Tuesday, December 23, 2008

One on One Studio

Inevitably, when the cycling discussion turns to which shops "do it right," One on One Studio is always mentioned. For years, I've heard about the magic going down in Minnesota and often the buzz is hitched to One on One (OoO). If you were a mountain biker in the late 80s or early 90s, then you have heard of the shop's founder, Gene Oberpriller. Gene is as much a part of early mountain bikes as Tioga's tension disk and Suntour XC PRO. Through his years in the sport, the industry, and the city of Minneapolis, Gene understands his clientele and the local cycling scene. In a word, Gene gets the importance of creating a community environment. With so much talk about the bike scene in Minneapolis, it was time for BKW to hit the road again, this time in an effort to get some One on One time.

As I stepped foot into the shop, I was greeted by the creak of the worn wooden floors and the growl of an espresso machine's milk steamer. To my right sat a row of tables and a couple sharing a bowl of soup. Upon first glance, I had to wonder: Where are the bikes?

The shop is divided into three distinct areas: the coffee and sandwich bar, the studio, and the service area. Each section acts as a stand-alone space. As I passed through the sweet aroma of the daily brew and then through the bike inventory, I landed in the service area that buzzed with activity. To my right, running the full length of the space, rested every incarnation of Bianchi's single speed MTB and to my left, was a wall of printed memorabilia and current events. Upon my arrival in the service area, new inventory was being diligently entered into the database and repairs were underway.

One on One is a curious mix of coffee shop, bike shop, ecelctic art gallery, and junkyard; a bit of a museum of useful things, if you will. In many ways, One on One is the bike room that you dream of and, to a cyclist who loves Bridgestone and its history, this shop just can't be missed. Herein lies the evidence that Gene knows a thing or two about what makes a cyclist tick: sweet machines, all the tools you could imagine, never-a-bad-cuppa espresso machine, cool art, and all the keepsakes from your years of racing. What more could a cyclist want?

A walk through OoO:

When I first entered the door, I turned around and resting above the front door is Gene's orange X0-1 from '93, the very bike Gene rode to victory at the famous Chequamegon 40. This piece of history remains outfitted with all the bells and whistles from the era: a Softride suspension stem, Shimano 737 SPDs, moustache bars, and even an orange Silca frame pump. For a rainy October day, the shop was alive with the sights and sounds of a traditional bike shop.

Light Fare
The first third of the shop is a fully functioning coffee house, complete with artwork and a menu of delicious items. The coffee is excellent, the treats fresh, and the soup is good enough that you'd be proud to call it your own. Sandwiches round out the menu and prove that One on One is good for more than replacing a broken spoke.

The Studio
Gene's studio portion of the shop displays bicycles as the works of art that they are. Featured on waterfall type racks, each model is represented only once. Here, there's no "big box" approach where the inventory is spilling out of every nook. Whenever I visit a shop where the bike display emphasizes the bicycle itself, I'm reminded of how beautifully simple the bicycle is, and how it's certainly worthy of the prime space above your fireplace. The "studio" feel of Gene's shop is the idyllic backdrop for the aesthetic beauty of a Bianchi, and whether it's the pedigree of their high-end road machines or the smooth swoop of the Bergamo's handle bars, One on One provides the right canvas for these masterpieces.

The service area is located in the rear of the building, which provides those seeking service with a direct alley entrance. This area was the gem of my entire experience and I spent the majority of my time closely eyeing it's very facets: cabinets housing both old and new bike components and frames, CD collections, historic machines, and a selection of handlebars that would make a stem rattle with excitement. Among the treasures I uncovered was an old velvet lamp, a fallback to the edifice's previous life as a sizzling "massage parlor".

The Basement
Words can not do justice to describe Gene's basement. Floor to ceiling. Wall to wall. Get yourself to Minneapolis and see it for yourself.

One on One Studio is an unparalleled and unprecedented shop for the cyclist who relies on his machine for transportation, livelihood, or just plain 'ol mental wellness. With all the cycling-centric activities offered in Minneapolis, it would be easy to time your visit to catch a handful of memorable cycling events both on and off the bike, year 'round.

One on One Studio
117 Washington Ave N. - Warehouse District
Minneapolis, MN 55401
Phone: 612.371.9565

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ham and Swiss

My dad is full of great stories, stories about the PROs, stories about the local cyclists and of course stories about the people who were his customers for over 30 years. One of my favorite stories centers on the old school technique that defines my father's 60+ years of cycling.

When my dad was in his mid-sixties, he was a strong rider; riding just shy of 300 miles a week. One summer he and a group of his buddies/customers got together for a spin. Out and back, 70 miles, nothing too crazy, just a few friends on a gentlemanly cruise. At least that is how it began. As the ride rolled north and out of town the pace began to pick up. There were a number of hard efforts and the wind was blowing in, strong and consistently. Some of the greenhorns were tuned-up for the early season races and were lifting the pace above the agreed gentlemanly level, turning the screws in an effort to demonstrate their prowess.

As the group hit the half way, the greenhorns decided to stop for a quick bite and a refill of the bottles. The plan for a quick stop turned into a plan for lunch and then a table for six. There were still 35 miles to ride and a full meal at this point would be too much. As the group began to order, my dad and his best mate looked to each other and both knew there was only one way to play this.

