Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Favorite

Let’s face it, there’s nothing more PRO than the V. Taking the win with arms outstretched is always irrefutably, indelibly hip. But even among victories, delivering the coup de grace as the rider all eyes follow gives satisfaction greater than any passing grade.

But that final attack is hours, weeks, even a whole season in the making. And even after the training kilometers culminate in peak form there is the start. As a previous winner there is the introduction, the reminder to the competition of the previous successes. Imagine many of the world’s best PROs, guys unafraid of the greatest names in the sport, guys who wouldn’t cower in the presence of even Lance Armstrong, looking at the favorite and wondering, “Can I take him?”

After a previous win a favorite must roll out knowing every contender on the day has marked him as surely if a bullseye were on him. Win a second time and he will be watched by not just other riders with ambitions, but every domestique for every rider with ambitions.

The favorite gets no rope, no privileges. Even the smallest acceleration is met by response from the whole of the group.

Every rider present is united in purpose: Their team can’t possibly win if he is allowed to escape. For some, knowing it’s you against the world would be too much and the pressure would sap the legs. And yet, there are those rare riders immune to the pressure.

It would easy to dismiss the pressure as a numbers game; the strongest rider surely will have one attack more than the competition. But the numbers never tell the story, do they? Who can know how many attacks one has?

But we all know it’s not as simple as math. That would make accounting exciting and the unknown of a race the chaos of an earthquake. A reservoir within holds the knowledge of what it took to win before, holds the immunity to self doubt, the power to vanquish all those working against him, a power surely fed by those screaming to see the drama unfold.

Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Assos 851 Jacket

The holidays have been especially kind to me this year. As if I did not have enough reasons to celebrate my father's love of cycling, in 2007 he gave me two more...both hailing from Switzerland and both arriving in the familiar white Assos boxes. In one box, a pair of PRO Line tights that have enough wind stopping material on them to fool your lower half into thinking it was time for umbrella drinks poolside. The other contained the bee's knees, the quintessential piece of the PRO kit: a PRO white Assos 851 jacket.

The debate rages on as Assos continues to stake its claim on the top of the cycling clothing pyramid. Some argue its quality and features are no better or worse than the competition's top offerings. However, there is one aspect of the Assos brand that is never debated: pricing. Assos pricing borders on offensive, and when a product carries such a hefty sticker price, consumers expect greatness. The 851 jacket delivers.

For the past two seasons I have been living in a parallel world, one in which ambient temps were always 10-15 degrees higher than actual. In reality, I have been underdressed for two seasons. At the end of last season, I concluded that if I wanted to make it through another winter with a good base come spring, I needed to invest in some new cold weather gear.

Winters at BKW headquarters can mean 60 degrees and sunny to 10 below with a windchill cold enough to snuff out even the best intentions. Assos claims the 851 is ideal for temps ranging from 32 to 50 degrees. A wide range indeed and a perfect match for our proverbial, meteorological weather grab bag.

Ten Pounds of Swiss Action in a Five Pound Bag
Assos has mastered the art of pairing warmth and comfort without bulk. This mastery is evident across the Assos products. From their world-class chamois to the 851 jacket, Assos gets the job done (and done well) with nothing extraneous. As I removed the 851 from its $40 packaging, the first thing I noticed is the jacket's "hand," a term used to describe to how the product feels in your hand or against your skin. The 851 is one of the most supple garments I have come across; the soft texture of the polyester sections feels silky on one side and the brushed fleece on the reverse makes you want to rub it against your cheek while sighing deeply.

The polyamide sections are the utilitarian end of the jacket, protecting the skin from wind and working in tandem with the brushed fleece to give you a mix of warmth and protection. As a cyclist, the windproof material is critical on the forward-facing panels, providing protection from the wind while the rider is in motion. It's equipped with windproof panels on the front of the arms and chest and there's front and back coverage on the collar and shoulders, the prime areas subject to wind when you are tucked into position. Assos is a stickler for details and this is one of the reasons their products are so desirable: a look at the lower half of the 851's front shows a detail that could only come from cyclists who design clothing. The windproof material stops 6" from the bottom of the jacket. This small detail noticeably reduces bulk when in the riding position. The arms have an articulation to them that improves fit when tucked and the torso's front is slightly shorter than the rear, giving adequate coverage to the back of the jacket and minimizing bulk in the front. Moreover, like almost all Assos products, their signature grippers are an Assos-specific elastic that slips away from consciousness once placed in the correct location. This jacket is warm and comfortable. Undoubtedly, the 851 delivers a boat load of action with little bulk.

