Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Handlebar and Grill

Let’s be straight about this: Americans have done a lousy job of memorializing their achievements in cycling. Go to Belgium or the Netherlands and bars routinely double as the home base for a great cyclist’s fan club. That ought to be the natural order of the world.

The Handlebar and Grill in Denver helps to right previous wrongs. It’s a sports bar, to be sure, but a sports bar with a twist. Owned and operated by cycling enthusiast Mike Miller, the Handlebar and Grill starts with a basic (American) premise: good food at affordable prices. The menu focuses on burgers and sandwiches, but is broad enough to please anyone thanks to its generous range of salads, steaks and pasta.

What is different about the Handlebar and Grill is its décor. Miller is a charming guy and has met the elite of American cycling. Name a name from cycling’s (American) past and you’ll see what his—or her—signature looks like somewhere within the confines of his establishment.

It’s not enough to have some cool signatures. Taking care of them, matching them with pictures and framing the stuff nicely is what gives the Handlebar and Grill its charm. Funny how a nice frame makes you take something more seriously. Hey, it worked for the Mona Lisa.

From old team pictures to promotional trading cards and race posters, Miller deserves serious pack rat props. He obviously saved this stuff for ages. You’ll recognize the cover of Winning following Andy Hampsten’s Giro win … framed along with a pink jersey signed by Hampsten. There’s a 7-Eleven jersey with pictures of each of the riders. Other jerseys include this nifty white jersey with rainbow stripes on it, a signed Coors Light team jersey and a Team Z jersey with signed photo of Greg LeMond below it. There are bikes and bumper stickers and banners a-plenty. To reveal any more might spoil the fun of discovery as you walk around the place.

If you’re in Denver, it’s worth the trip. Heck, if you’re in Colorado, it’s worth the trip.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


The fine art of suffering (in this case, pushing the body and mind to its limits) is often what separates the top ranks of professional cycling from the... the rest of the peleton. Smart training, good nutrition, and natural talent, all aspects of a PRO's season, only go so far. At the point, where a PRO has exceeded each, the race turns itself over to the rider who is willing to suffer the most.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Unlocking My Life

A person's keys say a lot about them. When I was in undergraduate school my boss at the local pro music store had a key ring with seemingly 40 keys on it. He told me it was a sign of how much responsibility he had in his life. Actually, I think it was more a sign that the owners of the store had a different lock on each of the eight or nine doors to the store, but his point stuck.

This past spring I moved and with the move came the need to go through my key chain with the various key hand-offs. It occurred to me that I had a host of keys I needed rarely, if ever. Keys to places that were multiple time zones away. I decided to create a secondary key chain with those little-needed unlockers. What was left says something of my passions and my daily needs. There's the inevitable car and house keys, and another for mail. And my car needs the now ubiquitous alarm/remote lock fob for entry and exit. On a daily basis, that's it. So what's left are three accoutrements to cycling and two to alcohol. Hmm.

I first saw a Campy shift lever used as a fob for a keyring when I worked in a shop with this incredible climber named Todd. I saw his and marveled at how it remained shiny, nearly polished as a result of cotton pockets and daily handling. He gave me one and when I remarked I didn't want to copy him, he said, "Go ahead; you gotta share the wealth."

The Casino emblem came from a keyring I snatched from the air as it passed my ear at the 1998 Tour de France. Miraculously, no one got elbowed in the incident, me included.

The Richard Sachs chrome dropout bottle opener was a gift from the legend himself. While this might be a little late, in the interest of full disclosure, I consider him a friend and if you were expecting proper investigative journalism in our interview a la Time Magazine ... well I'm probably not the guy for the job.

The discount card to a wine store and the bottle opener are reminders that there is--on occasion--more to life than the bike. So three keys, three tributes to cycling and two means to attain alcohol, it's an odd collection to be sure.

Lots of people are prone to fiddling with their keys when they are anxious. I'm no different. Here's the thing I wasn't thinking about when I started this little meditation. When I'm walking to or from my car, I'm apt to play with my keys and what my fingers find comfort in are the contours of that Campagnolo shift lever. As my fingers curl around it, there's a pleasant mass to it; it's easy to find amid the jagged serrations of the keys and with its rounded profile, there's nothing surprising in its feel. It is a key of its own. That hunk of aluminum unlocks one of the most important parts of my life and reminds me that beyond my daily responsibilities there is a metaphoric cable at the end of that lever, one that pulls me forever outdoors.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Broadway Bicycle School

Another city and another visit to a unique bicycle shop. This time my travels take me to Broadway Bicycle School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just outside Beantown. There are few U.S. cities more bike-centric than Boston. I mentioned in an earlier post that I was lucky enough to blindly stumble into this scene back in '98. In the early days, I was out exploring the local bike shops; trying to settle into a groove when I was awestruck by a one-of-a-kind Raleigh hitched to a signpost in Harvard Square. The bike was a traditional Raleigh Green with an immaculate Sturmy Archer internal 3-speed and an eclectic mix of old and new components. The crank set and BB had been upgraded and so had the fenders and chain guard, but this bike was everything vintage with the exception of a few new and improved critical components. I marveled at this work of art and not long after the first spotting I saw another, different in color and size but similar in build. Then throughout the summer I saw another, and yet another. I followed the breadcrumb trail and it led me to the Broadway Bicycle School.