The waiter took everyone’s orders: milkshakes, an omelette, a double cheeseburger, pancakes, and as the orders rounded the table they came to my father. Ham on white bread, a slice of Swiss, nothing else. No bacon, no lettuce, no sausage links, no strawberry milkshake. Nothing. And a water. His best mate replied with a devious smile, "I will have the same." Once the group had finished eating it was time to head back. A slow rollout as the legs began to divert the blood from the stomach and the group began to get back into the homeward effort. The group began to get playful and the efforts began to increase.

My dad sat in right behind his mate, as the tempo increased. Almost as quickly as the heavy breakfast went down, it began to come up. The riders who had eaten the breakfast fit for a king were beginning to take on a pale, greenish color in their faces. Once the green began to show, my father and his mate lifted the pace. As the pace lifted, the greenish color began to fade into a ghostly white color. One more attack was all it took for the breakfast club to scatter in search of some privacy. The greenhorns had proven they were strong; they had proven they could bring the pain. But bringing the pain is about more than steady, hard efforts. The pain is brought with brains as well as brawn.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Joe Parkin: A Dog in a Hat

Always keep the Belgian knee warmers away from the private parts.
—Joe Parkin

So goes the inscription on my copy of Joe Parkin's memoir of racing in Belgium, "A Dog in a Hat." It's a simple truth to be sure. Some of the greatest books are built on a succession of such observations. However, it is just such an observation that stands for the very nature of Parkin's look back.

I've known Parkin for more than 10 years, since he was a pro mountain biker for Diamond Back. He spent a winter racing 'cross in my neck of the woods and we crossed paths each weekend. Arguably, one of the best images I ever shot of cyclocross was of him with his bike on his shoulder running like a looter. If I can find that shot, it will run here.

Later, he graciously shared his experience with me as a trusted talking head any time I needed a quote from a former Euro-pro for an article. I respected him because he had done Europe the hard way. To me, going to Belgium and joining a European team is tantamount to climbing Everest without oxygen. While meaning no disrespect to the riders of 7-Eleven and later Motorola and U.S. Postal, in my mind his deep-end jump had PRO style in spades.

These days, my trip to Interbike is incomplete until I catch up with Joe. What I didn't fully appreciate back when I was requesting quotes was the depth of his experience, so I was eager to read his book to find out more. I expected good, but what we've been given is much, much more.

Parkin has written an eloquent and historic volume. It is an unflinching look at pro cycling that is marked by a most mature perspective. It lacks the indignation and emotion-laden rhetoric of those who have written in judgment about doping, which is to say Parkin wrote objectively about his experience. His views are made clear, but he condemns no one; we all have our views on the subject and his incredible grace allows the reader to watch without turning the author's experience into a morality play.

The book is also funny. Parkin has a gift for analogy and comedy that could be utilized should Will Ferrell ever make a movie about bike racing. I laughed out loud as he recounted an episode during the Tour of Switzerland. A hungry bike racer has never been funnier.

And while cycling is its main concern, the book's true subject is the pursuit of a dream. Parkin chased his ambition to be a great pro cyclist and whereas most of us can scarcely fathom the incredible success Lance Armstrong enjoyed, we have all wondered what we might have achieved if we had gained the opportunity to make that jump and pursue what talent we might possess. It is the story that would likely have been the rule for each of us seeking to punch our ticket. In the very uniqueness of his story, Parkin realizes a universality that gives his recollections a resonance with any cyclist.

What marks the book is Parkin himself. Not his story, but his perspective. His acceptance informs his choices, his prose and his immersion in the culture of Belgium. Parkin applies himself with humility to Belgium, to training, to his teammates, and you hope for him, all the while knowing that there is no glorious win, no big-time contract. In anyone else's hands, such an ending would be tragic, but Parkin reminds us what real success is: the acceptance of our friends. That's the true measure of a man.

Do not miss this book.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Art of the Attack

Some very well-oiled musical act was performing on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and all I wanted to do was watch a bike race. It should be impossible to turn away from the Macy's Parade. It is America itself. The recording the act was lip-syncing to showcased their virtuosic voices in flawless time. Their movements were choreographed to the 16th note. Their appearance epitomized the style of their chosen demographic. They were very nearly perfect. I felt like I was being force-fed a Twinkie.

The announcer called them artists. Performers, maybe, but artists, never. To a boy, they were selected in auditions. They'd been taught how to sing just right, taught the choreography step-by-shimmying-step. They'd been assigned a wardrobe. The last thing any of them had written was an e-mail.

There was a time when what you heard on the radio began with a spark of inspiration in the performer. It meant an interview with the band would give you insight into the song's creation, rather than the blow-by-blow of the producer bringing them the song in the studio.

I still prefer music performed by its creator; there's an authenticity that comes when the performer is also the writer. It's a little like eating organic foods; we know it's healthy, but more naturally produced foods usually taste better, too.

I don't mind the education; we all have our teachers. And I don't mind the idea of production; imagine The Beatles without George Martin. What I object to is the foregone conclusion, which is why I'll never be at a post-Tour criterium. If the riders are there to put on a show, how about a team-time trial with some hand-slings? Give us some polish, a little Cirque du Soleil on 700c wheels.

Which is why the Classics are so great. With 40k to go, there's no saving something for tomorrow. The team directors can scream in the riders' ears all they want, but at the moment of the attack, the move is nothing short of a creation, a force of will destined to leave a mark on the race. Whether it results in the win or not is beside the point; each attack is an important, necessary part of the race, the same way a Pink Floyd song needs a David Gilmour guitar solo. The solo isn't the point of the song, but it would be incomplete without it.

