for tools, which is organized by things that open and close (pliers, cable cutters) to screw drivers and allen keys to frame tools. Everything has a place and aids in the efficient flow of bike building, simple repairs and, of course, coffee at dawn. During the coldest winter months, it's a training studio complete with DVD player and rollers: a place to recharge the soul when the roads are unrideable and to tinker on old machines in a sort of "on-going, non-going" project.

The bike room is a vacation, a spa, a bunker, a spin class, a tool shed, and an all around hide-out. The bike room allows me to completely immerse myself in my passion and escape from the outside world.

The Bike Room was originally posted on 7-23-07

Friday, May 9, 2008


In my years, I’ve known a number of women who liked to bake. Nay, loved to bake. They did it as a way to pass time, to dote on loved ones, to find peace. While I could never deny the magic that came of the result, what I saw in the process was a mess that required extraordinary amounts of cleanup. As a one-pan sort of cook, the array of mixing bowls and cooking tins one session could dirty always made me question the effort required in the endeavor.

Recently, I saw the movie “Waitress”—twice actually—and I realized that I’m a baker of sorts as well. In the movie we hear the main character, Jenna, played by Keri Russell, discuss her love of pie making in an interior dialog. Some of the points the movie’s writer and director (the tragically deceased Adrienne Shelly) touched on—the peaceful meditative state she reaches, the solitude, the love of the process—are all things I love about working on bicycles.

I’ve loved the bicycle as a machine since the days of the Tourney derailleur. I couldn’t resist the urge to work on my first bicycle even before I knew how it functioned. Fortunately, I didn’t kill the headset when my chopper bars got twisted and I used channel locks on the adjustable cup to make an adjustment.

I’ve learned a thing or two about working on bikes since, thank heaven. I haven’t relied on my ability to work on bikes to bring the cash in for nearly 15 years, but I still do all my own bike work. The work takes longer now, as I suppose baking a cake does for the home baker as opposed to the PRO. My slower pace has done nothing to lessen my love of working on a bike.

My preferred time to do it is Saturday afternoon following a shower and lunch. Unlike Radio Freddy’s precision-timed bike wash routine, when I get to the garage, I treat the excursion as a process of discovery. I’m always aware of a few items to complete, but I take my time about my work and don’t mind taking some extra time for an inspection to see what else turns up.

Working on my significant other’s bicycle is a win-win to me. I get to work on a bike (fun) and then be thanked for doing something sweet (even better). Imagine having your SO tell you to go play video games. Could it really get better? As a guy with all the charming romance of an oil change, bike work is a way for me to distinguish my greater efforts from a day’s mundane tasks.

With my iPod playing a collection of B-sides, I can tune out the rest of the world, feel the heft of the wrench in my hand, watch the swing of the derailleurs, and rewrap the bar as many times as I want until each the tape follows each contour and turn. With each turn of the wrench I’m paying respect to the sport, to my safety, to my sanity: We all need time to feel at peace without the burden of a timetable.

Image courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Torelli Gavia and Lugano Tires

I’m fussy about a lot of things. From how I make my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to which glass I drink wine from, I tend to make selections with some forethought. Likewise, I’m picky about tires. While I do believe there are a great many perfectly serviceable tires out there, when I buy a tire, I want something that offers sensitivity, excellent grip and low rolling resistance. I don’t need a casing that can withstand 60,000 psi and can only be cut by a diamond. That’s like insuring a Pinto for seven figures. Part of the fun of cycling is, well, the fun, and if the tire rolls like something from the Flintstones, there’s not much point.

I’ve put more than 4000 miles on the Torelli Gavia open tubular. It uses a 320 tpi polyester casing, enjoys a hand-vulcanized tread and barely tips the scale at 200g. Polyester has nearly the same suppleness as cotton at the same thread count, but doesn’t cut quite so readily. I mentioned these last fall during our Interbike coverage. There's a reason I'm mentioning them again.

It's true that running these tires, I do get flats. So what. The ride quality of the Gavia is as good as I’ve had the pleasure to experience in using any manner of clincher. I simply do not run any other tire any more.

Recently, I had the opportunity to ride a set of tubular wheels you’ll see reviewed in the near future. I decided to try the more erudite brother to the Gavia, the Lugano. Made from the same casing and tread, it opts for a puncture-resistant latex tube and weighs in at 280g.

As impressed as I am with the Gavia’s performance, I can still note an improvement in ride quality that only comes with tubulars. What a gas! I had the opportunity to ride the Luganos at 105 psi over some pretty rough roads recently and actually smiled as I noticed how they smoothed the road for me. A good tire should do that; it should make cycling fun and increase your sense of the road surface, making you a more confident rider. In the vernacular, this tire is the opposite of Kryptonite.

These tires beg the question: Why don't we make a bigger deal about handmade tires? You can spend more for a tire, but when $69.99 (for the tubular, $59.99 for the clincher) does the job, there’s just no point.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Guilty Pleasure

I indulge myself in rich refusals.
—Donald Justice

As cyclists, we define endure. From the way we suffer during our efforts to the way we consistently go out to train day after day, year after year and even the way we deprive ourselves of dietary items that seem for all the world utterly innocuous, we could teach a thing or two to Sisyphus.

For all our discipline, all our deprivations, the dedication to a life in which we find meaning, we can—and should—occasionally have a holiday. A respite in which we reacquaint ourselves with life’s simpler pleasures has the ability to maintain our motivation but perhaps more importantly, it has the ability to keep our dedication from becoming a prison.

Whether it’s a glass of Cabernet, a chocolate bar or a nap, we find renewal in places both familiar and surprising. And what we need to keep us going changes just as our needs for speed work or endurance miles vary from day to day.

We know how the exception does prove the rule: the genetic freak who can drop us on any climb after being off the bike for the last two weeks, or the day so devoid of traffic that we know to be grateful (and mindful) on the spin home. So it is that the guilty pleasure is the exception in our lives, an event so incongruous to our daily habits as to cause friends and family to utter the universal exclamation of amazement: "Whoa!"


Like the sound of classic jazz or the brilliant minutes of a sunset, espresso is meant to be savored. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, I join a local group ride for some colorful miles filled with great conversation. As a pre-ride ritual, I stop (en route) to sign in for a shot of the high pressure bean. Some days, a single shot will do it. On other days, the body requires a double. I am not partial to the coffee house, but there's always one rule I honor when sipping espresso: No paper cups. Plain and simple. I am willing to miss sign in and chase for the first two miles if it means my shot of espresso is enjoyed from the heft of the tiny ceramic cup.
No sugar. No cream. Never paper.

Photo courtesy Shane Stokes,

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Memorial Ride

In surf culture, when a waterman turns out of his life’s wave his fellow surfers host what is called a “paddle-out.” When they arrive at the local wave’s line-up, they form a circle in tribute to their lost brother. They pay their respects as much in words as in silence. I’ve seen paddle-outs composed of ring after ring of surfers, perhaps fifty or more boards in concentric ‘O’s to pay their respects. I never fail to get chills when I see it.

As cyclists, we have our own tradition for the fallen, the memorial ride. With no unusual formation to signify our grief, it can be easy for the non-cyclist to mistake the memorial ride as nothing more than another group ride. If they could look with our eyes, they would see something dramatic: a peloton larger than any race, a pace leisurely enough to tell stories of our friend, the family member uncomfortable on a bike shepherded as newcomers never are.

Godspeed to our lost friends.