When sitting on a hanger the full PROness of the jacket is realized. The cut of the 851 mimics motorcycle leathers where the cut of the jacket is 100% business.

Junk in the Trunk
By far, my favorite attribute of the 851 is the ample pocket space in the back of the jacket. Honestly, I have backpacks with less storage space than this jacket. There are four rear pockets, which is a significant improvement over the traditional three pocket design and nearly laughable when compared to the single zipper pocket on some jackets. The pockets wrap around the back of the jacket placing two pockets back and center and then one pocket to each each side. Additionally, the right side pocket also includes a zipper for valuables that could be accidentally yanked from the pocket if intertwined with say, an Enervit bar or the headphones for your iPod. As a bonus, there is significant depth and roominess to the pockets making them highly functional. Pack a rain jacket, a spare tube, digital camera, iPod, and house keys and there remains enough room for a Thermos filled with strong coffee and half a bundt cake. It becomes easy to overpack. Throw in a reflective stripe and Assos proves this jacket means business.

The Little Things
Like a good cage match, with Assos, you can expect the most convincing blows to be thrown in the first round; this is accomplished with fit and feel, but with a dozen or so rides in the 851, I have begun to appreciate some of the minute details, those that keep you around. After all, it's the hook that grabs you and the barbs that keep you. The collar is roomy enough to be comfortable over base layers with collars, yet somehow Assos manages to keep it tight enough that there is never a draft. The zipper is a work of technical mastery; the teeth are large enough that zipping up or down with gloves on is easy and at the base of the zipper lies a reinforcement that hides the square edges of the zipper start and keeps you from bursting out on those early season rides when multiple base layers and Belgian beers really stress the jacket. Assos even utilizes this reinforcement to throw a little healthy advice your way: Sponsor Yourself.

At $330 the 851 is a huge investment. But winter is a tough time of year and the features of the 851 make riding outdoors that much better. When you consider the effectiveness of the jacket, and the ability to to forego some of the intermediate layers that make up your current winter wardrobe it becomes easier to justify. Even if it hadn't been a gift, I would have somehow, somewhere picked up the 851. If you're seeking a winter jacket and have room on a credit card, do yourself a favor and take the plunge. The 851 is to winter riding what a chaise lounge is to relaxing poolside. The 851 is the perfect companion for the cold and wind that is your off-season.

The Assos 851 Jacket was originally posted on January 28, 2008. With the cold rapidly approaching most parts of the world, it seemed fitting to bring this post back.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Stand and Devour

I can't remember sitting down for more than a handful of lunchs in the 20 years I worked in a bike shop. The majority of lunches were consumed while lean against a counter. Lunch in the bike retail world is a phenomenon unto itself.

If business is slow, order lunch. This may be a question for lawmaker Murphy, but what is it with food and shopping algorithms? If lunch were a 12 noon thing, one could argue that people use their lunch to run errands. In a bike shop, there is no set lunch time. In the heat of the Saturday battle, lunch is an afterthought that presents itself long past noon, a fleeting memory like faces in a crowd. Hey, I recognize that rumble in my stomach. That shaky feeling in my hands. Oh yeah, my dear old friend lunch. Good to see you, old man.

Once the food has arrived, it sits in a box, cooling off, breaking down, and seeping its grease into the cardboard that houses the nourishment. There it will sit until it reaches room temperature and begins to congeal. At that point, five minutes will surface, enough time for three bites and a splash of beverage. If you're lucky, you will repeat these actions until the indigestion sets in, and the tempo of the shop resumes its break-neck pace.

Whatever the meal, whatever the time of day, there's a very good chance your meal will be consumed in a vertical position.