Those final kilometers of the race are a crazy, improvisational progression with each attacking rider trading eights in a jazz riff: first the guitarist, then the drummer, then the pianist, the drummer again, then sax, drummer, bass, drummer and head out. When you see a rider spring from his saddle and gun it, we cheer because he has just shown his hand, it's everything he's got, who he is.

Those late-K attacks are the real deal; it's no time for a probing move. And the final, race-winning move is the grandfather of all attacks, the piece de resistance in the classic sense—the move that defines the race precisely because it results in the win. The riders themselves understand this, which is why when they describe a race as beautiful, we know it to be true: That final attack is a masterpiece.

Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

1992 Milan-San Remo: King Kelly Wins Again!

Attacking on a descent in the rain and drifting both wheels on your way to catching '86 World Champion Moreno Argentin and beating him in the sprint is stunningly PRO.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Blue Sky Taunt

Each year the list of things to keep you off your bike grows longer. When you're 21, you don't need much more than clean cycling clothing and food. The chores increase, the job takes more and more, the girlfriend becomes the wife, you start the pint-sized team, and pretty soon you're no longer fitting in the responsibilities around your riding, but the riding around the responsibilities.

The structure we'd give our training gets usurped by the larger architecture of everything that's not cycling. No matter how much we'd like, we can't periodize the job or the bills. The miles take a backseat. And even when we think we'll get the miles in there's the dreaded OBE—overtaken by events—that can turn two hours of intervals into two hours of interminables.

Worse yet are those days when the time is there but the legs or heart aren't willing.

Inevitably, there comes the point in the day where we step outside and there it is: the blue sky. The key turns in the cylinder; I should be out there … riding.

Whether we get the miles or not, we're going to suffer. The sky's silent siren call holds the promise of mile after amazing mile. The longing we have for a simple turn of the crank is worse than being dropped. At least when we're dropped we're still riding. Not being out there—the lost miles—hurts worse than throwing money away. It hangs above us, the pull easing only with the darkening sky.

When I was in grade school the nuns always told us to take our sufferings and offer them up to the Lord. What God would do with my seemingly incessant childish sufferings, let alone why God might have any desire for them, I could not figure. Needless to say, I never got comfortable with the idea of offering my mental backwash to my maker, but the concept left an impression on me.

I save the suffering. There are lessons in the suffering. Those toughest moments in the rides give us our strength and the ache we feel for each missed ride is a chip we cash each time we need to dig just a little deeper.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Friction Freedom Chamois Cream

The fall is my favorite time to try out new products. When my mileage and intensity are down it is a good deal easier to incorporate a new variable into my routines. This fall we were introduced to a number of new chamois creams.

Radio Freddy and I came up old-school, applying Noxema to the undercarriage to ward off saddle sores and miscreant chafing. Back then my issues were always chafing and saddle sores in an around my perineum. Somewhere along the line, pads improved and my trusty Noxema fell out of use.

And then I began using a wardrobe's-worth of team shorts that were poorly cut. As a result, I experienced chafing in some new places and on some pretty sensitive instruments.

Now chamois cream users fall into one of two camps. Either you put it on the pad, or you put it on your skin. I prefer to lather up my personal contact points as it were. I briefly went back to the old standard bearer of Bag Balm, for the simple reason that while I liked the cool feel of Noxema, I had never put applied it to the reproductive apparatus. The menthol effect felt not just alien, but a bit wrong. After being reminded that the active ingredients that produce the Vap-O-Rub feeling are natural antibacterial agents, I knew what I needed to do: Get over it.

The upside to the minty zing is that I know instantly if I missed a spot. The feeling does make for a lively start to the morning.

Since getting comfortable with the magical menthol experience, I've tried a number of new chamois creams. And while I never thought I'd get excited about a new chamois cream the way I can for a new embrocation, Friction Freedom changed my outlook.

I've noticed that a few of the chamois creams out there get absorbed fairly quickly and that my skin ends up feeling like I put a hand lotion on it a few minutes ago. Not so with Friction Freedom. I was three hours into my first ride with the stuff when I made a bathroom stop. I had some trouble with my grip.

Friction Freedom is paraben-free, and while I don't know much about parabens, I'd like anything that's going to be on my skin for longer than it takes to watch a Francis Ford Coppola movie to be controversy-free. These preservatives are cause for concern for estrogenic activity and as carcinogens, so leaving them on your skin all day might not be the healthiest option.

Getting to the end of a 5-hour ride with a surface slicker than a politician's pitch is just my idea of comfort. I kinda wonder if this stuff might not have a second life in a, uh, more amorous application.

Check out Friction Freedom.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving II

I wouldn't be here if it weren't for cycling. Not that I wouldn't be part of BKW, or that I wouldn't be writing about cycling in general, but I don't think I'd still be on this spinning rock, were it not for cycling.

Each soul has a dark night, or two. Generally, we find our way through. We talk to friends, family, maybe a shrink, make jokes about the course of Prozac, but soon enough a day dawns and we realize that life ain't so bad. At least, that's how it works most of the time.

Not too many years ago I experienced what they call in the parlance some "setbacks." Relationship, career, finances, there wasn't a break to be had. I celebrated a birthday moonlighting as a limo driver. And while I stayed on the bike, I didn't have the will or energy to do hard miles, which is to say, I couldn't express myself; there were no statements to be made.