Broadway is everything a bicycle shop should be: it's rich in history, has knowledgeable staff, and when you first open the creaky screen door and lay down a foot on the wooden floors, the passion is so thick you have to wade through it. Undoubtedly, Broadway's charm lies in how it's operated. First, Broadway is established as a Co-op, with multiple partners who jointly decide the direction of the shop. Staff is welcome to vote as well, weighing in on all products that are sold there.

When you initially set foot in Broadway, you are greeted by all the wonderful sights and sounds of a great shop. There is no shortage of interesting bikes to look at; many are perfectly suited to meet the Boston area's dependency on bicycles. Every bike shop has an area where they choose to focus, for some it is custom frames, for others it may be the triathlete crowd or new parents. Broadway focuses on the crowd who rely on their machine for transportation, recreation, and the therapy only a bicycle can provide. Much of the pure function that has been designed out over the past decades is available in spades at Broadway. Fenders, chain guards, and baskets are all commonplace, providing some respite for weary commuters from heavy loads and the wet streets of Cambridge. When the bicycle is your method of travel, the demands can be great.

As the name implies, Broadway is a school, offering one-on-one tutelage for customers interested in learning the inner workings of their machines. For those who have the mechanical knowledge but lack the space or tools to complete repairs on their own, Broadway offers everything a mechanic needs to chase and face a frame to building wheels. Tools, work stands, and instruction are all available in hourly segments or 5-minute blocks for the quick repairs. For those who prefer to repair rather than replace, there is an option to purchase used components or salvage small parts from the many drawers containing forgotten gems from the past.

One look at the Broadway frame decal and it is evident just how much style this shop and its employees have. The decal is reminiscent of the old Reynolds tubing decals of the 60s and 70s, a time when a frame was partially measured by the tubing decals they wore. The decal sums things up nicely, this shop is staying true to the cyclist in every aspect. There's no fancy computer to align your purchasing habits to other products you may enjoy, there is no fitting area for maximizing your power output. This, of course, gives Broadway the classic "bike shop" feel, that of an old shop, where the machine itself is the centerpiece and the concept of the shop rests on getting the rider back out onto the street where they belong. In all honesty, this is the highest honor I can give to any shop. Simply put, there is no bullshit at Broadway. Raw, pure functionality is the name of the game here.

Broadway Bicycle School
351 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02139
Phone - 617-868-3392

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Positively Positive?

When Basque rider Iban Mayo of the Saunier Duval team tested positive during the Tour de France for EPO, hardly anyone was surprised. Those who follow professional cycling took the single non-negative test result of Mayo’s A sample as yet another example of how cycling had distinguished itself as the most corrupt of sports.

According to a release by the Spanish Cycling Federation issued Monday, Mayo has been cleared, thanks to a negative test result of Mayo’s B sample. Testing was performed on his B sample at a laboratory in Belgium and the results reviewed in Australia, neither of which confirmed the initial positive test.

WADA’s own rules indicate that should have been the end of the story, more or less. BKW spoke to a doping expert who requested anonymity for this story; he said it was curious the lab in Gent, Belgium, was chosen to test the B sample. According to the expert, the lab in Belgium isn’t particularly competent to perform EPO testing. On the other hand, he said that while the Paris lab’s IRMS group is “atrocious,” their EPO and blood group is “quite good.” Remember, the doctor who helped to formulate the EPO urine test is based at this lab.

According to our source, any result from testing the B sample that does not confirm the non-negative A sample is ordinarily considered a negative test, and the end of the case. It is not unheard of to test the sample further, but the case is closed once any result other than positive is returned, and we are told that judging an EPO test is very simple, that the results are very “cut and dry.” So when the UCI’s Anne Gripper said that “Mayo’s B sample wasn’t negative, it was inconclusive,” the testing community would ordinarily judge such an outcome negative, the end of the case. For further testing to take place, the UCI must allege something extraordinary took place, say, incompetence at the Gent lab. Gripper has indicated a willingness to appeal the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Mayo’s situation is exactly the converse of the Landis case. If all lab work was performed properly, Mayo is innocent of doping. If, however, the A test was properly administered and the B test alone botched, Mayo could conceivably have doped and still be acquitted. Gripper has indicated she believes the case is worth pursuing. But for this case to go forward, it appears that the UCI will have to accuse a WADA lab of shoddy work.