Bon appetite!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Elite Ozone 03 Thermogel Forte - Intensive Warming

Elite has been making embrocations for many years, but this spring will be my first go with this hugely Euro company. Elite is one of the top sponsors of PRO teams, which of course makes it ideal for someone who is obsessed with the PRO style.

Today's conditions: Overcast, mild, rain showers developing, 4º C, wind at 25 kph, knee warmers as first layer of protection.

The Ozone product comes in various styles to suit almost any pre- or post-race need, from hair removal to post-ride massage. I believe they also make a car wax, but I have calls into some peeps to confirm. Thermogel Forte comes in a flip-top container making application easy and clean. The product is cloudy in color and has a thin, watery feel to it. The smell is amazing, and will remind you of any pre-race parking lot. Thermogel goes on easily and rubs in leaving a medium "almost too Euro for you" look. Pair this medium sheen with a subtle pair of Oakley M Frames and you have achieved the "sleeper" look: someone who is low-key, yet provides the group with cause for growing concerns.

What's most impressive about this Belgium knee warmer is the fact that once applied it disappears from your consciousness, leaving only a hint of shine, until the cold or wet arrives. On this particular day, the rain and cold settled in during the middle of the ride, and as the temps dropped and the rain fell, I could feel the embro punching in for its day at the office. With the rain raging full-on, we rode another 1 1/2 hours and, although I could feel neither my fingers nor my toes, my lower legs felt great!

Once home and into a warm shower, the Ozone gave me one last reminder that it was on the job. However, washed off with mild soap and a bit of elbow grease unlike the Qoleum Hot that required a wire brush and some paint thinner.

Like all great gear, the Ozone Thermogel only made itself known when it was called into action and, in my opinion, this is the mark of a great product. Like everything I feature in BKW, I paid for this product out of my own pocket, so I have no reason to sugarcoat a product that is not worthy.

If you're looking for a great embrocation for the early spring or late summer/early fall, this could be it.

Overall Heat Rating - mild to warm
Euro Style Rating - Medium, a light sheen
Smell - Medicinal, PRO as hell, and keeps on stinking even 2 hours into your ride
Durability - Extremely high, three hours total, two in the rain with no fenders and the Ozone kept things comfy.

The Thermogel will be my go-to embro until the sign-in temps reach the 18º C mark. At that point, I will move to a higher temp embro like cajaputi, which works well in the higher temps and helps acheive the insane PRO style. The month of May should provide pleasant enough temps for me to ditch the knee warmers and let my embrocation provide all the protection. If the Thermogel delivers at the knee level as well as it does on my calves, we are PROGRAM GO!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Rapha-BKW Knee Warmers

I have a significant level of respect for the gang at Rapha. For me, their forays into the cycling world have felt like a breath of fresh air. Be it the class and style of Rouleur magazine, the aesthetic qualities of their ads, or the supple fabrics used in their clothing; undoubtedly, Rapha has made some strong contributions to the bike world.

In February, while at the Tour of California, Rapha and BKW crossed paths. Somewhere between the prologue and the final stage into Pasadena, and fueled by a strong caffeine haze, the concept of a BKW-Rapha venture was concocted. The notion felt like a dare at first, but from that point on, the idea gradually came to fruition, and now (proudly), has become a reality.

One of the most hilarious aspects of the brainstorming session back in February was the idea of a Belgium Knee Warmer knee warmer. I mean, this is not only redundant, but contrary to one's notion of the very title of this blog, namely, Belgium "knee warmers," as in to "embrocate". Embrocating on race day is PRO, but let's face it, because the knees are delicate instruments and vital in carrying you through your journey as a cyclist, wearing knee warmers is essential when training in temps below 70º and, on race day, during pre-race warm-up and sign-in.

The Rapha-BKW knee warmer comes in white only and proudly displays the Belgian national colors on the front. On the back, you'll find reflective BKW and Rapha logos.

The Rapha-BKW knee warmer is available in the U.S. at Competitive Cyclist and worldwide through our friends at Rapha.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mad Alchemy - Medium

With the sound of cow bells in the air, it must be cross time. Ah yes, the rustle of leaves, the heckling of fans and, of course, the smell of embrocation. After a cooler than normal spring and a shorter than usual summer, the inventory of liniments has dropped below an acceptable level. Rather than heading out and restocking the same brands, the decision was made to branch out and try a few of the newer players in the game.