There came a point when I began to believe that I was taking more than I deserved, giving less than I believed I should. And in the only way I could do the math, I began to think the world would have an easier time without the burden. As much as I knew my solution would hurt others, I began to think it was the lesser of two evils.

But I kept pedaling. Even when there seemed nothing to be gained, I kept going. I began riding more miles just to keep myself from brooding. I rode through sunrises and sunsets. I lost weight, and even though I didn't feel like attacking the hills, I was suffering less.

The simple act of turning the pedals and moving through the world around me kept me rooted to it, ironic as that sounds. Seeing the wonder of the landscape, the changing vistas, the fun of descents, the inexorable reminder of my fragility as I climbed worked better than sunlight itself.

I don't know when I turned the corner. I just recall that with each successive ride through that winter one thought kept returning: I'm glad I'm here; I wouldn't want to miss this. And that was the key; selfishly, I knew I wasn't finished yet.

Since then, of course, everything has changed. Family, friends, career, it all runs as well as freshly installed Dura-Ace. I'm not going to try to wrestle with the mystery of our existence, why we're here or what we're meant to do with it. The answer is different for each of us. What I continue to marvel at is the way a simple device meant for transportation has allowed us to discover so much more, not in going or even arriving, but in the doing. The doing is enough for which to be grateful.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chapter Two

I find it hard to believe that two years have passed since the lights first flickered to life at BKW. In two short years, we have seen our readership and traffic grow to reach a loyal, worldwide audience.

Since BKW began, the number of cycling Web sites available has grown exponentially and there are countless urls worthy of a bookmark or an RSS feed. Given all the choices, we thank you, our readers, for spending a small part of your day with us, for leaving insightful commentary, and for dedicating space to BKW on your own blogs.

BKW owes a debt of gratitude to all of those who helped us this past season: industry folk, friends, PRO athletes, team management, and to our staff - thank you for your time and generosity. Your contributions have brought BKW to unanticipated levels of success.

Thank you,
Radio Freddy

Photo Courtesy: JS

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Road to Paris - 27 Days with the US Postal Team

If you wish to be out front, then act as if you were behind - Lao-Tzu, 6th Century B.C.
In the winter I spend countless hours sweating it out in the bike room. Riding indoors sucks, there is just no way to sugar coat it. In order to help the subterranean time go by as fast as possible, a rider needs to have the tools of distraction. For me, it's a DVD player and a collection of the cycling world's greatest videos: a decade of Paris Roubaix and De Ronde, scattered Tours, the Vuelta and select Spring Classics. In addition to the races, I love the cycling documentaries and among my favorites are Stars and Water Carriers and, of course, the art house classic, A Sunday in Hell. In the last 10 years, a new batch of documentaries has emerged, providing a close look at the inner-sanctum of the PRO team and delivering unrestricted access to the intenal workings. I am a complete and utter sucker for this perspective.

One of the finest examples of this genre is Road to Paris (RTP). In 2001, cameras followed LA and the Postal team in their preparation for the 2001 Tour, exposing the diligence and dedication the team put into man and machine in pursuit of a third Tour win. The film opens with a view of LA, slowly churning up a narrow mountain pass, emerging from a cold mist; there are no spectators, no fans, no helicopters, no team mates, and no competitors. LA is dressed in typical spring training gear, tights, booties, a wind jacket, and a cycling cap. As LA rolls closer to the camera, subtitles provide the context, first they read: Reconnaissance Training, The Alps, France, they fade out and then fade in to reveal the post script: Hour 4. To a viewer who knows nothing about LA, this opening sequence embodies the hardman mentality that propelled LA to seven Tour wins.

But RTP is not completely LA-centric, the filmmakers follow the Classics Squad through their spring campaign, culminating in one of the wettest editions of Paris Roubaix since 1994. The lead-up to Roubaix focuses on Circuit de la Sarthe and the early season chaos that is so common with all teams. The 2001 spring was bitter-sweet for hardman Georgie Hincapie, first winning Ghent-Welvegem by a tire's width and then placing just off the podium in Paris Roubaix by the Domo boys, the strength of Domo was so overwhelming it forced the creation of a new term in cycling, the verb "Domoed". As in "I got my ass kicked, I got Domoed".

The Roubaix sequence is a dirt-in your eye experience and done beautifully but my favorite scene in the film is the Amstel Gold segment where LA tests his legs and battles Dekker for the title. The film transitions between "on the course" with LA and "in the team car" with Yoo-han. (The accompanying Phil Liggett commentary may be some of the best I've ever heard.)

The camera work and the editing is incredible, the music is original, and both come together to provide a sensoral experience that does justice to the sport we love. Clearly, the filmmakers are cyclists and their vision is spot on, capturing the pain, glory, confusion, determination, and sheer lack of glamour that is the PRO scene.

"you have to make sure that everything is proper and nice, and also you have a heart for the sport." - Freddy Viaene

A Sunday in Hell is the bench mark for cycling films, a film that can appeal to even the non-cyclists. The haunting sound track and the epic battle among the sport's greatest classic riders have earned this film a place in cycling history.

I honestly feel RTP is worthy of a spot aside A Sunday in Hell. In 2001, this film was as close to all-access as you can get, and spawned shows like Chasing Lance on Discovery and OLN's Lance Chronicles. If you enjoyed these shows, then this film is a must. In addition to the film, the RTP disk also includes roughly an hour of additional footage complete with Lance's two cents on training with power and a classic Merckx-like scene where LA measures and measures and measures his machine to insure it's set-up is to his liking.