The question is: Why would they be willing to risk such a self-indictment? Pursuing such a case seems a lose-lose for the UCI. If they won the case against Mayo, it would undermine the case against Landis by demonstrating faulty lab work. And if the UCI lost the case against Mayo, their professed doubt of a WADA lab would certainly fuel the Landis defense team’s contention that the labs do not perform without flaw.

Photo courtesy: Saunier Duval-Prodir Pro Cycling Team

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

No Time to Fork Around

We’ve been hearing a persistent rumor that Quick Step-Innergetic riders rode Specialized Tarmacs with Time forks this spring. We decided to check in with the folks in Morgan Hill to get the inside scoop. Nic Sims, Specialized’s media relations chief admitted yes, some riders—fewer than half the team—did ride Tarmacs with Time forks. When the team’s riders and officials were interviewed about the choice (Specialized wasn’t what you’d call thrilled) and what they could do to get the riders on their forks, the team said they needed a stiffer fork.

Specialized ordered some of the Time forks in question for testing. What they found was that their fork was no less stiff than Time’s. It is safe to assume that some readers will view this assessment with some suspicion, so we asked Sims to what degree the fact that Specialized’s American identity might be at the root of the rider’s mistrust of the fork. Sims says, “We constantly have to prove we have a right to sponsor a team like Quick Step. We are constantly proving the quality of our products to their riders. They are Belgian and have been doing things their way for many years; so it is hard for us to enter what they see as their sport, it is with the help of Mario Cipollini and more recently Lance Armstrong that American companies are now being regarded as some of the best bikes in the peloton.”

When asked if riders might have been afraid of the Specialized fork for no reason other than their unfamiliarity with it, Sims says, “Yes, we think that’s a big part of it.” Even so, they weren’t bothered by the riders’ request for a stiffer fork. “We have to do whatever we can to keep the spotlight on those riders by enabling them to win races. They use us to win. We use them to develop products. It’s a good trade.”

By summer, Tom Boonen and the other riders who most needed a stiffer fork were on Tarmac SL2s. Sims says that thanks to the beefed up blades and 1.5” steerer diameter at the crown, Specialized is confident Quick Step can’t find a stiffer fork anywhere.

Increased stiffness isn’t limited to just the fork. While all riders started on stock Tarmacs, the vast majority of the Quick Step team are on bikes with custom layups. The riders start with the stock bike and if they say it’s not stiff enough, they get a choice of two stiffer layups. The “basic stiff” (World Champion Paolo Bettini’s choice) weighs a bit more than the stock frame while the “extra stiff” (Boonen’s choice) is a bit more still.

Sims says one of the biggest challenges in working with Quick Step has been trying to respond in an efficient way to riders’ requests. You never want to keep a pro waiting for equipment, but communication isn’t ever simple. In the case of Paolo Bettini, measurements the Specialized staff received indicated the 52cm frame would be perfect for him. Bettini was given a 52. End of story, right? Not quite. Bettini took one look and said, “But with this bike I can’t ride use my 14cm stem.” So he rides a 49cm frame and runs a 14cm stem. Go figure.

The bike pictured above was specially painted for Bettini in the wake of his other bike being stolen. We’re told he sleeps with it in his hotel room.

Photo courtesy: Specialized.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

An Interview with Richard Sachs, Part III

"I simply have to make bikes. " -Richard Sachs

In our third and final installment of our interview with Richard, we discuss some of his successes in racing and how he continues to find inspiration for his work.

Click here to read Part I
Click here to read Part II

BKW: Will we see a Sachs team at the ‘cross races in New Belgium this year?

RS: Our team consists of four or five elite level people and some hangers on like me. I’m going to do it again this next year. I had lost interest in road racing by 2000. And then I got hit by a car and broke my leg. I got completely hooked on ‘cross after recovering from my broken leg. I had always supported a ‘cross team, yet I never raced until my broken leg gave me time to reassess my plans. Once I joined my team at the venues, I was hooked.

BKW: Of all the wins that have been achieved on your bikes, what are some of the more memorable ones?

RS: Jonathan Page definitely was an out-front win for us. But we have had a long string of success with the sport. Since ’97, The Richard Sachs Cyclocross Team has won nine separate National Championships. It would be really hard for me to figure out the pecking order of what those mean to me. It’s one big stew of great things for me and the other sponsors. I’m not sure the Page one is the biggest, but it’s the one people are most aware of, which is fine.

BKW: You have talked of drawing inspiration for your work from exceptionally made items that aren’t bicycles, i.e. watches, fountain pens, guitars, etc. What have you been looking at lately that gives you a charge?