From the land of maple syrup, higher education, and the vintage Volvo 240 wagon comes Mad Alchemy, a do-it-yourself, "Yankee mentality" product, by cyclists, for cyclists. The buzz surrounding this new player began as early as mid-summer with talk abound about its effectiveness.

Mad Alchemy offers three heat levels: Mellow, Medium, and Madness. The Medium blend is the logical choice given the fall season. So I ordered a jar. After tearing into a small cardboard box, I was greeted by a brown, recyclable glass container with a simple screw-on black lid. This homemade look is akin to the Mason for gardeners and confirms there is no utilization of a mile-long, billion dollar automation system to fill your order. This stuff is produced by-hand, with love.

Break the top loose and the aromatic euphoria that follows is not one of a medicinal quality, but rather closer to the smell of a fancy candle. The consistency also differs from the usual rub, as it's more like a tin of shoe polish than the typical squeeze bottle common with Sportsbalm, or the creamy, Noxema feel of Quoelum.

Ease of application is critical for me when my dressing room is the parking lot of the local race, so I want to be sure it goes on cleanly and without fuss. The consistency of the Mad Alchemy delivers. Application is easy, and the final clean-up is effortless; eliminating the accidental blindness resulting from an eye rub on the second lap of your race.

Overall Heat Rating - Medium as promised. A subtle warmth like a 30-year-old scotch.

Euro Style Rating - Wicked high. The light tint added would convert George Hamilton to cycling. The thicker you go, the more the PRO.

Smell - Fragrant, but in a good way. This is a new direction for embrocation.

Durability - High, but not unreasonable. A towel will remove enough to make your drive home less painful than your cross race.

Mad Alchemy Medium delivers the perfect amount of warmth for temps ranging from 50-60º and it ramps the heat up slowly after application. The heat is neither painful, nor offensive during the exposure times, but like all good embros, when the pace slows or stops, the Mad Alchemy stays on. The beeswax additive ensures it stays on even in wet conditions and collects less grit and road souvenirs than other, more liquid based embros. Keep in mind, if you rock it VDB style and go heavy on the layers, you may get the PRO sheen , but your also going to get the fly paper effect.

The cross calendar carries us into some unpredictable and cold months. So, as temps continue to sink, the Madness seems like the next logical step. Stay tuned for additional reviews of Mad Alchemy products.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Crossroads Bicycles

South of the San Francisco bay and nestled tightly in Silicon Valley, sits Los Gatos, the quintessential California small town: quaint, streets lined with independent shops, cafes with delicious food and coffee, and the laid back feel that causes an East Coast resident to squirm.

Perma-summer gives residents of Los Gatos an excuse to dive into cycling with a full-on commitment; rewarded by roads that represent some of the best riding in the country. And for all those who have a love for the bike, herein Los Gatos sits a shop that answers their request for quality service, passion, and dedication: Crossroads Bicycles.

I stumbled into Crossroads back in 1999 and it has been a destination for me when my travels take me to the Bay Area. Each and every time I step foot into the shop, I note how warm and welcoming the environment is. The staff is quick to great you and I can’t remember ever being asked a closed-ended question upon entering. The lameness of “Can I help you?” simply does not exist in their vocabulary.

In an age when greetings in the bike world consist of “T'sup?” or “hey man," a warm "Hello” followed by "What brings you in today?” is a refreshing change.
Crossroads strength as a shop is their willingness to improve your cycling experience. As I walk through the shop checking out the bikes and gear, the conversations taking place around me are reminiscent of those overheard in a Midwestern coffee shop. First, there are the warm greetings, then comes small talk followed by an overwhelming desire to go far beyond expectations to find a solution for the cyclist’s need. Whoa! Every town needs a shop like Crossroads; the sport would be as big as channel surfing.

Aside from the wonderful service and caring, attentive staff, I love the layout of the shop. Specifically, the mezzanine level that houses the shop’s hard and small soft goods. The elevated area gives the items it houses a sense of exclusivity, but still manages to keep them approachable.