Winter is coming and once the cross season is over it will be trainer time. Do yourself a favor and add RTP to your winter rotation, because...

"When the soup is good, all is good" - LA

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tradition vs. Technology

Paris Roubaix is a race steeped in tradition. Every chapter in the race's history sees common threads woven throughout, and this lays the foundation for Paris Roubaix's timeless appeal. Almost every other race in the PRO calendar has been touched by the hand of modern bicycle technologies. A look at the Tour de France reveals high-tech machines taking advantage of the most advanced technologies available to the manufacturing world—an engineer's showcase of the thinnest, lightest, and fastest—an envelope pushed so far that the UCI has a specific rule in place in an attempt to keep things safe.
The race's tradition extends far beyond the route, the stones, or the concrete showers, rather the tradition extends into the mindset of the riders themselves. Many understand that the race is comprised of unpredictable events and the fastest way to a win is to limit as many unknowns as possible.

A walk though the start village in Compiègne illustrates the different strategies of the teams. Some teams and riders opt for cantilever brakes, others the standard road calipers. Some go for double tape, the 23, 25, 27, 28mm tires, and suspension forks. The list of Roubaix-specific accoutrement is as long as the line at the espresso tents. However, there is one gear selection that remains almost unanimous among teams: the decision to ride "traditional wheels".

The term "traditional" is used by many of the teams to describe the traditional, 32-hole hub, three cross spoke pattern and "low profile" rim with a tubular tire glued to it. Over the years and with all the developments in wheel technology, it is fascinating that the wheel choice for Roubaix remains a "low-tech" option.

Undoubtedly, the high-tech players are in hot pursuit of a seat at the Roubaix table. Zipp, for example, has been hard at work developing a deep section carbon wheel capable of delivering all the performance characteristics against the wind, while continuing to be able to handle the stones. Most recently, the CSC team has been spotted at Flanders with a deep section, rear wheel, and a traditional front.

(BKW has spent some time speaking with the folks at Zipp; stay tuned for a future post featuring Zipp's experiences at the Classics and the future of a deep-section carbon Roubaix wheel.)

For more information on the traditional wheel approach, we placed a call to BKW friend and PRO mechanic George Noyes. As a recap, George turned wrenches for cycling's best and did his time in the trenches for 7-Eleven, Motorola, Cofidis, and Mapei. George has built enough wheels in his career to fill a stadium and included in his builds are wheels that carried the Lion himself to victory at Roubaix.

When speaking about the traditional wheel style with George, it becomes immediately evident that he remains passionate about wheel building and he respects the love and attention to detail so common among traditionally constructed wheels. Although the options for wheel building seem endless, the builds at Roubaix all seem to be alike.

A wheel for Roubaix needs to deliver overall durability, lateral stiffness, and the ability to absorb impact. George confirmed that in the years before deep section, carbon wheels, mechanics often built the wheels with lower spoke tension to give the wheel a softer ride. Today, however, George notes that riders prefer their wheels built with a higher spoke tension because most are accustomed to the ride quality of today's high tension wheels.

An interesting side note regarding the wheels for Roubaix: George recalls, the mechanics always pulled the oldest wheels first. Back in those days, the traditional wheelset was the only wheelset. The Mapei team used the oldest wheels on the truck for Roubaix and, quite simply, Roubaix would be the final ride for these wheels, prompting immediate retirement upon removal from the bike. The team's star riders would always begin Roubaix on a new set of wheels.

Here is a quick glance at the wheel builds for Johan and team:

Front Wheel
Rim: Ambrosio Nemesis 32 hole
Hub: Shimano Dura Ace 32 hole
Spokes: Sapim or DT (Aero when available*)
Tire: Vittoria
Build: 3X with lower tension in spokes

Rear Wheel
Rim: Ambrosio Nemesis 32 hole
Hub: Shimano Dura Ace 32 hole
Spokes: Sapim or DT (Aero then tied and soldered)
Tire: Vittoria
Build: 3X with lower tension in spokes

* Aero spokes were an expensive option and despite the Mapei budget, they were not always available to the mechanics.

Tire pressure remains as much art as science. According to George, the ideal tire pressure for the Roubaix course walks a very fine line, balancing enough pressure to keep the rider above the stones and low enough that the bike feels stable and provides shock absorption. Like cyclocross, tire pressure is considered too high if the rider doesn't frequently bounce off the rim.

The best riders have mastered the art of riding "lightly" enough that they can run a ridiculously low pressure without puncturing. Typical pressure for the Mapei riders hovered around 5 3/4 bars (83 PSI) for the rear and a shockingly low 5 bars (72 PSI) in the front. "The lower the pressure, the more stable the bike is over the stones," notes George.

During our talks, George laughed as he recalled Museeuw's tendency to bleed out air prior to the start of Roubaix. This served as an outlet for nervous energy and the best were always pushing the envelope, seeking the lowest possible pressure. "I used to threaten to glue the valves closed so Johan could not change the pressure," says George.

The traditional wheel set-up has been a part of Roubaix's history since the first race back in 1896. Although developments in wheel design have grown exponentially in the last few years (and some are Roubaix specific), Roubaix appears to be a race where the PROs themselves fear leaving anything to chance and the fear of embracing technology comes from a traditional mindset trusting a traditional wheelset.

The wheels featured in the photos above were built by the skilled hands of George and bound for Max Van Heeswijk's Willems Veranda's Continental Team.

