Thursday, February 28, 2008

Above Category

Nestled tightly on a small side street in Mill Valley, CA resides a bike shop that is as impressive as Marin County's mountain bike history. If you blink, you'll pass it, and if you're seeking a big shop with a huge selection you might as well pass it. But if you're seeking best-in-category products, an intimate setting, and great advice about rides, products, or training techniques, then this is your shop.

Above Category is our latest installment on the movement of smaller, more focused bike shops; it's a movement that reflects a shift in the industry and showcases passion and product in equal measure.

If it were not for the luscious Pinerello Prince shod in Lightweights, I would have driven right past the shop for a second time. Instead, I almost rear-ended the car in front of me while trying to take in the insane level of utter PROness.

As you walk into the shop it's tough to not be bowled over by the pure volume of exquisite Italian road products: Pinarello, Campagnolo, and Pegoretti adorn all vertical surfaces in the room. If the Italian flavor doesn't whet your appetite, then surely the Swiss style will. Apart from the Competitive Cyclist Web site, I don't think I've ever seen this much Assos gear in one place, let alone laid out with this much care. An element that makes these focused shops so cool is how condensed the inventories are. With less stuff to clutter up the space, the products themselves become artlike. Case in point: I found myself admiring pieces of the Assos line that I already own!

Like CBS, Above Category is staffed by a team of one. Owner Chad Nordwall is solely responsible your experience and, in the end, Chad has the most at stake. It is safe to say that your experience will be second to none. It also means you may want to call and arrange an appointment for your visit in order to insure your needs are met quickly and completely without interruption.

During my years in the bike world, it was always seen as foolish to build insanely expensive stock machines because it created a level of exclusivity that drove customers away. Today though, these smaller shops embrace it and, as a result, have created a niche experience. Let's face it: business in the road bike segment continues to stay strong. Business dipped following LA's retirement, but roadies are a loyal bunch and even more so at the high-end. A shop with less overhead can be profitable by catering to an exclusively road, or for that matter, high-end road clientele.

It's easy to feel that a shop filled with expensive bikes would do little for the cycling community as a whole. However, shops like Above Category provide a service to the entire cycling community. These shops and their owners are bitten by the cycling bug and their commitment to the game helps us to grow as cyclists by expanding our knowledge and exposing us the entire sport.

You don't need to buy an SRM or a set of Lightweights to benefit from Above Category. Hell, buy a tube and just enjoy the experience. The amazing thing about the shops featured on BKW is that not a single one of them had a "too cool for school" attitude. All were very welcoming and eager to be a part of the cycling experience, no matter where you are on the continuum.

Above Category has close ties to a number of PROs who are out there living the dream, which, of course, is great exposure for the shop but I was most impressed by Above Category's dedication to a local junior team ranging in age from 12-14.

All too often the junior programs are overlooked and, in my humble opinion, there's no program more important to the future of our sport than the junior programs. Chad's coaching advice to the team is some of the best coaching advice I've ever heard. In fact, they are words I still live by: Ride when you want and have fun. If you feel good, go fast, if you don't, go slow. Chad's coaching and support is providing the next cycling generation with a great introduction.

Whether your plans for the season include a bike purchase or some rancho relaxo time in California's wine country, bring a bike, drop into Above Category, and ask Chad for some routes he would suggest. You will not be disappointed.

Above Category
38 Millwood St.
Mill Valley, CA 94941
P: 415.389.5461

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

ATOC - Podium Footwear

The Euro PRO footwear was out in full force during the ATOC.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ballsiest Move of the Year

In the vaporwear annals few innovations have generated more interest than new component groups. Claims on the part of component manufacturers that they have produced a road component group have fallen shy in each and every instance for the last 10 years except for SRAM. The fact is, despite their bold claims, because FSA has yet to produce an integrated control lever that works with a rear derailleur and cassette of their own making—no matter whose spacing is used—they have no group.

Sampson Sports has a history of marching boldly into OEM supply situations that put it directly opposite Shimano. These are supplier relationships that Campagnolo has run from like the brain from the bully. Consistently outgunned, Sampson has returned from each bruising only more emboldened.

The company, which is little more than Eric Sampson and his suppliers, has roared back with the bold confidence of a presidential candidate. Sampson is introducing two, count ‘em—two—complete component groups, Stratics (meant to go up against Dura-Ace) and Showtime (a more affordable option).

We saw early preproduction samples at Interbike. It looked promising, but this is the moment we’ve been waiting for—actual production samples. The stuff is lightweight and well-produced.
The levers have two paddles. For the rear, the upper paddle, which can be reached from the drops or the hoods, conducts upshifts. The larger, lower paddle executes downshifts. The detents are firm and shift feel is secure.

How he will manage to secure OEM contracts to get the group on bikes remains to be seen, but the represents a viable alternative to Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo.

As soon as a full production group we can ride is available we will review the group in depth.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Oscars

Recognition by one's peers for exemplary work is perhaps one of the greatest testaments to a life’s work that one may receive. For the recognized it is a confirmation of one’s artistic vision, the ultimate feedback for insight that rarely begins as more than a hunch. To the audience, seeing a respected master receive the highest accolade afforded gives a sense that all is right with the world, that justice can, on occasion, be served.

If your experience with the movies and watching the Academy Awards is anything like mine, you typically feel a strong connection with one or two of the nominees and on the occasion that they win, such as Marion Cotillard of La Vie en Rose for best actress or Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova of Once for best original song, their victories come as a triumph of the human spirit in the act of creation.