RS: In the last five years I became kind of overwhelmed with all those things. I’m like a freakin’ daydreamer. Basically I collect information to inspire me. I was always thinking 'If I could only be the fill-in-blank bike maker I would have nailed it.' The Living Treasures of Japan special on National Geographic Presents really impressed me. The artisans they depicted make things with such respect for what came before them. I wanted to be like them but with bikes as my medium. But, you know how when you eat too much and have to walk away from the table? That’s how I was with this stuff. I’m continually inspired (by it all), yet far less obsessed by it. I simply have to make bikes. I saved all those articles on Jimmy D’Acquisto, and Paul Laubin, and George Nakashima, and Eva Zeisel, and I bought all the books and DVDs I could find on this and similar stuff, but I find myself listening to my own voice much more now than I ever did in the past. I needed to take a break from all the daydreaming of all the stuff I was looking at in the past. They are all still there, and I summon them up when I have to, but they don’t come to me as often as they used to. I hope that’s a good thing. I kinda think it’s an issue of confidence.

In 1997 I had a watershed moment. I was asked to speak at a Berskhire Cycling Association meeting. I went up there with a 25th anniversary frame. I’m driving through the Berkshires rehearsing this stuff and it occurred to me that this is BS; I have all these cue cards I’m going over and I realize that if I dropped them, I wouldn’t be able to make sense enough of them to get them back in order. This voice said, 'Just get up there and talk; what you have to say has value.'

I realized, if I’ve been making bikes for 25 years, I must have a clue, and even if I don’t, I’m allowed to have an opinion. I used to keep my mouth shut, at least, until that day. I finally purged myself of keeping it inside me. I joke about it; I kinda haven’t shut up since.


Return to Part I
Return to Part II

Photos Courtesy: Richard Sachs

Monday, October 15, 2007

An Interview with Richard Sachs, Part II

"Here’s the deal: I don’t understand the word 'custom'." -Richard Sachs

In part two of our interview with Richard, we discuss some of his views on building, position and geometry of road and cyclocross frames.

Click here to read Part I

BKW: Investment cast lugs are much harder to cut and file than stamped steel ones. How much reshaping of lugs do you do these days?

RS: The original versions (circa late ‘70s) that were available were very hard. Over the years metallurgy has changed and they aren’t as hard any more. The material that Long Shen uses yields a lug that is quite malleable. The old investment cast stuff didn’t appeal to me because the stuff was ugly and the material sucked. Now it’s a question of getting shapes that I design and have cast to my specifications. That’s ideal.

BKW: Do you ever build with antique lugs anymore, or just your stuff?

RS: I’ll make something “like that” two or three times a year. I’ll do a Nuovo Record-equipped bike that is period correct. I have more than I need of those old lugs. I like taking a lug from dirt floor quality and reshaping the points, the shoreline, etc. But it’s really only a reminder of how I used to work. Casting has allowed me to produce a part that requires much less labor than stamped steel lugs, and it provides a much better starting point for close tolerances and higher quality joints.

BKW: You’ve always been careful to call your frames “made to measure” rather than custom. Can you talk a little about your perspective? It seems many cyclists aren’t clear on the distinction.

RS: Here’s the deal: I don’t understand the word “custom.” I just wanted to make bikes for people who wanted to use them on the road. When I started I just thought, “I want to do what I want to do.” I got to do that from the beginning. But because I came up in the era of Bicycling road tests, I had to deal with people who were reading the reviews. I was always conflicted that the people who were good racers would give me very few measurements. On the other hand, consumer types would come in and ask can you make this like a DeRosa if a DeRosa was recently reviewed. Transposing specs from one bicycle to another is fraught with peril, especially if some specs are misunderstood. In that ‘70s era, I found that many folks took the monthly road tests too literally. Of these, some would ask the framebuilders to copy this, or make it like that. If you’re new and have no backbone, you find yourself executing these orders. One such frame was for my pal Rudy, and when he went to the Tour de l’Avenir he had a terrible experience because the bike was poorly thought out, and not suited for European stage racing; Mike Neel really dressed him down for bringing that bike. That was in ’78. Since then, I make my bike not your bike. How can they be custom if I decide what goes where? I’m a guy who makes what I think is my bike. Though the order precedes the bike, it’s not “custom.” The term “made to measure” comes from tailoring and is used to differentiate between that style and “custom” and “bespoke.” If a tailor has a style, you don’t go to him and ask him to do more than to make it fit. You don’t say, “Make it look like Karl Lagerfeld or Calvin Klein.” Most people understand now you don’t tell a builder how to build a bike. You don’t show up with a blueprint. My view is there might be a million choices, but there’s only one right one.

BKW: When fitting a cyclist, what is the first dimension you zero in on, is it saddle setback?

RS: Saddle height and saddle setback. Everybody knows their saddle height. That gives me a mental image of how big the frame is that I’ll make for the customer.