Photo courtesy George Noyes

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bring the Noyes - 1993 World Championships

Interbike is great way to see the latest and greatest, and any films from the gang at World Cycling Productions provides insight into the PRO peloton and the art of racing in the big leagues. Both, however, lack the depth and insight into what it means to be deep in the PRO world. Deep in the sense that you are living and breathing PRO cycling.

BKW recently caught up with veteran of the PRO ranks: journeyman, mechanic, and Belgian resident George Noyes, to discuss the subtleties that make the PRO circuit so enthralling.

About Mr. Noyes
George began his career in the mid-eighties as a team mechanic for the Schwinn PRO team, graduating to the International stage, and making his Tour/Classics debut with the 7-11 team. From there, George built on his experience and knowledge as head mechanic for the Motorola squad in the early 90s, a short stint at Cofidis, and then the mother of all Classics squads, Mapei. George’s professional experience included Andy Hampsten’s Giro win, Armstrong’s World’s victory, and complete and utter Mapei domination at the “Queen of the Classics,” Paris-Roubaix.

George has prepared machines for some of the 20th century’s greatest riders and lived the "behind the scenes" experience by which BKW is so captivated. Over a few espressos, George opened up about his experiences and, naturally, I probed him for information and a sense of what his life was like while working for these teams. Honestly, there was so much incredible information that came from our discussion that it would be impossible to compile it into a readable form in a single post. Therefore, based on the size of George's experience, I'll provide small vignettes that comprise George’s experiences. Some parts of our discussion dealt with the classics, others with the Grand Tours. A few times, we merely spoke in generalities, other times, in full swing with detailed accounts of the weeks, days, and hours leading up to the moments in PRO cycling that are burned into all of our memories. The title for these posts will be “Bring the Noyes” and, it's only fitting that I commence this series with a tale of LA’s World’s victory in a rain-soaked Oslo in 1993.

Oslo, Norway - August 29, 1993
Lance has always been a leader. Early in his career, LA's tough exterior and strategic mind were beginning to take shape, a glimpse of the road ahead perhaps. In the days leading up to the road race, Motorola's team management had exhaustively discussed race day tactics and without question, LA felt he had the legs to capture the rainbow jersey.

Motorola's staff and riders awoke to a steady rain the morning of August 29th. LA was to ride a Tennessee-built titanium bike for the day's event. George had prepared Lance's wheels and glued a fresh set of tubulars. The pressure for the day's rain: 7.5 bars (r) and 6.5 bars (f). As the mechanics feverishly prepared the team's machines, LA and Motorola DS Jim Ochowicz had come out to the service course to check on the bikes and the weather. Ochowicz was especially concerned about the weather, the rain, and the team's chances. The big issue for the mechanics focused on LA's bottle cages. Apparently, the threaded inserts that held the bottle cage into the frame would not tighten properly and both cages were rattling. There was risk they would fire off mortar-style, mid-race. With the start approaching rapidly, one of the mechanics disappeared into the hotel to seek out a solution. He returned a bit later with four, self-tapping screws; the kind an old ski binding would use to mount to a ski. (In fact, they were the very hardware that held the hotel owner's bindings to his skis!) The four simple screws were forced into the frame, securing the bottle cages to the frame. (Rumor has it the hotel owner had no idea that the screws from his skis had been carried to a World's victory. That is, until his ski holiday was brought to an abrupt close mid-run. Apparently the screws never made it back to his skis.)

As George applied the finishing touches to LA's machine, Ochowicz and LA continued to discuss the weather and the team's chances and George was treated to a front row seat, which made him privy to a defining moment in LA's career. In fact, in hindsight the comment seems so telling: As Ochowicz expressed his concerns for the weather, LA with an air of coolness and simplicity, reassured Ochowicz by saying, "Let me handle it." In 1993, LA knew he had the mind to be a legend, it was only a matter of time before he began to lay the groundwork. Hours to be exact.

Photo Courtesy: JS

Monday, November 17, 2008

Service Course

A typical PRO road team requires a lot of stuff, from bikes and wheels to kits and food. A well-funded team receives this by the truckload early in the season: shelves stocked, bikes built, tires glued, and kits disseminated. For the entire season, inventories of gear are kept in some nondescript, bunker-like warehouse on the edge of town. This is known as the Service Course.

When the team travels to races, the trip begins by backing trucks and team cars up to the Service Course to load up gear before rolling out in search of a victory. When in the field, team trucks and buses serve as the rolling Service Course and small parts, pressure washers, vices, grinding wheels, spare parts, spare frames, and spare kits all have a home in the organized and spotless rolling team shop.

But what about the small time team, or the independent rider? Anyone who has ever traveled to a race or even traveled to merely ride knows that the rental car and the hotel room are the Service Course. If hotel management ever knew just how resourceful bike racers are, they would ban us like pets and rock stars.

I have built bikes, rebuilt BBs, mixed bottles, glued tubulars, done laundry, cooked for a crew of 10, and hosted post-race parties all from the confines of team HQ - the hotel.

The hotel room is your sanctuary, your temple for the pre-race prep. Ride the rollers, hang your freshly washed kits in the window, and wash the nasty bike that just endured a warm-up of torrential rain and toothpaste-thick mud. Wheels off, bike on the fork tips, shower on: done... then try to get the big chunks to go down the drain. Gear bags and travel cases stack up in the room's corners like freight containers at port; horizontal surfaces become home to the grocery and messenger bags containing the personal items that help us adhere to the pre-race rituals, attempting to bring the comfort that comes from routine.