Crossroads is deeply entrenched in the road market. Frames from Parlee, Seven, IF and Bianchi line the walls and provide enough eye candy to occupy time to savor a coffee (or two) from the café next door. There's an emphasis on mountain bikes and commuting bikes, but the love for the road bike is evident.

One unexpected joy from my last visit to Crossroads was the selection of old VHS cycling tapes available for sale. Sure, the VHS has gone the way of its Beta predecessor, but, hell, where else can you find 1996 editions of De Ronde or Paris Roubaix? Priced at $15 each made them a steal. The only problem was that lack of a VHS slot on my computer.

If your travels take you to the Bay Area, or any point west of the Mississippi, put Crossroads on your list of must-see shops. If your lucky enough to live in this part of the world, drop in and introduce yourself, the crew is sure to take great care of you and your machine.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Art of the Bike Wash

I learned to wash bikes in 1990 from a journeyman mechanic who had just returned from a tour of duty with the 7-11 team. He was a master mechanic in every sense of the word. He carried a suitcase that looked all the spy novel to house his tools of the trade. It was a suitcase designed for electricians: an aluminum case with layers that had individual pockets for tools and small parts. I remember the first day he came to work at the shop he brought his case, a travel stand (in the days before travel stands), a 5-gallon paint bucket, a selection of specialty brushes, and a pair of honest to goodness firefighter boots (complete with steel toes). In the days of old, we simply wiped bikes down with a rag and washed the parts in a solvent tank. Those days were about to become a thing of the past.

I had no idea there were such specialized practices for bike washing. There were special brushes for specific tasks, a special type of soap, and a brush technique for drive trains, brakes, the frame, bar tape, and wheels. Over 3 years, I came to master the art of bike washing. I washed well over 1000 bikes in my day. In the summer, I washed them under the baking sun, in the winter I washed them in the small confines of a dark, dank basement. Below are some tricks I continue to employ today (in no particular order):

Brush Selection
Wheel brush - As in wire-spoked British car wheels (not bicycle wheel). This long, cone-shaped brush is ideal for areas that are tight and difficult-to-get-to, from the area between spokes and the hubs to the brake caliper, and below the BB area and the cassette. This brush will also do a number on bar tape, allowing the white to stay PRO white.

Wide brush - This brush is intended for the wheels and sides of the rims and tires. It covers large areas and works beautifully on all flat surfaces. I prefer this type of brush to have a long handle. When the temps are cool and your hands are wet, there is nothing more painful than slipping with the brush and slamming your knuckles into the brake caliper, or worse, the chain rings.

Large sponge or wash mitt - In the old days, brushes were too harsh to use on a sweet paint job because over time they would leave light scratches on the clear coat and create a fog. Today, the concern remains a frame's clear coat but now its carbon fiber's clear coat. Sponges have differing textures, use a softer option so the appearance of the frame is retained.

A note on brushes: Brush selection is a matter of personal preference. When selecting a brush, insure the bristles are made of natural fiber. The plastic bristle brushes have a tendency to hold grease, causing it to spread around rather than remove it. Drop a nasty, greasy natural bristle brush into a a solution of warm water and Dawn liquid soap and the grease literally falls off the bristles.

Avoid harsh chemicals at all costs - If your chain and cassette are so gunked up with spent grease and road grime, it's probably time to replace it rather than clean it. For the really dirty intervals, I use Simple Green, which is a natural de-greaser and all-round cleaner that is ideal for drive trains. Steer clear of harsh chemicals, especially on carbon bikes. Harsh chemicals are not good for clear coats, resins, bonded joints, and good 'ol Mother Earth.

Dawn dishwashing detergent - This blue liquid soap is magic on dirty, muddy, greasy bikes and, if you clean your machine frequently, it's all that is needed to produce a clean, PRO machine. I prefer the original formula and, when mixed with some hot water, there is very little 'ol blue can't tackle.

I opt for frequent washings, this helps to keep the drive train clean and, with the elimination of sand and road grime, the drive train components will not wear as quickly.