BKW: Aside from cantilever bosses, how do your cyclocross frames differ from your road frames? Specifically, do you use different diameter or wall thickness tubes and, given the same rider, do the frame dimensions vary between road and ‘cross?

RS: All the bikes I make, I make as light as I humanly can. I use the same PegoRichie tubing. The differences between road and ‘cross are mostly how a rider sits on the bike. Most of my cues are taken from Adam Myerson of Cycle-Smart. [Sachs sponsored the former Collegiate Cyclocross National Champion for several seasons.] He showed me that the‘cross position has to be configured quite differently. You can’t just take a road bike and put canti’s on it. The saddle is lower, it is more forward, and the relation of the bar to the saddle is closer and higher. If you’re gonna race ‘cross, rather than just ride it on dirt roads or around a park, your positon is going to be different.

End Part II

Return to Part I

Photos Courtesy: Richard Sachs

Friday, October 12, 2007

An Interview with Richard Sachs, Part I

Richard Sachs' name is synonymous with the handbuilt frame. It is unlikely that anyone else better represents the enigmatic image of the one-man frame shop whose body of work is more than just a bunch of beatiful bicycles, it stands for something. Recently BKW rang Richard up at his shop in Chester, Connecticut, to talk about that line in the sand.

BKW: You’ve been at building for 35 years; what keeps you going?

RS: All of a sudden 35 years passes. I kind of feel every time I start a frame it decides what it’s going to be, it’s like the first time, even though it’s not. It’s more like something I want to do instead of something I have to do. I love making things with my hands. We all need something to do and I’m blessed that I have something to do that I love.

BKW: How many frames will you build this year?

RS: I’m on a schedule to produce about 5-6 month; I can’t think about the whole year. I look at the month ahead.

BKW: What is your wait up to?

RS: I have enough committed orders that put the delivery at 6 years.

BKW: Many cyclists see your frames as the epitome of the hand built bicycle. What do you think is at the root of the lust for a Sachs?

RS: I don’t promote myself, but I do make myself available. I’m on the framebuilder’s list, several message boards, and I answer my phone. I do exactly what I want to do and I don’t look around at what other people do. I look straight ahead. I’m not a marketing person. I think people like me and have a respect for what I do. Maybe one before the other, maybe one more than the other. They are buying me, not the bike. I’ve tried to perfect the details, the alignment, and the fit … I think people want to buy that for themselves. They want to have a little bit of me. The title of the book I’ll never write is, “It’s Not About the Bike, It’s About the Bike Maker.”

BKW: Including the Rivendells, how many different lug sets have you created over the years?

RS: I did a set for Takahashi, in ‘81 or ’82; I lightheartedly refer them as the Sachsahashis. I did a set for Rivendell plus four for myself: Richie-issimo, Newvex, Nuovo Richie, Rene Singer. I’ve also done two fork crowns, (one for Richie-issimo and one for Newvex), one bottom bracket shell, the front derailleur braze on, and I’ve had dropouts for ages.

BKW: What tubing are you using with your lugs?

RS: It’s a version of Columbus’ Spirit called Spirit For Lugs. We call it PegoRichie. The oversized tubes I’d been using were less than friendly for brazing. I’d been using Dedacciai Zero tubing. Then I had a JRA [Just Riding Along] on a two-year-old frame. The seat tube broke nowhere near the heat affected zone; it cracked in half at the transition of a butt. Then I found out that Dario Pegoretti wasn’t using it for similar quality control reasons. We decided to team up with Columbus to make tubing for lugs. I feel much more secure than using any of that short butt stuff. The tubing is Niobium alloy. The goal was to make tubing that was 21st Century strong, oversized, light, resilient, and would enable a brazer to build a frame that was 3-3.5 lbs. I would probably have never switched brands, but I had a JRA and it happened to ME. The light went on when it happened to me, and Dario and I decided we needed to get away from the “tubing for industry” stuff.

BKW: Did you see a noticeable drop in frame weights when you moved to this tubing?

RS: I saw a drop in weight and an increase in strength. Before, I knew I was using tubes with short butts but I thought the steel was well made so that nothing would happen to a frame I made. Among other things, the PegoRichie set gives me a comfort level about the heat-affected zone. I know that my JRA will never freakin’ happen again. And I didn’t to have to make a heavy bike to do that.

Click here for Part II

Photos Courtesy: Richard Sachs

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The PROfessor

In 1992, I had the opportunity to meet Laurent Fignon when he and the Gatorade/Bianchi team visited for a local road race. I was working in my father's shop at the time, and through some local connections, we became the ship-to location and HQ for the Gatorade/Bianchi team.

The race was scheduled for Saturday and on Thursday the team machines poured into the shop, fresh from Europe and still warm from the gentle hands of Customs. The shop's sales floor was dotted with tasty treats from the PRO peloton as the Gatorade/Bianchi team mechanics arrived. The mechanics carried with them their traditional travel tool case, filled with the hand tools of their profession, all neatly packaged for the relentless travel of the PRO season.