Like many of you, I seek out the extended stay types with a fridge, microwave, stove, and often, a common living room area with a couch. The added space is always in-demand and offering up the couch helps out a mate and can offset the travel expenses.

Having a PRO bus and support staff would be ideal, but for those of us who live the dream at our own expense, the hotel room is our beacon in foreign cities and a warm embrace during the cold cyclocross months.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Urge

Suppose for a second that you are God. Not Eddy Merckx, but God. It’s T-minus 1 hour to the Big Bang. What would you want to have happen? You’ve got the power to create anything, everything. Wouldn’t you want explore the range of your own ideas?

Even though organized religion doesn’t often discuss what God wanted to occur independent of our arrival, I have often looked at our world and beyond and attempted to tease meaning from what I see. The conclusion I draw is that our maker wanted diversity, wanted weird, wanted beauty, wanted destruction, variation, surprises, confusion and the unknowable.

While I struggle with the idea that God actually likes war and death, I think they must have been an intended expression in the range of creation and no less important than waterfalls, hummingbirds and fluffy kittens.

One of my favorite features of the cycling world is, similarly, the incredible range of ideas and creativity we see. Bicycle frames have been made from steel, aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber and more (anyone remember beryllium?) Marino Lajaretta gave us knickers. We’ve got bicycles made specially for time trials, for road races, for dropping off cliffs and going to the store. Think about how Miguel Indurain wore a cycling cap. Bright minds have invented devices to track our heart rate, record the wattage we generate and even map the routes we ride in real time. What about the ever-interesting and changing route of the Tour de France? Let’s not forget that the bicycle has evolved from a single-geared contraption to a sophisticated drivetrain that can contain 30 gears or be shifted—gasp—electronically.

I write this as a way to frame my incomprehension at the blowback against technology that I sometimes see. I saw it against heart rate monitors and cyclocomputers. I saw it against integrated brake and shift levers. There’s opposition to carbon fiber frames and you’ve seen it against electronic shifting. On the other side, there are those for whom the world can’t evolve too quickly. They’d sooner drive a stake through a lug than ride steel or overshift a downtube lever.

Personally, I’m grateful that a lug cut by Peter Weigle doesn’t look like one cut by Brian Baylis or Richard Sachs. There’s nothing better than when an attack comes in a surprising way or at a surprising location. I love that Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM are engaged in a battle royal of fresh ideas. Love it. As much as I love the age-old courses of the Spring Classics, I’m always excited to see a fresh course used at the World Championships. And every time a frame manufacturer comes up with a fresh idea, a new way to express the road bike in carbon fiber, I’m game, especially if they’ll give me some insight into how it was designed and manufactured.

Someday I’m going to have a durable 12-pound bicycle with eletronic shifting automatic transmission smooth. It will track my course, HR, wattage and provide POV video of my ride in a 1-ounce device I won’t have to plug into a USB port. It will be unspeakably stiff in torsion and offer 5mm of vertical compliance. It will have the aerodynamics of today’s best TT bikes. It will be gorgeous. It will fit me perfectly.

I’m grateful for the creative urge that drives the sport's engineers, racers, builders and designers to make my pipe dreams reality.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ridden: Dura-Ace Di2

We’ve just returned from our first opportunity to ride Shimano’s leap into the great unknown. Unknown because no one really knows how the market will accept it. In a down market fewer $5000+ bikes are leaving shops and there remains some resistance to bikes that can cost upwards of $10,000 even among those who aren’t hurting.

Already there is blowback to a group that will price more expensively than many well-equipped bicycles. The tech geeks are salivating and the traditionalists are wondering what unasked question has been answered.

I’m going to split the difference on this one: We don’t need Di2 the way we need more efficient cars. The Segway was an invention that hasn’t made the world more interesting. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to still be stuck on Nuovo Record. Great as it is, I’m glad for integrated brake and shift levers—now there’s an answer to a question someone asked.

A few thousand people have already had a chance to ride Di2 on a trainer. I was excited to try it out on the road and feel what it was like under braking and attempting to downshift in corners and upshift the chainring during hard out-of-the-saddle efforts.

I’m going to cut to the chase: Di2 rocks. The shifting is simply the fastest I’ve ever experienced, faster, I dare say, than I would have imagined possible. While rear derailleur upshifts aren’t much faster than current Dura-Ace, the front derailleur upshifts are honestly smoother and faster than I thought possible, even when out-of-the-saddle and stomping the pedals in a Tom Boonen-goes-bye-bye effort. As a matter of fact, the faster your cadence, the faster the shift.

The automatic front derailleur trim function is another neat touch. Even if electronic shifting is an answer to an unasked question, a front derailleur that needs no trimming is something we have all fantasized about at some point.

I found the sound of the shifter, when far from the halls of the Sands Convention Center (and the crowds milling around the bike), to be strangely amusing. It’s not terribly unlike the sound of some brake pads on a carbon fiber rim, the difference being that the sound doesn’t last long (very short for the rear derailleur and just twice as long for front derailleur upshifts) or change in pitch.

The textured lever hoods feel like a rubber diamond file pattern. I’m not sure I’d want to ride on these for more than an hour or two with no gloves. That said, grip won’t ever be a problem on these.