Bissell rider Tom Zirbel would have been a deserving stage winner in the final stage of the Amgen Tour of California. He persevered in a late-race breakaway in conditions awful enough no one would otherwise choose to ride a bicycle. It was a gutsy ride that would have made for a significant win for a little-known rider. It wasn’t to be.

When George Hincapie attacked on the Pasadena finishing circuit’s biggest hill, his acceleraton was an impressive display of strength, the sort of acceleration we expect of our champions, a move we only associate with a true hardman.

Hincapie is America’s most experienced pro rider. The media has repeatedly talked of how until his move to High Road this season he spent the whole of his career at US Postal/Discovery Channel. The fact is, Hincapie began his professional career with Motorola—he’s been a pro since 1994.

Hincapie is the rider whose face you see in the dictionary when you look up the phrase “long suffering.” While he has had his successes, in a career as long and distinguished as his, there don’t seem to be quite enough of them to reflect his ability, his tactical judgment or how he is regarded by the American tifosi.

That Michael Creed kept returning to the breakaway despite his refusal to take his share of pulls and his negative racing tactics had me yelling expletives at the screen. Once Zirbel had been brought back there didn’t seem any just outcome to the day other than a win from Hincapie. And sometimes we find gratification exactly when and where we want.

Levi Leipheimer may have been the rightful overall winner—anyone who witnessed Levi’s intensity in the start house for the Solvang time trial could see his determination—but his previous win in the event makes his achievement less surprising, though perhaps more satisfying than his first win given the refutation to ASO that it provides. This is a victory for pride.

In a race notable for conditions crappy enough to ruin the audience’s belief in California as paradise, it is right that Hincapie, a man who has made his name in Belgium and France, should put the terminal punctuation on the most interesting edition of the Amgen Tour of California. After all, what says PRO more than a win in the rain?

In the wake of the suspicion surrounding his previous team, Hincapie’s association with High Road is a fresh chapter to a distinguished career and a way to confirm what we have always believed: that “Big” George is capable, is hardman strong, and deserves to win.

Photo courtesy of Greg Page/Page 1 Studio.

Friday, February 22, 2008

ATOC - Stage Five


Astana’s exclusion from ASO events has resulted in an unsurprising backlash in opinion against ASO’s policies, or perhaps more accurately, it’s lack of them. It has also resulted in one rather surprising reaction. Levi Leipheimer’s is taking a novel approach to race selection: coercion.

Based on the theory that public support for the top American rider in the pro peloton can sway the organizers of the Tour de France into changing its team selections, Let Levi Ride supposes that support for one rider can overcome the disdain ASO feels for an entire team.

Coercion, of course, isn’t new to the pro peloton. David Walsh theorized that among dopers there are the draggers and the dragged. His need to find a culprit, a bad guy, on which to pin blame for the evil of doping is simpleminded. Not a single interview with a rider who has confessed to doping has ever turned up a bully who said, “Take this, or else.” However, many riders have copped to the belief that doping was so rampant that unless they took EPO, they would wind up unemployed.

It was this fear of unemployment that moved the majority of the peloton from occasional steroid, amphetamine and caffeine usage to rampant EPO use. The coercion riders felt was powerful enough to overcome the resistance of even some of the most ardently anti-drug cyclists.

Is it possible that Levi’s ploy could work? Could an outpouring of support from Americans for one American rider cause ASO—an organization pathologically opposed to further embarrassment—to rethink its exclusion of the architect of the last eight Tour de France victories? It doesn’t seem likely and any attempt to force the French hand seems likely to result in further outrage on the part of Tour organizers, let alone the French national psyche.

Americans’ outrage over Astana’s exclusion seems myopic to Europeans. Mistrust for Bryneel and Contador is so widespread as to be the starting point for all attitudes toward the pair. And in a land where a sacrifice of the rights of an individual in the quest for the greater good is seen as both fair and logical, the loss of one over-the-hill rider’s shot at not winning the Tour de France yet again isn’t considered tragic.

Coercion will change things in cycling once more. Each clean rider who misses a ride in an important race, or is sent home following a teammate’s non-negative result (as the riders from Cofidis were in last year’s Tour) is going to get pissed off. Is there an anger greater than that of the unjustly persecuted man?

And so the threat has changed for the pro peloton. With sponsors departing the sport, the threat now is that a rider could wind up unemployed not because he wasn’t fast enough, but because of his teammate’s misdeeds. The need for a real brotherhood among riders has never been higher. Men may go crazy one by one, but the road back to salvation can only be found in a community.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

ATOC - More Random Images

A special thanks goes out to RM for his photo contributions.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Handmade Bicycle Show: Rapha Roller Races

London based cycling apparel brand, Rapha, brought a level of cycling subculture that in it self is timeless, but still holds as a modern marvel amongst those with a competitive heart and the urge to push themselves to their limits.

In conjunction with North American Handmade Bike Show (NAHBS), Rapha’s Series of sights and after party delights gave crowds of cycling enthusiasts a photo exhibition by Rouleur to the inevitable group ride.

What drew a packed crowed to Craine Building in downtown Portland was the Rapha Roller Race. What you see when you walk into the venue is something that you may recognize from the Triplets of Belleville; four rollers side by side with a screen behind to track distance and time which determines the winner.

The “track” is a 500m circle that starts from a dead stop to all out sprint. There is not much pacing when athletes are pressured to make times below twenty seconds to keep up with their competitors. As a throw back to a vintage style of arcade competition, roller racing is always surefire way to draw a crowd of energetic cyclists that were drawn to Rapha’s promise of entertainment, beer and house DJ.

This spectacle brought a diverse crowed from the NAHBS that included the racer chic to shaggy messengers and everyone in between for a night of stellar competition and show celebration.

Photos and text by Tucker Schwinn.