I will never forget the days the PROs came to town. We worked side-by-side with the mechanics to prepare the machines and the equipment for the team: we housed the team travel bags and some of the riders’ team gear and, as the bikes were prepared, they were rolled out of the shop and into the sales area to await their owners. At 10 AM, Fignon and his teammates arrived at the shop, and despite the summer temps, they arrived dressed in tights and long sleeve jerseys and sandals. Each carried their cycling shoes in small travel shoe bags. By 11 AM, the team mounted their machines and rolled out for a spin with a few of the shop's select customers in tow. The ride headed north, following the route we knew as the "Executive Route" (named this because it abutted the side roads and was less conducive to the fisticuffs rides of the weekend and better-suited for idle chat and a gentlemen's pace). A water bottle and a banana into the ride, we neared the turnaround point. Fignon and his team rolled to a stop behind my father, who was leading the guests when one of the local riders coasted into the back of Fignon's bike, throwing himself onto the ground in a whirlwind of apologies and embarrassment.

When my father tells this story, his expressions and body language mimic the Frenchman's response to accurately capture the moment. As he describes it, Fignon casually looks over his shoulder at the fallen rider and, with a look of dismay, simply shrugs his shoulders and with complete PROness rolls off leaving the dejected rider laying on the pavement.

Once the dusty, but uninjured, rider caught up with the group, he rode alongside my father and began to weave an apology. My father looks over and replies, "You just crashed into "The Professor." Don't talk to me, I don't know you."

The ride back to the shop was less eventful: there were no more crashes and no international incidents.

Following the ride, the PROs and the team mechanics were eager to dig into some American culture and began to shop the Pearl Izumi inventory. It was surreal. The PROs bought so much Pearl clothing filling their backpacks with the Pearl Izumi Dot Glove and the Thermal Lobster Claw while the mechanics bought the two remaining neon orange full-suspension Trek 9000s we had in stock. We could barely give those bikes away but the mechanics were delighted when we offered them some industry courtesy selling them the bikes at wholesale. The pinnacle was sitting down to lunch together, the team mechanics, the PROs, Fignon, our shop cat Tullio, and the shop employees to toss back some McD’s at the request of our guests.

Sharing a Big Mac with Fignon is certainly on my personal short list of great cycling moments.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


There’s a good reason why the French like their champions. They won with style. The two most recent (if you can call it that) French Tour winners, Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon, didn’t win a quiet Tour. They won time trials and in the mountains. Hinault wasn’t afraid to go after a sprint or two, either.

If there was one aspect of Miguel Indurain that the French (and others) didn’t like, other than his being Spanish, was how his Tour wins were dominant, but never stylish. You almost never saw him attack in a show of force meant to do nothing so much as intimidate. Were it not for Hinault’s incredible force of will, as evidenced by his ability to intimidate, he would likely only have won four Tours.

At first, the French loved Lance Armstrong. That he attacked viciously and used his efforts to win and put an alpha-male stamp on the race had all of France clamoring for the cancer survivor. His invincibility is what turned their love to disdain and near revulsion; for some, the accusations of doping were just used as justification for how they felt.

And sometimes, the greatest moves don’t even result in wins. In 1995, the first year the Vuelta a Espana was held in September, Laurent Jalabert was dominating the race as only Eddy Merckx could. One French magazine ran a cartoon showing Jalabert passing close to finish-line barricades and signing autographs “Jaja” as he passed. In one mountain stage he dropped his companions only to reel in Telekom’s Bert Dietz within the final half kilometer. “Jaja” passed Dietz, sat up, and then waived for him to get on his wheel. Twenty meters from the line he pulled off, sat up and let Dietz take the win. Afterward, Dietz said he would repay the gift by never riding against Jalabert, no matter what his team asked. A true champion knows when to throw a bone.

Looking back over this year’s season, one move stands out as a win for the ages: Fabian Cancellara’s win on Stage 3 of the Tour de France. Sure, the yellow jersey sometimes wins a stage, but those stages are usually either time trials or mountain finishes. The maillot jaune might win a sprint stage only if he is a sprinter and the Tour is in its first week. Given that none of those conditions were true for Cancellara—he is a time trialist—and his original motivation to ride at the front was only to protect his yellow jersey for another day, that he even rode on the front so late in the stage was incredible. That he dropped the sprinters was stunning. That he caught the break seemed unbelievable. That he passed them and took the stage was a shock beyond belief. Was anyone in the world still seated when he took the “V”? Can you name a better move this year?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Flying Scotsman

Stop and think for a moment: What is your favorite cycling film ever? Is it “A Sunday in Hell?” Or perhaps “American Flyers?” Lord knows it’s not “Pee-wee's Big Adventure” or “Quicksilver.” There’s a new contender for the title. Chances are you haven’t seen “The Flying Scotsman,” the dramatization of the life of Graeme Obree. The script takes as its starting point Obree’s confessional “Flying Scotsman: Cycling to Triumph Through My Darkest Hours.” It covers his hour record, World Championship and later suicide attempt. In broad strokes it contains all the dramatic elements of a varied life.