Short of coming up with a lifetime battery, the engineers at Shimano have thought of most everything it would seem. I am precisely the guy who would forget to charge his bike and find himself riding home in the 50x17 at the end of 85 hilly miles, but I can’t escape the intrigue of this stuff. Heck, in the event of a crash or anything else that might throw off shifting performance, the electronic equivalent of the rear derailleur barrel adjuster is located near the handlebar so that adjustments can be made on the fly.

One thing I barely had time to experiment with was middle finger braking from the drops while downshifting with my index finger, or braking from the hoods and sliding my middle finger around to the downshift button. I’ve always appreciated how you could brake and downshift the rear at the same time with Dura-Ace, and I don’t particularly want to give that up.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this stuff is cool enough to warrant its place in the market. Whether it gains acceptance due to the serious coin it will take to purchase the stuff isn’t my say; units sold will be the judge.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Jose Alcala - Neutral Race Support

They say a rolling stone gathers no moss. In this case, a road-hardened, neutral support mechanic is tough to catch at idle.

We have seen Jose at the races, exchanged greetings with him, and even passed his caravan on remote stretches of America's highways, but we've never had the chance to actually sit and have a conversation with him. If Jose wasn't setting up or tearing down at an event, he was bustling to switch a wheel, pulling Gs on a race course in the NRS Volvo, or making last minute tweaks to a competitor's ailing machine. BKW cornered race mechanic Jose Alcala a few weeks ago while he prepared the neutral race support (NRS) machines for the 2008 season. Although his hands never stopped turning wrenches, we managed to talk for a bit with Jose and learn more about what life on the road is like for he and the team at Specialized Event Management, LLC.

Jose has made his living in the bike world for the past 16 years. Beginning his tenure working for Competition Bike and Sport in Larchmont, New York (a shop that no longer exists). It was here that the fire was kindled and, like many of us, Jose was unable to shake the habit. Jose's years as a mechanic range from long hours in a shop to long hours on the road. During the years on the road, Jose has worked with the best of the best: 7 years with Campagnolo/Saeco, 2 with Lampre/Caffita, and 1 year with Saunier/Duval.

Jose's career didn't always center on the mechanical aspects. He was head coach for New York's Century Road Club, and during his years on the East Coast, Jose met fellow NRS mechanics, Hank Williams and Butch Balzano. Jose credits Hank with providing him with an early introduction to the ways of PRO wrenching and Butch with getting him out of the shops and on to the road.

Jose continues to work with Butch as part of Specialized Event Management, LLC, a company hired to provide rider support at races and to groups and industry events. Specialized Event Management relies on key sponsors to bring their resources to over 200 events annually. Sponsorship for 2008 comes in the form of vehicles from Volvo Motor Cars, frames and forks from Orbea, and rubber from the folks at Michelin.

A side note on Butch: Butch has been a neutral support mechanic for 20+ years and, to his credit, 20 of those years were spent delivering reliable service on race day to the competitors at Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic. Butch has really poured himself into these events as a true labor of love. In the early years, resources were thinner than they are today, Butch drove his own car, lent his own wheels and bikes and, got by with a little love from Campy in the form of a discount. Despite the high hurdles, Butch kept at it. The cycling world is truly blessed to have people like Butch who keep the flame lit.

Jose and company spend a lot of time on the road, roughly 290 days per year. Like all professions, work becomes a stream of familiar faces and Jose is careful to also keep in mind that his profession is unique in that he sees his clients when they are highly stressed and many are facing the day for which they have spent months training. With this consideration, Jose is careful to treat his clients with respect, remembering to simply be nice and do his job well. Jose laid it out very succinctly: he says his job is "a marketing job with a small dose of mechanics thrown in." For Jose, his presentations aren't done in a board room but rather in parking lots, expos, and road courses.

BKW: What items make life on the road tolerable, what can you not be without?

Jose: The Volvo, wheel sets, SRAM components, coffee, and good music.

BKW: What gear will be packed into each of the 5 Volvo NRS vehicles for the 2008 season?

Jose: 5 Orbeas built with SRAM components, 25-30 pairs of Zipp wheels, a mix of 404s, 303s, CSCs, and 808s, tools, spares, 3 Silca pumps, 2 Ultimate work stands, an A-Frame Ultimate display rack, a smattering of components, 4 boxes of SRAM parts, 2 Force and Rival, 2 Red, chains, spokes, saddles and Michelin Tires.

BKW: What gear/tools are most critical to your day?

Jose: Yellow Snap-On #2 flathead screwdriver and my Chicago Case Tool Box in limited edition white.

BKW: What is the best part of your job?

Jose: Seeing familiar faces far from home and the ability to continue playing a key role in racing. Without question, I have the best seat in the house!

BKW: And the worst part of your job?

Sometimes the travel, there is an element of danger we always have to be aware of.

If your summer plans take you out to the races, make sure you drop by and say hello to Jose and his team. And if your plans include pinning a number on your jersey, then it is a must that you drop by and say hello to Jose and Co. Who knows, it may be you who needs the lightning quick wheel change.

The Specialized Event Management L.L.C team

Chad Contreras
Merlyn Townly
Chris Kreidl
Jeff "Jasper" Mattson
Butch Balzano
Jose Alcala

Jose Alcala by the numbers:

Years in industry: 16

Number of songs in iTunes: 4,000

Miles driven annually: 60,000

Total dollar value of bikes handled annually: $1.5 million

Number of events attended by NRS in 2008: 120 (200 when you count stage races)

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.