Be cautious when spraying water on the machine: avoid spraying water directly into the bearing areas. If your bike is equipped with electronics like an SRM, it's wise to avoid water and chemicals altogether in this area. I use a clean cloth for the SRM and, following a wet Spring, I pull it off and clean the individual components by hand.

In the dead of winter when the hose is in hibernation, I use an tea kettle to perform the rinse. I fill it with hot water and wait until I've washed the entire bike before rinsing. You have to work fast so the soap remains effective but it's key to removing the corrosive salts and oil/grease mixture that lays on top of the roads in winter.

After any wash, I apply a very light coating of lube on the chain and then hang the machine allowing it to air dry. Every mechanic's technique for washing bikes varies and over time everyone develops techniques that work best for them.

I was fortunate to have learned this skill from a complete and utter PRO. A full bike wash takes me less than 10 minutes and a quick wash takes less than 5. In the spring, I'll re-use the same bucket of soapy water for weeks at a time due to the frequency of washes. When I roll in from a soggy ride, the waiting bucket makes it easy to give the bike a quick wash.

A clean machine is a PRO machine and it allows for the components to work properly while reducing wear. Keep it PRO, keep it clean.

"The Art of the Bike Wash" makes it to print in Embrocation Magazine Volume II and we are proud to be among the contributors. Embrocation Magazine is a hand-made brew of personal experiences from passionate cyclists. Check it out.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Hobby. Past-time. Recreation. Exercise. Factually speaking all are correct. Cycling is each of those things and yet in a classic case of synergy, it is much, much more than their sum.

Hobbies come and go. Past-times are mentioned in “Jeopardy” bios. A recreation is a pleasant way to pass a weekend day. Exercise is what doctors tell people to get more of. The fact is, when you clip in that first foot in the morning, what’s on your mind is both more serious and less so.

Significant. It’s not a term most of us commonly use, but it often refers to the “other,” that person we consider an outer focal point for much of our energy. It is also an apt description for the position cycling occupies in our lives.

And yet, were anyone to suggest we formalize that relationship, to make some public declaration, such an action would trivialize both cycling and the ritual. Why is it any surprising juxtaposition must be comedic? We laugh at ads that depict a cyclist with his/her bicycle in bed. We get the devotion, but such an obvious expression cruises straight past hyperbole to ridiculous. And so we laugh.

Were someone to walk down the aisle with his bicycle we’d laugh. Get a life. You know you’d say it. But really, in the grand scheme, the object of your affection notwithstanding, it was in cycling most of us learned the true meaning of commitment.

We’ve writ that word large and small. There’s the attack you hold until your legs fill with lactic acid and you slow like an unwound clock, training morning after early morning, the dates and goals penciled into training diaries, and even the refusals, which for most would be the hot stuff in the corner of the bar, but for us is dessert, an extra beer.

Done right, the things you share with your husband or wife are multitude. Your favorite person to tell stories, to crack jokes, share a pretty day, think something through, express yourself in the most physical of ways, or plan a future.

In cycling you learn that getting dropped, bonking, crashing, poor motivation, third flats, being fat, getting pinched, hours of rain and cold and even saddle sores aren’t just something to avoid, but a necessary part of the fabric of the experience. Without those days—without them by the boatload—you haven’t really immersed yourself in the sport. Without a reservoir of terrible times you’ve endured you lack that reserve to draw upon, knowledge that it gets better, sometimes even in the same day. Only a true cyclist knows that you can question the urge to ride and enjoy fantastic form all within a single hour.

The worst times pass. And the best days, they come after months of preparation. The best days we celebrate when we get the chance.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Don’t say that. Don’t wear that. Don’t drive like that. For most of our lives we’ve been taught to live within confines, not just accepting the rules, but very often anticipating them and adapting to them before stepping out of bounds. We frame it as what’s appropriate.

The limits we choose to respect define us as surely as the ones we don’t. We are loyal to friends and family. We follow traffic laws (most of them). We pay taxes (whatever the accountant deems necessary), and sometimes we attack even when we know we’re riding on borrowed legs.