The film documents one of the greatest David and Goliath matches ever, and it took place on the bike. Obree is David. Goliath is played, alternately, by the UCI, Chris Boardman and Obree’s own demons.

The cast is first rate. Johnny Lee Miller (“Trainspotting”) plays Obree, Billy Boyd (“Lord of the Rings”) plays his manager and Brian Cox (“The Bourne Supremacy,” “Deadwood,” and “Troy,” among others). In addition to an excellent cast, the cinematography is great and the sound very clear—the actors even toned down their accents for the sake of the audience. The soundtrack is inspiring enough that it might find its way into the odd iPod.

From the first mention of mental illness (Obree is bipolar), Obree says most folks dismissed him as a “nutter.” He much prefers discussing his cycling exploits. Revealing the full extent of his depression and mental illness in the book wasn’t easy. “I wasn’t keen to have all that from a personal point of view. It’s the last thing you want to share with anybody.” Many stories in the press painted him as a comical character; as a result, he’s been wary of mainstream press, and yet, he says, “Most of the letters were from people who said, “Your story helped me.’”

Obree is quick to point out that the film is a dramatization and that many events are as he puts them, “amalgamations.” In Hollywood speak, they are called “conflations” and these reductions of events are a source of irritation to those who prefer the actual facts but utterly necessary to the director trying to shoot a simple-to-follow story.

“We [he and his wife Anne] didn’t have a lot of involvement in the script.” He was, however, involved in the shooting on an almost daily basis. “We were around most of the time. I was a technical director.” In addition to doing the velodrome riding, Obree piloted the point-of-view camera bike. “A fantastic insight into the world of filmmaking. That was excellent fun that was.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the frustration of the UCI’s rules-to-suit-the-minute approach. Obree is more sanguine about it these days. “If he [the UCI’s Hein Verbruggen] hadn’t behaved so badly I wouldn’t be so well known. I think he is hung up on homogeneity; he is a traditionalist. He wants bikes not to get talked about.”

Naturally, Obree’s view is a little different is different from Verbruggen’s. “The set up is part of the sport. It’s a big deal in motorsports. How they set up the motorcycles varies from rider to rider. They [the UCI] need to find something to do. It justifies their existence. Shows they have a job to do and are justifying their paychecks. It wasn’t personal. It was the wrong position at the wrong time. In retrospect I realize I’d sunk into a comfort zone. The UCI forced me to continue to find a better position.”

And so it is that Graeme Obree, the athlete who was the very bane of the UCI’s existence, credits the man who made it his mission in life to keep Obree from racing to his full potential with innovating another new—and faster—position. The Superman position was adopted by other riders almost immediately after Obree debuted it in competition. “Emulation is the greatest form of compliment. But there is no greater compliment than to be banned. It was fast enough to get banned.”

Asked what he thinks the film’s greatest achievement is, be it the portrayal of addressing his depression, the hour record, the world championships (and world record), Obree points to the change in his psychology overnight between his first attempt on the hour record and his second the next morning. Of the first attempt he says, “I was thinking, Jeez this is it, Moser’s record. I was kind of pensive.” The film’s great statement is about self belief. “It’s about overcoming adversity. That’s a different person out there the next day. (I said) I’m going to get up tomorrow and break that record.”

Obree still rides a fair amount and is competitive when time allows. He volunteers that he twice beat the current British time trial champ early this season, before publicity for the film siphoned off much of his free time. And that balance is the source of his real drive these days. Obree fully appreciates how difficult balancing a job, a marriage and parenting along with the drive to be a competitive cyclist is. In addition to refurbishing a house and building some bedroom furniture, he has undertaken to write a training manual. Only this book will be different he says. “It’s meant for the cyclist who has a full life, is a father, has a job and still wants to compete. It’s about how to be fast and fit it all in.”

“The Flying Scotsman” is now available on DVD. For those who wish to get the full scoop on his hour records, World Championships and journey back to light, pick up his autobiography (available from VeloPress).

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

An Interview with Ernesto Colnago

There are very few names in the world of cycling that carry as much weight as Ernesto Colnago. His name is synonymous with quality and many of cycling's greatest PROs can be linked directly to him.