Each ride we go on is defined in concrete terms. We have a finite number of red-line efforts. Our endurance is measured in a hard number of hours. We know how much we have to eat and drink each hour to stave off the bonk. We know how fast we are willing to go in a corner before we apply the brakes. It’s a peculiar calculus, where each variable affects every other variable for no ride comes with an unlimited budget.

Each of these dimensions taken individually doesn’t mean much. Taken together, they form a picture of a rider. From strength to staying power to metabolic rate and nerve, we can be certain we each ride or race with someone who knows our limits as well as we do.

These limitations not only define the sport, they dominate it. Every dimension of cycling has the potential to liberate as well as constrain. An 11-23 cassette gives us seemingly endless gear options, unless you’re not a PRO and find yourself in the Alps and then we all wish for more gears … or a rocket pack. Carbon fiber handlebars absorb vibration but if you crash, they are strictly single-use.

But training is a bit like digging for buried treasure. You never know what you might find. For weeks and even months, our progress can be predictable, sometime frustrating, but then we peak and suddenly there truly is a new you. You catch the competition off-guard. Your friends suggest you pee in the cup. But for you, the surprises are endless and the deepest efforts fun, even long after you pin the needle.

The mere concept of succeeding in competition, of winning a race is to believe in surpassing limits. And that’s the trick isn’t it? It’s un-training your mind to exploit that fitness to its fullest measure. How far from the line can you attack and hold it?

Each time we surpass an old limit we must reassess who we are as a rider. And the further we surpass those old limits, the greater the surprise. Who would have thought that after months and years of work, what we find at the end of a sprint is a person we barely know?

Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Interbike, Observations

Last year, when SRAM introduced Red, I observed that Shimano and Campagnolo would need to keep on top of their game to face the threat SRAM represented. OEM spec for Force and Rival hadn’t been too strong, but the boost in perception that SRAM got with the introduction of a group to compete with Dura-Ace and Record really elevated SRAM in the mind of many, if not most, consumers.

Normally it is harder to shift a company’s identity toward quality rather than away from it. Anyone can dumb down a brand, but elevating Ford to the status of Ferrari would be harder than finding an atheist in a foxhole. However, Stan Day and company introduced a group of parts that got as complete a response from the competition as has been seen. Shimano and Campagnolo have both taken notable steps forward.

While I heard many people say that this year’s show was not particularly notable, I think the introduction of Shimano’s new Dura-Ace (7900-series) as well as the coming introduction of the electronic Dura-Ace (Di-2), as well as the introduction of Campagnolo’s new Super Record, were significant introductions and represent a major change for both manufacturers. That so much media attention was given to each group prior to Interbike blunted the force of their introduction at the show. Most attendees had seen photos and descriptions if not actual parts, so by the time they arrived at the show, it was more, “Oh yeah,” rather than, “Oh wow!”

Di2 works so well the experience is shocking. After trying it, you won't have to ask, "How come?" An early media introduction notwithstanding, the introduction of the three groups was easily the most significant news at the show.

The big news in wheels was the near ubiquity of carbon fiber rims. From Shimano to SRAM’s Flash Point, to Edge, to Easton and Fulcrum and more, the concentration was less on light weight than increased aerodynamics. The finish quality and molding of carbon fiber rims have come a very long way as well with Zipp and Edge leading the way.

Which brings me to the real watchword of the show: Aerodynamics. There was hardly a major company present at the show that wasn’t showing off either a new aero frame or a revised design of some sort. Cervelo had the P4, Felt had the AR and TK1 and there were new models from Time, Fuji and more. While wind tunnel numbers can be fudged (test a bike with no cables and it will seem VERY fast), a few of the bikes did look like they had been designed over the course of multiple wind tunnel visits.

More and more research is bearing out the Cervelo assertion that an aerodynamic bike will save more effort than a super-light bike will. Their slideshow “Col de la Tipping Point” is worth checking out. Felt's research has led their engineers to determine that more time can be gained with significant aerodynamic design than can be lost through an addition 200g of weight.