BKW recently sat down with Ernesto to talk about his impact on the bicycle industry and the changes he has seen over his 62 years in the bicycle industry. Ernesto is an incredibly approachable individual, his passion for the bicycle is infectious, and I found that despite his years of involvement at the pinnacle of our sport, he was open to speaking one-on-one, passionate cyclist to passionate cyclist about the subtleties that make our sport so amazing.

Colnago's passion is complemented by his humble nature, although his accomplishments in the bicycle industry are legendary, he remains dedicated to his craft, and despite less time with torch in hand, his involvement is undeniable. The time spent with Ernesto evolved quickly from interview to discussion. Colnago focused on "the heart", and how the sport is very special to us. When a cyclist's effort is driven by the heart, it yields the finest results.

The time spent with Ernesto was inspirational, his experience in the industry, and his influence on bicycles is undeniable and after all these years in the trenches, his passion remains strong. From the days of lugged steel to today's lugged carbon bikes, Colnago has left an indelible imprint on the fabric of cycling. Here are the highlights of our discussion:

BKW: What makes a Colnago ride so nicely?

Colnago: Nice bicycles are not made they are born. It is very easy for me to make great bicycles, it is the only thing I do. Every bicycle built by Colnago was built with heart.

BKW: Tell me about your time as a mechanic. Did it influence how you build bicycles?

Colnago: Of course, I have been in the bike industry for 62 years. I started at 13 years old. First I began as an apprentice, racer, then mechanic in the Tour De France, Giro d'Italia. I have worked with many of the biggest names, Merckx, Sarronni, Gimondi, Motta, Van Looy. My bikes are like children, to the mother, every child is special.

BKW: So the needs of the professional peloton changed?

Colnago: The world has changed. In the old days, the food was easier. Professionals would drink water and eat polenta. Later it was steak and rice following a race; today it is energy gel.

As a parting comment, while discussing the beauty of Colnago's pantagraph work, Colnago responded:

"God made the bicycle; Colnago perfected it."

Many would agree

Ernesto Celebrates 77 Years

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Interbike 2007 - Further Thoughts

The first, biggest question of the show was some variation on, “Is Red worth it?” “Is Red that good?” “Is Red better than (fill in blank)?” The answer depended entirely on the answeree’s position in the industry. The guys at the bike companies were concerned they’d be able to move an $8000 SKU. The guys at the component companies said they’d have to be on their A game. Some of the media scribes weren’t sure it was worth $2400.

There weren’t a lot of truly new bikes, but a few are worth noting. You’ve long since heard about Trek’s new Madone; this new design is a real step up for Waterloo. Handling is more natural, vibration damping removes the buzz without making it wooden and thanks the sloping top tube, its weight competitive. Specialized gave riders a chance to check out the new Tarmac SL2. Just when you thought Specialized couldn’t increase torsional stiffness and vertical compliance, the Morgan Hill mauler did just that. And with the oversize steerer the new fork offers even more precise handling than it used to. BKW learned from Parlee that most of its work is custom these days and the Boston boutique has increased its ability to vary geometry and tube compliance based on a rider’s needs. Cervelo unleashed a new design called the RS. Take the R3, add some chainstay length, a longer headtube and relax the stiffness just enough to protect your dental work.

Lew Wheels is back in the game with a wheelset (using a tri-flange rear hub) that at 880 grams is undeniably the lightest on the market, but will set you back the cost of a good bike ($6,000 or so). So what are you going to put on ‘em? How about the Torelli Lugano tubular, or if you need a clincher, the Gavia? Both are constructed from 320 tpi polyester casings. BKW’s West Coast annex has been riding the Gavia for a few weeks; they corner like a mason’s trowel. And at $69.95, you might not find more tire for less money.

Part of the attraction of Interbike is seeing old friends and attending parties, that is, if your dogs haven’t given out first. Wednesday’s cyclocross race was nothing to miss. After the winning break of ten was established, New Englander hard man and World’s silver medalist, Jonathan “Wonder Boy” Page unleashed a nasty attack just before a short steep hill and the acceleration roused a cry from the crowd that was the reaction of the night.

LA-based designer Joe Yule won the Slipstream jersey design contest. He’s no newbie to jersey design; he’s designed kits for a number of clubs, a magazine and a stylish Santa Monica bike shop. Joe’s design took the Argyle and added texture and balance to give it a very PRO look. Speaking of great clothing, Earth, Wind and Rider has all but bet the farm on a series of Bicycle Polo jerseys made from Merino wool. The jerseys are city-specific, and include New York, Los Angeles, Oakland, Boston and more. Each city's jersey features a different color scheme and embroidery style.

SRAM’s media honch Michael Zellman tested the stiffness of the asphalt at the industry crit on Thursday night. His bike took the high flyer award when it did a full gainer over the crowd. He was back in action early the next morning, though.

And PRO is Program Go with Speedplay's new white Zero. The San Diego lightweight’s hottest seller is now available in full PRO blanc.