The new frontier will be trying to maximize aerodynamics while keeping weight low without losing torsional rigidity. The unfortunate reality of aero designs is that they tend to be very rigid vertically while suffering in torsional stiffness. As you pull out material to reduce weight, torsional rigidity suffers yet again. The 2008 Interbike show may be remembered as the year when the industry acknowledged for the first time the incredible role aerodynamics play outside of the time trial.

If nothing else, the 2008 show demonstrated that the bike industry is in a period of great innovation and change. This may be a transitional year, but the transition is plenty fascinating in its own right.

Images courtesy Shimano.

Interview - Frank Høj

BKW friend and rabid Classics fan, TK, recently chatted up Classics spécialiste, Frank Høj, who in 2009 ends his run with Cofidis for another go with Bjarne Riis and the CSC/Saxo Bank squad. Frank has been a PRO for the past 14 seasons and has participated in three Giro D’ Italias, two Vueltas, and one Tour de France and that doesn't even touch on his love for the Classics.

Frank has been a long time contributor to Procycling magazine and is often described as having an inimitable and quirky brand of humor.

TK: Hey Frank! What’s going on?

FH: Just relaxing after a long Tour of Holland!

TK: How did you do?

FH: Well, I dropped out right before the end; I managed to get a break. I held it for half the race, when the peloton decided to organize and chase me down. The next day I had no legs!

TK: How’s the wedding planning going?

FH: It's crazy right now while I am away, my fiancée has been doing most of the work!

TK: When are you getting married?

FH: In October, and then we are vacationing in Jamaica!

TK: That’s where my wife and I honeymooned.

FH: Cool, I can’t wait for the margaritas.

TK: Being a Dane, I thought you liked beer?

FH: Ya, I do. My favorite beer is Leffe blonde, also when in Denmark, there is a brewery that's ran by a former pro cyclist, which I like.

TK: What’s the name of that beer?

FH: It’s called Kolmer beer.

TK: Now, I know you can’t wait for some Caribbean food, but what is your all-time favorite food?

FH: A nice rare steak with some frites!

TK: Just like Mr. Paris Roubaix!

FH: Yes, like in the movie Sunday in Hell.

TK: Was Roger De Vlaeminck your favorite rider when you were young?

FH: You bet! I remember watching him on Danish television when I was young and I wanted to race Paris Roubaix. I thought it was fascinating racing in such extreme conditions.

TK: What was it like to race your first Roubaix?

FH: I was very nervous and excited.

TK: How were the showers at Roubaix?

FH: It was nice to just clean off with hot water that never runs out after a long day in the saddle.

TK: I always see a bunch of reporters in there trying to get interviews while riders are half naked. Isn’t that annoying?

FH: (Laughs) Yea, I once had a reporter who kept poking me with his microphone to get an interview. I told him nicely that I wanted to take a shower and once done I would talk with him. He persisted; I then grabbed him by the collar and threw him out!

TK: Yikes, I don’t want to mess with you!

FH: I am actually a bouncer on the side. (Laughs)

TK: What’s your favorite set-up on your bike for PR?

FH: I like the cyclo-cross levers on top, and some fat 27mm tubulars.

TK: What kind of wheels do you like to roll?

FH: Depends on what the teams sponsor is, but I do like the Ambrosio Nemesis tubular.

TK: What was your favorite bike you rode on the cobbles?

FH: I like the time frame I ride now, but I also loved the Specialized Roubaix that was featured in Cyclingnews.

TK: So, you have been doing an article monthly in Procycling magazine for some time. is this something you might continue doing once you retire from cycling?

FH: Maybe. I love journalism and writing. I have even thought about writing a book.

TK: You even do commentary for Danish television.

FH: Yes, and I love it. I just finished doing commentary for the Olympics in Denmark.

TK: I thought you might have been racing in China?

FH: Denmark had only three riders, and there are some talented riders from CSC. But I will be riding at the World Championship this year.

TK: Who, in your opinion, is going to be the next great rider in the PRO peloton?

FH: Definitely Frank Schleck! He's one of the strongest riders out there!

TK: And, finally, what's your favorite band or music?

FH: Anything from Depeche Mode or U2.

TK: Cool. Frank! Good luck at the Worlds and your wedding!

FH: (Laughs) Later!

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